Friday, July 03, 2015

Happy Fourth Of July

Some people are saying America isn't so great. What are we celebrating? I suppose you could say that from any direction. Doesn't it always seem like something important has been lost when time passes? Nostalgia is a temptation for great nations, and great peoples, who perhaps have grown weary of testing their principles, and themselves.

A weary people grows tired of testing principles, and a people without virtue grows tired of employing them.

Maybe we are that people. But we can be so much more. I read about a guy who jumped in a lake to save a 4-year-old from drowning. He was paralyzed in the process, and then he lost his life. That kind of selflessness, that's America.

What would you say to the friends and family of the beloved dead in Charleston? True forgiveness is not unique to us, but it's as American as apple pie. That's hero stuff right there.

Maybe some of us will need to learn that process is important, that there are hidden costs to pursuing one thing above all else, at least a thing that isn't big enough (or good enough) to allow other good things within it.

There are genuinely intolerant people here, and they can mess up a good thing for everybody. Pay them no mind. One great thing our Founders gave us was gridlock. No, seriously. There might come a time when passions could run a little high, even among people of good will. There is nothing like frustration to make us slow down, maybe even to listen to one another. Thank the Founders for that.

I think back to the night President Obama won the election the first time. The euphoria was unreal. No matter what else I might say about the president--"in over his head" might be the gentlest thing I'd say--that night was the best of America. I remember the First Kids standing there, and the First Lady, and feeling like I would never have words to describe this moment. All Oprah could do was cry. I don't blame her. How great a country is this? A black woman can get out of poverty coming from nothing, and become a billionaire. And, by the way, there's nothing more American than giving stuff away, and generously, at that. Some time this week, Chris Rock pointed out that his kids have never known a moment when little black kids were not running around the White House. They think it's perfectly normal. Well, it is, in America. The Founders may not have known the greatness of their own principles, but they are great, nonetheless.

 The next time you're tempted to think about all the bad things, and even the bad people you think are messing it up, think of the man who saved that kid, or the soldier who fell on a grenade, so the parents of his brothers-in-arms wouldn't be the ones holding the folded flag.

Remember Flight 93? They fought and died, just so our leaders would not be harmed. We understand better than most: At the end of the day, it's better to mock a president than to bury one.

This 4th of July, have a grilled something or other, and remember that dreams grow wild here, to paraphrase Phil Vassar. Not by sheer luck, but ultimately because they belong to people with thankful and generous hearts.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Read Of The Day

I got your flowchart right here, Sparky. Really, when sex was separated from procreation, it opened the door to all kinds of arrangements based on subjective feelings, instead of reality. Blessed Pope Paul VI, pray for us!

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's Not About The People

It would be easy to go in two directions on this marriage question we're all been talking about lately, and neither of them are good.

I could simply thump the Bible here and there, unwilling to recognize that the most sophisticated advocates of same-sex marriage know the texts as well as I do, not in any way making human contact with these sinners or their allies.

I could also confess the truth of traditional teaching joylessly, almost reluctantly, and I can allow myself to be moved emotionally by the scenes of same-sex couples gaining legal recognition.

With respect to the first case, I'm going to say that I understand sinners. If you sin, that means in that moment, whatever it is has become more valuable to you than the God of the universe. We know intellectually how stupid that is. If you're a sinner, however,--and not in the theoretical--you know that reality in your own life; it's not just a pious guilt-trip you give to Johnny-Bob. It sounds good in fundraising letters; Christian leaders do it all the time.

In the second case, I don't want to be moved by what is disordered! Why are you doing that? You might be sitting there thinking, "But this group of 'biblically-faithful' Christians has so profoundly failed to love that this is why I'm moved! This is why they are here, because of us!" Stop it, right now. This isn't remotely true. Sinners sin because they love a created thing more than God. It's not hard. If that isn't you, you are not responsible. I love these thoughtful evangelicals; penance is a heresy and beyond the pale, but trying to be the Lamb of God Himself isn't.

Repent for failing to love, if indeed you have. I'm not stopping you. But stop giving Satan a foothold, by pretending that you can affirm the truth, while letting your own feelings deny it. "My delight is in the law of the Lord."

We Can All Go Home Now

The End.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What's Freedom For?

Everybody's talkin' 'bout freedom. Define your terms. What is freedom? Two choices: 1. Absolute individual autonomy to make whatever choice you want to make.

 People are already getting jumpy, because most of them don't want to kill someone else, or seriously hurt them. But then, most people are going to do some serious equivocating, because "My Body, My Choice!" Not your body, or your choice, in fact. Except for that. I think most people could make a distinction between killing and murder, such that it would be morally licit to use lethal force against another person, in tragic and unavoidable circumstances, in self-defense. Was the Second Iraq War in self-defense? Debatable. Were the ends sought significant enough to render numerous unintended bad effects acceptable? Except for that.

Not to beat up on anyone here, but we're getting into the weeds pretty fast. It's like we're talking about morality. Uh-oh.

What's our second definition of freedom? 2. A certain modicum of self-determination, flourishing in the absence of coercion, for the purpose of seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful. Let's leave this aside for the moment.

I think the only thing worse than libertarianism is what I like to call "lazy libertarianism." Tell me you've heard this before: "As long as two consenting adults want to do it (or even one), and no one is getting hurt, it's no one else's business." How do you know no one is getting hurt? In fact, that you are not hurting yourself? Ever drank way too much? How do you know "the kids are all right," to pose a question with a little more relevance for our lives today. Do you know, or do you just agree with whatever countenances the thing you've already decided?

I might add, if a person lives in a mud hut in El Salvador, and works for the equivalent of 2 pennies a day, he doesn't have that self-determination I'm thinking of. You know what his "consent" to that situation means? Two things: Jack, and Squat. I digress.

Personally, I just feel guilty that I've been here in this world for thirty-odd years, crowing about freedom and liberty no doubt for most of it, and only recently stopped to ask, "What does that mean, and what's it for?"

Somebody recently asked me, "Why can't people make their own meaning?" Well, they are. How's that working out? In all my years as a citizen of the land of the free and the home of the brave, never have my fellows been less free, or less brave, than they are right now.

Some people worry that if we start asking all these questions, a tyrannical theocracy of fanaticism will somehow appear. I suppose that's always possible. In my experience though, there is nothing more tyrannical than a guilty conscience. I'm doubting whether the dudes with Bibles ever really had that much power. Maybe you need to silence them, because if you don't, and loudly, the cry of your heart will be too much to bear. But that's none of my business.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

An Actual Coherent Thought I Had

I'm no actual philosopher, but anybody remember the case Loving v. Virginia? This, if you are unaware, was the case that prohibited state bans on interracial marriage. The details aren't super-critical. It seems to me that you can look at that case one of two ways: The muddle-headed liberal way, or the Thomist philosopher way. (Incidentally, the muddle-headed liberal and the Thomist will agree on the practical outcome.)

The liberal way is to look at that case, and the one yesterday, and yell, "You can't help who you love! WOO!!! [Waves rainbow flag]" You're done thinking. Must be nice. Wish I could, but I don't want to end up on the wrong side of history. I digress.

The Thomist looks at the whole thing and says something like:

Reply to Objection: The conjugal act is intrinsic to the nature of marriage. It is sensible for the civil power to regulate in some manner the conduct of marriage, since the results of the acts proper to spouses are children. Now, marriage is a common good, since marriage benefits the whole society, viz. it confers benefits to others besides the spouses. Conversely, the dissolution of marriage, if that were possible, has negative effects on others besides the spouses. So, a common good is that which does not diminish when participated in, however remotely.

I answer that, the substance of marriage consists in two persons, one of each sex, joining in conjugal, indissoluable union for the purpose of the generation and care of children, and the unity of the spouses. Because of the gravity of the obligation, and its obvious relation to the common good, the civil power ought to use all appropriate power to prevent the attempted dissolution of marriage, or to the imitation of marriage by acts common to spouses in the absence of assuming the duties proper to marriage, viz. fornication, or the abandonment of spouses and children, or other heinous acts.

It can be seen that skin color is accidental to personhood, since male and female alike are persons, and yet, a man from Ethiopia may marry a woman from Norway under the conditions above, freely, and, performing the acts common to spouses, bring forth children, blessing the society with them, and  with the benefits of their permanent union. This is especially so on the order of grace, since the Apostle says, "This is a great mystery, but I am speaking of Christ and the Church." And elsewhere he says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Therefore, it is improper for the civil power, on the order of nature--for it has no power above nature-- to prohibit marriage on the basis of accidental characteristics. Now, the order of grace perfects the order of nature, but does not destroy it. That is, that which is good on the order of nature bears witness to that above, and that above confers even greater dignity on that below.


I was going to say something about Bruce/"Caitlin" Jenner, but I got lost. Surely I'm not one to notice the irony though, in some saying that sexual preference is part of the essence of a person, but the biological reality of sex is not. If male and female are changeable, gay "marriage" is completely unnecessary; you could just change your sex. Food for thought. Transgenderism is a tacit admission that homosexuality is wrong, and that certain characteristics common to "gender" are not culturally conditioned.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fr. James Martin, SJ, Call Your Office!

And that's all she wrote.

The Political Liberal Evangelical Christian Fantasy

It's just the basic idea that whatever the society's liberal social change of the day is, it only happened because those "conservative" Christians--who are probably too allied with the Republican Party, obviously--were hypocritical about something else. Heaven knows, I barely have known a more hypocritical bunch than conservative Republicans, which is probably why that's where I belong.

But in reality, you are chasing a ghost. In the final analysis, you will never say the hard things just the *right* way. We did not arrive here because Dr. Dobson was mean.

Sexual ethics is even worse. Romans 1 talks about homosexuality directly, but it says plainly that the root cause is idolatry. Guess what, left-of-center Christian? They'll hate you, too. Might as well just tell the truth, and take your medicine.

By the way, I have the freedom to be what seems to be a haphazard clash of conflicting political imperatives, because I know that our whole political anthropology, left and right, is the wrong one. This is why progressives cherry-pick the Holy Father, and conservatives who happen to be Catholic are praying for the end. (And doing their own picking.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

More Hopefully Not Self-Indulgent Thoughts

I preface this by saying that I am not (yet) a writer of history books; I am a guy who has learned a lot of things, more oral than written, and I remember most things more or less correctly. Any defects herein can be attributed to my teachers failing to learn broadly, or my failure to heed them.

In a sense, though the American president emerges as a contrast to the British de facto head of state which comes from the legislature, the American president in effect works to enact the legislative priorities of whichever party has selected him. This was certainly true of Abraham Lincoln. He was the compromise choice of the party nominally dedicated to the abolition of slavery. There were those within who wanted to go further and faster, affirming civil rights almost as we know them today, and there were simply those who thought that dividing this grand American experiment was a fools' errand.

I don't recall being taught that being thankful for the defeat of a rival nation (albeit composed of our brethren) explicitly dedicated to white supremacy meant that such people, to a person, were devoid of all virtue and humanity. Yet I fully understand black American unwillingness to sit on symposia devoted to the virtues of Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. The Japanese fought with all manner of courage, tenacity, and devotion to family in World War II.

In both cases, thank God they lost.

To me, this isn't hard. The principles for which wars are fought largely determine their justice, or lack thereof. Only a nation with noble principles can coherently judge itself as having fallen short of them, or to have chosen immoral means to achieve them.

What noble principle was South Carolina defending in 1962, when it hung that odious flag over the capitol? Do you really think Ben Carson's neighbors just coincidentally had an urge to honor courage in battle when he moved in? In Maryland? Granted, some of us are inculpably ignorant; perhaps we've seen Gone With The Wind too many times. That nostalgia melts away when you have to look into the eyes of a black friend or brother and tell him you don't mean *that*. Good luck. It'll go about as well as trying to say the "n-word" doesn't have to apply to black people. In some weird universe, maybe not. But you're still saying you don't expect much out of whoever that is. You know how "they" are. Which was the dehumanizing point of the word (and countless other ones) in the first place.

If I want to be human, if I want to love, I say, "Take my 'heritage' away from me, if in so doing, we make a new one together." Wasn't the enduring power of the Civil Rights Movement the fact that black America shared its heritage with us? I'm not transfixed by "I Have A Dream" because I have been cowed by a liberal mob; I'm transfixed because people of love decided that it was time I saw the greatness of America through their eyes; that without them, my highest ideals are just empty words. That is a conversation I want to have.

The Only Thing Worse

...than having a flag stained in innocent blood is founding a country dedicated to the shedding of more.

The only thing worse than overrating a president who won a war is revering a statist who started them, and putting his face on a mountain. The Roosevelt presidents could be on a game show or history special called, "The Lesser Of Two Evils."

I don't think George W. Bush will be ranked by historians as among the worst presidents 20 years from now. In 40 years, he may crack the top 20. Historians are just as influenced by irrational perceptions as average people are; they just have more letters after their names.

Nixon was just a Greek tragedy. Never has being cast as a villain left out so much. You can thank Nixon you were not annihilated by Communists. Blessed are the peacemakers, until they break into hotel rooms, looking for ultimately unnecessary information, and then lie to cover it up.

A sobering thought: If JFK had lived, we'd have despised him by this point, too. The people are never kind in Year 7.

A few reckless opinions for your consideration.