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.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

My thoughts turned to my father the other day, because some friends on the internet had asked what songs make us cry. We had a pretty good list, and this was my choice. The context of the song doesn't fit me exactly, because it tells the story of an adult father and son struggling to understand one another. But the verse which begins about 4 minutes in really hits me:

I wasn't there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's newborn tears
I just wish I could have told him
In the living years

[Me talking] I think one of the truly great benefits of being in full communion with the Catholic Church is being able to take these deep hurts of life, unite them to the cross of Christ, and give them back to the Father. When this becomes real to you, then you understand a little of what it means to live in anticipation of the life of the world to come. We are invited to become participants in the cosmic reconciling justice of God. "Why did this happen?" becomes, "I don't know why this happened, but I know where it's going."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Is The Media Dishonest?

I'm seeing "dishonest" as an appellation to the word "media" now, even more than I used to. We Republicans always complain about the media. I think now is different. American conservatives used to have a different interpretation on publicly available facts; now, "facts" are created for consumption, to confirm what people already think they know.

It wasn't long ago--if you can believe this--when we accused Democrats of emotionalism, of making things up to fit an agenda, and not without justification. If we dare raise it now, they deserve to laugh at us.

I watch and read mainstream media, and I'll tell you why. Because I don't need someone to tell me what I think. I'm not insecure in my philosophy, or in my plans. Furthermore, if I attempt to put forward an idea that cannot be grounded in publicly available facts, then I am seeking to advance an ideology, not pursue the truth. And that would be a shame.

I don't find most media dishonest. If anything, I think many rank-and-file Republicans fall into an old journalism mistake. Just because a person somewhere disagrees with a widely-held truth, it does not mean that such a belief has an equal value to the truth. What I just wrote is difficult for me to say; I'm a contrarian, if there ever were one. But contrarianism has its limits, and those limits are the truth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Vent Your Spleen, Or Make An Argument

I have no idea what, or who, "The Left" is any more. It's a swear-word you hear, if you hang out with Republicans enough. It usually refers to people, which ought to be the first clue that there isn't an argument coming. Those people, who hate everything I stand for, are at it again.

How exactly do you articulate a governing philosophy, if your default is ostracizing "those people"?

How do you know you have a philosophy?

And there are some really bad ideas well to my political Left; there are even some people who are evil, who cannot even fathom that goodness emanates from anyone who has ever voted Republican. But not as many as we might be tempted to think.

And I don't care if it's Dennis Prager, God bless him, or the reanimated body of Ronald Reagan himself; if you attack people, rather than ideas, you deserve to be ignored.

Monday, February 13, 2017

There Is No Golden Mean For Vice

There has been a lot of normalization of evil lately. Especially in partisan politics. As long as we can be convinced that the other side is worse, we let our side get away with almost anything.

We can't do that anymore.

Still no-one has told me exactly what Megyn Kelly did wrong, besides ask a question. And it's a question that deserves an answer. The women of America deserve a straight answer, not hostility from Newt Gingrich, that paragon of virtue. But, you know, life goes on, and Hillary was worse.

And let's get something straight: I read books. Maybe not steadily or quickly, but I do. And I believe the President of the United States should read them. I wouldn't want bullet-point summaries; I am the expert; I would consent to your expert opinion, if your analysis convinces me that I should. That's how it would go.

I also have never heard Jorge Ramos say anything deserving getting thrown out of a room. Even if he is liberal. Isn't it a journalist's job to hassle politicians? Guess what, sir? Despite all your sentence fragment protestations to the contrary, you are one.

You'd better believe I'm going to be "judgmental." It's my way of commemorating that this entire farce was beyond the pale. I'm wondering still why it didn't bother anyone else.

I know Hillary was worse; the Democrats always are. What's changed? Nothing, I guess. Except that the party of "family values" are a bunch of hypocrites, who sold their birthright for a bowl of soup.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What I'd Ask Judge Gorsuch

He seems like a great pick. Better than I thought the president would choose. But I have concerns. My questions are these: Why have you consistently backed the government, rejecting 8th Amendment claims in several botched executions? What level of error or mismanagement would change how you ruled? What would make you vote to abolish the death penalty?

Also, what if anything in your judicial philosophy presupposes the correctness of economic liberalism? Do you have a positivist conception of law? That is, laws are morally right because they are duly enacted? Why or why not?

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Public School Teacher Who Changed My Life

We'll call him Mr. M. I was in the 9th grade. He was the civics teacher. He always liked me, and appreciated my curiosity. When I followed up on something outside of class, he'd get a little twinkle in his eye and say, "Knowledge for knowledge's sake!"

He was cool. He made me feel like my thoughts and opinions mattered. He taught me to question everything. He taught us to think about unintended consequences. Feelings are one thing, and arguments another. He was libertarian, which ironically means he'd support the elimination of his own job. But he was charismatic, passionate, and articulate. I have absolutely no doubt that he indirectly impacted the course of my higher learning.

Failing public schools? I don't think so.

It's Good Advice, Sometimes

Try harder. We don't like it when people say this. But if we salute sports heroes for digging down deep and finding that extra gear, I don't think we have much room to complain in the spiritual life.

Just to be clear, Christ has done everything to bring us to the Father. There is no striving anyone could do to please the Father in our own power.

But those who are not strangers to the covenant know about the gift of faith, and of grace. We know the precious promises of Sacred Scripture; we know that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We know of the ministrations of holy Church, our many celebrations and recollections.

We are not the faithless; in the face of our ongoing failures, call upon the Holy Spirit, and try harder.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Tom Brady Does It Again

They came from 25 points down. No one had ever done that. No one had ever been to 7 Super Bowls, either. No one, in 51 years. Frankly, I saw it, and I'm still having trouble believing that it happened. The first Super Bowl to go to overtime was last night. I won't bore you with the recap. But it ended 34-28, in perhaps the greatest title game I've seen. I say "perhaps," because there have been some doozies. And a few involve the Patriots.

One thing I wanted to note, a thing many people might miss, was the time of possession. TOP is usually crucial in a football game. It's hard--and nearly impossible--to score points without the ball. TOP tracks how often a team's offensive unit has the ball.

I noticed that the Patriots were leading the TOP even in the first half, although they trailed 21-3. If they could somehow get back in this thing, that could pay off later. Tired defenses do two things: Jack, and Squat. Tom Brady is arguably the greatest player--let alone quarterback--in NFL history. In the fourth quarter, 19 points by the Patriots tells us all we need to know. Those Atlanta Falcons defenders were exhausted.

The greatest quarterback of all time has five Super Bowl rings as proof. Bear in mind that he lost narrowly in the two others. There is no doubt about who the best is now, in my opinion. 466 passing yards was another day at the office during the regular season for Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, and his Rams teammates, dubbed "The Greatest Show On Turf." But this is the Super Bowl; these types of things aren't done.

Unless you're Tom Brady, that is. Tom Brady, who led his Patriots to the 2001 Super Bowl victory as a rookie against those aforementioned Rams, stands as champion again, some 17 years later.

Friday, February 03, 2017

I Agree With Everything, Except Your Whole Approach

"Imagine a lawyer returning his fee when he loses a case; imagine a television pundit suddenly admitting that he doesn't know what he is talking about; imagine a Hollywood starlet speaking English; imagine the Cubs winning the World Series; imagine anything most absurd, and you have not yet approached the absurdity of those who claim that Catholic Social Teaching implies the existence of a vast welfare state, bureaucratically organized, unanswerable to the people, undermining families, rewarding lust and sloth and envy, acknowledging no virtue, providing no personal care, punishing women who take care of their children at home, whisking the same children away from parental supervision and into schools designed to separate them from their parents' views of the world, and, for all that, keeping whole segments of the population mired in a cycle of dysfunction, moral squalor, and poverty, while purchasing their votes with money squeezed by force from their neighbors."
--Anthony Esolen (Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, 2014)

If this could be considered a theme paragraph, then I have some quibbles. And I should say this first: I am not native to the Left; the Right is my home. (Presuming the categories still have some meaning in some context.) 

If this quoted paragraph represents the book in any way, the book has a grave flaw: It assumes primarily that the distortion of Catholic social doctrine comes from the Left. I can't make that assumption. And I don't think you should, either. 

We don't have to accept a false choice between vice, or economic liberalism. Nor ought we accept that all the critiques of the present system are motivated by those contemptuous of virtue. One of my fears about this book is that it would provide intellectual cover for a peculiar, selective, Rightist reading of our social doctrine. I hope I am wrong.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Re-Thinking Rachel Carson

Now, I haven't read "Silent Spring" yet, but that's the person we're talking about. I saw a PBS show about her. [PBS? Just fill out your Democratic Party membership card now.--ed.] It was fascinating. In broad strokes, the debate surrounding DDT pitted progress and economic development against long-term sustainability.

The aspect of her viewpoint that struck me the most was her argument that we are part of our environment. We are its masters, perhaps, but if we damage the biosphere, we damage ourselves.

How much of the inability to hear environmental advocates' concerns is because of abortion? Those hippies care more about birds than defenseless children. 

Why choose?

And Dr. Naomi Oreskes was on the special, discussing and defending Carson's major themes. Carson may have gotten more strident as powerful interests came after her,--and as her fatal illness progressed--but I was struck by her utter lack of theatrics or sensationalism. I need to read Carson's book. And I would be happy to read Dr. Oreskes on geology or climate change.

And I want to talk to Dr. Cross about this.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

My Friend, Luis

He said something today on social media, and I reproduce it here, for your consideration:

"One may disagree on the seriousness of Trump's executive order, its necessity, its effectiveness or its moral character. But I've seen some pretty appalling stuff being said here on FB, not just about the EO but about immigrants in general.

So let me say this, in case it's not evident: I'm an immigrant. Like many before me, I came to the U.S. seeking a better life. I happen to be from Portugal. It doesn't matter. I could have been Chinese, Mexican or Iranian - the basic motivation to come here would have been the same. I feel a deep kinship with all immigrants who left their language, their families, their identity, because their country simply did not offer conditions for them to thrive, because there are no jobs there that pay enough to pay rent or put food on the table, let alone raise a family. I don't mean unskilled jobs. I mean engineers, nurses and medical doctors. And this of course to say nothing of those immigrants whose countries don't offer them conditions to survive, let alone thrive. I can't imagine how desperate they must be.

In many ways I feel closer to all immigrants, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever, than I feel to people here who complain about 5% unemployment and wages that enable them to have a car, pay the rent and food and still have some surplus. I'm sorry, I know you were used to even better conditions a few decades ago. But you must understand that I can't take your complaints very seriously given the opportunities this country still offers. I just can't.

So when you say barbaric things about immigrants, you must realize that I take them personally. I take them as applying to me, since I'm no different than some of the people you attack. I therefore conclude that you are not my friend and that in fact you wish me ill. I have already unfriended people here over this. More importantly, I have "unfriended" them in real life. Some people I can no longer bring myself to greet on the street.

Do with that information what you will."

[Me talking] I think one thing about the general tenor of our last political season was how un-American it was, and I don't mean that anyone wished America ill. As has been said many times, we are a nation of immigrants. The greatness of America is in the fact that it doesn't matter where you're from, or even where you've been. Nothing says "fresh start" more emphatically than America. It's an entire nation built at least ostensibly on an idea or ideas: self-determination, and meritocracy.

And, by contrast, we have a president who behaved as though the pie is only so big, that between the Mexicans and the Muslims, there'd be nothing left for the "real Americans." I can think of no sentiment more cowardly, more un-American than that. Please pardon the sentiment here, but I thought we were the people with open doors, and open hearts. The woman who made Rwandans fleeing the genocide American citizens on the fly, that's America. Remember when we fought back the fascists in the second world war? It probably wouldn't have hurt us to mind our own business, but we didn't. We believed that anyone who had the gall to believe that only those who have the right skin color (or whatever else) were people--and would kill for that belief--had to be stopped.

Who are we now? Seems like some people think we're the Chosen Ones, by accident of birth. Like Ann Coulter. I swear, she used to be funny. Now, she just parrots ethnocentric garbage from people smarter, and more dangerous. The nation of immigrants is afraid of outsiders? When did this happen?

I can't imagine my day-to-day life without immigrants. I love them, and am loved by them. Every story is like a Hollywood movie, but it's real. Somewhere, we have forgotten that we are owed nothing. We are owed nothing, but a future is possible. Why do we deny a future to others, when it was permitted us?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Overturn Gay Marriage Ruling? Absolutely, Yes.

Nothing harmful to the common good or to the dignity of human beings created in the image of God can be condoned by the State. To punish evil or not, and to what extent is a prudential decision, and one we could discuss for ages. But the key point is this: The State has no authority to command what is evil.

We may not think we are dealing with evil, but indeed we are. Perhaps we have become accustomed to thinking of "individual rights" and nothing else. But this is a mistake.

We could even come to agree in principle that a government could do something immoral as such, but folks forget this when they have sexual sins themselves, or they have come from broken (divorced) homes, and it's cool and popular to be "open-minded."

Even if you hear a Bishop of the Church say other than what I'm telling you,--I tremble even to say it--he's dead wrong.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Federer Wins Eighteenth Major Title, And Fifth Australian Open

I do not believe Roger Federer's record for the most Grand Slam men's singles titles will be under threat any time soon. But just in case, he added another. The pieces fell just right in the draw: Djokovic had a shocking early loss, as did Murray. Roger is still so great that no one else really scared the Fed fans. Then again, he had to beat none other than #4 Stan Wawrinka, and Rafael Nadal, of all people, to finish it off. As it happened, he ended up beating 4 top 10 players en route to the title, which no man has done since Mats Wilander did it at the French Open in 1982. Of course he did.

It's as close to an encyclopedia entry for Roger Federer as you get, to say: "He's the greatest player in the history of our sport," as John McEnroe does on every occasion of a major. But if you think about it, does it lurk in the mind of a legend that the glory days are in the past, that while he still contends on the biggest stage, he's a museum piece of sorts? If you hadn't won a major championship in more than four years and nearly five, you might be wondering. If you had a badly injured knee, and the wiser course is to sit out the balance of 2016, the voices of doubt might be getting louder. After all, no one sits out six months, and then wins a major, do they?

Roger Federer does.

When Federer won Wimbledon back in 2012, I compared it to Ali knocking out George Foreman in Zaire in 1974, at the age of 32. What do we say now? How many icons of sport are left, to which we may compare? We're almost 5 years on, and he may win more. That Wimbledon win was unlikely, unexpected, and all the rest. And here we are, in 2017, and all we can do is shake our heads in wonderment.

I saw the narrow losses to Djokovic in championship finals in 2015. Both times, I must confess, he choked it away. The 18th major should have been won nearly 2 years ago. (Maybe even 19th.) But this latest victory re-casts his promise to return not as the delusional dreams of a fading legend, but as  a promise and threat: I'm still Roger Federer, remember?

He's too kind and noble for undignified displays of dominance, but his racquet does plenty of talking. Beating Roger Federer is still a feather in the cap, and that says more than all the statistics ever could. But I'll bet he's enjoying being the king of the mountain again. I'm certainly enjoying watching him.

Friday, January 27, 2017

We Got Our Dream Finals

At odds that the bookmakers place at 5000-1, the men's and women's singles brackets at the Australian Open feature Venus and Serena Williams, and the men's final is Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal. Are we sure it's 2017?

You may not realize that elder sister Venus has been fighting an autoimmune disease for several years. Also, she's 36. Tennis is not kind at the highest professional level to people in their 30s. Serena, of course, is 35 herself. She will regain the number 1 world ranking if she beats Venus.

I suppose the men are aged also. Federer is 35, playing his first tournament in six months, recovering from a knee injury. Now, there are no points for nostalgia in the tennis rankings; it is little more than a rolling 52-week average of results. So Federer--despite being regarded as one of the four best on the planet even at this moment--has fallen to number 17.

Nadal, meanwhile, has had a terrible couple of years. It was so bad that many thought he was done. I have been writing tributes myself. Not so fast. Nadal is 30 himself.

So this Saturday will seem like a trip in a time machine to 2006. If you can set the DVR, it'll be worth it. The women play Saturday at 2 AM Central time; the men play Sunday at 2 AM Central time.

A Correction

A previous post stated that Rafael Nadal was 33-10 head-to-head against Roger Federer. In reality, he is 23-11. We regret the error. [I don't.--ed.]

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rafael Nadal: A True Champion

The 14-time major tennis champion (3 fewer than all-time leader Federer) has 9 French Open titles. Nine. Now he strolls into a semifinal match at the Australian Open, needing one win to play for the title against his nemesis and counterpart, Federer. If we can say that one legend "owns" another legend, we should say it in this case, because Nadal has beaten Federer 33 out of 43 matches between them.

It will be a battle for the ages if it happens, a contest between two gentlemen ambassadors for the sport. You could easily make an argument that Nadal is the greatest player of all time, owning his native clay courts, and learning to best the great Federer on the others. And here he is still, hoping to add to his legend.

Yet we return to Federer, who endured Nadal's lengthy challenge to his supremacy, and then could argue that he alone consistently threatened the rise of Djokovic, as Djokovic collected 12 major titles of his own. And here we are again.

So tennis is set to reprise its own version of Ali-Frazier, though Nadal can make a strong case to be in the role of Ali. We can't say it's just like old times, because these guys never left. The two oldest members of what fans call the "Big Four" may well be primed to battle again. You could be forgiven for thinking it's 2007, instead of 2017.

Either way, let's enjoy ourselves.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Case Of Flawed Reasoning

I have a friend who complained about the re-instatement of the "Mexico City Policy," a prohibition against the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions internationally. (We have a similar policy domestically: the Hyde Amendment.) Presumably because some of the groups that will now lose funding also do other things of which he heartily approves, he added, "This [policy] will actually increase abortions. It would be funny, if it weren't so sad." The argument goes thusly: why not support oral contraceptives and other services provided by these now-disfavored groups, if I really want fewer abortions?

The plainest answer: I don't want fewer abortions; I want none.

Let us assume for a moment that the basic anthropology offered by the Catholic Church is correct; abortion and contraception are contrary to humanity's purpose and destiny. Let us further assume that I am a Catholic politician. My understanding of my obligation as a legislator and a Catholic is that I may work incrementally, permitting moral evil, provided that I have no other good option, and that I make clear what I am doing, and that the present state is not morally acceptable.

I have no obligation to cooperate even remotely in evil. I would be happy to cooperate in a more general sense, when moral obligations are not at stake. It is usually at this point that an objection is raised: Religion is being imposed! More than that, we are a pluralistic society.

This objection mistakes advocacy for imposition; it also assumes that the multiplicity of value systems implies that no one is correct. Tolerance is meant to serve peace and solidarity; pluralism is not a virtue in itself.

I regard this latest change in policy as a good one. We may have to do other things to make the horror of abortion less likely. If we fail, through callousness or imprudence, the fault is ours. But we never will serve the greater good by doing evil.