Saturday, June 30, 2012

I don't think that word means what you think it means

"All men are created equal." Equal with respect to what? Not even Abraham Lincoln thought all men were equal, period full stop. Lincoln thought that all men were morally equal, whatever differences there might be in skin color, character, or intellect. Progressive wags quip that the Founding Fathers declared that all men being created equal was self-evident, yet they counted slaves as property, denied women the vote, and any number of other secular sins.

All human beings are equal in the sense that we are all the same species, but that's just a tautology. It doesn't contain any moral imperative. I suppose we could say that for a law to be prima facie constitutional it has to apply to everyone equally but that doesn't make much sense either. Laws against drunk driving are not going to be equally enforced between an alcoholic and a teetotaler. We are certainly not equal in terms of talent or treasure, and we never will be all disparate impact lawsuits to the contrary. So what does it mean to say that all men are created equal?

A thought occurred to me after confession today. I always confess from behind the screen. The parish I go to for confession has old fashioned "boxes" but they've been modified to accommodate post-Vatican II sensibilities: a folding chair sits facing the priest along with a little table that has a box of kleenex. Part of being a Catholic is cultivating a sacramental imagination. That's not always easy to do given the thin gruel of modern liturgy, but we have the Blessed Trinity and all the angels and saints to help us. Why is it, do you think, that anonymous confession became the norm as Catholicism grew? In the very oldest days, penitents had to confess before the entire congregation.

The one and only sense in which we can say that all men are created equal is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Each of us has an immortal soul that will either enjoy heaven or suffer hell. Further, at the moment of judgment we will be facing the most impartial judge of all who cares not for rank nor riches. Princes and paupers, presidents and proles will all be held to one exacting standard. If anything, the powerful will be judged more stringently; to whom much is given, much is expected.

The screen inside the confessional is symbolic of that. The priest doesn't know who is confessing his sins, whether it be the mayor or the village idiot. The penitent bows his head. I always close my eyes, but even if I didn't, there would be nothing to see except the screen. We have faith in God's mercy, not in subjective appeals to the sympathy of the very human priest who is acting in the place of Christ.

That's why I strongly dislike confessing face to face. Call me immature, or lacking in faith, or full of pride; I'll readily admit to all of the above. But when I tried confessing while facing the priest, it made me feel like I'm trying to convince Maury that the baby isn't mine. I see a nice old fellow trying to look sympathetic, nodding sagely, thinking about how many Hail Marys to assign. I shouldn't be like that, but nonetheless those feelings force themselves upon me. It's even worse if the confessional is arranged to be like a nice little office with big comfy leather chairs, a fan, a coffee table, and so on. Confession becomes therapy. Priests who aren't comfortable with hearing confessions (they're more common than you think) encourage that transformation by being excessively chatty or informal. I'll never forget the time I got into an argument with a priest inside the confessional over the finer points of moral theology (I learned about the fundamental option that day.)

I think more people would go to confession if 1) priests actually talked about it during homilies and 2) if they were encouraged to do it anonymously. It would further reinforce the true notion of how all men are created equal instead of the quaint superstition it has become for most nice, respectable, mainstream Americans. Quaeritur: if we live in a purely materialistic universe, then in what sense are all men equal?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

You get what you pray for

A Catholic, Kathleen Sebelius, has been on the frontlines of the administration's war on Catholic conscience. A Catholic, John Roberts, made the difference in upholding Obamacare. Usually it's another Catholic, Anthony Kennedy, who is the deciding vote for judicial outrages. It's reasonable to believe Obama will win a significant portion of the Catholic vote this fall, possibly half. Overall it's indicative of the confusion, division, and chaos that still reigns supreme in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Didn't suicide used to be a mortal sin?

Our Blessed Lord said the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church, but I don't think that means what a lot of people think it means. He never said anything about the Church in the United States for example.

Careers for Catholics

Ten fields Catholics need to get more involved in:

10. Music
9. Journalism
8. Video game design
7. Architecture
6. Medical
5. Film making
4. Clothing design
3. Financial
2. Education
1. Government

One reason why I love The Lord of the Rings so much is it's such a deeply Catholic story. True, organized religion is nowhere to be found within the story. The lore tells us that worship in Middle Earth is more low church than a Quaker meeting house; they don't even like worshipping indoors. But what is one of the moral lessons the story repeatedly hammers home? Gandalf refuses to use the ring. He knows that he would try to use it for good but it would eventually consume him. Boromir is warned for the same reason: the ring is all together evil, and any good we used it for would be drowned in a tide of evil. You may not do evil that good may come of it. Here's a good question for American conservatives: would you repeal Obamacare and ensure that Islamic terrorism never threatened us again if the price was one abortion?

Video game design is a good one. For better or for worse (mostly worse) boys and young men don't read much anymore. I hope some budding young Catholic gamer is considering getting involved in the industry. If I had the opportunity, I sure would. My favorite time waster for the past few months has been Skyrim. Suffice it to say, it's difficult to play Skyrim as a "moral" character. In that universe, evil definitely pays better. Open world RPGs like The Elder Scrolls are one thing, but surely it shouldn't be difficult for a well formed Catholic to write a compelling story combined with good gameplay features that features a Catholic worldview similar to LOTR? Ah, but finding a well formed Catholic these days, there's the rub.

I imagine getting involved in video game design is tough going, but no more so than working on a novel or punching away at a blog in the fool's hope that you'll get discovered, right?

Grasping at straws

It's hard to overstate how great a disaster the Obamacare ruling is. But one of my Facebook friends managed to find a silver lining: the government can now tax us for not doing something, so when the Republicans manage to elect a president, we begin taxing leftists for all of the things they're not doing. "Didn't buy any guns this year? That's a taxin'. Not going to NASCAR? That's a taxin'. Not listening to Rush? Oh you better believe that's a taxin'."

If you're not with us, you're against us

I wish I could say I'm surprised, but I'm not.  This tells me a few things. First, can we please stop appealing to Supreme Court appointments as a reason to vote Republican? How many more times does Lucy have to pull away that football Charlie Brown? Second, apparently Congress has the power to require all Americans to eat broccoli so long as the law includes a financial penalty to comply because then it's just a tax. Third, I'm no legal scholar but it looks like the Court found the law unconstitutional on its face but found a way to let it through anyway. The whole thing reminds me of 1938 when FDR was threatening the Supreme Court. Obama has been openly threatening Roberts for three years.

Fourth, American conservatism is officially meaningless. What is there left to conserve? A "conservative" is now dedicated toward conserving a liberal government with unlimited powers. Come, embrace the Dark Side. Become a counterrevolutionary today! Embrace your inner reactionary! If you're not dedicated to opposing and overthrowing the lawless regime America has become, then you're part of the problem.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Age of Unreason

It's nigh undeniable that America is finished when the Supreme Court can say with a straight face that Arizona is contradicting federal law by enforcing federal law. Next the Court will rule that the states must apprehend the froomious bandersnatch.

Social workers who don't date

The nuns on the bus go round and round:

A group of about 100 people greeted Roman Catholic nuns with cheers and applause yesterday as they made a stop on the North Side as part of a national “Nuns on the Bus” tour promoting social-service funding.
When I first entered the Church, I had an image of the nun in my mind. I expected this:


Poor naive me. This is the typical nun in the 21st century Catholic Church:


Whenever you meet a mannish old woman in a frumpy, button down polyester pant suit, I'll wager dollars to pesos she's a religious sister.

There's nothing wrong with apostolic orders or corporal works of mercy. But bus tours? Agitating over the federal budget? These religious sisters are political hucksters who are depriving God's people of what they need most: prayer and penance. That's one aspect of the whole sorry chapter of the post-conciliar Catholic Church: the laicizing of the clergy, and the clericalizing of the laity. I appreciated this:

“However, as a Catholic, Congressman Tiberi finds it ironic that during the heart of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ campaign against President Obama’s attack on religious freedom, this group did not once mention the importance of preserving religious freedom,” she said. “ Instead, they chose to discuss a bill that has already passed the House and is virtually dead in the Senate since the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in three years.”
The sisters have got more important things to worry about than the ideological fulminations of the sexist, misogynistic patriarchy!

Shame vs. Guilt

The Catholic Church is like the Hotel California: you can check out but you can't really leave. If I had a nickel for every apostate Catholic who complained about the Church instilling in them a powerful sense of guilt, I could buy myself a nice steak dinner. Steve Sailer and his confreres, during the course of talking about a story from Japan, got into a more general discussion of guilt vs. shame.

Off the top of my head, guilt seems more a product of systems with universalist ethics. Shame comes from more particularist understandings of the human person and culture. Let's suppose Johnny cheats on his exams and nobody finds out about it. In a shame culture, Johnny would have no reason to feel bad. His personal advancement, or that of his family, is more important to him than abstract ethical systems. In a guilt culture, Johnny would feel bad anyway. If he benefits from wrong-doing, Johnny's conscience will not let him alone until he confesses. Catholics would say there is no such thing as the perfect crime because even if no human being ever learns of your criminality, God knows. And it's a far worse thing to offend Him than to offend our neighbors.

Let's suppose Johnny aces the test on his own merit, but everyone incorrectly believes he cheated. In a guilt based society, Johnny will be angry. He will protest his innocence and fight the accusations. In a shame based culture, Johnny would be ashamed and dishonored by the widespread belief that he was a cheater, even if he wasn't. Middle Eastern cultures are particularly prone to this. "Honor killings" are based on the notion that the daughter has shamed the family by becoming too Westernized, or otherwise scandalizing her neighbors in some way. If the daughter really is Westernized, then it becomes even more tragic because she doesn't believe she's done anything wrong.

That isn't to say there isn't ever any overlap between shame and guilt. Many Catholics fear approaching the confessional box because they feel too ashamed to confess their sins. They worry the priest will condemn them or think them a terrible person (trust me, there is absolutely nothing you could confess that he probably hasn't heard before.) We often use shaming techniques to punish our children, or we used to at any rate. Any teacher who made a kid wear a dunce cap or stand in the corner would probably be fired and sued by the parents.

I think that may be why modern liberals so resent efforts to instill a sense of guilt or shame in people. If we are all autonomous, atomistic individuals with no ties to anyone or anything that is not purely subject to our will, then we shouldn't feel guilt or shame at all. We still do though. For liberalism, the pursuit of our personal goals is the highest good. But if we believe that there is a Good that transcends all of our subjective desires, then that implies some people's goals or lifestyles might be superior to others in the sense that they are more in accord with the Good. That might make people feel bad. So we have to systematically ensure that there is never any sense of the Good... unless the Good is liberalism itself. Then it becomes permissible to shame those who deviate from the program of creating the free and equal superman, liberated from the arbitrary chains of history and tradition.

A sense of guilt, in this view, is a much worse thing to instill in people than a sense of shame. Shame is based on the opinions of other people such as the family, our culture, or our country. Guilt is a reminder that the modern project of making man into God is a failure.

In short:

I didn't do it and nobody thinks I did it: Both cultures = No problem.

I did it and everyone thinks I did it: Both cultures = I confess and take my punishment.

I did it and nobody thinks I did it: Shame based culture = No problem; Guilt based culture = feel bad anyway.

I didn't do it and everyone thinks I did it: Shame based culture = feel ashamed and dishonored; Guilt based culture = protest innocence.

France = Joke

Take a look at these four women:


When I first saw them I thought they were aspiring models on their way to an audition. Surprise, surprise: they're French cabinet ministers. Girls just want to have fun! And when they're in government, then governing is about fun! The oversized portfolios add just the right touch of seriousness.

Whatever one may think about Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel, those dames are serious about politics. Hollande's cabinet babes on the other hand... well, if they have any daughters, they'll be modeling some very different fashion thirty years from now.


h.t. Lawrence Auster

Monday, June 25, 2012

And now for something completely different


Tomorrow the first expansion for Skyrim will be released. I'm pleased that the culture is moving away from the sparkly, angsty, beautiful vampires of Twilight and back to basics. Vampires aren't beautiful or romantic. They're stone cold killers! That was one thing I appreciated about Bram Stoker's Dracula: there was a love story, but they never let you forget what an unholy monster Dracula was. In the book, he's considered almost as loathsome as a zombie.

I may be prejudiced by how terrible it was to play a vampire in vanilla Skyrim, but playing as a werewolf is awesome. Here's my hulking battleaxe wielding Nord warrior in armor made out of dragon scales and he turns into a freaking wolf monster to maul his foes into Oblivion. I can easily spend a good fifteen minutes just in the Skyrim character creation screen. What's the perfect name for my badass viking? Bjorn Face-Crusher!

Hell is the only criminal justice system that works

Sullivan is pleased with the conviction of Monsignor Lynn.

Finally, finally ... some modicum of accountability for the cover-up of child rape in the Roman Catholic church. A senior cleric in Philadelphia, Monsignor William J Lynn, acquitted of conspiracy and a second count of endangerment, was nonetheless found guilty by a jury of covering up child-rape in such a manner that the rapist was able to strike again. After the Sandusky verdict, we seem to have turned a corner in toleration of this kind of abuse of power:
 I'm not sure I would even call it a modicum. It's accepted in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that Lynn is a scapegoat - not a perfectly innocent scapegoat mind you - for the late Cardinal Bevilacqua. Ever since the 2002 Dallas accord, there's been simmering resentment between priests and the hierarchy about the handling of the abuse scandals. To put it succinctly, if there is any allegation against a priest then that priest is on his own. If Joe Parishioner decides he doesn't like Father's face, he can go to the media and tell a sad story about how Father abused him as a child. Many years and tens of thousands of dollars later, Father is acquitted of any wrongdoing but his life and reputation are nonetheless ruined.

I think what makes people so angry about the abuse scandals in the Church is not so much the notion that there are bad priests, although that is undoubtedly horrible. The Sandusky case has driven home that child abusers can be found in any field, and often are. What makes people furious with the Church is that the hierarchy knew what their priests were doing, yet transferred them from parish to parish after a short stint in a revolving door therapy program. Our Blessed Lord recommended millstone neckties for those who scandalize little ones, not another cushy gig as pastor of St. Wilbur's out in the suburbs.

But what strikes me about Sullivan's entry is he's still describing the abusing priests as "child rapists." Indeed, the pedophile priest has become something of a punch line now. Is it really pedophilia though? It's so widely known as to to be uncontroversial that 81% of the abuse victims were teenage boys, not pre-pubescent children. They were all minors so it's definitely abuse. But must we continue to incorrectly call them pedophiles? How much longer are we to ignore the elephant in the room?

The answer is "forever" because it just won't do to have people think it's mostly a problem of homosexuality.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The hell you say

Eternal Damnation, the Punishment that Truly Deters Criminals.

Nations with a strong belief in eternal damnation have lower crime rates, while those where religion emphasises eternal life in heaven have higher ones.
Religions in general have long been held to serve as a protection against unethical behaviour.
But when it comes to crime, specific beliefs appear to be a deciding factor, researchers discovered.
Their work was based on 26 years of data involving 143,197 people in 67 countries.
"The key finding is that, [allowing for overall religious belief], a nation's rate of belief in hell predicts lower crime rates, but the nation's rate of belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates, and these are strong effects," said Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, who led the study.
At first this sounded strange to me. The article makes it sound like belief in heaven and hell are two different things. But then I remembered that for many people, they are two mutually exclusive things. Non-Christians often ask, "How could a good and loving God send one of his creatures to burn in hell for eternity for a finite crime?" They conclude that He couldn't, so God must not exist or, if He does, he is not worth worshipping. Squishy latitudinarian Christians, if they believe in hell at all, think that the only people condemned to perdition are Judas, Hitler, and maybe Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Otherwise God is Joel Osteen on a cosmic scale, an indulgent nice guy who wants you to be rich and successful, and never, ever punishes anyone for anything in this life or the next.

First, God never sends anyone to hell. We send ourselves to hell through our choices. God is not going to stop us if we choose to live an evil life. C.S. Lewis said there are two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says on their deathbeds "Thy will be done." Why do we merit eternal punishment for finite crimes? Because God is infinite justice. Offending infinite justice merits infinite punishment.

God is infinite mercy too. Remove hell from the picture, and what does it mean to say that God is merciful? Why does he need to be merciful if we can't ever really offend Him? If God never punishes anyone, then why did He send His only Son to die for us?

Hell exists and it's possible to go there. Meditating on the Four Last Things - Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell - used to be a staple of Catholic devotional life. It's not surprising that contemplating an eternity of hellfire puts a damper on criminal enterprise.

h.t. Thinking Housewife

This is what democracy looks like

Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi wins Egyptian election

The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi has been declared the winner of Egypt's presidential election run-off.
He won 51.73% of the vote, beating former PM Ahmed Shafiq, the Higher Presidential Election Commission said.
Speaking later in a TV address, Mr Mursi hailed a "historic day" for the nation, and said he would be a president for all Egyptians.
"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

"That's a Smith and Wesson. And you've had your six."

Definitely NSWF:


My very own Rex Mottram

In Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, there is a character named Rex Mottram who is a lapsed Protestant that wishes to marry a Catholic girl. Mottram offers to convert to placate her family. In those days before RCIA classes, all catechumens received one-on-one instruction from the parish priest. The priest who tries to instruct Mottram is quickly frustrated by Rex's disinterest in spiritual matters. While teaching him about papal infallibility, the priest says, "The pope is infallible when he solemnly proclaims a teaching about faith and morals. Do you understand what that means?"

"Oh yes Father," Rex replies.

"Ok, let's suppose the pope said that he thinks it's going to rain tomorrow. Does that means it is definitely going to rain tomorrow?"

"Oh yes Father."

"But supposing it doesn't rain tomorrow? What does that mean?"

Rex thought for a second and said, "Well, I suppose it would be raining spiritually, only the rest of us are too sinful to see it."

I always think of Rex Mottram whenever I encounter a progressive Catholic with the usual, predictable opinions about WOCHA: women's ordination, contraception, homosexuality, and abortion. Take this essay by the sixteen year old Erik Baker, held up by the National Catholic Reporter as an example of a young man courageously speaking truth to power:

The Vatican's recent report excoriating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents the majority of nuns in the US, has elucidated a stark truth that has become increasingly evident over the past few years: the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is deeply misogynist. The time for mincing words is over: the old male autocrats who run the church are dedicated to a platform that is defined primarily by opposition to women's rights. This latest brouhaha only makes clear that there is nothing that church leaders can stand less than the thought of women advocating for themselves.
 ...Beyond that, there is no argument against the use of contraception that is not entirely bankrupt. The usual argument has to do with "natural law" in the Thomistic tradition, suggesting that contraception is in violation of the "natural purpose" of intercourse. But this is a laughably bad argument. For starters, it demonstrates the way in which Church conservatives view women as mere baby-making machines, who ought to stay silent in the church and reproduce when necessary. When applied to contraception this argument entrenches the double standard that often exists in regard to sexual expression by males and females.
There's a peculiar sort of epistemic oddity among progressive Catholics that hopes or expects that the Church will adopt an objectively false view of human sexuality. The late, great blogger Zippy Catholic (whose blog has vanished, alas) coined the term "Ultramontane Moral Relativism" to describe it. It is the belief that moral facts are not really facts. It holds that the Church is the manufacturer of truth instead of an infallible guide to the truth. Consider: why is it that progressives heap so much abuse on the Church for its claim that it cannot ordain women to the priesthood, or that abortion and contraception are always wrong?

If you dig deep enough you'll realize it's because they don't believe in a fixed body of truth or an objective unchanging human nature. The Church has the authority to make something moral or immoral simply by declaring it so. Once you believe that, the rest follows. "The Church says it cannot ordain women? That contraception is immoral? That homosexual acts are gravely disordered? But the Church could change those teachings at any time. If they won't do it, then it means they're just rationalizing misogyny! Those evil sexist pigs! Those homophobic bigots!"

Rex believed papal infallibility meant that whatever the pope proclaimed, it must be so even if it didn't square with what our lying eyes were telling us. The pope is the servant, not the master, of the Deposit of Faith. Some have described the pope as the last absolute monarch on earth, but that isn't accurate; the pope is chained by Tradition. Progressive Catholics, ironically, attribute far more power to the Magisterium than she really has. Everyone is free to hope that the Church will solemnly teach error on matters of faith or morals. But we have a divine guarantee that that will never happen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Keep telling yourself that

Employee sues for health benefits to cover same sex partner

A lesbian employee of St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Westchester County filed a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday claiming that her spouse is entitled to the same medical coverage as the spouses of heterosexual employees.
...The suit illustrates what Roman Catholic bishops warned would happen last year when the Obama administration, calling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, said it would no longer defend it in court. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, wrote to President Obama to contend that steps toward legalizing gay marriage could push Catholic social service organizations to shut down, rather than violate their moral beliefs. A similar warning came from the bishops in the continuing fight over whether Catholic-affiliated organizations should be required to provide birth control coverage to employees.
Tolerance is not enough. YOU. MUST. APPROVE. Proponents of homogamy have repeatedly assured us that they will never seek to compel churches to perform same-sex "weddings." Their straight fellow travelers scoff at such a notion. Absurd! Impossible! It can't happen here! This isn't Spain, it's England! (Ok, I just threw in that last one because today is the feast of St. Thomas More.)

It's true that - for now anyway - churches will not be compelled to perform same-sex "weddings." But that won't stop gay couples from suing any and every organization that fails to recognize that homosexuality is the source and summit of all that is good, and true, and beautiful.

Personally, I think our bishops are going about this wrong. You don't shut down Catholic social services just because the State is trying to make you violate your conscience. You keep operating as if nothing has changed. You ignore the unjust law. If they sue you, refuse to appear in court. If they hold you in contempt, refuse to pay any fines. If they fine you, toss their bills into the shredder. You keep doing what you're doing and call Caesar's bluff until he sends men with guns to make you comply. That's when you call for the news crew and give iPhones with cameras and video recording to all of your employees. St. Thomas More went to the block rather than compromise with error. Can we do less?
 

This is why we can't have nice things

Reducing the deficit is like going to heaven: everyone wants it but nobody wants to do what's necessary to achieve it.

YouGov asked: "Which of the following would you support as ways to reduce the nation's budget deficit?" They altered the rules of polling slightly, however, to deny respondents a "don't know" answer. Respondents had to answer something, either yes or no.
Denied the "don't know" exit, Democrats favored higher taxes on the wealthy, 77.2%, and cuts in military spending, 46%. Democrats intensely opposed cuts in Medicare and Social Security, only about 5% in favor of either. Just 14% of Democrat answered "none of the above."
Republicans were a very different story. Unsurprisingly, many fewer Republicans supported tax increases on the wealthy (27.1%) and cuts in military spending (15.5%). Yet when denied the "don't know" exit, Republicans were scarcely more accepting of cuts to Medicare or Social Security than Democrats, only 13.5% and 15.% approving, respectively. A majority of Republicans, 53.3%, answered "none of the above"—no changes to taxes, defense, or entitlements.

Sullivan thinks this is another sign that Republicans are insane. I don't identify as a Republican. I think they're useless in advancing anything like the restoration of Western Civilization. On the rare occasions I vote for them it's more from a half-hearted belief that they'll slow down our descent into chaos. Maybe. A little. But this question seems pretty easy for me. The United States currently spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined. Call me a dirty hippie, but I think we could survive if we only spent as much as the next five countries combined.

I think both parties are insane if they think we can avoid cuts to Social Security and Medicare. "Retirement" as we moderns understand it is an historical aberration. When I'm an old man, we will have returned to the historical norm of working until you drop or moving in with your adult children.

YouTwitFace and the fall of Western Civilization

Is our children learning to write real bad?

The economic cheapness of digital publication democratizes expression and gives a necessary public to writers, and types of writing, that otherwise would be confined to the hard drive or the desk drawer. And yet the supreme ease of putting words online has opened up vast new space for carelessness, confusion, whateverism. Outside of Twitter, a coercive blogginess, a paradoxically de rigueur relaxation, menaces a whole generation’s prose (no, yeah, ours too). You won’t sound contemporary and for real unless it sounds like you’re writing off the top of your head. Thus: “In The Jargon of Authenticity, Adorno went bonkers with rage, and took off after Heidegger and the existentialists with a buzz saw, loudly condemning the sloppy word that these dumb existentialists sloppily use to brag about how they know what is real and what isn’t.” This appeared on a blog (The Awl), so its blogginess shouldn’t be held too much against it. But all contemporary publications tend toward the condition of blogs, and soon, if not yet already, it will seem pretentious, elitist, and old-fashioned to write anything, anywhere, with patience and care.
I don't have a Twitter account. I asked a friend the other day what Twitter actually is. He described it as similar to Facebook but without pictures or videos; it's restricted to status updates only. I have no interest in starting a Twitter account. I'm far too verbose to consistently restrict myself to 140 letters. From what I've seen, most Twits aren't that interesting anyway. "MCDONALD'S Y U NO BRING BACK MCRIB?" or "SAW ROCK OF AGES, IT SUCKED" or "MY BABY IS SO CUTE WHEN SHE THROWS UP."

I understand what the editors are saying. But hasn't it always been so? In Stephen King's part memoir, part instruction manual for aspiring writers On Writing he said that contrary to what teachers or parents may say, there are a lot of bad writers in the world. Most of us are competent writers; I think of myself that way. With a lot of training and practice a competent writer can become a good writer. Then there are the God-like writers such as Shakespeare or Dante whose talent seems to come from on high. We need not concern ourselves with them for now.

That's what an editor is for: to turn a competent writer into a good writer or a good writer into a great one. In the age of the interwebs, we can publish anything we like without an editor. I'm old enough to remember when it was considered an exercise in narcissism to self-publish a book. The thinking was, "Oh this loser couldn't find a respectable outlet to publish his tripe?" Now it's possible to become a millionaire by publishing on Amazon or some other platform (granted, financial success does not necessarily mean you're a good writer *cough stephanie meyer cough*)

I don't think blogging will harm our overall literacy anymore than the penny dreadfuls did in their day. Writing is like playing the piano or basketball: the more you do it, the better you'll be. I think most people understand that while little Johnny might be the neighborhood champ at shooting hoops, that doesn't mean he's NBA material. Likewise, I think most of us who take the time to blog understand that we're not producing great literature. I wouldn't write a magazine article the way I write a blog entry. Unless they're paying to me write it like a blog entry.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Open letter from a fed up priest

Why can't we have more like him?

Catholic schools, by and large, have become failures themselves. There are some splendid Catholic schools, but in my experience of 40 years in ministry, increasingly, especially in large urban areas, Catholic schools have become inexpensive private schools for middle class people who have little or no interest in the Catholic faith, maintained at great expense by Catholic parishes. Catholic schools are, for the most part, over. 

We may have a few parish schools still plugging along, but are they Catholic? It seems that all we have left to us is the threadbare cousin. All our resources and energies go to maintaining the private school in the building next to the church. While the world is starving for Christ, we are giving them bingo and bratwurst, raffles and dinner dances, all to keep the school going.  
 
Ain't that the truth. Never was so much spent by so many for so few with such dismal results. They've all been documented in the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II. Once in a while the mainstream media publishes a poll conducted with Catholics to gauge their beliefs and practices. Less than one third of American Catholics fulfill their Sunday obligation. Less than one third believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We divorce, use contraception, and cohabitate at about the same rate as the general population. That's to say nothing of the decline in priestly and religious vocations, or the number of priests and religious who abandoned their vows either through the proper channels or just walked away. How can this be when most cradle Catholics go through so many years of Catholic schooling?

We have tied our religious education to the public school system of kindergarten and eight grades. The sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation have become graduation rituals, rites of passage, instead of the beginnings of a life of faith and commitment. We have turned sacrament into sacrilege.  When you “get your sacraments” you’re “outta” there.  (“Out of there” for those who don’t speak Chicagoan.) The Sacraments are an ending instead of a beginning. I can’t do this anymore. I believe it is morally wrong. The last time I brought this problem up, angry parents called the bishop. I remember one agitated parent who railed at me for questioning his Catholicism. He said that he was perfectly good Catholic. He went to Mass every single Easter and every single Christmas without fail.
I know a lot of Catholics who have abandoned practicing the faith. I always ask them, "You know it's a mortal sin to deliberately skip Sunday Mass without a good reason, right?" They almost always reply, "What?! It is? I never knew that!" To which I pastorally respond, "If you never knew it, then you haven't committed a mortal sin. But now you know better, so start going or get some fire insurance!"

When I realized that Eastern Rite Catholics from the Middle East don’t have Communion and Confirmation classes, a light went on in my head. They receive first Communion and Confirmation when they are Baptized, even if they are infants. They have religious education for the rest of their lives and, consequently, they have a spiritual life. They are prepared for the Sacrament of Penance, but not for Communion and Confirmation. The result is that they have a vibrant spiritual like that they have maintained in the face of 1,300 years of unremitting persecution. In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.
 
That's not a bad idea actually. I've been involved in preparing children to receive their First Communion and I had a "light in my head" moment. I was teaching them to memorize the Our Father and the Hail Mary. At some point one of the boys said, "It's hard for me to remember this stuff because we never pray at home." Catholic parents, your parish's religious education program is a supplement to, not a replacement for, your own efforts to catechize your children. If you're not interested in being a good Catholic, then don't bother saving money to send them to a "Catholic" college. They can become atheists much more cheaply at State U.

The REAL real Jesus

Ho and indeed hum. Director Paul Verhoeven is working on a movie about the life of Christ. The article predicts it will be the most controversial portrayal of Jesus since The Last Temptation of Christ:

Verhoeven’s take on the life of Jesus Christ discounts all the miracles that inform the New Testament. That includes the immaculate conception [He means the Virgin Birth, not the Immaculate Conception] and the resurrection. Verhoeven doesn’t believe any of them happened. I wrote about Verhoeven’s ambitions in spring 2011, as he and his reps at ICM first tried to find funding — no small feat given some of the theories he put forth in the book.The most controversial: that Jesus might have been the product of his mother being raped by a Roman soldier, which Verhoeven said was commonplace at the time, and that Jesus was a radical prophet who performed exorcisms and was convinced he would find the kingdom of Heaven on earth, and did not know he would be sentenced to die on the cross by Pontius Pilate. That, and the discounting of the miracles that pepper the New Testament, has made this a daunting project to set up. But while Verhoeven’s film credits include Showgirls (as well as hits like Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct), he isn’t trying to tantalize here. He is fixated on Christ not for the miracles depicted in the blockbuster film The Passion Of The Christ, but rather in the enduring power of the message Christ preached which has kept him first and foremost in the minds of Christians for 2000 years. Verhoeven feels too many take Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins as a free pass to misbehave, because they think they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions [???] . He feels that the value of Christ’s journey is the opportunity to emulate his life and the values he held dear, like forgiveness.
If I didn't know better, I'd swear Verhoeven had attended a Catholic seminary within the last thirty years. A lot of this supposedly controversial stuff is standard mainline Protestant, Jesus Seminar, Modernist exegesis. Bultmann was denying the Resurrection when Verhoeven's grandfather was in diapers. That Jesus did not have perfect knowledge of himself and his mission has been held by many mainstream Catholic theologians for fifty years. Loisy and Terrell were denying the historicity of Christ's miracles when Europe was still ruled by kings. Thomas Jefferson famously edited the New Testament by removing all talk of miracles, sin, grace, redemption, and the afterlife, to reduce it to Jesus's "core message" of love and peace toward all.

C.S. Lewis is still the champ at concisely explaining the problem of Christ: either Jesus Christ was the Son of God, or he was a liar, or a lunatic. It simply won't do to put him in the same class as Socrates or Confucius or Buddha. Jesus Christ did preach a new message; he preached Good News. He also claimed to be the Son of God, and that he and God were one. Either he was telling the truth, or he was lying or insane. If he was a liar or a lunatic, then he wasn't a good man worth following, let alone dying for.

One of my favorite CCD anecdotes involves a teacher steeped in 1970s style "Buddy Jesus" theology trying to explain the Sunday readings to the kids. Eventually one of the kids asks her "If Jesus was such a nice guy, how come he talks about hell so much?" Jesus came to save us from our sins. He himself was quite explicit: he who believes and is baptized will be saved, he who believes not will be condemned.  That's a bold statement; if it came from anyone other than the Son of God we probably wouldn't listen. We listen because Jesus is not simply a man like any other man.

If I thought Jesus was just another man like Socrates, I probably wouldn't be Christian at all. Jesus being the Son of God is the only explanation that makes sense of his life and the history of Christianity. His words are truth and life. Heresy seldom lasts beyond the first generation. Unless you're a Catholic nerd like me, you have no idea who Alfred Loisy and George Terrell are, do you?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Last and Curious

How's that Hope and Change working out for you?

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to withhold from a Congressional oversight committee some documents and communications among his advisers regarding the failed gun enforcement operation known as “Fast and Furious,” in which weapons purchased in the United States were allowed to cross into Mexico.
The late Joe Sobran suggested an easy way to gauge someone's political beliefs is to ask them "In what sort of society would you be considered a conservative?" I don't doubt there are some Republicans who see this as a way to get at the president. And I don't doubt that many of the Democrats criticizing the Republicans over this would be four square behind a similar attempt to have gotten, say, Alberto Gonzales. And each side will claim that they are on the side of facts and reason, while the opposition traffics in ideology and fantasy. It has ever been so:


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Welcome aboard the shipwreck

The Catholic blogosphere is ablaze with talk about the conversion of atheist blogger Leah Libresco. Conversion stories are so popular because they're always love stories. I understand her own experience well. I've never been an atheist, but I came from a fairly secular background nonetheless. My parents raised me to believe that God exists, that Jesus Christ was His Son, and that He loved us. Beyond that, nothing. We were not members of any church. None of us were baptized. I like to think that God used my love of history and literature to bring me into the Church. I remember on an earlier blog I kept, many of my friends commented on my increasingly sympathetic feelings toward the Church. When I announced that I was converting, the reaction was along the lines of "What took you so long?" I always was a late bloomer. It takes me a while but I get there in the end.

Rod and Patrick Archbold are concerned that Leah is going to keep the comments on as she goes through RCIA:

If Libresco must blog during this process, I hope she will at the very least disable comments. They will not help her, and will only confuse and discourage her. It seems to me that as a general matter, some of the worst ideologues, political and religious (including atheists), are attracted to comments sections of blogs like flies to cow shit. Exposure to these people, be they of the left or the right, could douse any spark of enthusiasm and curiosity for the faith.
That's true of parish life in general, not just the internet. I've never followed Libresco's blog before but she started it as an atheist who picked good natured arguments with her Catholic boyfriend (hence the title of her blog, Unequally Yoked.) Rod and Patrick say she has no idea what's in for her if she leaves the comments open as she goes through RCIA. I don't know how much she has been exposed to contemporary Catholic culture as opposed to Catholic moral theology, but I'd wager she's in for some unpleasant surprises. At some point in her life as a Catholic she's going to meet secularized progressive nuns who ask her opinion on women's ordination (down with the patriarchy!), snooty Traditionalists who think she is a second class Catholic for attending the Novus Ordo, elderly Modernist priests who preach from the pulpit that the true miracle of the loaves and fishes was Jesus inspired everyone to share their picnic lunches, theologians who say that Jesus never intended to found a visible Church and that angels are mere literary devices, bishops more concerned with immigration reform than the salvation of souls, and so on down the line.

She's going to find that the Barque of St. Peter will never go down, but it has collided with a lot of icebergs in the last fifty years. The ship is being fought over by numerous factions who can't agree on whose ship it is, who should be the pilot, who caused the damage, and how to repair it. The ship will never sink - the gates of hell will never prevail - but a lot of individuals have fallen through the wreckage into the churning sea below. Leah will learn all of that, if she hasn't already, whether she takes comments from readers or not.

All of this reminds me of what the Church has catechumens do. At the start of Mass, the priest asks the catechumens what they desire from God's Church. The response: Faith! I think the greatest difficulty us intellectual types have with Catholicism is living the faith. Our danger is to live inside the head too much and the heart not enough (the opposite - too much heart and not enough head - is also a failing. Fideism is no bueno.) My worry for Leah is that life as a Catholic can differ so much from diocese to diocese, even parish to parish. As I said in a previous post, cultural Catholicism has taken a beating in the last fifty years. I may be wrong - I hope I'm wrong - but her RCIA program is unlikely to prepare her theologically, spiritually, or historically for the reality of contemporary Catholic life. Before I entered the Church, I knew in an intellectual sense that many Catholics either didn't know or didn't follow what the Church taught on many subjects. When you actually have your first face-to-face meeting with a radical pastor... Wow!

Pray for Leah of course. She described her current prayer life as the Liturgy of the Hours and St. Patrick's Breastplate. Excellent choices! In the extremely unlikely event she ever reads this, I recommend the Rosary and spending time with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. When we welcome someone into the Church there is joy, yes, but it's joy tempered with the realization that we are joining an army. The spiritual combat is real. This is how our Blessed Lord said it would be. And He will be with us until the end of time. Welcome to the Church!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Both/And not Either/Or

The decline of cultural Catholicism and the rise of confessional Catholicism

Dr. Blosser defines Cultural Catholicism as the traditional ways of living the faith that have been passed down to us throughout the centuries. They include things like the Rosary, novenas, chaplets, processions, hymns, scapulars, Friday penance, Marian devotion, praying to the saints, or for the holy souls in Purgatory, incense, Latin, Masses for the dead and so on.

Confessional Catholicism can be divided into Propositional and Evangelical. Propositional Catholicism focuses more on doctrinal clarity and articulating the principles upon which we are to live the faith. We see this a lot from converts who come from an Evangelical Protestant background. They usually specialize in Biblical exegesis and apologetics. Evangelical Catholicism, like its Protestant counterpart, focuses on our shared experience of an interior renewal, of our relationship with Christ, and external displays of joy, fervor, and a willingness to talk about the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In a perfect world, Cultural and Confessional Catholicism would overlap, reinforcing each other's strengths and compensating for the other's weaknesses. Otherwise the former can devolve into empty formalism and the latter into appearing as just another philosophy among others, or a wallowing in superficial emotionalism. Instead what we're seeing today is one of the legacies of Vatican II: a rift between Cultural and Confessional.

I think that for about thirty years after the Council, from about 1965 to 1995 or even later, Cultural Catholicism was actually dead. I know a lot of Catholics who lived through that whole period. Before I go further, if I had to narrow the definition of Catholicism into one phrase I'd say it's "intimacy with the Divine." There is nothing more Catholic than spending five minutes alone with our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament, telling Him about our day. But for a long time after the Council, much of that was either taken away from the people or downplayed. Instead of asking for the saints intercession, the people were told to talk to each other. The Rosary was no longer prominent. Our Blessed Lord in the tabernacle was shunted off to the side. Stone altars were replaced with wooden butcher block tables. The notion of the Mass as a sacrifice was downplayed in favor of the Mass as a communal meal with the priest as nothing but a presider (and if the priest is only a presider, surely a woman could do it!) Instead of worrying about things like sin, or grace, or heaven, or hell, or Purgatory, we were told to worry about nuclear disarmament, or immigration reform, or the death penalty, or climate change. The moral life was reduced to being a nice person, brushing your teeth, shaking hands with your neighbor, and voting Democratic. To be sure, Cultural Catholicism still existed in isolated pockets throughout the world, but even so it largely vanished from the scene. Whether one believes Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to be a hero or a villain, his Society of St. Pius X did much to preserve these traditions.

Like our Blessed Lord in the tomb, Cultural Catholicism is being resurrected, particularly by young people. Confessional Catholicism, whether of the Propositional or Evangelical variety, cannot long survive without Cultural Catholicism. Subjective experience and personal preference are quickly exhausted when detached from propositional truth. Propositional truth detached from living embodiments will often leave the believer cold. Catholicism is more habit of the heart than proposition in the head. Pope Benedict XVI, bless him, is trying to heal the rift. It will be the work of several pontificates. But the end is in sight, when Holy Mother Church will be cured of her schizophrenia.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Words mean things

David Mason says that he is a Mormon, not a Christian.

For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, [emphasis mine] the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat.

I am confident that I am not the only person — Mormon or Christian — who has had enough of the acrimonious niggling from both sides over the nature of the trinity, the authority of the creeds, the significance of grace and works, the union of Christ’s divinity and humanity, and the real color of God’s underwear. I’m perfectly happy not being a Christian. My Mormon fellows, most of whom will argue earnestly for their Christian legitimacy, will scream bloody murder that I don’t represent them. I don’t. They don’t represent me, either.
I'm all about acrimonious niggling because I believe words mean things. The Nicene Creed most emphatically does not say that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is the heresy of Modalism. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God but three distinct Persons. We can be charitable and assume Mr. Mason was just being a little sloppy with his language. The Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries of the Faith. On top of that, it's not like anyone at the New York Times knows enough about Christianity to catch something like that.

Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, I don't think Mr. Mason especially cares about getting his terms right. He asserts - correctly, I believe - that Mormons are not Christian. But it doesn't come across as the fruit of serious reflection, but more exasperation with insufferable pedants like me who care about this sort of stuff. In that sense, I think Mason is very much like many members of mainstream Christian churches. "Creeds, dogmas, doctrines, beliefs? Bah! Who cares about all that? Be a nice person, brush all your vegetables, eat all your school, stay in milk, drink your teeth, don't do sleep, get eight hours of drugs, and you're a good Christian!"

Here's the thing though: if all it is to be a good Christian is to be a nice person, then most people figure out pretty quickly that you don't need to be Christian to be a nice person. I don't need to go to Mass to volunteer in a soup kitchen. If I want to be of service, I can join the Peace Corps or stuff envelopes for the local non-profit "Save the Three Toed Sloth" campaign. The reasons to be Christian are to be forgiven for one's sins, to be shown the way to Heaven, and how to avoid Hell. It is to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength.

You can't love someone you don't know. To love God is to want to know Him. To Know him is to know He has revealed Himself to us in specific ways. You don't have to pass a theological exam to get into Heaven (lucky thing too, or I'd be in even bigger trouble). We are not saved by knowledge but by love. You have to love God as He really is (at least as much of Him as we can see through a glass darkly) and not as He is portrayed by heretics, schismatics, and apostates. A good definition of heresy is to take one of the truths about God, buckle it into the passenger seat and peel out, leaving all of the other truths in the dust.

I know a lot of people hesitate to use hard words like "heresy" to describe Mormonism. They'll say, "But all of the Mormons I know are such good people!" Of course. I know a lot of Mormons. Their goodnes and piety often puts a bad Catholic like me to shame. But that doesn't change the objective nature of Mormonism which radically departs from Christian orthodoxy in many areas. Words mean things. Mormonism exists independently of what any individual Mormon or non-Mormon may think about it. Mormonism is not Christian, no matter how much many good and pious Mormons may think otherwise.

h.t. Rod Dreher

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Yes, I want your job

From the Art of Manliness, someone who makes a living as a poet.

My exposure to poetry was woefully lacking throughout my formal education. I profited from the death of Borders by almost single handedly cleaning out their poetry section. So far my reading has been haphazard and undisciplined. I grabbed every name I recognized and a few I didn't. One pleasant surprise, whom most Americans probably don't know of, was Alexander Pushkin. According to a blurb on the back cover, Pushkin is considered the Russian Shakespeare. I don't know about that, but I know I loved Eugene Onegin.

Chaney's description of how one poem changed his life at age seven reminded me of similar experiences I've had with books. I think we've all felt that way: this story, poem, idea, or whatever strikes us as good, or true, or beautiful. We want to share it with others. Sometimes we want to retell it in a book of our own. I don't have much patience for the snarky critics who say, "Oh that movie? It's just a rip off of the Poetic Edda." Personally, I'd love it if somebody ripped off Norse mythology, or better yet, played it straight. But the point is there's a difference between straight plagiarizing and being inspired by another work. That's the secret of creativity: to be creative you have to know and love what came before. How are you supposed to have a healthy imagination if you're starving it?

Chaney offers sound advice for any career. Many of us post a resume on Monster, or email cover letters to HR robots, then sit back and wait for a job to fall in our laps. Even in the best of times, that's not efficient. You have to be an utterly shameless self-promoter now. I'm an introvert by nature so that part is where I struggle. One could say that blogging at all is an act of self-promotion since I'm venturing opinions in the public square, leaving them and the way they're presented open to ridicule. I write not so much to promote myself, but because it's the only thing at which I am marginally talented.

And I lack discipline on top of being introverted. In college I was a firm practitioner of the "Due tomorrow? Do tomorrow," philosophy. I have to be in the proper mood to write a paper, and that mood is last minute panic. It did lead me to one of my most herculean accomplishments: writing a twenty page paper in one day. It's not something I care to repeat. If Chaney can make a living as a poet, that gives hope to all of us who have ever dreamed the liberal arts dream while working a part time minimum wage retail gig.

This is going to hurt me a lot more than it will you

It strikes me that a lot of Catholics don't understand what punishment is and why the Church does it. Every election cycle, some bishops loudly announce that pro-abort Catholic politicians will not be permitted to receive Holy Communion until they publicly recant their vicious and wicked policies. Other bishops immediately announce that they will do no such thing in their own dioceses because the Sacrament is not a political weapon.

More recently, the Leadership Conference of Women's Religious was the target of one of the lamentably infrequent doctrinal condemnations by the CDF. Within weeks of that, the CDF condemned a book on human sexuality by Sr. Margaret Farley. Have you ever noticed that the media only picks up on stories like these when pelvic issues are involved? If Sr. Farley had written a book that argued Jesus was made, not begotten, by the Father, nobody outside academic circles would have known about it when she was condemned.

Whenever the Church makes a rare attempt to enforce discipline upon the faithful, everyone goes on about how terrible, horrible, no-good-very-bad she is. How could these patriarchal, sexist, neanderthal, Commie Nazi fascist, stupid old men pick on the poor defenseless nuns? Andrew Sullivan and the National Catholic Reporter snicker about how sales of condemned books always go up, so maybe the Vatican would do better to not police doctrine at all.

What many of us forget is that punishment is the best thing for the person being punished. The purpose of denying Holy Communion to a pro-abort politician is not to make a political point, but to awaken the politician to his spiritual danger. Instead of speculating on what dark motives the hierarchy has for picking on the poor elderly sisters, we should be asking "Is this particular punishment likely to make the sisters realize they are putting their souls in danger?" Granted, there's a lot of controversy in that question, but at least it's the right one.

Friday, June 8, 2012

While we're at it

From an interview with Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton:


You say somewhere, I think it’s in The Gatekeeper (2002), your autobiography and memoir, that it’s of great consolation to you that you’ve avoided the typical trajectory of going from being a youthful radical to being an old Tory. But there has been a kind of a movement towards dealing with big metaphysical themes in your recent work, I think: tragedy, evil, religion, love, death. Have you been conscious of that shift?
As far as avoiding the cliché of angry young man to the dyspeptic old reactionary, I guess a reason I haven’t done that is because, as I argue in the Marx book, the reason why people stopped being leftists [in recent decades] was not necessarily that they changed their views about the system, but that they found it too hard to break. There was disenchantment with the alternative, in the rampant years of boom, of Thatcher, of Reagan, of cowboy capitalism, of neoliberalism. There just seemed no way that you could feasibly change it. That’s depressing in one sense but encouraging in another. It wasn’t that people threw in their hats with the system because of how marvelous it was (apart from one of my most radical Marxist students ever who became a stockbroker, because he became convinced that capitalism was the best thing since Michelangelo). So that was the reason that I hung in there, and many other people did.
I suppose one of the advantages of a left downturn, ironically, is that it gives you time to think around politics, not to fetishise it. Politics isn’t the be-all and end-all. I never really believed that it was, but when the left is on the ascendancy, it’s hard not to believe. So there are ironically gains from the situation at the moment that you can then begin to lay in ideas or think around the topic, and I suppose that’s partly what I’ve been doing. Not deserting politics but trying to add a depth to it, and also, in doing so, breaking with the holy trinity of class, race, and gender. Vital topics though they are, they’ve become such tram-lines on which the cultural left has been moving.

Tocqueville had our number on this back in the 19th century. American discourse is bound to certain tracks. Those who stray from the tracks are not argued down so much as they're tarred as extremists outside the bounds of respectable discussion. Much of what Ron Paul says makes sense, for example. But for mainstream conservative outlets such as Fox News or talk radio, it isn't enough to say that they think Paul is wrong or mistaken. He's crazy! He's an extremist!


Eagleton also makes a good point about your side being in the ascendancy. I used to listen to talk radio religiously, but now I find it mostly boring. When your side is winning, politics is everything. Even when your side isn't in power, many still believe that politics is the be-all and end-all. I think it's part of our instant gratification culture. The contemporary Right lives for elections because elections provide tangible results, at least on paper. Republicans controlled Congress for twelve years, six of those years with a Republican president. Has the country become much more conservative? In some ways Barack Obama is more conservative than Richard Nixon; that's how much the Right has shifted the political paradigm. But has the country become any different in its cultural assumptions?

Ironically, many contemporary conservatives are Marxist in the sense that they think politics and economics are the only things worth fighting for. A better term for them might be right-liberals as opposed to the left-liberals who make their home in the Democratic party. Politics and economics are good and necessary things, but it's not enough to get those in order if the culture is broken. Changing the culture is a much more gradual process. It will be the work of generations to restore a sense of what marriage is, for example, or to change people's expectations of what the government is for and what it can do.

It's a little dismaying to see earnest young conservatives eager to begin a career of political commentating or, heaven help us, as political "strategists." In the mean time, their left-liberal contemporaries are becoming writers, artists, and musicians. There's a general dismissal or outright contempt for these fields from many mainstream conservatives. And yet these same right-liberals often complain about the filth coming out of Hollywood! Criticism too is a good and necessary thing, but in the end we have to be producing our own books, our own art, our own music, or at least bringing people back to the classics in those fields and the worldview that produced them.

h.t. Rod Dreher

I speak English real good

Steve Sailer touches on a subject near and dear to my heart: Are the English better at English?

Math and science were easily my worst subjects in high school, but I routinely scored quite well on everything verbal. I've always explained it by saying people are more interesting to me than numbers or things. I can plow through a paperback novel in one afternoon and retain much of it. In contrast, my eyes glaze over when I try to read a scientific text. I haven't had to use a quadratic equation once since college. Story problems were marginally more interesting to me, but sometimes the textbook authors tried too hard: "Suzie wants to calculate the trajectory of her son's baseball pitches."

I agree that throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Brits generally produced better literature than the Americans. I've actually read Moby-Dick and it's a great book without question. It might be my modern lack of attention span, but it was tough going. We moderns are used to texting and skipping between multiple browser tabs with the TV on in the background. Melville's multiple digressions about the anatomy of whales and the intricacies of dissecting them were difficult for someone who is more in sympathy with Elmore Leonard's dictum, "Leave out the parts people tend to skip."

Winston Churchill was undoubtedly, in my mind, the greatest writer politician. Teddy Roosevelt was as much a badass as Churchill but, with the exception of his memoir of his experience in the Spanish-American War, I don't enjoy his writing nearly as much (his Naval History of the War of 1812 is still one of the standard works on the subject, but it's awfully dry.) I think Ulysses S. Grant was the U.S.'s greatest writer politician. As much as I criticize him, Barack Obama is actually quite a decent writer too, at least in his memoir published before he ran for president, not so much in his second book which was standard campaign boilerplate.

Lately I've been dipping into Russian literature. English authors tended toward painting pictures of society. The city of London is just as much a character in Dickens's work as Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby. Dostoyevsky always starts with an idea and all of his characters lives revolve around that idea.

I haven't read any English literature which was written within the last sixty years so I can't judge on what it's like today. My favorite contemporary American author is Dean Koontz. Critics sometimes dismiss him as a writer of supermarket thrillers, but his worldview is steeped in Catholicism. His characters live in a world where evil is real, where humanity's fallen nature is never downplayed, and where one must work to earn that happy ending. However grim their circumstances, his heroes never lose hope. Hope, in this case, is not a baseless optimism that good things must necessarily happen, but the belief that even their worst suffering has meaning.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Soon and very soon

The latest interview with SSPX Bishop Fellay.

DICI: Most of those who are opposed to the Society’s acceptance of a possible canonical recognition allege that the doctrinal discussions could have led to this acceptance only if they had concluded with a doctrinal solution, in other words, a “conversion” by Rome.  Has your position on this point changed?
Bishop Fellay: It must be acknowledged that these discussions have allowed us to present clearly the various problems that we experience with regard to Vatican II.  What has changed is the fact that Rome no longer makes total acceptance of Vatican II a prerequisite for the canonical solution.  Today, in Rome, some people regard a different understanding of the Council as something that is not decisive for the future of the Church, since the Church is more than the Council.  Indeed, the Church cannot be reduced to the Council;  she is much larger.  Therefore we must strive to resolve more far-reaching problems.  This new awareness can help us to understanding what is really happening:  we are called to help bring to others the treasure of Tradition that we have been able to preserve.
The more I follow the ongoing doctrinal discussion with the Society of St. Pius X, the more impressed I am with Bishop Fellay. I pray he accepts what the Holy Father is offering him, and that the entire Society follows him. His Excellency describes our current condition well: there are many bishops, priests, religious, and lay people for whom Vatican II was a start from zero. It was the new Pentecost where the People of God would sing a new Church into being, where we would all dance in the forest and play in the field, where our Ministers of Holy Communion would gather us in in their barren Zen temple with only a shrub and a table of wood.

Did Vatican II cause the collapse of Catholicism over the last forty years? We can't place the blame entirely on the Council. It contains much that is beautiful, and I sincerely mean that. On the other hand, I don't think the Church would have declined so much, so quickly if it weren't for the Council. The late Father Malichi Martin said that from the supernatural point of view, it is as if God withdrew sanctifying grace from the Church. What other explanation could there be for so many thousands of priests and religious abandoning their vocations, or tens of millions of souls walking out of the Church and into the arms of the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals, or the atheists?

The Holy Father has proposed that Vatican II must be interpreted through the hermeneutic of continuity and reform, rather than the hermeneutic of rupture. I believe this is true. However, the Holy Father's two hermeneutics are an implicit admission that the documents of Vatican II, while containing much that is true and beautiful, are ambiguous. All of the outrages, abuses, and scandals of the last forty years were done in the name of the Council, or rather it's "spirit." The Council Fathers would never have countenanced much of what happened afterwards. Abuse does not preclude legitimate use. But those who favor this view of Vatican II as a superdogma have monopolized seminaries, chanceries, and universities for forty years. It's difficult to overstate how fiercely they oppose any welcoming of the SSPX back into the mainstream Church. The SSPX is understandably wary of the mainstream Church given how Archbishop Lefebvre was treated. But I pray they come in from the cold. Reforming saints never left the Church. They stayed and fought. And all Roman Catholics, be they good, bad, liberal, conservative, Traditionalist, Charismatic, have a duty to stay and fight the revolution institutionalized by Vatican II.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Competing quotes of the day, OR Bugnini thou hast triumphed


  • "[We are witnessing a] great movement of apostasy being organized in every country for the establishment of a one-world Church which shall have neither dogmas, nor hierarchy; neither discipline for the mind, nor curb for the passions ...."  Here we have, founded by Catholics, an interdenominational association that is to work for the reform of civilization, an undertaking which is above all religious in character, for there is not true civilization without a moral civilization, and no true moral civilization without the true religion: it is a proven truth, a historical fact.... But stranger still, alarming and saddening at the same time, are the audacity and frivolity of men who call themselves Catholics and dream of reshaping society unders such conditions, and of establishing on earth, over and beyond the pale of the Catholic Church, 'the reign of love and justice' .... What are they going to produce? What is to come out of this collaboration? A mere verbal and chimerical construction, in which we see, glowing in a jumble, and in seductive confusion, the words of Liberty, Justice, Fraternity, Love, Equality, and human exaltation, all resting upon an ill-understood human dignity. It will be a tumultuous agitation, sterile for the end proposed, but which will benefit the less-Utopian exploiters of the people. Yes, we can truly say that the Sillon, its eyes fixed ona chimera, brings Socialism in its train." (Pope St. Pius X, "Our Apostolic Mandate," apostolic letter to the French Bishops on the Sillon Movementin France, August 15, 1910). 
  • "We are conscious of the urgent need to confront together responsibly and courageously the problems and challenges of our modern world (i.e., poverty, racism, environmental pollution, materialism , war and proliferation of arms , globalization, Aids , lack of medical care , breakdown of family and community , marginalization of women and children ,etc.); to work together to affirm human dignity as the source of human rights and their corresponding duties , in the struggle for justice and peace for all; to create a new spiritual consciousness for all humanity in accordance with the religious traditions so that the principle of respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience may prevail. We are convinced that our religious traditions have the necessary resources to overcome the fragmentations which we observe in the world and foster mutual friendship and respect between peoples...." ("Final Declaration of the Inter-religious Assembly" of October, 1999, at the Vatican in commemoration of the inter-religious colloquy at Assisi in October, 1986. Compare "Final Declaration of the Participants in the Symposium on 'Spiritual Resources of the Religions for Peace'," organized by The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome, January 16-18, 2003)

Sacramentally and juridically, the Catholic Church is always and everywhere the same. Theologically, spiritually, culturally, and philosophically... well, sometimes it appears to me that the Church was split in two by Vatican II. Note the distinction: not that it was, only that it appears that way to me. And I'm certainly no great thinker, theologian, or an especially good Catholic.