Sunday, November 30, 2014

1st Sunday of Advent

That's long been one of my favorite hymns. Fortunately, the Novus Ordo parishes I've attended almost always include this in their Advent repertoire, albeit in English. I attended Mass after confession last night. If I could only change one thing about the Novus Ordo, I'd have all of the clergy celebrate it ad orientem, read "his back to the people." Having the priest face the people caused more chaos and probably did more long term damage to the Roman Catholic Church than the Protestant Reformation. When the priest faces God, he is exercising his spiritual leadership and fatherhood over the congregation. When the priest faces the people, the temptation is strong for him to become an entertainer. He's nothing so patriarchal as a priest offering sacrifice. No, he's just another member of the community who's been chosen to preside over a gathering of friends. We look at each other, he smiles, cracks jokes, we laugh, we hold hands, etc.

Novus Ordo parishes can be very nice and chummy, the way office parties can be nice and chummy. If you attend daily Mass regularly they might ask you to be a lector or an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. I've been a lector, but I always politely but firmly refuse to ever be an EMHC. I don't believe unconsecrated fingers should be handling the chalice or paten, let alone the Eucharist.

It's funny how I feel much closer to the FSSP congregation than I ever have at a Novus Ordo parish where they emphasize how welcoming and inclusive they are. It might have something to do with how Traditionalists generally wear the same scars from the same battles with the hierarchy. But ultimately I think it's because in a Trad setting, I know we're mostly on the same page. I know these people believe and worship and pray in the same way I do. We all have the same goal: getting into heaven. At Novus Ordo parishes, you never know what people really believe. This isn't Beefy Levinson being uncharitable, this is statistical fact. We may share a common baptism, but many of my fellow Catholics feel as alien to me as mainline Protestants or Evangelicals.

I'm friends with many priests and seminarians on Facebook thanks to my years in the seminary. One of them posted this story this morning. "If only I had known, if only someone had told me," said one of the husbands. God have mercy on those whose responsibility it was to teach him. Orthodoxy and charity are never in conflict. If it appears that they are, either you don't understand orthodoxy or you don't understand charity.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Review: The Profession, by Steven Pressfield

Pressfield has always had a gift for writing the warrior's mind. His first novel was The Legend of Bagger Vance and he somehow went from writing about a magic black man to the Spartans at Thermopylae.  The Hot Gates was the first Pressfield novel I ever read many years ago and I was hooked. Thanks to 300 everyone now knows the story of Leonidas's stand at the Hot Gates. The movie was based on a comic book fantasy. The novel takes a more realistic approach but it was still a great read.

The Profession takes place in the not too distant future, almost next Sunday AD. In the year 2032 private military companies wield power that rivals some nation states. The story is told through the mouth of Colonel Gilbert "Gent" Gentilhomme. He works for Force Insertion which is commanded by disgraced ex-Marine Corps General James Salter. Salter manipulates, bribes, and forces his way onto the world stage when his company seizes control of Middle Eastern oil fields. He becomes the wealthiest and most powerful man on earth. What he wants most is to return to the United States where the American people are willing to make him a Roman-style dictator. Salter and Gent are as close as father and son. The climax of the novel is Gent having to decide what he loves more: the general under whom he's served all of his adult life, or the principles on which the United States was founded. I have to admit, the ending was a surprise.

Gent admits that no PMC is a match for the United States military in a straight up fight. The American people quickly grow to love mercenaries though because 1) many of them are American born and American trained professional soldiers who are finally getting paid what they deserve; 2) mercs specialize in the kind of warfare that takes place inside so-called failed states; and 3) Americans can continue scratching that itch for humanitarian interventions around the world without putting their own children in harms way anymore. Just hire your friendly neighborhood mercenaries.

Gent waxes poetical a few times about the nature of soldiering in a world dominated by mercenaries. Every one of them has fought for a nation or a flag. All soldiers - all men for that matter - are romantics. The mercs all had their hearts broken fighting for a nation. It's become a cliche that soldiers fight for the man next to them, but the mercenaries in this book have gone even further: they fight because they like to fight. For some of them, it's the only thing they're good at.

In the real world, PMCs are mostly used to provide support or personal protection for VIPs (see Blackwater in Iraq.) In waging conventional warfare, the United States is second to none. But conventional wars a la World War II are now the exception and not the norm. Small scale clashes involving non-state actors is what makes the world go round today. Twice in this century the US has attempted and failed to put down insurgencies by guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The much celebrated "Surge" during the Bush years only made the insurgents lie low. In short, they live there and we don't. The only reasonable opportunity for victory we ever had was strengthening the feckless Iraqi government. Rumors on the internets say that Iraqi soldiers are throwing down their weapons and running for their lives against the forces of ISIS. Afghanistan was never going to change. Alexander the Great, the British, and the Soviets were all serious about building empires and they all failed. The United States, which is an empire in denial, never stood a chance.

Bill O'Reilly received much mockery for his suggestion that the US create a mercenary force to fight for us against ISIS. But who else is going to do it if the US is unable or unwilling to wage another full scale war in Iraq? One thing insurgents everywhere understand is that the will to fight is paramount. If you can break your opponent's will, then it doesn't matter how strong he his, how much hardware he has, how much money he can throw around. The Vietnamese communists never stood a chance against the full power of the American military, so they continued the strategy that was so effective against the French: avoid pitched battles whenever possible and whittle down their forces through attrition. The Confederate States of America never officially made up its mind how it wanted to fight the Civil War. Robert E. Lee wanted to wage conventional warfare offensively against the more powerful North. Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman believed that they had to destroy the Confederate army and break the Confederate will to fight, respectively.

As Satanically evil as ISIS may be, the United States won't wage war against them unless and until they strike us personally. As always when it comes to American policy in the Middle East, it's the Christians who are suffering the most for it. And what will we have to show for our Iraqi adventures fifty years from now? I hope the Iraqis have tasty cuisine because they're going to open a lot of restaurants here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: Swords of the Emperor, by Chris Wraight

I purchased the two books Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance separately a few years ago. Today they're bundled in one volume. Warhammer tie-in novels probably won't ever rise to the level of great literature. If you want stories of badass dudes performing badass deeds though, they've got you covered.

The books focus on the Emperor Karl Franz's greatest warriors, Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg. Schwartzhelm is the strong and silent type who never, ever smiles. Helborg is the more flamboyant of the two who embraces his role as military celebrity. The plot involves political succession in a backwater realm of the Empire. Schwarzhelm is sent to mediate the dispute. Political intrigue, street fighting, betrayal, pitched battles, and of course Chaos are all involved.

Wraight paints vivid pictures of Schwarzhelm and Helborg. By the end, you know how they'd react to any situation. The villains are despicably evil and you become invested in seeing their defeat. The rich cast of supporting characters also have strong personalities: the spy, the infantry captain promoted through the ranks, the two contenders for the throne, and the Chaos-ridden puppet master. Besides strong characters, the plot was intriguing and compelled me to read on. Wraight is quite good at describing the Renaissance-era type warfare of the setting. As a Ren Faire actor myself, I could sympathize with the halberdiers.

I've always liked Warhammer Fantasy more than Warhammer 40K. The latter is so unremittingly grimdark that it's difficult for me to become invested in the characters. WHFB is also far out on the cynical side of the sliding scale but there I get a sense that it's possible for humanity to survive and thrive. Plus I'd be lying if I said I didn't want the Catholic Church to be less of a humanist social work organization and more of a literal Church Militant.

The Cult of Sigmar reads like a parody of atheist stereotypes about the Catholic Church: warrior priests swinging mighty warhammers while bellowing hymns about burning the heretic and purging the unclean. I dare say the Church would probably be in better shape today if she was closer to that extreme than its latitudinarian opposite. I admit it was inspiring to hear Schwarzhelm, Helborg, and Grand Theogonist Volkmar the Grim assure their men that faith preserves.

I give Chris Wraight's Swords of the Emperor duology four out of five stars.

What price, truth?

Father Jerry Pokorsky asks the question:
On the flight home, I reflected about how gloomy it was. A woman dedicated to Christ – a woman who received from lay benefactors a lifetime of pay and benefits, the costs of formation and education – reducing her ministry to an epitaph fitting nicely if sadly on a tombstone:  “I do not believe in doctrine, I believe in love.”
In return for all the money spent on priests and religious, is it too much to expect that our benefactors receive the faith, the true faith, and nothing but the faith?
A graph is worth a thousand words:
Last weekend we read out a Diocesan pastoral letter at all Masses and distributed leaflets outlining future plans for the development of the Diocese. The leaflet makes interesting and indeed, amusing reading in that it speaks of a diocese “founded on an immensely rich Christian heritage that has thrived and flourished over hundreds of years despite the many difficulties it has faced”. Directly beneath these words are two graphs showing the decline in Diocesan priests (from 360 in 1972 to 150 in 2013) and of Mass attendance (from 100,000 in 1980 to 40,000 in 2014).

If the Diocese flourished so well during the Viking Invasions and Reformation Persecutions but has dwindled in the last fifty years, we need to ask “what have we been doing that precipitated this?”. After all, we came through the Viking raids and Reformation in flourishing manner; why have we not overcome the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies of the 1960’s? Probably because the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies tap into our concupiscence; we are all too keen on self-satisfaction and aggrandizement.
 Well formed lay Catholics always figure out pretty quickly if a diocese, religious institute, seminary, or other Catholic organization is squishy on doctrine or not. If they are, then those organizations die out from lack of money or lack of vocations. Where doctrine is solid, money and vocations are seldom a worry. This is empirically demonstrable, but still so many dioceses and religious communities cling to the humanist, subjectivist, relativist ideologies of the 1960s that have led them to the brink of ruin.

I think Father is on to something when he blames our self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement. Many active priests and religious have spent their entire adult lives high on the spirit of Vatican II, and nobody likes to hear that their life's work, though perhaps a noble experiment, has been an unmitigated disaster.

Things are gradually improving to be sure, but we can't take that improvement for granted. Lay people must know the faith well enough to call Father or Sister out when they go off the rails. Father and Sister must know the faith well enough to be confident in their leadership and teaching. Whenever Father gives a good homily I always shake his hand and tell him so after Mass. If he gives the bog standard "Jesus was a nice guy so we should all be nice too," then I just scowl and shake my head. If we're outside, I spit too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

For Sigmar! For the Empire!

In these dark days, men need the Church to man up:
All this is true, but misses the elephant in the Church that Monsignor Pope writes about, the unspoken force that pushes men out of the Church.  It is not enough for men to man up to manhood, but the church herself needs to man up and make room for these men being men. An unbalanced message that concentrates on forgiveness, love, receptivity, and niceness to the exclusion of other virtues and spiritual truths, does not make this room.  Being shamed for their position of leadership in the home, in the culture, and in the Church, does not provide this space.  Failing to equip men to assume their God-given role as husbands, fathers, pastors, priests, leaders, followers--ultimate responsibility for correcting this failure falls upon Church leadership, not on lay men.

Simply hectoring lay men to step up isn't enough. In fact, it's the opposite of enough, and it pushes men away when they see actions at cross purposes with words.  Instead, when one looks at the faith traditions that are growing today--liberalism, Islam, evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Christianity--one notes a common thread connecting them all: An unapologetic assertion of truth and, for the latter three, clearly demarcated roles for the masculine and feminine.
Women pretty much run the US Catholic Church in every position that doesn't explicitly require Holy Orders. Even then, I've seen some priests find creative ways to let women give the homily, usually calling it a reflection or a testimonial. My own diocese of Sacramento has a chancellorette. Priests are always loathe to bite the hand that feeds them, which makes it a bit rich when they deliver a bog standard "man up" homily. Why should I listen to a man who can't even stand up to a few ball breaking soccer moms or brassy old grandmothers on the parish council or liturgy committee?

To be fair, Monsignor Pope is a good priest and I can't really disagree with anything in his original column. I posted this on Facebook and the feedback I got from one girl got me thinking. Monsignor said that the men he's spoken with avoid the Church because it's feminized. This jives with my own experience and the opinions of a lot of other men I know. Would the opposite be true though: would women avoid the Church if it was a hardcore, ultra-masculine, Crusader-spirit, witch-hunting, heretic burning, hellfire and brimstone preaching Warhammer like organization?

 Cardinal Burke (L) correcting Cardinal Kasper (R)
Of course not. If anything, the Church would see an influx of more women as more men flocked to its gates. Islam isn't known for being especially female friendly, yet more and more Western women who grew up as Godless heathens are converting and putting on the burka.  Men need to be men of course, but it would be of great help if the Church supported us and gave us room to be men within her structure, whether as priests, religious, or lay men.

Greetings to a new friend, diets, and the dearth of youngins

I have been added to the blogroll of the Deus Ex Machina blog. Check him out. I may have to begin speaking of my five loyal readers now.

The diet is going well. It's been six weeks and I'm down thirty pounds. Remember: eggs for breakfast, rare steak for lunch, whiskey for dinner. Every sixth day is your cheat day. I've got more energy than a train loaded with dynamite crashing into a nuclear submarine that's on fire.

The local FSSP parish is the exception to most of the rules, but there's definitely a shortage of singles at the typical Novus Ordo parish. Whenever I attend the Novus Ordo on Sunday, it's mostly a sea of white hair interspersed with a few young families who have very young children or recently baptized infants. Unmarried young adults between the ages of 18-29 are virtually nonexistent. I don't think it's a phenomenon restricted only to a few parishes in northern California. It's a cliché now: good Catholic boy or girl is an altar server, attends all of the classes, receives all the sacraments, goes off to college, never darkens the doorstep of a parish again until sometime in their mid to late thirties, if ever.

Everyone from bishops to bloggers has spilled a lot of virtual ink about this problem. The hierarchy usually blames things like our sex obsessed culture, the easy access to contraceptives, and the secular nature of most universities, including and especially the so-called Catholic ones. The real problem lies squarely with the Church herself. Bad catechesis is always the scapegoat but I think it's a symptom of a deeper problem: we don't take the faith seriously anymore.

That's not to say we should always come across as grim and dour when teaching or talking about the faith. But earlier generations approached it in a way that we haven't for a long time. They could have fun but in the end they understood that obeying the commandments and the precepts was a matter of eternal life and death. They accepted the reality of the supernatural and preternatural in a way we don't.

This is reflected in the documents of Vatican II which have informed virtually all of the Church's official thinking and analysis of the last fifty years. To be blunt, a lot of the Church's official teaching has been informed with humanist gobbledygook. We don't think of the Church's mission as the salvation of souls anymore but providing ease and comfort to man in this world. We used to make a distinction between the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy, and both were laudable. Now the Church herself often scolds us for performing old fashioned works of mercy like "instructing the ignorant" or "admonishing the sinner."

Young people pick up on this. If all it means to be a Christian is to be a nice guy, then what do we need to go to Mass for? Why do we need to believe in God at all for that matter, beyond thinking of him as our personal cheerleader? If nothing else, working with teenagers has proven to me that young people crave discipline and order. The harsher I am in my instructional methods, the more they eat it up. You don't have to be drill instructor hardcore; just don't sugarcoat anything. If they're instilled with good habits and good instruction as teenagers, it's that much more likely they'll stick with the faith through college instead of going off to sow their wild oats.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ideological warfare, 4gen, and the will to power

A general reflects on two failed wars:
Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story.
The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Much as I despise President Obama, it's a bit rich for neocons to speak of him "losing" Iraq and Afghanistan. That presupposes that 1) we won in the first place, and 2) it was possible for us to win by any reasonable definition. In short, they live there and we don't. It would make no difference if we stayed for ten years or a hundred years, and there was no way in hell we were going to stay for a century. If anything, it might have been more effective to have simply smashed their governments and then immediately withdrawn, leaving them to their own devices from day one. There was simply no way that either the Iraqis or the Afghans would ever evolve into mild mannered Minnesota Democrats. Americans don't really do counterinsurgency because we don't really understand ideological warfare:
Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use “extremist” as a negative epithet. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.
We don’t expect ideas to matter — or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the “root causes” of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists’ very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed. 
ISIS knows what they're about, and they speak at great length about it. Presidents Bush and Obama are loathe to admit the Islamic nature of the enemy. Even if they did, we're not suited to that kind of ideological or religious warfare. Whenever anyone brings up the nature of Islam, sure enough there will be plenty of Westerners who claim that Christianity isn't all that different, which is prima facie laughable. Thirteen years after 9/11 we still welcome Islamists onto our shores and woe betide the commentator who seriously suggests that we don't.

The best solution is separationism:
I subscribe to the now tiny but, I believe, some-day-to-be prevalent Separationist School of Western-Islamic Relations. We separationists affirm the following:
  • Islam is a mortal threat to our civilization.
  • But we cannot destroy Islam.
  • Nor can we democratize Islam.
  • Nor can we assimilate Islam.
  • Therefore the only way to make ourselves safe from Islam is to separate ourselves from Islam.
I miss Auster.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Elephant stampede

As you well know, I don't think much of democracy or liberalism. It's rather amusing to see people like Chris Matthews and Andrew Sullivan hyperventilating about those terrible, terrible extremists in the Republican Party. Even the most hardcore tea partier is essentially a right-liberal. The Republicans are already burbling about "working with the president," even though they won an enormous mandate to do the opposite. The Democrats tried to spin this as anti-incumbent sentiment. They're half right: it was fierce anti-incumbent animus against the president. In practice, not much is going to change. The Republicans are not going to repeal Obamacare, campaign propaganda to the contrary. They'll continue to tiptoe toward left-liberalism, reach out to minorities who will never vote for them, and timidly voice opposition to abortion and sodomite "marriage" based on narrow Constitutional technicalities.

Still... I do enjoy it when Democrats and left-liberals get whipped like a government mule.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The steak and eggs diet worked for me

Inspired by Victor Pride, I decided to give the Vince Gironda steak and eggs diet a try. For the last four and a half weeks, I've eaten nothing but steak and eggs with every sixth day being a cheat day. If the cheat day arrives and you want to eat a large pepperoni pizza, a gallon of ice cream, and wash it all down with a 12 pack of PBR, go for it.

I've lost 18 pounds since the experiment began. I feel like I have enough energy to win a fist fight with a grizzly bear. Moreover, this diet jives with my instincts. I've always tended to be a carnivore, but I didn't eat as much red meat as I wanted because I believed the weenies who said it's bad for you. No more. I could easily keep up this diet for the rest of my life. My original plan was to try it for a month, but I'm going to keep going.

One thing this has taught me is that regular exercise can't compensate for a crappy diet. I was always amazed at how some girls on Facebook could go to the gym, do Zumba or whatever, and still look like land whales. It's because they treat themselves to Starbucks frappucinos or other goodies that are loaded with sugar. I wasn't able to exercise as much last week due to both a cold and a sprained ankle, but I still ended up losing three pounds with steak and eggs.

Thanks a lot Uncle Vic. I'll keep going.

Celebrating our public liturgy

The polls say the Republicans are going to do quite well today, which means I'll be watching the androgynous drones have emotional breakdowns on MSNBC tonight.

I should hope that my four loyal readers know by now that I don't believe voting makes any real difference. As Mark Twain said, if it did they wouldn't let us do it. Voting is not so much about choosing who will actually rule over us or the policies that will affect us. It's more about publicly reaffirming our allegiance to our state religion: liberalism. Every two years we must choose between the left-liberals or the right-liberals. The left-liberals are leading the march toward our inevitable socio-economic collapse. The right-liberals are bringing up the rear, impotently grumbling about how the vanguard is moving too quickly but not really disagreeing about our ultimate destination. Those who are inside the Overton window are allowed to criticize some of the symptoms of liberalism without ever really questioning liberalism itself. Everyone agrees that the purpose of government is to maximize freedom which, paradoxically, always leads to an ever larger and more intrusive State. If the goal is to maximize freedom, then we necessarily need a bigger and more powerful State to ensure that nobody oppresses anyone else.

Both left-liberals and right-liberals support the separation of Church and State. In democracies and republics, every citizen is theoretically part of the State. In practice, this means the separation of individual believers from the Church which is proceeding apace.

As is the case every election cycle, right-liberals urge us to vote because the left-liberals are worse. They are worse in the sense they want to hasten our decline and fall. They're worse in the sense that they passionately despise men like me, as opposed to right-liberals who eagerly court my vote while treating me with benign neglect during the off season. On an emotional level, I admit it's fun to watch left-liberals clean egg off their faces. But deep down inside, everyone knows that their individual vote is not going to make a difference in how we are actually governed.

My vote makes less of a difference toward the common good than my smiling at the girl who prepares my coffee at Starbucks. My smiling at her makes an immediate difference in her day, far more than my vote will make at the local, state, or especially the federal level. Good Catholics have a responsibility to work for the common good. Voting is not the only, or even a particularly significant, part of that responsibility.