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Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Same Philosophy

"My body, my choice." A person can rightly see the error in this. A baby is another person. What if we changed it a bit? "My money, my choice." "My life, my choice." My. The same philosophy that permits the taking of a life in the womb is that which permits suicide, or paying people a substandard wage.

And, the language of the Declaration notwithstanding, there is no "general welfare" in classical liberalism; there are only sets of individuals, whose one or more interests coincide. Government is only legitimate insofar as individuals or sets of individuals deem it so. Only a lack of will to start another revolution, or the power to succeed, keeps the peace.

That's why something like, "We have an obligation to protect the environment" is met with, "What about the right of individuals to make money?" The common good is said to be preeminent over the private good, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, but liberalism exactly reverses that. Of course our nation is failing; it cannot do otherwise.

Monday, February 11, 2019

If I Ran For President

My thought is that I should sketch out 5 big legislative or administrative things I would get behind. I'll give you a list, and then offer broader comments at the end.

--Federal minimum wage increase: Did you know that if we had indexed the minimum wage to inflation, it would be $21.50 per hour today? Kinda makes the $15 per hour radicals seem reasonable, doesn't it? One counter argument is of course that if you increase the minimum wage, companies will replace people with technology. Well, if they do that, I'll tax and fee them into oblivion, and no, I won't feel bad about it. How much does it actually cost to make it in America? It seems like a waste to have abstract discussions about "socialism" and government spending, while people at the bottom are struggling to survive. Wages are wages; you have to earn them. But we'll put the dignity of people over abstract ideological commitments every time.

--Comprehensive environmental protection legislation: Environmental scientists have been sounding the alarm about climate change and its harmful effects for decades. I don't care if it makes me sound like a "liberal": ignoring a major, potentially catastrophic disaster to take cultural jabs at hippies in California, or Democrats, or whomever, is not what sensible leaders and voters ought to do. We will be "picking winners and losers," if in fact we can get cleaner, safer technologies employed faster.

--Moratorium on the death penalty: I will immediately commute the death sentences of every affected inmate in the federal system. I will lead a national conversation in all 50 states arguing for its abolition. Any state refusing to comply with court decisions involving disclosure and process involving the penalty will be forced to comply. No nation who claims to cherish the sanctity of life should tolerate the horrors our system has tolerated. In addition, we are willing to pay all associated costs in choosing not to take the life of one who has murdered others. If we truly ask, "Has capital punishment been a benefit to us?" we would have to answer in the negative.

--A comprehensive approach to ending abortion: Firstly, I will choose judges committed to challenging the legality of abortion, if I can find them. Again, I will lead a national conversation concerning the morality and justice (or lack thereof) of abortion. We think that steadfast anti-poverty efforts, and federally-led--though not exclusive--efforts at increasing social support should lessen its demand. We reject the easy recourse to other forms of abortion claimed as an alternative to surgical abortion.

--Large incentives for married, two-parent families, up to and including paid family leave: Aspects of these ideas are popular across the ideological spectrum, and rightly so. A more just and healthy society begins at home. All people of good will should be alarmed that the United States, along with the developed world, is not even replacing itself. We will not accept literally the slow death of our nation, or society at large. To be somewhat humorous about it, we will literally pay you to have babies, if you're committed to giving them the families they deserve.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

"Wait For Me"--The Song That Just Won't Go Away

I'm not exactly sure when I first heard this song by Daryl Hall and John Oates. It could have been the LP, X-Static (1979), or it might have been the web show "Live From Daryl's House." By the way, if you have a life, don't start watching the show. Just don't. You've been warned.

Anyway, I love this song. The mystery to me is, why? It's not a complicated one, to be sure. From what I can gather, Daryl's got himself in a mess. Let's be honest: We're assuming it's Sara (yes, that Sara) and she's just done with this. Daryl is kind of saying in that first verse, there was a magic time, and it's ending. The carriage is turning back into a pumpkin, so to speak. He says it's his fault, but we've tried again. What's one more?

She's still kind of on the fence, you see. "Is it easier to stay?" he says. But he doesn't know what she's going to do. He wants to keep her, but then, we don't know what he keeps messing up. But then seriously, if it's gonna "fall down" when you're away, is it worth it, bro? [You just called Daryl Hall "bro."--ed.] Yeah, I did.

"Love is what it does, and ours is doing nothing." Are they long distance, or is it just not working? It's been going on so long, it's gotta be worth something, it means something. He knows he's the one trying to hold on, but he thinks he's got enough good will, he can say what he feels. And apparently, he's not giving up. She's coming back, and he'll be ready.

I don't have any direct experience with anything like this. That's probably a good thing. I had a thought that our love songs would be boring if we were not sinners, but that's not true. Yet what is true is that we're so enmeshed by The Fall that we can hardly imagine anything else. Men and women will never be easy.

What I appreciate about most of the live versions is that they are toward the present, pertaining to a song that is, as of this year, 40 years old. Daryl sings it slower nowadays; he lets it breathe. And frankly, if we're singing along, it lets us breathe! It would only be me and some buddies goofing off, but I wanted to record this song. The story of every great Hall and Oates song is that it was ahead of its time, and was underappreciated, and this one is no exception, in my view. It's been stuck in my head for a year; now it can get stuck in yours! You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

A Simple Pro-Life Argument

Call it the Axiom of Epistemic Humility: “What someone (including myself) does or does not believe, in and of itself, bears no necessary relationship to reality.” Take a moment to reflect on this, and then consider this argument:

Sex, properly speaking, makes people;
Those yet to be born are the most innocent of all people;
It is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent person;
Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent person yet to be born;
Therefore, abortion is always wrong.

Sex is one of those things that implies its obligations, even if you ignore them. Consequence-free sex does not actually exist. To insist upon consequence-free sex requires this act of brutality, and others like it, to maintain its regime. Indeed, sexual "liberation" is like a dictator of the mind and soul, who relies upon lies to deceive people.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

I See You, Rick (Or, The Inspiration Isn't What You Think It Is)

I saw more than a few stories in the last few years about Rick and Dick Hoyt. Rick has CP, as I do, and in brief, Dick wanted to include his son Rick in something they could do together. They started doing triathlons together. No, really. Dick had to do a whole lot extra to bring Rick with him. In a sense, Rick needs help with everything. So I have seen this before, and I've seen news stories and videos lay it on a little thick with the "inspiration" stuff. But I love their story, because I know why Rick did what he did. He could have had a pity party, and decided to sit on the sidelines. (And there's truly nothing wrong with rooting on your Dad, and living vicariously.) Rick wanted to do more. And as I think back on the footage I've seen, the image of Rick's spastic arm raised in celebration as they approach the finish line is something that resonates. It's that warrior spirit, and it belongs to Rick. In my view, the inspiration is not in what Dick is doing for Rick, but what Rick does for his father. The elder Hoyt often called his son a "competitor" and said that had they not begun training together, he would be dead. And that's factually correct.

When I appreciate great feats of athleticism, I don't spend time brooding about the fact that I can't do them. You don't, either. Why should I? When I see the warrior spirit, I recognize it as kindred to my own. So many times in our lives, we lament the fact that we fail at this or that. Maybe quite frankly, we're unhappy with who and where we are. It still remains to cultivate the true warrior within, that true person of greatness we are supposed to be.

 Josiah Viera died recently. He was a Cardinals baseball minor league coach. He had a rare form of progeria, or rapid aging disease. They probably thought they were doing this little dying kid a solid when they first met him. And that's fair enough; I have no gripes with the myriad Make-A-Wish chapters all around the world, and what they do. And we make a certain allowance for the publicity of inspirational stories, and how we're all encouraged to be more intentional, thankful, and filled with purpose.

But I don't see a dying kid when I think of Josiah. I see a guy in uniform, with a bat in his hand. I see those strong forearms, ready to hit a ball. Honorary coach, my foot. He loved that game as much as anybody out there, and the players knew it, too. That's what  saw. Don't miss the warrior spirit while feeling pity or sadness.

Some Context For Defenses Of Abortion Centered On "Bodily Autonomy"

"My body, my choice." It means more than simply being wrong about how many people are involved, though some people do need to consider how many lives are at stake in the question of a particular "choice." Yet I think the reason abortion rights has dovetailed so easily with feminism is that, with limited exceptions, the political counterweight to "progressive" feminism--some kind of "conservatism"--has accepted the general degradation of women. This is how abortion can be seen as "empowering." It disregards the male contribution to the sexual act, and any rights or duties that flow from that, because in extreme forms, radical feminism denies the goodness of maleness as such.

If you begin with an a priori assumption that a relentless and crushing patriarchy exists, and it squelches all femaleness and its creativity, and you add in political opposition that has taken to calling concerns about consent as "puritanical", perhaps add in genuine sexism and discrimination in workplaces, rape, sexual assaults in varying degrees, and the reality that oftentimes justice is not done in such cases, you could see how a reasonable person might miss the full and true contours of the moral question of abortion, and so such "reproductive choice" becomes a matter of being heard and seen as a person, as something more than an object for male use.

We might say that the patriarchy kept the power, and abandoned the virtue. Christians, do you hear me? There's only so far I can walk across this bridge, because 1. I don't believe in anyone's absolute autonomy; and 2. I do believe in some kind of patriarchy, in the end. A Catholic who doesn't believe in general in hierarchy is likely in dissent. That's the way we tend to see the world, as mediated by the Church.

As one example, though, have you seen those pick-up artists? I doubt those guys are leftists. And true enough, some radical women would have no patience with my genteel paternalism, anyway. Admittedly, I have clicked around a few of those PUA sites in moments of quiet desperation, but those dudes are not Christians, or they certainly don't talk like us. Of course, somebody should write a startling expose about how PUAs and institutional "feminism" are just mechanisms for the capitalist monolith. [You could probably get Deneen to write the foreword.--ed.] Yeah, totally.

The Tension Between The Goodness Of Bodies, And The Reality Of Disability

It is the goodness of bodies that an extremism of disability-worship denies, by asserting that there is something essential to me in the experience of my disability. This error explains why some people make themselves disabled, in some cases, maiming themselves for the purpose of receiving pity, attention, or any number of other reasons. We have to reject this kind of thinking. God has promised to restore that which has been broken, both in ourselves, and in this creation He made. At the risk of massive understatement, we cannot enjoy God's restoration of all things if we deny that there is anything that needs to be restored.

There is an example of this pernicious type of thinking in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called, "Loud As a Whisper". Generally speaking, it is a great episode, filled with many examples showing the goodness of people with disabilities, and the goodness that can be found in overcoming those disabilities. The Enterprise is assigned to transport a mediator to a warring planet. When they arrive on the mediator's planet, they realize that he is deaf. Riva the mediator uses a unique form of communication called a "chorus". Its individual members are able to interpret Riva's thoughts and speak them. When the Enterprise crew questions Riva about his deafness, he says, "Born, and hope to die." Very subtly, the writers have communicated the idea that deafness is intrinsic to Riva's identity as a person. I don't know what it would be like to live without my disability, but it is a limitation. Even as I give thanks for the unique perspective that my disability affords me, and even for the difficulty I am invited to overcome, it is beyond reason to suggest that a lack of ability to do something is intrinsic, or even virtuous.

Another side plot within this episode involves Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge. As you may know, La Forge is blind. He stopped in to Sickbay, reporting to the new doctor aboard the Enterprise, Dr. Pulaski. Pulaski has never met La Forge in person, but has heard of his case, and is understandably curious about his prosthetic, the VISOR. She tells La Forge that she may be able to restore his optic nerve, thus curing his blindness. There is a risk that she could fail, in which case he would lose all of his sight, including the ability to use the VISOR. La Forge hesitates, and this is a mystery to Pulaski. On the one hand, if Geordi is hesitating because of the risk of the surgery, this is legitimate. However, if he is hesitating because being cured of his blindness will eliminate the special experiences that experiencing his disability have created, then he is surrendering to the idea that disability is desirable or proper, and intrinsic to the human experience.

There is a fine line between thankfulness in spite of difficulties, and believing that defects are integral to our identity as individuals. This distinction is the difference between accepting suffering, and the celebrating of it for its own sake.

On a more personal note, I apologize for my vast array of sports analogies and references. Surely I could describe the goodness of bodies in other ways! Yet by God's grace, I am what I am, and if you've borne up thus far, perhaps you can make it the rest of the way.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Just A Kid, Playing With His Friends

After the Super Bowl, (WOOO! GO PATS!) I saw a woman on a performance show, playing a violin. Took me about 60 seconds to realize she was playing with a prosthetic arm. I promise you, I did not notice. She had a pitiable story, but it had little to do with her arm, because again, I missed that part. [Pardon the pun.--ed.] Oh, awful! That was bad. You're fired! [You have fired me many times.--ed.]

Her playing was OK, but not great. On the other hand, that she's playing again is fantastic, beneficial, and right for her to do.

You might have seen the adaptive game controller commercial. I was impressed, and glad people are doing this. It's right and good to help a kid feel included. We should let each other know, in big and small ways, that we're important to one another.

It, however, was not "inspirational." It was just normal, friends and kids playing video games. That's what I saw. Re-think your pity. It's not that it never has a place. I feel pity for others. I can also acknowledge the reality of disability as defect. Otherwise, the excellence of Tom Brady, or Roger Federer, or Carl Lewis, is muted and denied. For example. But what you actually owe me, and others like me, is to see me as a peer. If we are fellow sharers in the human condition, then we can talk about what I need, what you need, and if we need to make changes. And it's on these terms and these alone, that we can acknowledge suffering and difficulty together.

When we are peers, then we can inspire one another. Without this, I am an object lesson, and no one wants that, if you think about it.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

I'm Joining This "Outrage Mob," And Here's Why

A local TV news person, Kevin Steincross, has been pulled off the air here in town, indefinitely. His error? He accidentally (he says) said, "Martin Luther C**n" instead of "King" on Dr. King's birthday. I could easily believe it was an honest mistake. He tripped over his words, and screwed it up.

On the other hand...

Black America has been forced to endure an unending litany of "honest mistakes," ranging from disrespect, to outright murder. Discrimination in housing, education, agriculture, you name it. Things are less bad perhaps in some ways, but not in others. Just yesterday or the day prior, I read of one young black woman here in Missouri who was repeatedly insulted, demeaned, and discriminated against by her own high school dance coach, and by another adult, and not only did the school administration do nothing, (except reluctantly fire said coach after some heinous, obvious text messages came to light) the parents and other daughters on the team threw a party, and wore ribbons in support of the fired coach! I'm going to remember this, the next time I'm tempted to tell someone to "get over it," or I think that it's ancient history.

Steincross hasn't been fired, either. He's just not on TV for awhile. I believe you, sir. But I'll tell you what: you can do reparation and penance for all of us Caucasians, even if it was a mistake. I'm Catholic; we do this all the time. I've said Marian prayers in reparation for all the blasphemies against God, and I am not often guilty of such sins personally.

I do know this: I don't think black Americans are as outraged about "SJWs" as some of my fellow whites are. There is nothing sarcastic about wanting holistic, comprehensive, systemic justice. In other words, social justice. Are we still defensive, because we're bearing guilt?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Virtue Signaling, Revisited

I have written before about this, and I urge you to consider Dr. Cross' clarifications carefully. As far as I understand the idea of virtue signaling, we are of one mind concerning the dangers of the accusation, offered without evidence.

For my part, you may assume that I believe whatever I say to be the truth as I see it. I have no D.C. cocktail circuit invitation waiting; there is no one I intend to impress. I am guilty of being stirred by passion frequently, and I may cause hurt that I may come to regret. I am not at the present time blessed with a superabundance of prudence, by any means. Yet if one definition of "virtue signaling" is to hide or obfuscate one's beliefs to curry favor, I have never been guilty of it, to my knowledge. Certainly not in a huge public forum like Facebook.

Some people who accuse others of "virtue signaling" just don't like being told that they are deficient in virtue.

The accusation without foundation or proof is only flourishing in the context of skepticism, where any assertion of truth is regarded merely as a statement of preference.

And we have arrived back at emotivism again. [I'm wondering if you'll finish this post, before you bash markets again.--ed.] Well... [Pete's sake, stahp!--ed.]

So, love me or my opinions, hate me or my opinions; it's up to you. Just please don't say that I don't really believe what I say. If I didn't believe something, I wouldn't say it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Abortion, Continued: An Illustration

Those of you who are Trekkies/Trekkers may well know of the first episode of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That episode is called "The Child". In it, Counselor Deanna Troi becomes impregnated without her consent by an alien life-force. The life-form takes her flesh, and the pregnancy proceeds with astonishing rapidity (a couple of days). As you might imagine, the senior officers have a debate early on about what to do. Should the pregnancy be terminated? We see Troi half tuning out the discussion, as the camera solely focuses on her. After about fifteen seconds, she boldly declares, "Captain, do whatever you feel is necessary to protect the ship and the crew, but know this: I'm going to have this baby." The captain dutifully replies, "Then it seems the discussion is over." It's the perfect female-centric sentiment for this issue, even for 1988. Let's pause a moment and think.

Do we really intend to say that a baby acquires rights if and only if the mother wishes it to be so? Many people (the censors included) were probably relieved she chose to have the baby. It's still a worthy question. The characters, including Troi, call the life a "baby" and prattle on about the miracle of life plenty, which is incongruous for a show about the atheistic future. And of course, this incoherence with its fulcrum at the mother's will is a normal feature of our debates around this issue. The whole matter is morally absurd, though, and we should know it.

Another species of this utilitarianism is the notion that even a mother or father has the right to decide whether their child lives or dies. At almost no other point would we permit this incoherent foolishness. We would arrest parents who killed their children, whether directly, or through negligence. Because we live in a universe governed by reason--even with great tragedy and loss--this incoherence can't be sustained. I'm hopeful that we won't sustain it much longer.

The Inevitable Logic Of A Certain Pro-Choice Position

It makes sense to decriminalize all but the murder of children who have been born, if one accepts the premise that the pre-born are not persons. Measured against reality, this premise is false and indefensible, but the logic of abortion must go here. This regime of thought must accept an underlying utilitarianism, because anything other than utilitarianism re-opens the question of the morality of abortion itself.

Understand that I do not say it's not horrible, evil, and almost certainly demonic. It is. But truthfully, we must also say that all the "moderate" pro-choice rhetoric of previous years and decades was unprincipled in the strict sense. We may indeed be rightly horrified, but for abortion's most ardent defenders, they believe they are calling the bluff of what they saw as a hopelessly contradictory position.

For my part, I don't mind arguments meant to foster consensus for abortion restrictions based upon majority opinion, such as, "Two-thirds of Americans favor some restrictions on abortion." The purpose of such arguments is to put those who favor no restrictions on the defensive as outside the mainstream, so to speak. The danger of such arguments is precisely this: People may mistakenly believe that the moral dimension of abortion is determined by popular opinion, or by majority consensus.

This is the danger of incrementalism at every point as well.

All this is to say that we should keep praying and speaking out, and all of the other things. Yet we should also engage our minds to understand underlying philosophies--especially when they are false--and be mindful of the danger of adopting a false philosophy ourselves, even in service to a good cause.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Men: It's OK To Cry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Sex While Crippled: A Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions Of An Angry Catholic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

You Have Heard It Said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 05, 2019

A Thought Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

Bigotry, American Style

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

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

Logically, it looks like this:

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

Genetic fallacy, right? And non sequitur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Next Up: Some Wild And Crazy Guys

[There's no way you told Amanda Beck that you're reviewing Dreher next.--ed.] Are you kidding? I want her to still be my friend after this! [And then Jordan Peterson.--ed.] I may regret this. [Deneen will be chagrined that he doesn't count as a wild and crazy guy.--ed.] Questioning the very foundation of modern liberal society is pretty nuts, though. [He doesn't even like "It's A Wonderful Life"!--ed.] Professors, man. Even when they're right, they're like left-handed pitchers, if you know what I mean. [Oh, yeah.--ed.]

If I may be frank, I'm pretty excited about this next part. I feel a thrill somewhere in my right-wing soul. [Oh, stop. You've been perfecting Smug Moderate Sage for three years--ed.] I didn't know I wrote for The Atlantic? [You don't.--ed.] I should. [Probably.--ed.]

[I thought you were doing Deneen's book next?--ed.] Well, my book took a vacation in Confirmation Sponsor Guy's car, and then an all expenses paid trip to Iowa. I didn't have the time, though, frankly. [You still don't.--ed.] True.

Reading books and talking about them is awesome! [Books are like the Spice. Spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness.--ed.] None of these people know what you're talking about. [But you do, and that's what matters.--ed.] True.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Book Review: Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me, Amanda Martinez Beck (II)

In the first part of my review, I focused on the theological direction of the book, and now, I'd like to focus on my thoughts and reactions as an "other," a person with a disability, reading this book.

It hits me hard.

If you have a disability, or move differently, or look differently, and you haven't hated your body at some point, I'm overjoyed for you. There is so much frustration involved, even if it's not articulated or spoken. The axiom that all bodies are good bodies comes from the goodness of God, the goodness of creation, and the goodness of human nature as such. It's not rooted in irrational self-esteem, but in an esteem that God Himself has declared. For someone like Amanda to name it, to put it in ordinary terms, is powerful. It's an act of friendship and love, applicable to all kinds of situations.

She spoke briefly about suffering abuse, though in this book, she doesn't go into great detail. That also resonates with me, and I wondered if that could account for the intimacy I felt as a reader. In short, there are many reasons why we disbelieve the truth that our bodies are good bodies, some of which have little to do with us. The truths about ourselves are things we must encounter again and again. She speaks about falling back into believing lies, comparing herself to others, and beginning again. Once more, anyone could identify with this.

Sin is always an offense against God, and in another sense, it is always a personal act. Therefore, whatever we say about gluttony, for instance, it is not correlated strictly with weight or size. If someone commits that sin, it is also a sin against neighbor, but that neighbor is himself or herself.

It is also crucial to realize that if I dwell in thoughts of hatred for my body, or take actions pursuant to that, I have also sinned against myself! It is both freeing and convicting to understand this.

As I have said many times, the Father is not standing ready to whack us with a cosmic clipboard, no matter how seriously we understand the fact of judgment. His attitude toward us is ever and always, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That's another aspect of this book I love: every exhortation to self-acceptance is rooted in the divine benevolence, which can never be withdrawn!

Most certainly, I hope this book is expanded, and that Amanda writes other books. It was a privilege to contemplate God's goodness along with her, and apply those lessons to my life.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Book Review: Lovely: How I Learned To Embrace the Body God Gave Me, Amanda Martinez Beck (I)

I am intending to do this in two parts; in this first part, I want to focus on theological direction, and in the second, I'm going to focus on this book's possible wider impact, beyond the most direct audience; that is, those who struggle with body acceptance due to weight fluctuation. (Or, in blunter parlance, "fat people.") Most of my readers know that I am a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair, so I think it fair to say I did not consider myself part of the target audience. I do intend to speak more personally in part II, in light of this. As always, any critiques will come and do come in the presence of glaring, heinous error, or other problems. My first task is to understand, and even appreciate.

One thing that is startlingly effective right from the jump is how crisp and interesting the writing is. The reader jumps right into the lives of Hannah and Elkanah. We know that Beck has something personal she wants to say, but she starts us off in the biblical world. This is disarming, in quite the way a parable is disarming. Suppose the audience was skeptical. Suppose the audience is anticipating what they might hear from a "body positivity" activist. Lo and behold, I the reader cannot let those thoughts brew and fester, because I'm thinking about a family of ancient Jews. Another positive from the outset of the book is that a Christian reader will not, I think, believe the Sacred Scriptures have been twisted or stretched to make the point Beck makes, a large portion of which is that even heroes in the story of redemption have questions, struggles, and longings that aren't answered or taken away by the snap of a finger. If that is true for them, it's true for us, and Amanda doesn't have to spell that out for it to come across. So, when she transitions to her personal story, the differences between her and Hannah don't translate to a hackneyed synthesis. Indeed, quite the opposite.

Another beautiful aspect here is that Christian readers won't have any doubt about the author's view of the Sacred Scriptures. Their use lets us know that they are the word of the Lord. We can mine the Bible and search it out, because its Author is the God who speaks, and speaks to us. We are invited to connect with biblical people, and through them, to understand the wider story of redemption. There is certainly a movement both in toward us as individuals, and outward toward the big picture of salvation history. It is intriguing that Beck invokes St. John the Evangelist, because his gospel prologue is surely meant to evoke the goodness of creation in Genesis 1. Yes, even St. John's language has us in the mode of thinking creation-re-creation, and if we read John's gospel along with this book, (and as good Catholics) we will not see Christ's coming in the Incarnation as an opposition to creation, nor our creation as human beings, but as an enhancement, a glorious unfolding of the wonderful plan of God! Beck doesn't have to spend pages and pages telling the story of redemption, because she invites us along with her as she meditates upon the crucifix, and of course, Our Lord's crucified body. Moreover, before long, we are reading and meditating on St. John's vision of Our Lord as the Lamb of God, slain, and yet, standing victorious, from Revelation. The message of this is forceful: even a broken body is not a forsaken body, in a theological (that is, God-centered) sense. The marvel of this book is that it does say so much with so little space and words.

Any thoughts about fatness, and any book about those unhappy with their bodies, will have to deal with people's often conflicted relationship with food. As she begins to do this, Beck starts from the Eucharist, and indeed, from the tangible nature of all the sacraments. Again, to participate, we are all learning the valuable lesson that matter--including our bodies within the good creation--is good. Jesus commands us to eat Him; therefore, eating is good. Beck doesn't spend too much time telling us how to eat, or what to eat--and frankly, she doesn't want to--but by taking us to the Eucharist, we get to confront the body hatred and Manichaen thinking that is at the heart of many systems of food denial, better known as "diets." Beck never asserts that losing weight is bad; she never asserts that physical health is unimportant. What she does do is make us look at contemporary American and Western culture and its idolatry of fitness, youth, and beauty, and ask us frankly if that is consistent with the biblical story of the goodness of creation, including us.

As a rule, I hate study or reflection questions in books. What I noticed is that these are at once unobtrusive, and quite effective. Because of the weaving in and out of Amanda's personal story, the questions seemed deeply caring, probing without being unfriendly or inappropriate. The reader may well be startled by them, but hopefully not in a bad way.

At this moment, I know next to nothing about the health approach she calls "HAES". I am not a veteran of the body positivity movement. But what I gather is that it is an holistic approach, encompassing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational aspects of a person. Beck says that approaches focused solely on weight or size miss important aspects of the lives of people. The reader is ready to agree as a Christian, because the Christian story is of the goodness of creation, and that salvation in Christ is nothing if not total, personal, and ecclesial-relational.

This book is astonishing in its thoroughness, especially in light of its brevity. I found myself meditating as much upon the story of redemption as upon what Amanda was saying. That, dear readers, is the mark of a great Christian book. It's 110 pages long! Rarely do I wish a book was longer; this is one. It is an excellent work of pastoral and practical theology. Part II tomorrow.