Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Anthony Esolen on reform and renewal

Anthony Esolen.
Let’s get straight to the point. We no longer live in a culturally Christian state. We do not live in a robust pagan state, such as Rome was during the Pax Romana. We live in a sickly sub-pagan state, or metastate, a monstrous thing, all-meddlesome, all-ambitious. The natural virtues are scorned. Temperance is for prigs, prudence for sticks in the mud who worry about people who don’t yet exist. A man who fathers six children upon three women and now wants to turn himself into a “woman” attracted to other women — he is praised for his courage. Justice means that a handful of narrowly educated and egotistical judges get to overturn human culture and biology, at their caprice.

We are not in partibus infidelibus. We are in partibus insanibus.

This is how Anthony Esolen, a writer I admire tremendously, begins his latest offering for Crisis, “Reform and Renewal Starts with Us”. Lest you get the wrong impression, though, the piece is not simply an attack on the Culture of Death. Rather, it’s a list of things the concerned Christian can do to “vote with their feet”; i.e., stop supporting the cultural collapse and begin rebuilding:

  • Build new schools, reform old schools, and abandon irreformable ones. Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, said that one of the proper aims of education was to teach students to like and dislike what they ought. If nothing else has been retained of classical education, Esolen implicitly argues that this has: “If your children are in the sub-pagan schools, it will require almost a miracle of God to keep them from becoming sub-pagan themselves. They too will learn to worship the three-poisoned god of our times, self, sex, State. Take for granted that everything in their classes will be sexuality and politics; even in science classes.”
  • Restore your parish church and bring reverence back to the liturgy. Incredible damage was done to churches and to the liturgy in the wake of post-Vatican II “reforms”, a period Esolen memorably calls “the Decade that Taste Forgot”. Even now, some pastors and parishes show preference for churches-in-the-round, “resurrectifixes”, sculptures so abstract as to be incoherent, and treacly faux-folk liturgical music. Sometimes it’s just the removal of an icon that makes the difference between a renovation and a “wreckovation”.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Earth 2.0 "bad news for God"? Only if you’re a fundamentalist

Catholic apologists have a saying: “Scratch an atheist, find a fundamentalist.” That’s because many atheists, like fundamentalists, believe that Christian dogma is dictated by Scripture alone, with a slight twist — if you can disprove any part of it on scientific grounds, you disprove all of it.

Such is the case with Jeff Schweitzer, a marine biologist who’s convinced that the recent discovery of another Earth-sized planet capable of supporting life puts “paid” to “religion” (though the only religion he really addresses is Christianity, apparently supposing that religions are interchangeable). And he goes to great lengths to say so in a HuffPo article titled, “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God.”

Schweitzer’s entire purpose is to “poison the well”; that is, to fend off any and all Christian explanations as “explaining away”. Why? Because, gosh darn it, the Bible must be taken 100% literally! Everything, from “In the beginning” to the “Amen” at the end of Revelation must be an exact, word-for-word record — no parables, no metaphors, no symbolism. How the various books of the Bible have been understood over the centuries is far less important than how Schweitzer himself understands it, which allows no room for the creation stories to be anything less than literal accounts.

And Schweitzer is quite comfortable with his logical fallacy:

I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world’s major religions. [Apparently neither Buddhism nor Hinduism counts as a major religion, as he never addresses their creation myths.] I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens. I am not alone in this conclusion that religion will contort to accommodate a new reality of alien life.

I’m not surprised Schweitzer’s not alone.You see, a brain-dead hyper-literalism concerning Genesis is more important to New Atheists than it is to Christianity ... at least, to non-fundamentalist Christianity. Thus, Schweitzer pays attention not only to what Genesis says, but to what it leaves out, as if the creation story were meant to be a comprehensive and exhaustively-detailed account. But our belief that God created the universe and everything in it isn’t dependant on the scientific accuracy of the Genesis story; indeed, it isn’t dependant upon Scripture at all. That’s a mistake fundamentalists make.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wherein Your Humble Blogger confesses he erred ... but not by much

David Bentley Hart, not a Pluralist.
Last week, after reading about a paper done by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, I wrote an article defending the doctrines of Final Judgment and Hell against what I thought was universalism, which I defined as the belief that there is no Hell, that everyone goes to Heaven.


“Your argument follows a faulty initial premise, and therefore fails,” writes a discerning reader. “Not to put too fine a point on it, your initial premise is a fallacious definition of Universalism. Universalism is definitely NOT the belief that there is no Hell, no Judgment, and that everyone gets a ‘Free Pass.’ That, for the record, is Pluralism, the belief that all belief systems are equally valid, something that classical and patristic (yes, patristic) Universalism doesn’t teach.” In a follow-up post, Discerning Reader suggested — not too kindly, and without much specificness — some people I could read so I could learn what the hell I was talking about.

In haste, so as not to further propagate bulls**t on the Internet, I took the post down.

Okay, I’m not a theologian. Comparing theologians to engineers who design skyscrapers, I’m just the grunt at the job site, digging the ditches and shlepping the wallboard up to the 88th floor. In the column to your right, you’ll see a couple of items disclaiming all pretensions to infallibility. But I don’t believe I have to have a degree in theology myself to know when theology ends up contradicting the revelation.

So the key distinction between pluralism and universalism is that universalism still retains the final judgment and Hell. HOWEVER, universalists posit that all humanity will in the end be reconciled to God. So people still go to Hell; but Hell turns out to be a version of Purgatory, in that it exercises a penal function but still has a definite end. Everyone still goes to Heaven; in the universalist version, some just have to make a pit stop along the way.

Like the owner of the Esso station said to the lost driver, “You can continue down the highway you’re on, or you can take the next left. Either way, you’ll end up in the wrong town.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Reflections on Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower

WWII German soldiers' graves.
If you had been a Jewish concentration-camp resident and slave laborer, and a dying Waffen SS soldier asked you for forgiveness for the one atrocity in which he'd participated, would you be able to do it? That's the question Simon Wiesenthal asks us in his short story The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.

It's almost too easy to speak of what we would have done had we been placed in Wiesenthal's position. We were not, and the probabilities are that we'll never have an analogous situation in which we'd have to make good on our boast. Rather, it remains for us to think about what it means to forgive others in a context where all normal human mores are turned upside-down and all choices are fraught with peril.

Did Wiesenthal have the right to forgive Karl Seidl's participation in the mass execution of a Russian town's Jews? Did Wiesenthal have the right to withhold the words of forgiveness, as he did? And when Wiesenthal met Karl's mother, did he have the right to withhold the truth of Seidl's confession? Was he right to let her go on ignorance, so she would only retain the memory of Seidl's goodness?

[UPDATE JULY 5, 2017: Karl’s last name is never given in the book; near the end, when Simon visits Karl’s mother, he calls her “Frau S——”. The only source I have on hand for his last name is the Wikipedia article on the book, which itself does not cite a source. I may have obtained that information elsewhere, but I didn’t make note of it at the time. So be warned ...!]

These questions take on an added urgency in the situation of the United States in 2015. The recent controversy surrounding the Confederate battle flag is, in a very real sense, our struggle to forgive ourselves for having had chattel slavery as an institution, and for mistreating African-Americans, first as beasts of burden and then as unwelcome parasites. What must we do to create a culture in which the divisions of the past — divisions that still haunt and influence us today — no longer exercise such a powerful hold on us, a culture in which "black" and "white" are merely inaccurate shorthand references to skin color and nothing else?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"My idyllic life as a child of badly-paid parents"

"We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip!"
"My parents and I used to live on $15,000 for the three of us. We clipped coupons, shopped at Goodwill for clothes, and made do with a lot of used things. And it was a very good life; we had great times; nobody complained or felt they were entitled to something more."

Kinda reminds you of the "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch Monty Python used to perform on tour, doesn't it? I wish I could draw a Vanity Fair-type cartoon, featuring an employer telling a worker: "Sorry, I can't afford to pay you more than minimum wage. But look at it this way: thirty years from now, your children will marvel about what an idyllic life poverty was for them."

Whenever I read someone who trots forth the Idyllic Poverty-Stricken Childhood narrative, I desperately want to slap the taste out of their mouths. The Idyllic Poverty-Stricken Childhood is worse than the Working Poor Are All Ignorant Slackers Who Deserve to Starve in Third-World Conditions argument, because these people know better than to trot out that line. You know they're not saying all that crud in front of their own parents.

"Yes, yes, poverty was great for you. Your mother and I tried our best to make sure you children were happy; that you had food, clothes, and a roof over your heads on the little money we made. To make sure you were happy, we didn't show you all the anxiety and heartache we went through. You don't know about the nights your mother cried herself to sleep over how we were going to pay the rent. You don't know the difficulty I had sometimes just getting out of the car to go to work at the shithole job I had. You don't know how many trade-offs we made in the course of a week, a month, or a year; how many times we had to rob Paul right after we'd already robbed Peter; how many times we were just $20 away from a major financial disaster. You don't know how many times each of us despaired, how close either one of us came to ending it all. You didn't know that because we didn't think you needed to know it. But don't think that because we didn't publicly shed any tears, we didn't feel any pain or shame or distress."

And there are far more children whose lives in poverty aren't so blissful.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Planned Parenthood and the Shiny Noble Service

Image source: washingtonpost.com.
Just a few quick notes on the exploding Planned Parenthood scandal. Sorry for the lack of links; I've been keeping my distance because: 1) I implied I was going to wean myself away from the culture wars; and 2) there's always the possibility with sting videos that you may find it's a put-up job. As much as I'm for the pro-life movement, I'm not a consequentialist: evil means poison good ends. So thanks to Molly Z. Hemingway for some of the info here.

As Hemingway explains, the MSM lost 14 hours lead time from the moment the story broke, and for the most part has been engaged in some creative damage control. I can't get over the number of crapburgers we Catholics are forced to eat where the faults and malfeasances of our leaders are concerned; yet the same media that crams them down our throats can't take an honest, hard look at the Church of Moloch. I guess it all depends on whose ox is gored.

There's a heavy bit of equivocation going on: one of the popular arguments is that you're not really "selling" organs if you're only collecting for expenses, or just a little more. As we say down here in Texas, "That dog won't hunt." If money is changing hands for a good or service, it doesn't matter if the net is a profit or loss — you are selling.

It's tempting to "forget" that 501(c)(3)s are businesses, regardless of the fact that they're non-profit ... and even the word "non-profit" is a little misleading. They can collect more than they spend ... they just can't distribute the excess to equity holders; technically, they don't have equity holders to which profits could be distributed. If Planned Parenthood had shareholders, said owners would have a pretty good dividend income. I won't say they're all about the money: PP has too many true believers on board for such a cynical assessment. Nevertheless, they really don't need the federal subsidies they get; they have too many true believers among the herd willing to write them multi-zero donations at the drop of an ad misericordiam.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gay Christians and the Shattered Faith

No, this isn't authentic Christian teaching.
Before you read this, I entreat you to right-click on this link to Gabriel Blanchard's post "Silence in Heaven" on his blog Mudblood Catholic. Go ahead and read it; I'll still be here when you come back.

*     *     *

Especially powerful to me are the last two paragraphs:

Those who have eyes only for the (in my opinion, legitimate) threats to religious liberty in this country, and have perhaps never knowingly dealt with a gay person in their own lives — even, maybe, wouldn't be homophobic if they did, except by accident — seem to have a difficult time believing that these stories of homophobic harshness, rejection, and even violence are credible, save perhaps in far-off pars [sic] of the world like Russia or Nigeria or India. Nonetheless, every single one of the names I've mentioned above — including every victim of murder and those driven to suicide — hails from the good old US of A. We are not immune; there are those who would say we are not safe.

Stop talking about us, fellow Christian, and talk to us. We were never meant to bear this cross alone, any more than you were meant to bear yours alone; Jesus Himself did not bear His Cross alone, accepting help from Simon and Veronica. Our anguish is not a guarded secret. There has been no need to break seven seals on the scroll of our pain and call for silence in heaven for half an hour to read it; we have read it from the housetops — and, too often, been met with the order to seal up what the seven thunders have said, because you saw no reason you should care. You were not, after all, your brother's keeper. Put your fingers in our hands and your hand into our sides, and do not be doubting, but believe: we are suffering. We need you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

WARNING: Food is bad for your health!

This may be the healthiest breakfast you can get, and it's an
Army breakfast. (Photo credit: US Army.)

Eggs don't cause heart attacks — sugar does!

This is the headline on HuffPo's Healthy Living blog, written by Dr. Mark Hyman, posted February 9, 2014, and updated April 11, 2014. Hyman writes:
Fifty years of doctors' advice and government eating guidelines have been wrong. We've been told to swap eggs for cereal. But that recommendation is dead wrong. In fact, it's very likely that this bad advice has killed millions of Americans.

A rigorously done new study shows that those with the highest sugar intake had a four-fold increase in their risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intakes. That's 400 percent! Just one 20-ounce soda increases your risk of a heart attack by about 30 percent.

This study of more than 40,000 people, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, accounted for all other potential risk factors including total calories, overall diet quality, smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and alcohol.

This follows on the heels of decades of research that has been mostly ignored by the medical establishment and policy makers. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends getting no more than 25 percent of your total calories from added sugar. Really? This study showed that your risk of heart attacks doubles if sugar makes up 20 percent of your calories.

Yet more than 70 percent of Americans consume 10 percent of their daily calories from sugar. And about 10 percent of Americans consume one in every four of their calories from sugar.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Help the Kingdom of God Sisters!

Kim Brown, Foundress, Kingdom of God Sisters.
(Image via LinkedIn.)
One day, you're a speaker and a Director of Student Life for a mid-sized university in north-central Texas, wondering if you have a vocation to marriage or not. Five breathless years later, you're knee-deep in the founding of a prospective Augustinian religious order dedicated to evangelization and dogmatic formation. You're trying to buy a house to turn into a convent, and you haven't even begun your own postulancy yet. And all because your grandma (so well-informed, your family jokes that "she was Google before there was Google") asks you during a phone conversation, "Dear, have you thought of becoming a nun?"

That's kinda-sorta the way Kim Brown tells it, albeit in better detail and much more engagingly.

Your Humble Blogger met Kim last night at a meeting of my Knights of Columbus council. A couple of months before, we'd voted to contribute sufficient funds to purchase 150 study Bibles for the young women who, if all goes well, will make up the first generation of the Kingdom of God Sisters, the religious order Kim is founding in order to join. In her conception, the KGS will focus on conferences, retreats, and one-day events to help dioceses strengthen the religious formation of Catholics, using modern technology and techniques, while adopting the charism, habits, prayers and practices of a traditional order dedicated to the Rule drawn up by the great Father and Doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo.

The Kingdom of God Sisters is right now in a "halfway" stage: it's not officially recognized as a religious order, although it has the interest and vocal support of the Diocese of Fort Worth. For one thing, postulancy, the formative stage before taking the evangelical vows, isn't a do-it-yourself project; it's always done in community, living much the same life you intend to live after taking the vows. Hence, the need for a convent; besides Kim, there are currently over forty young women (median age in the early 20s) discerning their vocations along with her.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Condom portrait sparks wrong conversation

Niki Johnson, “Eggs Benedict”. (© Niki Johnson)

The decision by the Milwaukee Art Museum to acquire and prominently display a controversial portrait of Pope Benedict XVI fashioned from 17,000 colored condoms has created outrage among Catholics and others who see it as profoundly disrespectful, even blasphemous.
Many suggest that if a piece were as offensive to other faith traditions or communities it would not be tolerated, much less embraced.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki blasted the decision as insulting and callous. The museum acknowledged it has fielded about 200 complaints. A handful of patrons dropped their memberships; one longtime docent tendered her resignation; and at least one donor vowed never to support the museum financially again.
Museum officials said an equal number of people have voiced support for the piece and that memberships and pledges in general are growing. They said they regret that the portrait, by Shorewood artist Niki Johnson, has elicited such enmity. But they insist it was not their intent — nor the intent of the artist — to offend Catholics or anyone else. And they said they continue to enjoy the support of people of all faiths, including Catholics.
"This was never intended to be derisive, mocking or disrespectful of the pope," said museum board of trustees president Don Layden. "It was to have a conversation about AIDS and AIDS education. And my hope is when the piece appears in the museum that will be the focus of the discussion."

Monday, July 6, 2015

Catholic Stand: Christianity “Found Difficult and Left Untried”

Of course, I mean that Catholicism was not tried; plenty of Catholics were tried, and found guilty. My point is that the world did not tire of the church’s ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the church failed it was largely through the churchmen. … [T]he great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived (which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough. Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. (G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910), ch. 1.5)
Although this passage was written some years before Chesterton’s formal conversion to Catholicism, one can be very certain that at no point after his conversion would he have taken a single word back; most likely, he would have restated it in a different yet equally blunt way. He also knew the Church wasn’t established for the sake of the righteous, but for sinners (cf. Mark 2:17): “The Church is justified,” he would write in The Everlasting Man (1923), “not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” His point was that Christian hypocrisy made the Christian ideal appear unachievable and not worth attempting.

To read the body of Chesterton’s work is to get quick baby pictures of the monster ideologies that plague our culture — free-market capitalism, socialism, modernism, and progressivism — before they climbed out of their cribs to eat our souls. Taken a century ago, the baby pictures are a marvelous corrective to the temptation to blame everything on the Sixties (or any of the last five presidents). However, the above passage reminds us that it more likely began five hundred years ago, with Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses, Henry VIII’s dynastic concerns, the trial of Galileo, and the widespread publication (thanks to the printing press) of classical literature.

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Zach Braff's sarcasm fail

Has anyone been mocked out of faith who wasn't already on the precipice of doubt?

As stated, Zach's supposed zinger isn't an atheist/agnostic argument per se. It could be merely an argument for religious tolerance ... except that it's from a Facebook page titled DoubtGod. So is he a skeptic only where Yahweh is concerned? Oops — send it back to the script department for a rewrite.

The skeptic's argument, as I've seen it, is, "The world's religions can't all be right, but they can all be wrong." That doesn't exhaust the possibilities, though. One can be the closest to the truth of the Way Things Really Are, and others can be further away to varying degrees. One of the gods can be real, and the rest shadows and reflections of him (or Him). This is what a better-educated believer will say in response; the simpler believer will merely assert that all the others are false. Either way, the skeptic's argument is a kind of cross of St. Anselm's ontological argument turned upside-down and Murphy's Law: "If all religions can be wrong, they are all wrong." The consequent doesn't necessarily follow from the antecedent.

If a person has what he believes are good and sufficient reasons to believe that a particular god — or pantheon of gods — is the only one that's real and true, then pointing out that there are 4,999 other gods he could worship is useless; it's like pointing out that there are over 200 other countries in which he could live, or 500 other microbrews he could prefer, or 60 million other women he could love. So what? What compelling reasons can you offer that will cause him to move, or switch brands, or get a divorce? Even better, what compelling reasons can you offer that will get him to stop drinking, or stop loving women, or commit suicide?

In any event, Zach, this isn't a one-line wrecking ball; it isn't even the beginning of an argument. It's a rather pitiful and immature sneer.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

From the "'Slippery Slope'? What 'Slippery Slope'?" file

This, my pal Justin Brink tells me, can also fit in the "Never Saw This Coming" and "Tolja So" files. From the Associated Press (via The Blaze):

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man has applied for a marriage license so he can legally wed his second wife.

Nathan Collier of Billings said Wednesday that last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage inspired him to try to force the acceptance of polygamous marriages.

He says he’ll sue the state if his application is rejected.

Collier says Yellowstone County Courthouse officials initially denied the application Tuesday. When he told officials he planned to sue, they said they would consult with the county attorney before giving him a final answer.

Collier married his first wife, Victoria, in 2000. He and his second wife, Christine, had a religious wedding ceremony in 2007 but didn’t sign a marriage license.

The trio recently has appeared on the reality cable television show “Sister Wives.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dear “Occupy Democrats”

Of course, if that message isn't quite clear enough, then perhaps I could offer the following substitute:


Did I mention I've declared my independence of the Zeitgeist?

Semper Fi. Carry on.