Saturday, March 27, 2010

The (False) Dogma of Perpetual Progress

Chesterton being delightful (again):
Suppose I write a story, let us hope a short story, say, about a wood that is haunted by evil spirits. Let us give ourselves the pleasure of supposing that at night all the branches have the appearance of being hung with hundreds of corpses, like the orchard of Louis the Eleventh, the spirits of travellers who have hanged themselves when they came to that spot; or anything bright and cheery like that. Suppose I make my hero, Gorlias Fitzgorgon (that noble character) make the sign of the cross as he passes this spot; or the friend who represents wisdom and experience advise him to consult a priest with a view to exorcism. Making the sign of the cross seems to me not only religiously right, but artistically appropriate and psychologically probable. It is what I should do; it is what I conceive that my friend Fitzgorgon would do; it is also aesthetically apt, or, as they say, "in the picture." I rather fancy it might be effective if the traveller saw with the mystical eye, as he saw the forest of dead men, a sort of shining pattern or silver tangle of crosses hovering in the dark, where so many human fingers had made that sign upon the empty air. But though I am writing what seems to me natural and appropriate and artistic, I know that the moment I have written it, a great roar and bellow will go up with the word "Propaganda" coming from a thousand throats; and that every other critic, even if he is kind enough to commend the story, will certainly add: "But why does Mr. Chesterton drag in his Roman Catholicism?" Now let us suppose that Mr Chesterton has not this disgusting habit. Let us suppose that I write the same story, or the same sort of story, informed with a philosophy which is familiar and therefore unobserved. Let us suppose that I accept the ready-made assumptions of the hour, without examining them any more than the others do. Suppose I get into the smooth rut of newspaper routine and political catchwords; and make the man in my story act exactly like the man in the average magazine story. I know exactly what the man in the average magazine story would do. I can almost give you his exact words. In that case Fitzgorgon, on first catching a glimpse of the crowds of swaying spectres in the moon, will almost inevitably say: "But this is the twentieth century!" In itself, of course, the remark is simply meaningless. It is far more meaningless than making the sign of the cross could ever be; for to that even its enemies attach some sort of meaning. But to answer a ghost by saying, "This is the twentieth century," is in itself quite unmeaning; like seeing somebody commit a murder and then saying, "But this is the second Tuesday in August!" Nevertheless, the magazine writer who for the thousandth time puts these words into the magazine story, has an intention in this illogical phrase. He is really depending upon two dogmas; neither of which he dares to question and neither of which he is able to state. The dogmas are: first, that humanity is perpetually and permanently improving through the process of time; and, second, that improvement consists in a greater and greater indifference or incredulity about the miraculous. Neither of these two statements can be proved. And it goes without saying that the man who uses them cannot prove them,for he cannot even state them. In so far as they are at all in the order of things that can be proved, they are things that can be disproved. For certainly there have been historical periods of relapse and retrogression; and there certainly are highly organised and scientific civilizations very much excited about the super-natural; as people are about Spiritualism to-day. But anyhow, those two dogmas must be accepted on authority as absolutely true before there is any sense whatever in Gorlias Fitzgorgon saying, "But this is the twentieth century." The phrase depends on the philosophy; and the philosophy is put into the story. Yet nobody says the magazine story is propagandist.

On Living in a Novel and DoublePlusGoodSpeak

Yesterday, I got to hear Rita Marker of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide speak. She quoted Smith's Law: "Any act of social engineering is always preceded by verbal engineering." (cf. George Orwell) Mark Shea extends this insight from personal experience:
One of the many patterns I have noticed among people who labor to excuse huge evils is that they are incredibly sensitive about minor linguistic points. I can't count how many times I have gotten tearful rebukes from torture defenders because I am so *mean* and actually use words like "torture defender" to describe people who are looking me in the eye and saying that this is not torture. Similarly, people determined to make excuses for pols whose whole career has centered around grotesque justifications for abortion, justifications extending to invocations of Sts. Thomas and Augustine, tend to get oh-so-upset when you employ the mocking phrase "sacrament of abortion" to describe their twisted theology. This tendency to strain at linguistic gnats and swallow moral camels is one of the warning signs I now look for when detecting the presence of evil.

Benedict: Prayer Best Response to Abuse Scandal

One blogger finds this scandalous, another blogger sympathizes with the first but understands and approves the Pope's priorities:
The sober fact is that the scandals were perpetuated because the Church lost its way, and the only way for the Church to find it again is to submit itself to God. As Eucharistic Christians, we believe that that renewal can come through adoration before the presence of God, through the offering of the sacrifice of praise. This is true, that a community that is honest with itself and with God and remains faithful to the sacraments as avenues of grace can, in fact, receive that grace. The sacraments are transformative. That’s what they’re for. Nick doesn’t seem to grasp, at least fully, that ultimate principle we learn from the Psalmist: “Unless the Lord the house shall build, the weary builders toil in vain; unless the Lord the city shield, the guards a useless watch maintain.” And unless we are ourselves rooted in the love and knowledge of God, unless we are submitted to the Lord, no solution other than the liquidation of the Church will ever end its sins. Yes, there is and should be concrete steps taken, but these steps must be supported by prayer as well as funds. There’s a reason we maintain contemplative orders: we believe the ministry of prayer to be one of vital importance. My own Bishop, Nicholas DiMarzio, upon coming to Brooklyn insisted on establishing the Carmelites here for that very purpose, and to pray specifically for an increase in vocations; consequently — yes, consequently — our discernment program is booming. Human effort is necessary, but God’s is far more important. Unless the Lord indeed.

Eastern Orthodoxy a Challenge to Evangelical...

Much of Protestant apologetics against liturgical and sacramental theology has traditionally focused on a historical approach against “Catholic inventions,” which is manifestly flawed. More recent Protestant responses to Eastern Orthodoxy often assumes that by the year 1054 AD (the year traditionally given for the East-West Schism) the Eastern Church had had plenty of time to fall into apostasy. The Coptic Church demonstrates that a liturgical and sacramental theology permeated the Christian Church 600 years before the East-West Schism. At the very least, we can say that at the time of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), a Protestant theological approach is light years away. Did it exist before then? Were there Christians in the Early Church who looked like the Evangelicals of today? If so, they left no mark in either the Ancient Churches nor in the writings of the Church Fathers in East or West.
There's video of a Coptic Mass up, as well.

Chesterton on the Creed of Homo Economicus

As always, right on target:
Ours, ours is the key O desolate crier, The golden key to what ills distress you Left without ever a God to judge you, Lost without even Man to oppress you. Look west, look west to the Land of Profits, To the old gold marts, and confess it then How greatly your great propaganda prospers When left to the methods of Business Men. Ah, Mammon is mightier than Marx in making a goose-step order for godless geese, And snobs know better than mobs to measure Where Golf shall flourish and God shall cease. Lift up your hearts in the wastes Slavonian, Let no Red Sun on your wrath go down; There are millions of very much organized atheists In the Outer Circle of London Town. - G.K. Chesterton, "Comfort for Communists"

Ominous Polish Rumblings

Women seeks ability to have abortion through appeal to the EU Court of Human Rights, won a cash settlement, and then sued a Catholic newspaper for libel when they said she'd gotten paid for seeking to kill her child. Weigel comments:
For the sake of charity, it’s probably best to assume that the Katowice courts adopted these bad habits, not from the Stalinist past, but from the western European and Canadian present, where the judicial deligitimation and punishment of politically incorrect opinion has become something of a legal industry. The Katowice decisions also seem to reflect the unsavory tendency of American courts to wade into questions of the identity and boundaries of religious communities, questions that are really none of their business. The presiding judge of the Katowice Appeals Court, for example, opined that Father Gancarczyk’s editorial was, well, non-Christian: “Christianity is a religion of love,” she wrote in her decision, “and this is what the language of the Catholic press should be like.” Poles struggled for many things during the remarkable decade that gave birth to the Revolution of 1989: the truth about their national identity and culture; the truth about their history; the right to determine their future as free men and women, and to do so as believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. One thing Poles were most certainly not fighting for was judicial control of the editorial policies of Catholic magazines. That judges in a democratic Poland might dictate the rhetorical boundaries that Catholic publications must observe in their commentary on public affairs would have struck the heroes of 1989 as an absurdity; Poland had suffered enough of that in the decades after 1946. The Polish Supreme Court might keep that history in mind as it reviews the legal travesties that have taken place in Katowice.

Dissident Catholicism

Diogenes has yet another lovely snark:

When he signed the health-care reform bill, President Obama gave commemorative pens-- the traditional gifts for people who were instrumental in securing the passage of legislation-- to 18 members of Congress and of his administration, and just 2 outsiders. They were: Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Senator Ted Kennedy, for whom health-care reform was a lifelong crusade; and Sister Carol Keehan, the president of the Catholic Health Association, whose organization undercut the US bishops' efforts to protect human life and Christian consciences. Altogether the President passed out 20 pens. Pens, I said-- not pieces of silver.

Congress and Logjam

Odd, with hints and rumors of disreputable things:
The architects of the health-care-reform bill, for instance, couldn't bring themselves to propose the difficult reforms necessary to assure Medicare—and the government's—solvency. So they created an independent panel of experts who will have to propose truly difficult reforms to enable the Medicare system to survive. These recommendations would take the fast track through Congress, protected from not just the filibuster but even from revision. In fact, if Congress didn't vote on them, they'd still become law. "I believe this commission is the largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress since the creation of the Federal Reserve," says Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, and he meant it as a compliment. Cap-and-trade, meanwhile, is floundering in the Senate. In the event that it dies, the Environmental Protection Agency has been preparing to regulate carbon on its own. Some senators would like to block the EPA from doing so, and may yet succeed. But those in Congress who want to avert catastrophic climate change, but who don't believe they can pass legislation to help do so, are counting on the EPA to act in their stead. The financial meltdown was, in many ways, a model of quick congressional action. TARP had its problems, and the stimulus was too small, but both passed, and quickly. After they'd passed, though, it became clear they weren't sufficient, and that Congress wasn't going to be able to muster further action. So the Federal Reserve, in consultation with congressional leaders, unleashed more than a trillion dollars into the marketplace. It was still the American people's money being invested, but it didn't need 60 votes in the Senate... As for foreign policy and national security, Congress has so abdicated its role over war and diplomacy that Garry Wills, in his new book, Bomb Power, says that we've been left with an "American monarch," which is only slightly scarier-sounding than the "unitary executive" theory that the Bush administration advocated and implemented... Some might throw up their hands and welcome the arrival of outside cavalries, of rule by commissions and central banks and executive agencies. But there is a cost when Congress devolves power to others. The American public knew much more about the stimulus than about the Federal Reserve's "quantitative easing" program because Congress is much more accessible and paid more attention by the media. The EPA can impose blunt regulations on polluters, but it can't put a price on carbon in order to create a real market for cleaner energy. The debt commission's recommendations will still require a congressional vote. When Congress doesn't work, the federal government doesn't work, no matter how hard it tries.
I'm really not sure what to think of this.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"The World is About to be Changed..."

English Church historian Eamon Duffy relates some fascinating analysis and anecdotes about Pope John Paul II:
"You said the key to John Paul II's character is to understand the importance of suffering to him. There's an amazing quote in Tad Szulc's biography of him where he says, "I understand that I have to lead Christ's church into the third millennium by prayer, by various programs. But I saw that this is not going to be enough. She must be led by suffering. By sacrifice. The Pope has to be attacked. The Pope has to suffer. So that every family may see that there is a higher gospel, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared". Talk a little about what you say is this key to understanding this man." Suffering is crucial for understanding John Paul, both at a personal level, and at a racial, ethnic, historical, and a theological level. His own personal life is one of enormous personal deprivation: the loss of his mother, when he was very young; the loss of his brother, who was perhaps the person he was closest to in the world. Then when he was a very young man, and before he'd really shaped his own life choices, the loss of his father, whose piety had been crucial in shaping his own religion. So he was a very austere man, from whom all human support has been stripped away. And that's made him the very strong, self-reliant, and very lonely person he is. But also, he sees that personal record of suffering, which of course was exaggerated by the sufferings he endured as part of the suffering of the Polish people in the war, his own jobs in the war were grim. But the Polish people for 200 years have been a victim-people, partitioned between Germany and Russia, religiously oppressed, enslaved, abandoned by the world at the beginning of the Second World War. And that experience of desolation, for him, is part and parcel of the religious desolation of the East, a church which is the Church of Silence, which was cut off from the West, which was actively enduring persecution before the Communist era, from German Protestantism or from Russian Orthodoxy, and then in the Communist period from atheistic Communism. And he feels that has given the churches of the East a special vision, a special access to the Gospel of the Crucified, whereas the West he sees as soft, the churches of the West as having half sold-out to the material values of the Enlightenment, of having adopted alien philosophies, of cultivating forms of spirituality that are weak and soft and self-indulgent. He sees the church of the West as rotted by self-indulgence, by prosperity; of having softened, of having made compromising concessions to the culture, which the churches of the East, because they've suffered, have not done. So he sees there's an enormous contribution of intransigence, of focus, a greater sense of essentials and priorities that comes from suffering. And so his own experience, and if you like, his racial experience, his ethnic and ... the sense of being an Easterner are very important to him. But there's also a tradition, which dates from the nineteenth century which sees the pope as the focus of all this. You can find it in writings about the sufferings of Pius IX, attacked by the Italian state, the pope as the prisoner of the Vatican, the pope as the butt of intellectual criticism in Europe--people seeing this crazy old Italian denouncing the modern world, as being a fool and a buffoon. And so for this Pope, opposition is almost a sign of authenticity. So, of course the Gospel will be opposed. People who are fixed on self-indulgence, on sex, on material possessions, of course they will hate the Gospel, and of course the spokesman for the Gospel will be treated as some sort of freak, as being anti-modern, anti-life, anti-choice. But for him, choice is not about letting yourself off hard things. It's about opting for the hard thing. That's true freedom. "In The Gospel of Life, perhaps his most powerful critique of modernity, what he singles out is this vivid imagery--the culture of death, the earth as a vast planet of tombs. Could you focus just a little on his critique which is different in many ways? It takes the tradition of being counter to the culture, but he has his own special sort of take on what's spiritually dangerous in modern culture. What does he take from the past and what is singularly and uniquely his, and his distress and anguish over our times?" For him, the center of all moral existence is human relationship and human decision. Now he doesn't mean by that that you can make things, up, that you can shape the moral universe you live in. What it means is that your integrity comes from a chosen response to moral reality. And he thinks that all forms of secular modernity, whether it's Liberal Capitalism, or whether it's Marxism, substitute for human relationship and human freedom secular material objectives...Whether it's the sovereignty of the State, the absolute, people hypostatized so that all humanity is actually leeched out of the concept of the people. He can understand the notion of `a people', but people in bulk for him don't have much meaning. Because what matters is the individual choosing. And so for him, human relationships, including the sexual relationship, are enormously important. He's often seen as a figure who's anti-life, anti-sex. He's actually enormously in favor of human romantic relationship, of the male-female sexual thing. He's probably the only pope in history who's actually written about the female orgasm as a good thing. But for him, that's all within the context of a moral universe where sexuality has an objective. And therefore you're not free to shape it in the way that you might want to. But having seen Communism collapse, he thinks that Liberal Capitalism is just as dehumanizing, that it substitutes all sorts of material itches for true human choice. And one sees those terrible pictures of his last visit to Poland, where he, with tears streaming down his face, raged at the crowds because they'd freed themselves from Communism and what had they done? They'd built sex-shops. They'd got McDonalds. They were buying into the capitalist dream. And for him this was a great betrayal of humanity. What he wanted was a civilization which was based on people relating to each other, a simpler vision of life, which didn't put things at the center but put people at the center... "I've always been struck when I read comments he makes--whether it's in homilies or encyclicals or as early as those Latin lectures as well--he says, `Materialism is as great a spiritual danger as Communism, totalitarianism.' Yet this is a man who experienced the twin evils of totalitarianism. He experienced Nazism and Communism, and gulags, and millions of people died.. So to be able to equate the two, coming from his experience, is quite extraordinary." Yes, and I think work is a key here. Communism identified the individual as a worker. Capitalism identifies the individual as a consumer. John Paul can make sense of man or woman as a worker because he believes not that work is an affliction that has been imposed on us as the price of sin, but an ennobling thing by which we shape the world. And so human beings' work is part of the moral activity that makes them human. So that dimension of Communism, for him, has resonances, he can sympathize, he knows what's going on, what's being said, and he thinks that there's a dignity and nobility about talking about `the workers'. He thinks there is no dignity or nobility in talking about `the consumers'... "When people talk about this Pope, it ranges from a Gary Wills, who finds this Pope a man of immense contradictions--which is one school of thought about him--to a George Weigel, who says he's not full of contradictions, he's all of a piece and if you read his work carefully, there is no division between the social liberal and the doctrinal conservative. Or you get someone like the historian Tony Judt who says he's a man of extremes. Where do you end up in that debate, if at all?" I'd just say he's a complex man. He's the product, I think, of a religious tradition that's quite mysterious to us. The week after his election, I was giving a talk at Ealing Abbey, in London, where there's a big Polish community. And after the talk was finished, an elderly Polish professor, who was an exile, came up to talk to me. And I rapidly became convinced that this man was mad. I said to him, "You must be very pleased to have had a Polish pope elected". And he said, "More than pleased, the world is about to be changed". And I said, "Yes?" And he said, "Oh, yes. It is prophesied that when there is a Polish pope, Russian tyranny will fall, Communism will fall, and there will be a great re-evangelisation of the Slav peoples, which will be led by Poland. And that is a prelude to the end of the world". And I backed away from this man, I hastily changed the subject. And, in 1989, I remembered all that... And I think the Pope's own preoccupation with the Jubilee is part of the same apocalyptic mentality. It's a Catholicism which broods on history. Partly because the Polish people have suffered such historical reverses, and they've had to concentrate, focus on the meaning of their own religion, over against Orthodoxy, over against Protestantism, because they've been caught between pincer movements. So religion is more than just religion. It's a key to who they are, where the world is going, the nature of politics. I think it's quite hard for us to imagine what it must be like to be a thoroughly modern man, with an immense command of languages, quite widely traveled, who reads a great deal, who's thought a great deal, and yet to emerge from a type of Catholicism that seems light years away from modernity. And I think that a lot of what is mysterious to us in his personality is explicable in terms of his attempts to heal that gulf between the pre-modern world, mental world, which nourished him, and the modern world, of which he really is quite a master.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"...if the whole world were to crumble..."

After a series of links and comments on the current health care fight, the Anchoress closes with a perfect redirection of the mind and heart in the completely right direction:
Consider that John Paul spent a good part of his papacy repeating these four words over, and over:Do not be afraid.

Don’t be. There is nothing to be afraid of, if you believe that something greater than anything we can see is at work, here. It’s that old Corrie & Betsy Ten Boom Thanking God for the Fleas Story. Sometimes it’s difficult to give thanks in all circumstances. But it’s wholly necessary, if you believe that “all things work together for the good,” even if our minds do not understand how that might be possible.

“Clearly it is always useless to be disturbed, since being disturbed is never any help. Thus, if the whole world were to crumble and to come to an end and all things were to go wrong, it would be useless to get disturbed, for this would do more harm than good. Enduring all with tranquil and peaceful equanimity not only reaps many blessings but also helps the soul so that in these very adversities it may manage better in judging them and employing the proper remedy.

In all events, however unfavorable, we ought rather to rejoice than be disturbed, and bear them all with equanimity so as not to lose a blessing greater than all prosperity.” — St. John of the Cross

Yes, you’re shaking your head and saying, “Anchoress, you’re joking, right? You’re kidding with this stuff, aren’t you?”

Well, no, I’m not. For the Christian this is where the rubber meets the road. Do you believe all the things you say you believe, or don’t you? If you do, then take a page from people who spent their whole lives trusting in all of that;believing, and going on faith, even while jabbing their fingers into the eyes of the culture (and of the authorities, when necessary) and facing hardship, ridicule, and sometimes imprisonment:

Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things pass away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who has God Finds he lacks nothing; God alone suffices. — St. Teresa of Avila

It is the most basic -and challenging- of all lessons; and we had better learn it, soon, or we will fret ourselves into sick despair and spiritual weakness, at a time when we need to be very, very strong.

I know everyone is angry, and everyone is -despite all this good advice- going to keep fretting, because these are fractious people, in charge. But the battle that rages all around is not going to be affected by our frets. Keep doing what you’re doing. And fast, and pray.

Lovely, and right on.

US Economy Continues Slide

A round-up. First: Social Security is calling in the debts:

For more than two decades, Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits — billions more each year.

Not anymore. This year, for the first time since the 1980s, when Congress last overhauled Social Security, the retirement program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes — nearly $29 billion more.

Sounds like a good time to start tapping the nest egg. Too bad the federal government already spent that money over the years on other programs, preferring to borrow from Social Security rather than foreign creditors. In return, the Treasury Department issued a stack of IOUs — in the form of Treasury bonds — which are kept in a nondescript office building just down the street from Parkersburg's municipal offices.

Now the government will have to borrow even more money, much of it abroad, to start paying back the IOUs, and the timing couldn't be worse. The government is projected to post a record $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year, followed by trillion dollar deficits for years to come.

The implications of this? We shall face the Social Security crisis so long predicted now, in the middle of a massive slide towards depression, in the middle of historic government debt, in the middle of China controlling our economic future with its treasury holdings. On the national debt:
The U.S. and the U.K. have moved “substantially” closer to losing their AAA credit ratings as the cost of servicing their debt rose, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

The governments of the two economies must balance bringing down their debt burdens without damaging growth by removing fiscal stimulus too quickly, Pierre Cailleteau, managing director of sovereign risk at Moody’s in London, said in a telephone interview.

Under the ratings company’s so-called baseline scenario, the U.S. will spend more on debt service as a percentage of revenue this year than any other top-rated country except the U.K., and will be the biggest spender from 2011 to 2013, Moody’s said today in a report.

“We expect the situation to further deteriorate in terms of the key ratings metrics before they start stabilizing,” Cailleteau said. “This story is not going to stop at the end of the year. There is inertia in the deterioration of credit metrics."

Secretary of State Clinton acknowledges that US debt is a national security issue:

Clinton urged lawmakers to tackle the federal budget deficit, which reached a record $1.4 trillion for the fiscal year that ended last September.

"We have to address this deficit and the debt of the United States as a matter of national security not only as a matter of economics," Clinton said. "I do not like to be in a position where the United States is a debtor nation to the extent that we are."

Having to rely on foreign creditors hit "our ability to protect our security, to manage difficult problems and to show the leadership that we deserve," she said.

"The moment of reckoning cannot be put off forever," she said. "I really honestly wish I could turn the clock back."

Though she did not mention it, China's portfolio of some $755 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds has become a concern for some U.S. policymakers. They worry that Beijing's creditor status could create leverage to influence U.S. policy.

On the next phase of problems:
A crisis of confidence has invaded Greek and U.K. shores, and we can all learn a bit about what our future might look like as we watch developments there. (The U.K. may be the most useful example for us, since we also have a printing press.)

We will soon find out whether Bank of England Gov. Mervyn King will extend quantitative easing and, if he does, how the bond market will respond to a renewed effort to pump money directly into that economy. (The pound is already under a good deal of downward pressure.)

I would say that the U.K.'s funding crisis -- to use my ballgame analogy -- is probably in the third inning or so, even if we are still taking batting practice over here. (Read "Economy sinks as we save bankers" and "The next crisis has already begun" to brush up on that analogy.) Back to Greece for a second: The sort of straitjacket that it's being placed in by its inability to print money is what's forcing the country to consider making tough decisions.

Only in a funding crisis where you have no other options are the Western world's "soft" social democracies willing to -- or rather, are forced to -- make hard decisions. So, the upside of the crisis is potentially coming out the other side in a more sane, sustainable fashion. That's what we all have to hope for.

Add to all this the unsolved problems of the credit default swap market, continued US vulnerability to a run on the money markets, the ongoing failures of banks all over this country and beyond, the jobless rate, and we've got a long way to go before we're out of the woods.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chesterton in Chicago (Public School)

Now, I studied Chesterton for an 11th grade English project, so this is not quite so rare as may be suggested by this story--but still! Well done, and very cool!
James McPherrin, a history teacher at Glenbrook North Public High School in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Illinois reports to Kevin O'Brien, "Last year, in the wake of the AP European History exam, I read with the students Chesterton's What's Wrong With the World. It took two weeks to cover and was an unqualified fruitful experience. No backlash. No offended students or parents. The sections on womanhood were especially compelling for the students and generated some of the more lively discussion." But that's not all! McPherrin continues, "This year, we look forward to covering The Well and the Shallows. I'm re-reading it now and anticipate that it will 'rock their world,' as the kids are so apt to say." Indeed. McPherrin concludes by observing, "Chesterton belongs in the public schools. He addresses topics of immediate importance to young people and offers a sterling example of what constitutes superior prose."

"Here Come the Drums..."

With the German Catholic Church's abuse scandal, the press smells blood in the water. They're going after the Pope:

Count on the London Times to offer the most sensational coverage of a news story involving the Catholic Church. The headline on today's report by Richard Owen screams:

Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry

That's grossly misleading, downright irresponsible. The reporter runs ahead of his evidence-- standard procedure for a Times journalist-- but even Richard Owen does not allege anything to justify the headline.Here's what we know: While the Pope was Archbishop of Munich, a priest there was accused of sexual abuse. He was pulled out of ministry and sent off for counseling. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in the decision to remove the priest from his parish assignment-- got that? remove him. [Editor's note: The preceding sentences are not accurate. Actually the facts provide an even stronger defense of the Pontiff...

After learning more about this case, I realize that the analysis above is not quite accurate, and the effort to implicate the Pope is even more far-fetched than I had originally thought. The accused was not a priest of the Munich archdiocese, but a priest from the Diocese of Essen, who had been sent to a facility in Munich for counseling. So the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was not responsible for his treatment; his only connection with the case was his decision to let the priest stay in a rectory in the Munich archdiocese while he was undergoing treatment there. There is no evidence that the Pope was aware the accused priest was an accused pedophile; he was evidently informed only that the priest had been guilty of sexual improprieties, and probably concluded that he was engaged in homosexual activities with young men.

Nevertheless, any number of people will walk away from this story with certain impressions implanted deep within their mind. The stage is being set for persecution.

Via Moderna

A fascinating perspective from Dr. Scott Hahn on the origins of the "modern way." Excerpts:
I would identify Calvinism with a kind of religious individualism, but Calvinism itself is only symptomatic of a deeper problem surfacing in a more pervasive and radical form. Namely, the problem of nominalist philosophy, or what is often called the via moderna. The Thomists had defined natural law as an expression of the divine intellect, so that God through his intellect knows the natures he has created, and what those natures need in order to be perfected and fulfilled. Laws proceed from his intellect in such a way that they correspond to what we need to be happy, fulfilled, perfected, laws and authority are the preconditions for freedom and fulfilment in the via antiqua. But in the 1300´s William of Ockham rooted law in God´s will in such a way that law became the arbitrary imposition of a superior power´s will. We have a dialectical relation of polarized tension between authority and freedom, between law and my own individual nature. Machiavelli necessarily follows because in a sense rulers imitate God. You can see the Leviathan of Hobbes, the Contract of Rousseau. Soon "savages" have to find out how to get out from under the "system" to escape the ruthless powers of Leviathan. It´s all breaking away from the Trinity on one level, and from the family on another. Laws had traditionally been understood as the expressions of a loving Father´s will to preserve and perfect the life he had sired, the life of his children. Once we move away from the covenantal, familial, and Trinitarian view of law systematized by Bonaventure and Thomas, we create a philosophical system of distrust, a hermeneutic of suspicion, we are going to look at anybody having authority who advances truth claims with suspicion. We are allergic to authority, we distrust authority, so naturally fatherhood is going to break down, the family is going to break down. Calvinism was only a middle stage. We have to restore unity through the Trinity from above, the family from below, and with the Church mediating in between...
The revolutions begun by this intellectual movement rolled down the centuries.  Excerpts:
In the 1300s the revolution was intellectual. William of Occam and others. In the 1400s came the cultural revolution. Universities started becoming secularized and downplaying theology. Art became about nature rather than God. Nothing wrong with that at all, but to emphasize a lesser truth at that time was indicative of an agenda. In the 1500s there was a theological revolution. Papal authority discarded. In the 1600s there was a philosophical revolution. Truth claims were considered private, reason now trumps faith. Philosophers were greater than theologians, universities greater than seminaries, because reason was considered more important than faith. In the 1700s there were political revolutions. We’ll serve no monarch. French Revolution pushed state over church. Social contract now completely secular. We had a contract, not a covenant with our leaders. In the 1800s the scientific revolution of Darwin, Marx and Freud, all emphasizing power, with Freud attacking the father figure saying we must uproot paternity. By the 1900s there was the breakdown of marriage, the sexual revolution, the right to abortion. The social contract was extended to marriage; marriage became a breakable contract instead of an unbreakable covenant. And how can one deny homosexuals the right to marry if law is arbitrary anyway? If we’re suspicious of God, we’re going to be all the more of popes and priests and fathers. We see all power as suspect. And yet the Creed got it right. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”. “Father” precedes “almighty”...
For want of a nomen... More on this from Stratford Caldecott:
It is very important for us to try to understand the reasons for the collapse of the medieval order, because this will enable us to grasp the nature of the modern world. Let me take up the story again from the Crusades. Having found it impossible to persuade the military classes of Western Europe to adopt more peaceable ways (I mentioned the Peace movement around AD 1000), the Church resorted to an alternative strategy, which seemed to be the only one open to it: namely to channel all that aggression against a common enemy. It started well enough – both in the East, with a successful First Crusade in 1096 (answering the appeal for help of the Byzantine Emperor the year before), and also in the South West of Europe. The Reconquista or Reconquest of Spain south of Santiago from the Moors (Toledo 1085) gave Western Europe access for the first time to many of the treasures of ancient philosophy, particularly in the form of Arabic transcriptions of Aristotle. For the next hundred years Christian, Jewish and Moslem scholars would collaborate on the translation and interpretation of these texts. It was the Friars, the new mendicant orders, both Franciscan and Dominican (who, thanks to the support of the Papacy, which had given them the task of combatting heresy, were now dominating the new Universities in Paris and later Oxford), who managed to achieve this synthesis of the new learning with the tradition coming from St Augustine and the Church Fathers.

(If you are not familiar with all this, one of the best books about the great age of Scholasticism is The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, by the French historian Etienne Gilson. It was this book that helped to convert Thomas Merton to Catholicism. You might also enjoy G.K. Chesterton's brilliant little book St Thomas Aquinas.) The Scholastic synthesis demonstrated a remarkable balance between faith and reason, between grace and nature. Theology is based on Revelation, but for St Thomas it also has to be in harmony with human reason, because there can be only one truth. In other words, his method is based not on a narrow dogmatism that only finds what it is looking for, but on a completely fearless search for truth using all the available methods of philosophy, including the ancient pagan philosophy, confident that – through prayer – it would eventually be possible to answer any objections to faith that might arise, and to reconcile any apparent clash between the teachings of the Church and the conclusions of human thought.

In the fourteenth century, however, the new emphasis on nature and on corporeal reality, on love and on the humanity of Christ, which was linked to the development both of lay spirituality and of science, began to be taken to rather extreme lengths by some of the Franciscans. This, I think, is a turning point for civilization: the point where the medieval world began to give way to the modern. In fact the new philosophy was quickly dubbed the via moderna or 'modern way', so evident was its radical difference from traditional thought. [See Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity, Yale, 1993.]...
And it all rolled out from there.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Oh, Canada!

Canada might be benefiting from the world meltdown:
The Canadian dollar, or loonie as it is affectionately called here, is likely to soar above parity with the US greenback this year, experts at a Canadian bank said Wednesday...

CIBC said other factors were also aligning to push up the value of Canada's currency such as increased demand for oil, minerals and fertilizers; resurgent capital markets; and global debt fears.

"If the capital markets finally get an appetite for M&A (mergers and acquisitions) then Canada could be one of the first places to see the benefit of foreign inflows," said CIBC analyst Zafar Bhatti.

Or "if the investing world starts looking for a place to park capital in the wake of deteriorating sovereign credits then Canada would look very attractive," Bhatti said in a report.

Huge Smuggling Operation, Minimal News Coverage

So this was a rather odd story that saw almost no play in English language media. I have no idea what the outcome of the story has been, what the final verdict on the securities was, or anything. I post because I don't think this should have been forgotten. An overview:
Italy’s financial police (Guardia italiana di Finanza) has seized US bonds worth US 134.5 billion from two Japanese nationals at Chiasso (40 km from Milan) on the border between Italy and Switzerland. They include 249 US Federal Reserve bonds worth US$ 500 million each, plus ten Kennedy bonds and other US government securities worth a billion dollar each.

Italian authorities have not yet determined whether they are real or fake, but if they are real the attempt to take them into Switzerland would be the largest financial smuggling operation in history; if they are fake, the matter would be even more mind-boggling because the quality of the counterfeit work is such that the fake bonds are undistinguishable from the real ones.

What caught the policemen’s attention were the billion dollar securities. Such a large denomination is not available in regular financial and banking markets. Only states handle such amounts of money.

The question now is who could or would counterfeit or smuggle these non-negotiable bonds.

In order to stop money laundering Italian law sets a ceiling of 10,000 euros per person for importing or exporting money without declaring it. The penalty for violating the law is 40 per cent of the money seized.

If the certificates were real, for Italy it would be like hitting the jackpot. The fine alone would amount to € (euro) 38 billion, five times the estimated cost of rebuilding quake-devastated Abruzzi region. It would help Italy’s eliminate its public deficit.

If the certificates are fakes the two Japanese nationals could get a very lengthy jail sentence for fraud.

As soon as the seizure was made the US Embassy in Rome was informed. Italian and US secret services were called in to assist the Italian financial police.

Some important international financial newspapers had already reported on the existence of ‘funny money’ circulating on parallel, i.e. unofficial, financial markets.

Further developments:

On that date the US Treasury Department announced that it had about US$ 134.5 billion left in its financial-rescue fund, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), whose purpose is to purchase assets and equity to buttress companies in trouble. The existence of such means that the Obama administration may not have to go to Congress for additional funds, something which is especially important since many lawmakers have vowed to oppose any requests for more money.

At the same time, Japan’s Kyodo news agency has reported that the resignation of Japan’s Interior Minister Kunio Hatoyama might also be related to the Ponte Chiasso affair. Officially the minister quit as a result of a row over who should head the state-owned Japan Post, but some sources have suggested that such a scenario is not very plausible since Mr Hatoyama was Prime Minister Taro Aso’s main ally in his rise to the prime minister’s office, and is especially unconvincing since the ruling coalition government has to face elections in just two weeks time. Indeed there are many reasons to connect the Ponte Chiasso incident to the minister’s resignation.

First of all, the men carrying the bonds had a Japanese passport. Secondly, they were not arrested. Under Italian law anyone in possession of counterfeit cash or bonds worth more than a few tens of thousands of euros must be arrested. By comparison the value of the seized counterfeit bonds is equal to 1 per cent of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Thirdly, how the seizure took place is worthy of a Monty Python movie—two well-dressed Japanese men carrying a briefcase travelling in a local train usually used by Italian manual labourers who commute to Switzerland for work had as much chance to go unobserved as two European businessmen travelling in the Congo.

A US spokesman speaks:
US government bonds seized by Italy’s financial police (Guardia di Finanza) at Ponte Chiasso, an the Italian town on the border with Switzerland, are “clearly fakes,” Stephen Meyerhardt, spokesman for the US Bureau of the Public Debt, is quoted as saying in a news report by the Bloomberg agency. AsiaNews contacted the divisional headquarters of Italy’s financial police in Como, which is responsible for Ponte Chiasso, asking for an explanation but none has come forth yet.

For some days the affair has been in the limelight [1]. Importantly, at the time of the bonds were seized it was not possible to determine whether the US government bonds and US Federal Reserve certificates were real of fakes.

Right after the seizure Colonel Mecarelli, Guardia di Finanza commander in Como, said that for at least some of the securities, especially the ‘Kennedy Bonds’, there were doubts about their authenticity. As for the others, some were so well made that it was hard to tell them apart from real ones...

If the [securities and bank documentation] were real the two Asian men had in their possession (although not necessarily in their ownership) a big chunk of the US debt which would have made them the fourth largest creditors of the United States...

It is not clear how statements by US Treasury spokesman Meyerhardt and Italian financial police can be reconciled. For the former the bonds “are clearly fakes”; for the latter, speaking at the start of this whole affair, some bonds were indistinguishable from the real ones when it comes to quality and detail.

Italy’s Guardia di Finanza has a reputation for being a highly specialised and expert financial police agency. How could it be so easily duped! And if the bonds are “clearly fakes” why did it take US authorities two weeks to find out.

Another discrepancy is the fact that, along with the securities, original and recent bank documents were seized as proof of their authenticity.

If what Meyerhardt says is true, some major financial institutions have been deceived by the securities carried by the two Asian men. This would be a bombshell and raise serious questions as to how many bank assets are actually made up of securities that for Meyerhardt are “clearly fakes.”

If counterfeit securities of such high quality are in circulation the world’s monetary system, let alone that of the United States, is in danger. International trade and exchanges could come to a halt.

Whether it is counterfeit money or money laundering, what happened is potentially more dangerous for the stability of the international system than the results of Iran’s elections.

If the bonds are real it means someone with a lot of cash no longer trusts the US dollar as a reserve currency. If this is the case then it would spell the end of the Bretton Woods system and most likely negatively impact world trade.

Unfortunately the international press and main TV networks, with some exceptions, have ignored the whole affair. These days this is actually the real news.

And the last word on the affair:

AsiaNews is a missionary news agency, not an economic agency and began reporting the story a few days later (8 June) noting how foreign media were ignoring news of such importance which could have major social and economic implications for Asia (and the rest of the world) and this irrespective of whether the bills were real or not.

Despite the many uncertain explanations, one thing is certain, namely that the major print and electronic media and the authorities have said almost nothing about it.

So far the only official statement made by any government authority is that by the Italian financial police, on 4 June, right after the money was seized. The only new piece to this big puzzle is information from Japanese agencies which cite Japanese consular sources.

According to them, the two Asian men stopped at Ponte Chiasso (Italy) on their way to Chiasso (Switzerland) were indeed Japanese nationals, one from Kanagawa Prefecture (central Japan) and the other from Fukuoka Prefecture (western Japan).

The only other certainty is that both men were released after their identity was established.

If police had enough elements to conclude that the securities were fakes (and this is true even for lower denominations or net worth), it had to arrest the two men. Failure to do so would have meant charges for the police officers involved.

If this was not the case, then the two men were released because police authorities were convinced that the securities were real. In fact under Italian law, the authorities could not arrest the two Japanese nationals but could only impose a fine worth 40 per cent of the value of anything above 10,000 €.

If this did not happen, there is only one other possible explanation, namely that an order from higher up the chain of command in the government came on national interest grounds...

Confidential sources, whose reliability AsiaNews could not confirm, claim that one of the two Japanese stopped and then released in Ponte Chiasso was Tuneo Yamauchi, brother-in-la of Toshiro Muto, who was until recently Deputy Governor of the Bank of Japan, which of course does not automatically mean that the securities are real.

However, other sources are saying that for Italian authorities they are real and that Rome is unwilling to play along with the US Federal Reserve, which described them as fakes without taking a peak at them, except via the internet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dreher Discovered Zimmerman...

Before I did. I need to read the book, mind--this is all drawn from other people's discussions of it--but what I'm hearing makes perfect sense of a lot:

Z. argues that "familism" -- the idea that a fundamental purpose of civilization is the empowerment and enabling of the family -- is absolutely key to the health of any civilization. He further says that the absolute key to the health of familism is ... religious faith. Not Christian faith specifically (this is not a religious work), but real faith in divine purpose. Nobody undertakes to have a large family because it's fun, or, in advanced societies, because it's economically beneficial. They do it because they believe that's what people do. In other words, they believe that children are a blessing from God, and that we humans are participating in the divine will by begetting children and raising them up to carry on our civilization. Absent a real belief in a transcendent source of life and morality, one that sanctifies material and personal sacrifices necessary to propagate children, a society will begin to overvalue material position and advantage, and will stop having children -- or at least enough children to guarantee the long-term health of the civilization. Decay inevitably follows, and can only be reversed when the suffering civilization finds its way back to familism...

What Zimmerman did not anticipate -- what few sociologists did -- was the postwar Baby Boom. That appears to have been only a speed bump on the road to our dismal demographic destiny. Of course the Quebecois birth rate collapsed, with the Roman Catholic religion, in the 1960s. And now, Mexico is headed rapidly toward an infertile future. In fact, UN demographers say that in this century, population in 3/4 of the world will shrink as women cease to have babies at replacement level or above.

You might say: well, fine, at least the decline we're going to suffer will remain relative to everybody else's. There's something to that, but it overlooks some important facts. First, knowing others have it just as bad elsewhere hardly ameliorates the real suffering that our society will have to deal with as it ages, without a sufficient number of people to care for the aged. Second, if decline is across the board, then in the demographic race to the bottom, the last group with people left standing inherits what's left of the civilization...

What can be done? Zimmerman seemed resigned to the belief that nothing much could stop this process, though he rather weakly expresses a hope in the final pages that intellectuals will understand the forces driving the phenomenon, and work to turn things around. It's a curious conclusion coming from a man who excoriates in the same pages intellectuals and academics for turning a blind eye to the realities around them. For someone who identifies religious faith as vital to familism, and in turn to civilization, he seems curiously unwilling to imagine that a revival of faith could turn things around. In his accompanying essay, Bryce Christensen says Zimmerman's friend and Harvard colleague Pitirim Sorokin, who founded the university's sociology department, saw that only a revival of religion could resurrect Western civilization from the collapse he view as inevitable. From Christensen's essay:

"Nobody can revive the dying sensate order," Sorokin admitted. He therefore anticipated that the collapse of the sensate [materialist] culture would mean "tragedy, suffering, and crucifixion for the American people." but he envisioned a future in which a chastened and humbled people would recover strong marriages and strong family lives as they listened to "new Saint Pauls, Saint Augustines, and great religious and ethical leaders."

Ah, where have we heard this before? From our old friend Alasdair MacIntyre:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the more misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age . . . and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. . . . What they set themselves to achieve—often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for Godot, but for another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

One last point. The Christian religion is all but deceased in Europe, but America is held up as an example of a place where religion is still vital to the life of the society. That being the case, why are most American Christians not having any more children than anybody else? What does that say about the nature of American Christianity? I bet Philip Rieff would have an answer to that question.

Fascinating stuff that I'm just discovering. The comments are interesting as well--some guy appears to think that this theory calls for women to become "broodmares" (his word, not mine). I don't think so. It merely calls women to be open to motherhood, to the possibility that having more than 2 children is a good thing, that children, in fact, are a good thing. It requires the belief that people are more important than politics, than a job, than money, than most other this worldly things. Is that so strange? Once that belief is held, bringing new people into the world would not seem so outlandish.

Family & Economics Piece

Here's an interesting post--some good bits, some meh:

Carl Zimmerman, a Harvard sociologist in his Magnum Opus “Family and Civilization”, discussed three kinds of family units: the trustee family, domestic family and the atomistic family. The trustee family is a close-knit, tribal like (in local lingo this would be something like the kampong); the domestic family centres on the nuclear family and maintains ties with the extended family; the atomistic family has attenuated ties with the extended family and views everything through the lenses of an economic entity. In his book, he discusses how all three forms exist at any time but moves from the trustee family to a predominantly atomistic family. The atomistic family, when in the majority, leads irrevocably to the end of the civilization.

Is this not what we are doing today, with our valuation of people as economic units; with our view of education not as a means to truth but as a tool for economic leverage? When medical treatment is given with inequity, favouring the rich over the promises in the Hippocratic Oath; when the legal field becomes an industry over its office of jurisprudence; when media outlets sell equivocation, bigotry and hatred for money; when religion sells itself out into a numbers game; when science falsifies results for the sake of its patron; when everything can be reduced to marketing and advertising. When we allow these things to happen, we elevate money to be the central focus of our life and sanction every moral as fair game to be shot down towards that end. This un-quenching craving for money is the result of the atomistic family in ascendancy. The traits that make humans human are slowly sent up in smoke as the sacrifice of ‘necessary evils’ to fulfill a ‘useless good’.

Not sure the author's post holds together at all points, but in the main, he's striking out in the right directions. I've always been skeptical of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Yes, food, water, etc. are the key things for bodily existence, but we do not always put them first. Ever hear of the starving artist? Look at the martyrs for philosophy, for faith, for nation. The hierarchy does not hold.

Third Way Economics

I've recently had occasion to explain that profit itself is morally neutral. It may be justly pursued as a means to receiving value for value--that is, just compensation for the value provided by your labors. A just wage, therefore, ought to include just compensation for value added as well as sufficient to cover the basic necessities of life. Provide more value, you desire more pay. Provide value at the rate of a Thomas Edison or Dagny Taggart, and you deserve a ton of wealth. However, in the course of providing this explanation, I think I may have neglected to emphasize that profit is not the proper end of economic activity. Indeed, homo economicus is an insufficient understanding of the nature of the human person. Therefore, the ultimate conflict of ideology cannot be that between capitalism and communism, since both have the same presumption at their root--that the whole of life is economic relations. Rather, the ultimate conflict of ideology shall always take place on the grand battlefield of disputes over human nature, metaphysics, the nature of truth, and teleology. So we have yet to find a truly human economics, though some have done great work along the way. A sampling:
Most of us have grown up taking for granted a dichotomy of two essential views of mankind: capitalism and communism. These two worldviews exist as the basic premises upon which any idea of society is based. You view man either as a prime mover in the action of his own life, individual par excellence, or as a very small piece of a much larger mechanism designed for the happiness and prosperity of all. The problem with these two views is that they both reduce man to a mere economic unit. Thus, one can rightly see them as two sides of the same coin -- which has not to this point been proven the only coin in the realm. Allan C. Carlson, working closely with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and aided by a grant from the Earhart Foundation in Ann Arbor, sets out to examine social ideas and ideologies of the 20th century that eschewed both capitalism and communism. The result, Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies -- and Why They Disappeared, is a fascinating examination of the will of citizens to self-govern... Carlson's essential idea in Third Ways consists of the primacy of the family and how the family has fallen under the boot heel of what Belloc termed the "servile state." With the majority of property, as well as the means of production, being held by a scarcer minority than ever before, the mass of people in Western society are forced to eke out a living as wage slaves. While Carlson paints a rather bleak portrait of modern life, he finds hope in the examples of the past, and offers this study as a relic of what might have been, and what very possibly might yet come to pass.
There needs to rise up a serious challenge to the existing left/right dichotomy, inherited from the Cold War and still skewing the entire economic debate. A third party with a family-centered, unusual economic stance would be a blessing right now. And in the same review, the source for Scott Hahn's discussion of the trustee family:
The well-known Irish proverb, "It is in the shelter of each other that the people live," has been cited for generations, but it was just decades ago that Carle C. Zimmerman put the shifting shelters of family, tribe, and government through rigorous research and analysis. His renowned study, Family and Civilization, was originally published in 1947. Zim­merman, a former Harvard sociologist, sorted families into three categories -- trustee families, domestic families, and atomistic families -- each with distinctive characteristics. His lavish sweep through history examined these family systems in ancient Greece and Rome; during the rise of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and through the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and both World Wars... Zimmerman hoped that the identification of historic family trends through scholarship and teaching would protect and expand domestic families. But the book's new edition includes essays by Bryce Christensen and James Kurth that dim such hope. Christensen's comments recount the normalization and celebration of today's atomistic social ills by entertainers, academics, journalists, and politicians hostile to traditional families. He claims that "only new St. Pauls and St. Augustines can break the family-destroying spell of progressive utopianism and fortify intellectuals and the general populace with the integrity necessary to resist the gravitation of the burgeoning secular state." Kurth offers an unsettling discussion of postmodernism's denigration of religion and abandonment of Christianity in favor of an amoral multiculturalism: "The political, intellectual, and cultural elites of the West for the most part no longer believe in the values and principles that used to be ascribed to Western civilization, particularly those which were held by two of the traditions which shaped the West, the classical culture and the Christian religion." Kurth's final sentence offers little comfort: "The true answer to the question of what is to be done about reviving the Western family and Western civilization is that God only knows." This distinguished book is full of discouraging words about recurring historical trends that destroy domestic families -- no matter their country, class, or creed. Sunnier souls might discount the impact of increasing numbers of atomistic families around us, but optimists and pessimists alike will be shaken by the scholarly projections in this account.
If anyone can see their way towards forming a third party based around the insights drawn from these two books, it might be well worth all of our time to support it.

Britain: Orwell's Gotta Be Crying

So Reason magazine is not exactly an unbiased source. Nor is the author of this article a temperate, calm observer of the world scene. But sometimes, the person shouting is telling an important truth:

In recent years Britain has become the Willy Wonka of social control, churning out increasingly creepy, bizarre, and fantastic methods for policing the populace. But our weaponization of classical music—where Mozart, Beethoven, and other greats have been turned into tools of state repression—marks a new low.

We’re already the kings of CCTV. An estimated 20 per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras are in the UK, a remarkable achievement for an island that occupies only 0.2 per cent of the world’s inhabitable landmass.

A few years ago some local authorities introduced the Mosquito, a gadget that emits a noise that sounds like a faint buzz to people over the age of 20 but which is so high-pitched, so piercing, and so unbearable to the delicate ear drums of anyone under 20 that they cannot remain in earshot. It’s designed to drive away unruly youth from public spaces, yet is so brutally indiscriminate that it also drives away good kids, terrifies toddlers, and wakes sleeping babes.

Police in the West of England recently started using super-bright halogen lights to temporarily blind misbehaving youngsters. From helicopters, the cops beam the spotlights at youths drinking or loitering in parks, in the hope that they will become so bamboozled that (when they recover their eyesight) they will stagger home.

And recently police in Liverpool boasted about making Britain’s first-ever arrest by unmanned flying drone. Inspired, it seems, by Britain and America’s robot planes in Afghanistan, the Liverpool cops used a remote-control helicopter fitted with CCTV (of course) to catch a car thief.

Britain might not make steel anymore, or cars, or pop music worth listening to, but, boy, are we world-beaters when it comes to tyranny. And now classical music, which was once taught to young people as a way of elevating their minds and tingling their souls, is being mined for its potential as a deterrent against bad behavior...

Read the whole thing, and consider: this seems to be the wave of the future in many places.

Scott Hahn's Classroom in the World

If you ever thought you'd gotten everything you could from Scott Hahn by reading his books, you are sadly mistaken. Check this out, for instance:
History demonstrates that our culture is in a dramatic crisis. Like our nation, ancient civilizations began as trustees of family and culture. But eventually families lost their sacred unity and the state took over family responsibilities. The legalization of divorce followed, then the toleration of sexual immorality, population decrease, feministic movements, disrespect of parents and the values of the past, and ultimately the legal protection of perversion. If this sounds familiar, you have a right to be concerned. Because no civilization has ever survived this process.
And there's a ton more where that comes from. Search "Hahn" in the St. Joseph's website. A lot of the material has never popped up in his books, or at least never been fully fleshed out. It's like sitting in a class with him--only you can replay tapes.

Financial Fall

An interesting take, along the lines of, "Stop us now before it's too late!"

No one wants havoc in the capital markets, but the Chinese can do U.S. taxpayers a major favor by dumping Treasuries just as soon as the Chinese can buy their put options on U.S. equities.

U.S. equities will quickly recover their lost ground and much more if the administration would agree to constrain federal outlays. Excessive federal spending and regulatory involvement in the economy are holding back equity gains.

The sooner the Chinese dump Treasuries, the better. It is a message that all members of Congress, as well as the Obama administration, need to hear. The Chinese needed to take such action during the Bush years, but that is water under the bridge.

The Chinese can see how the Japanese ruined their economy by growing public debt outstanding to over 225% of GDP in 2010 from 68% in 1991, according to IMF data. The U.S. outstanding public debt to GDP ratio was also 68% in 1991. In 2008 it was 70%. At the end of this year it will be about 94%.

Of course, there are those who are of the opinion the world is already on the road to ruin--we've just managed to stave off disaster:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Consoling the Heart of Jesus"

This looks excellent. He takes great insights from some of the major saints of the past century to help lay out an "easy" route to holiness:
"Your retreat is flexible. It can be made individually or in a group, during Lent or at any other time during a weekend or over a longer period of time. Now, let's talk about the spirituality of the retreat. The subtitle says it's inspired by the "Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius," and I see rays of Divine Mercy on ...the cover. So, is it safe to say that your retreat is a blending of Ignatian spirituality with the message of Divine Mercy? That's exactly what it is. Saint Ignatius was a genius of practicality. He could masterfully organize and synthesize the essential principles of the spiritual life. Divine Mercy saints such as Therese of Lisieux and Faustina Kowalska communicated their amazing spiritual insights in the form of diaries, which are totally amazing and powerful. Problem is, their insights aren't systematized or organized in a way that assists remembering them and building them up in one's soul as a "spirituality." So, what I do in the retreat is use Ignatian-organizing principles to help a person enter more fully into Divine Mercy spirituality, what St. Therese called the "Little Way." What does all that have to do with the title Consoling the Heart of Jesus? Well, it's like this: Ignatian spirituality is all about finding a most essential principle for the spiritual life, and then directing all one's energies toward living out that principle. For the Jesuits, the congregation founded by St. Ignatius, that "most essential principle" was the greater glory of God. In other words, a Jesuit strives to direct all of his thoughts, words, and actions toward increasing the glory of God. It's a bit different in my retreat. I adopt as the most essential principle for my retreat the same principle adopted by St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina Kowalska, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to name a few. What did they see as the "most essential principle" of the spiritual life? Consoling Jesus. In other words, they directed all of their energies to delighting the Lord, giving Him joy, and consoling His broken Heart. Perhaps, Blessed Teresa expressed this idea most poignantly with her laser beam focus on the "thirst" of Jesus on the Cross. In other words, her most essential principle was to hear the thirst of Jesus on the Cross — not a thirst for water but a thirst for love — and to strive with all her might to "quench His thirst" by giving Him her love. Now, St. Faustina and St. Therese express the most essential principle in the same way, namely, the thirst of Jesus, but they understood quenching Jesus' thirst, or consoling Him, to be the same as trusting Him. That's the line my retreat follows. It focuses on consoling the Heart of Jesus by living a radical trust in His mercy. In a sense, the image of The Divine Mercy says it all with its rays of mercy and the prayer at the bottom, "Jesus, I trust in You!"... How long ago, exactly did you write this retreat? Well, I finished the first draft of it almost exactly eight years ago. But, it's only being published now because I never actually intended for it to be a published book. Writing it was really a favor that I was doing for parishioners at my home parish in California. You see, I had given them a one-day preached retreat on the theme of consoling Jesus with our trust, and they asked me to give them a copy of the talks I had given. The copy of the talks became an early draft of my book. And, at that point, I let it go and kept my attention on my seminary studies. Well, those people from my parish made photocopies of the early draft and then photocopies of the photocopies were made until there was quite an "underground" following. So, I'd get e-mails or phone calls from people I didn't even know, encouraging me to publish it. In fact, just this last August, I was in Austria for a wedding, and I met a family who started talking about this retreat they had made years before that had touched their lives. They said, "It was strange because it was only a photocopy, and it didn't have a name on it, only the title, Consoling the Heart of Jesus." When I heard that, I thought, "OK, Lord, I hear You.""
Check out the book here.


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