Thursday, June 27, 2019

Getting It Right

I'm a little biased here, but my friend Casey Chalk is in a good habit of writing great pieces on the good life in some of the political magazines and websites. Here is one in The American Conservative. I endorse everything he says in this piece, but I want to take a little part of it and use it as a jumping off point for my own reflection here. Casey mentions fathers and sons especially, and how playing baseball, or even watching baseball, can bring them together. We don't talk enough about fathers. We don't talk enough about good fathers, and how necessary they are.

More than this, we don't talk about what a necessary blessing it is to be part of an intact family. I say "necessary" because there exists an obligation for all people of goodwill to fight for intact families. I say "blessing" because the damage of experiencing a broken family is outweighed in the lives of those from intact families by a factor of 10, and perhaps much more. The blessing is a gift of that benefit, and we need a stronger word than simply, "It's better if…" I contributed anonymously to this book because the experiences of children from broken families are not told. If we get to a point where the powerful are not ignoring the data about the kind of family structure that makes for successful people, then we will have plentiful information that is not simply stories to bolster this point. We could also talk about an implicit scientism, and numerous other things in that intellectual failure, but stories form an important part of the art of persuasion in these times. There is something about telling a story that creates a pathos which binds the hearers and the teller together in something special. Pardon the digression.

Are we willing to fight for marriage? I can remember a professor of mine at the seminary I attended in my Protestant days, who said passionately that non-Christians fight for marriage harder than we do. Are we standing around and simply shaking our heads, saying, "That's a shame," when we hear about Catholics married in the Church getting a divorce? Or are we getting in there and saying, "No, you can't do that" to the extent that we have influence over the couple? Abuse of various kinds always comes up when the topic of fighting for marriage and against divorce is raised. No one I know is suggesting that abuse is acceptable, or that to escape abuse is somehow a moral failure. Quite frankly, what we are really talking about are Catholics who are divorced and remarried civilly--against the Church's teaching--and are uncomfortable hearing from others about their sin. I do not know how exactly the bishops will handle the sheer number of people who are in this irregular situation. I do know that we should not excuse sin, simply because it has become acceptable, or has gone on a long time. I am confronted with the question that arises in myself whenever I consider divorce and remarriage: "Do I really intend to say that a person with free will and the grace of God through baptism at the very least is not able to detach themselves from an immoral situation?" Indeed, do any of us intend to say that the teaching of the Church about civil divorce and remarriage without a declaration of nullity, is in error? I know as much as anyone that the pastoral situations around these questions are not easy. But anything that suggests that God the Holy Spirit could make a mistake, and that the Church needs to "get with the times" is beyond the pale for me. And let us be clear that contraception is intimately connected to where we are with this question of divorce. It may in fact be largely the cause of many of these divorces. I run the risk of being dismissed as a reactionary for saying this, but I do not have the luxury of pretending to accept falsehood as truth. I am the living witness to the blunt force of that falsehood lived out in real life, and I cannot disregard my experiences, or the truth of the moral law, or the teaching of holy Church, in order to make people happy. It's a false happiness anyway, and we ought to know it.

Must Love Dogs

I don't know if I'll have a dog, when I form a family. I suppose I should say "if" I form a family. It's true, you know, that people are keeping dogs instead of having children. It's absolutely true that some people are clearly compensating for their lack of having children--of being parents--by treating dogs like children.

On the other hand, I love dogs. Almost every time someone says what I said in this first paragraph, they are a bunch of dog-haters. I don't like that. And it kind of blunts the force of your argument, to be honest. And it's a ridiculous juxtaposition in the first place, because I'm no sociologist, but there's a pretty strong correlation between having children and having a dog. Therefore, in the fine tradition of a popular meme, "Why not both?"

It's just something I had to get off my chest. I hope you don't mind.

Re-Thinking Race And Racism (Again)

I'm not one of those people who thinks that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, a magic wand was waved, and racism ended forever. In fact, that's ridiculous. I am probably one of those people that would pass as a "liberal" on race in many respects. I believe in structural racism; I believe in principle in the idea of reparations for slavery and other degradations against African-Americans and others.
Yet I had something happen to me the other day, and it has me feeling and thinking that I can see the other side of this issue more clearly than I could before.

I saw an episode of the show "The Real World". Now you may know that it's a web series now, but it premiered of course many years ago on MTV. They try to get the most interesting and diverse cast they can. Quite frankly, especially now, TV producers are trying to get people that will conflict with one another. Anyway, I was watching this show, and one of the participants was a very militant black person, who didn't take long to confront all the white people in the house about their racism, and more importantly, their alleged participation in an entire racist system. And he did all the right things, according to his theory of how a person in his position should act: he remained calm, when the others understandably became very angry. He took their upset as proof that he was correct. Naturally, he had several allies in this, and as I sat and thought about it, I realized that he did not present one shred of evidence for anything that he said. In fact, I recognized everything he said as a kind of dogma that I have heard in left-wing thinking on race. How else could most of the people in the house--barely older than 20--recite it so exactly? It is their catechism, their dogma. Everything that those who received the challenge said in response only served to prove what the young man already believed. Once again, I am not averse to many of the ideas that these theories present; I only know that any idea which says that I am guilty, and all my perspectives are invalid, because I am white, is a ridiculous idea. Moreover, it could be argued that these deconstructions based upon power are a clever version of poisoning the well, or perhaps shooting the messenger, because one does not have to actually listen to anything a particular person says, if they are in the wrong category. Now, this might be a crude oversimplification of the academic theories, but then again, many people aren't putting much stock in those theories to begin with, at least among those I know.

Fundamentally, I believe that people are free to choose. They are free to be what they ought to be. It doesn't mean that everyone is free of challenges; it doesn't mean that racism is dead, or that grievous injustice does not take place even today. (I trust police today less than I ever have, and with good reason in many cases.) But I saw that kid, and I heard his talk, and I thought, "These will be his excuses, when he comes up short, and he has no one else to blame or make ashamed."

Please forgive me if these thoughts strike many of you as insensitive, or clueless. I don't know what I can say for myself. We might have to do a lot to help people who haven't gotten a fair shake in life. It might even be based on race. After all, the government promised people lots of things, and never delivered. Today's equivalent of 40 acres and a mule would be a huge chunk of money. It might be money well spent. Yet I also believe at the end of the day that people are responsible for what they do and do not do. There are a lot of fashionable theories that spend a lot of words to basically deny this. I'm not in for those.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Profession Of Faith

It wasn't a hoop I jumped through. When I said I believed and professed all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, it was literally the most important vow I have ever made, or will ever make. I made it without prejudice to other vows; that is, I may take others that do not conflict, and surely I will do so. It's another illustration of grace building upon nature, and of the interrelation of different facets of true reality. In this way, the profession of faith is the grounding for all other promises, and this makes sense, because the vow's truth rests on God, who can neither deceive, or be deceived.

I have to therefore take this opportunity to say that I don't "get" pick-and-choose religion. I'm fully aware that people do it. I can even see that it would be appealing. After all, every time we sin, we're retreating into this pick-and-choose mentality.

Anyway, I remain surprised at how many people go, "Really?" when I get asked the inevitable question, "Which parts of Church teaching do you think are wrong?" and I say, "None." This isn't the buffet at Ponderosa; this is literally eternal life or death. I struggle in many different ways; I do not struggle in faith.

It seems to me that all the saints have unwavering faith. Not that they never sinned; indeed, they will be generous in telling you that they are sinners. But that they know by faith that God can be relied upon, even when nothing else can, including their own perceptions.

Anyway, it doesn't make sense for Catholics to argue with professed Catholics who aren't sure whether Church teaching is true. At worst, we'd be causing scandal; that is, causing doubt about what the Church teaches. At best, we may be expecting too much from people, who may need to go back to the beginning.

In addition, I have observed that by God's mercy, Catholics have attained no small amount of influence over this country over the decades. We're kind of baked in the dough, as it were. But you see, that's where the phrase, "cultural Catholic" comes from. Catholic, but as a garnish to life in this society, rather than a transforming force.

I think that this society teaches us to distrust those who believe anything too intensely. Tolerance, and a certain freedom to be wrong has gotten weaponized into an aggressive skepticism. If Steve down the street does things that are wrong sexually, well, he's a good citizen, who pays his taxes, and is pleasant at the block party, so who am I to judge? And the powers-that-be scare us in school about the so-called "wars of religion," so don't be like them, you see? They've been trying to domesticate religion ever since. If we have too many John the Baptist types, we'll miss the Super Bowl, and the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

It seems like every time I go on social media, there's some month or day to commemorate. Some of this is fine. Rare illnesses, historical figures, quirky trivia. But Catholics and other Christians, God has told us what to commemorate, in His own redemption of His people, first through the patriarchs and prophets of old, and then through Our Lord in His paschal mystery, now proclaimed to all through the Church. If this is the defining reality of your existence, you ought to act like it.