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Sunday, August 30, 2015

It's Not "Totally Unexpected"; It's Obvious

Did you hear that story of Robin Rinaldi, who gave up her wedding vows for a year? Do I need to tell you what happened?

There was the story of a pastor who decided to try atheism for a year. Guess what happened.

Each time, modern secular "forward-thinking" society nods its approval, and also professes surprise. I'm going to say that's mostly dishonest. They have always known of the intimate connection between profession and action; that's why Cranmer changed the liturgy; that's why Comte founded a "church."

We actually have this foolish notion first of all that all possible choices we make are value-neutral. The other part is that we think they are on equal footing. If you express revulsion and disgust at a murderer, he'll disgust you further when he says, "Hey, don't knock it until you try it," but he's got a point. We become like what we do.

Grace doesn't really allow Christians to say, "Fake it until you make it" to a person struggling with faith, but really, it is wise and good to continue doing what believers do, even if it doesn't seem honest. The fact that what we profess is supernatural doesn't change the fact that we're whole people. And we're animals, in a real sense. We have habits. We should not expect that a broken habit attached to a profession will allow that profession to remain for long. If you stop going to church, you will be an unbeliever, quite apart from the consequences of that one error.

I think of a couple people who now profess to be atheists or agnostics, and I think that we may not have distinguished between a difficulty, which is an intellectual problem, which can be helped by having smart people around, and a doubt, which is an act of the will. For instance, take that instance in the Gospels, where in one place it says the two thieves hurled insults at Him, whereas in the other, one did, but one professed faith and received the promise of eternal life while he died alongside Jesus. I could find a thousand of these, and I might say, "Yes, I can see why this could be troubling for the inquirer; let's find the answer" without ever thinking, "They lied to me! Sod it all, I'm going to the bar, and the gentlemen's club. See you in two weeks!" Doubt is a habit of soul; it's not cured, or even helped, by answers. Its root is pride, which is why the end of the definition of "heresy" in CCC, 2089, says, "or...an obstinate doubt concerning the same." In any case, develop human habits that fit the habits of soul that you want. Then maybe ask if what you think you want is really what you want.

You've probably met a 3-year-old who asked about a thousand questions, all in that same form: "Why?" She probably just wants to know that you care. It's adorable, even if it gets annoying. But I'm sure we've seen that guy in a public meeting who stands up and says, "I want some answers!" He doesn't want answers; he wants us to know he is mad, and he wants to be taken seriously. I wonder how many of these "atheists" on the bestseller lists are really just like this guy? Don't be that guy.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Patience, Revisited

There's a parish near my house a little closer than the one where I attend Mass. I often liked to go there for Confession, because I had a very holy priest friend who served there. He's not there anymore, but it's a beautiful church in many ways, despite being new in construction, relatively speaking.

It starts earlier in the day than our Reconciliation time, and that's nice, also. I saw ten or twelve folks ahead of me, so I didn't worry.

I should have; it seemed to take forever. Their vigil Mass starts right after the time, and I thought I may miss out. Besides that, each one seemed to take a long time. I kept looking at the crucifix; I wanted the Lord to know that I was sorry, that my eyes of faith and my heart saw things clearly. I want to agree with the Lord about reality, and I always do, even if my walk tells me I have moments of doubt.

That's what a sin is, ultimately: a freely chosen moment of unbelief, after a fashion. Suppose--and you may correctly suppose--I never doubt the dogmas of our faith. It may be said that I possess the theological virtue of faith. (I might even say I possess it in large measure, thanks be to God.) But a failure of obedience is a sin against charity, against supernatural love.

I am thankful that we do not lose faith, even if we sin against charity, even mortally. How might we find our way back, if we could not assent to what is true at all? Think of this: the first step of repentance is to agree with God that what we have done or failed to do is contrary to what God has revealed. So, to possess the belief of demons per St. James, it may be precisely correct concerning the supernatural, but it lacks charity, or agape.

When St. John talks about "believing," he means the assent-action synergy, let's call it. St. Paul and St. James believe that constitutes salvation, too, but those two distinguish between living faith and dead faith a little more explicitly, because they have to, pastorally speaking. John mainly wants us to know that Jesus is the one in whom we should hope.

I won't bore you with another Protestant-Catholic theology lecture, though it could become that, and it's important. Rather, I simply find that I'm asking the Lord to increase my love. I have no problem knowing anything in this realm, but whether I love Him enough to keep His commands is ever the question.

In Matthew 7:21, when the Lord replies, "Away from me, you evildoers, I never knew you," in one sense, it may be slightly much to say he meant, "I never loved you," since He ever loves. But, it is right I think, for us to read it mentally, "you never loved me." The remarkable thing about grace is that it makes us--feeble, dusty us--friends with God. It's a miracle to behold; even those who will fail to persevere are doing a thing that is not proper to their nature by itself to do: rightly confessing Him as Lord. Yet may we not only confess Christ, but love him. I believe; help my unbelief!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pay Attention, Zooey Deschanel (And Everybody Else)

I don't think casual sex empowers women; I don't think it empowers anyone. I don't begrudge anyone the use of the term, "feminist," per se, because a lot of ordinary people who use it aren't aware of how terrible real feminism actually is (or at least could be). They think it means the general uplift and improvement of women. Fine; let's use that definition. Does anyone care to actually make an argument that casual sex is or has been actually a positive force for women? I'll name fatherless children, shattered hearts, abortions (of living people, by the way) and poverty against it.

All anyone can name in its favor is, "It's really pleasurable. Like, a lot." There are a lot of very pleasurable things I could do that would be wrong to do, like punching Donald Trump in the face. I'd really enjoy that. It doesn't mean I should.

People say in reply, "Well, sex makes women start to celebrate their bodies! Maybe they have been shamed, or stifled in some way." OK. Why do you associate modesty and chastity with fear and self-hatred? I'd like to know why many feminists just assume that a traditional view of human sexuality was imposed externally by a man. You don't do this all the time. I've read 12 or so articles on your site at HelloGiggles.com from virgins who've decided to be wait to have sex, for various reasons. Care to explain yourself? It seems to me that this whole movement for empowerment is double-minded.

You may say, "Well, that's an individual choice!" But feminism is not simply an attitude; it's a political movement; that is, it claims that there structural and widespread cultural reasons for the oppression of women. You can't support all individual sexual choices, family structures, etc. in the name of individual freedom, and hold the premise.

Some people just don't want to think this hard; they'd just rather define "feminism" however they like, and anyone who dares to--gasp!--ask for a workable definition must be a pig. Fair enough! YAY WOMEN! I LOVE THEM! Is that better? Can I be a "feminist," too?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Socialism Is...

State ownership of the means of production. That's what it is. Hoping and advocating for a more equal distribution of wealth could be socialist, depending on the means chosen, but simply expressing this desire is not socialist, or morally objectionable, in itself.

There is a sloppy tendency on the political Right to label anything we don't like "socialist," and I understand that. All the great tragedies of working-class movements, when they've turned truly heinous, 1) were explicitly socialist in intention, or, 2) involved the excesses of a State which had already been empowered to enforce its vision of economic fairness, above all other goals.

Why is socialism bad? It turns every human interaction into an economic one; it conceives of every human problem in exclusively economic terms; while claiming to lift the worker, it denies him or her self-determination, in favor of the whole. It turns the person into a mere instrument of the Ideal State, or the Ideal Man within it, notions to which he is obligated to pledge his whole self.

It's not altogether wrong to note the quasi-religious character of socialist regimes, because that is what is demanded.

Here's the bad news: Market capitalism as such does the same thing: it turns people into mere instruments in service to its ideals, in its purest form. For us to say things like, "Greater economic freedom will solve most human problems"--even with the qualifier--we are suggesting that man's greatest need is material or economic.

It may be that a free, voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange of goods or services could facilitate a natural solidarity between people, especially in a context where voluntary exchanges of goods and services don't occur at all. It would suggest, however, that the scarcity which was imposed was the primary factor in why the parties had not begun to enjoy the benefits of that solidarity.

It is a mistake to assume that the existence of many occasions or opportunities for voluntary mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services constitutes justice. This is especially so when we define "liberty" narrowly as "the ability to get what you want without interference." That definition assumes 1. people know what they want; 2. what they want is always good; and 3. there is no just scenario where a government could interrupt an exchange, either because it isn't just, or because there are higher ends that take priority. I can't make those assumptions, so I can't agree with Milton Friedman and others, for example.

A story, to conclude: Barack Obama can be a funny guy. There is a romance to a political campaign, and those guys even in October, 2008 were really starting to enjoy themselves, and I don't blame them. McCain had called Obama a socialist, and Obama's reply was, "Is he going to call me a socialist because I also shared my toys in kindergarten?" It was cheap, stupid, and otherwise open to mockery, but if you don't know how to define your terms, and you aren't adept at switching from the art of politics to the science of argument, your opponent gets away with it. I still think that Obama, while being one of the greats on the art side, is eminently beatable. We'll never know, because he's done running for office, but he always has seemed like Rocky, pounding bums at the beginning of Rocky III. He'd later find out he's not as great as he thought, but in Obama's case, there's no Clubber Lang to remind him.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

5 Snarky Thoughts For Today

5. Being a billionaire doesn't preclude someone from being stupid.

4. And I don't think stupid people should run for president.

3. When "Today's sacrifice to the Gun Cult" becomes your schtik, and hours after a tragic shooting, probably by an ill person, I don't listen to you anymore. You certainly haven't respectfully interacted with anyone who values those rights, and--without being callous toward any unnecessary losses--might disagree. If I were going to make the same point, I would say: "Without prejudice to those who exercise their Constitutional rights articulated in the Second Amendment responsibly and without malice, I believe the sheer number of unnecessary deaths caused by firearms should prompt people such as myself to revisit the structure of the regulatory apparatus as currently constituted." Yes, it takes longer, and I make certain people unhappy anyway, but I have adopted the posture--in the very choice of my words--of listening, and certainly not insulting. I'm starting to make an argument, not having a moral spasm. I will call you out by name--again--if you don't knock it off. And you'd be the worst politician ever, by the way.

2. [Are you openly accusing Mark Shea of lacking certain virtues necessary for fruitful dialogue?--ed.] Yes. [Pot, meet kettle.--ed.] Point taken.

1. No, as a general rule, we Catholics don't view our architecture as "decadent." In fact, it's necessary to accomplish what's actually taking place in a church during Mass (or any other time). If you don't believe or understand any of those things, of course it will look ostentatious to you. But you don't have the right to expect that I won't call out that theological prior commitment when we discuss the matter, in my opinion.

I Needed Some H20

I can't do subscripts here, I don't think. Anyway, "H20" is the title of the 1982 album by Daryl Hall & John Oates. I'm not a music critic, OK? So you're not going to get long, wordy descriptions about things the guy doesn't understand anyway. I really hate it when pop/rock critics make you feel like they know more than you, and more than they actually do. I just want to go, "Look, buddy, I may have heard one or two of these on the radio, and I need you to tell me if the album is worth it. Comprendo?"

I especially liked "Go Solo." I looked it up; this magical track was never released as a single. Paging Tommy Mottola, or whomever! You messed up big time on that one. I may have listened to it 37 times, actually.

What I mentally do is listen all the way through, and if some song grabs me, I'll come back to it. Consider me grabbed. Hall wrote that one by himself; good for you, Daryl! [You should remind everyone that you're a huge sap, and that's why you like the song.--ed.] I don't know why I love it, actually. I just imagined that if you took Hall's vocal out, replacing it with an instrument, somebody would walk by, hear the song and go, "That's a hit! Put a great vocal with that, and you'll make eleventy billion dollars." Oops.

You wouldn't regret buying the album. Oh, yeah, this album gave us "Maneater," maybe the most popular Hall & Oates song ever. Forgot about that one. Good times. I feel like you'll either love "One On One," or hate it. Somebody liked it; the NBA put it in one of their commercials. In any case, it's an enjoyable sonic journey with Daryl and John.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Hope For The Mercy Of God Is Real

So what would be the point of fussing over whether any person is "saved" in this moment? That could change. I don't know whether I'm saved in this moment. If that bothers you, because Luther, Calvin, or "Jesus Loves Me" said so, get over it. Mother Church says moral certainty is really all we have.

I don't want Benny Hinn to burn in the fires of Hell. I don't want anyone to end up there. Why is this shocking? Is there a point of doctrinal or moral error where we get to utter some pious version of, "We don't like you"? That's not how this works; that's not how any of this works.

I'm all about drawing lines in the sand, as it were. If you don't believe me, check the archives. But I'm going to talk incessantly about the mercy of God, the unyielding, unchanging, unquenchable fire that is Love. Judgment is all the more terrible when you begin to understand.

I don't think anyone should dare to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ until they have reflected on what it would mean for someone to be separated from everything good, forever. This isn't just columns on a ledger; this is the real thing. I need all of you to know that I have never been wronged enough to wish for this. There's no way. And I've been wronged, big time. Possibly worse than you have; maybe not. I do know that the Last Things brings clarity to each moment; it puts everything into perspective. My heart indeed burns with so much affection, I wish that God's justice would never come. It will, however, and we will say, "Lord, all your judgments are just and true." Yet if the Lord does not desire the death of the wicked, why do you, O foolish person?

There is no greater tragedy than to watch a person made in the image of God destroy themselves, or to waste this limited time on Earth serving themselves, instead of God and others. Anyone who truly believes this doesn't waste time in idle chatter about wheat and tares.

Maybe some people are busy defending a soteriology, instead of proclaiming Christ, I don't know. I just know "Do not judge, lest you be judged" seems to say to me that I'm the one with the plank in my eye.

Monday, August 24, 2015

...But I'm Out Of My Head When You're Not Around

As I told a friend on Facebook, I found a cassette of Daryl Hall & John Oates' "Big Bam Boom" album buried in my stuff. "Out Of Touch" might be my favorite, and that was the big single from that "record", as the pop musicians still say.

I've decided that I like Recorded Young Daryl and Old Live Daryl just as well. I never have had this weird vendetta against electronic instruments, either, so I don't mind the recorded versions. I'm sure a critic somewhere said, "They are to be commended for adapting to the changing times, and the chart success has vindicated them."

These guys are nearly 70, and they've still got it. Oates in the '80s looked a little like my Dad, sans mullet. I was recalling how huge they were back then. I was pretty young, but I remember. Guys like Daryl and John were close to 40 already, but big with the first MTV generation. I wonder if it surprised them?

Jimmy Fallon had Daryl on The Tonight Show recently; Jimmy's slightly older than his audience (just turned 40) but he gets millenials and 30-somethings; that's why he's killing everyone in the ratings. This pop cultural moment is heavy on nostalgia, and that's why it wasn't weird to see Hall there with the king of "cool." And I suppose Jimmy defers to all his guests, but it's legit, in this case.

One just forgets how absurdly great a singer Hall is. I had forgotten. And maybe like athletes enjoying one last season in the sun, some can recall the peak years with a hint of sadness. But when you are great, you can linger without shame.