Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Catholicism, Science, and Frankenstein

I talked about the Catholic Church's relationship to science in How Can You Still Be Catholic?, mentioning a number of considerations, including the classic horror novel Frankenstein. Its author, Mary Shelley, wasn't Catholic or even a particularly orthodox Christian. She held quite modern views, and yet she still wrote a novel of science taken too far, science abused, science twisted to ends that caused destruction.

The scientist, in some sense, has taken the place of the magician in some of our modern literature, of the one willing to go too far, to seek out powers forbidden or knowledge that corrupts the ones who possess it. We recognize on some level that there are limits, that though knowledge and its pursuit is a good thing, there are some things human eyes should not see, powers human beings ought not to possess.

On some level, I think people know this, even if subconsciously, even if subrationally. There's a point in a conversation where people begin to get spooked, where perhaps they may get the first hint of corruption, of disease, of madness or perversion, of danger. Something is wrong with that man, we may think; something's not healthy here.

Hence the fascination in pop culture with Sherlock Holmes (particularly as played by Benedict Cumberbatch), with the brilliant but unpredictable, possibly quite dangerous, even if inadvertently dangerous Sherlock. In A Study in Scarlet, he's described thusly:
I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think he would take it himself with the same readiness.

And we all look with fascination at such a character, thinking all the while that we'd never want to be around someone quite so dangerous in real life.

But when are we? Would we know? When do we recognize Frankenstein in our midst?

Not the monster himself; the scientist. (But then again, perhaps the scientist is the monster, and Frankenstein's monster really the man.)

When do we say, "Science is going/has gone too far?"

What are the limits of acceptable scientific manipulation of nature?

Do we today acknowledge any? Is the Church the last bastion of bioethics, shouting into the winds of change an unheeded warning? Or does the culture, the zeitgest, hold certain unchallenged assumptions while bioethicists and healthcare professionals labor quietly behind the scenes for a saner, more stable way of proceeding? Are the myths of obscurantist religion standing against the right and good progress of science only afloat in the popular culture, and laughed out of the room in serious conversations?

Academia is a mixed bag; we are all reaping the whirlwind of the dictatorship of relativism right now, and the hurricane of the myths of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and modernism. Much is obscure that should be clear, "and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost," to borrow a phrase from Galadriel.

So we don't see as clearly as we should. We have to defend certain truths that should not need defending, truths such as the dignity of the human person, the inalienable rights of all mankind, the good stewardship we owe to the created order, and more--creation as a gift, not as something subject to endless manipulation, for one.

Science is a great gift from God, as is the existence of a universe in which technology can be so powerful. Minds that are adequate to understand reality; the capacity to teach and to learn; the use of language and mathematics to convey wonders--all of this is good, given by a wise and loving Creator. Modern medicine is awesome, and growing greater all the time. And yet, though our stories and entertainments ask many of the right questions, do we notice that there are boundaries? Do we listen? Do we recognize the warnings?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Racists on the March? Send in the Pro-Life Movement!

If you're looking for a solution/something useful to do, see the end of this piece. But I wanted to try once again to explain why I'm posting about all of this to such a degree. A friend said:
"You should not be easily moved to fear. It is unwarranted."

I'm not Jewish, or black, so yeah, I personally don't have nearly as much to fear. But I am Catholic, and I am an American, and the son of a Coast Guardsman. The Nazis and the KKK are enemies of the US. They are enemies of humanity. They are enemies of the Church. Their ideologies are to be opposed absolutely, especially when they are manifesting in marches and rallies.

We who are white, who are safe and far away from these things, can all too easily assume they are nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about. The ideologies were defeated. Sauron was destroyed, after all, and Voldemort died trying to kill a baby, and all that's over and done with. Right?

Tell that to the folks who attend the synagogue in Charlottesville. Tell that to the black people who have to live near or alongside people who put on their klan gear on the weekends. Tell that to the non-whites watching the Vice documentary this past week.

I am not afraid--I am in Massachusetts, deep in the North, deep behind Union lines. But I am furious and afraid on behalf of all those people who shouldn't have to be furious and afraid. Not, I hope, out of moral preening, but because Jim Crow endured because so many of us thought it silly to be afraid, thought Martin Luther King a troublemaker and the Civil Rights movement a whole lot of fuss about nothing. I'm writing all this because of Munich, and Chamberlain, and a very near thing for Britain because they disarmed throughout the 1930s, for all that Churchill never stopped speaking. I'm writing all this because let's try not to leave the Jewish people alone in the face of the Nazis again, or the black folks alone in the face of the Klan again.
"Furthermore, you are not asking people to simply state their opposition to Nazisism. You have affirmatively stated that unless someone supports punching people in the face for speaking words of hate, then that person has lost his mind."

No. If you can find it and repost it, I'll acknowledge I made a mistake. But what I've been saying or trying to say is that unless someone is able to empathize and understand why BLM or Antifa or an ordinary citizen punches people in the face for being public neo-Nazis and KKK, then that person has lost his mind. I cringe every time a conservative tries to equate Antifa or BLM with the neo-Nazis and the KKK because it's ridiculous on its face. Antifa and BLM have never held all of Europe in their thrall, never built concentration camps or ovens, never put stars on the Jews or sent forth death squads, the SS. They've never held the South in their thrall, sending and receiving slave ships on which millions died, never torn apart families, had breeding programs for their slaves, never sent forth night riders to lynch or bomb civil rights leaders. To attempt such a comparison is obscene.
"I am concerned that it strikes such fear in your heart that I will not advocate instigating violence. Hopefully you let go of some of that fear long enough to see that those who are not actively advocating for and justifying violence can still be fiercely opposed to the evils of Nazism and White supremacists."
Of course the right can be fiercely opposed to the evils of Nazism and white supremacists, but act and potential are two different things. This is why I keep saying this should be easy--there're all the intellectual and historical resources in the world for Republicans and Americans of all stripes, especially Catholic Christians, to oppose Nazism and white supremacist ideologies.

I'm seeing a lot of Catholic Christians and Republicans very intently defending the president and attempting to equate BLM and Antifa with neo-Nazis and the KKK.

I'm not seeing the Republicans on Facebook fiercely opposing Nazism and the KKK.

The Federalist describes the present mess well:
... He [President Trump] is also working to destroy and discredit the American Right, pitting us against one another in vicious internecine arguments. Right now there are otherwise good people who, out of partisan habits or long-borne outrage at biased media, are trying to concoct excuses for why Trump’s Q&A wasn’t so bad and all the criticisms of it are just fake news.

It’s time for that to stop. It’s time to stop looking at the latest Trump statement in relation to how bad you think the alternative is on the Left, or how biased the media is, and instead to compare it to what we should actually expect from a president. In a country where 99 percent of the population is opposed to Nazis, it should be the easiest thing in the world for an American president to unite the country by appealing to our shared values. Only Trump could take one of the most uncontroversial ideas in American politics, the Indiana Jones Rule, and turn it into a wrenching national argument. ...

Thank God, Republican leaders in Congress are clearly speaking out against Nazism and the KKK; the bishops have spoken clearly and forcefully; various members of the president's different councils have resigned or spoken out on the Charlottesville march. But Trump supporters on Facebook? Making very clear that they'd like everyone to believe BLM and Antifa are just as bad as neo-Nazis and the KKK.

And I'm really sad about that because this shouldn't even be a thing. This is the easiest challenge in the world, really, because conservatism stands against the sort of easy disregard for the common good that led to the Confederacy and the Civil War; conservatism stands for human rights and against totalitarian governments, as happened throughout the Cold War; Christianity calls us to love our neighbor, whoever they may be, and to know that all are one in Christ Jesus, no matter their race, no matter their skin color.

This was such an easy one to knock out of the park--but here we are, arguing instead.

So here's my proposed solution.

Dear conservatives and Christians of my acquaintance: I hold that when the Nazis and the KKK try to get on board the conservative end of the spectrum--that is, when the left hasn't had to lift a finger; the Nazis and the KKK are doing the work themselves--then the Republicans need to be leading the counter-demonstrations out of sheer love of country. Nothing to do with trying to "distance" yourselves from the Nazis. Tell the left, "We've got this. We'll do the counter-protests. We'll unite the right and stand between the 'Unite the Right' rally and the synagogue. Don't bother sending in BLM or Antifa. We'll bring the Knights of Columbus, the pro-life movement, and all the churches. We'll be the ones to get rid of the KKK and the Nazis because you've always been wrong about them being conservative or Republican. We know Christianity demands us oppose these groups. Don't worry. We protest Planned Parenthood; we'll protest the Nazis and the KKK." Why? It's an easy win; all of us are bound by conviction to oppose Nazism and the KKK; and the left is doing it wrong, as this piece makes clear.
... “The main thing that [hate groups] seek is attention and publicity to disseminate a message of hate,” Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Boston office, told NPR’s “All Things Considered” during an interview about today’s planned “free speech” rally on Boston Common, which some are concerned will be a magnet for hate groups. “And so the best-case scenario is they come and they speak at the Common and there is nobody there to listen.” And Moises Velasquez-Manoff, a contributing op-ed writer at the Times, explained earlier this week that according to experts, “Violence directed at white nationalists only fuels their narrative of victimhood — of a hounded, soon-to-be-minority who can’t exercise their rights to free speech without getting pummeled.” “I would want to punch a Nazi in the nose, too,” Maria Stephan, a program director at the United States Institute of Peace, told him. “But there’s a difference between a therapeutic and strategic response.” Progressives would be eagerly echoing and retweeting this sort of logic if the wonks in question were talking about ISIS rather than the National Vanguard. Why should their insights suddenly be ignored?

If this line of thinking is correct, anyone disgusted by organized displays of explicit hatred should adopt a stance along the lines of this: “You know what? Let the Nazis rally. Let them try to promote a dying ideology the entire nation finds execrable. Down the road we are going to set up a big, inclusive show of solidarity that will be ten times larger. And anyone who is scared or intimidated or angry should come there, rather than risk their well-being facing down the dregs of society.” To be sure, this approach may not be as satisfying as punching Nazis, but it may increase the odds that in the future, there will be fewer Nazis to punch in the first place. ...
Let's do it right, peacefully, and far more effectively because if Christianity and conservatism makes plain the neo-Nazis and racists have no home on the right, they have no hope of a political home anywhere.

You want BLM and Antifa to become irrelevant? Publicly oppose racism in an organized fashion so they don't have occasion to riot.

Now I know the left has consistently moved the football.

And I sympathize to a degree with why conservatives are reluctant to respond to liberal challenges to condemn the Nazis, the KKK, and racism. I absolutely know how the left can attempt to demonize people or positions; I've seen the same sorts of things at Gonzaga; I agree that the ideological legacy of Communism perdures and must still be extricated from politics.

But conservatism, Christianity, and patriotism calls us to oppose the Nazis and the KKK. A pragmatic concern for ending the spectre of Antifa and BLM violence in this country calls us to publicly, clearly, consistently oppose racism, the white supremacists, and the neo-Nazis wherever they arise so that the left doesn't feel the need; so that it's taken care of.

Using the force of reason and public witness against racism is part of the new evangelization, after all, and a necessary part of developing a culture of life, leading to a civilization of love.

So come on--win big, win easily, and do the right thing, the thing demanded by conservatism and Christianity themselves--stand against the racists so the left doesn't have to, even if (when) segments of the left aren't grateful or gracious, when they wish you weren't there so they could attempt to tar you with the same brush. Do the right thing, as the pro-life movement has been doing for so long, even when it's hard, or thankless, or painful, or misunderstood.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The World's Gone Mad

I am not an Alinskyite, nor a Marxist, nor a supporter of the deconstruction and political manipulation of the left.

My writing here on this issue does not arise from leftism. It arises from the same sources (I hope) as Dietrich von Hildebrand's opposition to Nazism, and his shock and dismay that there was any question about whether or not absolute opposition to the Nazis was mandated for Catholics. I hope to be standing in the tradition of Pope Pius XII, who, as I discuss in my book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question, taught against Nazism and did his best to save Jewish lives during WWII.

Charlottesville was not a conflict between two political "sides." Nazism and the KKK are not on the political spectrum. They are both embraces of the demonic. They are insanity. They are always resolutely to be opposed, particularly by Catholics.

Further, to fight the Nazis is not an infallible sign of leftism. To fight the Nazis was once considered a patriotic duty in this country. I had thought those days were not over, that though conservatives may deplore the break down of law and order, they could empathize with those who might have found the sight of Nazis on the march and the KKK on the march a sight to inspire such fear and visceral revulsion as to prompt violence. I had thought that such revulsion might be shared by Republicans, as other commenters have expressed and acknowledged. But I'm truly astounded by the reaction from some conservatives and Catholics right now.

Why on earth, first of all, are the people passionately opposing the Nazis and the KKK being called "far left" or "communists"? I give you, once again, Pius XI's condemnation of the founding principles of Nazism.

That's the same pope that issued Divini Redemptoris, the condemnation of atheistic Communism.

Tell me--in what upside down universe is it required for an anti-Nazi to necessarily be a Communist? Tell that to Churchill and his party; tell that to the veterans of WWII.

Why on earth aren't all Trump supporters and Republicans laughing at the Nazis for attempting to "Unite the Right" with their ideology, and ridiculing them for thinking that anyone's interested? Why on earth are you attacking those against the Nazis and the KKK, rather than turning all your rhetorical fire on the enemies of humanity that marched in Charlottesville? This is an easy win for conservatives everywhere--laugh the racists to scorn, because they're not conservative. They're politically homeless.

My key frustration and main point is simply--why isn't every Republican ridiculing the notion that the "Unite the Right" rally had actually attracted anyone on the right? Why aren't y'all just joining the condemnations of the neo-Nazis and the KKK, saying, "Yeah, the lunatic nightmares from the past are rearing their ugly heads again. Boy, if I'd have been there, I might have punched them, as well! Not the best reaction, but perfectly understandable, given the past. Thank God things didn't get worse than they did--Nazis and KKK members on the march have historically gone hand in hand with violence, after all!"

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Charlottesville, Catholicism, and Why I Care So Much

Well, this has been one heck of a week in light of Charlottesville, hasn't it?

I guess I never really expected to see the sorts of pictures and headlines I've been seeing--neo-Nazis marching in a torchlit parade, chanting slogans straight from the 1930s, awaiting the rise of an American fuhrer--not Trump, says one writer for The Stormer in the documentary below, because he's not racist enough; he has a Jewish son-in-law--marching in support of Confederate monuments.

Warning: NSFW; strong language; racism; violence.

And that brings home that there's a reason why any number of black activists call for the removal of these Confederate monuments. They commemorate a very specific political entity that was dedicated to the cause of white supremacy and black enslavement. Nobody has to read anything into history to find that; it's just a blunt statement of fact. The fact that General Lee was a man of noted virtue and excellence as a soldier just makes him all the more a tragic figure. The corruption of the best is the worst, after all.

Nazism is something to be absolutely opposed, as the Catholic philosopher and fervent anti-Nazi Dietrich von Hildebrand argued tirelessly in the 1920s and 1930s, and as was made plain in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge.
Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community - however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things - whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds. ...

None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are "as a drop of a bucket" (Isaiah xI, 15). ...

The Bishops of the Church of Christ, "ordained in the things that appertain to God (Heb. v, 1) must watch that pernicious errors of this sort, and consequent practices more pernicious still, shall not gain a footing among their flock. ...
He also condemned fascism in Non Abbiamo Bisogno. His successor, Pope Pius XII, taught against the fundamental principles of Nazism in Summi Pontificatus and Mystici Corporis Cbristi, as well as protecting Jews to the best of his ability and assisting the various assassination attempts against Hitler.

Nazism is to be resisted. Period. So, then, is the KKK, which falls under many of the same condemnations as were issued against Nazism. Racism is wrong and forbidden to Catholics. Supremacist movements are similarly wrong and forbidden to Catholics.

On the question of leftist violence at Charlottesville:

You know, there are any number of instances you could usefully point to in order to condemn violence from the left. The attack on the National Geographic building a few years ago, for instance, or the man who shot at members of Congress practicing for a baseball game from earlier this year.

Charlottesville isn't the instance you need to usefully make your point. In Charlottesville, the Nazis showed up. Those still attached to the Confederacy, in many cases with all their ideals of white supremacy and the subjugation of other races, showed up.

Previously, the United States has responded to both those groups with its military. And not just its military, but an all-out, national effort for the defeat of both the Nazis and the Confederacy.

This is not the test case you want, if you really want to rally people against violence from the left.

Now, Pius XI also condemned communism; many on the left hold to Marxist-inspired ideologies, all of which are more or less problematic.

But Nazism is a menace to everyone, just as a rabid dog is a menace to everyone. Something has gone incredibly wrong in the lives and minds of those who subscribe to it, for it always, always ends in the charnel house of the serial killers. That, after all, is the goal of the ideology. The cure? Truth and love, but it takes tremendous courage, and grace.


So when human beings fail in the face of the hungry beast of Nazism and the KKK; when the Nazis and the Communists get punched first before they can get to punching, well, I'm inclined to say that though the reaction was wrong, still it's understandable. I'm not going to say the left was needlessly inciting violence when they were confronted with the actual Nazis and the actual KKK--I'm going to say that the Nazis and the KKK got what they wanted out of the encounter, and that a normal human being may react to an existential threat in wrong, but understandable ways.

The strength of our democracy is best shown by ignoring these demonstrations and arresting Nazis and the KKK when they do break the law, as they will inevitably do, given the nature of their belief systems. At the same time, constant vigilance is demanded, for the Death Eaters and servants of the powers of darkness have not gone away. They do mean the death and/or enslavement of many, many people. We are obliged to respond, as many bishops of the Church have responded.

Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska:
Racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism are absolutely opposed to the truth of the Gospel. Racism is a dangerous evil: a lie sown by Satan, which seduces, and confuses, and ensnares. The Evil One seeks to divide us from one another and from the Lord, by sowing and exploiting prejudice, stereotypes, and fear.

Regrettably, the white supremacists were not the only ones sowing violence in Charlottesville. A small number of the counter-protestors, but not most of them, were violent, anarchist members of the “antifa” movement, who opposed their racist counterparts with violence.

We should all be disgusted by the racism of white supremacists. But hatred, expressed in anarchic violence, is the wrong response to injustice. Hatred begets hatred. Violence begets violence. Christians know that evil cannot overcome evil. Only grace can conquer evil.

This weekend, Archbishop Chaput wrote that “Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country... If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.”

Today, our call is to oppose the evil of racism, and the violence begotten by hatred, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ—with the love of the One who came to redeem every human heart. Jesus Christ can free the captives of racism, and Jesus Christ can heal racism’s victims. Our job is to proclaim the truth, mercy, and freedom of life in Jesus Christ. We should not be naïve about how difficult that job really is.

It should be absolutely clear to us that without a massive spiritual renewal in our country, violence, hatred, and chaos will continue unabated. In fact, each one of us must guard our hearts, to ensure that Satan does not sow within us the lie of racism, or use our disgust for racism to make us hateful, vengeful, or violent.

The only Christian response to the evil that unfolded in Charlottesville is to redouble our prayers for our nation, and to redouble our efforts to build a civilization of love. ...
Bishop Robert Barron writes:

Friends, there can be no equivocation or nuance when it comes to racism. The Church's teaching is clear: "It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or xenophobic behavior which attempt to make our brothers and sisters into scapegoats" (St. John Paul II). We must vehemently oppose the resurgence of an "insane, racist ideology born of neopaganism" (Benedict XVI). The Church stands against and condemns all racist ideologies and warns those who would propagate such horrors to repent. Please join me in praying for the victims of the shocking violence in Charlottesville and for the conversion of its perpetrators.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development:
As we learn more about the horrible events of yesterday, our prayer turns today, on the Lord's Day, to the people of Charlottesville who offered a counter example to the hate marching in the streets. Let us unite ourselves in the spirit of hope offered by the clergy, people of faith, and all people of good will who peacefully defended their city and country.

We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love's victory over every form of evil is assured. At Mass, let us offer a special prayer of gratitude for the brave souls who sought to protect us from the violent ideology displayed yesterday. Let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.

One final note: I've been amazed that there wasn't simple unanimity in the country condemning the Nazis and KKK members, deriding white supremacist movements, and pointing out that the event that brought all these people together, a "Unite the Right" rally, was badly named because no one from the conservative movement or the Republican Party would ever have anything to do with such a thing. And yet people keep speaking as though there were actually sides represented, as though the left and the right showed up, had a dust up, and now we're all seeking out who to blame.

Let us be clear: when your platform is extermination, enslavement, and the destruction of humanity, you aren't on the left or the right. You've run right off into insanity.

The Nazis and the KKK aren't on the political spectrum. They're enemies of humanity, and to be opposed always and everywhere by right thinking people. It shouldn't be that hard! I've heard some people express serious concern that the left attempts to demonize their enemies, and so this is just the beginning of the left attacking people.

The problem with that argument? These are actual Nazis and actual KKK members. The left doesn't need to do a darn thing to demonize them; these guys have embraced the nightmares of days gone by and sought to become them. They have embraced the demonic. Everyone ought to oppose Nazism and the KKK, and the right should be disgusted by their attempt to claim the label "right-wing." Kudos to National Review for making just such a repudiation:
We categorically repudiate not only the specific acts of violence but also the broader cause in which this violence was deployed. The rally in question was advertised as a project to “Unite the Right.” We flatter ourselves that we have a little something to say about that, and our answer is: No. We do not wish to be united with Jew-haters, bigots, racists, and the morally and intellectually defective specimens on such sad display in Charlottesville, waving their Nazi banners and Confederate flags.

Monday, July 10, 2017

My Catholic Hipsterdom

So this may totally be my pride speaking, but I think I may have been doing the Pope Francis thing before Pope Francis.

And by the "Pope Francis thing," I mean bewildering the left, infuriating the right, and befriending all of them at the same time.

Friends and former classmates, feel free to tell me I'm tooting my own horn or misremembering, but I distinctly remember at least one meeting of fellow Catholics, at which one professor looked at me rather confusedly and said of me that he wasn't sure what I was, some sort of double or triple agent or whatever. I was delighted.

Why? Because really, to be Catholic is to break all the boundaries of the American political mindset.

The most important things in this world aren't political positions, but people. The most important characteristic of those people isn't their political position, but that they have been made in the image and likeness of God. We are all brethren at root, all family, and every conflict, every struggle between human beings is always, always, a family affair.

So politics takes a very distant place behind loving my neighbor, whatever they might claim as their politics. Heck, as Chesterton said, "The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

So I wasn't a conservative at GU in my writings; nor was I a liberal. I wasn't even a libertarian, or some even more exotic stripe of political animal. I was simply Catholic first, and so I wrote, by turns, against the Iraq war, against abortion, for voting third party, for freedom of expression ... a whole range of things. I believe I may have bewildered many people by my consistency. After all, the kneejerk reaction from many people would be, "No! Catholics are conservative! You must fit the stereotype! It's easy that way--I can categorize you and dismiss you/assume you will stand behind everything the Republicans stand for!"

Yeah, no. Catholics are any number of things, including left, right, center, and right outside of any political party of the U.S. What binds them together? Jesus Christ. His Church. The faith handed on by the apostles.

David Mills put this beautifully in a recent piece. Excerpts:
“Give me a Catholic who is as radical as Dorothy Day but has her fidelity to the Church and I’m totally cool with it, even if I might disagree.”

...You have to spend a lot of your day reading Christian culture-warring to know how unusual that is. For Peter, the shared faith is everything. Politics — yeah, okay, whatever.

... In seminary people would ask, “Are you a liturgy guy or a social-justice guy?” [Bishop] Barron answers by invoking Dorothy Day.

“She was radically devoted to social change, care for the poor and an end to violence,” he says. “Yet she was converted to a very pious Catholicism rooted in the Eucharist, the Mass, the Rosary, Benediction, retreats and an intense interiority. She brought these two [strands] together in her life, and one fed the other; one returned to the other. That is the model you want.” ...
As you may be able to tell from past entries on this blog, I'm a big fan of Dorothy Day. She's a model for Catholics of every political stripe because she was Catholic first and political second. She believed in the Real Presence. She believed in the interior life, in the deifying effects of sanctification, in the supernatural, in a God of miracles as well as a God who hid behind the distressing disguise of the poor. She believed, and lived, and loved. And so she changed the world.

She melded a very distinctive political philosophy with a fervent interior life and a serious Christian commitment, lived determinedly and fully, as best she knew how. She's a Servant of God now, and will probably some day be declared a saint.

And that, my friends, is what matters most.

Yes, there are non-negotiables in the Christian faith, some of which have very specific political consequences. The condemnations of Nazism (in its basic tenets, if not by name) handed down by Popes Pius XI and XII still stand, still have force and effect; the condemnations of atheistic Communism, of Stalin's totalitarianism and the consistent Soviet disregard for human rights and freedoms, have not gone away.

And yet the social teaching of the Catholic Church is an endorsement of portions of many different party platforms, and a challenge to many other parts of those same party platforms. Catholics ought to be, like Dorothy Day, salt and light even to those with whom they largely agree; we are to be the grit that causes the oysters of the world to produce pearls, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, St. John Paul II, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, William Wilberforce, and so many other members of the Body of Christ have been. We have a role as irritants, as prophets, pricking the comfortable and comforting the wounded, standing up for those chained in place and speaking for those who have been silenced. We have a role in defense of the family, of the unborn, of the elderly, of the minorities, of the oppressed, of those denied their rightful place, pay, and dignity.

We are strangers and sojourners upon this earth, if we live the Catholic faith rightly, and like the Son of Man, have no place to rest our heads, not even in a political party with like-minded folks. We are here, not for comfort (much as I would love that!), but to be like Jesus; to be branches of the vine, spreading the divine life and love throughout all the world, helping make it come true that God is all in all.

And so we'll love everybody, and argue with everybody, and eat together with tax collectors and prostitutes, and forgive our enemies as they crucify us, and raise the dead, and proclaim the Good News of God's love to everybody.

And we'll vote. And sometimes we'll march. And sometimes, we may even celebrate a win in the cause of doing good and avoiding evil.

And we'll refuse the great temptation to do "anything in the name of" something good, because to use the One Ring is always to unleash a great evil. And we'll refuse to make an idol of a political party, or of even a very good political position, because God is one, and He is not a political party or a position. And we won't place our trust in princes, because that's actually in the Bible, so we won't be disappointed when politicians aren't Jesus come again, because they never will be.

But always, we'll love our neighbors and seek the common good.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Pope: Pray for those who have left the faith

Gee, it's like the Holy Father and Marian Press are on the same wavelength somehow!

The Holy Father has a specific prayer intention for July, the month that How Can You Still Be Catholic? is officially released.


Writes Crux:
In his prayer video for the month of July, Pope Francis has asked Christians to join him in praying for those who have strayed from the faith, providing hope to them through the witness of our joy and actions.
Yes, please pray with the Holy Father, especially through the daily Rosary for peace in the world and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, for those who have left the faith, that they might return and become holy, great saints, and soon.

Pray for all of us who are in the Church, but who have grown old and weary in our sins, who need the grace and transformation of the Holy Spirit in order to bring life and light back into our lives and practice of the faith.

And pray for the living saints, that they may persevere to the end, not falling along the way, not beginning well and ending badly. For the battle rages around us here below, and we Christians are all too often wounded and fall, taking others down with us.

Pray, people of God! Spread the Good News, as the bishops have just called us to do and as Pope Francis has been summoning all the Mystical Body of Christ to do since the start of his pontificate.

Pray, and study the sources of our faith, and prepare yourselves to spread the Good News to all the world. Choose to answer the Holy Father's call to live a "missionary option" today, and enter into the Evangelical Catholicism described by George Weigel in his book of the same name, helping heal the wounds caused by the Bad Religion identified by Ross Douthat.

We have work to do. Now is not the time to give up in the face of the world's apparent indifference, or the sins and crimes of the clergy, or the apostasy of so many in the West. Now is the acceptable time to do again what St. Paul, and St. Peter, and so many great fathers and mothers in the faith have done across the ages, what we are all called to do, sometimes by words, but always by love--we are to share the Holy Spirit that is within us with the world, to speak the Word and be the face of the Father's mercy to all those in need, all those of us burning and dying in our sins. We are to work mercy and have faith, to live love and give ourselves generously for the salvation of all the world.

We are to love like Christ, and live like Mary, and serve like Joseph.

Now--now!--is the acceptable time.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Summer Reading List

In the spirit of the Fourth of July weekend, full of beaches and vacation days as well as patriotic commemoration, I thought I'd share my own version of the perennially popular summer reading lists.

Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis--This is one of the great introductions to the heart of the Christian thing. Lewis writes with the brilliance of the professor that he was, but also with the depth of insight and unexpected communion with the Holy Spirit of the holy, of the saint. Live this, and you'll be far closer to living a holy life than you were before.
  • How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question by, well, me--shamefaced self-promotion here, But really, I did write this book in response to Facebook questions, and I deliberately kept the answers short to make it an easy, user-friendly read. So I hope both Catholics and non-Catholics might find it accessible enough even for beach reading!
  • The Father Brown short stories by G.K. Chesterton--I was strongly tempted to recommend The Everlasting Man, but that's not exactly beach reading. The Father Brown short stories, on the other hand, are among some of the outstanding examples of the Golden Age of detective fiction, as well as containing a great deal of Chesterton's wit and wisdom.
  • No Turning Back by Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC--One of those conversion stories that proves that Catholics don't make converts; the Holy Spirit does, and in collaboration with Our Lady. It's a story of grace more powerful than addiction, of hope past all hope, and it's written to be a readable by everyone.
  • The 'One Thing' is Three, by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC--A self-indulgent recommendation; I really loved this book when I first read it. This is in many ways the heart of Catholic theology and belief in one incredibly readable package. And trust me--most readers will be rather astounded at what they find. Rather larger than one might expect for beach reading, but well worth your time.
  • Anything and everything by Pope Benedict XVI. Much of it, I grant, not really light enough for the beach, but his interview books are fascinating; great glimpses into the mind of one of the most brilliant men to have ever been elected to the papacy.
 Take, read!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What's the Point?

“How many ways are there to God?”—“As many as there are people.” —Joseph Ratzinger Salt of the Earth
I've been struggling with how to describe what I'm trying to do with How Can You Still Be Catholic? I'm coming to the conclusion that it's half-right to call it a book of apologetics and evangelization. Certainly I would be glad if people found it a really effective defense of the faith, and certainly I'd be glad if people converted as a result of reading it.

But the more I look it over in each round of proofing, corrections, and editing, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that what I'm really after is simply strengthening the faith of Catholics and making the faith a little more comprehensible to non-Catholics. After all, a great many people have no idea what Catholicism really is, or what the history of the Church truly has been. So in many ways, the book is simply an invitation to understanding, offering the curious and the open-minded a way to see their questions answered, to discover the reasons why some decently intelligent people remain Catholic in an age in which that seems like such a strange and unlikely choice.

After all, don't we know better? Aren't all the historians clear that the Catholic Church has always been a force for oppression and a menace to the common good? And aren't all the scientists in agreement that the Catholic faith has been disproven conclusively by research and experimentation?

Isn't it all over?

Well, the answer is emphatically no, not yet, not even close. Indeed, we're still getting converts from a variety of backgrounds: female converts, Jewish converts, former atheists, many Protestants, and more. Why are they converting? What could possibly compel them? The answers are as varied as the individuals.

And yet so often the debates and the public commentary seem to assume that there's no reason to still be Catholic, that no one of any intelligence would be Catholic, that the world has moved on in all ways and the Church must eventually depart the stage, disgraced and discredited, that there's not even a fig leaf left here, if only her followers would open their eyes and see ...

We must surely be disgraced, yes, for the Bride cannot expect to be spared the fate of her Bridegroom. But to be disgraced, disreputable, ridiculous in the eyes of the world is a far cry from actually losing grace, from actually being deprived of the divine life in the soul, of the death of the Church and the promises of Christ. The covenants endure, and will do so till the end of the world, and the relationships they've fostered will endure right outside of time. The Holy Spirit abides, and will abide, to the end of the world and into eternity in the heart of the Church, in the hearts of the faithful, the righteous, and the penitent.

Spoiler alert: This universe has a twist in its ending, everyone. Even though we've been told it's coming, we're still going to be surprised.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Missed Again, Don Quixote

One time, I was getting impatient in an online discussion about the faith. My friend is a determined atheist, you see, with some self-professed Communist leanings, and he was railing against the Church once again.

Or at least, he thought he was railing against the Church.

See, here's the strange thing about being Catholic these days: Everyone outside of the Church is very certain they know exactly what the Catholic faith is and what the Church stands for. They can tell you about it, often at great length, and will do so quite willingly, quite often. But often they're completely, nakedly, incredibly wrong.

As Venerable Fulton Sheen once observed, "There are not 100 people who hate the Catholic Church; But there are millions who hate what they believe the Catholic Church to be."

And my friend was hating away at what he thought the Catholic Church to be. So I called him on it. I didn't dissect his claims, refute his facts, or really answer the challenge at all.

No. I called him "Don Quixote."

So much of the sound and fury against the Church and against the faith really is people tilting at windmills, charging ahead, all sound and fury, full of fire and a sense of righteousness, when they're missing the castle entirely and off in some farmer's field somewhere, trampling the crops as they grow.

I mean, don't get me wrong--there are real sins in the Church's past, and real evils that have needed to be faced, the clergy abuse scandal the easy and obvious example. But there are also a great many imaginary sins in the history books, a great deal of anti-Catholicism masquerading as fact or judicious historical analysis, and thank God, some non-Catholics have called people on it.


Monday, May 22, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Defend the Church

Long ago, in a band room far, far away ...

We were living in Astoria, Oregon, at the time. Dad was stationed out there at the Coast Guard Air Station, and my sister and I were in the local public schools.

Now, Oregon is a funny place. People there tend to be absolutely liberal or absolutely conservative. It felt as though there really was no moderate middle, only the indifferent. The perfect illustration of this came in the run up to the Iraq war, when protesters took to the streets of Astoria every Friday at 5 p.m. Outside the courthouse, there were the people on the left, protesting against going to war, standing there with their flags and their tie dye and their signs that read "Honk if you support us."

Not four blocks away, on a concrete Island in the middle of the highway, there stood the pro-war protesters, in their plaid, with their flags and their signs that said, "Honk if you support us."

So every Friday at 5, downtown Astoria became bedlam, because everybody was honking and everybody was protesting and nobody was sure who was honking for what side.

This sort of polarization extended to religion, as well. You didn't really have mainline Christians. Everybody was either non-denominational evangelical, or Mormon, or Catholic, or secular liberal, or agnostic, or atheist, or indifferent, or Wiccan, or whatever else was starkly defined in floodlights with vivid colors.

Outstanding among the religious students was one in particular named Art.

He was Protestant, and proud of it; I think he carried his Bible everywhere, and was willing to pull it out at the drop of a hat. I think it was obvious to everyone that Art was going to become a minister someday. He was serious about his religion and serious about his evangelization. He started Bible studies and prayer groups, sang Christian songs at school assemblies with his sister and brought Jason Evert and his then-girlfriend Crystalina (now his wife) to speak at the school on chastity, abstinence, and the importance of waiting till marriage. (It wasn't till years later that I discovered that the Everts were Catholic, graduates from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and great proponents of St. John Paul II's theology of the body.)

Art may well have attracted some amount of ridicule for his witness--it's almost unavoidable these days--but he had one great defense against it all: He really did practice what he preached. I remember him being held in a fairly high regard by the school at large, simply because he was reliably kind, good-natured, hard working, and, while a passionate preacher, was also good to people.

Art played trombone in pep band; I played trumpet. I don't remember how the conversation started one morning in the bandroom before school, but Art and I got to talking about religion. He knew I was Catholic somehow--it was a small town, and people tended to know each other's business, but he may also have simply asked me. I don't remember. He started saying something about how unbiblical Catholic teaching and practices were; I retorted that they were plenty biblical, and that certainly there was Scripture to back them up.

He said, "Oh, really? Show me! Where's Confession in the Bible?"

Now, I had no idea at the time. I'd read children's Bibles growing up, and spent some time trying to plow straight through a King James Version given me by someone on my dad's side of the family for First Communion or something like that, but I'd never really gone in depth into the New Testament. I didn't know what I was talking about ... except that I knew that the Church had a greater legacy of saints and scholarship than most people knew, and I knew that if some of the common Protestant challenges were really as devastating as most Protestants seemed to think, there wouldn't be a Catholic Church left at all, anymore. Further, the Catholic Church I'd grown up in didn't match most people's mutterings and fears.

So I said, "I know it's in there! I don't know where, but let me look it up at home tonight and I'll show you tomorrow!"

Art agreed. So that night, I pulled out the teen study Bible that I'd been given at some point and started flipping around, hoping for something to make this easy, so that I would be right. Thankfully, they had an index. Thankfully, it made it easy.

The next day, I went to talk to Art at band. He saw me coming, pulled out his Bible, and looked at me expectantly. I paused. I'd forgotten quite which way around the citation was.

The first set of numbers led nowhere, some totally irrelevant Scripture. I said, "Try them the other way around!" And we found it:

[Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)

Art knelt staring at his Bible for a moment. A mutual friend who'd been standing by started saying, "Well, that doesn't prove anything! That doesn't demonstrate any support for Confession!" And Art looked up and said a little sharply, "No, it does. He's right--it's there." And then he looked at me and said, "You're the first Catholic I've met who's ever bothered to defend their faith to me."

And I was left reeling.

"Bothered"? I was the first Catholic who'd ever "bothered" to defend their faith to him?

I was proud, of course, but also a little stunned. Art had been out to make a convert out of me, and I was sure he'd set out to save many Catholic souls from the clutches of Rome before. And I was the first one to ever defend the faith to him? Ever?

That stuck with me. That led me to begin to read, to seek out answers to the questions that the culture and other Christians had for us. Art introduced me to C.S. Lewis' nonfiction writings, thus putting me even further into his debt. I discovered internet apologetics a little bit later and decided to put the faith to the test. What were the best objections people had, and what were the answers?

All of this has culminated, in a certain sense, with my first book, How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question, to be released by Marian Press on July 21, 2017. In a certain sense, I owe it all to Art. He set me on the path to find answers, and also inadvertently helped me discover that there are answers available to be found. The Catholic Church has immense resources of scholarship and sanctity, of historical truth and fantastic works of fiction, all in the service of Christ, all in some way inspired by the Spirit of Jesus. And much of what I've learned, I've aimed to share in this book.

So there it is: my origin story as a Catholic apologist. Time will tell if I'm any good at it. Heaven knows the faith is better than I am!



#howcanyoustillbecatholic #hcysbc

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Heaven Isn't for Respectable People, Save by the Mercy of God

I don't particularly like Flannery O'Connor.

Now, before former teachers of mine apparate out of thin air to string me up for cultural philistinism, let me say that I acknowledge the genius of Flannery O'Connor. I recognize that her writing is excellent and her stories, well-crafted. I acknowledge the importance of her work. I've got nothing on her.

Still, though, I don't particularly like it.

Why?

I guess I like my view of human nature with a little less gimlet-eyed vision of the sores and disorders that afflict us all. I like to focus more on the positive, or at least to allow the fig leaf of my ignorance of the inner lives of many of those around me to preserve my illusions.

She sees so darn much, and depicts it so darn well, leaving no room for pride to pretend.

One of the greatest insights she brings forth is that Christianity and the Kingdom of Heaven are the natural homes of the disreputable, of those people, whoever they are, that we, the members of polite society (or of C.S. Lewis' Inner Ring) are better than. It's quite clear in her short story "Revelation," where Mrs. Turpin has a vision in which she sees all the people she looks down on--those who are black, or trash, or somehow on the margins of her smug, southern society--dancing their way into Heaven at the head of the line, and the respectable people all bringing up the rear, stunned expressions on their faces, even their virtues being stripped away.

It's the sort of thing that Pope Francis understands perfectly, and why he does what he does.

You see, Heaven is for the weak, for those who admit they are weak, for those who are humble and acknowledge their radical dependence on God. It takes strength to admit that you are weak, and to allow God to make you strong. So Heaven is for the strong, but for those with a strength that the world, the flesh, and the devil do not easily understand, and do not encourage. It's a strength of generosity, of trust, a strength of self-gift and self-abnegation, of self-donation and of a willingness to receive charity, to accept the handout from God of Himself, of His own life and love, to be empowered by one greater than we, by one whose own inner life is an infinity of absolute self-gift and receiving a total gift of self from another.

It takes humility to give of oneself so completely, so trustingly, to believe that the other will receive it, to trust that another may actually be waiting to receive and give back. The devil would have us take no chances, you see, and stay safe in our own egos, the prison cells of our own hearts, closed in, locked away, safe--untouched, untouchable, and unredeemable, in the end.

Pope Francis gets that. He knows that the Good Shepherd, who has gathered a flock about Himself and drawn them into a sheepfold, will leave those 99 and go searching for the one lost sheep gladly, immediately. And he calls on us to remember that Christianity isn't about staying in the sheepfold, staying safe, staying perfectly unsmudged by the world or by the present age, untouched, unmartyred, irreproachable, respectable. No--Christianity is about Christ. And if He is out there finding the lost sheep, then we should be out there with Him, where He is, for He is the way, the truth, and the life; He is the gate of the sheepfold, the shepherd, the guard. And where He is? We don't need walls.

Oh, there's value in the church buildings, yes, and the lost sheep often need a safe place to sleep, to rest, to recover from being lost out in the storms of the world. There's room in the Church for the sheepfold, absolutely. But we can't mistake the means for the end, the structures and the buildings for the Body of Christ Himself. Pope Francis is living and loving like a Jesuit of old, which is to say, a man on a mission from God for whom all things are of value only insofar as they aid in the salvation of souls, and useless to him insofar as they get in the way of the salvation of souls.

So he will be all things to all people, just as St. Paul and so many others have been down through the years, in order to allow all people to see Christ wearing a face they can recognize, a face like their own. He will disregard convention, find new ways of saying ancient truths, deemphasize certain things and emphasize others (no matter what the 99 sheep in the pews may think) because we're all on a mission from God, and Jesus is far more interested in saving the one lost sheep than in maintaining the 99 in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

Heaven belongs to the disreputable, to the children born in the stables to a mother who didn't conceive the child with her husband; to the rabble, the tax collectors and sinners, rather than to the scribes and the Pharisees; to the Gentiles and the fishermen; to the ones whom, by conventional standards, it shouldn't.

So as each new age and its fashions ushers in a new version of respectable, of admirable, of the pinnacle of society and the inner ring, watch out--holiness hasn't budged from the same glowing core of life-giving love, of self-donation, of living like Jesus--on a prayer, without any place to lay one's head.

In other words: Flannery O'Connor is an uncomfortable prophet, and we all make it to Heaven by the Divine Mercy, with the last leading the way.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Living Love Like a Jesuit

Pope Francis is awesome.

He can be terrifying to more traditionally minded Christians, frustrating to left-leaning Christians who want him to change the Church at the root, and often bewildering and exhilarating to the world. A lot of that is because he's a Jesuit, the very first Jesuit pope in the history of the Catholic Church.

What does that mean? Check out The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by Fr. James Martin, SJ, for a fair overview, and the talk by Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, delivered at Franciscan University of Steubenville, if you really want to understand.



But at the very root of it, to be Jesuit is to be a companion of Jesus. That's where the name comes from, after all--the name of the order was originally the Society (or the Company) of Jesus, modeled off of St. Ignatius of Loyola's experience of military companies, as well as the comradery and brotherly love of soldiers.

Now that doesn't just mean that a Jesuit or those formed by the Jesuits are supposed to be Christians. That's part of it.

No. See, here's the thing: If we do it properly, to love God is to love neighbor, and to love neighbor is to love God. Why? Because whatever we do to the least of our brethren, we do to Jesus. Jesus is present in those on the margins, those outside of respectable society and inside respectable society, the lonely rich and the desperately poor, the ordinary and the extraordinary, all. Why? Because He's the New Adam, the Man through whom divinity comes to share in humanity, and humanity in divinity. Through Him, the doorway to Heaven is open, and through Him, Heaven finds a path into the created order.

So to be Jesuit is to accompany Jesus in all His presences, all His ways of communicating His life and love, of showing His face of mercy to the world. To be Jesuit is to go out to the furthest reaches of the earth, to bring Jesus out to others and to meet Jesus in them, to discover the seeds of the Word in all cultures, all religions, and to know that we are meant to find Jesus shining through the created order, through every tree and river, every rock and star. We are to see the Logos' touch on every scrap of matter, see the image of Jesus in every human being, see God in all things.

Part of all that is the sort of self discipline, self mastery that you would expect of a soldier, because you can only practice absolute love if you can make an absolute gift, and an absolute gift is only possible if you have mastered yourself, if you are able to give everything to God.

That's what's going on with Pope Francis. He's calling the Church to leave the sheepfold to go after the one lost sheep, summoning the 99 sheep to follow the Good Shepherd on His quest for the wandering, the lost. Indeed, any number of the 99 may be far more lost than they think, even though they're in the sheepfold. The goal of the Christian life is to be with the God Shepherd, after all, not to live safely without Him, nor to sit smugly at home, secure in our own rightness, while there are lost sheep wandering far from home, exposed to the wolves and the weather.

So Pope Francis calls us to go out, to prioritize being with people, to prioritize loving people before preaching to them, to know them. He calls us to seek Jesus where He's at, whether that be in the confessional and the Eucharist, the Word of God and the Church, or that be in the poor, in the people outside the visible bounds of the Church, those far from home and those who know Jesus far better than we do, Catholic though we may be, church-going Christians though we may be. He calls on us to se the Creator in His creation, to find the seeds of the Word in the cultures and religions across the globe, to serve Jesus in those around us, in our neighbors and our enemies, in our respectable neighbors and disreputable neighbors alike.

Nowhere in all of that is the slightest suggestion of surrendering the teachings of the faith; rather, it's a call to trust that it's not up to us to make converts, or to make sure the Church maintains her teaching. Rather, it's a call to trust, a call to surrender to the Holy Spirit, the One who makes converts and is the life of the Church, the safeguard of her teaching. Oh, yes, we are to defend the Church, to explain her teaching, to discern truth and be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, yes. We are to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil, but we are to do it like Jesus did. We are to so love the world that we give ourselves for love of God and neighbor. We are to feast and to fast, to be all things to all people like Jesus did (hey, the Incarnation was the greatest example of inculturation we'll ever see!), and to so love our neighbors that they can see it and feel it, to walk beside them so that they come to know us, and to be so deeply steeped in the Holy Spirit that, coming to know us, they'll come to know Jesus, and find their way to share in eternal life.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Loss of Confidence in Western Leadership

Fascinating diagnosis of modern Western crises of confidence in our ruling/"elite" class here.

Another run down of symptoms and possible solutions here. Excerpts (links in the original):
Aside from "The Cult of Smartness," why are present arrangements -- let's call ourselves an "aspirational meritocracy" -- failing us?

Hayes' theories are many:

  • Institutions designed to reward merit are being gamed by the privileged, who create a self-perpetuating elite. The most familiar example concerns admission to prestigious schools. Admissions tests like the SAT began as a high-minded reform. Applicants would be chosen for intellectual prowess and compete for their spot on a level playing field. Thanks to test prep, the rich get lots of time to practice on it, while even smart poor kids don't.
  • More broadly, inequality begets more inequality. "Those who climb up the ladder will always find a way to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies and kin to scramble up." Thus the astonishingly outsized gains seen at the very top of American society.
  • The intense competition inherent in meritocracy creates powerful incentives to cheat, and encourages the attitude that whatever you do in pursuit of dominance is fine as long as you profit or win. For example, at Enron traders who broke the law weren't punished if they were making money. And in Major League Baseball, everyone pretended that steroids weren't around.
  • When elites break the rules they aren't punished like regular people. They're bailed out of trouble, or spared criminal prosecution for their lawlessness. This is actually the subject of Glenn Greenwald's latest book.
  • There is too much social distance separating the people in charge with the folks subject to their decisions. Thus Catholic bishops who sympathized more with molesting priests than their victims, Senators who send men from a class they rarely encounter to fight the wars they approve, and the disaster planners who couldn't conceive of how the timing of Hurricane Katrina at the end of the month would affect the ability of poor residents to evacuate. There is a long history of Americans complaining about the gulf separating them from their leaders, from the 'distant, unresponsive' King George to the 'out-of-touch, inside-the-Beltway' politicians of today.
.. why not embrace and emphasize reforms that either address elite excesses more directly or have a better chance of having some cross-ideological appeal? Some of the ideas that follow fit those criteria. Others are longtime hobbyhorses that would go some way toward mitigating some of the elite pathologies that Hayes' adeptly identifies.

With that end in mind, I present them for debate, the doable right beside the implausible thought experiments:

Write simpler regulations. Complexity advantages the people at the top, who are always best positioned to exploit its vagaries. As Kevin Drum once put it, "Dumb, blunt rules are the only kind that can work in the playpen of modern finance. We simply don't understand the world well enough to pretend that we can regulate things in minute detail, and we sure as hell don't have regulators who are either smart enough or can move fast enough to stay ahead of the rocket scientists trying to outwit them. That's not just impossible in practice, it's pretty much impossible even in theory. It's just plain impossible. But dumb-as-rocks rules about capital requirements and trading limits and collateral requirements and term structures? Yeah, that can work."

End the War on Drugs, the most extreme example of rich and poor being punished differently for the same behavior.

One way elites "pull up the ladder" is through credentialism. So how about doing away with the many unnecessary professional licensing laws that disproportionately hurt the economic prospects of the poor?

Tax test prep courses, and use the proceeds to subsidize test prep for anyone eligible for free school lunch.

Move the Supreme Court to Omaha, Nebraska, or Salt Lake City, Utah, or Portland, Oregon. And transition to an e-Congress, so that House members spend more time in their districts, being required to cast votes from among the people they represent. One way to decrease the social distance between elites and citizens is to better disperse the elites among the people.

Stop subsidizing college tuition. Instead, take the total sum spent on that enterprise and divide it equally each year among all graduating high school seniors, who can use it for more education, trade school, or more professional development as they see fit.

Stop subsidizing mortgages.

Privately funded media does a great job covering rich people culture. Why should NPR do the same? Publicly radio and television ought to be given a mandate to cover, serve and seek programming feedback from the lower reaches of American earners and the long term unemployed.

That is by no means an exhaustive list, but it's enough for now. ..."

And one more:
... The Nixon pardon, and the way it was sold to the country, became the template for justifying elite immunity. Nowadays, with only rare exceptions, each time top members of the nation’s political class are caught committing a crime, the same reasons are hauled out to get them off the hook. Prosecuting public officials mires us in a “divisive” past when we should be looking forward. It is wrong to “criminalize policy disputes”— meaning crimes committed with the use of political power. Political elites who commit crimes in carrying out their duties are “well-intentioned” and so do not deserve to be treated as if they were common criminals; moreover, politicians who are forced out of office and have their reputations damaged already “suffer enough.” To prosecute them would only engender a cycle of retribution. Political harmony thus trumps the need to enforce the rule of law.

...

That dynamic expresses the underlying motive of the political and media classes’ general defense of elite immunity: by protecting the lawbreaking license for other powerful individuals, they strengthen a custom of which they might avail themselves if they too break the law and get caught. It is class-based, self- interested advocacy. That is why belief in this prerogative and the devotion to protecting it transcend political ideology, partisan affiliation, the supposed wall between political and media figures, and every other pretense of division within elite classes. It is in the interest of every member of the privileged political and financial class, regardless of role or position, to maintain the vitality of this immunity. And what we have seen over the last decade is the inevitable by-product of elite immunity: pervasive, limitless elite corruption and criminality. ..

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Forgiveness is not Optional

Rod Dreher notices the symptoms of a society-wide adoption of the pedagogy of the oppressed. Excerpts:
... Honestly, I’ve had it with people. I’ve had it with Trump supporters who think their anger and their outrage gives them the right to punch people in the face. I’ve had it with Black Lives Matter and other Social Justice Warriors who think the so-called righteousness of their cause gives them the right to silence those who disagree with them. I’m sick and tired of people who think everything wrong in their lives is because somebody, somewhere, has wronged them. Guess what? You can’t screw whoever you like, have as many kids as you like, or as many partners as you like, walk away from your marriage (if you ever marry), and expect everything to be okay. You can’t drink, drug, party, “keep it real,” make excuses for your children, make excuses for yourself, allow our degraded popular culture to raise your kids, and expect a good outcomes. You can’t throw money at problems and expect them to go away (e.g., pay to send your kids to a Christian school, and assume that your tuition fee contractually entitles you to opt out of the moral and spiritual formation of your children), or assume that being a Nice Middle-Class Person is sufficient. It’s not. I’m tired of the rich and the middle class who expect everything to be handed to them, and fall to pieces when it isn’t. I’m tired of the working class and the poor who live as if their relative material deprivation gives them a pass from having to live by basic standards of conduct that most everybody understood and affirmed within living memory, but which are all but forgotten today.

Above all, I’m tired of a culture in which so many people have no idea how to tell themselves no, to anything, ever. A culture of entitlement. Believe me, I’m talking to myself as well. This is the beginning of Lent for us Orthodox Christians, and I am taking inventory of my own tendencies to sin, to disorder, and I don’t like what I see. You might try it too. ...

Bill Cosby and Abortion

An interesting point. Excerpt:
... Notre Dame is set to award the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden, a man whose record on abortion could hardly be worse. He is not slightly in favor it; he has often been one of abortion’s strongest supporters in the Senate. When you award a man with this record your highest honor, what do you say about yourself? At least these three things.

First, you show that don’t really take the evil of abortion all that seriously—certainly not as seriously as other forms of sexual assault against women, which is precisely what abortion is, since you would never consider awarding any honor at this point to Bill Cosby. ... 


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Catholics Oppose Trump

Oh, certainly not all Catholics oppose Donald Trump in his presidential election bid. But the voices raised in opposition are significant, and getting louder.

From the earliest, there was Mark Shea, a man whom I've always considered a remarkably accurate barometer of where the Catholic middle really is. He's generally right, even if he sometimes gives into his feelings and is rather more polemical or less than polite in his zeal for truth.

There was CatholicVote, right around the same time that National Review came out with the "Trump Edition," lining up an array of conservative leaders to lay out the case against the Donald (who really seems to be more of a Scrooge McDuck than a Donald, but I digress).

And now, there's George Weigel, Robert George, and many of the mainstays of what could be called the Catholic Right writing in National Review, calling on their fellow Catholics and all people of good will to oppose the Donald.

And, of course, there's Pope Francis, sort of.

I really hope Catholics take note--Trump is a reality TV show star, running for president as though he's just in one more telecast contest. He's a character, and so he plays well on TV, but there's no hint of any political, diplomatic, or governmental expertise in his repertoire. He's not someone who should be president, especially not given the tremendously difficult and dangerous times we live in at present.

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