Thursday, August 29, 2013

The devil's greatest trick

I don't have the exact quote handy, but the eponymous Uncle Screwtape from C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters told his nephew Wormwood that demons find it great sport to have human beings knee deep in one sin while putting them on guard against the opposite sin. "The trick," he said, "is to get them running around with fire extinguishers when the ship is already halfway sunk."

The devil is conspicuous by his absence from contemporary Catholic preaching. I can't recall a single non-Traditionalist priest who has ever preached on the spiritual combat, or the reality of Satan, or the existence of hell and the possibility of going there. Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ have speculated that this is simply a morbid fascination on my part. While I readily admit that I'm far from an exemplary Catholic, I don't think this one counts among my many faults. Consider this: the "Good News" of the Gospel is the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, this good news is unintelligible apart from the "bad news" of humanity's fall. It doesn't make any sense to speak of salvation if damnation is not possible. If we didn't fall, then we don't need to be raised up. The best description of liberal Christianity ever penned comes from Richard Niebuhr: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

The saints constantly preached about the spiritual combat. St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, routinely exhorted his parishioners to reform their lives of face the possibility of eternal damnation. The saints were all human beings like us and they often spoke in strong language that would strike modern ears as being excessively harsh. But in the words of our Blessed Lord, by their fruits ye shall know them. In moving away from such timeless topics as sin, grace, salvation and damnation, what have been the fruits in the lives of modern Catholics? Less than a third go to Mass every week. Less than half believe in the Real Presence. We divorce and remarry at about the same rate as the general population. Correlation does not prove causation of course, but it does wave its arms and yell "Hey, look over here!"

Jesus did not get into specific numbers of the saved and the damned, but he did say that the road to perdition is wide and easy, and that many would tread its path. He said that we must strive to enter life by the narrow way. St. Paul said that we ought to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Now this doesn't mean we should approach God with a sense of abject fear like a slave would an abusive master. God is our father and he most assuredly loves us. But why would Jesus need to die if not to save us from eternal death? If All Dogs Go to Heaven, then what's the point of repentance, confession, penance, fasting, and discipline?

Think back to Uncle Screwtape. If the Church's priests go to the opposite extreme within our lifetimes, that is if they preach the Cross without Christ instead of Christ without the Cross, then it would be our duty to remind people that yes, it's possible to lose the game, but if God is with us, who can stand against us? St. Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." I'm just an ordinary lay slob but if I may presume to add to that, "Preach the Gospel at all times, especially the parts we need to hear and not just what we like to hear."

(cross posted)

Famous guest blogger on how things changed

"MEN DID WICKED THINGS in all parts of the world, including the most Christian parts of the world. But they seldom thought they were behaving like Christians. A... man broke treaties, trampled on enemies, or betrayed friends, because he was ready to be contemned; he did not expect to be respected. The notion of his being actually admired as a strong man, merely because he behaved like a selfish man, is a notion so new that I can myself remember it rising steadily, like a new religion, in the late
Victorian time. I can myself recall the transition in literary fashions from the dull but decent morality of Macaulay to the picturesque but barbarous mysticism of Carlyle. The school of Macaulay would balance the virtues and vices of William Rufus or Warren Hastings; but for the school of Carlyle his vices were his virtues. These great men of letters had long been dead when the process began to penetrate everywhere; but the forms it took everywhere were the more clearly the fashion because they were both variegated and vulgar. We had the praise of the colonial and commercial expansionist, of the imaginative imperial financier—a kind of pawnbroker who not only received stolen goods, but bribed the policeman to steal them. We had plays and novels about the strong-minded employer of labour, who seemed to think himself astonishingly virile because he could manage to starve a man in a siege, when he would never venture to hit him in a fight."

~G.K. Chesterton: "Illustrated London News," December 15, 1917.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Catholic Wars Episode I: The Phantom Heresy

Former First Things editor Joseph Bottum is now in favor of same-sex marriage. Or he thinks we ought to shut up about it. Or that we should accept it as a political reality. Or all of the above. It's hard to tell after slogging through that meandering essay. This has not gone over well in some quarters. I think that Douthat and Dreher have the best takes I've read so far.

American Catholics have always had a desire to fit in. We've been much more eager to make nice with Protestants and the world than our European and Middle Eastern ancestors in the faith. Pope Leo XIII condemned the "Americanist" heresy in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae. The American hierarchy of the time vigorously denied that anyone among their number or among their priests held any such views. Time would prove otherwise. Vatican II's declaration on religious liberty  was largely the brain-child of American Jesuit priest John Courtney Murray. It's beyond the scope of this post to get into details, but suffice it to say that Dignitatis Humanae's emphasis on religious liberty appears superficially in conflict with the old Church adage "Error has no rights." Should we Catholics surrender on the issue of same-sex "marriage" as Bottum suggests? Should we simply concede that same-sex "marriage" is an ontological reality as much as a marriage between a man and a woman?

Absolutely not. Same-sex "marriage" is as impossible and nonsensical as round squares and colorless color. The Church stands accused of being obsessed with sexual issues. I would suggest that this is a bit of projection on the part of the heathen and the world. I've no doubt that around the time Pope Leo wrote Rerum Novarum the world accused the Church of being obsessed with capitalism and socialism. When the world inevitably indulges in its favorite sins, it accuses the Church of obsession when the Church, in accordance with her mission, calls us out for our sins. If the Church dropped her opposition to SSM tomorrow, she would be just as hated then as she is now.

The details differ from time to time and place to place, but the one thing all anti-Catholics have in common is a deeply held sense of outrage at the Church's claim to be the one true Church founded by Christ for the salvation of souls. What they all hate is the Church's claims of authority. Not surprisingly, liberals and Modernists within the Church spend many of their waking hours trying to undermine the Church's authority as an infallible guide to faith and morals. What we sinful creatures hate is acknowledging any authority greater than our imperial selves.

Beefy Levinson: Youth Formationator

Strictly speaking, youth and young adult ministry ought not exist. It is the chief responsibility of the parents and the priest to adequately form young people into intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. For various reasons this has not been working out too well in practice for the last fifty years. The Youth and Young Adult Minister asked if I wished to be on his team and I assented. I'm not looking forward to those occasions when we have to think of social events or games or whatever; I never liked those even when I was a youth. But if you're looking for someone to put the fear of God into those little... darlings, then I'm your man. Just call me the Ron Swanson of parish life.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hope vs optimism

Mark Richardson calls out the nihilists on the Right:
Those of us who are non-liberals often look down on our liberal opponents as representing a modernist nihilism.

But we need to look at ourselves with a bit of honesty here. If you survey those who have been anti-liberal over the past 150 years, you find a mood of settled despair that has many of the hallmarks of nihilism. One of the signs of this nihilism is a determination to find excuses not to act to shape the future but to find reasons, often very creative reasons, not to do anything but to stand on the sidelines as passive critics. There are many who seem to prefer this role of embittered "down talker" and who react with panic to those who take a more positive view.

In the meantime it is the liberals who have acted with moral conviction and who have set out to shape the future.

Being a Christian does not give immunity from the kind of nihilism I am describing. There are plenty of Christians on the non-liberal right who have fallen into a passive, despairing, merely critical and negative role.

Things will change when we ourselves change. But that means being careful not to talk ourselves into a mood of nihilistic despair. I am going to be much stricter in the comment threads from now on in challenging those who are passive defeatists and who find pleasure in "criticising from the ruins."

It is unmanly to be weak. It is pointless for us to defend sex distinctions, i.e. the reality of the principles of masculinity and femininity, and then to rest content within an unmanly political culture. A man should have the courage of his convictions and be willing to act in a creative and positive way to shape society. A man should have the strength to act with faith in the future.

The left, which does not even believe in masculinity, has been more masculine, i,e., stronger as men, than our side of politics.
 I suspect many believing Christians fail to make a distinction between the supernatural virtue of Hope vs. a naturalistic optimism. Christian hope is based on the promises of God himself: "O God, relying on thy almighty power, and thy infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain the help of thy grace, the forgiveness of my sins, and life everlasting through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ." Optimism is more based on facts, prudential decisions, and human action. In every day sloppy language we say things like "I hope I get the job," when we mean "I am optimistic that I will get the job because of my background and qualifications." I am not at all optimistic about the short term future of the West. Our times are similar to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. But didn't the fall of Rome lead to the rise of the desert hermits and St. Benedict's monasteries? It was not the monks intention to preserve what was left of the world that was passing away; their aim was to work out their salvation according to the Evangelical Precepts. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.

If faith is the virtue related to the intellect and charity is related to the will, then hope must be the virtue related toward the passions. We jest about how difficult it can be to love some of our neighbors, but I think it's even more difficult to maintain hope in difficult times - it is for me anyway. Elijah was the only prophet left who held to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Imagine how the average Israelite who just wanted to practice the faith of his fathers must have felt back then. The Israelites were held in their Babylonian captivity for generations. Imagine what it would be like to wake up every day and never know if you would live to see your people set free. The Apostles saw their master arrested, scourged, crucified, and buried. It's easy for us to cluck at their lack of faith, but would we have been any less discouraged if we had been in their place?

I do not expect that I'll live to see the restoration of the Catholic Church or of Western civilization to the old virtues and ways of life. It would be easy - and it's very tempting - to enjoy the fall of the West from poolside like Roissy suggests. Despite his lifestyle, I don't think Roissy is as much of a nihilist as he lets on. I might come across as despairing, but then if I had no hope at all I wouldn't be writing this much, would I? Despair cannot ever be the last word for God's people. Even in the midst of his terrible judgments - and I think we're in for a terrible judgment if we aren't going through it already - we have hope that he won't abandon us. "He has torn, that He may heal us; He has stricken, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him" (Hos. 6:1-2).

If you want me to stop pointing out what's evil about your candidates, then get better candidates

The bafflingly popular Chris Christie holds forth:
Following California’s lead, New Jersey has enacted a ban on reparative therapy for youths with same-sex attractions. After signing the bill, the office of Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic, issued a statement emphasizing that the governor disagrees with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. The statement quoted a 2011 interview in which Christie said:
Well my religion says it’s a sin. I mean I think, but for me, I’ve always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual. And so I think if someone is born that way it’s very difficult to say then that’s a sin. But I understand that my Church says that, but for me personally I don’t look at someone who is homosexual as a sinner.
“His action on this bill is consistent with his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin,” the statement added.
Christie is popular among conservative activists because he's unafraid to tell reporters to get stuffed. That's an admirable quality to be sure, but Christie is otherwise a cookie cutter left-liberal Republican. He's making a common error on this subject. Strictly speaking, the official teaching of the Church is that it is not homosexuality itself which is sinful but the act of sodomy. Liberals tend to believe that this is a distinction without a difference. They think a lifetime of chaste celibacy is a fate worse than death, so telling homosexuals that they must not act on their desires is necessarily injuring their humanity. Conservatives, in their eagerness to be on good terms with the world, tend to gloss over the fact that while homosexuality may not be sinful per se it is still objectively disordered. Blindness is not a sin and a blind man is no less a man than a seeing one, but nonetheless the blind man's eyes are not working the way they are supposed to be working.

A libertarian leaning non-Catholic friend of mine and I once had a long discussion on this subject. He felt that the Church was being unfair in its teachings about sexual morality. His argument went something like this:

1. The Church teaches that all extramarital sex is sinful.
2. St. Paul taught that it is better to marry than to burn.
3. Therefore, homosexuals should be free to marry as an outlet for their sexuality or else God is being unfair.

A homosexual man is as free to marry a woman as a heterosexual man is, but that's not what he meant of course. This does appear to be a double standard, but so what? I think equality is poppycock. It's simply not true that every double standard is an injustice deserving of foot stomping outrage. The Church's teachings on sexual morality manifestly require more of men than women because men have a stronger sex drive than women. Wives have to obey their husbands. Men have to control their more powerful sex drives. We're not equal. Life isn't fair. Deal with it.

Equality sounds all nice and cool and pop and fresh when we're talking about it on the interwebs. It's not a coincidence that as it's worked itself out politically over the last few decades that more and more mutilated corpses are getting disposed of by the truckload.

I demand that you refer to me as Beefy Levinson, Master of the Universe

Bradley Manning: I want to live as a woman
Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced to military prison for leaking classified documents, revealed he intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman.
“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” the Army private wrote in a statement read on TODAY Thursday. “Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”
Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday after having been found guilty of 20 charges ranging from espionage to theft for leaking more than 700,000 documents to the WikiLeaks website while working in Iraq in 2010.
At its core, liberalism is about the triumph of the free and equal superman's will over the arbitrary shackles of history, tradition, race, religion, and culture. Bradley Manning asserts that he is female and journalists are urged to comply upon pain of excommunication. Rod Dreher calls them out.

If Manning has surgery, he will not then be a woman but a deeply confused and mutilated man. Our rebellion against God and nature is so extreme that we can no longer even accept "male and female He created them." It's vital that journalists enforce the group think on the transgender concept because to reject it is to reject the triumph of the will. Liberalism, as a matter of principle, must reject the distinction between male and female because to accept it is to accept that some things must be taken as a given.

The liberal thinks of the Nazi as the ultimate transcendent evil because he recognizes their similarities. This is why the liberal must so ruthlessly enforce the Zero Group Differences mythology and browbeat everyone into accepting whatever willful assertions we make about ourselves. Everyone implicitly understands that this is the only thing which separates the advanced liberal superman from the Nazi.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Catholic Google+ pages worth following

Webmaster Joseph Atkins passed along this article which details many Catholic sites of interest. Check thou them out.

Through our fault, our fault, our most grievous fault

From Phil Blosser we get this disturbing report:
 Nevertheless, I was forcibly struck by the table of statistics from the "Midwestern Diocese" offered on p. 59. The numbers are nothing short of catastrophic. The table shows that over the last decade (from 2000 to 2010):
  • Infant Baptisms have decreased 42.4% (from 16,294 to 9,544)
  • Adult Baptisms have decreased 51.2% (from 1,442 to 704)
  • Full Communion has decreased 43.6% (from 1,713 to 960)
  • Catholic Marriages decreased 45.3% (from 3,641 to 1,649)
This is in ten short years, folks. Some of us remember Y2K as though it were yesterday. What will the next decade bring?
Ralph Martin hits the nail on the head when he says:
Cardinal Ratzinger remarked on a strange phenomenon he observed in conjunction with the collapse of the Church in the Netherlands after Vatican II. He pointed out that by every statistical measure the Church in the Netherlands was collapsing and yet, strangely, at the same time an atmosphere of "general optimism" was prevalent that seemed blind to the actual situation.
I thought to myself: what would one say of a businessman whose accounts were completely in the red but who, instead of recognizing this evil, finding out its reasons, and courageously taking steps against it, wanted to commend himself to his creditors solely through optimism? What should one's attitude be to an optimism that was quite simply opposed to reality? (Ratzinger, Op. cit., pp. 30-40)
"In the United States, "official optimism" has been quite strong in the midst of radical decline. When the American bishops greeted Pope Benedict XVI on his pastoral visit, they spoke of our "vibrant" Church. Shortly before Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States, Russell Shaw, a respected author and former spokesman for the American bishops, urged the American bishops to stop pretending everything was fine."
 The decline of the Church in every quantifiable measure is a catastrophe for souls. It saddens me but it doesn't push me to despair. What does push me to the brink of despair is the blithe happy talk we get from our shepherds about our vibrant Church, about the new spring time of Vatican II, about the renewal of the Church. With all respect your Excellencies and Eminences, are you people high? The human characteristic (I hesitate to call it a virtue) of optimism needs to have roots in reality if it's to be something more than idiotic blather. The Church is dying in North America. It's dying in the West. Blame the culture if you like, but the culture is the way it is because we Catholics are the way we are. You priests, bishops, and cardinals are our shepherds. You are supposed to be our leaders. What are you doing about it besides giving us empty smiles, shallow homilies, and useless reassurances that everything is fine?

Jesus Christ gave us a divine guarantee that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church. He never said anything about the Church in North America. Just ask the Christians of St. Augustine's old diocese of Hippo, if you can find any.

St. Thomas was very big on testing. Going back to an old theme on this blog, he makes the distinction between ex opere operato and ex opere operantis. I've assisted in a confirmation retreat for young adults and it was a less than edifying experience. To put it charitably, many of them were ignorant sacramentalized pagans and the priests, parents, and bishop should have been ashamed of themselves for giving them the sacrament. As Martin notes, the current sacramental practice is to give it out willy nilly. If the kids are wholly ignorant of what they're about to receive, the "the sacrament will take care of it." St. Thomas disagrees. It's amazing to read the saints sometimes, and see how much of the Church's modern practices run directly counter to their ideas. The Church is the supreme authority, yes, but by their fruits ye shall know them. How has the new style of catechesis and sacramental preparation been working out for us?

Down with Strong Female Characters

Once again I am ahead of the curve:
I hate Strong Female Characters.
As someone spends a fair amount of time complaining on the internet that there aren’t enough female heroes out there, this may seem a strange and out of character thing to say. 
I remember watching Shrek with my mother.
“The Princess knew kung-fu! That was nice,” I said. And yet I had a vague sense of unease, a sense that I was saying it because it was what I was supposed to say.
She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”
No one ever asks if a male character is “strong”. Nor if he’s “feisty,” or “kick-ass” come to that.
The obvious thing to say here is that this is because he’s assumed to be “strong” by default. Part of the patronising promise of the Strong Female Character is that she’s anomalous. “Don’t worry!” that puff piece or interview is saying when it boasts the hero’s love interest is an SFC. “Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong! See, she roundhouses people in the face.” Sometimes the phrase “not your typical damsel in distress” will be used, as if the writing of pop culture heroines had not moved on even slightly since Disney’s Snow White and as if a goodly percentage of SFCs did not end up, in fact, needing to be rescued.  
As Vox put it, if you want to know what women really want, the last person you should ask is a woman. Women asked for Strong Female Characters, and having gotten them are now vaguely dissatisfied with them. My local library always has dollar paperbacks for sale. I've cleaned them out on more than one occasion. I went there yesterday and all that was left was urban fantasy. You know what I mean: a story that takes place in a modern North American city where the Strong Female Protagonist tries to balance the demands of her career in paranormal law enforcement with her vampire or wereseal or alien or poltergeist lover. Bonus points if she's described as a kick ass single mother.

How many people, men or women, in real life do you know who truly don't take shit from anyone? How many women do you know who can slug it out with a man and win? Suspension of disbelief can only go so far. The Strong Female Character is worse because she cannot be permitted to show any of the traditional female weaknesses such as passive-aggressiveness or conflict avoidance because then the author will be accused of sexism.

Feminists don't like the fact that the courage and character of women has traditionally taken a much different form than the courage and character of men. So Strong Female Characters, both in fiction and in real life, imitate male virtues as much as practicable. The results are not pretty, in every sense of the word.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Envy is a sin

I confess to indulging in the sin of envy toward Vox Day as the SFWA has finally pulled the trigger. He can now wear as a badge of honor his being the first SFWA member to be expelled from the organization since Stanislaw Lem in 1976. For the rabbit people, being shunned by the warren is akin to being banished into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Notice that the official SFWA announcement of this action does not mention Vox by name, nor does it state the actual reason. Similarly, John Scalzi is coyly refusing to call out his nemesis by name. One wonders if he put on one of his dresses to celebrate.

The problem with Science Fiction, Fantasy, journalism, and may other kinds of professional writing these days is that they no longer seek truth but rather to police the culture. If you stray outside the narrow bounds of secular liberalism, you will be ostracized by the warren. They see it as their mission in life to punish dissent which often includes pressuring employers to rid themselves of those who don't toe the party line. Hence we see the moral cowardice which afflicts almost every major institution in the West (sometimes, to our shame, the Catholic Church as well.)

And this is also the reason why the internet is the enemy of the warren or the Cathedral or whatever you call it. SFWA is a dinosaur. It was founded to advance the interests of labor, in this case the writers. These days, as l'affaire Vox has proven beyond a reasonable doubt (perhaps what he intended all along), SFWA has revealed itself as another branch of the Junior Volunteer Thought Police for lumbering feminist shoggoths and scalzied gamma males. The internet has made it possible for budding young writers such as myself to bypass the gatekeepers entirely. Whether or not I'm ever eligible for membership in SFWA, why would I want to join them when every day I write something that could get me expelled because I sent their rabbity sensibilities into a tizzy?

I'll tell you why: because I too would wear an expulsion from that organization as a badge of honor. If nothing else, one should always keep this in mind when dealing with rabbits: never, ever, ever back down. If anything, you should profess to be deeply offended and demand that they apologize to you. They will back down first. In their minds, to apologize is to concede.

A blessed Feast of the Assumption

Who knew John Paul II was such a good singer?

Skyrim pure mage build, revisited: breaking the game further

Patch 1.9 added the "Legendary" status to the perk system. When a skill reaches 100, you have the option to make it Legendary, which resets the skill to 15 and refunds all of your perk investments. At first glance this doesn't seem like much. You spent all that time grinding a skill up to 100, so why would you want to start over? Because leveling up the skill all over again causes you to gain experience and more perk points which effectively breaks the old hard level cap of 81. Even so, that's a lot of work. Who's got time for that? There are two ways you can exploit this to break the game into a million pieces. Sure Skyrim is already pretty easy, and who needs to break a single player game, right?

The first thing you do is grind Enchanting up to 100. It's possible to do this within an hour or two if you have access to the College of Winterhold; buy filled petty soul gems, enchant some iron daggers or gold rings, sell for a profit, rinse and repeat. Enchant four pieces of equipment with Fortify Illusion and Fortify Alteration; those spells are now free. Go to Whiterun, stand in the middle of the market place on top of the well, and cast Harmony. Illusion went from 15 to 100 in about six or seven castings. Cast Telekinesis and grab a bucket or something. Alteration goes from 15 to 100 in less than eight minutes. Reset Illusion and Alteration again, rinse and repeat to desired number of perks.

With this in mind I decided to give the pure mage build another try. I was pretty hard on it the last time although that is by far the most popular post on this blog. I guess there's a powerful desire on the part of role playing nerds everywhere to be a Badass Bookworm. I've sunk so many hours into Skyrim that I can do Bleak Falls Barrow blindfolded, so the key to extending its shelf life is to create interesting backstories for your characters and play them according to those. For example, my new mage is a Nord (lzzolozozozzolozolol) with a storied background...

The Tongues knew they were beaten. Alduin the World Eater was invincible. It wasn't just the fearsome worm though. The dragon priests were his most powerful and terrible human servants. And the worst of them all was Konahrik. His enchanted golden mask made him invulnerable. Finally, Haakon, Gormlaith, and Felldir hatched a desperate gamble: Alduin and Konahrik could not be defeated so their only chance was to cast them forward in time. Perhaps thousands of years hence, men would have the tools to defeat Alduin and his priests. Perhaps then a new generation of Tongues could Shout them down.

Konahrik was stripped of his mask, his power decimated, his memories erased. The Tongues thought to kill him but they inadvertently gave him a new chance at life. Konahrik reappeared sometime in the Fourth Era, just over the Jerall mountains which form a natural border between Skyrim and Cyrodiil. He had no idea how he got there, or who he was for that matter. All he knew was a powerful instinct to head north, toward his homeland. Shortly after crossing the border though he was apprehended by men called "Imperials" alongside of a group of revolutionaries calling themselves "Stormcloaks." The word came quickly: they were making for the village of Helgen.

Hours later, Konahrik found himself on the headsman's block. Before the executioner could strike the fatal blow, a distant roar, faint but somehow familiar, came on the wind. A black dragon perched atop the tower overlooking the courtyard. With a terrible Shout, it knocked everyone to the ground. Fire poured down from the skies. Falling rocks demolished the village. Konahrik had a reprieve... but for how long?

Weeks later, Konahrik found himself spelunking through the ancient ruins of Labyrinthian. A disembodied voice taunted him in a language that was unknown but again strangely familiar. Eventually he confronted his nemesis: an undead dragon priest named Morokei. Morokei was defeated and crumbled into ash. Konahrik picked up Morokei's mask. He couldn't explain why, but he somehow knew that more such masks were scattered around the land... and that he must find them all...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Alpha males and walking to heaven backwards

Good essay by the always solid Monsignor Charles Pope:
Some years ago the theologian Fr. Jonathan Robinson wrote a commentary on the modern experience of the Sacred liturgy and entitled it, The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward. It is a compelling image of so much of what is wrong with the celebration of the Liturgy in many parishes today.
While Fr. Robinson certainly had the celebration of Mass “facing the people” in mind, his concerns are broader than that.
Indeed, we have the strange modern concept of the “closed circle” in so many modern conceptions of the Mass. Too often we are tediously self-referential and anthropocentric. So much of modern liturgy includes long lists of congratulatory references, both done by, but also expected of the celebrant.
The first time I ever attended the old Mass was a weekday evening in a bad neighborhood. It was a Low Mass which means no music, no chant, and the priest is not speaking so as the whole congregation can hear. At first it feels like you're eavesdropping on a private conversation between the priest and God. For me it was love at first sight. It was an awesome experience. I didn't know all the ins and outs of the old Mass yet, but one thing which struck me was that it didn't appear as though the Mass depended on whoever happened to be there. The new Mass, as it is typically celebrated around here anyway, always seems very nice in the way that an office party is nice. The priest faces the people, we all smile, crack jokes, shake hands, hug, and make nice. It's all quite nice but there's little to distinguish it from other nice occasions.
Instead of the Liturgy being upwardly focused to God and outwardly toward the mission of the Church (to make disciples of all the nations), we tend today to “gather” and hunker down in rather closed circles looking at each other, and speaking at great length about ourselves.
This is pretty funny considering that it's us Trads who are often accused of building fortresses to keep out the unclean. Here's the thing though: a hundred years ago the Church had a much stronger missionary spirit and a much higher rate of success in that field than it does today. The missionary spirit was killed stone dead and conversions dropped precipitously almost immediately after Vatican II which focused so much on reaching out to the world and speaking to modern man in new ways. Correlation alone does not prove causation of course, but it is kind of funny in a gallows humor sort of way. 
I would like to link the current “closed circle” liturgical experience to another struggle of Church life today: the crisis of leadership. Many of the lay faithful have come to decry the crisis of leadership among the clergy. And while there are excesses in way these concerns are expressed (according to me), there is surely a grave hesitancy on the part of too many clergy to lead. Too rare are clergy today who point to God and the will of God in clear and unambiguous terms. Too many of us prefer to speak in abstractions and generalities. I do concur that we have experienced so degree of a crisis in leadership. There are notable exceptions to this problem, but it remains a widespread issue. And of course the primary place that the faithful ought to experience leadership is in the sacred Liturgy, where the clergy unambiguously point to God and lead others to Him.
Wimpy clergy have done much to fuel the creation of Catholic blog content - especially here. Although the Church is supposed to stand outside and above the times, the human beings who make up the Church Militant cannot completely escape their culture. The crisis of leadership in the Church is part of the more general decline of manhood and masculinity in the broader culture. If anything it's exacerbated within the Church since priests are now widely expected to be, for lack of a better term, more motherly.
To be sure, there are many reasons for the current crisis of leadership in the Church. Surely the overall crisis of manhood in our culture, along with passive or missing fathers is a central cause. Also related is the rise of feminism and the designation of normal male tendencies to competition and leadership as “pathological” and misogynist. Many normal school boys, full of spit and vinegar, and a tendency to rough-house are “diagnosed” and medicated, and told explicitly to behave more like girls.
That's the problem with public schools in a nutshell: girls behavior is considered the default, and boys are punished or medicated to the extent they vary from that standard. If Father gets a little too bold in his pastoral initiatives, then parishioners start complaining to the chancery and Father will find himself banished to the diocesan equivalent of Siberia. Other priests see this and become reluctant to rock the boat too much. Bishops are then selected primarily from the ranks of priests who affirm us in our okayness. Young men see this and are repelled by their priests' terminal betatude and the crisis of leadership perpetuates itself. Boniface has a lot of good suggestions on how to change that.

All men are inclined toward competition. Even the desert hermits strove toward achievement in the spiritual life, i.e. conquering their own vices and faults. I think the life of the Church would be immensely improved if parish priests spoke more on the spiritual combat and emphasized to young men the need for struggle against our lesser selves. It quickly grows tiresome to hear the same thing week in and week out, that God loves us just the way we are and aren't we wonderful for being such a great Christian community.

Mystery priest found

Mystery Priest Who Showed Up at a Crash Scene Then Vanished Has Been Identified — and Here’s the Unlikely Way He Came Forward

Godless heathens often taunt Christians for thanking God instead of thanking human beings. You know, a cancer patient will receive life-saving medical treatment and he thanks God for it. The heathens say, "It wasn't God who saved you! It was the doctors and modern technology!" This is a narrow view of God's divine providence and his interventions in the natural order.

A miracle is a suspension of the normal laws of reality. We consider it miraculous because things don't normally work that way. Consider Jesus curing the sick, healing the blind, banishing demons, and raising the dead. That doesn't mean those are the only ways God works. God wrote the laws which govern reality but he also gave us free will. We can choose to do good or not. The priest was there but he could have chosen to do nothing.

So why is it that things are providentially arranged in some cases and others it appears not? Trick question. Everything is providentially arranged though we may not always recognize it. I don't deny that the Problem of Evil is compelling as an emotional argument. Anyone who can't relate to it emotionally is the odd man out at cocktail parties. But if it weren't for an extraordinarily unlikely series of events, some of which hinged upon the existence of evil in the world, I would not exist. To assert the problem of evil is to assert that God could not possibly love you enough to tolerate the existence of evil in this world. It is to consign yourself to nonexistence.

The Problem of Evil is arational emotion masquerading as reason. The Incarnation and the Passion make it infinitely so.

The hermeneutical system of which this sentence is a part is complete

Let's examine some arguments that have become more prevalent in the mainstream Catholic blogosphere as of late. Over at Mark Shea's blog we see this exchange:
Those who argue for the superiority of the Traditional Latin Mass (whether they deem the NO valid or not) do so for reasons of its emphatically *measurable* doctrinal superiority. The orations of the old mass (over the course of an entire year) are doctrinally fuller and richer than those of the new mass, and teach the Catholic faith more authentically. The old mass is a greater didactic tool. This is not a matter of ‘interpretation’ (a less fancy word for ‘hermeneutic’): it’s an empirical fact, and one that can be measured via a shared, objective standard.
Thesis is followed by antithesis:
OK, I’ve pondered it for an hour and I give up. What is this marvelous “shared, objective standard”? Where is it? When was this extraordinary judgment made? And who were the judges? Because obviously to you the EF has already won. And why don’t people know about this contest?
Oh, because it never happened, of course. And as far as theology is concerned, the only conceivable “shared, objective standard” is the Magisterium of the Church itself. And you will wait a good long time, I think, before the Magisterium makes a pronouncement of the kind you want. No, the only thing that the Magisterium has said is that these are the two forms, both equally venerable, of the one Roman rite. 

I don't think that means what you think it means Ms. Pieper. There are two assumptions here: that the two forms of the one Roman Rite are perfectly equal, and that one does not receive more graces from attending one instead of the other because the sacrament is the same in both. I see three mistakes in the thinking here.

The first is failing to distinguish between sacrifice and sacrament. Remember, the objective graces of the Mass do not depend on our receiving the Eucharist. The second is believing that the objective graces of the sacrament (ex opere operato) are the only graces we receive. Although the merits of the Sacrifice of the Mass are infinite, we finite creatures only receive those graces to the degree that we are able (ex opere operantis.) Someone who is prayerful and recollected will receive more of the subjective graces of the sacrament than someone who does not pray at all. St. Paul says that those who fail to discern the Body and Blood of our Lord will receive the Eucharist to their own condemnation. It is the perennial teaching of the Church that Jesus Christ is truly present in a real and immediate way at every Mass. Given this teaching, it's worth asking if the Mass as it is celebrated in a particular parish reflects this reality or not.

The TLM obviously does a better job at this much of the time. In my experience, even the most wacked out progressives will concede that the old rite is more reverent (if you concede that the sacrament is valid in both forms of the Mass, why would you ever want to attend one which is less reverent?) The NO can be celebrated reverently, as conservatives are always quick to point out. But the fact that we always say that it can be celebrated reverently is a tacit admission that much of the time it is not.

The third mistake is a Sola Magisterium approach that mirrors the Protestant Sola Scriptura. Yes, the Magisterium has said that the TLM and the NO are two forms of the one Roman rite. It doesn't follow that a 1970s hootenanny Mass produces as much recollection and instills as many subjective graces in the congregation than a Solemn Pontifical High Mass.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Or maybe they're just bad movies

Noreen Malone ponders the dearth of good summer films:
American men aren’t sure what it means to be an American man anymore. And any who think they are sure will be readily disabused of the notion by opening almost any old paper or magazine, in which their confused identities are sure to be under discussion. This alleged masculinity crisis was best laid out in last year’s sharply reported The End of Men, and this summer it spread to the silver screen, too: We are a nation without a new generation of bona fide male movie stars.
I don't necessarily disagree with this part, but maybe it's been a tough summer for Hollywood because they've made more bad movies than usual this year?
Why all the performance-anxiety when it comes to male leads? Yes, male movie stars tend to be more bankable than their female counterparts, and so it’s not great for the business as a whole if there are fewer of them. But that doesn’t entirely explain the endless, nervous parsing of what Channing Tatum’s stardom or (non-stardom) means. This isn’t solely a crisis about profits; it’s a cultural identity crisis. We go to the movies to see heroes doing heroic things, unlike the small screen, where the episodic nature of television has given way to the rise of the anti-hero. The emphasis on actors being able to singlehandedly, swaggeringly “open” or “carry”  or “rescue” a  movie seems like an extension of that wish. And now movie stars, like sports and political figures before them, have let us down. Or maybe not “us,” but more specifically, America’s men. Hollywood movies are made to appeal to a male audience, after all. It’s not so much that women are rejecting Hollywood’s vision of what manhood is; it’s more that American men don’t know who they want to be any more.
No, it's that men have been consistently portrayed as bumbling fools, ignoramuses, weaklings, cowards, bums, and rapists in most forms of media for the last decade or two. The Lord of the Rings films are deservedly beloved, but Peter Jackson's name will live in infamy within the annals of misandry's misbegotten history. What he did to Faramir is a crime against mankind. In the books, Faramir is strong, courageous, and humble. He is not tempted by the Ring even for a second because he knows his weaknesses. Tolkien intended for Faramir to represent the future of the West, man at his best. In contrast, Peter Jackson and his female co-writer turned Faramir into a whiny my-daddy-doesn't-love-me sissy who should be having a good cry with Oprah instead of leading men on the battlefield.

A tough guy like the characters Humphrey Bogart played would probably be fired or arrested for sexual harassment in a modern office environment. John Wayne's characters (who were mostly caricatures of his real personality) would be shipped off to the Sensitivity Gulag after he came swaggering into his job and told a female co-worker that that'll be the day he fetches coffee for her instead of the other way around. If we live in a culture without male charm, it's because old school male charm has been socially outlawed. As the great writers of Game have been saying repeatedly for a good number of years, there's never been a better time to be an Alpha cad because female hypergamy has been unleashed. The only solution for most men is to become Alpha cads themselves - or at least fake it until they make it.

And that, friends, is my mission in life. Once I complete my magnum opus about a big powerful viking who smashes heads for great justice, I will become a rich and successful writer. Why? Because I'm going to write it straight. No irony, no wink and a nod to the fourth wall, just a good old fashioned heroic epic where the men crack skulls with big ass battle axes, and women have the sense God gave a goose and stay the hell away from the front lines. In the grand scheme of things, not an original idea for a story. But I guaran-damn-tee that it'll be new to many of my contemporaries.

h/t: Sullivan

On ass kicking warrior babes in fantasy fiction

Stop me if you've heard this one: the protagonist is a Strong Female Character. She swears, she fumes, she takes on ten men at once with her mighty waif-fu. She has no time for the swaggering macho alpha male - whom she will probably defeat in a straight up fight at some point - but she falls for the geeky bespectacled shy guy. Witty banter flows effortlessly from her lips in the midst of battle. And the story will devote much loving attention to her emotional needs.

I blame Joss Whedon. To be fair, many of his ass kicking warrior babes have been enhanced in some fashion. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fighting prowess is the result of magical intervention. Indeed, one episode features her undergoing a test: slaying a vampire without her magic fighting power. River Tam from Firefly has been genetically modified to have psychic powers and, presumably, her superhuman strength and agility. I don't have a problem with that kind of storytelling. What I've grown to dislike is the Strong Female Character who is essentially a man with different sexual organs.

It's taken as a given that a Strong Female Character must do all of the things a man can do, and do them better if pressed on the matter. A 5'3, 110 pound girl can take on a 6'3, 250 pound man in a straight up fight and how dare you even think she couldn't. A woman can put on a full suit of plate armor and swing a mighty warhammer alongside the men, and only a sexist bastard could question it. A Strong Female Character must be a loud aggressive ballbreaker who never, ever needs the help of a man but who often rescues silly overconfident men from messes of their own design. Give thou me a break.

Granted, one can create any sort of fictional world with any number of fictional rules. But there comes a point where suspension of disbelief becomes impossible and you are reduced to snickering at the so-bad-it's-good implausibility of it all. When I read of encounters where the Strong Female Character boldly makes advances toward the nerdy gamma male, I can't help but wonder if it's a bit of wish fulfillment on the author's part.

Men and women are not equal. Men are superior in some ways, and women are superior in some ways. Men are generally superior in both speed and strength. I guaran-damn-tee that a 6', 200 pound man can run circles around and easily overpower a 6', 200 pound woman. Seanan McGuire may find it offensive, but a woman who "runs around being a protagonist all the damn time" is probably going to get her ass kicked if she tries to go toe to toe with her male opponents.

None of this is to say that there can't be strong characters who are female. But too many Strong Female Characters are transparent attempts to demonstrate that biological sex doesn't matter, that gender is a construct, that women are equal to if not better than men in every possible way. If your mighty warrior who smashes heads for great justice behaves in exactly the same ways regardless of whether he's male or female, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Consequentialism: It's the new black

A guy walks into a bar. He sees a beautiful woman chatting with her friends and decides to put the moves on her. He confidently approaches her and opens with, "Hey. Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?"

The woman appears shocked at first. She hesitates. Bites her lip. Finally she says, "If you're serious... for a million dollars... yeah, I probably would."

The guy says, "How about for ten bucks?"

Furious, the woman snaps, "What is wrong with you?! What do you think this is?!"

The guy replies, "We've already established what this is. Now we're just haggling."

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong, period, case closed. When this is pointed out, we frequently hear in response, "What would you have had Truman do instead?" In our own day, when we point out that abortion is evil we are usually asked, "What would you have a poor unwed teenage girl do instead?"

These supposedly devastating responses are trick questions, though I doubt they are intended to be that way. They are interesting questions to be sure, but they have no bearing whatsoever on the statements to which they are putative responses. They presuppose consequentialism and our opponents expect us to haggle over which is the lesser evil. This is at the root of accusations that pro-lifers "don't care" about the plight of women with crisis pregnancies, even though pro-lifers do more than anyone else to help women with unexpected pregnancies.

The heathens are half-right. We don't care - that is we assign zero moral relevance to -  about the consequences of not doing something intrinsically evil. The consequences of avoiding evil must always be accepted, period, case closed. That doesn't mean we don't sympathize with Truman or the pregnant woman. But only when intrinsically evil courses have been absolutely and categorically ruled out can we have a discussion about what to do.

h/t: Zippy

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Famous guest blogger on the New Evangelization

We, therefore, on account of our apostolic office, having to guard the integrity of the faith and the security of the faithful...,

The underlying principle of these new opinions is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. It does not need many words, beloved son, to prove the falsity of these ideas if the nature and origin of the doctrine which the Church proposes are recalled to mind. ...

We cannot consider as altogether blameless the silence which purposely leads to the omission or neglect of some of the principles of Christian doctrine...

Let it be far from anyone's mind to suppress for any reason any doctrine that has been handed down. Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. There is nothing closer to our heart than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it, but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ...

The rule of life laid down for Catholics is not of such a nature that it cannot accommodate itself to the exigencies of various times and places...

But, beloved son, in this present matter of which we are speaking, there is even a greater danger and a more manifest opposition to Catholic doctrine and discipline in that opinion of the lovers of novelty, according to which they hold such liberty should be allowed in the Church..

These dangers, viz., the confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world, have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now a greater need of the Church's teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful both of conscience and of duty...

..Finally, not to delay too long, it is stated that the way and method hitherto in use among Catholics for bringing back those who have fallen away from the Church should be left aside and another one chosen, in which matter it will suffice to note that it is not the part of prudence to neglect that which antiquity in its long experience has approved and which is also taught by apostolic authority. The scriptures teach us that it is the duty of all to be solicitous for the salvation of one's neighbor, according to the power and position of each. The faithful do this by religiously discharging the duties of their state of life, by the uprightness of their conduct, by their works of Christian charity and by earnest and continuous prayer to God.

On the other hand, those who belong to the clergy should do this by an enlightened fulfillment of their preaching ministry, by the pomp and splendor of ceremonies...

- Pope Leo XIII, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae

Monday, August 5, 2013

On magic in a fantasy setting

My friends and I partied hard over the weekend and, as is their wont given that I am the resident religious extremist, they asked my opinion of the Harry Potter franchise. Some of my Christian friends love it to pieces. Other Christians say the books should be avoided since they condone witchcraft. I think the latter opinion is silly. I don't know of anyone who attempted to fashion an Evil Ring of Power after reading the Lord of the Rings. But this did get me thinking about magic in general in fantasy fiction. I read a lot of fantasy as a boy. My tastes in fiction have since expanded which means I haven't read as many contemporary fantasy novels, so my sense of how magic is used in the field might be out of date.

Basically there are two ways to handle magic-users in fiction. The first way, used in The Lord of the Rings and in the Harry Potter universe, is to portray magic as being innate to the characters. You're either born with the ability to use magic or you're not. Gandalf and Saruman are not actually men but rather more like angels made incarnate. The elves have skills which the hobbits call "magic," although the elves themselves don't know what they mean by the word magic. In the HP universe it's a matter of your genes, just like your hair and eye color. Non-magic parents can have magic-inclined children and vice versa which causes some characters to speak of pure-bloods or "mud-bloods."

The second way is to make magic a technical skill that anyone can master given enough dedication and practice, like swordplay or carpentry. I'm thinking of a gag from Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Xander is thumbing through some volumes of forgotten lore. He reads a sentence out loud which causes a gout of flame to appear. Giles tells him, "Don't speak Latin around the books Xander." It's easier to stray into morally questionable areas with this system as it sometimes means invoking the aid of demonic entities or attempting to bring them under your control.

Here in the real world, from the beginning Christians have always condemned all magic as being from the devil. There is no distinction between white or black magic; attempting to traffic in the arcane arts always means a deal with the devil, period, case closed, even if you have good intentions such as healing someone who is sick. We all know what the road to hell is paved with, am I right? Magic, divinination, astrology, palm reading, and all attempts to communicate with spirits conceal a desire to step outside of God's divine providence. They represent a prideful rejection of God's plan and a desire to manipulate occult forces for our personal gain. There is never an acceptable reason to attempt the use of magic. So if using magic is intrinsically evil, does that mean Christian authors must never portray magic in a positive light in their stories?

Not at all. We can create a pantheon of fantastical gods for a fictional universe without being guilty of the sin of idolatry. There are many ways to handle the issue of magic in fantasy. The first decision to be made is how systematic should your magic be? TvTropes has a good list of different magic types here. What is the context for the existence of magic in your fictional world? Magic isn't necessary for a fantasy setting. And the Christian author can avoid a lot of problems by restricting its use to the villains. I'm of the opinion that magic needs rules but they don't all need to be spelled out in the text. We never get a full explanation of the extent of Gandalf's powers. He seldom uses magic at all. Imagine if he had magically teleported the Fellowship to Mount Doom after the Council of Elrond had concluded. Or if he and Saruman hurled lightning bolts at each other the way an action film hero has a final shootout with the villain. If magic is used too much, then it becomes less a fantastical thing and more about just the way things work.

I like how magic is portrayed in the Warhammer universe: it's wild, dangerous, and you leave yourself open to possession by the Ruinous Powers if you use it too much.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Attention Tom Kratman: Caliphate is akbar

The death of Borders Books was a terrible blow to my social life and to my health for that matter. I used to have a major bookseller within a fifteen minute drive of my house which was the recipient of much of my disposable income. With Borders gone, that income has gone mostly toward booze and cigarettes (though I'm trying to quit smoking.) I remember my store's final days well. The last time I crossed its threshold was in early September 2011. By then every book was a staggering 80% off so I grabbed everything on the shelves, including things I don't normally read anyway. I don't cook much but I'll take that cookbook for Okinawan seaweed cuisine. On that final trip I picked up Tom Kratman's Caliphate. I'm quite happy I did.

Demography is destiny, as the book's tagline tells us. Kratman extrapolates the current European demographic trends to their logical conclusion. By the early 22nd century, Europeans are a cowed minority of dhimmis living under the not-so-tender mercies of an ascendant Muslim caliphate. The United States dominates much of the free world, if not outright annexed many formerly independent nations such as Canada. The story takes place between the years 2103 and 2113 with interludes that flashback to the present day. The European caliphate is incapable of supporting a modern technological civilization. Janissaries are prized as soldiers because even after rigorous formation in Islamic theology, they still retain a residual Christian notion of God helping those who help themselves. This means they take the time to do target practice and maintain their weapons. Muslims, as portrayed in the book, are extreme fatalists, inshallah. If Allah wills that they hit their targets, then they will hit their targets regardless of what they do or fail to do.

The novel's catchphrase could very well be "God, what a shitty world," as almost every character says so at one time or another. Kratman shows us how bad the world can get. The Germans are so utterly debased that they allow their own children to be kidnapped and sold into slavery or prostitution by their Muslim overlords. The Americans have virtually abandoned the Constitution and engage in nakedly imperial adventures around the world. The plot centers around two German siblings and one American soldier turned clandestine operative. Their paths intertwine as they save the world from the Caliphate's new biological superweapon.

Kratman leaves the reader with some optimism at the end. The American empire is resolved to liberate Europe from its own suicide. Can the future Kratman prophesied be avoided all together? Demographically, no. Europe has passed beyond the point of no return. They will probably all be majority Muslim nations by the middle of this century. In his Author's Afterward, Kratman listed several possible scenarios. One scenario, posited by Colonel Ralph Peters, is that eventually the Europeans will be pushed too far. They will revert to type and tell their Muslim citizens "To a gas chamber, go." Like Kratman, I think that's the least likely scenario.

Europe is in its demographic death spiral because it has lost its faith in its own future and in the next life. If this life is all we have, then why shouldn't we live it up at the expense of those who are yet to come? Why should we take pride in our heritage and culture since those things lead to death camps? Nothing short of a miracle can save Europe now. They'll totter on for another two or three generations, but the math is inescapable. Europeans are not producing enough children to provide a large enough tax base to support their welfare states or their old age pensions. Either they must raise taxes on a shrinking labor pool or they must import younger foreign workers. Young people with the means to do so will seek their fortunes elsewhere, exacerbating the problem. Younger foreign workers will wonder why they should sacrifice so much of their incomes to support elderly white people who can't support themselves anymore.

Put your hope in God mes enfants. Because there is no hope that Europe's current trends are going to end well for anyone.

The Last Temptation of Rex Mottram

Ross Douthat suggests that it might be a good thing if Francis makes the Right groan and the Left cheer:
I think this analysis suggests a positive case, in the American context at least, for a papacy that simultaneously calls U.S. Catholics away from a too-close entanglement with the fortunes and platform of the Republican Party, and that consistently reminds non-Catholics and non-Christians that there is more to Christianity than the particular set of issues that have (understandably) kept many American believers in a right-of-center political orbit. This is, again, something that the last two popes did as well — but if Pope Francis’s public profile continues to come across as more “liberal” than theirs, it might actually play a helpful role in complicating the “partisan captivity” scenario that Reno sketches out.
So that’s the positive case. The more negative case is that to the extent that conservative Catholics in the United States find themselves actively disagreeing with Pope Francis’s emphases, whether on political issues or matters internal to the church or both, it might help cure them/us of the recurring Catholic temptation toward papolatry.
This temptation was sharpened for many Catholics by John Paul II’s charisma and Cold War statesmanship and then Benedict’s distinctive intellectual gifts, and by their common role as ecumenical rallying points for orthodox belief in an age of heresy. But if the tendency is understandable, it’s also problematic, because the only thing that Catholics are supposed to rely on the papacy for is the protection of the deposit of faith, and on every other front — renewal, governance, holiness — it’s extremely important for believers to keep their expectations low.
The temptation to papolatry is especially strong in times of crisis. The election of JPII - and the founding of EWTN in the United States - was a breath of fresh air for orthodox Catholics who had endured years of doctrinal and liturgical insanity. When the local parishes and diocesan establishment only offer mashed up baby food, then Catholics will begin looking elsewhere for meat. Mark Shea speaks derisively of "Conservative Catholic Folk Heroes," but even he concedes that they exist because, rightly or wrongly, lay Catholics do not trust their pastors or their bishops (in many cases, rightly so.) The internet exacerbates this tendency by making it possible to follow the daily goings on in Rome and every little thing the popes say. If the pope likes ham and eggs for breakfast, then sure enough there will be some Catholics who insist on having ham and eggs for breakfast every day as well. I, being the cantankerous disobedient Rad Trad that I am, will of course loudly denounce the pope for not including bacon.

Charity requires us to pray for the pope and to have reverence for his office. He is Christ's Vicar on earth, but he is not Christ (and contra one professor at my old seminary, the pope alone is the Vicar of Christ.) Charity does not require willful blindness. It is not necessarily disrespectful or disobedient to note that by every quantifiable measure the Church has been in free fall for fifty years. Obedience does not require us to praise every word that comes from the pope's mouth or to laud his every prudential decision as not only wonderful but the best possible decision that anyone could have made. Michael Brendan Dougherty rightly notes that one stray remark by the pope during an airplane interview does not overturn two millennia of Catholic moral theology.

I freely admit that Pope Francis's liturgical preference for stripped altars makes me want to rend my garments. I urge him to make good on his promises to reform the Curia. I'm deeply suspicious of his recent curtailment of the TLM for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Other than those things though, I like him just fine, heh.

h/t: Rod Dreher