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Friday, July 19, 2019

Am I Pro-Life Enough To Have The Right To Say Something?

That's a ridiculous question, but apparently, if you're wrong about something really important, you can't have a correct moral intuition about anything else. In fact, this is an ad hominem.

You know, LOGIC and FACTS.

Anyway, the president's infamous tweet was in poor taste, to put it mildly. It was unpresidential, unbecoming, dishonorable, mean-spirited, untrue, and a hundred other things. It feeds into dangerous notions of nationalistic racial purity, and encourages distrust of those who may look different than some of us. We are a country based upon a set of ideas. The downside of those original ideas--that people can be unmoored from culture, family, and traditional morality--are still there, but the good side is that people can come to America and start over. It doesn't matter where you came from, or who your parents are, or where they came from. A fresh start. Now, I could go through and talk about all the ideas of the women of this "Squad" which range from silly to downright dangerous, but at the end of the day, these women are as American as apple pie. They have the right already as people to be treated with respect, and doubly so, as representatives of the American people.

I don't know why this is so hard. Yet there are many things that have gotten harder to grasp for some people in the last 4 years. "Sad!", you might say.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

I Don't Want Fewer Abortions; I Want None

"You're not stopping abortions, you're just making abortion less safe." Well, let's talk about that, shall we? It's not safe for the baby, first of all. Secondly, the data shows plainly otherwise. I think a lot of left-of-center Christians would like to believe these comforting fictions about abortion, because they feel culturally alienated from right-of-center Christians, they dislike them acutely in many cases. I get that, I suppose. Let's obliquely refer to the ignorant, unfit elephant in the room. Ahem. Anyway, if what I propose to do does not include making abortion illegal at some point, I do not really want fewer abortions. I have to take my medicine at some point as a "bad" person denounced by popular talk show hosts as an extremist. Fine. If  we go through a spike in "unsafe" abortions after it's made illegal, that's tragic, but unavoidable. Just because people work around a good law and hurt themselves or others doesn't mean a law is bad. Nothing immoral is "safe" or can be "regulated". We can have a prudential conversation about how much force and effort should be applied against an activity that is illegal and immoral, but that's a different conversation.

I think our political system encourages us to think of government sanctions like the 10 Commandments for governments: "Government shalt not..." and that bleeds over to our thinking about morality. Politics, however, is public morality by definition.

Most people think of themselves as remarkably self-possessed, unaffected by civil sanctions, or the lack thereof, but obviously that's not the case. Most people associate legality with moral licitness, and rightly so. Can something perfectly licit be made illegal? Of course. I still happily believe in legislating morality. No one involved in politics should pretend otherwise.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Getting It Right

I'm a little biased here, but my friend Casey Chalk is in a good habit of writing great pieces on the good life in some of the political magazines and websites. Here is one in The American Conservative. I endorse everything he says in this piece, but I want to take a little part of it and use it as a jumping off point for my own reflection here. Casey mentions fathers and sons especially, and how playing baseball, or even watching baseball, can bring them together. We don't talk enough about fathers. We don't talk enough about good fathers, and how necessary they are.

More than this, we don't talk about what a necessary blessing it is to be part of an intact family. I say "necessary" because there exists an obligation for all people of goodwill to fight for intact families. I say "blessing" because the damage of experiencing a broken family is outweighed in the lives of those from intact families by a factor of 10, and perhaps much more. The blessing is a gift of that benefit, and we need a stronger word than simply, "It's better if…" I contributed anonymously to this book because the experiences of children from broken families are not told. If we get to a point where the powerful are not ignoring the data about the kind of family structure that makes for successful people, then we will have plentiful information that is not simply stories to bolster this point. We could also talk about an implicit scientism, and numerous other things in that intellectual failure, but stories form an important part of the art of persuasion in these times. There is something about telling a story that creates a pathos which binds the hearers and the teller together in something special. Pardon the digression.

Are we willing to fight for marriage? I can remember a professor of mine at the seminary I attended in my Protestant days, who said passionately that non-Christians fight for marriage harder than we do. Are we standing around and simply shaking our heads, saying, "That's a shame," when we hear about Catholics married in the Church getting a divorce? Or are we getting in there and saying, "No, you can't do that" to the extent that we have influence over the couple? Abuse of various kinds always comes up when the topic of fighting for marriage and against divorce is raised. No one I know is suggesting that abuse is acceptable, or that to escape abuse is somehow a moral failure. Quite frankly, what we are really talking about are Catholics who are divorced and remarried civilly--against the Church's teaching--and are uncomfortable hearing from others about their sin. I do not know how exactly the bishops will handle the sheer number of people who are in this irregular situation. I do know that we should not excuse sin, simply because it has become acceptable, or has gone on a long time. I am confronted with the question that arises in myself whenever I consider divorce and remarriage: "Do I really intend to say that a person with free will and the grace of God through baptism at the very least is not able to detach themselves from an immoral situation?" Indeed, do any of us intend to say that the teaching of the Church about civil divorce and remarriage without a declaration of nullity, is in error? I know as much as anyone that the pastoral situations around these questions are not easy. But anything that suggests that God the Holy Spirit could make a mistake, and that the Church needs to "get with the times" is beyond the pale for me. And let us be clear that contraception is intimately connected to where we are with this question of divorce. It may in fact be largely the cause of many of these divorces. I run the risk of being dismissed as a reactionary for saying this, but I do not have the luxury of pretending to accept falsehood as truth. I am the living witness to the blunt force of that falsehood lived out in real life, and I cannot disregard my experiences, or the truth of the moral law, or the teaching of holy Church, in order to make people happy. It's a false happiness anyway, and we ought to know it.

Must Love Dogs

I don't know if I'll have a dog, when I form a family. I suppose I should say "if" I form a family. It's true, you know, that people are keeping dogs instead of having children. It's absolutely true that some people are clearly compensating for their lack of having children--of being parents--by treating dogs like children.

On the other hand, I love dogs. Almost every time someone says what I said in this first paragraph, they are a bunch of dog-haters. I don't like that. And it kind of blunts the force of your argument, to be honest. And it's a ridiculous juxtaposition in the first place, because I'm no sociologist, but there's a pretty strong correlation between having children and having a dog. Therefore, in the fine tradition of a popular meme, "Why not both?"

It's just something I had to get off my chest. I hope you don't mind.

Re-Thinking Race And Racism (Again)

I'm not one of those people who thinks that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, a magic wand was waved, and racism ended forever. In fact, that's ridiculous. I am probably one of those people that would pass as a "liberal" on race in many respects. I believe in structural racism; I believe in principle in the idea of reparations for slavery and other degradations against African-Americans and others.
Yet I had something happen to me the other day, and it has me feeling and thinking that I can see the other side of this issue more clearly than I could before.

I saw an episode of the show "The Real World". Now you may know that it's a web series now, but it premiered of course many years ago on MTV. They try to get the most interesting and diverse cast they can. Quite frankly, especially now, TV producers are trying to get people that will conflict with one another. Anyway, I was watching this show, and one of the participants was a very militant black person, who didn't take long to confront all the white people in the house about their racism, and more importantly, their alleged participation in an entire racist system. And he did all the right things, according to his theory of how a person in his position should act: he remained calm, when the others understandably became very angry. He took their upset as proof that he was correct. Naturally, he had several allies in this, and as I sat and thought about it, I realized that he did not present one shred of evidence for anything that he said. In fact, I recognized everything he said as a kind of dogma that I have heard in left-wing thinking on race. How else could most of the people in the house--barely older than 20--recite it so exactly? It is their catechism, their dogma. Everything that those who received the challenge said in response only served to prove what the young man already believed. Once again, I am not averse to many of the ideas that these theories present; I only know that any idea which says that I am guilty, and all my perspectives are invalid, because I am white, is a ridiculous idea. Moreover, it could be argued that these deconstructions based upon power are a clever version of poisoning the well, or perhaps shooting the messenger, because one does not have to actually listen to anything a particular person says, if they are in the wrong category. Now, this might be a crude oversimplification of the academic theories, but then again, many people aren't putting much stock in those theories to begin with, at least among those I know.

Fundamentally, I believe that people are free to choose. They are free to be what they ought to be. It doesn't mean that everyone is free of challenges; it doesn't mean that racism is dead, or that grievous injustice does not take place even today. (I trust police today less than I ever have, and with good reason in many cases.) But I saw that kid, and I heard his talk, and I thought, "These will be his excuses, when he comes up short, and he has no one else to blame or make ashamed."

Please forgive me if these thoughts strike many of you as insensitive, or clueless. I don't know what I can say for myself. We might have to do a lot to help people who haven't gotten a fair shake in life. It might even be based on race. After all, the government promised people lots of things, and never delivered. Today's equivalent of 40 acres and a mule would be a huge chunk of money. It might be money well spent. Yet I also believe at the end of the day that people are responsible for what they do and do not do. There are a lot of fashionable theories that spend a lot of words to basically deny this. I'm not in for those.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Profession Of Faith

It wasn't a hoop I jumped through. When I said I believed and professed all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, it was literally the most important vow I have ever made, or will ever make. I made it without prejudice to other vows; that is, I may take others that do not conflict, and surely I will do so. It's another illustration of grace building upon nature, and of the interrelation of different facets of true reality. In this way, the profession of faith is the grounding for all other promises, and this makes sense, because the vow's truth rests on God, who can neither deceive, or be deceived.

I have to therefore take this opportunity to say that I don't "get" pick-and-choose religion. I'm fully aware that people do it. I can even see that it would be appealing. After all, every time we sin, we're retreating into this pick-and-choose mentality.

Anyway, I remain surprised at how many people go, "Really?" when I get asked the inevitable question, "Which parts of Church teaching do you think are wrong?" and I say, "None." This isn't the buffet at Ponderosa; this is literally eternal life or death. I struggle in many different ways; I do not struggle in faith.

It seems to me that all the saints have unwavering faith. Not that they never sinned; indeed, they will be generous in telling you that they are sinners. But that they know by faith that God can be relied upon, even when nothing else can, including their own perceptions.

Anyway, it doesn't make sense for Catholics to argue with professed Catholics who aren't sure whether Church teaching is true. At worst, we'd be causing scandal; that is, causing doubt about what the Church teaches. At best, we may be expecting too much from people, who may need to go back to the beginning.

In addition, I have observed that by God's mercy, Catholics have attained no small amount of influence over this country over the decades. We're kind of baked in the dough, as it were. But you see, that's where the phrase, "cultural Catholic" comes from. Catholic, but as a garnish to life in this society, rather than a transforming force.

I think that this society teaches us to distrust those who believe anything too intensely. Tolerance, and a certain freedom to be wrong has gotten weaponized into an aggressive skepticism. If Steve down the street does things that are wrong sexually, well, he's a good citizen, who pays his taxes, and is pleasant at the block party, so who am I to judge? And the powers-that-be scare us in school about the so-called "wars of religion," so don't be like them, you see? They've been trying to domesticate religion ever since. If we have too many John the Baptist types, we'll miss the Super Bowl, and the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

It seems like every time I go on social media, there's some month or day to commemorate. Some of this is fine. Rare illnesses, historical figures, quirky trivia. But Catholics and other Christians, God has told us what to commemorate, in His own redemption of His people, first through the patriarchs and prophets of old, and then through Our Lord in His paschal mystery, now proclaimed to all through the Church. If this is the defining reality of your existence, you ought to act like it.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Storybook (And I Called It)

Well, not the Stanley Cup. But there's a nun I see at Mass sometimes, and she LOVES St. Louis sports. She asked me in January--when we were the worst team, or near to it--if I thought they'd make the playoffs. "Yes," I replied, matter-of-factly. I think I caught her by surprise, and the way she responded let me know she was wondering if I was nuts.

But for me, watching sports is a mixture of faith, and a keen eye for talent. I had watched a couple games in November and December, and thought, These guys are really good. Most people just see results and scores, and that's not wrong. Eventually, to be a winning team, you have to win. But winners also are the people who do the right things when it doesn't matter, or doesn't seem to.

What I noticed right away is that these guys did their best to cover for each other's mistakes. They used most of their energy helping each other. The forwards came back to help the defense; the defense came forward to help the forwards. They'd rather block a shot, than have the goalie have to stop it. It doesn't matter how great your goalie is; the fewer shots he has to stop, the better.

They knew where each other were on the ice; they skated in concert, like a savage ballet. They are not the most individually skilled players. That may fall to players from Boston, Dallas, or San Jose. But together as units, I've rarely seen things like them.

And then, there's Jordan Binnington. In the early days of his rise, it seemed like he was a good luck charm. Then when I watched him closely, I saw it: He's the second coming of Curtis Joseph. (Joseph is a Hall of Fame goalie who played for the Blues in the '90s.) Curtis never won the Cup, but he got close. And we loved him. He made the miraculous look routine, and shrugged, as if it was supposed to happen. Sound familiar?

And then came the playoffs. They were underdogs every single round. Slowly, systematically, they ground each team down. They hit them into oblivion. Hockey is becoming a finesse game, and the Blues turned that on its head.

I believe there will be a movie. The actual story writes itself: being the worst team in the league, hearing "Gloria" in that bar, GM Doug Armstrong deciding to stick with this group, instead of trading the stars, hiring Craig Berube, unheralded coach cast off from other teams, and the rise of Binnington.

I guess the only thing to do now is to play "Gloria."

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

“Cheating” Doesn’t Exist

If you’re dating someone, and they cheat, so to speak, it can only be a couple of things. If it’s actual sex, it’s called “fornication,”—sex between two unmarried people—and that’s a mortal sin. If it’s “fooling” around, that’s called “masturbation”—the intentional stimulation of body parts to derive sexual pleasure, with no intention of having sex—and that’s a mortal sin. Christian couples shouldn’t be doing this stuff anyway.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I was provoked by one of those internet videos, where some guy of dubious credentials lectures other guys about how to be less skeezy versions of our culture’s worst, with the earnest piano in the background. Pete’s sake, maybe all these women are anxious because we expect them to be perfect wives, with none of the permanence?

Sure, good people trying their best slip up sometimes. Seek Reconciliation, and move forward. But this culture is so far from good that we cannot even figure out why we’re unhappy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ontology For Dummies

I'm no Bryan Cross, or Roger Scruton, or Alasdair MacIntyre, but when I see a young chicken hatching from an egg, it's not a "potential" chicken; it's a chicken. If someone plants a young sapling of a tree, it's not a "potential" tree; it's a tree. Trees and chickens are supposed to be trees and chickens. Neither one--apart from what we decide to do with them--is a cow, or a brick. There might be different developmental stages of each, and we could call them by different names at each stage, but what the thing is should not be under serious question.

We've got people out there (apparently) confused about what the thing is as it pertains to humans. A human fetus is a human person at a very early stage of development. This person is not a brick, or a tree, or a chicken. We don't become persons by exercising capacities; we are persons who exercise capacities. If we decide--as has been decided many times before, to disastrous effects--that another person has the right to decide what a "person" is, ontology becomes utility. Utility as a measure of rights is sanctioned violence and oppression.

Of course, this is about abortion, but not only that. There are myriad ways that people can be "un-personed." It happens all the time. It's just in this case, we permit it, and celebrate it. We fancy ourselves "enlightened" and "progressive," don't we?

How effective our propaganda is, too! If the dissenters can be dismissed as misogynists and haters, the exploitation of the vulnerable continues with barely a fuss. There was a man who warned us about this. Against the backdrop of #metoo, that man may say,--in a slight paraphrase of an American president and actor--"Are you better off than you were 60 years ago?" Everything he predicted came true.

Many people claim that love motivates their support for abortion rights. How are you loving the woman in your life by escorting her to a place where a mother leaves as a grieving mother? This wretched popular society likes to ignore those women, and give them every opportunity to push the grief aside, to ignore it, and then to become dead to it. Death begets death, in a cruel mockery of the life it takes.

Motherhood is thankless and hard, and in some ways, involuntary. We know this. Just ask your mom what she'd have rather been doing when she was cleaning up after you. But she did it anyway.

The rock band U2 has an old song called, "Mothers of the Disappeared" about the victims of a brutal Latin American dictatorship. Mothers are still mothers, even when their children are gone.

Mothers are still mothers, even if they didn't want to believe they were. As the reckoning at Nuremberg came for the brutality of a previous age, so also there will be a reckoning for us. All the fine parties and refined speech will be stripped away, and what we have done will be laid bare. Lord, have mercy!