Sunday, May 20, 2018

Vote For The Democrat? Under These Conditions

You know, I made a huge mistake in 2008, in my thought process for presidential voting. I was dead-right about most of the positive things regarding Barack Obama that I spoke or wrote about him. The bad things are deadly grave. And the truth is, I didn't give those things enough weight. I wasn't Catholic. Had I been, I'm not sure what I would have done. I know I would have been fairer to John McCain.

Anyway, we're at the point now where, even if the Democratic Party is more fervently committed to graver evils, it's not at all clear that casting a vote for a Democratic nominee is out of the question, precisely because the Republican Party platform is out of step with our ethics, also. To be clear, it is important to maintain that not all evils carry equal weight, either in this thought process, or in a straightforward look through the eyes of moral theology: acts according to their object, intention, and circumstances. However, if a candidate's ideology countenances enough non-intrinsic evils, the good that may be done by his or her opposition to abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, et cetera, may be dwarfed by the evil. So it is with Trump, in the policies he promotes, the way he promotes them, and the damage his lack of virtue does to the public square. I chose to abstain, because even as Secretary Clinton should have been indicted--the reasoning for not doing so is incoherent--and promoted grave evils arguably with more fervor than anyone prior--she was still the better choice, in my opinion.

A brief personal note, with some bluntness: "It's all about the policy!" I was told by many friends. If that's true, the choice isn't in your favor, my friends, even then. Someone should say it.

Lots of people have cast votes for the Democrat in 2016: I'll bet Mark Shea did. Simcha Fisher, perhaps. Rebecca Bratten Weiss. Charles Camosy. Jacob W. Torbeck, perhaps. E. Bruenig. Those examples suffice. I cannot say that all these people have not reckoned with the gravity of the immoral aspects of the Democratic Party platform. To the extent that I have accused any of them of doing so, or even of being unconcerned about those evils, I renounce it and apologize. I can only ask forgiveness. As Dr. Haidt observes, this political culture does not reward nuance and reasoned debate, or help to foster it. Yet as a culture-maker, I can do better. I will.

What about the judges? Indeed, that was the best argument in favor of selecting Trump. It doesn't work, for 2 reasons: 1. Electoral incentives suggest that the GOP has adopted the pro-life cause in the service of what David Mayhew called "position taking": vociferous speaking, married to as little action as victory allows. I no longer believe Roe v. Wade will fall in a short time. 2. Even if it did, it wouldn't be worth it, by itself.

Additional thoughts about judges at all levels: If I start including every issue that could come before a judge, it becomes clear that in some respects, I ought to prefer judges that Democrats would favor. The day that criminal justice reform inspires the Federalist Society to oppose the death penalty, say, or to endorse implicit bias training, would be a great day. It's not coming soon.


One thing more: This republic is so far down a dark path in some estimations that extensive political participation seems a fool's errand. A spiritualized cynicism seems in fashion, almost Anabaptist in nature. Others aim to "reclaim" our social teaching from "the Left." Instead, perhaps we need to be active citizens, as we've been taught, and then to do more thinking, and less feeling. My feelings were but the catalyst to the intuition that something was and is wrong. I have had a tribe, a culture from which to learn what is right and wrong. Now is the time to lead, and to continue learning.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Checking In With "The Notorious RBG"

So there I was, arrested by one of those "meme-videos"--they show you still photos or video punctuated with short text--with the purpose of making some political point. There's a guy saying he was the primary earner for some time, and they had some challenges, so they switched roles. This husband became the primary daytime caregiver for infant twin girls. [AWWWWW!--ed.] I know, right? So the rest of the text was pretty neutral, in fact, and this man is mainly telling us what he's learned about how hard his wife's work is. Fair enough, and amen.

At the end, it had this quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court: "Women will only have true equality when men share the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."

A few thoughts, Your Honor:

Define "true equality."

It is possible that, once defined, "true equality" would not in fact be desirable.

I don't think your conditions for "true equality" have ever been universally or even mostly lacking. Thus, one counter-claim might be that true equality has been achieved.

Bonus: Unfortunately, I have a little voice in my head that sounds like Dr. Bryan Cross, and "he" just said: "One problem with studies that have attempted to put a monetary value on the work of stay-at-home mothers is that the totalizing reality of classical liberalism strips all goods of everything except their monetary value. Therefore, those who want this work to be more highly valued risk unwittingly commoditizing an invaluable part of the common good, thus lessening its true value."

(Note for the culturally illiterate: "The Notorious B.I.G." refers to Christopher L. Wallace, 1972-1997, a California rapper of considerable fame, murdered in the year of his death. This nickname given to Justice Ginsburg expresses considerable appreciation and affection for her by progressives, what they regard as her "mic drop" willingness to write fearless opinions with which they agree.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

You Said, "Go Slow"

I've been sick since Sunday. Aside from the obvious reflection on my own mortality--which would not be an incorrect application--it occurs to me that oftentimes a great mercy of God to take away a certain willfulness is to make us not able to really will anything at all. Is that funny? I think so. It's also true, in this case. It's another spin on, "My power is made perfect in weakness," and I will take it.

It brings me joy to write that, and even more, to think about it. If I may say, those crazy saints asking to suffer sound more like the normal ones every day.

Sports is an ingenious vehicle to prevent humans from killing each other more routinely. It's also a picture of the Good News. How many great comebacks started with something that seemed innocuous or inconsequential? All of them, right? When I am weak, then I am strong. You could say it's counter-intuitive, but with the eyes of faith, it becomes intuitive. With the eyes of faith formed by love, it becomes welcome.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Be A Point Of Reconciliation

"Forget religion, and just be human." It's an understandable sentiment. Church people aren't the best, many times. And we find in outsiders often enviable qualities we do not find in ourselves, or in our co-religionists.

The trouble is when we get to defining "human." Without God who reveals, there is no reference point for our aspiration. Every time men conspire to define themselves apart from revealed truth, "human" can mean any number of things, many of which define cataclysm and disaster. The best case in the realm of error is a fuzzy sentimentality. When it gets right down to it, nobody wants this either.

"Religion" isn't very popular these days. I should have stopped rolling my eyes at, "It's not religion; it's a relationship" and made t-shirts. But what do people mean when they use "religion" pejoratively like this? They mean that things have become stale, that the plethora of rules has no intelligible meaning deep in their hearts. That this entire thing is about as enthralling as a trip to the DMV. No wonder people leave; I'd leave, too.

There are no precepts without the reality of the Incarnation. If Jesus came as a man to die on the cross and be raised from the dead, then there are reasons to commemorate that as the redeemed community, the family of God. You cannot rule-follow your way to Heaven. The redeemed life is intelligible by a personal encounter with the risen Christ. Without this, it's crazy. In fact, we should acknowledge the fact that it's crazy anyway. There is a sense in which we need rules, but they don't need us. That is, any person is probably aware of the failure to meet some standard, but knowing that standard, even meeting it fleetingly, won't fill us. Probably people try religion at times trying to fill that gnawing, I could be better in their hearts. It doesn't work; it can't.

There's an edifice to Christianity, there's a civilization, but there was no power in that either, but for the fact that millions of people and perhaps billions, had a personal encounter with Christ, and decided to share experiences. Consider this: That the peaks of human civilization occurred because Jesus spoke into the darkness of this world. It's not something we can claim as our own to preserve, because without Him, it falls apart.

I digress.

I have seen a movie called "Field of Dreams" many times. Besides the charm of this baseball fairy story--and that's exactly what it is--I love a part of one scene. Our protagonist Ray is attempting to discern whether to follow the presumptive leadings of Heaven's messengers, risking the financial health of his family in the effort, while his wife Annie tells him all the reasons it's a terrible idea. They're behind on the mortgage, the baseball field Ray built ate up their savings, she says, and, "We could lose this farm." Simple words, and I don't know if Amy Madigan messed up acting this line, or if she nailed it, but it has a certain unreality to it, almost inviting Ray and us to believe that it's going to work out, that ignoring the call is worse than losing the farm and their home. (I say "Heaven's messengers" because both the book and the movie are a kind of Christian story, but the good news is in fact baseball, if you will pardon the scandal.)

Suffering and trial are a bit like possibly losing the farm. They have a reality that pulls you, they offer a legitimate counter-invitation, but next to God's invitation, it sounds like a poorly-delivered line one barely stops to consider. When we start hearing God clearly, all the trial and pain of the world in a sense has an unreality, an ephemeral existence that pales in contrast. There are times not to say this, of course, but anyone on the other side of a trial knows what I'm saying.

We can be a point of reconciliation when the defining reality of our existence is that Christ loves us. We can't simply know this; we have to taste it in the air. What do you taste in the air when there is no one else around?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Pope Thoughts, Continued

You know, I lost my father when I was young. Simultaneously, my experience of human fatherhood was not at all good. I will spare you the details. Let's just say that being in the Church--an intact family--is one of the greatest joys of my life. I experience that joy every time I see a priest. Perhaps you have had the luxury of taking the Church for granted. Perhaps you have had the blessing of an intact family of origin. In both cases, I have not.

I did not know I could love a person as much as I love Benedict XVI, both as pope, and now as Pope Emeritus. I was doing a Holy Hour at the moment he left the Chair of Peter. It was hard. The Blessed Trinity reminded me that the heavenly throne will not be abdicated. The time between popes is terrible; I hate it. In any case, as we used to say, "God is good, all the time."

And now, with Pope Francis, it's in his eyes, his face. That joy. It can only be the joy of the Holy Spirit. If I never read a word of him, it'd be alright if I could see that smile. Whenever I see him, it's there. There have been hard days, I'm sure. You'd never know it, though. If you think of him, and there are not warm feelings, something is wrong. Pray until you find them. This stands apart from anything that starts out, "I wish he had said..." or, "I wish he hadn't said..." We all have them; they're close to irrelevant here. Some people pray for the pope, but they are hate-praying. They're praying mad, or worried, or something else. God and the saints have power we just don't. You do realize that prayer is communion with Almighty God? Sovereign, all-powerful immovable God. Suffering may not cease, the job may not come, et cetera, but if I pray for an increase in charity, or fortitude, or any spiritual good thing, I will get it. If we had any idea the plutonium we are playing with, we'd pray bigger than we do. All of us. But, I tell you, I do begin to understand.

What do I think of Pope Francis? People ask me that sometimes. I have no idea how to answer. It's like asking me if I like my Dad. I realize for some of us that is a very imperfect analogy, and in that, I mourn. Still, the way some people ask it, I can tell Pope Francis isn't family for them like he is to me. I mourn for that, too.

I suppose one day, we could have a truly wicked pope, who brings scandal and shame to us continually, and maybe after the fact. Then it'd be harder to love. But what a luxury to be here now! What mercy has come to us! If we find love for our spiritual father difficult, the problem is us.

I have nothing to add. Read and take what is good. The joy of the Lord be with you.

The Pope Has Nothing To Prove

I will not tell you that every utterance is the greatest wisdom ever produced. I will not tell you that no criticism of the pope is ever acceptable. I will say that most people shouldn't and can't. If that bothers you, good. Do you realize that John Paul II is a saint? I'm not God, obviously, but there is a strong possibility that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI probably is as well. And besides that, arguably the greatest theologian you'll ever live to see. Do you want the job following those guys? It seems like some people do, and it's as silly as it sounds.

What a great gift the Catechism of the Catholic Church is to us! Don't let anyone ever tell you that nothing good came from the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, because that Catechism is its fruit. Those two magnificent popes made it their life's work implementing the Council, and taking us out into the world with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. You could spend the rest of your intellectual life reading those two guys, and it would not be a waste. Far from it! Read older things too, but the previous two popes as popes and as private theologians are top-notch.

Did you also know that we have older catechisms that are just as good today as the day they were written? The Baltimore Catechism and the Catechism of the Council of Trent can educate and edify you as well. In short, if you need to know the faith once delivered, it's all there. Talk with your priest or a trusted spiritual director if you have questions, or even doubts.

My job as a member of the faithful in the Body of Christ is to listen and obey. Let me say that again: our job is to listen and obey. That sounds scary and undemocratic. Yeah, well, this ain't the United States Senate; it's the Church. Jesus is already King, and he left His Vicar here as well. The positions are filled. I'm so glad we didn't have Facebook and Twitter and cable during the "Babylonian Captivity" (one real Pope, two antipopes at the same time) or the Borgia popes! You think the printing press made the Reformation schism and heresies worse? Hoo boy! I'm thankful for St. Catherine of Siena, who told the successor of Peter to suck it up and get back to Rome, where he belonged. Now the only problem is, everyone thinks they are her.

If I'm being direct about it, I wouldn't watch EWTN (the global Catholic network) if I could, with the exception of the Holy Mass broadcast and other prayers. I don't care what Raymond Arroyo thinks about the state of the Church, or Pope Francis, or American politics. God love him. But it's really not my job to save the Church from itself, or to rebuke Pope Francis. My job is to listen and obey. That includes praying as well.

As long as we're being direct still, so-called "dubia" are used in the Church when there is an unsolvable confusion about a theological matter of great importance. As far as I know, it's never been used as a shot across the bow of the pope, so to speak, until now. If those four cardinals knew the teaching on marriage, they're not confused, and they didn't need to ask. How weak is our faith, if we need the Holy Father to feed us culture war scraps, just so we know the sky isn't falling? Just asking.

If I can't square something Pope Francis says with what I already know, I have the option to stick with what I do know, until it is made clear. I can stay silent and pray. I can humbly ask my pastor. I might even recognize the difference between a private opinion, and something else. The psalmist, whilst lamenting the apparent triumph of the wicked in the 73rd psalm, says in verse 15, "If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have been untrue to the generation of thy children." If you ask me why I don't have anything to say in criticism of the pope, I'm going to quote this verse. If this Catholic Church is the household of faith, we'd better get used to obeying the human father Jesus gave us. You know, my Dad was far from perfect. But what kind of son would I be, if I ran him down in public, in front of the watching world? In the name of truth-telling, let's say. My father was a good man; I'd be a horrible son, even if everything I said were true. We're living in the very Kingdom of God as the Body of Christ. Grace builds upon nature, and yet some Catholics treat the Vicar of Christ like a stranger. That's no way to live.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Random Thoughts About "The View" And The People On It (And Other Stuff)

Let me start by saying that I generally like celebrities. You'll notice this if you've read this blog for any length of time. I love pop music, TV, movies, sports. In a certain way, I'm the stereotype guy, and I like that about myself. You probably don't know as much about William Jennings Bryan, or military aircraft, or any number of other things, as I do. I like that also. Anyway, I've seen "The View" from time to time. It seems like it's the usual "midday mommy" programming, and that's fine, as far as it goes.

You may have noticed that they like to talk politics on there. It's been a while since I watched, but you'll notice this. For the longest time, they only had what you might call stridently liberal views represented. This is TV, after all, and artists in the general sense...well, you know. If I'm honest, Whoopi Goldberg has never bothered me. I like Whoopi. She was on Star Trek: The Next Generation--my favorite show maybe ever--as "Guinan," a wise listener with unique abilities. And she was the star of Holywood Squares, a trivia game show for several years. Her stand-up comedy is often funny, even if a little crass at times.

And Barbara Walters started the show. There are like 3 people on Earth who don't like Barbara Walters, and they probably work for some propagandist somewhere. Anyway, I am not affronted by the existence of liberals as such, so long as they aren't affronted by me. That could be a big ask these days, but we can hope. Whoopi, or Joy Behar, or other people, surely said dumb things, even offensive things. That's almost inevitable. You know, we non-liberals (I have no idea what a "conservative" even is anymore) used to accept that our philosophies were counter-intuitive, even boring, after a fashion. It was our job to check those foolish progressive impulses, to ruin those utopian dreams. We were the people of The Facts. That isn't true these days. If you think liberals are the emotional ones, living a fact-free existence, I should let you read my social media news feed. And if that sentence offends you, good. That's my point. Somewhere along the line, people decided that they were so beleaguered, that they had to leave the mainstream behind. "Mainstream media" was not a slur when I was young. A different view, even a contrarian one, is one thing; creating a cocoon is quite another. And that's what talk radio started to do. And the internet? Forget it. Now, any buffoon with a computer thinks he's got "the truth" you've never heard.

It scares me way more than Joy Behar ever could.

And why? Because if you can't discern what is true from what is false, no great expanding flow of information will help you. And the tribalism really bothers me. It's like anyone who isn't "us" must be destroyed. How many times will you read "Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Liberal Snowflake" before you say, "Wait, I thought we were trying to persuade them"?

I'm actually glad that "liberals" control the media, the arts, and academia. If we can't make an argument (remember those?) in that crucible, maybe there isn't one to be made. What if--for all the gaping holes in the philosophy of "The Left"--the contrarians never had good arguments?  Just stop and think on that. It may be overstated, but arguments have not been required or even offered for some time now. That scares me, too.

You can't really have a discussion in the true sense without granting something your interlocutor says has moral value or truth value on the face of it. You cannot despise someone, and truly win an argument.

Even if "The View" is default liberalism, we need it. We need them. They are us, and we are them. I think we forgot somewhere that we're in this together. We're in this together. I said it twice, because you might have missed it, between scanning Drudge and the Daily Wire. I don't know if I have changed, but I have a strong desire to know things I had not known, to listen to voices of people I had tried to silence.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

King Of Endless Mercy

During Lent, the acclamation is, "Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory!" I confess that it takes me a couple of weeks to get it right in my head. I want to say "mercy" every time. Then again, it's the same thing, if you think about it.

The fundamental awareness or consciousness of a disciple of Christ is that of being drawn into Him, and into the Father's love. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him" and, "After I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." "In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins." "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation..." "There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus." We could go on.

He is Savior and Redeemer in every moment, not only in the high moments. He never stops being willing to die for our sins. This is a great mystery. The truth is that we are Peter, in every denial we are reminded. But how much does Jesus love Peter? We stop the thought process many times. Some of us are so proud, we enjoy dwelling on our failure. We create stern theologies of failure. On the one hand, holy mother Church always tells us that our sins are never inevitable or required. On the other, a good many people could use some thinking of themselves a little less, myself included.

Jesus loves you, full stop. Not theoretically or generally, like a beauty queen that wishes for world peace. You. You as you actually are, not how you want to be. If someone says this too often, people in the family get jumpy, like we're going to give the Eucharist to axe-murderers and pagans. But seriously, though, have you stopped to think about this? Recently? "God shows his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." If you take a detour into "still sinner," Jesus is still your Redeemer. I can't get over it. I don't want to.

The thing that makes me chuckle nearly every day is this crazy idea that we've got to clean ourselves up somehow. This is how people think. Good people go to church. Good people do churchy things. I need a game show buzzer. News flash: Scumbags and thieves and losers and drunkards and perverts go to church, if they've heard the good news right. Because this is our last shot, our only shot at something better.

I just need to let Him look at me with that tenderness, as he must have looked at Peter, or the rich young ruler. That look--you almost get used to it--is powerful. You'll sell your whole life just to know someone loves you and knows you that way.

His glory is his mercy, and his mercy is his glory. Let it sound silly in your ears. Let it put laughter in your mouth, for then upon reflection, it will put laughter in your soul.