Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Note About Respect For Other Religions

I have yet to read a statement to the world’s Hindus from the Vatican, but upon seeing that it existed, and that it distinguishes between “tolerance”—regarded as necessary but insufficient—and “respect” that it commends, a few thoughts:

Every person, to the measure of their ability, has the natural desire and capacity to see God. That is, we’re made for fellowship with God. The natural religions of the world represent man’s search for God, in accord with that natural desire. The Catholic Church affirms and teaches that a great many things can be known about God through reason alone. Therefore, we are respecting precisely those things that are true about God, or about ourselves, that can be known by reason alone, in other religions. That’s potentially a lot of stuff, especially regarding the existence of God, and most of His attributes.

Christianity is a revealed religion. We call it “supernatural revelation,” when God reveals Himself and His attributes to man, especially beyond man’s capacity to know Him by reason. God is in fact so loving that things we could know have been repeated! The supreme act of God’s love is of course the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His victorious resurrection. But more basically, and prior, is the fact that God became a man. This is God searching for man! When you read the Bible, you are reading the story of God seeking man, to restore us to the friendship we had lost. He doesn’t need us, but we need Him.

One reason that the Catholic Church dialogues with non-Christians is because we believe that man’s search for God is a noble one. It is better still to realize, through heeding miracles, prophecy, and the Church, that God is seeking me!

If someone is coming from a Protestant tradition, where by definition, there is a skepticism regarding the utility of natural reason, this dialogue seems like capitulation. But it need not be. We needn’t fear, because the fullness of truth is Christ. We reach out in love, precisely because we want people to know Jesus Our Lord and Savior. Truth, literally personified.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Few Thoughts On “Me Too”

I cried some today. In fairness, I cry about a lot of things. And it wasn’t simply sexual assault today. But still, many of your stories break my heart, truly. I have nothing to add that seems helpful.

And it’s not enough to say that I am or have been part of the problem, though that’s true. I want to say more. I want to say that even if some on “the Left” want to take this movement places I can’t go, I still want to hear you. I don’t think “consent” is enough, and I’m not “sex-positive,” but I want to be here with you. I’ve said my peace to the counterculture; I don’t need to be defensive right now.

I don’t see a point in defending men, or defending women. If a large majority of us agree that all these actions are not acceptable, why not start there? I could condemn actors for their galling hypocrisy until I’m blue in the face, but it shuts the door to empathy. We all need more empathy.

There is an idea that empathy is for fools, for the weak. Maybe so. Maybe someone will take my outstretched hand, and (metaphorically) cut it off, for the sport of it. Maybe I’ll be sent to a re-education camp with all the deplorables. Empathy still seems worth a try.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Faith Comes From What Is Heard: An Introduction To Fundamental Theology, Feingold (I)

I intend for this initial post to cover some personal reflections, and the introduction. I mean for there to be at least 19 posts in the series, for the introduction and the book’s eighteen chapters. However, you may have noticed that I think of more things upon reflection, so addenda are not uncommon. I will add Roman numerals to each main body text post, but mark everything with the tag “Feingold.” You can decide therefore how much additional time you want to spend on my haphazard ramblings.

Dr. (Larry) and Mrs. (Marsha) Feingold are personal friends. I owe to them so much, if I have any maturity in the faith, any supernatural wisdom. I stayed at their house each weekend, when I myself was a student in Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. Larry was also one of my RCIA teachers. I have heard dozens of supplemental catechetical lectures by him for the Association of Hebrew Catholics, based here in St. Louis. Those efforts have blessed innumerable people in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and the parish of the Cathedral Basilica. I also count his son Francis, and Francis’s wife Sophia among my friends. In addition, there was a large group of seminarians, clergy, and laypeople hosted by Larry and Marsha that read the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas weekly for the balance of four years, from at least 2009 to 2012, and I was among them. All that is to say, in this incarnation or in the subsequent ones which may appear elsewhere, this will not be an objective or critical review, and I could not even feign otherwise. Nor do I find a desire to try. I hope you will bear with this failing. Larry is the best theologian I personally know, and they both are among the best people I know. This exploration is that of a student learning from his teacher, and as grace assists me, it will always be so.

The book is divided into eighteen chapters, and six parts. Feingold notes that a full half of the book is devoted to the interpretation of Scripture. This is proper because Scripture is the soul of theology, Feingold says. Particular attention will be given later to the historicity of the four Gospels, because their heart is the Person and work of Our Lord.

Feingold tells us that the subject of this book is Fundamental Theology, or “theology’s reflection on itself as a discipline, its method, and its foundation in God’s Revelation transmitted to us through Scripture and Tradition.” The six parts are: (1) Revelation and faith as man’s response to God’s Word; (2) the nature of Theology and theological method; (3) the transmission of Revelation through Tradition and the Magisterium; (4) the inspiration and truth of Scripture and principles of biblical interpretation; (5) the historical character of the Gospels; and (6) biblical typology.

Because of the centrality of Scripture to the task at hand, Dr. Feingold tells us that the most important magisterial text is the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, from the Second Vatican Council. As a result, I read Dei Verbum before beginning this post. It would be good to do likewise, if possible.

Larry says, “The work is inspired by the conviction that theology ought to inform both the mind and heart, bringing them together to foster growth in faith, hope, and charity.” Doubtless his many students agree that this conviction and the life it has engendered is not theoretical and abstract for Dr. Feingold. May I imitate this example.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Logical Argument

Here is an argument:

Murder is the intentional killing of an innocent human person;
Procured abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human person in the womb.
Murder is illegal;
Therefore, procured or elective abortion should be illegal.

I don't see any religiosity there.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Pragmatism, Again

If I were going to push back against the current gun control advocacy, this might be as good an argument as I can make.


It presumes that a law is only good or wise if it prevents a particular crime or tragedy. We could ask many questions, such as, "What sort of society do we want and need?" How might people be formed in virtue by a society where the possession of lethal weapons is an oddity, rather than commomplace?

We could also challenge the classical liberal contention that the state's putative authority may be revoked at any time, by force. The insurrectionist viewpoint that formed the basis for our Second Amendment is flatly contrary to Christian teaching on the source and end of political authority.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thanks, Colin

I knew there was humility and sensitivity in Kaepernick's initial actions, but I couldn't remember the details. Here they are, collected by a man named Roy Welsh:

"This is from my friend Roy Welsh's page. Apparently, the #takingaknee is a sign of respect

Courtesy of Dutch Harold Coleman

If you dont know why he was kneeling then now you will and you will know its not out of disrespect of anyone. #FORTHEOPENMINDED

Do you know how Kaepernick came to the decision to #takenaknee?
Aug 14, 2016- Colin Kaepernick sits for the national anthem. No one notices.
Aug 20th, 2016- Colin again sits, and again, no one noticed.
Aug 26th, 2016- Colin sits and this time he is met with a level of vitriol unseen against an athlete.
Even the future President of the United States took shots at him while on the campaign trail. Colin went on to explain his protest had NOTHING to with the military, but he felt it hard to stand for a flag that didn't treat people of color fairly.
Then on on Aug 30th, 2016 Nate Boyer, a former Army Green Beret turned NFL long snapper, penned an open letter to Colin in the Army Times.
In it he expressed how Colin's sitting affected him.
Then a strange thing happened. Colin was able to do what most Americans to date have not...
He listened.
In his letter Mr. Boyer writes:
"I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right. What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.
Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it."
Mr. Boyer goes on to write "There are already plenty people fighting fire with fire, and it’s just not helping anyone or anything. So I’m just going to keep listening, with an open mind. I look forward to the day you're inspired to once again stand during our national anthem. I'll be standing right there next to you."
Empathy and understanding was shown by Mr. Boyer.........and Mr. Kaepernick reciprocated.
Colin invited Nate to San Diego where the two had a 90 minute discussion and Nate proposed Colin kneel instead of sit.
But why kneel? In a military funeral, after the flag is taken off the casket of the fallen military member, it is smartly folded 13 times and then presented to the parents, spouse or child of the fallen member by a fellow service member while KNEELING.
The two decided that kneeling for the flag would symbolize his reverence for those that paid the ultimate sacrifice while still allowing Colin to peacefully protest the injustices he saw.
Empathy, not zealotry under the guise of patriotism, is the only way meaningful discussion can be had."

Light, instead of heat. Please feel free to apologize any time.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What I'm Missing About Being Black In America

Not long ago, I was a conservative firebrand. I argued against every left-tinted idea you could think of, no matter how reasonable it might be. The introduction to Thomas Sowell's "The Vision Of The Anointed" perfectly described how I felt: progressives think they're better than anyone else, and they'll demonize anyone and anything that stands in their way. They were the Anointed, and everyone else was not. There's plenty of that still around, and it can be true of many progressives. Harmony and progress are not on the agenda.

But in these latter days, I have begun to intentionally reflect on what it must be like to be black in America even now. In the first place, to a white Republican, the legacy of slavery sounds like a guilt trip from another entitled leftist, who wants power over me, my family, and my friends. Truthfully, my friends, this is our initial thought. And to be frank with you, even in this moment, I don't have a lot of warm feelings toward Democrats and progressives. I was silenced, shamed, called names, and forcibly indoctrinated in college. Whatever romantic notions you have about the university, they need to die. It's worse than you could imagine. Not in every place, and not in every moment, but this ideological echo-chamber does exist. I would add, to make a long story short, that I grew up as an abused child in a broken family, and by 22 or so, I wasn't going to take anything from anyone. Left, right, center, didn't matter. I was spoiling for a fight, and I started plenty of them concerning politics.

You know, you might run over some people, and make some bad arguments, in a rush to be heard, in a rush to be right. Politics is pretty polarized, if you hadn't noticed. And how many African-Americans do we know, truthfully? And if we're completely honest, we got pretty sick of being lectured by people whose moral philosophy was defective. Even to hear about police brutality or systemic racism from a black perspective seems like capitulation, surrender to the forces of evil. No, progressive neighbors, it's not an exaggeration of how Republicans feel about you. And more to the point, we'd start wondering why individuals aren't responsible for their own destiny. Self-reliance. Initiative. Discipline. Overcoming obstacles. You get the idea.

We might have been sensitive to the obstacles of African-Americans when we were children, but as we saw it, we've been made to feel bad about these and other things our whole lives. The answer for us was the blackjack of Abe Lincoln, and MLK. Slavery was bad, but...

Do we know how bad? Truthfully.

Do we recall that the state of South Carolina put up the Confederate flag in 1962, right in the middle of the civil rights era? Was their message ambiguous at that time? And if I were black, just wanting a shot at a life, what message would I hear? It's perfectly commendable that the flag was removed, but 9 people were murdered in a church before it was. You might pause to consider that, before you go on about "losing our history." Maybe ours. But it may not be the history we want to keep and celebrate.

I know a man named Luke Bobo. He's a professor of religion, let's call him. I met him in seminary. A black man. From our brief interactions over the years, I know him to be warm, open, and forthright. If you were going to take a trip into some difficult things, you'd want to do it with him. And Professor Bobo pretty much says similar things to that which others might say. Others we'd be much less inclined to listen to. I'd better listen. If I can't hear it from a fellow-worker in the vineyard of Jesus Christ, maybe I'm not willing to hear the truth at all.

I read how he described voting--or really anything--as an African-American. He said he thinks about all African-Americans whenever he votes, and many other things. We don't think that way. You and I have that luxury, that privilege.

You know, I'm not going to confuse Colin Kaepernick for Rosa Parks. He and many others might actually be rich, entitled, and whatever else, to some extent. But Philando Castle wasn't. Sandra Bland wasn't. There are many more. Given everything, neighbors, you can respectfully take a knee. The virtue of patriotism will not fade out of existence. Against the backdrop of slavery, the civil war, Jim Crow, and everything else, I owe you at least respectful silence. And frankly, I don't want to affirm any message that says, "Shut up, stop whining, you're lucky to be here!" It might even be true, that these rich football players and others are fortunate. But for whom do they also speak?

My compassion and empathy speaks louder to me than my fear of "the Left." I'm sure that's a risk I take. But it's a risk I take for solidarity.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Is God Trying To Reach Lady Gaga?

Yes, man! God is real, you know. "Jesus Loves You" isn't just a bumper sticker. I think a lot of people think God only loves people when they aren't sinners anymore. It's true that God loves a righteous person more, and it is also true that we may grow in both justification and sanctification. It is also true that God is the great unchanging force of love. "What is received is received according to the mode of the receiver." As we grow in obedience to God, we are better able to understand and reflect His love.

I have always sensed that her heart wasn't truly in this Sexual Revolution stuff. Oh, she's tried it, like many of us. But she carries the scars. I also think many people are "affirming," not because they don't know the truth about who we are, but because they think it's the only way to be people-affirming.

If you hang around people in bars, you figure out they have a lot of regrets, but above all, they don't want to be alone. They've got an image of judgy church people, and they don't want to be like them.

I can remember when the video for "Alejandro" came out. I have only seen it once or twice. (Music videos can be used for good or ill, and it's been mostly ill, to be honest.) The dude from the Catholic League was scandalized, and probably rightly so. But he said she was a talentless hack or some such, and all I heard was, "Get off my lawn!" I know Jesus doesn't think she is a talentless hack.

Pray for our sister Stephanie. She's close to the Answer, I feel. He doesn't call her Lady Gaga.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Faith, Again

Faith sees things that can't be ordinarily seen, because it pertains to things beyond rational demonstration. Not contrary to things known by reason, but beyond; that is, above. I'm going to leave the philosophy to the experts, at this point.

But we should not be afraid of a theology of personal encounter. I don't have doubts, as people tend to think of them, because Jesus has spoken to me personally. The same Jesus who gives the divine gift of holiness to His Church. It had only remained for me to re-orient myself to the means by which supernatural revelation is known, viz. the Catholic Church. There was a time when I knew things supernatural without understanding how I knew them. And before reconciling to the Church, what I knew, I knew imperfectly.

Sooner or later, it has to come down to the fact that Jesus has come, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. There is much more "of faith" than this, but if you start here, it's very possible to end in the right place. It's a lot easier to frankly question Luther's doctrine of justification, knowing Jesus will not leave me or forsake me, to take one example. I can abandon any error, any mistake in reasoning, if Jesus commands me to do it.

"And I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it."

If we fall in love, as it were, with a theological method of knowing Jesus--like Sola Scriptura--we could theoretically and actually abandon truths about God, in a false belief of being "biblical." The relentless and passionate biblicist who abandons faith in the Holy Trinity, because it's not found in the Scriptures (according to him) is a fine example. And as the Reformation rebellion goes longer, more and more things become "negotiable" that were not so a short time ago.

In the realm of sexual ethics, most of what we identify as traditional belongs to natural law. But it is telling that scads of "conservative" Protestants are using the Bible to uphold (perhaps unwittingly) a Catholic sexual ethic. As Sola Scriptura does its nasty work, it'll be harder and harder to hold the line. All the appeals to "history" will be dismissed as ad hoc, and rightly so. Because the theological meaning of history is the visible communion of the Catholic Church. An individualizing principle bites back hard, when faith and morality is falling apart.

Friday, September 08, 2017

On Pastoral Theology (Again)

Pastoral theology isn't just for pastors. Pastoral theology is the art and science of leading people to know, understand, and love God. It involves essentially "translating" the truths of the faith into language and experience that people understand. Sometimes, though, it involves sinners being sinners. We all know that correction and admonition can be part of that, but how do you actually speak the truth in love, in concrete situations?

If it is true that God has designed our sexuality in a particular way, such that any number of behaviors are contrary to His purpose by their very nature, I have to speak that truth at some point. Maybe not in 30 seconds. Maybe not upon meeting their loved ones for the first time. Maybe not. But if I never say it, if I don't hold out God's design and purpose as a goal, then I do not love them as God does, and for His sake.

But someone linked a story, obviously to provoke a reaction, of a "gay" couple bringing forward the gifts of bread and wine that would be used for the Eucharistic sacrifice. It will become the body and blood, soul and divinty, of Our Lord. Am I against that?

No. I want all wicked sinners to know and believe that they belong at Mass. You might not actually be worthy to receive Holy Communion. I've been there myself. But bringing the gifts is a great act of service to God and others. It's something praiseworthy that anyone should do, if they can.

I suppose another problem is that in most places, families bring the gifts. Well, true enough that we don't want to communicate that various arrangements are families when they aren't. But perhaps we should discourage the bringing of the gifts as principally a family activity. Just thinking out loud. I definitely want people to know that they are welcome, even if they are sinners. We all are, at one time or other.

But about Fr. James Martin, SJ: I find most things he says unclear, at best. At worst, from what I've seen, he distorts the teaching of the Church on human sexuality. I would never speak of "our LGBT brothers and sisters" and similar things, because I leave ordinary people with the impression that homosexuality is an acceptable part of a normal Christian life. Or that the Church will teach otherwise. She won't, because she can't. Father, you should know better, and I suspect you do.

If I encountered someone who was really emotionally harmed by Westboro Baptist Church or someone, I might be extra-gentle in presenting the topic. But it's not a time to be seeker-sensitive. Overall, I have not been in a place where Christian leaders were insensitive to good people who were struggling with sin. In fact, I see a much greater danger of Christians failing to speak the truth, or hold on to truths they know, because they are unpopular. Divorce, fornication, adultery, you name it. Someone somewhere is ready to excuse it, because it will cost them something to tell the truth.

It's absolutely true that God is Love. But actually, especially with God, it's OK to say, "Define your terms." It's the best thing I learned in school. You think at first you're being pedantic, but then you realize, "If we don't say what we mean, we won't know what we're doing."

If your child does drugs, it might feel good to say or do lots of things, but love wants, and wills, and goes toward what's best for another person. If you don't do that, it isn't love.

I don't find the Catechism hurtful or insensitive at all. Convicting, at times, perhaps. But I always return to the truth that God loves me, and He won't ever deceive me. "The Church teaches..." and "Jesus says..." are functionally equivalent. The Church's essential character is holiness, the perfect otherness that defines God's purity and perfection, not by nature, but by a divine gift.

So, you won't hear me whine about "the institutional Church," either. I digress.

Monday, July 24, 2017

I Am Not A Maniac

The truth is, before the accident, I was carefree. Getting hit by a car while "walking" was a running joke. It still is, it's just way darker now! Anyway, I get scared now. They tell me it will pass, and maybe it will, but frankly, I've had close calls since. I don't mean to scare you. People turn, and they don't look. Why would you not look? We have well-marked crosswalks here. I do check for turn signals on cars, but if you don't signal, you're going to kill someone. No, you can't sneak that quick turn in. Just don't.

And let's get something out in the open: when you see a person in a wheelchair on the street, you probably think, "How great to see a person with those challenges out and about!" I'm just walking. I have things to do; I don't have time to engage in pity parties, or your inspirational reverie. Point is, we're out here, there are a lot of us, and you need to look.

I live in a building with 80 other people, and maybe 60 of us are disabled. This is one building on one street, in a medium city. Pay attention. Your life can't be that busy. Killing someone in your car will slow it down.

Strangely enough, had I been a walking pedestrian, death might have been even more likely.

So, I'm not walking to Mass without an "AB" along (let the reader understand). I'd love to tell you that will be a temporary thing, but it's not the way I feel right now.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Playing The Hits

I went to Confession today, confessing things I've done before. The advice was the same, too. But God, as supreme Love, keeps no record of wrongs, either. I must give thanks for His priest, who embodies this spirit also. It was much like I had never gone there before.

Do we know the bounty of His love, or are we expecting to be endlessly whacked with a celestial clipboard, at best?

This is not to say we don't have doctrines and dogmas and so on. Too many think "love" cares nothing for these. But I invite you to consider this: if God indeed wills our salvation, as He says many times, then we ought never think God is against us. On the other hand, lest we think we have the power within us, we remember that every single movement toward God we have undertaken or will undertake is enabled by His grace. This is a great and holy mystery.

The encouragement we must draw is this: we acknowledge our sins without being sucked down by them. If we give up on ourselves, we paradoxically claim that our sins are greater than His grace! May it never be!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Don't Poke The Bear

I'm a bit testy today on social media. [Aren't you always testy?--ed.] Probably. I don't have hate-watch groups and "I got banned by Jason Kettinger!" clubs yet, though.

I just don't like traditionalists. I don't like them. I don't want to hear about the Latin Mass. I don't care. I've tried to care. I'm not a hippie; I just attend the Novus Ordo all the time, and I. Don't. Care.

I want the Holy Mass to be reverent, and according to the rubrics. But everything after that statement is the first step to dissent. I want no part of it. I understand that the pope is not routinely infallible; I also understand that many people feel the need to remind him of that. I'm sure his spiritual director has tons of work to do. Good. But you are not that guy. I digress.

I'm not always nice, or even charitable about it, if someone is talking about what I consider irrelevancies. I'd say I was sorry, but I am not. This is a rant. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

A Good Theologian

A good theologian repeats things others have said. I am definitely wary of anything that starts off, "You won't find this on Catholic Answers or EWTN..." You think you're too good for them? There's your problem. I'd love to have the impact they've had.

Cleverness is sometimes the enemy of the truth. You're not too good for the Catechism, either. Idiosyncratic theologians are generally bad theologians.

Don't reinvent the wheel, please.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Couple Different Things

There could certainly be some value in simply stating, "Abortion is murder," but to my mind, St. John Paul II had no reason to condemn consequentialism, if the most difficult cases brought forth no sympathy. In other words, real people we would identify as non-monsters are tempted to do evil that good may result every day. Do you actually help anyone by identifying the Democrats as the party of baby-murderers? Does that serve to create space to discuss anything, though it may be factually correct? In fact, I believe you call that "virtue signaling," don't you?

In other news, I will go to my grave believing that Bernie Sanders is not really a socialist, because words mean things, and Bernie of today dropped in 1985 is a standard-issue Democrat. Reagan might call you that for effect, but he'd crack a smile at a 52 percent tax rate being described as "socialist." "Madam," he'd say, "You haven't seen high tax rates."

But then, nobody has a sense of proportion or balance these days. And yeah, you might spare a thought to recognize that saying some redistributive plan is counterproductive, unnecessary, or even unfair will never carry the same weight morally as, "Don't kill the innocent." Which is to say, if Bernie Sanders didn't advocate abortion, euthanasia, and the re-definition of marriage, I'd consider voting for him. Are you kidding? Any sane person dreams of the day when our political spectrum and space on all sides is freed from inhuman errors. Or are you so partisan that any member of your tribe, no matter how odious, is preferable to the other?

And that doesn't even consider the fact that Republican economic plans don't adequately encapsulate the principles of our Catholic social doctrine. Most people simply check the boxes next to the obvious indignities, and figure Pope Leo was a good libertarian.

I'm not the most patient person I know, but I long for days ahead, when smart people argue specific things, according to principles. Right now, we even discuss verbally with memes.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Street Catholicism

I have friends who used to use this phrase to describe the world of numerous private revelations and popular devotions, in contrast to the "comfortable" Catholicism of the Bishop's Church and the Catechism. In the end, it was a good-natured joke for us.

Unfortunately, many dissenting voices are not joking. They disdain the "institutional Church" to promote whatever "real" practices they prefer. Fr. James Martin, SJ, is such a voice. He apparently believes that being "gay affirming" is the way to freedom. He also mistakenly believes that those of us who uphold all the Church's teachings are chained, fearful, or bigoted.

Let me tell you something. I don't merely assent; I lovingly and joyously assent. If what the Church teaches is what Jesus gave us, not believing it is rejecting Jesus Our Lord! I hope the thought of it causes you grief, as it does me.

We all struggle and fail. But as always, it's what we do in response that defines us. I got into pastoral theology to lead people to the truth. That's literally what it means. "Pastoral" could never mean, "lead people where they want to go." We are fickle, and often wrong. But if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, it's to Him we must go.

Any father who doesn't tell his children the truth does not truly love them, no matter what he feels. And that's truth from the street.

The Greatest Band In The World

For sheer longevity, iconic songs and albums, social impact, and widespread appeal, it has to be U2. Here's a little cultural penetration experiment: take an LP that you don't own but is reputed notable. If you know all the words and can sing along, it's significant for music pop culture. [Didn't you do this with "Rumours," by Fleetwood Mac?--ed.] Yeah, truly creepy.

The reason I bring this up is that I know two people who have no idea who they are. I guess if you spend the '70s and '80s in Israel and Argentina training Catholic clergy, you might not know who they are. The rest of us, especially in the English-speaking world, well...

I'm actually looking forward to hearing entire releases I've never listened to.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

If People Speak The Truth, Believe Them (Even If It's Ugly)

I'm a proud Yankee, in the sense that I'd still be punishing the South for the Civil War, if it were my call. Lincoln wasn't perfect, but close enough. Especially for the time. I have sympathy for particular people, like General Lee and General Stonewall Jackson, who were not monsters, and had many fine qualities, despite fighting for an evil cause.

It's the revisionism about the causes of the war that's not only irritating, but dangerous. If we choose to ignore the plain words of the Confederates themselves, to the effect of black inferiority, or in challenge to the universal equality spoken of in the US Constitution, we delude ourselves.

It was about slavery, absolutely and unequivocally. Were other things also worthy of sympathy? Of course. I have no particular sympathy for self-interested Northern--nay, northeastern--factory owners, who didn't mind the European tariffs falling on the South. I think the utter destruction of the South was terrible and counterproductive. I think the courage of soldiers on every side of every conflict is worthy of honor in itself, provided they fought honorably.

But if Confederate sympathizers put up a monument to their alleged devotion to states' rights, and to remind blacks and Yankees they're still strong, I am calling it on the carpet. If South Carolina puts up the battle flag in the middle of the civil rights movement, only the willfully obtuse could miss the message, and it's not a good one. God bless Gov. Haley--the child of Indian immigrants--for having the brass to do the right thing, even if it was too late, and took a tragedy to make it happen.

I'm aware that people on the left like to erase anything that doesn't fit the narrative of "progress." Believe me, that's often ignorant as well. But in this case, I'd like to congratulate them for agreeing with me.

If this post grates on you, don't worry. I don't mind if you like Gone With The Wind. That's where the "Lost Cause" should stay.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

On The Other Hand

Setting aside the car accident, I want to return to an aspect of my daily experience. We're not the same. Most of you have no experience living with cerebral palsy. You don't think about moving an arm or leg; you just do it. If you had major orthopedic surgery in your youth, it'd be a story of an injury, not a rite of passage. So many things are different.

And yet.

The one thing we all want is to feel loved, understood, and valued as people. I believe we all share a common fear that we are alone, that no one understands, that no one really cares. If you really want to help me, don't fret the physical things; let me know that the lurking fear every human knows, at least for these moments, isn't true or real.

There are people who lay it on pretty thick, in terms of "demythologizing," in a sense, the life of disability. To paraphrase one speaker, I don't need an award for living.

And yet.

I must learn to live with the curious tension of desiring the ordinary, but living with something else. We all must negotiate together that appropriate level of sadness and awareness of defect, and the charge to live well. I think the disagreement I have with some disability advocacy is that, in fact, there is something wrong. Let's not beat up on ABs (let the reader understand) too much. Missing or non-functioning limbs (or whatever else) is not the way it's supposed to be.

Being a Christian clarifies much of this tension. While groaning in expectation for all to be revealed (Romans 8) we are simultaneously loved by God. It's God who has declared the facts of the resurrection of the body, and the new creation. I don't cry in my Coke at the unfairness of it all, true. But it would be absurd to look at His restoration on that day and say, "No thanks, I'm good."

The great American philosopher John Legend once said, "We're just ordinary people." Partly true. A cross is an opportunity to love extraordinarily inside an ordinary life. The saints are those who took the opportunity and ran with it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I Will Not Become What I Hate

I think Dr. Haidt is really on to something. And that's with the evolution assumptions notwithstanding. I have not always been reasonable. I would like to be. Civility is not an end in itself, but it's a virtue that allows us the intellectual and relational space to hear each other.

I don't ever want to hate "The Left" as much as others hate "The Right". Let me know if you think the state of our political discourse is radically better than I think it is.

What can we do ourselves to make it better?

These considerations don't change fundamental moral values, and given the fact that politics eventually involves power, there are limits to the amity that can be achieved. But I would be willing to bet that most of us are exhausted, and hoping there's a better way.

If we Christians truly believe that all people are made in the image of God, they cannot in the end be "the other." How might that change our political engagement?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bless Us, O Lord

I have begun with the first four words of our most common Catholic meal prayer to let you know that I'm eating! Still liquids for a time, but I'm on my way to making this feeding tube superfluous!

Most of you who know me know that my tastes are simple. But Campbell's vegetable beef soup puréed is way better than you'd think. [Mom added some beef broth to thicken it, yeah?--ed.] Yep.

I'm drinking Gatorade right now. Technically, my eating status hasn't changed, but the speech therapist thinks it's safe, so I'm doing it. I have to pass what's called a "barium swallow test"--it's as radioactive and disgusting as it sounds--before the official change.

We give thanks, Almighty God, for these and all Thy gifts, Thou who lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever, Amen.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Weird And Deplorable

Let me echo something said in a Catholic publication recently. Being Catholic in itself is unremarkable. Yet if you dive in with both feet, as it were, embracing all that the Church teaches, you're going to be weird. To believe firstly that a consecrated Host is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Savior is a leap, if we're being honest.

But I live in a world where it's absurd to doubt it.

The one thing religion does not do is provide comfort in this life. The true believers always suffer. You may have even noticed this. People ask why God allows such suffering. But God himself endured the cross. When we suffer, we are sharing in the cross. It is definitive proof that we are loved.

It's weird, I know. But I will take it. I might be crazy, but the way I see it, crazy beats boring, every time.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Primal Loss

I wanted to take a moment to plug a book. It's called, "Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children Of Divorce Speak." It's edited by my friend, Leila Miller. I am one of the contributors. One aspect that I appreciate is that a great many of us love our parents, and we have no desire to hurt them, or judge them. Yet the truth of what we experienced must be told. Even through touching this part of my past, I have become more comfortable with the truths of natural law, one of which is that children deserve to grow up in a home with their married parents. Tragically, we recognize that this is not always possible, and the Church never commands people to remain in dangerous situations. But as with many things, the exception has become the rule. Divorce is not part of God's plan for humanity. Quite aside from various value systems between people, we are all beginning to feel the effects of broken families and the resulting chaos, as a matter of public policy. I predict that if we survive, we will be led back to these primordial truths, no matter what values we had professed. May it come quickly, and with a merciful minimum of conflict. We have become accustomed to a strident individualism, however. It won't be easy.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Back To You

I suppose it's a positive thing that I am back to being impatient, and unreasonably angry at the Cardinals playing poorly. I'm back to being the sinner that I am. The pain from the accident is less, and though it'll be awhile before things are normal, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

My mouth feels rather strange, as I'm still wearing something akin to braces to hold my jaw in place. It won't be that quick for biting into things, but I'm nervous about as yet undiscovered dental damage. I thought at the time of the accident that I had in fact lost much more than one tooth. I guess we'll see.

Thanks be to God, for ordinary worries, for ordinary days. Let me never again grouse about a boring day.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken: Reflections On Suffering

I am deeply humbled that my first post about the accident has been read (according to the blog) over 1500 times. I don't deserve to be in the company of a few of those who read it, and appreciated it. These further thoughts of mine intend to honor them through their ongoing challenges, much greater than my own.

You often hear advice to the effect that you shouldn't "explain" what's going on to a suffering person, and that's true. We are so committed to the fact of our loving God that this seemingly contradictory information in the form of the suffering is problematic. Some folks are just awkward or self-involved, too. Most people mean well, and that's enough.

But what about the meaning of it all? I offered some thoughts before, and I did so because it's my suffering. I don't intend to apply it to anyone else's situation, but feel free if it helps. I felt joy, and I am a witness, so it seemed right. Was it in spite of the suffering? No, not for me. It has been alongside it, like two friends.

Suffering and pain are what they are. No vision truly alters suffering in itself. But knowing who we are and what we're doing allows us to persevere, to persist. My life need not be defined by the dark valleys of my suffering, but it's part of the definition. It's part of me now. No one but you and God can define the difference between hopeless complaining, and acknowledging the reality of suffering. But if I had one thing to offer, it would be this: be your best you, as much as possible, for as long as possible. The great temptation for us now is despair, that it will join with the suffering and become some new reality.

The truth is, though, you have lived and fought and loved this far, and no one can take it away. But don't forget it yourself! Who knows what happens from here? But we burn brightly, as long as there is opportunity.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Michael Horton Has Nothing To Offer Us

When we talk about authority in matters of religion, we are talking about divine infallibility, that is, God's communications are marked by that quality of His perfection, and to communicate things about Himself that would not otherwise be known.

Contrary to the imaginings of Dr. Horton and other Reformed counter-apologists, submission to the Magisterium of the Church  is not a new answer to a new problem. The very reason why Newman could speak of an "onus probandi" is that the Church pre-dated the new methodology of Sola Scriptura, and the new doctrines which were its fruit.

It is not an emotional need for an unreasonable certainty, but that quality of communication that distinguishes God's word from that of mere men. Indeed, Horton can't and doesn't relieve that burden by re-proposing Sola Scriptura; he simply trades ecclesial infallibility for alleged personal infallibility. It's the practical fruit of the beloved Noltie Conundrum as a uniquely Protestant dilemma that brings the Reformation paradigm into question. The particular dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church do not bear on the question of certainty as such.

What Dr. Horton sees as some kind of epistemological humility, to soldier on in spite of difficulties, to say the least, is actually ignorance. No Christian should be content with ignorance of his highest end.

I'm Dreaming Of Food

The worst part of the accident (besides the tracheotomy) is not being able to eat real food. I have a feeding tube right now. You start to notice how we are deluged with food commercials when you can't eat any of it.

I can't say that everything I dream about is sustainably sourced or clean, if you will! My friends, we are going to eat when this is over. Mark my words, and mark them well.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Spare Me The Bastiat Quotes

It is indeed true that a socialist is never satisfied. It's also true that a raucous political discussion will always ensue concerning how much the government could and should spend regarding any one thing. I don't assume that a person who funds something differently--that is, less--wants children to starve in the streets. But at some point, Spock's clever dictum holds true: "What you want is irrelevant; what you've chosen is at hand."

You can't argue that a 31 percent cut in one year is a search for efficiency. It's a malicious rejection of the people who spent the money, and the purposes for which they spent it. And at such a point, you deserve whatever moral scorn your opponents heap upon you.

A true conservative might say that the federal government could operate at 95 percent of its funding level from the previous year. You could easily argue that there is always waste, and a few years of a generalized cut will come back to the people in beneficial ways.

But I'm not giving a brutal, half-cocked social Darwinist the benefit of the doubt, just because he has an "R" next to his name. Don't bring the Democrats up to me; I don't care what they do or don't do. We must ask ourselves what is necessary and important, and act accordingly.

Another View Of A Particular Objection

We Catholics say that submission to the Church is altogether different from the provisional Hobbesian submission to some body that every Protestant makes. We cannot revoke that membership in the true Body of Christ, for one. We may decide that we no longer believe something she proposes, but we know that in so doing, we threaten our souls. It's risible to suggest that any Protestant believes that his variance on a Scripture matter with Pastor Bob from First Community could cost him his soul.

In the end, the Protestant knows that Bob is fallible, and that every visible manifestation of ecclesiastical authority is likewise open to question. Why this realization doesn't send millions of people running into the arms of the Catholic Church, I'll never know. The prerequisite of believing in any Christianity at all is knowing that some things I wouldn't know at all, unless God revealed them. In light of this, one would think that a fraternal warning to the effect that you can't tell the difference between personal opinion and revelation in a particular system would be met with thanks, instead of mockery. To hear some people tell it, the whole claim of the Catholic Church is vain, because some guy on the internet was repetitive or mean.

For my part, it's very simple. Everything in Christian history prior to the Reformation is up for examination. I don't need to worry about after that, because that's a simple story; the Catholic Church asserts a thing, and someone else disagrees. Now, if Christians agree on a thing and have always agreed, it stands to reason that it has a common origin. Find the source. Be ready to submit your very being to it, if it turns out to be the Church.

To hear Ben Carmack and Triablog tell it, Catholic keyboard warriors just invented the Magisterium last decade or so, because we got bored with exegesis or something. But anybody with a few hours can find out that the history of the Roman Catholic Church demands to be accounted for. It will never be a pristine history, but the public facts must admit the possibility that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church. An inquiry is simply that: the forthright consideration of the possibility.

Once that consideration turns to conviction, we joyfully and henceforth submit to the Church as to Christ Himself. I need not really answer the objection that the Protestant and the Catholic functionally do the same thing, because the Protestant's dogmas, and indeed, his church, did not exist. It's a theology in reaction, and I need not fear I have failed to submit to some organ of Christ that He hasn't bothered to preserve.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

On Easter Friday, as many of you know, I was struck by a car while crossing a busy street near my home and office. That's an almost indescribable experience. Judging by the movies, the fog of war seems similar. I don't know. What I do know is that if you're blessed enough to be alive after something like this, you know your life will change. I have broken nearly every bone in my face. My left leg is broken. Who knows when my normal life will resume?

Honestly, though, who cares?

I have known pain and suffering. I won't sugar-coat it; I've seen, and vomited, my own blood. Surgery is still to come, and there is always risk, especially with a pre-existing condition like CP.

But I have seen the glory of the cross of Christ. Only he could make so much love and joy come out of this. There's a logic, a wisdom to it that I have no right to deny. I have become a focal point of reconciliation and love. What's a few broken bones and teeth, compared with that?

Faith, hope, and love are the indestructible virtues; they are called "theological" normally, but I beg your indulgence. If by these virtues we begin to see with God's vision, then the meaning of our whole lives becomes clear. No hardship truly stands against these.

One other thing: My power wheelchair saved my life. In these days least of all do I feel "confined" to it. I hope you can understand that we are not so different. Every life longs to burn brightly, every soul. The starting hand is different, as it were, but we all play our cards as best we can 'til the dealing is done.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Let The Little Children Come To Me

There were a ton of kids at Mass today. We had a guest priest, although he's a common guest. There was also a concelebrant from Oklahoma City. It seems we are reaping a harvest of joy, as though in payment for some sacrifice made, but long forgotten.

We often have the correct sense that, "we are unworthy servants; we have done what we were obligated to do." But we forget, "And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace," and "I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

To live the abundant life is to walk in the light of the Father's unchanging love. I suppose there is a time to be stern with children. But the abiding reality of our lives in Christ is that we are beloved children of the Father.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Stay With Us

I think we all have stereotypes about "church people." If I'm too holy, I'll be like that one freak-show. I'll bet he's never even seen a movie in the theater. I never thought I'd be one of those daily Mass freaks. [You definitely are one of those daily Mass freaks.--ed.]

Contrary to popular belief, you can't "get religion" like millennials "catch feelings" in the hook-up culture. It's not a disease. But what if life seems at once familiar and drab? You walk and talk with a friend to sort it out. You say, "I hoped for so much, and yet, here we are." He listens, and in such a way that it has felt good to get it out. He tells you that you're looking at it all wrong. As he offers a new way of seeing the exact same thing, you marvel that he speaks with passion and conviction. You feel inspired. It seems as though he's going away, like so many people who drop in for a spell, and are gone with the wind. "No, man! You can't leave just as you've changed my whole perspective! Stay, and share everything you have." He agrees, and just as he's giving thanks for the food and drink, you realize the friend is Jesus Christ. You're not sure exactly what happened or when, but the truth is plain. Nothing will be the same.

Some people might think you're weird. But another friend once said, "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'," and you're pretty sure status quo had something to do with the dying. No turning back.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

And There Was Much Rejoicing

Father said he could hear the joy in our voices; I don't know. It seemed like many other days. On the other hand, it's a perfect day here in town, a fitting tribute and picture of Lent's end. The part of the liturgy that always gets me in these days is, "Overcome with paschal joy,..." I think all Catholics get this. There is a way of remembering that makes the things past present without denying that they have occurred. Surely that sanctified knowing is a fruit of the Eucharist, the ultimate example of the past made present.

I remember the start of Lent vividly. Try as we might to feel as though this Wednesday is no different than the Tuesday just concluded, we know. Even if you have nothing big planned for penance, even if you are bad at Lent, you will get the cross. Oddly enough, this is the surest sign of God's love for us.

But now, the weight is lifted. It's time to dance like David before the Ark.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

This Is The Night

There is nothing like the Easter Vigil. You must do it once in your life. Better yet, come into full communion with the Church, and you can do it every year. Last night and today marks 6 years for me.

When we ran through a practice, I felt all the excitement again, as though I would be received. I had walked alone to the Cathedral for the practice, knowing that my mom and sister would be received that night. I couldn't speak to pray, so I was simply thankful. Everyone has to grow into who they will be, but this is the place to be. This is the fount of mercy.

The students from the RCIA class expressed their thanks to me in particular, and it was very humbling. At the same time, I think back to when I was taught the faith; I only did what others did for me.

I'm a pretty emotional and passionate guy, so I have to be the one to say this: Love is not sentiment. To love another is to actively will what is best for him or her. Don't let people try to tell you that something less than the Truth is enough; it isn't, and it will never be.

The thing is, though, when you meet people at this part of the journey, they have had their fill of lies and wrong roads. They know. And so, we were just people talking about what we know. We're friends talking about a friend and a brother we know.

There is no program to fix the so-called, "crisis of catechesis." I met Jesus, and I walk with Him. I don't remember saying that many words to my family. But grace speaks a word that those with ears to hear can recognize. "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (XII)

One of the most important questions we might ask, given the dire situation Deneen has been presenting regarding the West as we know it, is whether there is any reason for optimism. Deneen believes there is. As he talks about a "post-liberal" future, he cautions us not to think he disdains representative government as such; rather, we ought to be on guard against liberalism as an all-embracing ideology that excludes anything not compatible with itself.

It seems for Deneen that virtue is and has been the answer. Virtue moderates the tendency for dominance by democratic means. Virtue keeps the common good in view, even as we engage with politics to secure personal good.

The remaining questions reduce down to one: is it possible to have a political and philosophical revolution without notice, and without massive upheaval?

To be sure, I have been positively impacted by the professor's presentation, and I eagerly await more from Dr. Deneen.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (XI)

This penultimate essay is called, "The Future Of Democracy In America". Deneen reminds us that according to Aristotle, liberty entailed the art of ruling, and being ruled in turn. We recall from earlier essays that Aristotle thought politics could and should be a sphere for the practice of virtues. A functional polis never denies individual needs, but neither does it elevate them above the common good.

Deneen says that this definition of liberty, and the temperance it requires and engenders, might easily be set aside, in favor of a radical autonomy, "liberty" as the freedom to do as one likes. The liberal State, he says, exists to maximize this second type of liberty, and functionally to limit the damage that  this permission implies. Problems arise because both definitions coexist as acceptable in our American discourse. A philosopher might say that an entire nation teeters on the edge of a cliff, formed by an equivocation. [A philosopher wouldn't be so poetic, getting to the point.--ed.]

Deneen says that each major American political party allows Locke to triumph over Aristotle, in terms of the definition of "liberty." The Democrats admit no binding moral limitations in the area of personal morality and sexual conduct, while the Republicans admit no moral dimension to economic matters, broadly speaking. Each one is right about the other, but inconsistent in applying its moral principles to itself.

Deneen believes that exercising virtue at lower levels can be the prelude to re-building the polis.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (X)

The essential point of this essay is that classical liberalism and statism are mutually reinforcing, not contradictory. Liberalism conceives of the individual as the fundamental unit of society. Contrast that view with the Catholic view that the family is the fundamental unit of society. In addition, liberalism's goal is maximum personal autonomy. If family, church, or other organization would limit this autonomy, the State regards them with hostility, and brings its power against them.

Deneen believes that classical liberalism tends toward statism because the State fills the roles vacated by intermediate organizations. Man needs belonging and community, but the individualism inherent in democratic liberalism means that he has no right to expect any of his fellows to address his needs.

It does appear to be quite compelling, the notion that the toxicity of the present political environment is due to the quasi-religious need the political process (and the State) is attempting to meet. Virtue, reflected personally and in families, says Deneen, is the way to re-build the political culture. [Rumor has it Dreher said the same thing.--ed.] I guess we'll see.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Men And Women Can Certainly Be Friends

Someone at The Federalist actually paid Hans Fiene money to write this. I'm seriously doing something wrong. I don't want to waste time Fisking this point-by-point. I do want to acknowledge that we do generally have a demographics problem in the West. I also acknowledge and appreciate the argument that people marrying later is bad for a whole plethora of reasons, both material and spiritual.

I also will personally admit that being single is not my preference, and that this season of life in some respects has been extremely difficult.

I will never say that my friendships are a waste.

If Fiene wants me to admit that I am attracted to most of my female friends, fine. If we talk about it, though, and there's some reason why I'm not--as far as she knows--her husband, what are we supposed to do? Just pretend that whatever we've shared in life didn't happen? I'm afraid that's silly.

I might be too nice in some ways about romantic pursuits. But sheer math and propriety would suggest I will not be having sex with the women I meet. Tragic, I know. So I'd better leave her better than I found her, because there is more to life than sex, and there is more to her than me.

I saw a friend at a party the other night. She's married. Actually, the night we met was another party. For the record, I found her attractive. Most men would. I told her the story of seeking full communion with the Catholic Church that first night, and she cried a tear. We bonded over numerous things, and we continue to share those things. We're friends. The way life worked, she never heard me say, "Hey, you're cute, and maybe..." or whatever people say. I'm not giving back the things that make us friends. Who does that? If she or her husband needed my help, I'd be there.

C'mon, Hans. You're a Christian. You should understand these things. I haven't been selfless at all times, that is certain. But if I have ever known love of any kind, then I have given love without expecting anything. If we are Christians, the dreaded Friend Zone is actually a pretty happenin' place. It's like Dave and Buster's, but cheaper.

The stories of my romantic disappointment are actually my favorite stories. Almost all of them have some moment or take-away where we knew we had been made better by knowing one another. Do we really want to become like the world, making everything transactional and utilitarian?

By the way, I dare The Federalist or Hans Fiene to ponder the idea that perhaps people are marrying later because this economic system is intrinsically disordered. Call me cynical, but I expect his next piece to be about the alleged sanctity of repealing environmental regulations.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (IX)

Dr. Deneen asks whether a conservative tradition actually exists in America. The reason he asks such a question is because classical liberalism, he claims, is not fundamentally conservative, in that it aims to conserve an older way of living and relating based in virtue and obligation, obligation that extends into the future, and from the past.

Indeed, part of the supposed virtue of classical liberalism is in its casting off of the past, in favor of new possibilities. Deneen in a sense leaves a question lingering for us to ponder: What are the costs of a society built upon individualism and creative destruction?

Deneen points out that the philosophical fathers of the people we call "conservatives" today are Locke and Rousseau, as opposed to someone like Burke. So even as Americans have sorted themselves into camps of progressive liberals and classical liberals, they share the fundamental assumption that the individualist project inherent to democracy is a good one. Deneen's purpose in this collection as a whole is to question this assumption.

It had been progressives in earlier decades that began positing the national government as a point of unity for people detached from family and place. Isn't it interesting that nationalism has found a home with both "Left" and "Right"?

Tocqueville has surely been proven correct that professional associations and community organizations that would "enlarge the heart" are on the decline, as the national government grows, but also as a sense of intergenerational obligation is less keenly felt. America is "bowling alone," as Putnam observed, and a change won't be quick in coming.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Consider Others Better Than Yourself

My most concrete application of this biblical command is in the Confession line. Jesus, through the Church, tells us that grace comes to us through the sacrament, even if sanctifying grace hasn't left the soul through mortal sin. I can't imagine that these others are in need as much as I am.

I have always thought this. I guess I have been lucky enough not to run into an enemy in line. So far, it's been an easy assumption.

Maybe the bigger challenge is not to hate ourselves as much as we could hate others, at least for some of us.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Problem In The "Holistic" Approach To Abortion

It is a contradiction to oppose abortion but otherwise to endorse the radical individualism of classical liberalism. There may be in many cases economic and social factors that make the tragic decision more likely. Indeed, these are some of the things that lessen culpability (et al.) in individual cases.

However, there is often a hidden premise in such arguments: Abortion is regrettable, but sometimes acceptable. 

As Catholics, we can travel a long way down the road of systemic explanations, as long as we correctly maintain that the choice to commit an intrinsic evil is never acceptable, (excepting a double effect scenario where a grave evil is unavoidable). Many arguments acknowledge the morally dubious nature of abortion, but substitute one evil for another, such as advocating for increased use, and funding for, contraception. (In that case, a person often merely trades one method of abortion for another.)

Let's try to be aware of all the premises of the arguments, either our own, or that of others, so that the true nature of our moral choices is clear.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Alright, Alright, Alright! (An Appreciation Of Matthew McConaughey)

If you're somewhat conversant with pop culture, you might recognize this title as a catchphrase, uttered by Matthew McConaughey's character in the comedy film, "Dazed And Confused". (I've actually never seen it.) As with a lot of things, people get ahold of a phrase, and it takes on a life of its own. Personally, I say it every time I see McConaughey on TV. I think if you asked most people who know who he is what they think, they'd have a positive opinion of him. That may or may not be deserved; who knows? He projects a laid-back bro coolness, pretty much all the time. Not only in roles. He has starred in a number of romantic comedies, and in a buddy film called Sahara (2005) that I really enjoyed.

I deeply appreciate his work, especially in two roles: As "Jake Brigance," in A Time To Kill, (1996) as a Mississippi lawyer defending a black man (Samuel L. Jackson as "Carl Lee Haley") who sought revenge against two men who raped his daughter, and Interstellar, (2014) as a widowed father, "Joseph Cooper," who sacrifices much to save to save humanity in a dystopian future. Frankly, in the latter case, it moves me so deeply that I don't routinely watch it, though I will tell anyone of my great admiration for the film if they ask.

Anyway, I was sitting in front of my TV last night with another guy watching a show about various men who have been named "Sexiest Man Alive" by People magazine (one of whom is McConaughey). [This wasn't as weird as it sounds.--ed.] I don't know him from Adam, but he seemed  pretty normal, especially in comparison with the others. [You might say he seems alright, alright, alright!--ed.] Oh, that was terrible! [Yeah, I know.--ed.]

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, (2013) although I haven't seen that yet, either.

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (VIII)

Dr. Deneen asks, "What is conservatism?" in this essay of the same name. He asserts that what we know as an ascendant conservatism in the US since 1980 isn't conservatism at all, in fact, but another form of liberalism. Noting that the program we can identify in politics is achievable but incoherent, he cites Edmund Burke's opinion that the very notion that the goods to be achieved ought to be sought primarily in politics is fundamentally anti-conservative.

Indeed, Deneen appeals to four thinkers that define and promote the type of conservatism he commends: Aristotle, Vico, Burke, and Tocqueville. In the main, they concur with one another (and with Deneen) that to separate people from their families and communities in favor of a new political arrangement, centered around the alleged autonomous individual, is to ultimately frustrate his happiness in the fullest sense.

In the case of Tocqueville, we have already seen through his eyes how democratic government plays to man's baser instincts, his restiveness, and discontentment. Tocqueville believes that all this is a manifestation of man's fear of death.

Vico, a lesser-known Italian theorist, critiqued the truncated sense of moral obligation arising from the thought of especially John Locke, and Descartes. One could speculate that Descartes' epistemology drives his political theory. If man cannot trust his sense data, but must ground what he knows in his ability to think, then there is no discernible reality or law to which the man, or any political organization of men, is subject.

Tocqueville, says Deneen, believed that "forms," or for lack of a better term, manners, could maintain a meaningful connection to the virtues that maintain society. But in fact, that impatience with forms he mentions as characteristic of democracy has accelerated. As a result, I can't see how the maintenance of aristocracy, at least with respect to virtue, is possible. I lament that I have written such a morose sentence, and even so, that it accurately reflects my assessment of the situation.

I sense the positivism of John Rawls lurking as an end-point to Deneen's accounting of what has been lost, and I haven't even read Rawls. I also recall more than twenty years ago, when the mere mention of natural law was supposed to doom the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. In recent days, I lament that Judge Gorsuch (or anyone, for that matter) can't say, "I would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, because it violates natural law, and jurists have no authority outside of natural law." If I may, should I be pleased that great intellectuals have to provide cover for nominated judges, to the effect that "of course he thinks Roe is settled law, don't be ridiculous"?

Doubtless, Deneen will say (echoing Plato) that because politics is downstream from culture, as it were, we cannot expect politics to be an area where virtue can be modeled in the present situation. That is, in the short-term. But it might be said that perhaps politics has accelerated cultural decay, and is not merely reflective of that decay. In that event, we could still use some courageous politicians.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (VII)

The essay "Progress and Memory" posits that liberalism and related philosophies introduce temporal discontinuities into the lived experience of people; that is, giving an absolute primacy to either the past, the present, or the future, as opposed to respecting each.

Liberalism, says Deneen, prioritizes the present. It seeks the satisfaction of the currently living signatories, as it were, of the social contract. As we have noted from previous essays, liberalism sees the individual as free and autonomous, unhindered by any obligations to ancestors or descendants. Its economics is market capitalism. Anything that posits such an obligation is discarded.

Progressivism shares many of the same assumptions as liberalism, but it idealizes the future. As a result, any contentment in the present is attributed to a false consciousness which must be corrected. Progressivism is the most amenable to despotism, because it harbors an equal hostility to the past as it does to the present. Morality and dignity are dependent on memory and obligation.

Deneen calls the idealization of the past "nostalgism." Nostalgists advocate what Deneen believes to be the mirror image of progressivism, because they have an intense antipathy for the present, and an unwillingness to learn from the past, in the sense of using some wisdom to correct problems in the present.

Deneen identifies "hope" as the answer to these dilemmas. It should not be confused with optimism about the future, since that is the hallmark of progressivism. Rather, it's best said as a steadfast expectation of justice. What is good will be preserved, and what is evil discarded. Memory is the willingness to learn from the past without idealizing it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I Believe In Miracles

I was realizing this morning that I am a witness to a miracle nearly every day. Most days of most weeks, I hear and see a man bring forth bread and wine, and by the Holy Spirit, change it into the Body and Blood of Christ. Oh, there isn't much to see, in human terms. It's a miracle, nonetheless.

I'm particularly thankful for the prayers during the liturgy of the Eucharist. In a sense, we are told why Jesus has chosen to come. God has made promises, all throughout recorded history, and the Eucharist is the ultimate promise: "And surely I will be with you, even to the end of the age."

I guess I worry about declining numbers in the pews. But if you don't believe, acting on that unbelief in the form of not showing up is more honest. There is no good reason to be a "church" person, unless it is true. People must have fond memories of fish-frys and youth group, because all these people--who don't appear to be contemplating the niceties of epistemology and revelation--used to be "practicing" Catholics, and now they are not.

For my part, it seems like I am in a movie, and then I realize it's real. "May our voices, we pray, join with theirs..."

If this is true, this is the greatest action movie ever.

If grace is really raining down on us from this altar, I should do this all the time.

I don't feel like much of a saint, but then, how much worse would I be if I were not here?


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

An Addendum To The Previous Post

One of the reasons you would teach manners, Deneen reminds us, is to habituate those good behaviors that you want. He describes how young children start out in no way habituated to eating with good manners. It can be a frustrating period of time, as parents correct and model the better way. They must refuse to give up, because if they do, the proper ways of eating and interacting will become second nature to them. You no doubt have noticed a few breaks in between posts regarding Conserving America?... Yet I find that those posts somewhat unwittingly are grounded in Dr. Deneen's observations. One of the great benefits of Dr. Cross' comments with respect to my infelicitous phrase "what comes naturally to a person" is that it gives us a chance to clarify what we mean when we talk about "human nature," as the professor noted. [You want to link to the Michael Jackson song so bad, don't you?--ed.] Yes.

And here is a provocative thought: Aristotelian virtue ethics makes little sense in a Protestant context. If the Reformers had been right about the impact of the Fall on human nature, the habituation of virtue is a waste of time, at best. The notion of "natural virtue" is a mockery, a contradiction. If man's nature is totally corrupt, he is steeped in vice, and cannot be otherwise. Recognizing this difference, I cannot be surprised at even the liberal Protestant default position on moral claims in public policy: "Why do you expect non-believers to act like Christians?" That question hides an assertion that there is little or nothing to be gained in promoting virtue as such. It's perceived as a theocratic imposition, because theologically and practically, there is no "human nature" to preserve. Thus, no human community worth preserving, except the Church, in this view.

If democratic man is impatient with forms, is this because he is Protestant? Or is he Protestant because he is impatient with forms?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (VI)

Dr. Deneen begins his essay "Manners And Morals" with a reflection on eating. Actually, the picture of eating a meal serves as a metaphor for most of what he says here. He says that manners--and specifically table manners--developed as both an acknowledgment of our animal nature, and an attempt to transcend it. We need to eat, but we eat in a manner reflecting a desire not to be enslaved by our passions. Eating together both symbolizes and actualizes a new solidarity born from the recognition that we ought not eat each other.

Our propensity to eat flesh meat, and Deneen's reflection on that fact, may be disconcerting to the reader, but it gives us the opportunity to reflect on our limitations, as well as our dignity. One intriguing aspect of these reflections--which Deneen does not make explicit, or at least to the extent that he could--is the connection between meal time solidarity, and politics as such. A healthy politics, he does say, delicately balances the recognition of personal needs with our duty to the other.

For my part, I recall many accounts of the "good old days" in American politics described the smoothing out of disagreements literally over beer. We do not eat and drink together because the forms of civility that such things indicate are viewed with outright hostility. Indeed, Deneen is not the first to note a kind of anti-politics at work. I join in his lament over this anti-politics, mourning much of what has been lost.

Deneen's sharp critique of the economics of "fast food" stings a little, and I hope not only because of my frequent trips to the neighborhood Arby's. [They know you by name, dude.--ed.]

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Further Thoughts On "Natural"

Professor Bryan Cross comments in regard to the previous post:

"The phrase "what comes naturally to a person" is perhaps an unfortunate phrase, because it is ambiguous between (a) human nature, (b) acquired second nature, either virtues or vices, and (c) particular congenital temperaments/dispositions (e.g. disposition to alcoholism, anger). What is 'natural' in those second two senses is not always good or right. But what is in accord with nature in the first sense is good and right; that's just what defines the natural law."

Points taken. I should have been more careful. [Philosophers! Oy!--ed.] Now, now. If we didn't have philosophers, we'd not only be arguing about the color of a dress on the internet, but we'd think it was important. [IT IS.--ed.] Oh, dear.

What's "Natural" Isn't Always Good Or Right

The assumption that what comes naturally to a person is good is a dangerous one. Let's be real: it's usually in the area of sex that people make this assumption. We don't accept it for anything else, but when sexuality is involved, all bets are off.

I do believe that people will destroy anyone who won't tell them what they want to hear.

If I were a psychologist, and someone came to me with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction, I'd try to help them change those feelings. It may not work, but it may. It doesn't matter in that instance what "society" says about it.

Even so, which is more likely: that society prior to the last few years disdained same-sex activity because nearly everyone is very selectively bigoted (in the traditional meaning of the word: holding an opinion based upon no reason whatsoever) or, because most people know in conscience that same-sex activity is wrong, and that even feelings toward that end are disordered?

My money's on the latter.

Let me say it more strongly: I think we see all these "allies" in the cause because people feel guilty about their own sexual sins. Sometimes we seek people to tell us we are right, even when we know we're wrong.

The bigger problem is that people think "I am a sinner" (or more basically, "I am wrong") equates to, "There is nothing good about me, and no one should, or does, love me." God often does reveal the first statement to all of us. But here's the key: the second statement does not follow from the first. And the best news of all is that God never stops loving us, even when--or especially when--we are sinners.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (V)

Dr. Deneen begins his essay, "Awaking From The American Dream..." by referring again to the "restlessness" of American man, and the wonderment of observers at the time, at the conceit that family and ethnic ties could and should be uprooted in order to forge a new identity. We recall Deneen's contention that the individual in the liberal conception is completely fabricated, at least in terms of the individual being the foundational starting point of society.

Deneen intends to trace the implications of liberal individualism through 3 films, dating from the 1940s through 1990s. The three films are It's A Wonderful Life, Avalon, and American Beauty.

It's A Wonderful Life is perhaps the most beloved movie in American history. There is no need to recount it here. Deneen, however, wants us to re-examine a few things. George Bailey himself displays a marked disdain for his hometown of Bedford Falls. Deneen well documents Bailey's restlessness. His character is an obvious contrast for Potter, but he aims to build his own subdivision, Bailey Park. Deneen asserts that although the film presents his motives and ends positively, it's not likely that the solidarity that rescues George at the climax would persist in the new suburbs. He argues that the smaller, less individualistic arrangement of Bedford Falls creates what we might call a culture of solidarity. Indeed, what exactly is George trying to escape from? More ominously, the viewer eventually realizes that Bailey Park has been built atop the old cemetery. It's doubtful that a stronger denial of tradition and memory could be articulated.

Avalon tells the story of two generations of the Polish Krchinsky family in Baltimore. The younger generation grows restless of city life and tight quarters, and also throws off family traditions, casting aside their name and customs to be good Americans. Even as the older generations learn to drive, get more stuff, and move to the suburbs, it's hard to argue that the situation has improved.

American Beauty is a dark tale of 1990s suburban life. It has the feel of a midlife crisis film, also, since the main character Lester Burnham is around that age. Lester has an awful job, his family despises him, and he has no reason to live. Illicit sex (or the hope of it) is the fulcrum of Lester's "awakening," and even as Lester realizes his folly in the moment of his death, Deneen points out that the resolution is just a different form of the same individualist escapism Lester allegedly hates and rebels against.

Avalon is the film that closely tracks with what Deneen is arguing, but the elements in each film he highlights show us the basic outline of both our American philosophy, as well as its problematic aspects, with respect to our anthropology. We must consider the end or ends we are trying to achieve. Any "progress," whether economic or technical, that contravenes this anthropology ought not to be held up as praiseworthy.

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's The Family Breakdown, Stupid

The winning formula of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign was encapsulated in an offhand strategy comment, by now legendary: "It's the economy, stupid." Well, I interrupt this regularly scheduled programming to say a different thing.

The size and scope of the federal government is of far less concern at the moment than the fraying of natural social bonds that function as support systems for people in great difficulty. These social support systems also transmit morals and mores, and a sense of purpose.

The number of children born out of wedlock and/or raised by a single parent is somewhere north of 40 percent. Drug addiction is exploding, even among the wealthy, and comfortably middle class. Surviving in this economy without an education is questionable.

In my view, some citizens have mistaken a natural solidarity or communitarianism for communism, or other coercive ideologies. Inspired leadership will mean committing money to help people re-connect with each other. There is no true profit in being sound macroeconomically, but unsound socially.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (IV)

Dr. Deneen continues the discussion of democracy and its underpinnings by citing Santayana to the effect that virtue and virtuous citizens are necessary for the preservation of democracy. But as we have seen, if the division of labor and autonomous "liberty" have severed people from their sources of knowledge and morality, the "virtues" actually inculcated are personal desires, and self-preservation. Indeed, Deneen argues that self-preservation is the motivating force in the liberal political order, if its assumptions about humans in the state of nature are correct. A contradiction is introduced, then, between fidelity to professed virtues such as self-sacrifice, and that which liberalism actually rewards.

The occasion of the commemoration of noted Union general Robert Gould Shaw provided William James the opportunity to reflect on the difference between more conspicuous virtue, such as dying in battle, and less conspicuous virtue, in this case, a willingness to be seen as a goat by one's own countrymen as a consequence of doing the right thing.

In fact, Tocqueville thought the social pressure of the majority--or one's perception of being against it--was actually more imposing than the traditional manifestations of state-sponsored coercion.

There isn't anything in the apparatus of liberalism, so to speak, that can resolve the contradiction identified earlier. Yet perhaps the practice of virtue will furnish later opportunities to resolve the contradiction.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, By Patrick J. Deneen (III)

The third essay in Dr. Deneen's collection is called, "Citizenship As A Vocation." (There appears to be some confusion between the essay titles, and the table of contents.)

Deneen picks up Tocqueville's contention that democratic man is "restless" or "restive" (depending on translation) and uses that as a starting point, and more like a central hub, to which he returns multiple times from various angles.

Tocqueville elaborates that democratic man is flighty, for lack of a better term, inconstant, owing to his fear of death, which even wins out over a desire for contentment. The problem, says the French theorist, is the openness of democratic societies, and democratic man's materialism in a double sense: a belief that most things have a natural explanation--as opposed to a supernatural one--and in the accumulation of things, ostensibly to distract from the fear of death.

Before we go on with Dr. Deneen's application of Tocqueville, and how it might apply in present situations, there is a big point waiting to be raised, one that could have an ongoing resonance: If the analysis of democratic man--and more specifically, American man--is correct, there can be no comprehensive political solution, because the problem is not political, but spiritual. But because there is a social dimension even to man's highest end, we find ourselves wrestling with sociopolitical effects from a spiritual problem.

Deneen points to a cultural shift away from the traditional understanding of "vocation" as a calling imposed from outside oneself that contributes to the common good, to a more individualistic notion that more closely accords with personal desires and preferences. I think it fair to say that the shift can be accounted for almost solely by the implicit or explicit adoption of materialism in the philosophical sense. It stands to reason then that either the Market, or the State would stand in for the final end in a materialist worldview.

Drawing from Adam Smith, who can be called as it were an expert witness on capitalism, and one of its chief proponents, Deneen shows that it would be inappropriate for individuals as market participants to wonder how their individual contribution benefits the whole, because, indeed, there isn't a "whole" to speak of. The substance of Deneen's critique comes into sharper relief: he disagrees with Novak, et al.--who hold a more pro-American and pro-capitalist view--because the division of labor mimics solidarity, whilst actually militating against it. That contention, my friends, is worth pondering, and praying about.

For my part, I find a compelling link between Deneen's outlook presented here, and the central thesis of Mayhew's "Congress: The Electoral Connection," which has influenced me greatly. Mayhew argues that the American people expect meaningful collective action from their elected representatives, while the political system itself actually incentivizes self-interest. Mayhew rightly argues that the political class is not composed of saints, in the main, so serious problems (and frustrations) are nearly inevitable. On a humorous personal note, Dr. Bryan Cross is somewhere finishing an intellectual victory lap before you can say, "performative contradiction."

Deneen laments liberalism's power to bleed into all spheres--personal, political, and economic--while persuading individuals that their fidelity to older virtues has not been severed.

It Couldn't Wait (CCC, 2241)

Here's the Catechism, specifically on immigration. These are a challenging couple of paragraphs. But I understand that by the use of the words "natural right" in the first paragraph that it is ordinarily not morally licit to deny entry to a foreigner, absent evidence of a concrete threat to the common good. That is, the mere fact of being a foreigner does not make one a threat to the common good.

Moreover, if all people possess the natural right to emigrate from one place to another, then it cannot be morally licit for a government to forcibly remove an immigrant from its territory, for no other reason than he or she is in a country "illegally."

It is morally acceptable or licit to treat citizens and non-citizens unalike, provided that the natural right to move to a new country and make a life is not unduly impeded. I do not make any bold claims that any Catholic who happens to be wrong about this does not love Christ or the Church. But I can say for certain Jesus won't check party membership cards at the end.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (II)

Dr. Deneen's second essay is called, "Patriotic Vision: At Home In A World Made Strange." It's significant that this was a talk given shortly after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. After a brief reflection on the excesses of patriotism, and the elite suspicion of it, Dr. Deneen takes us back to the origin of the word "theory". He says that the idea comes from the Greek meaning, "to see," and it noted a specific office within the city-state, occupied by a person charged with traveling to other places to report on how they lived. Such a person was well-versed on the idioms and customs of his own culture, and indeed reported on the other in that language, as it were. Insofar as he offered critique to his own culture, it was carefully tempered by his appreciation and love for his native place.

The critics of patriotism do naturally ask whether the love of one's own in patriotism is in irreconcilable conflict with universal values like truth and justice. While rejecting an idea of balance, Dr. Deneen seems to think that these special embedded observers--the theoroi--can still have a unique role that benefits society. He notes that critique unmoored by loyalty or indebtedness began in earnest with Descartes, and I cannot help but wonder if his similar ideas in epistemology influenced him, to similar destructive results.

There is what I might describe as a creative tension in being part of a culture, running the risk of being unable to critique it due to love and loyalty, and yet, that same embodied position preventing the critiquing impulse from becoming destructive. Deneen is correct to say that a desire for moral purity could well find itself incompatible with love, at a certain point. We know that we cannot love what we do not know.

For my part, I couldn't help but recall my own appreciation for then-Senator Obama's ability to "translate American exceptionalism into liberalese, if you will." We can say that our competing tribes have an embedded idiom, but that we do not speak it in common. I'll bet that Dr. Deneen could have an extremely fruitful conversation with Dr. Haidt on these matters.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Conserving America? Essays On Present Discontents, Patrick J. Deneen (I)

Can America be conserved? Dr. Deneen begins his collection of essays with that question. There is a logic in posing the question so starkly, because the problems Deneen identifies warrant the question. He notes that 70 percent of Americans believe America is moving in the wrong direction, and half of us believe our best days as a nation are behind us.

Analysis of the situation is colored by two related tendencies, he says. Firstly, we tend to believe that our problems and solutions are to be found in the sphere of politics; and secondly, we find value in a strict binary American "liberal/conservative" axis. Deneen says that such a binary doesn't only note disagreement, but an irreconcilable conflict of worldviews. As such, the stakes could not be higher, and total or near-total control of the branches of the national government is viewed by all as imperative.

And yet, Deneen argues, the deep philosophical and ideological divide is "fundamentally illusory," because a very small elite actually controls the levers of power, irrespective of who wins, and who loses. It would be something of a lazy conspiracy theory, but for the fact that Deneen identifies classical liberalism and its philosophical assumptions as the fundamental systemic problem. He believes that much of the anger we have witnessed is an inarticulate rejection of a false choice.

The heart of liberalism's assertion is that human beings by nature are radically autonomous, free and independent, possessed of certain rights, and so, we consent to the creation of a government charged with securing those rights.

I sense the questions Deneen is inviting us to ask in response, and it behooves us to make them assertions, in order to understand the depth of the critique he makes: On the contrary; human beings are not radically autonomous. "Liberty" is not an end in itself.

If the end of man is indeed higher than himself, and his rights and duties flow from a telos he does not make, but acknowledges, then the rationale for government and its legitimate authority changes. That is, consent may be desirable and even necessary, but it is not sufficient. If government arises organically from the duty to love God and neighbor as ourselves, then man does not consent to its creation, in a real sense.

Deneen says that the American republic from its very conception endeavored to maximize inequality, if I understand him correctly. At the very least, to maximize differences. The concept of solidarity seems to be a rejection of this notion. If Deneen is correct here, "originalism" in the strictest sense cannot be compatible with Catholic faith.

The present system offers us the false choice of allegiance to the Market, or to the State, Deneen argues. In either case, the person is severed from his own inherent dignity, or his individuality. The ascendancy of "conservatism" in the late stages of the 20th century only served to further the goals of liberalism. "Conservatism" has been rendered moot, not because it failed, but because it succeeded. In making this point, Deneen is provocative, to say the least.

For my part, I can see how this philosophy would destroy civil society, or what we might call "mediating institutions." These institutions--family, community, private association, the Church--remind people of their duties to their neighbors and to God, and one senses that Deneen has observed their gradual replacement by State and Market. Dr. Deneen seems to hold out hope for a better way, and I'm eager to hear what else he has to say.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Let's Talk

I've started to read, "Conserving America? Thoughts On Present Discontents" by Dr. Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame. I'm not very far in, but I'm going to tell you that you should read it. Setting aside the explosive thesis which I won't share here yet, I still actually believe we can do better in political engagement than we have. I don't think we're too far gone, and that's because little things make a huge difference. One person who takes the time to make an opponent's argument better than they have, or toxic words not spoken improves the climate just a little.

Usually, when a candidate for office says they want to add to the national conversation, that means he or she has no chance of winning that office. And maybe that's still true. But what if candidates saw themselves as caretakers of the civic space? We cannot simply mean a desire to serve the public in some general way; I am aiming for an idea that candidates for office safeguard and de-escalate the "temperature" at which the national debate takes place. It seems few of us are actually skilled at this, but I believe it's something to work toward.

I believe this not for the sake of sentiment and self-image, but to create the intellectual space to think constructively and creatively. I don't think anyone believes we are in a golden age of bold policy.

Leaders can be made by the passions of the moment, but more often they create cultures of engagement, which either benefit or harm the public space.

Monday, February 20, 2017

An Admission

I have always liked Barack Obama. I have spent most of my adult life in academia; I like the life, I like the people. I don't sneer at credentials; I covet them. The former president is an academic, from his ears, to the tips of his toes. He is familiar to me, and he speaks the language of which I am familiar. I get why people don't like him; after all, the sexual libertinism and murder that are now the defining characteristics of the Democratic Party were underlined under Obama, as opposed to muted. Moreover, the former president was not content to simply advocate those things, but to use the government to conscript participation in them.

Most of the other stuff is made up.

But I don't carry around a similar affection for the sitting president. I just don't. And I might even admit that a person who is known for thinking and speaking well will get a break from me, even if he is terrible. I'm an academic, if not in profession, then in manner of life. I don't live in a world where that is a swear-word. I also don't live in a world where a man creates a comfortable enclave of support in an academic environment, whilst propounding bad arguments. (See Sowell, Thomas)

The president is uniquely dangerous, because he doesn't know what he doesn't know, and isn't too interested in finding out. Scads of conservative pieces would call what I just said "the sneering of the intellectual elite." That's fine. The problem with conservatism right now is that it makes sneering at the intellectual elite an art form, and mistakes that for an affirmative case.

If I were young, I'd drop the mic right here.