Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Greatest Is Gone

I have stolen my title from that Time magazine cover and story, probably from the aftermath of the champ getting knocked out by Larry Holmes. I imagine it was hard for his fans to see it, and that's an understatement. When I imagine him in the ring, it's always the kid who destroyed Sonny Liston. I love those quick feet; to hit, and not get hit in return is the goal, the nirvana of boxers and their trainers, and for a time, no one was ever better.

And I have always admired the man, even if I shouldn't. To me, he is the symbol of unvarnished blackness, that which I must reckon with, even if I don't agree with it, or it makes me uncomfortable. The whole nation had to learn that, and we did.

When you see the unfailingly flattering remembrances, bear in mind that we are doing penance for those 3 peak years we took from him, still. We owe everyone he ever represented that, I daresay.

And there was no better man to speak out against Muslim extremism in those later years, because no one else had earned the credibility to speak across the cultures as he had. Arguably the world's most famous Muslim, saying what needs to be said. And to his great credit, if we are going to abide the silliness of making a man famous for punching people, we should really say that he used it well.

Those who still despise him for his most principled stand tend to be those who also say, "My country, right or wrong," and we needn't concern ourselves with them.

I heard him say on British TV that he'd spend the rest of his life getting ready to meet God. I hope and pray it's gone well. Lord, have mercy, and thank you for Cassius Marcellus Clay, the one we call Muhammad Ali.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Why I Won't See (Or Read) "Me Before You"

I'm sure you're starting to hear about it. Emilia Clarke is obviously beautiful, and the guy is handsome. Fair enough. And I would normally love a story about a person with a disability finding love, especially with an "able-bodied" person.


Suicide is not a morally acceptable choice. We need to be clear on how we have been infected with utilitarianism, the idea that the value of our lives is determined by our usefulness to others. As these paragraphs make clear, God alone is the Master of life and death. We can be useful and helpful to one another. As I've said before, I'm cheered every time Roger Federer walks on a tennis court. But when it's all said and done, 17 major championships doesn't mean much to the Lord. Let's just say, He values different things.

The inviolable dignity of the human person is affirmed and known by virtue of his or her destiny. Our purpose in life is eternal communion with God, who is Life without end.

On a personal note, I have wrestled with feelings this story aims to bring to light. Every disabled person has believed at some point they were a burden to family, friends, and caregivers. They might not even tell you that. It's why I go through this personal liturgy every time I have a need:

Me: Thanks for the help. It's probably not everyone's first choice of things to do.
Person: Really, it's no trouble at all.
Me: Well, I appreciate it.

Even if they have already done something similar 50 times before. Even if it has been ordained by God as a sacrifice for them to do, I don't feel free to let the moment pass without some acknowledgement that it has taken place. In some odd way, I find myself every day as a part of a mystical transaction in the economy of charity. This book and movie tells us to forget all that, to surrender to one's feelings of inadequacy, rather than turn a weakness into a strength, offering it as a gift to God, and to others. We should rather just die.

In another respect, as much as I can roll my eyes at what we in "the community" call "inspiration porn," (because I'm no hero, I'm just a guy) who am I to decide when somebody should be inspired by me or not? I got told that twice this week, and hey, I'm happy to help. My friends and family can puncture my ego whenever they like. If some random person draws strength from me, who am I to argue? I think that debate needs to continue.

As a semi-sidebar, anybody recall Dick and Rick Hoyt? They are a father-son duo, and Rick has CP, just like me. Dick got this crazy idea to get in shape, and maybe help Rick feel more valued, to do triathlons, while taking Rick with him. Google it; I'll wait. And you can misconstrue it, if you think Rick didn't do anything. Ask Dick, and he will say otherwise. If you can't get inside that, from Rick's point of view, you might be that "ableist" that the activists talk about. Even the smallest things we do, to feel more human, they can be mighty things, and worth doing. I'm enjoying every letter I physically type on this keyboard. It's harder for me than it is for you, and that's part of the point.

If we are able, let us revel in what we are, for we are made in God's image, and for His likeness, and no physical inability, or other impairment changes that. Part of accepting God's love means loving ourselves, and that may mean rejecting the inordinate self-love that puts suicide on the table, if we don't fit some ridiculous cultural definition of "usefulness." You're darn right, I'm boycotting this movie, and with gleeful gusto.

Christians Don't Need Tattoos

I'm not saying it's a sin. I'm not even saying it makes for bad aesthetics. And I know many fine people with tattoos. I will say that a Christian has already been marked, by something stronger than ink under the skin.

If you folks in the helping professions, like counselors, don't sit in front of the people with tattoos over nearly every inch of their body, and ask yourself, "I wonder what went on here?" I will give you a thousand dollars, for being such a good liar.

I know some people--whether they realize it or not--feel they need a visible sign of the scars they carry on the inside.

It is altogether appropriate to note that many Old Testament prohibitions ceremonial and civil have been set aside in the New. It's also wise to recall that God knows us better than we do, and he does nothing or commands nothing without a reason, even if we don't know what it is.

I can understand the draw (pardon the pun) of an evangelistic tattoo. Then again, if your life doesn't mark you out as a Christian, nothing else they see will make a difference.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

All Jesus, All The Time

It struck me in Mass today just how many times we mention Jesus. There's a stereotype about Catholics, that we're not really "into" Jesus. I guess it's fair, depending on who you talk to. But if you truly understand your faith, you can't get enough of Him. 

Also, Mary and the saints don't change that. The thing about agape is, it's not a pie that runs out. Love--supernatural love--multiplies, and spreads like wildfire.

Some people say that we embrace inclusivism, the idea that there is more than one way to God. That's not true. It was Jesus who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father, except through me." You can grip a person or thing so tightly, as if you are afraid they or it will slip away. By contrast, Jesus the Truth invites, embraces, and convinces, by the power of His love.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Final Thoughts On The Atomic Bombs

I will not waver from the conviction--expressed here, and elsewhere--that dropping the bombs on Japan to effectively end the Second World War was a morally unjust act. It had been a question that, frankly, I had not even considered until recently. I was vaguely aware that the Allies had done other things that didn't seem in accord with us being "the good guys," and that may have been troubling if I had spent a great deal of time reflecting on one thing or another, but I didn't. For most of my life, it was enough to know that Nazis and Imperial Japan (also, Italy and Russia, at the beginning) were evil, and we beat them. It's not just that consequentialism is in our culture; it's embedded in the fabric of our civil religion about the war itself. It's as if the only two criteria for judging the war's morality have been whether we are not as evil as "them" (in some vague, undefined way), and whether we won.

This isn't good enough, in terms of moral reflection, for the Christian. And that is to say the least.

Is it ever acceptable to murder someone for a greater good? The well-formed Christian conscience must answer, "No!" Therefore, even the moral tragedy of collateral damage pales in comparison to the evil of "total war," which obliterates the distinction between combatants and non-combatants; the atomic bomb is the end-point of this thinking as a means, and its end can only be the will to power. The sad reality of this philosophy is exactly what Kirk and Weaver lamented at the time, and I don't think the decades following would find them guilty of melodrama.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Situation Ethics America

It does take a fair amount of courage (or hubris, if you like) to say that America should not have done x, or y, specifically, drop the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As patriotic Americans, we're used to thinking in a strict binary: America and Americans, good, America's enemies, bad.

If you claim Christ as Savior and Lord, though, there is in consequence a higher piety and loyalty, and the application of those principles may be challenging in some respects. I think it is here.

In fact, because the argument is so embedded in the American consciousness that "we did what we had to do," and, "A land invasion would have cost more lives, etc." the consequentialist argument must be confronted. Ethically, it's very simple: we are never permitted to do evil, that good may result. Here's the Catechism on conduct in war. If we understand the principle, then the entire argument that dropping the bombs was more "merciful" dies on the vine.

The area of theology that deals with the analysis of moral acts is called moral theology. Every act has 3 aspects: object, intent, and circumstances. When we say that an act is intrinsically evil, what we are saying is that the object or purpose of the act is evil, so that a good intention or extenuating circumstances won't change the bad act into a good act. It may lessen the culpability of the person, that is, their responsibility, but it won't change the nature of the act. There are of course bad acts which are bad, but not intrinsically so, and of course acts which might appear to be good (or bad) but intention or even circumstances could change them. Practically, though, intrinsically evil acts by definition are always wrong. It is always wrong to commit murder, for example. That is defined as the deliberate taking of innocent human life. There could be killing that is not murder, of course. But if we define our terms, we're able to apply it widely, without much trouble. Whether we find ourselves living up to our principles, that's another matter.

I'm confident that I don't love my country any less in saying that she and her soldiers made a grave mistake, perhaps one of the worst ever, on those days. Of course, others did indefensible things, also. And I'm glad the Allies won. None of those things has any bearing on the question at hand. And rather than simply say, "it happened," we endeavor to apply our principles, so that we will not do it again.