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.