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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Recession in a Jubilee?

It may actually be time to pay the piper.

Excerpts:
...[D]espite record low mortgage rates, first-time homebuyers can no longer afford to make the down payment. And without first-time home buyers, existing home owners can't move up.

Likewise, the total value of stocks has now become dangerously detached from the anemic state of the underlying economy. The long-term average of the market cap-to-GDP ratio is around 75, but it is currently 110. The rebound in GDP coming out of the Great Recession was artificially engendered by the Fed's wealth effect. Now, the re-engineered bubble in stocks and real estate is reversing and should cause a severe contraction in consumer spending.

Nevertheless, the solace offered by Wall Street is that another 2008-style deflation and depression is impossible because banks are now better capitalized. However, banks may find they are less capitalized than regulators now believe because much of their assets are in Treasury debt and consumer loans that should be significantly underwater after the next recession brings unprecedented fiscal strain to both the public and private sectors.

But most importantly, even if one were to concede financial institutions are less leveraged; the startling truth is that businesses, the federal government and the Federal Reserve have taken on a humongous amount of additional debt since 2007. Even household debt has increased back to its 2007 record of $14.1 trillion. Specifically, business debt during that time frame has grown from $10.1 trillion, to $12.6 trillion; the total national debt boomed from $9.2 trillion, to $18.9 trillion; and the Fed's balance sheet has exploded from $880 billion to $4.5 trillion.

Banks may be better off today than they were leading up to the Great Recession but the government and Fed's balance sheets have become insolvent in the wake of their inane effort to borrow and print the economy back to health. As a result, the federal government's debt has now soared to nearly 600 percent of total revenue. And the Fed has spent the last eight years leveraging up its balance sheet 77-to-1 in its goal to peg short-term interest rates at zero percent....
Interestingly, all this comes in the context of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. Jubilee years, historically, have been characterized by debt forgiveness of one sort or another. Perhaps it's time to return to an ancient remedy for the fix we're in.

Friday, May 1, 2015

"What Does ISIS Want?"

The Atlantic has a great article giving the run down. Some key points:
Baghdadi spoke at length of the importance of the caliphate in his Mosul sermon. He said that to revive the institution of the caliphate—which had not functioned except in name for about 1,000 years—was a communal obligation. He and his loyalists had “hastened to declare the caliphate and place an imam” at its head, he said. “This is a duty upon the Muslims—a duty that has been lost for centuries … The Muslims sin by losing it, and they must always seek to establish it.” Like bin Laden before him, Baghdadi spoke floridly, with frequent scriptural allusion and command of classical rhetoric. Unlike bin Laden, and unlike those false caliphs of the Ottoman empire, he is Qurayshi.

The caliphate, Cerantonio told me, is not just a political entity but also a vehicle for salvation. Islamic State propaganda regularly reports the pledges of baya’a (allegiance) rolling in from jihadist groups across the Muslim world. Cerantonio quoted a Prophetic saying, that to die without pledging allegiance is to die jahil (ignorant) and therefore die a “death of disbelief.” Consider how Muslims (or, for that matter, Christians) imagine God deals with the souls of people who die without learning about the one true religion. They are neither obviously saved nor definitively condemned. Similarly, Cerantonio said, the Muslim who acknowledges one omnipotent god and prays, but who dies without pledging himself to a valid caliph and incurring the obligations of that oath, has failed to live a fully Islamic life. I pointed out that this means the vast majority of Muslims in history, and all who passed away between 1924 and 2014, died a death of disbelief. Cerantonio nodded gravely. “I would go so far as to say that Islam has been reestablished” by the caliphate.

I asked him about his own baya’a, and he quickly corrected me: “I didn’t say that I’d pledged allegiance.” Under Australian law, he reminded me, giving baya’a to the Islamic State was illegal. “But I agree that [Baghdadi] fulfills the requirements,” he continued. “I’m just going to wink at you, and you take that to mean whatever you want.”

To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law—being a Muslim adult man of Quraysh descent; exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ’amr, or authority. This last criterion, Cerantonio said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law. Baghdadi’s Islamic State achieved that long before June 29, Cerantonio said, and as soon as it did, a Western convert within the group’s ranks—Cerantonio described him as “something of a leader”—began murmuring about the religious obligation to declare a caliphate. He and others spoke quietly to those in power and told them that further delay would be sinful.

Cerantonio said a faction arose that was prepared to make war on Baghdadi’s group if it delayed any further. They prepared a letter to various powerful members of ISIS, airing their displeasure at the failure to appoint a caliph, but were pacified by Adnani, the spokesman, who let them in on a secret—that a caliphate had already been declared, long before the public announcement. They had their legitimate caliph, and at that point there was only one option. “If he’s legitimate,” Cerantonio said, “you must give him the baya’a.”

After Baghdadi’s July sermon, a stream of jihadists began flowing daily into Syria with renewed motivation. ...

Before the caliphate, “maybe 85 percent of the Sharia was absent from our lives,” Choudary told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we have khilafa”—a caliphate—“and now we have one.” Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. ...
Fr. Dwight Longenecker makes some interesting points:
the literalism of their interpretation of the Quran is fused with a frightening apocalyptic mindset. To the uninitiated, Muslim end-times prophecies seem just as complicated as the predictions in the Book of Revelation and the complex explanations given by apocalyptically minded Christians and Jews. Islamic prophecies envision that the armies of Rome will meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria, and after a near defeat, the stragglers of the Islamic army will go to Jerusalem to meet their messiah.

As some Christians see Armageddon as the plain where the final battle takes place, the Muslims see the Syrian city of Dabiq near Aleppo. Wood explains, “It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, ‘that the armies of Rome will set up their camp.’ The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.”

This is the conquest of Rome that the Muslim fundamentalists anticipate. Having taken Dabiq, the ISIS leadership has proclaimed, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.”

The prophecies say that the enemy is “Rome,” but as Rome has no army, interpreters have different ideas of who “Rome” is. Some think it refers to the Eastern capital of the ancient Roman Empire, meaning Istanbul. Neighboring Turkey, then, is the “Rome” the ISIS murderers plan to conquer.

Other Islamic commentators suggest that “Rome” is shorthand for any infidel army, which could be made up of apostate Muslims allied with Christians and Jews. Others believe “Rome” is a synecdoche for any Christian power or alliance. Therefore, when the terrorists say they will “conquer Rome,” it is unlikely that they are referring to a literal attack on the capital of Italy and the Vatican.

Nevertheless, the secular political leaders in the West need to understand the deeply religious nature of the Islamic State group and take stock. ...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

All Too Often

You've been told to do something which seems useless and difficult. Do it. And you will see that it is easy and fruitful.-- St. Josemaria Escriva: The Way

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tuam, Dead Babies, and Modern Morality

So the Tuam scandal became a thing on a friend's Facebook wall a little while ago. I went digging, and found a good reassesment of the story from the Washington Post and an excoriation of what made the story an international cause celebre by the atheist Brendan O'Neill. Fine and good.

And then there was this story from the Guardian.

And I'm kind of stunned.

What sort of tonedeafness leads someone to put out a story headlined: "The horror of Tuam's missing babies is not diminished by misreported details: Tuam's mothers and the unhappily pregnant today are not unconnected. It is time for Ireland to liberalise its abortion laws"?

Really? "I'm so outraged by how awfully the Catholic Church treated unwed mothers and killed their children through neglect that I'm going to call for us to legalize killing the children in the womb. There. Problem solved."

She's not mad about the missing children of Tuam. She's mad that they couldn't all have been made to disappear.

I can understand the outrage at the way unwed mothers were apparently treated in Ireland decades ago, and understand that our failures to be as holy as we should cause all sorts of hell to break loose. Yes. Fine.

But someone's really going to turn this into an argument for loosening restrictions on killing kids in the womb? Really?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Screwtape is Not Amused

This is what it looks like when the tempters allow the patients to get away. Excerpts:
... I had a hard time getting to the Holy Hour and Benediction. All day the day before I experienced the most dreadful spiritual crisis I have been through since I converted to the Catholic Church. My mind was deluged with negative thoughts, to the point that I began to wonder if I even was Catholic or had a right to enter any Church.

Then, at mass that evening, I prayed and prayed and it let up.

Later that night, I got hit with a sudden and rather violent gastrointestinal thing.

It was at that point that I finally recognized old scratch.

The next day, I thought about skipping the whole Benediction. I felt so terrible, and now I was tormented with thoughts that I might meet a particular person there who had hurt me in the past and who I dread ever seeing again.

I prayed, and knew that I needed to go.

I told a friend of mine that all this made me feel as if the devil thought that if Rebecca Hamilton showed up at this Benediction he would be cast back into hell. I told her that if other people were getting a dose of what I was getting, I feared that the church might be empty.

But, despite all this, I went.

And what I experienced was the Presence and Love of Christ...
For those who have no idea what I'm referring to, behold a bit of awesome.

International Theological Commission

Their documents are all online! And most in English (haven't checked all of them).

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Point of Catholicism

What's the point of the Catholic Church?
"We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church." It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection."--Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14

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