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Friday, February 12, 2016

No Meat Friday

That's how I think of it, which is exactly why I need Lent. I'm literally seeing hamburgers as I type this. But underneath all that, I'm crying out to God. When you first begin the spiritual life, spiritual matters seem a little foreign, and it seems we are two people: one that loves God, and one that hates Him.

After some time and grace, prayer seems natural, if there were such a thing. The rebellion dies down. God is in color, and all that is not in Him seems gray. I don't understand it fully, but I can't explain it any better. Well, I went to Las Vegas once, and I had a great time. Even in the casino. But have you ever watched a person who's been at the slots awhile? They stare straight ahead; they pull that arm over and over, with barely a look at the outcome. They don't notice you're there. If you could legally smoke anywhere, that's what this person is doing. I felt I was watching a zombie. This is what the world without God is like: Zombies, waiting on a machine that will never pay out.

St. Josemaria Escriva says, "Don't let your life be sterile," and I wasn't ready to understand until now. Sin is boring. Sinful people are boring, provided they are not so evil as to be dangerous. "Dangerous" is the wrong kind of excitement.

I don't want to be boring. I want to see the world in color. I want to be the color in the world.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bring Back The Moralists

I just figured out what unites every person in politics I have ever liked or loved: they're moralists. I don't mean in private conduct per se; I mean, they are fervent in their opinions because they believe that politics is morality, writ large. Right, left, or center, every person I have ever appreciated, whether I agreed or not, has believed that taking a position, fighting for it, is the act of a moral person. Doesn't make them right, or prudent. It does mean the person is honest.

If I don't believe that you believe what you are saying, you are doomed in my eyes. As an aside, this is the reason I won't support Ted Cruz, until I must. I am almost sure I agree with what Ted says more than the others. But I don't believe him. I think his guiding light is what benefits him. I'd love to be wrong.

By contrast, is there any doubt that Bernie Sanders believes what he's telling us, to the core of his soul? (With the possible exceptions of abortion, and gay rights. Moral truths, we can't not know.) He's got the energy, precisely because he's got pathos and ethos to spare. He sets people on fire with his indignation. I've no love for collectivism and socialism, but I'll take a dozen of Bernie. In religion and politics, lukewarm people are of no use. We think that passion and compromise are enemies, but they are not. It's often only the deeply principled who can build bridges, because they know in conscience where the bridges can go, and where they cannot. True leaders don't make a show of standing alone; they just do it.

I can remember reading about George McGovern, and Sen. Paul Simon, and thinking, "These are my kind of liberals." So is Bernie, in his odd way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bored With The Resurrection?

 I suppose anything could become routine. I yawn at Holy Mass sometimes. But when I read a guy who said this, frankly, my first thought was, "Well, your liturgy has a gaping hole in it." He's a Protestant, in fact. Here's the truth: Easter as a Reformed Protestant is borderline pointless. It is boring. You can only think about Christ's victory over death so many different ways, before you say, in true Protestant fashion, "I know this already." You can't, in a strict theological sense, really live by the Scriptural injunction to suffer as He did, to die as he did, because the point of being Protestant is to say, "Jesus did all that for you and me, so we don't need this big to-do about seasons, and alleged mystical participations."

Not everyone is, let's say, as sensitive as I am, but I feel the weight of the crosses we all bear during this time. Bodily, emotionally, the whole thing. I told Fred Noltie about this one year, and I asked him if I was crazy. He said something like, "Nope, you're not alone." If you love Jesus, you will get the Cross, and especially during Lent. God willing, we will feel this weight along with mortifications freely chosen. Maybe not.

I hope indeed that many separated brethren observe Lent, however incongruous it may be with their own communities, and in so doing, be moved to reconsider those things which caused that separation.  Because when we truly suffer and die with Christ, we will rise with Him, and it's only fitting we should celebrate, and loudly.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

New Hampshire Primary Thoughts

I have no idea what is about to happen. Marco Rubio had a bad moment in the debate the other night, as I'm sure you heard. But he finished strongly. Still, his hold on second place in New Hampshire appears to be tenuous. Bush and Kasich have risen, probably at Rubio's expense. Still, my instincts tell me that Trump's support is illusory, as in Iowa, and that Kasich or Rubio could win outright. In that scenario, a Kasich win isn't bad for him. Finishing behind Kasich and Bush would be a disaster. My prediction is a close third. A second place would be a huge victory, and signal his impending nomination. Yes, you read that right. A guy this conservative doesn't win New Hampshire. Nominees get beat by regional favorites and flukes all the time, if recent history is a guide. It does not seem reasonable that Kasich will get the momentum necessary to overwhelm Rubio. But Bush could. If Bush finishes second, he will smile, thank Rubio for the "youthful energy" he brought to the campaign, and stroll to the nomination, as he was supposed to do. The media loves these resurrection stories, and they'll be ready with them.

Ted Cruz will not be the nominee of the Republican Party. The voters may be angry, but they are in no mood to lose heroically. I'd say Goldwater '64, but Goldwater had class, a certain irascible, principled charm, not unlike Bernie Sanders. Ted Cruz has none of this.

Trump is planning his Trumpian exit. He won't go quietly, but he will go, and so much the better. 

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Minimum Wage, And Catholic Social Doctrine

I'll get right to the point: At the very moment when it is apparent that a full-time minimum wage job cannot support a person and his or her family, then the discussion in my opinion takes on a new moral urgency. We've been at that point for a significant amount of time in the United States. Most of the arguments against increases in the minimum wage are macroeconomic; that is, numerous bad effects result from increasing this fixed cost on businesses. But if an economic system cannot bear a just wage as defined above, the system is per se unjust, and should be changed.

Tax credits and other benefits should only be considered remedial, until something that meets the demands of justice is in place. The free exchange of goods and services that we call the market economy should only be in place to manage scarcity after access to basic goods and services is assured.

This may seem radical, but justice understood by the social doctrine is not simply desirable, but a moral imperative. If, as some claim, truly minimum wage jobs are held by the young and not working adults, then perhaps those claimants should support a two-tiered, age and experience discriminant minimum wage system. By supporting the present system, we risk perpetuating cycles of poverty. Countless jeremiads against the alleged substandard ethics of the working poor would have more resonance in a more just system.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Nobody Asked Me

I think Serena Williams is beautiful. And I definitely think the First Lady is, also. I don't know where people get the idea that "whites" aren't attracted to black women, or that there must be a  sinister reason why Maria Sharapova makes more in endorsements than Serena does.

Even though the category "white" is completely made up (there's more than a fair share of open racism once heaped on "ethnics" now considered white) I'm sympathetic to charges of anti-black racism, but, if Sharapova walked in and I didn't know who she was, I would assume she was a model. Absurdly attractive Russian tennis players is not a new thing, as you may recall. Maria is a much better player than Anna Kournikova, but let's say they have options for selling things in life after tennis.

But Serena made 13 million dollars just in endorsements last year, so even if racism has affected her earnings, try not to let it get you down. She can walk into any room and say, "I am the greatest tennis player alive" and nobody would argue, unless you had some Federer fans, or devotees of Martina Navratilova hanging around.

Friday, February 05, 2016

When He's Right, He's Right

In an otherwise totally sensible piece detailing why Ted Cruz has no chance of becoming president, a writer at The Daily Beast cited Cruz telling an audience, "It's not the law of the land," in reference to the decision legalizing gay "marriage." A violation of the natural law has absolutely no moral force. It wouldn't matter how popular that decision became, or how normal homosexual activity became, it would still have no force, in the same way that the Dred Scott ruling was null, or Roe v. Wade.

People should say, "I believe children should have their rights violated at the whim of adults," or, "I want our society to die off as a result of our sexual decadence, and fear of our properly-functioning bodies." That's what people actually mean when they say, "I'm for marriage equality."

I'm not for marriage equality; I am for marriage. I am for telling the truth. If you push me, I will concede that I am for tolerance, in that I don't see the wisdom in punishing every violation of the moral law with the coercive power of the state. But credit belongs to Senator Cruz for telling the truth. If you want to fault him, you might say that he gets as angry about marginal tax rates as he does about attacks on marriage and family. But he's right this time.

Global Warming?

I just gave a talk on Laudato Si, the new encyclical from our Holy Father, Pope Francis. One of the presenting problems that Laudato Si's framework could possibly address is of course global warming. But is it real, or is it one of those progressive articles of faith that has no basis in reality?

I found this persuasive. Now, I'm a conservative. You could argue that I'm a David Brooks kind of conservative, but a conservative nonetheless. I want you to know why I was open to considering this evidence. These people she cites have no reason to lie. There may be scientific or mathematical reasons why the data is not as persuasive as it appears. That would be at the level of the premises of the argument.

But it is not reasonable to believe that men who have devoted their lives to the study of this question would falsify data, in pursuit of an ideological end. Is it possible? Of course. It's possible Donald Trump would be the most successful president in American history, but I'm not laying a wager.

It is more likely that good data which does not serve a particular ideological end will be ignored. Ideology works best when it serves as an outside vantage point in dialogue with some other view, from which I ask intelligent and critical questions that serve the advance of knowledge. It works less well when I must suppose a vast conspiracy, or resort to bad faith, to explain away a large body of information.

I can remember the days when I became a conservative. I was probably reading Crichton's The Andromeda Strain for the 30th time. He gives us a little story within the story, of a fictional scientist named Rudolph Karp. Dr. Karp believed he'd found extraterrestrial life on the inside of a meteorite. He did dozens of controlled studies, we are told, and yet could not back away from his original contention. The book tells us at length of his mockery and ostracism. It tells also of real scientists who endured the same. Indeed, the fuel of conservatism is a principled contrarianism from a conventional wisdom too passively accepted, and too uncritically examined.

And yet it may be conservatives who have their own conventional wisdom not allowed to be contravened. Who's actually doing the politicizing? For your consideration.