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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Men: It's OK To Cry

I think it's weird that someone has to say this. On the other hand, there are some perils of excessive emotion, sentimentality, or whatever other negatives you can think of. To be emotionally healthy in one respect is to feel the right things at the right times.

We fear a lot of things in expressing emotion as men. We fear being seen as weak, or unmanly. Not tough enough, not strong enough. There is something to admire about stoics, who can set feelings aside to especially accomplish some great task. I have to wonder however if we have glorified stoicism to the detriment of ourselves.

One thing that's happened in our culture the last several generations is that we've transmitted these messages: Boys don't cry, girls do. Boys climb and build and break stuff, girls wear dresses, and have tea parties. This isn't necessarily bad; we are what we are. The counter-message of this culture, that biological sex has nothing to do with gender, is equally false. Boys and girls don't have to be socialized or taught some of these behaviors. When we overreact, and we believe that a child starts doing gender-atypical things, some people foolishly believe that the child should change genders. That's actually worse than making a kid rigidly conform to a traditional gender norm. I digress.

I cry a lot, for a man. I cry at sad things, happy things, the splendor of truth, sports, you name it. For many men, holding things inside is worse than letting it out. Men explode when anger and sadness get to be too much. You see all the violence lately? I'm no psychologist, but some of these guys need a good cry. They don't need sex; they need a good cry. Maybe for days. How many fathers left us? How many jobs have we lost? How many divorces have men endured? Close family deaths, maybe?

I have never forgotten what one teacher told me: Many men get angry when they should get sad. Who decided that men and boys aren't allowed to be sad? Who decided that they shouldn't ever cry?

I'm taking a stand, here and now. [You mean taking a sit.--ed.] Shut up; that's not funny. [You're right, it's HILARIOUS!--ed.]

Be who you are. Those that love you have already dealt with it, and those that don't love you don't matter that much.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Sex While Crippled: A Story

[Note: This is a blog post, but do not be surprised to see this in print at some point in the future.] No, this will not be graphic. But I got your attention, didn't I? I had a conversion experience to Jesus at 18, but truthfully, my life up until 21 (my baptism) was pretty sketchy. I drank too much, swore like a sailor, [So, not everything has changed!--ed.] and generally wouldn't have been convicted by the Romans, the Herodians, or anyone else for being a Christian.

The only thing I knew about sex in those teen years was that I wanted to have it. Some dudes in the neighborhood had actually schemed to have me lose my virginity when I was 15. She was willing, but I got scared. Then she got mad, which struck me as weird. Then again, there's your "toxic masculinity" right there: We can't admit that we're scared, and young, and this is probably wrong. And think of how broken this is. That young woman--God bless her--had learned the lesson that if you didn't have sex with boys, you were a "prude". If they didn't want to have sex with you, they were probably gay, and you are ugly. I avoided all that, that time. Other degradations I did not avoid, but intercourse, I avoided.

I got to college. I met this one neighbor in the dorms. We'll call her "E." She was sweet, beautiful, and kind. Blonde. I have always been sort of funny, so I can't say I don't know how to flirt. Maybe not much success, overall, but I can be charming! E invited me to her dorm room. I'm not exactly sure what would have happened, but this is college, man. If she presses the point, I'm de-flowered, man. I'm glad I didn't go, but then, I didn't understand the Christian teaching. I absolutely would have had sex that night. I guess I got scared again. I made some excuse, I think. Did I know it would have been wrong? Maybe. Other sins I committed, I definitely understood.

I saw E a bunch of times after that. Sometimes, I've regretted not going to her place. That's really dumb, upon reflection, but when you're in a wheelchair, and dating is weird, and you don't know what these AB (let the reader understand) girls are thinking, you think this might be your only shot, if you know what I mean. There is something powerful and intoxicating about being desirable. Of course, we know it's pretty great to sexually desire someone else, but reciprocation makes the world go round.

Anyway, it's really easy to think, "No one will ever want me, because I'm a cripple." We've talked about this before. It's not true, but it seems true a lot of the time. And I know now that being desired is not the end-all, be-all of being human. In fact, the Church teaches us that celibacy is superior to marriage. We're scared of this, because we're binary people, and we mistakenly think that if you say celibacy is better, you hate sex. Or that you're judging people who don't agree. And, if you hadn't noticed, we've had a disturbing number of clergy--who are absolutely supposed to know and live better than the rest of us--ruin many lives, and in some sense tarnish the splendor of the Church, with their predations. Nevertheless, the truth remains the truth. Sex is for marriage, and marriage is not the highest vocation.

I think it fair to say that Jesus has a ton of mercy for sexual sinners. One reason why is that the sexual act within a marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. He calls Himself the Bridegroom, and we the baptized are the Bride. This is of course shocking, but that's precisely the point. Everything that is sin in the world is a twisting of something good. In the worst evils, we may have to look pretty hard, but I think we know this. Evil has no existence in itself.

Illicit sex or sex acts are usually sins of weakness, and though Our Lord never sinned, He is able to sympathize with our weakness. Part of his whole reason for coming to us was to set us free from our sins, and the tendency toward them. He walked in this world; he ate with sinners of all kinds. It's sort of odd that people feel judged by the Church, and by Christians, because we should understand sin better than anyone. On the other hand, a lot of people feel judged by others, and what they are actually experiencing are the pangs of conscience. "Only God can judge me!" That's true. What's awfully presumptuous is to assume you know that is going to go well for you.

In short, "it is not good for the man to be alone" has many dimensions. One of our cultural dimensions is the belief that the sexually active are powerful, that they are more human than the sexually inactive, no matter the reasons. It might just be easier to contemplate the parts of culture that don't give this message. We have to swat away the lies surrounding this. And if we have a disability--even quite a severe one--we have to believe that even a broken body is a good body, as my friend Amanda Beck would say. It is meant to be a sexual body, even if there is a proper time and place for that expression. Even if we choose not to use this capacity for any number of reasons, that's a choice we make. No mere person has the right to tell you or me that we are less than someone else, because we look different, or move differently, or even experience emotions differently than others.

Some activists are pretty crude on this point, but I'll agree: Sex is good! Sex is pleasurable. It is interesting to contemplate: I am a crippled person, a sexual being, in the world God made, redeemed by His Son Jesus Christ, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Commonality, yet also difference. Difference that we have yet to understand, or fully account for.

Confessions Of An Angry Catholic

I appreciate the admonitions from Dr. Cross to reject the "package deal" thinking of the two parties. We should be able to see that numerous assaults on the dignity of the human person are present in the ideology of American politics. I say "ideology" because it's really one: radical individualist amoral expressivism. "My rights, my needs, my wants are all that exist. I have no obligation to others, except that which I take on myself. The government exists to foster my expression of these rights, and the identity I choose to express as a result." It's not Right or Left, if you think about it. It's everywhere. The GOP talks a good game about rights, but in fact, they're individualists, too. They often say rights come from God, but you might get the impression that this god's name is "Market." They aren't really discussing the balance between free exchange as a means of managing scarcity, and the dignity of every person. In a sense, they can't. Any regulation of economic exchange whatsoever is "socialism." The fact that they haven't fully succeeded in turning the United States into a Randian capitalist paradise is somehow used as an argument that they don't intend to.

The Democrats, meanwhile, express their individualism through a permissive sexual ethics. I once might have said that they do this because "economic freedom" is not permitted by their ideology, but if you look closely, they love the market as much as anybody. But they are also adept at making plenty of noise about cushioning the blow for those left behind. "Family" is whatever you decide it is. Men and women, boys and girls, are just labels of self-identity. You can change them if you want.

This of course ignores the obvious truths we all know, about sex, biology, and personhood.

And this brings us to abortion. Is there anything more individualist than deciding that someone else has to die for my convenience? To put a sharper point on it, the "Left" serves the Market by turning women especially into simply cogs for the machine. Motherhood is inefficient, costly, and not at all profitable, in economic terms. Did we decide it was acceptable to kill our children for money? Better yet, did someone else decide for us? That's sure what it looks like. Have you noticed how "feminism" tends to say women are only empowered when they act like (and serve) men? It would be funny, if it weren't so evil.

You may have noticed that I haven't sacrificed everything for the vain hope of Donald Trump and the Republicans overturning Roe v. Wade. Should it be overturned? Absolutely. My sense is though that the GOP will do as little as possible, while using it as a weapon against the Democrats. Not that they have to try very hard. It seems the Democrats are enthusiastic about us literally killing ourselves.

For my part, I'll continue talking about the environment, refugees, and the poor, (for example) not because abortion isn't gravely evil, but because everything is connected. You know where I stand on abortion; if you want to fault me because I won't play the shell game of our politics, be my guest.

As long as you don't examine philosophically why we do anything, the powerful have you right where they want you. Issues aren't actually issues; they're cultural and tribal signifiers. That's all the issues have been for some time. Sadly, a lot of people are signaling that they don't really care about non-white people, whether American or not. They claim others including myself are "virtue signaling," which is a hypocrisy when real. When used as a deflection, it signals the embrace of vice as virtue. I can fault the Right as much as the Left here, and I do.

I've said enough for now, but I won't promise not to say more.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation, (Dreher) Chapter 1, "The Great Flood" (II)

Dreher uses the example of the severe flooding in Louisiana in 2016 to describe a severe disruption of a way of life; that is, the end of a civilization. He lays out the "Benedict Option" as cells of people in small groups carrying on the work of society and forming virtue, in much the same way as St. Benedict and the Benedictine monasteries did after the fall of the Roman empire. It is not enough to fill sandbags and build levees, he says. It's time to build an ark.

The churches could serve as a bulwark, he says, but we also have a problem: the infiltration of moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD). This has been discussed for many years, but essentially, it is theological-sounding self-help that sanctions our materialism, nationalism, and selfishness. The "god" in this worldview never demands anything of us, but blesses whatever we do to please ourselves. For my part, as he describes this, I think of American civic religion. These are also its tenets. With the breakdown of the polis, it's fair to wonder if MTD has any extended life ahead, or are we set to see a further devolution into paganism? Dreher calls it "barbarism," but essentially it is the denial of any obligation not chosen, outside the self. He also cites MacIntyre regarding the prevalence of "emotivism," the philosophy that all truth claims merely reflect the feelings and desires of the speaker. We recall Dr. Cross' contention that emotivism thrives against an unspoken backdrop of skepticism, especially with regard to what can be known by reason.

Dreher cites a couple of disheartening surveys about the views of 18 to 23-year-olds along these lines, and while I can sympathize in general, I would not have been an exemplar at any time during that period. Even with extensive Christian catechesis, I was a disaster. So it strikes me as unwise to extrapolate these trends too far forward in time.

Finally, I must reject Dreher's "branch" theory of ecclesiology. Whatever could be gained by uniting traditional Christians in a project of co-belligerency against common foes is lost by the separations themselves. Indeed, it was Protestant philosophical commitments that functionally denied the use of reason as a ground for true knowledge. If we don't fully heal Christian division--which begins with rejecting false philosophies of knowledge, we'll just repeat the same mistakes, even without intending it.

It's no coincidence that the Catholic Church has described herself on various occasions as an Ark.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Time For Listening, Not Talking: MLK Day, 2019

Let King be King. He was a radical. A leftist. A fair amount of revisionism always occurs, because we have a way of revering without reckoning. If we weren't guilty of this, he wouldn't have had to do all the things he did.

I guess I'm not Left enough to make this case, but I'm not Right enough to ignore it, either. I do know that the motivated reasoning of nearly every PragerU video is contemptible. We sanitize those who challenge us, if we can no longer ignore them. We silence those we fear.

Anyway, if it serves the cause of justice, I'm willing to be made uncomfortable. I need not embrace every activist pet theory, especially if it denies a discernible shared reality. Yet my days of telling black people how to seek justice, or how to process feelings about justice delayed, or justice outright denied, are over.

King did not possess a graceless anger, but it was an anger. Anger was and is the proper response to injustice. Anger can be a galvanizing, organizing force. Past that point is pitiless rage, which is impossible to direct, or control.

I guess the revisionists and the progressives and all of us in between have one thing in common: We're glad Dr. King had pity on us. Pity is a species of mercy, or so it seems, and we could all use some mercy today. Mercy is not opposed to justice, but serves it, by remitting punishment that sin deserves. Mercy is the great weapon of the servants of the truth.

Happy Birthday, sir. We'll try to do better.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In a Post-Christian Nation, (Dreher) I: "Introduction/The Awakening"

Dreher says that his wake-up call was recently when Indiana and Arkansas weakened their state-level religious freedom protections, which had been tailored to correspond to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1990, under pressure from gay activists. On a personal note, I remember hammering Mike Pence for caving on this very issue. [Mike Pence, too liberal? Those were the days!--ed.] Dreher notes, "This was a watershed event. It showed that if big business objected, even Republican politicians in red states would not take a stand, even a mild one, for religious freedom."

He says Christians and their values have been "routed." He's right, obviously. When 75 percent of Catholics don't go to Mass, and the biggest religious group in America are "nones," this is the least shocking development imaginable. That fails to even account for failures in formation and a lack of conversion among the clergy, in the Church, and among Christians more generally. (With all due respect, when I say "Church," I am referring to the Catholic Church, and those in visible communion with her. I can appreciate Dreher's desire to use "church" in an invisible sense, to foster a unity in his project of co-belligerency, but since I believe the visible unity of all Christians is a major part of cultural renewal, I'm going to say so. And frankly, I don't like being confused.)

He further laments the astonishing rapidity with which a traditional Christian consensus was discarded, and in that, I can recall being called a "bigot" back in 2002, for opposing homosexual relations and gay marriage. I sympathize, sir, but it hasn't been happening all that fast. Question: could it be that political alliances kept us from noticing culture-wide that we had abandoned truths that had been known from time immemorial? It's worth bearing that question in mind. Gay marriage is the fruit of no-fault divorce, in my view, but that's another discussion.

I've got to push back here a little bit, where Dreher excoriates the "cluelessness" of Christians concerning these things. I don't think that's accurate. And again, where has Dreher been? Ellen DeGeneres "came out" via her character on her sitcom in 1997. Sure, it was a furor, but where's Ellen now? Oh, yeah, she's doing her best Oprah imitation, as the most influential talk show host in America. Pedro Zamora died of complications from AIDS in 1994. I remembered his name without even thinking about it. The cultural normalization of homosexuality and gay marriage has been going on for decades; the Court decision just ratified it.

I recall reading about the rapid collapse of authoritarian dictatorships. They seem to collapse quickly, because a critical mass of people realizes that if they all say what they know and act accordingly, the regime will have no power. It relied on people's fear of each other to retain power. To borrow a phrase, if we are living in a "dictatorship of relativism," it will collapse just as quickly. This is especially because the whole edifice is built on lies. I think that's a big reason for hope going forward.

I appreciate the thoughts in the foreword about the dashed hopes of many Christians at the election of Donald Trump. He says that a Christian who cannot criticize the president has ceded her power. Well, yes. Is Dreher's generation just realizing this? Still, in the aspiration for something better, we are of one mind.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher: JK's Introductory Comments

I'm suspicious of this book, and this author. I read a critical review of this book by a reviewer who was also reviewing Abp. Chaput's latest effort, and that of Anthony Esolen. I'm inclined to think that the reviewer was right, that all three were some combination of shrill, nostalgic, and fearful. You know me, though: I've left conservative politics behind. I guess you could say I've left politics behind, depending upon how we define the term. I might explain myself this way: If American politics is Yankees-Red Sox, I root for the Dodgers.

I have acquaintances who flat-out doubt Dreher's truthfulness and charity. I think also that Dreher left the Church for a stupid reason, because there is no good reason to leave the Church Christ founded. (He presently identifies as Orthodox.)

On the other hand, I have personal spiritual reasons for wanting to read this book. And as I'm sure you know, this has all the public intellectuals talking. That's reason enough for me.

The usual stipulations apply: understanding and appreciation is primary. Without further ado, The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

You Have Heard It Said

If you hang around Catholics enough, someone will use the phrase, "mystical body of Christ," of course referring to the Church. She is greater than her visible institutional forms, but she is not less. One of the reasons to say "mystical" is to talk about the invisible graces of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the invisible spiritual bond of all the faithful, "in Heaven, on Earth, and under the earth."

Truthfully, we get used to it, between talking to Mary and St. Joseph, or asking poor St. Anthony to find our keys. We of all people can veer toward the kitschy. I think the liturgy is the rescue for that, as the Mass is the order of true reality.

In one sense, I have heard the stories for many years about people who "didn't hear the gospel" in the Catholic Church, and I am appropriately sad. I wonder what we can do better, et cetera. On the other hand, I am beyond bewildered. It seems like Christ is shouting and singing for joy at me, as are the Father and the Holy Spirit. Literally yelling, much of the time. This is understandable; I won't win the gold star of obedience, unless and until God lets the Blessed Mother do the grading, as it were. At the same time, I ask, "Didn't hear the gospel? How? He just hit us with a 2-by-4."

What are these people talking about?, I have always wondered. I guess separated Christians have a reputation for being direct. Their message is simpler, I'll grant. It's also in many respects wrong, but that's another discussion. Anyway, there are only so many ways to re-tell the basic story of our redemption. To simply know it, or even to confess it, is not enough. We know this from Church teaching, and from that lingering desire, not to go beyond the words of Scripture, but to experience them personally in a new way.

I have to conclude that I'm still at the beginning stage of the spiritual life, because what I'm describing to you are rich consolations that are neither persistent, nor owed to me.

Your Position Is Not Reasonable Just Because You Don't Shout (The Wall Is Immoral)

Admittedly, I'm in a mode where I'm simply expecting you to defend whatever you've already decided is true. And since the erstwhile defenders of immigrants in the Catholic Church are, for example, Fr. Martin and abortion-lovers, it's fairly easy to justify supporting Trump and his wall. As a syllogism, it goes like this:

I'm a good person;
I voted for Trump;
Therefore, Trump is a good person, too. (At least better than the Left)

Any sort of plausibly compassionate reason (like keeping out drug-dealers and killers) seemingly justifies the separation of families, the flagrant disruption of the asylum process, (in violation of international law) and the shutdown, which makes every one of these problems worse.

Meanwhile, what do we actually owe in justice to the people coming to our borders? It would seem that Catholics of a certain political persuasion think we owe them nothing at all. We can hurt them, even kill them, because they don't belong here, or so it goes. Or someone will say, "Don't you care about your own people?" Yes. "You just think we shouldn't have borders!" No. I don't think people become non-people when they commit a misdemeanor. Heck, I don't even think murderers become non-people! Aren't we Christians? We say anyone can receive mercy. Unless you're an illegal immigrant, it seems.

Most of the asylum-seekers are from Central America. The US involvement in Honduras actually helped cause the instability there. That should factor into the US response, one would think.

I might remind you that 2 children have died in custody of US border agents. Of dehydration. At what point are we defending immoral abstractions and twisted analogies? I'd say this is that point.

And speaking also as a political scientist and observer, you're not going to outlast Chuck Schumer. There's no leverage. Trump created the shutdown, took the responsibility, and, if this were a poker hand, he's holding nothing. As per usual.

My bottom line, in terms of principle here: One cannot justly impose conditions of "respect" for the US that the harried immigrant can't possibly meet before he settles here. You can't say, "Don't come here."

I have no idea if President Obama was being genuine in 2014, when he gave a speech on immigration. I watched that, instead of Trump. I'd have to say, I'd have taken that deal. Tortured analogies are apparently preferred to solving problems. You don't need to ask me if I lock my door.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

A Thought Experiment

I was perusing the social media account of a philosopher friend, and there was a really long piece he posted about the development of liberation theology, and its taking hold in Latin America. It sort of freaked me out, for all the good reasons an orthodox Catholic should stand at a distance from liberation theology. Yet I was at least somewhat sympathetic, and I could not get that quote from Dom Cardinal Helder Camara from Brazil out of my mind: "As long as I asked people to help the poor, I was called a saint. But when I asked the question: why is there so much poverty? I was called a communist."

You may want to take a deep breath, and have a seat.

Couldn't the same thing be said about abortion? Consider this: "As long as I preached against people having abortions, I was called a saint. But when I asked the question: why are there so many abortions? I was called a betrayer of the unborn."

Kinda stirs the pot, doesn't it? Again, don't hear what I'm not saying; the Church is crystal clear on this. I joyfully and unreservedly assent. It's a fundamental matter of the dignity and sanctity of human life, for both personal conduct, and public policy. And the real quote from the Cardinal, and my made-up one, may dovetail in some interesting ways.

But it's all to say that I could and would work with anyone willing to make things better for women and their families, because it seems clearer by the day that these tragic decisions do not happen in a vacuum, and not with malice in every case.

Bigotry, American Style

The Babylon Bee is a Christian satire site. Sometimes, it's even funny. Not the other day, though. One can kind of tell the proprietor is a Protestant, though, because it gets Republican and political in ways that only Protestant (white) Republicans let themselves get away with. You'd think Mitt Romney would be safe, really. Is there anyone more white and Republican than him? (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Couple of wild cards here: Romney is a Mormon, and he's anti-Trump. Oopsie, Mitt. You can't do that. What will the Bee do? Somehow invalidate Romney's entire critique by implying he agrees with, and would defend, every bad thing Joseph Smith is alleged to have done. What? The headline was something like, "Follower of Joseph Smith Laments Trump's Lack Of Character". Sheesh.

Logically, it looks like this:

Mitt Romney is Mormon;
Joseph Smith--a really sketchy guy--founded Mormonism;
Therefore, Mitt Romney is a really sketchy guy.

Genetic fallacy, right? And non sequitur.

There's another crappy, illogical argument possibly lurking underneath:

Mitt Romney, by all appearances, is a good man;
Mitt Romney practices Mormonism;
Mormonism is damnable and false;
Virtue only counts if one is saved;
One who is damned cannot be saved at the same time;
One cannot be saved whilst professing something damnable and false;
[Hidden premise: Natural virtue does not exist]
Therefore, Mitt Romney is not saved;
Therefore; Romney's professed love of true virtue is an illusion.

--
Now, we could answer all this in myriad ways as Catholics, but suffice to say, this is a non sequitur to end them all. Grace is supposed to build on nature, not subsume and destroy nature. Whatever we might say about the likelihood of Mitt Romney participating in/having sanctifying grace in his soul, it is bonkers to believe that he has no ability to discern a virtuous action, and distinguish it from a vicious one. If infidelity or heresy is of a culpable nature, then of course, discernment could well be damaged. I'm still saying, "What?"

There is also the matter of the order of knowing, and the order of being...tell you what, who do I look like, Bryan Cross? We should know from experience that the question of the virtuous pagan loses all force, if in fact the pagan is not truly virtuous. We distinguish natural and supernatural orders, and also virtues. The virtues exist, even if those on the supernatural order are not possessed by an individual. Beware those systems that conflate supernatural and natural orders, and deny that the natural order functionally exists.

In purely relational terms, what did the Mormons do to you, Babylon Bee owner editor guy?

There's also a weird Trumpian divine command theory in play. Logically, it looks like this:

Trump cannot be wrong;
Mitt Romney says Trump is wrong about many things;
Therefore Romney is wrong.

Here's a game we could try. Next time you read an opinion piece anywhere, before you decide how you feel about it--because that's how we talk about our thinking these days--try to put the argument into a syllogism. See if it follows. Then, see if you could raise good objections to the premises. I have not studied logic much, but we might even be able to spot the worst reasoning mistakes, even without knowing what they're called. It's probably true that at least some of the people who give us information want us to form judgments before we have examined an argument with our intellects. [Putting the will before the intellect.--ed.] Seems that way to me.

Finally, don't hear what I'm not saying; I'm not saying all religions are equal, or that Mormonism is true, or that hell is empty. I'm saying the Bee was uncharitable, tactless, and illogical. And that a Christian should do better, even in satire.