Monday, January 15, 2018

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the great Christian humanists of the 20th century, and acknowledged as an outstanding American by Pope Francis during his papal visit.
He and Servant of God Dorothy Day were contemporaries.
Since its beginnings in 1933, The Catholic Worker had carried articles about racism, the exploitation of black labor, and justice for minorities. When the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1960s, other articles added a clear voice for equality and justice among people of all races. When Martin Luther King was killed, Dorothy wrote:
Martin Luther King died daily, as St. Paul said. He faced death daily and said a number of times that he knew he would be killed for the faith that was in him. The faith that men could live together as brothers. The faith in the Gospel teaching of nonviolence. The faith that man is capable of change, of growth, of growing in love. (Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, April 1968)
It's worth noting that his Letter from a Birmingham Jail makes clear that his activism and his ministry were rooted in the natural law, the same sort of philosophical underpinning as undergirds the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among others.
"I'm here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It's wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It's wrong in America, it's wrong in Germany, it's wrong in Russia, it's wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it's wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong... Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we're revolting against the very laws of God himself."

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

American Anti-Catholicism

One of the oddities of history that many people forget is that the KKK didn't have just one "archenemy," one singular group of people who attracted all their hatred. No. The KKK had three targets in particular for its hatred. Black people, Jewish people, and Catholics.

There's something sort of jarring about the last one for a lot of people. After all. in the past century, the United States faced down Nazi efforts at extermination and enslavement of peoples across the world, much of it based on race, and took apart the Jim Crow laws that continued to legally enforce segregation across the South of our country. We know that the Jews and our black brothers and sisters have faced a real storm of hatred and persecution, and have needed protection.

But Catholics?

Yes, certainly. When I was covering the papal visit to the United States in 2015, I heard Archbishop Chaput recount the story of the building of Philadelphia's cathedral. He told those listening that the then-archbishop, St. John Neumann, had the strongest workman throw a heavy stone as high as he could. Then the archbishop said, "Build the cathedral's windows 10 feet higher than that."

Given the often virulent anti-Catholicism present in America, that cathedral might well have fallen afoul the passions of a mob, and so the church needed to be built to last.

Bishop Barron gives a survey of that history:

I suspect the reason why this comes as a shock to many people when first a Catholic or honest non-Catholic attempts to bring it up is that somewhere deep in the DNA of our country, there is the black legend of the Church as the endless oppressor, as the perpetual establishment, as the one to both create and enforce a status quo from which, it is supposed, the Church can only benefit.

And of course, if the Church is de facto oppressive--Look at the hierarchy! Look at the male-only priesthood! They even call some of their leaders "patriarchs"!--then de jure, we cannot be oppressed.

Now, that's not to deny that Catholics and even ecclesial institutions have been mistaken, committed grievous sins, or even been guilty of criminality. But it is to point out that in the United States, the Church has always existed under the somewhat uneasy scrutiny of the wider culture and country, rather than being monolithically powerful in the ways imagined by far too many Americans.

For more on all this:
See also:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Media Myths and the Life Issues

I was asked whether I really believed what I’d said about the news aiming to be objective, aiming to tell the truth, and not simply be politically biased about situations.

That’s a question with some nuanced answers, which I’ll get to later. But for right now, let me just say that I believe you can come to know people truly and deeply by the stories they tell themselves about themselves.

National myths; legends of the founding of organizations or institutions; the songs, the poems, the stories they tell themselves about themselves—that’s how you know what a people or an individual truly values. That’s how you can pick up on the themes and the boundaries of their own self-understanding.

And the media loves certain stories about itself. Consider the recently released Spielberg movie The Post.

Its theme, like the theme of almost every other movie or TV show about a heroic media, celebrates simply telling truth to power. Telling it like it is, without fear or favor. Serving the public’s right to know.

Consider All the President’s Men—ironically, a sort of sequel to The Post, though there would probably not be The Post without All the President’s Men.

There, you have a celebration of underdog reporters, sticking by their principles and protecting their source, all in the service of revealing criminal behavior originating from the highest offices in the land.

Consider Spotlight, called by Catholic sources perhaps the best movie on the sex abuse scandal one could have hoped for.

In spite of family and ecclesial pressure, in spite of a culture of secrecy and silence around priests and religious abusing children, in spite of every reason in the world not to put all the pieces together and tell the truth to the world, the Boston Globe ran a series in 2002 that shook the Catholic Church across the world. They told the truth. They exposed something badly needing exposure.

The stories the media tells itself, then, and loves deeply all celebrate truth telling. Not shading the truth to protect a political lobby or special interest; not suppressing the news about major events; not refusing people a voice. The media tells itself stories that celebrate objectivity, in spite of pressure from peers or friends (at the heart of The Post).

So yes, I believe the media truly believes it should be objective, it should tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and it aspires to be the sort of institution in which there would be full and fair coverage of the March for Life.

Now, there’re some necessary nuances to that story. Namely, the theme echoing throughout all of these stories is about telling truth to power. That is to say, they show plucky underdog media folk telling the truth to the Establishment or in spite of the Establishment (and yes, that does need a capital E). There’s nothing brave about telling a suffering person truths that will make them suffer more, nothing brave about exacerbating a woman’s pain, nothing to celebrate in ripping someone’s heart apart as they lay dying.

In short, you can and should do things to the strong that you have no business doing to the weak or to the oppressed. It’s balancing the scales and serving the cause of justice when you expose the weaknesses of the strong and the vices of the virtuous; it’s petty, spiteful, or acting a s a stooge to the powerful when you expose the weaknesses of the weak, reveal the vices of the vicious, or in any way make it harder for the oppressed to fight off their oppression.

Thus, those groups or individuals identified as victims are not to be dealt with in the same fashion as those presumed to be the powerful or agents if oppression.

It’s a perfectly understandable impulse; chivalrous, even. And yet if the media makes a mistake as oppressor and oppressed—say, for instance, they fail to realize that unborn children are the most powerless and defenseless of all victims of violence; they fail to perceive that many women, if they truly had a free choice, would not want to get an abortion, but rather are under severe pressure from family, friends, or their partner—then the media throws itself into the cause of the wrong party, or at least fails to fairly give a hearing to what they perceive to be the oppressive establishment, which already has all the strength it needs to make itself heard, and so doesn’t need any sort of assistance to get its perspective out there.

I believe they intend to do the right thing; there’s just confusion about the objective facts in play, as well as who has power in this situation. So the work of spreading the Gospel of Life goes on. We have an obligation to continue to share the truth that the dignity of human life and human rights must be defended from conception to natural death; that women are often forced into abortions and not making a free decision; that unborn children are the weakest of the weak, the poorest of the poor, and so deserve every chivalrous impulse to be roused on their behalf; that we need to work hard to make our civilization welcoming to life, animated by love, and one characterized by justice, mercy, and peace.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The March For Life: No One Sees It Coming

I can't believe it's almost time for the March for Life--where does the time go?

Yet here we are again (in this 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth), interestingly enough). There's so much to be said, and many people will be saying it. But there's one subject I think has been widely overlooked, and that's the connection between the media's coverage of the annual March for Life in D.C. (as well as their coverage of similar marches and pro-life events across the country) and the way in which the pro-life movement has always taken very seriously President Trump's dismissal of most of the mainstream media's coverage of anything as "fake news."

That is, there isn't coverage of the annual March for Life, as this piece by Terry Mattingly over at the reliably informative and always interesting Get Religion blog indicates. Not serious coverage, at least, and certainly not coverage comparable to that given to the Women's March in 2017, or the coverage given to pro-choice marches and events.

This has been the case for decades, to the point where it's a regular joke amongst pro-lifers and Catholics. We talk about the "ninja march," watch to see just how non-existent the coverage is, and then are confirmed in our belief that the media, when it wants to, can do an impressive job of pretending that tens of thousands of people don't exist; that the country is solidly behind Roe v.Wade as settled law; that there's nothing to see here.

We watch the coverage or the lack of coverage, and we all know that the mainstream media at times offers us fake news.

And it's not just the March for Life. People have been grumbling about media bias or misinformation for at least as long as the media has failed to properly cover subjects in which the average person may have some deep experience.

Catholicism, for instance. Media coverage of Catholicism regularly sucks. And Catholics notice. We often come to distrust or at least trust less those media outlets that regularly get the faith wrong.

Now, some of the errors aren't really their fault. After all, when "fake news" has been handed down in history textbooks and classrooms as the way things are, it's no wonder that it gets reported as fact. And yet supposedly skeptical, objective journalists ought to be able to do better. The resources exist, after all, to discover that what "everyone knows" or "everyone believes" isn't true. For a start:
If the media would fix its coverage of pro-life events, people, and organizations--that is, be as objective about them as they claim to be, and as (I truly believe) they actually aspire to be--then a great deal of trust could be restored in the reading, viewing, and listening public. Get your coverage of Christianity right--not that you must be orthodox, but merely that you have the sort of factual accuracy, insight, and objectivity that journalists such as the excellent John Allen bring to bear--and a great deal more trust could be restored. Cover all religious news with true objectivity and rigor, and you could change the world.

Anyway. All this was spawned by the upcoming March for Life. One other note on pro-life affairs, then, before I conclude.

I've heard it said several times, "Pro-life people care so much about the child in the womb, but can't be bothered to help take care of the child after birth!"

And I'm always amazed that somehow, no one has shown them Mother Teresa's talk from the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C, on February 5, 1994. Among many other things well worth reading, she said:
We are fighting abortion by adoption — by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives. We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: “Please don’t destroy the child; we will take the child.” So we always have someone tell the mothers in trouble: “Come, we will take care of you, we will get a home for your child.” And we have a tremendous demand from couples who cannot have a child — but I never give a child to a couple who have done something not to have a child. Jesus said, “Anyone who receives a child in my name, receives me.” By adopting a child, these couples receive Jesus but, by aborting a child, a couple refuses to receive Jesus.

Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child. From our children’s home in Calcutta alone, we have saved over 3000 children from abortion. These children have brought such love and joy to their adopting parents and have grown up so full of love and joy.

I know that couples have to plan their family and for that there is natural family planning. ...
And it's not just Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, as Helen Alvare and her coauthors explain:
In the United States there are some 2,300 affiliates of the three largest pregnancy resource center umbrella groups, Heartbeat International, CareNet, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA).

Over 1.9 million American women take advantage of these services each year. Many stay at one of the 350 residential facilities for women and children operated by pro-life groups. In New York City alone, there are twenty-two centers serving 12,000 women a year. These centers provide services including pre-natal care, STI testing, STI treatment, ultrasound, childbirth classes, labor coaching, midwife services, lactation consultation, nutrition consulting, social work, abstinence education, parenting classes, material assistance, and post-abortion counseling.

Religious groups also provide crucial services to needy mothers and infants. John Cardinal O’Connor, the late Archbishop of New York, famously pledged to assist any woman from anywhere experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and the current Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, recently renewed Cardinal O’Connor’s pledge.

The Catholic Church–perhaps the single most influential pro-life institution in the United States–makes the largest financial, institutional and personnel commitments to charitable causes of any private source in the United States. These include AIDS ministry, health care, education, housing services, and care for the elderly, disabled, and immigrants. In 2004 alone, 562 Catholic hospitals treated over 85 million patients; Catholic elementary and high schools educated over 2 million students; Catholic colleges educated nearly 800,000 students; Catholic Charities served over eight-and-a-half million different individuals. In 2007, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development awarded nine million dollars in grants to reduce poverty. And in 2009, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network spent nearly five million dollars in services for impoverished immigrants. ...
So as we approach the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, take some time to read up on the history of the debate, the arguments on both sides, and the accounts of those who have taken an active role in the abortion industry only to leave it all behind for pro-life causes.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Being Catholic in America

It's an interesting time to hang out with people of different political persuasions. There are the Democrats, who are almost uniformly aghast at the present administration; the Republicans, divided between NeverTrumpers, former Trumpers, and abiding supporters of the present administration; and a fairly mixed bag of independent, libertarian, or other people of less mainstream political stripes. And all of them tend to be quite vehement right now.

Faced with this hodgepodge on the one side and Catholic social teaching on the other, what's a Catholic to do?

Well, a few obligations are clear.
  1. First and foremost, only Jesus Christ is your savior, not a politician, party, or platform. I don't care who the enemy we face in a given generation is; it's not worth damning your soul in order to defeat them.
    Put no trust in princes,
    in children of Adam powerless to save.
    Who breathing his last, returns to the earth;
    that day all his planning comes to nothing (Ps 146:3-4).
    Trust in Jesus. Trust in the merciful love that created and sustains the cosmos. Don't throw over the law of love in favor of pursuing vengeance or victory in the political arena. No earthly conflict is worth losing your soul over. Reject the temptation to make power or money, race or class, status or security an idol. Reject, in short, "bad religion," especially as diagnosed by Ross Douthat.
  2. No matter what else you do or do not do, pray. Pray for the country; pray for the common good; and pray for our elected officials, military and security folks, and all those who take part in the immense machinery of governance. Pray for those affected for good or for ill by the government. Pray for the people you like, and pray extra hard for those whom you do not like. Wish God's blessings on all of them, remembering that God blesses by helping people towards their ultimate good (sanctity), and so to pray for one's enemies or even for the enemies of humanity is not the same thing as to simply ask that good things happen to bad people.
  3. Read. Don't just watch, as important as the news, C-SPAN, and other forms of media may be. Read good, solidly researched and generally objective biographies of major figures. Look into the history of the country, of your state, of your community, and let that inform your prayers and participation. Read up on Catholic social teaching, starting with good books such as Brandon Vogt's Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World. Share what you read, and talk about it at the dinner table.
  4. Realize that Catholic teaching and reality do not fit cleanly into left/right categories. To be Catholic is to transcend partisanship often. To be faithful to Christ and to the facts while seeking to do one's duty as a citizen and be usefully involved in politics is to be in a party, but not of it.
  5. Vote. Brexit and President Trump's election victory should have proven to everyone that every vote counts. You know Benjamin Franklin's quote, "Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves."? Well, get out the vote and the election results will take care of themselves. What counts as a good result? Whenever policies conducive to the common good are enacted; whenever politicians seeking to serve the common good are elected. Now, of course, there will always be politicians and elected officials who are most interested in power, money, or self-aggrandizement. Human nature hasn't changed since our fall. At the same time, people can rise to the occasion. Confronted with stupendous challenges, they may respond with unexpected virtue. And even if they are not disinterested, their self-interest may motivate them to do a good job in order to get reelected.
  6. Help reform your party. Few people have really publicly acknowledged that the parties died in 2016. There were four parties, really, with possible presidents in play: The Bernie Sanders supporters; the Democrats with Clinton; the Republicans with their 16 primary candidates; and Donald Trump's Breitbart/alt-right/etc. wing. The two major political parties in the United States are the walking dead right now. The Republicans could not field a life-long Republican presidential candidate who could beat Trump (a very recent Republican) in the primaries., and the Democrats could not defeat Donald Trump in the general election. It's time for the reform and renewal of the parties. True fidelity to the teaching of the Church--the whole teaching of the Church--should lead a Catholic to oppose his or her party on a semi-regular basis. For instance, on the right, the push for torture/enhanced interrogation, the ready willingness to discard human rights in the name of national security, and more should certainly be met with steadfast opposition from Catholics who are conservative. Look to St. John Paul II or Alexander Solzhenitsyn to see why. On the left, the push for abortion, attempts to restrict or redefine religious freedom so as to remove the Church and her members from charitable works and the public sphere, and gender ideology ought to be met with principled, firm, and unyielding opposition from Catholics who are liberal. Look to Pope Francis and Dorothy Day to see why.
  7. Be willing to cooperate with your opponents when they're right. There are causes and laws that all people of good will should support. Certainly we ought to all be able to agree to pursue decent treatment of all our fellow men and women; certainly we ought to all be in favor of the protection and preservation of human rights. There are causes where we can and should cross the aisle to achieve a common goal. Democrats and Republicans can and should work together, live together, get married and raise children together, build homes, families, communities, and a country together. Differences and disagreements about means shouldn't prevent Catholics from seeing that we all (ought to) desire the same ends: our flourishing as one nation under God, indivisible.
  8. Get involved in your local communities. Real change goes deep, and it starts locally. Join civic organizations; get involved in school boards and county commissions; become a member of clubs and associations. Meet your neighbors. Listen to them. Love them, whether they be left or right, whether they be like you or wildly different. Live love. Do good works at your state, diocesan or archdiocesan, and regional level. Support the common good of your local communities, and that will foster the common good of the nation as a whole.
Whatever else you do, do something! Catholics are called to be in the world, even as we are not of it. We believe in a God who became incarnate, who became a citizen of a certain place at a certain time, and who even paid taxes to God and Caesar. We are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of Heaven, yes, but we are also citizens here below. Don't wait for someone else to come along and fix everything; take up what gifts and talents you possess and fix something.

Tell the truth. Live love. Contemplate your neighbor, and see Christ shining out through their eyes. Do the works of mercy, and work justice.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018! As we start this (extremely cold) New Year, let's make a resolution: Let's resolve to work especially hard in this New Year to end the many, many myths about Catholicism left over from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

Now, I'm not saying all criticisms of the Catholic Church and Catholics are invalid--far from it! The truth is the truth. Where sins have been committed, we must acknowledge them, and repent, and resolve never to repeat them. I say as much in How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

But there are a great many crimes, sins, and scandals that common knowledge and "everybody" indicts the Church with that simply didn't happen, that have no connection to fact, and that simply are myths and "mythconceptions" that have been floating around for centuries. In the name of truth, honesty, and an end to "fake news" of all kinds, we owe it to ourselves and to the common good to get rid of those myths as yesterday's rubbish. Let's start fresh in this New Year. Let's start with a clean slate, with a mind freed of falsehood and a clearer view of history and the world.

Let's start with this one:
The medievals knew perfectly well that the earth was round. Heck, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) repeated the common consensus bluntly and casually in his Summa Theologiae:
The astronomer and the natural philosopher both conclude that the earth is round, but the astronomer does this through a mathematical middle that is abstracted from matter, whereas the natural philosopher considers a middle lodged in matter.
The myth of the medieval belief in the flat earth arises from a few sources:

  • The nigh-impregnable modern belief in medieval backwardness, ignorance, and refusal to use reason, and
  • Mythmaking around Christopher Columbus (c. 1451 – 1506), especially from the writer Washington Irving (1783 – 1859).

And more, of course—the workings of memory are rarely simple. But there’s a start to getting rid of some of the old, false baggage of the past, pursuing a truer perspective on one of the world’s most enduring institutions, and allowing us a better understanding of where we come from in order to better decide where we’re going.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where's the Hope?

As we've been living this 100th anniversary of Fatima all year long, I've been wondering off and on which exactly are the errors of Russia that Our Lady mentioned in the secret of Fatima?
When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world”. ... (emphasis added)
Oh, certainly atheistic Communism is one of those great errors. I don't think there should be any doubt about that. After all, the climax of the visions came in October 1917, and the Communists took power in Russia in October 1917. Take a look at the roll call of the martyrs caused by Communist oppression and the nations and peoples slaughtered under Communism

But I think Our Lady's words demand that we look more closely. After all, a great many assumptions and a lot of intellectual baggage goes along with the words "atheistic Communism." That's not a simple, single idea, but an entire complicated ideology, resting on certain basic principles.

Just to name a few:
  • Materialism--atheistic Communism presumes that material reality is all there is. There isn't room in its economics or its cultural criticism for the notion of an immaterial soul or realms of spirit. That's not to say all Communists deny spiritual realities--clearly that's not the case, if you look at the various utopian communes that dotted the United States at various points in her history. But it certainly means that one of the errors of Russia that was spread to many nations (and not always by the Russians, either) is materialism.
  • Secularism--the hard secularism of the ideology of atheistic Communism, not the positive secularism that was spoken of highly at the synod on the Middle East under Pope Benedict XVI.
  • The false notion that the meaning of life is power and/or wealth; that all human motivations and culture can be reduced to politics and/or economics; that these are the only two truly real things in human affairs. As George Weigel has said repeatedly, that overlooks the role of culture, especially insofar as it emerges from cultus, from religion, in shaping world events. It was the Communists' inability to account for religion accurately that allowed Cardinal Wyszynski and St. John Paul II, among many others, to play a transformative role in Eastern Europe and the USSR, setting the stage for the bloodless revolution of 1989.
At a certain point in the twentieth century, Communism as an economic system became nigh on indefensible, given the lived experience of Communism in the USSR. But it morphed into a strictly political form of analysis and action, quite plainly in Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

But again, the errors of Russia are more than strictly Communism. The West has adopted materialism and an increasingly hard secularism, for instance, not necessarily because of any sort of direct action by Russia, but rather because ideas are contagious. Once something has become the animating spirit of the zeitgeist, it can haunt the intellectual world for ages thereafter. The errors of Russia have spread, in part because of active campaigns by the Communist Party; in part because they reflect certain ideas that have taken over the age for whatever reason; and in part because, well, it seems like this was an age of error, intended to be stopped by an early consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart in around 1930.

But the consecration was done late, in 1984. The errors of Russia by then had spread and caused the destruction of many nations in World War II and the Cold War. The Church had suffered enormously. The prophecy was being fulfilled.

And it's still being fulfilled. The consecration was made; the Berlin Wall fell; and Russia has opened the doors to Christianity again. But the Triumph has not been completed yet. We still await the definitive Triumph of the Immaculate Heart and the era of peace, as Pope Benedict XVI said in 2010:
May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.
What remains? The First Saturdays of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

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 na├»ve 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


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