Contra Mozilla

Friday, January 30, 2015

Political Correctness Amok

Political correctness has reached a level of insanity predicted by 1984: albeit, in reverse. The CUNY has apparently ordered its professors to cease using the titles "Mr." and "Mrs"/Ms." in addressing faculty and students:
CUNY's Graduate Center now believes the use of gendered salutations like "Mr." and "Mrs." might offend some students. What's more, administrators think federal non-discrimination law requires the university to prevent its faculty from inadvertently giving offense. Therefore, professors have been instructed to wipe the contentious words from their memories and cease using them in any and all forms of communication.
Meanwhile, the city o Atlanta ha fired its fire Chief for being Christian who espouses Christian beliefs, while at the same time stating that the firing has nothing to do with his being a Christian:
It seems the fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, wrote a book for his Bible study group in which he espoused actual Christian beliefs. How dare he?

But his firing doesn't infringe on religious freedom at all, so says the mayor. "This is not about religious freedom, this is not about free speech" the mayor reportedly said. "Judgement is the basis of the problem." So there you have it. If you're fired for being a Christian it's not because you're a Christian it's because you displayed bad judgment in being a Christian. You get the difference, right?

...Last November the mayor posted a public condemnation of the fire chief on his official Facebook page and suspended him. “I profoundly disagree with and am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community,” the mayor wrote. “I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind within my administration.”

He added that Cochran's words were "inconsistent with the Administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens -- regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs." Yup. In order to make Atlanta a "more welcoming city" for all religious beliefs, any Christians who espouse Christian teaching will be terminated. See, you're feeling all welcomey already, right?
And Ross Douthat wonders if political correctness "works." The answer is simply, yes: political correctness is achieving exactly what the Left wants it to achieve. That a few of them get burned in the process is of no concern to them; it is, in fact, a feature and not a bug,since they despise each other almost as much as they hate us.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Leisure and Life

I've started reading Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture, and already one passage has stood out to me:
"The original meaning of the concept of 'leisure' has practically been forgotten in today's leisure-less culture of 'total work': in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on the world of work. 'One does not only work to live, but one lives for the sake of one's work,' this statement, quoted by Max Weber, makes immediate sense to us, and appeals to our current opinion. It is difficult to us to see how in fact it turns the order of things upside down."
Pieper goes on to say that Aristotle would counter this by saying (as he does in the Nicomachean Ethics) that rather, "We work in order to be at leisure." Further, the actual word for "work" used by Aristotle translates as "not-at-leisure." This is a thing worth remembering, even for those of us who have gone into what is supposedly the most leisurely of all professions, academia*. This is not to praise mere "laziness" or "shiftlessness." The shiftless man is not at leisure either, but rather is at the business of staying on the move, and unemployed.

Putting that aside, the ending statement that this worldview of "total work" ultimately "turns the order of things upside down" really stands out because we are seeing it in the world today. The US, for example, has no legal provisions for maternity leave; and you can forget all about paternity leave, even at most places of employment where women get 3-6 months off. Nevermind that the father is often "up" alongside the mother at all hours of the night with a newborn: after getting 2-3 hours of sleep per night for 2 weeks running, I was still expected to be at work, teaching classes (and contributing to my group's research efforts).

That is not, however, the worst of the points at which we have gone wrong. Abortion claims 90% of those children diagnosed with Downs Syndrome in the US; they are murdered before they can be born, because they are seen as a burden to the parents and as "useless" to society. At the other end of life though by far less common in the US, the elderly retired increasingly opt (or are coerced into) suicide under the banner "death with dignity." Having attained an age at which "serious work" is no longer possible, they are disposed of as quietly as can be, if not by suicide then by abandonment to the nursing homes.

I say this not to condemn society's members for doing that--we deserve, and we will get plenty of that if we do not collectively repent--but rather to warn. If we do not recover the concept of leisure as being a high and noble purpose in life, then we are lost as a culture.

I wonder, too, if I can't perhaps find leisure among the retired elderly. Too many have become convinced that since they are no longer able to engage in the business of living, then they must commence the business of dying, whether quickly by suicide (or euthanasia) or more slowly by "boredom and booze," or self-induced depression and general withdrawal. I wonder at times if all of this isn't so many masks for despair, and if perhaps only the actually hopeful can find time for leisure in this life--might it not prepare us for leisure in the next?

*For what it is worth, I probably work close to 55 hours per week right now (possibly more if you count what I bring home), and I haven't yet started to do any research. That may be a rant for another day, though I have to guard myself against any envy of my myriad friends (and some relatives) who go to work at 9 and return at 5, and then have weekends and evenings entirely off. Life is better since finishing grad school, but sometimes not by much. On the other hand, some would say that mine is "leisurely work"--I don't exactly have to toil at my labors.

Eleven Nations and States' Rights

Every so often, I see article which crop up stating that this or that state (or country, or region, or whatever) should be broken up into smaller blocks. Lately, such articles talk about the EU in this way, though I've seen such things about California (I really like that proposal, by the way, especially if Southern Oregon can join Jefferson) and Texas and even North America or the US.

Concerning the US/North America, at least, some of the problems could be solved if the federal government had a lot less power, and if much of its power was vested in the states instead. The Civil War, and later the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, and even the Cold War and the Culture Wars, pretty much guaranteed that more and more power would start to be concentrated into the hands of the federal government at the expense of the states. It also happens, to some extent, because federal courts in the US end up overturning state laws every time enough liberals whine about this, that, or the other social issue. I think that, all-in-all, both the people of (for example) Georgia, the people of New York, the people of Texas, the people of California, and the people of Mississippi would collectively be much happier if they were allowed to focus more on running their own affairs in-state than having to bicker over running everybody else's.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Few Good Links (vol. 17)

For some reason it's more difficult for me to post on Mondays on my current schedule. I don't know why, but it is.
  1. Professor Robert P. George is leading a group of seven people who have offered to take 100 lashes each in solidarity with Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger who was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in jail for violating sharia. The offered to take these lashes so that he wouldn't have to.
  2. My co-blogger will probably be disappointed to learn that the video of the Danish archer is apparently more about audience gullibility than actual archery skill.
  3. An interesting topic which I have discussed before is back on the blogosphere (kind of): Edward Feser and the Nicene Guys both discuss Monogenism and Polygenism and the question of human origins.
  4. One problem with the modern view of the world is that it conflates vocation with career. The two are not identical.
  5. President Obama continues his war against the middle class. Really, a war against anyone who didn't vote for him, which is in some ways actually worse than simply a war against the middle class, since that one is at least not in principle personal.
  6. Vintage Christianity, summarized. I disagree with his assessment of how the Reformers went back to how the Church was in its earliest days (some may have thought that's what they were doing), but the rest is a good read.
  7. There's nothing wrong with the "seamless garment" metaphor as applied to Catholic social teaching, but it is unfortunately used with some frequency as a cover for hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.
As always, I would lie to revisit some of these links--but I probably won't!

Revolution of the Justices

A large number of probate judges in the state of Alabama have decided that they will not comply with a federal court's ruling that they should start manufacturing fiat marriages. It's nice to see that there are some judges who are actually interested in justice, which in this case means disobeying the orders of a higher court. Or, more appropriately, getting creative in their interpretation of what the higher court's orders actually are:
An attorney for the Probate Judge’s Association said that is not an accurate reading of the judge’s ruling. Probate Judges are elected in all 67 counties in Alabama and carry the responsibility of issuing and recording marriage licenses.

“Judge Granade’s ruling in this case only applies to the parties in the case and has no effect on anybody that is not a named party. The probate judges were not parties in this matter,” Al Agricola, attorney for the Alabama Probate Judges Association, explained. “The legal effect of this decision is to allow one person in one same sex marriage that was performed in another state to adopt their partner’s child. There is nothing in the judge’s order that requires probate judges in Alabama to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.”

...Judge Greg Norris, President of the Alabama Probate Judges Association, hopes that misinterpretation of Friday’s ruling will not cause confusion among the general public. Probate Judges are elected in all 67 counties in Alabama and carry the responsibility of issuing and recording marriage licenses.

“As probate judges, our duty is to issue marriage licenses in accordance with Alabama law and that means we can not legally issue marriage licenses to same sex couples,” said Greg Norris, President of the Alabama Probate Judges Associate. “The recent federal ruling does not change that.” Probate Judges are elected in all 67 counties in Alabama and carry the responsibility of issuing and recording marriage licenses.

Probate Judges are elected in all 67 counties in Alabama and carry the responsibility of issuing and recording marriage licenses.
Sometimes "the law" and "justice" are at odds. Sometimes,"the law" asks for the impossible, such as for people to "marry" two (or more) people of the same sex. Sorry kids, it's not a marriage, no matter what the piece of paper says. On the other hand, this seems like an awfully shaky method of making a stand, since it is here based more-or-less on the claim that no ruling has been passed (yet) which requires the state to begin issuing "marriage" licenses to homosexual partners. Of course, that particular situation can (and very likely will) change in the near future, probably about as soon as the first lawsuit is filed against the Alabama probate judges association (or perhaps if they are really stubborn, against each individual probate judge's office).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Abortion Barbies

A few years ago--around the time that this blog was started--the state of Texas attempted, in a special session of the legislature (and why wait for a special session?) attempted to pass a ban against all abortion after 20 weeks (among other things). At this point in a pregnancy, the unborn child is approximately viable--recall that the Roe v Wade decision stated that states lacked a "compelling interest" to regulate abortion until the fetus becomes viable (apparently, the fetus hits viability, and then magic occurs, and abracadabra, he is a person). Be that as it may, the courts originally set viability at around 24-28 weeks, but noted that as technology improves, that age would lower (these days, it's commonly 23-24 weeks, but the record is just under 22 weeks).

Of course, we know how that first attempt in Texas went: Wendy Davis attempted a filibuster, and when that failed an unruly mob prevented the vote from being properly taken in time. Fortunately the state of Texas was not so easily bullied by the mob, and held a second special session in which the law was duly passed.

The media, for its part, could not stop talking about what a wonderful person Wendy Davis was, up to an including praising the fashionable running shoes she decided to wear during the day of the filibuster. For all this, Wendy Davis earned the nickname "abortion Barbie," and eventually went down to ignoble (and much deserved) defeat in the Texas Gubernatorial race this last November; that is of course cause to celebrate (apparently, with 4 tons of beef brisket).

Unfortunately, "abortion Barbies" are not limited to the Democratic Party. The GOP has one of its own in Rep. Renee Elmers, and she helped sink the nation-wide ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Hopefully she'll be gone in two years, preferably by taking a sound beating in the primaries to an actually pro-life candidate (and one who is not basically a liar, at least not above and beyond what is to be expected of a politician). And, in typical fashion, we find that although she has sold her soul, and attempted to sell the GOP's to boot (as if they needed help with that), she has gained nothing from the pro-abortion side, while likely alienating a large portion of the pro-life side. Hopefully, this will become a cautionary tale to others of her ilk.

Archery Rounds

This video has been making rounds.

Color me impressed. Happy Saturday.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Blog Versus: Harmful Slogans--Come As You Are

Just for fun, a little debate on our site. Today's topic is "Annoying Catch Phrases/Damaging Slogans." You can read the post by my co-blogger, the Faithful Skeptic, here.

I've said before that the faith cannot really be reduced to a single slogan, catchphrase, or motto. There are some which certainly come close--"Truth," "Love/God is love," "Discipleship," "The two greatest commandments...(fulfill the Law)"--but these are still rough approximations at best, and generally only capture one facet of our Faith, or of our God. They are true as far as they go, but none can go far enough.

There are others which are arguably true to some extent, though not as far as they go, and yet which some people would make into a slogan for the Church, or even for a ministry (such as evangelization or Catechesis). Some of these do more harm than good, especially in the current culture, with the current zeitgeist. I can think of few (if any) as damaging as the phrase "come as you are" and its flip sides, "Judge not...", "Who am I/are you/are we to judge," and (more to the point) "Don't judge me..."

The thing with these phrases--and I hope it is understood that they collectively work together to form a sort of attitude, even a counterfeit worldview--is not that they are all untrue or mischievous in and of themselves. The deeper problem is that they leave a man where he is: they too often mean "stay as you are," which people are all-too-happy to oblige. "Who am I to judge" often means "What does it matter?", a rhetorical question to which the answer is supposed to be, "Not a whit!"

This phrase and its underlying attitude is both pernicious and ubiquitous, and is used to excuse (though never to forgive) much. I'll give an example of this kind of thinking:
"Every liturgy I ever attended was unworthy of Christ the Lord. I know that every liturgy I ever attend will be unworthy of Him, as well. What I have never seen, not once, was a liturgy that was unworthy of me.... 
I feel sorry for these people who spend all their time gnashing their teeth and getting all lathered up over what they see as the terrible liturgy. They are not only missing their blessing, they are taking their blessing and throwing it back into Jesus’ face. 
I thank God that we have priests who bring us Jesus at every mass, who consent to be conduits of grace. I have no desire to pick at them over how high they lift the chalice, if they allow applause and whether or not they pray the liturgy with the “proper” amount of gravitas.... 
If the mass and the liturgy are good enough for Jesus to be there, if we, with all our imperfections, are good enough for Him to love us and share Himself with us, then what’s our complaint?
There is, of course, some truth to this statement, just as there is to the idea that we should "come as we are." It's true that we will always fall short of perfection, that we cannot even be actually worthy of God, that it is God's grace and not just our own merits which make us into His friends, disciples, brothers, or children. However, just because we cannot do it all, doesn't mean that we should throw up our hands and do none of it. Just because we cannot be perfected, does not mean that we can be better than we are.

The philosopher Peter Kreeft once remarked that as a Father, God is easy to please and hard to satisfy. The meaning of this is that God is pleased with any small token gesture of worship or service or indeed of affection and filial love. However, He is not satisfied until we are full-blown disciples, is not content to let us stop at anything short of agape. This should be reflected in our liturgies, in the literal sense of the Mass and in the trans-literal sense of the work in our everyday lives [1]. We ask for our daily bread in the Lord's Prayer, and by this we mean on the one hand our "Bread," that is, the Eucharist, Christ's Body and Blood and the graces we receive from consuming it [2], and in another sense for the simple graces, the "strength" to go about our daily lives while striving to become saints.

My co-blogger mentions "Fear not" as the slogan which does the most harm, and I must agree that such a phrase is very harmful when used to undermine holy fear. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," as the Bible tells us; but the end of wisdom, the thing towards which it is geared, is to love the things of heaven above those of earth, and above all to love the Lord our God [3]. One way which we show this love is in our reverent liturgy; another is in our daily lives.

Our Lord tells us that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). His beloved disciple further says that "If any one says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). It is true, therefore, that one part of showing love is merely to be inviting, that is, to invite a stranger to come to Mass with us, to "Come as you are." But that is not the end of Mass, or of evangelization. It's not to score one more point for Team God, to get one more butt in the pew at Mass and one more body in line for Communion. Those things are also a start, but they are not what the finished product--person--should look like.

And one way we can show our love for our brother is to offer fraternal correction when its warranted. Being nice is ok, being kind is better and also more demanding--but loving is the hardest and best of all, and it goes being "being nice," "being tolerant/accepting," or even "being kind." There is no true dichotomy between mercy and morality, or between love and the Law. Jesus is love incarnate, and yet He also was to fulfill the Law; He is infinitely merciful, and yet does not at all loosen the moral restriction of the day, but rather tightens them. Do not murder becomes do not hate others, and do not fornicate or commit adultery becomes do not lust.

"Come as you are," yes, of course. We all need to take that first step. But after the first comes a second and a third, and then the thousands of steps which we walk during a lifetime. Let us not sacrifice all of these latter steps for the sake of constantly repeating the first step.

[1] Trans-literal: liturgy translates to "work of the people." When we refer to the liturgy, we are literally talking about the Mass and to a lesser extent to the Daily office; but in another sense, we literally mean our daily work, the work of becoming moral, virtuous, of becoming in a word disciples of Christ.

[2] A few different Greek-speaking sources tell me that the literal translation is "Super-substantiated bread."

[3] This is also what is meant by St John when he writes that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). Perfect love is attained in heaven, where even filial fear become unwarranted: there, we need not fear that we will sin and thus offend God, and we need not fear that we will be told to depart from Him. Here, love may be in the process of being perfected, but it never completes that process. To that end, love here may ultimately cast our servile fear (fear of God's punishments) which moving us to filial fear (fear of losing God).

Blog Versus: Harmful Slogans--Fear Not

Just for fun, a little debate on our site. Today's topic is "Annoying Catch Phrases/Damaging Slogans." You can read the post by the other guy who blogs here, the Hope-filled Pessimist, here.

There are a few slogans which are used to deliberately undermine the Catholic Church. "Judge not" and its myriad derivatives, and its more inviting form "Who am I to judge,"certainly does a lot of work to undermine Christian morals, but morals, while important, are not the whole story of the Catholic faith. Actually, short of "God is dead", "Where is your God!?" and "There is no God [save Caesar, I guess]," there aren't many slogans which really attempt to strike hard and fast at the whole Catholic faith.

But these slogans are all obvious, and while their conclusions (implicit or explicit) are poison, it doesn't seem to me that they do much harm as slogans embodying attitudes form within the Church. It seems to me that the world may persecute the Church, but this is to be expected (so is the failure of the Church's members, I suppose). So maybe  Damaging Slogan should be something which encapsulates the attitudes of a number of people who claim to be Catholic (or even just mere Christians) and yet which both undermines the faith of fellow believers (because the slogan seems credible) and at the same time allows them to give scandal to infidelic non-believers.

Maybe it's because I was so recently watching this argument play out, but I think the nearest I can come to a slogan would be "Fear not!" with the attitude being that we are not supposed to have any sort of "fear of the Lord." Make it the attitude which says that fear of all kinds is bad, and that therefore the holy fear which is so often encountered in the Old Testament is at best a neutral thing which is waiting to be displaced by "respect,"or "love," or "relationship." The secondary attitude here is that the Old Testament shouldn't be read, because it has things like "fear of the Lord" or "The Wrath of God", things which have supposedly been replaced in the New Testament (nevermind that Christ tells us to fear the one who can destroy soul and not only the one who can destroy our body); or perhaps only because the actual "rules" of the Law are spilled out there, albeit in a mishmash of moral absolutes, ritual purification, and metaphorical prohibitions.

The other guy picked decided on "Come as you are!" as the most armful slogan in use today. I guess this is just another variation of "Judge not," and which does therefore work to undermine the Church's teachings on morals, and in particular about things like modesty or (less popular still) chastity. Damaging as that one is, and awful (and to be blunt, prideful and yet slothful) as the the attitude which underlies it is, it's an attitude which is often more obvious in those who hold it. It weakens the community as a whole, but "fear not" weakens the community as a whole by first weakening its individual members, one at a time, in isolation.

Fear not? Oh, what's to fear? Sometimes that little bit of fear is the difference between a good confession and a bad one, or for that matter between seeking out confession and avoiding the chore of it. Certainly it is there to avoid, for example, the prospect of taking communion while being knowingly in a state of mortal sin, because "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord", as we read in 1 Corinthians (11:28). If we cannot e brought even to the so-called "servile fear" of the Lord, fearing His punishments, then how will we be moved beyond this to merely fearing that we will displease Him? Why examine our consciences if there is no consequence either way?

When the New Testament is violently separated from the Old, as it is under the guise of "fearing not," the result is not a kinder and gentler New Testament, or at least not only that. It becomes difficult to make sense of Jesus "rougher" moments, when he chases the money-changers from the temple or calls the pharisees a brood of vipers. We are left then with "Buddy Jesus," and made to wonder why He would need to die on a cross--or why the powers of this world bothered to crucify Him. And that may seem comforting, but at the same time, it doesn't attract. Nobody takes up their crosses in life to follow a Man who says only to be nice to each other and not worry about being right with God.

Fear not: lay down your cross, your load, leave them there and carry them no more. Life as a Christians will then be easy, and the world will leave you alone or say nice things about you. If the world starts to persecute you, just bow to its demands and all will be well, and God won't mind. And so, of course, that is exactly what most Christians end up doing.

Secrets Unsealed

My co-blogger has already posted about the recent Supreme Court non-decision concerning the supposed secrecy of the confessional seal. I don't mean to pile on too much about this, but it is certainly a blow against the freedom of religion (in general), in in favor of the current kulturkampf against Catholicism in particular. Given that there is supposedly a Catholic majority on the Court, I am surprised that they declined to hear this case--perhaps they think that they are not impartial justices here, but that seems kind of irrelevant: there are no real impartial judges as concerns Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

Moving forward, it seems to me that the right response by the Church is to insist upon more anonymity in the confessional. Perhaps this can be done by installing (or re-opening) more of the old confessional boxes, which had a screen between penitent and priest. The only tricks would be to disguise the voice of the penitent, and then to have the priest arrive early and stay in the box until late to avoid seeing any person's face by mistake.

Or, there is the Short Circuit approach of confessing via remote controlled proxy (or perhaps be phone?) provided that the callers information is not traceable or recoverable. Maybe a hard-wired "phone" station?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

National Day of Death

Today marked another anniversary of one, actually two, or the worst decisions in Supreme Court history. Wise men mourn and pray, and work as they are able to end the slaughter. Evil men celebrate it. We're fast approaching 60 million dead since Roe vs Wade and Doe v Bolton, to say nothing of the millions more dead before those decisions made abortion legal and common nationwide.

In another of those decisions which competes for the title "worst", the court ruled that we ought to keep abortion legal because it had been legal for 20 years. Solid reasoning, that. They reasoning might as well be, "who could it hurt?" Whom indeed. The answer comes from a cemetery which would hold as more bodies as the living population of most European countries. It is small comfort that some 85% of these abortions are sought by single women--as if the fact that they were only ending the lives crating in fornication makes the murder an act of mercy. And still we struggle to so much as pass a bill banning the tenth part of these nationally, and even this is only brought up under a Republican Majority under the auspice that is it to prevent fetal pain. Trust not in princes, I suppose.

And in other news, and without a note of irony or self-awareness, Huffington Post publishes an article which complains about how American companies treat pregnancy and birth as a disease, to the point of having new mother burn sick days instead of granting maternity leave. Sure, some of that is because the people running corporations are looking for ways to increase profits. But our culture, or a substantial part of it, treats pregnancy as a disease which need not run its course--is it any surprise then, that many companies do the same with regards to their maternity (let alone paternity!) leave policies?

Freedom For Some Religions

The Supreme Court has decided two religious freedom cases this week. Neither one was the big case, and one is a de facto decision (for now) via refusing to hear a case, but:

  1. The Court ruled that a Muslim prisoner had the right to grow a beard in accordance with his beliefs
  2. The Court decided not to hear an appeal against a Louisiana court's decision that Catholic priests may be ordered to violate the seal of confession (thereby automatically excommunicating themselves).

The former case is a relatively minor decision, since Muslims don't actually have to grow beards (I've met a few who were beardless, and they weren't recent converts, and for that matter I think we have Muslims in our armed forces, which generally don't allow beards). Nevertheless, I think this is a generally correct decision, since the ban against the beard could violate this particular Muslim's interpretation of what Islam requires of him and since the ban doesn't really accomplish much in the way of maintaining control of the prison (beards must be kept short, so a to not alter appearance suddenly if cut off).

The second decision, or non-decision (it more-or-less amounts to the same thing, but without really setting any kind of lasting precedent) is clearly wrong. Priests are basically not going to be testifying about what they hear in confession, regardless of the law, and so this is just a convenient way of creating a vehicle for jailing priests. Even if priests could testify about what has been said in confessions, I doubt that such testimony would in principle be used to actually put away the "bad guys," at least not long-term. People who know that their secrets aren't the least bit safe will tend not to share those secrets. So this will mostly just cause people to stay away from confession--score one for Satan.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TMM: On Destroying Vocations

Ask, and you shall receive. A few days ago, I mentioned that I wanted to hear/read Fr. Zuhlsdorf's take on Cardinal Burke's comments about the Church's being overly feminized--and the reaction of a variety of folks to those comments. I also mentioned that he had already posted to the story, but offered little in the way of commentary (this was pre-update).

Well, somebody else delivered (though I give credit to the good father for finding this and pointing his readers, including me, to it). It turns out that another of my favorite current commentators, Prof. Anthony Esolen, has done the good work of defending the Cardinal. And he is pretty much spot on:
I sometimes wonder whether we Catholics actually want vocations to the priesthood. It’s reasonable to judge people’s intentions by their habitual actions. If I do something experimental in one of my college classes, and a host of good students flee the course, I might, if I were stubborn, try it again in modified form. But if it still happens that the good students flee, and I persist in what is an experiment no longer, a reasonable observer may conclude that I don’t care if they leave. It won’t matter if I express my supposed intentions all the time, crying out, “This course needs far more students in it, and far more of the best!” Why, I might pray for those students to enroll and to stay enrolled, just as reasonably as I might pray that I could keep banging my head against the wall and not have headaches. In fact, if my actions not only continue to fail me, but begin to hurt many others also, and I still persist, that reasonable observer may attribute to me more than incompetence or indifference. He may conclude that I really want the bad result; I am glad of it.

Our summer diocese, serving more than one hundred thousand Catholics, has no seminarians. I mean that literally: not one. They have ordained two men in the last ten years, one of whom has left the priesthood to get married. Churches are closing everywhere. The stalwart priest who is our pastor has had to say Mass for five churches scattered over twenty miles. The farther-flung diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, serving not quite one hundred thousand Catholics, has forty eight seminarians, at least two priests in every parish, no churches being shut down, and plenty of schools. The obvious question is, “Why doesn’t everyone try at least a few of the things they do in Lincoln?” Or, more properly put, “Why doesn’t everyone stop doing nine or ten of the things they never have done in Lincoln?”

He then goes on to summarize a few things which can be done to further destroy vocations, not to mention (frankly) Mass attendance, or for that matter the faith of the average pew-sitter. The list includes:
  • Dilute the faith
  • Strip the altars
  • Treat the Sacrament (Communion) like snacktime
  • Be effeminate
  • Shut down the schools
  • Marginalize men
I can add a few more things, most obviously treating the sacrament of Reconciliations as therapy rather than penance, but I am up against the clock. Related.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nordic Utopias

There is a persistent claim on the Left that places like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are utopias, and that the US should be more like them (Canada or the UK are more like "immediate" and "intermediate" futures). They like to trot out the odd survey which finds that the people living there are "happy", and that we should therefore be more like them so that we will be "happy" (what else makes you "happy"? Soma, or barring that, getting high. go figure).

That's why the recent article in the New York Post which destroys the myth of Danish happiness is so timely. A passage:
In the American liberal compass, the needle is always pointing to places like Denmark. Everything they most fervently hope for here has already happened there.

So: Why does no one seem particularly interested in visiting Denmark? (“Honey, on our European trip, I want to see Tuscany, Paris, Berlin and . . . Jutland!”) Visitors say Danes are joyless to be around. Denmark suffers from high rates of alcoholism. In its use of antidepressants it ranks fourth in the world. (Its fellow Nordics the Icelanders are in front by a wide margin.) Some 5 percent of Danish men have had sex with an animal. Denmark’s productivity is in decline, its workers put in only 28 hours a week, and everybody you meet seems to have a government job. Oh, and as The Telegraph put it, it’s “the cancer capital of the world.”

So how happy can these drunk, depressed, lazy, tumor-ridden, pig-bonking bureaucrats really be?

...Those sky-high happiness surveys, it turns out, are mostly bunk. Asking people “Are you happy?” means different things in different cultures. In Japan, for instance, answering “Yes” seems like boasting, Booth points out. Whereas in Denmark, it’s considered “shameful to be unhappy,” newspaper editor Anne Knudsen says in the book.

Moreover, there is a group of people that believes the Danes are lying when they say they’re the happiest people on the planet. This group is known as “Danes.”

This is universally considered a feature — a glorious source of national pride in the land of humblebrag. Any rebels will be made to conform; tall poppies will be chopped down to average....An American woman told Booth how, when she excitedly mentioned at a dinner party that her kid was first in his class at school, she was met with icy silence....

So Danes operate on caveman principles — if you find it, share it, or be shunned. Once your date with Daisy the Sheep is over, you’d better make sure your friends get a turn. (Bestiality has traditionally been legal in Denmark, though a move to ban it is under way. Until recently, several “bestiality brothels” advertised their services in newspapers, generally charging clients $85 to $170 for what can only be termed a roll in the hay.)

...The flip side of the famous “social cohesion” is that outsiders are unwelcome. Xenophobic remarks are common. At gatherings, the spirit of “hygge” — loosely translated as cozy — prevails. It’s considered uncouth to try to steer the conversation toward anything anyone might conceivably disagree about. This is why even the Danes describe Danes as boring.
I've probably copied more than is allowed by propriety, and there's more to come. Go read the whole thing. And then work to make sure that we don't end up the same.

He's Still Got It Somtimes

I've long enjoyed Mark Shea's blog--the short funny headlines, the "sin makes you stupid" posts, the honest and winsome rebuttals to anti-Catholics of both secular and fundamentalist Protestant stripes.

However, I've been reading less of Mr. Shea lately, not so much because I disagree with a lot of what he's been posting (though I do disagree with more of his recent posts) as because many of these posts have been actually disagreeable. He's been continuing to pick a large fight with the Republican party (which is fine in and of itself), but this has gone overboard to the point of practically saying that if Republicans are for it, then it must be bad. A lot of it is, but there are still quite a few "good" Republicans, and "good" Republican policies: they just tend not to be prioritized. His assessment of the modern political milieu is starting to look a lot like the revolutionary which Chesterton decried, who knows all about what's wrong with the world but not what's right or how to actually fix it.

He's also walked a very fine line between going after Cardinal Burke's supporters* and going after Cardinal Burke, again uncritically. There's a lot I don't see in the ongoing disputes between Shea and the "uber" traditionalists, so I largely let that pass--but I also find it to be largely uninteresting. And his posts on gun control usually have me doing at least one *facepalm*, if not a *headdesk*, upon reading them, not so much because I disagree with his argument that we should do something to limit shootings**, but because I don't think his proposed solutions will solve the problems which he claims they will solve***

With that long preface aside, he still does put out some good articles. A case in point is this recent one about radical Islam and radical secularism as two heresies which ignored opposites of the two New Commandments:

Both radical Islam and radical God-hating secularism are diseased spiritualities. They represent a chemically pure and primal form of schism and heresy in the Christian tradition, since both ultimately trace their roots back to that. Whereas the Christian tradition unites two commandments that are often hard to reconcile (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”) and incarnates them in the God-Man Jesus, Radical Islam and radical God-hating secularism demand we choose one and hate the other. It is the quintessence of heresy to do this....
This schism between the love of God and the love of man is a war that is now drawing blood. The work of bringing peace in this civilizational conflict is, therefore, like all works of peacemaking, going to require blood. But in the Christian tradition, that means not so much shedding somebody else’s blood, but our own in union with Christ.
"For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."(Col 1:19–20). 
Does this mean we must be pacifists? I don’t think so. There is room in the Tradition for Just War Theory. But Just War Theory, never forget, is a concession to human weakness, not some kind of ideal. It is a stopgap, a crude tourniquet for trying to stanch the flow of blood from the severed limb of the Fall. It is battlefield triage and treatment with a wad of rags, a gulp of whiskey and a bullet to bite on. 
The goal is not Just War, but Just Peace, the peace of Christ. To win that, Christ did not, as Patton famously said, make the other poor dumb bastard die. He threw himself on the grenade. And he did it for the Nazi, the terrorist, the sadist, and above all, for me who would have been the first in line to shout “Give us Barabbas!” 

And while he is obviously frustrated in tone, he makes a good point when saying that all of Catholic social teaching cannot be boiled down to opposition to abortion, or (more realistically), to the "Big 5" issues. In particular, this passage is spot on:
Now, some Catholics will complain that this is unfair and that there are not enough hours in the day to oppose abortion and euthanasia *and* run around doing stuff about unjust war, gun violence, torture, poverty, the death penalty, desperate refugees, the environment, and the many  other things the Church teaches are part of a fully prolife ethic.  I have no problem with that objection.  We can’t all be everywhere doing everything.  So if your anti-abortion commitments are where you put your limited time, talent, and treasure I have no objection to that at all.  Do what you can with what you have and the Lord be with you.  
Where I object is when anti-abortion Catholics manage to find lots of time and energy to sink into directly opposing and fighting *against* the obvious and clear teaching of the Church and who insinuate or say that concern about the rest of the Church’s teaching is somehow an act of support for abortion.

Both posts are good reads (especially the former). I suppose that the endless frustration which comes through in many of the other posts might be a consequence of having too many disagreeable readers, which is a danger faced by anyone who becomes a big name blogger. Lord knows that I get frustrated enough with the one stubborn fool who I suffer (elsewhere). I can't image what it would be like have many of them, constantly.

*By whom I mean those who complain about Burke's removal from his curial position by Pope Francis, and who moreover insist that pope Francis is a bad pope who is out to "get" traditionalists. FWIW, I actually really like Cardinal Burke, and would overjoyed if he becomes Pope Francis successor.

** Despite the media's narrative, gun crimes have actually been declining in frequency.

***Biometric scanners, for example, will not prevent a gun's legal owner from taking it on a rampage. Nor would they prevent any person who has the owner's authorization to use them take them on a rampage. They will, however, prevent some gun accidents if used correctly, and probably also some thefts.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bowtie Conversion

When I switched to wearing bowties, I was left with a few regular neck-ties which were either nice (wool!) or had sentimental value but which I would rarely wear again. There have been times when I've wondered if I could easily convert the neckties to bowties.

The answer is yes, you can send a neck-tie here and for a fee they'll make it into a bowtie. But is it worth the fee? The good news is, somebody has figured out a less drastic way of turning a necktie into a bowtie:

My assessment, by the way, is that this makes a fairly thick bowtie (depending on the material of the original tie), but overall is seems to work and looks pretty good. It was also reasonably secure around my neck, though I only tested it for about 10 minutes. I may try it out some time soon for my actual day tie.

My pic (quick low-res shot from a webcam):

Like I said, a bit thick, but now bad. Also, here is a link to a diagram, and a second video which is arguably more helpful (though it's via facebook) for doing this.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Dialogue Palate Cleansers

Sometimes, "dialogue" feels a lot like talking to a brick wall. Sometimes you realize how not productive it is and back out (though I find that the same old brick wall is often back the next time). And sometimes you leave with a bitter taste in your mouth.

But then you find some palate-cleansers, like this post from Professor Budziszewski's blog. Or this video rebuttal to "The Amazing Atheist":

(Ok, that last misses a few small points, but it's generally pretty well-done). I was kind of hoping for a full-out takedown from Fr. Zuhlsdorf over the good Cardinal Burke's comments about the Church's being too feminized, and unfortunately he doesn't really deliver this time. To be blunt, Cardinal Burke's analysis is at least partially correct, and so he is of course being raked over the coals by all of the usual suspects.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Living Martyrs

"Many men and women in the history of our Church have been willing to die for their faith. The deaths of these martyrs inspired people to believe that there is more than this life. Giving their lives was a tremendous form of evangelization. They died for the sake of the kingdom to come. However, in this day and age, we need people who are willing to live for their faith."
John R Woods, Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission: 5 Steps to Winning the War Within.

Yesterday I posted that I had found a couple of insights from Dr. Wood's book, and shared one of them. This is another. I sometimes wonder if we live in a despairing age which at times makes the error of romanticizing martyrdom via death at the expense of other forms of martyrdom (the word basically means "witnessing," and so there are other forms of this than literally dying for one's faith). Martyrdom via death only has some effect because this life is worth living, and because while our hope is for something in the next life, it must be lived in this life.

Being eager to die in this life--welcoming death so that we can be rid of this life--is not martyrdom, but rather is spiritual suicide.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Redemptive Suffering

The men's group at my old parish has a tradition (if it can be called that--they've done it every year since their formation 3 or 4 years ago) of buying many copies of a book of spiritual and religious nature for the men of the parish. This year, the book is John R. Wood's Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission: 5 Steps to Winning the War Within. I've nearly finished reading it--it's not the greatest book ever written, but it's not bad and it is generally sound and practical in approach--and I have gained at least a couple of interesting insights from it.

One of these is a nice "connection of the dots" concerning the Catholic practice and piety around "redemptive suffering." By this, I mean the pious belief that we can unite our suffering to Christ's and that, when so united, this suffering can have some redemptive effects. The idea is that we "offer it up," that is, offer up the suffering in our daily lives as a sacrifice to God, for the salvation of souls.

Here is the relevant passage from the book:
"In Colossians 1:24-26, Saint Paul writes, 'Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God's stewardship given to me to complete for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.' This almost sounds like heresy. Is Saint Paul saying that Christ's passion and death are missing something? Absolutely not. Christ redeemed the sins of generations past, present, and future. Saint Paul is telling us that we're the body of Christ. When we unite our suffering to Christ's suffering, we too can help save souls. This union is key. Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it: 'Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.' (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1521)"
The concept of redemptive suffering is therefore rooted in the in the idea that we are Christ's body, and that therefore what we suffer as members of His body, He suffers (see also Matthew 25:31-46 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Christ's suffering is completed, final, once-and-for-all, yet is is also being completed in our lives. Another way of looking at this is that suffering is a necessary consequence of Original Sin, not merely as punishment, but rather as redemption. Our suffering is not just an arbitrary punishment meted out by God, but instead it is Christ's suffering echoed in our lives* because we are members of His body. He suffered because we suffer, but on the other hand we are suffering because He has suffered.

*Or Christ's suffering anticipated by those who came before His Incarnation.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Jeb Bush

Eight years ago, I would have probably been thrilled with the prospect of a Jeb Bush candidacy. Now, not quite so much. His recent pronouncements on "committed" gay relationships, which sound a bit like preparing to outright surrender on the matter of gay "marriage", are not helping his stock in my opinion:
"I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue – including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections, and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty."
Well, he did finish by throwing a bone to religious liberties, but the cynic in me suspects that as thing will go, the sentence could be read as "I hope that we can show respect for the and lesbian...couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections." That tends to be the way these thing actually get implemented. He was more correct when he asked whether "sodomy [should] be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion".

Gay "marriage" sure feels a lot like a front in the culture war which we didn't so much lose as just outright forfeited. So much the worse for all of us.