Thursday, January 14, 2021

More Disciples Follow the Lamb of God (John 1:43-51)

Philip was from Bethsaida, in Galilee. Jesus found him and called him, and Philip found Nathanael. Nathanael said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" which is basically saying Nazareth is the hick town where nobody visits, and nobody admits to being from there.

Notice that Philip answered in the same way that Jesus did, when they asked him where he was staying. Nathanael was given that same spiritual invitation as the first ones had received. When we give each other that same spiritual invitation--whether to go deeper, or to know Jesus for the first time--it is Jesus who is actually doing the inviting.

Now Nathanael knows where the power comes from, because Jesus looked at him, and he knew him. The way Jesus knows us is so intensely personal, and so loving at the deepest core of our being, that we will eventually do anything, simply to let Jesus look at us like that again.

Jesus of course saw him under the fig tree, before Philip called him, and that's not very normal. For Nathanael, it confirmed what Philip had first told him, and made him ready to receive whatever Jesus wanted to give him. The rest of what Jesus says here sounds a bit like, "You ain't seen nothing yet, buddy. Just wait."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Souter Is The Reason I Don't Buy The Judges Defense For Voting Trump

 I was in the neighborhood of eight years old when David Souter was nominated to the Supreme Court. If you look back in the record, the progressive and Democratic-aligned interest groups believed that Souter was anti-Roe, and anti-choice. Republican and conservative-aligned interest groups believed precisely the same thing. The partisan political actors that are our elected officials acted accordingly, but he was eventually confirmed. You'll recall, of course, that Souter became one of the most reliable defenders of Roe that has ever sat on the Supreme Court. This goes for Anthony Kennedy as well. The list of Republican-appointed judges that became defenders of that judicial decision is not a short one. This poses a problem for the argument that because of the gravity of abortion, and its absolute immorality, Catholics and other Christians must always support the Republican nominee for president, because of the promise to appoint judges who will overrule Roe. As another interesting piece of evidence, I am sure that Byron White was expected to defend the liberalization of all laws pertaining to sexual conduct, and reproductive technology. In fact, on the other hand, he was the last judge appointed by a Democrat to vote to overrule the precedent of Roe. Rather than waste time lamenting the extinction of pro-life Democrats, let me rather say that a straight line from a Republican president to a Roe-hating judge is impossible to find. I don't think President Reagan expected that his choice of Sandra Day O'Connor would solidify Roe, either. But I bet you could find some partisan Catholics who argued that "good Catholics" would obviously support Reagan, and would obviously fight against whomever opposed O'Connor.

Let me just get right to the point: President Trump is unfit to be the president of the United States. He's unfit temperamentally, legislatively, intellectually, and as nominal head of state. Nearly everything he does invites some sort of disaster of his own making. I have said before that we elected the guy at the end of the bar. I don't say it for comic relief, or simply to insult those who have supported President Trump; I say it because it's the truth as I can discern it.

I absolutely agree that the Democratic Party does not understand the contours of the most serious ethical issues of concern in America. They do not understand the immorality of abortion, the recklessness of agnosticism relative to family structure, and a few other things--like euthanasia--in this sphere. I agree that the Democratic Party platform on these and similar issues is dangerous, and unacceptable. As I would contemplate becoming an elected official, either in fact or in theory, I understand my responsibility to not lend support to particular laws that are contrary to the natural law, and the true anthropology and telos of humankind. The common good is not an arbitrary designation with a definition that may be decided by a majority at its whim. The authority of every legitimate government rests in its accord with the natural moral law. Everything contrary to this--even if duly passed by the correct representative processes--is null and void. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was ultimately successful, because the justice of which he spoke has a precise content. No mere human government can retain legitimate authority, while acting contrary to justice.

I can say in the abstract that I would prefer judges who are opponents of Roe, but I would accept judges who tolerate or even agree with it, if they are good judges otherwise. Likewise, it is not prudent to tolerate or even accept an unfit judge, simply because they are an opponent of Roe. This is not to say that I do not support the overturning of Roe, because I most certainly do. It is to say that I ought not feel morally bound to support an unfit president, or unfit judges, because of their stances with regard to Roe.

You may be aware of the hostility of the most recent Democratic administration to the conscience rights of various religious individuals, owing to their scruples about abortion and birth control. This hostility is likely to return in a Biden administration. Yet my anti-abortion views, and my views concerning the rights of conscience are fully compatible with the belief that Biden will be a better president than Donald Trump.

Add to all this the barely disguised effort of voter suppression, and election theft which has already been attempted by President Trump, his acolytes, and supporters. I marvel at the attempt to equate Biden's errors with Trump's outright hostility to human dignity in general, and representative democratic norms in particular. In short, even if Biden is seriously wrong in every opinion, and gravely so, he's still the better choice, in my view. If I come to the conviction that representative democracy itself is at stake in this election, how can I be expected to overlook that threat, because the Democrats continue to be wrong about abortion and human sexuality? Tyranny threatens to become associated with the United States of America, and I cannot be blasé about that.

Various people attempt to convince me that I simply overlook the alleged accomplishments of the Trump administration, as if it is a small difference of opinion, like all or most of the elections before this. Almost as if choosing a leader is merely a matter of preference, like choosing ice cream. You could easily argue, for example, that the 1960 presidential election was a choice between two acceptable options, and that good people on both sides could legitimately disagree. I am sure that many friends and neighbors continued on as before after the election was over. This year, I do not regard the presidential election as a matter that is debatable. The choice is between competence, and incompetence. It is between chaos, and stability. It is between tyranny, and some semblance of freedom. I honestly am willing to lose friends for expressing that conviction, and for not wavering from it. I do not believe that the passage of time will soften the harsh judgments made against President Trump. It is true that passionate partisans in every election draw the lines in the sand, and choose not to let bygones be bygones. This is different. If I must choose between the competent, decent man, who is a bad Christian and Catholic, or the man who claims sympathy with traditional morality, whilst mocking it, give me the sinner over the fighter, any day. [Most of this was written prior to the insurrection and coup. None of that reflects more favorably on President Trump, obviously, and another impeachment and possible removal are in the offing.]

Many people have silly ideas, that denouncing Donald Trump means that one must open Joe Biden's cause for sainthood. I really have no idea how much principled criticism will satisfy any person in particular, but if you have a choice between Vito Corleone and Gary Hart, specifying Hart's distance from the ideal in the same moment is absurd. Vote for the person who isn't a grasping vulgarian wannabe dictator. You can still deny Holy Communion to Hart at Mass, whilst thanking God for His provision.

One other thing: I don't know when it became impossible for people to lose an election and get over it, but my land! If you want to feel uncomfortable, find all those rightists on the web who claimed "the Left" would refuse to recognize the result. Ironic, that. I wrote nearly 17 years ago that I would not behave like a convict headed for the gulag if Kerry won the election, and now we have people claiming the triumph of Stalin, just because Joe Biden won the election. What a bunch of silliness, and unpatriotic silliness, at that. More than this, people have died. Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and numerous members of Congress were threatened with death or bodily harm, just for doing what we've always done: respect the democratic process, and generally behave like reasonable adults. I do not intend at this time to join the Democratic Party--the whole thing seems like polishing the shuffleboard court on a sinking cruise ship--but I sure as heck won't even consider voting Republican, for some indefinite period. Sorry, but not. The earnest one in error beats the conniving nihilist, in any calculation. All these people who claimed to be results and policy oriented don't even have that. The trains most certainly do not run on time. A national mask mandate, and an executive branch not populated with utter fools had a chance to end the COVID crisis before the new year. And with many fewer deaths. But apparently demonstrating hostility to journalists, college professors, liberals, feminists, Democrats, immigrants, and whomever else, is more important than living in reality. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Following The Lamb of God (John 1:35-42)

 John the Baptist says, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" again, and two more of his own disciples follow Jesus. A less humble man would be troubled by this, but he knows exactly who he is, and what he is there to do. He told us there in verse 31: he is baptizing so that the Lamb of God would be revealed to Israel.

Many students would follow rabbis in those days literally everywhere, which is why the two men ask Jesus where he was staying. We might imagine on another occasion that John the Baptist had told his followers, "When I point out the Lamb of God to you, follow him instead of me." He will say very similar things in the actual biblical text later on.

"The tenth hour" is about 4 o'clock, in a 12-hour workday.

There is a spiritual invitation in that, "come and see" from Jesus. Curiosity is one of the ways God uses to draw us closer to Him.

Andrew brings Peter, whose name is actually Simon. "Messiah" in Hebrew means "anointed one," and "Christ" in Greek means the same thing. So this is really interesting: the brothers give Jesus some titles, based on what they understand and what they hope for as Israelites, and in Simon's case, he gets a new name from Jesus. When God changes a name, that person is going to be important in the biblical story. For example, Abraham and Jacob from the book of Genesis are very important to this entire story, and they had their names changed. Let's just say, you might want to keep your eye on Peter. (Abram became Abraham, because he would be the father of many nations; Jacob's name became "Israel," which means, "he wrestles with God." Israelites therefore are literally the sons of Jacob. And Jesus has more to say later about the sons of Abraham, both true and false sons.)

"Peter" in Greek means "rock," and "Cephas" is Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) for "rock." 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Between Foolish Youth, And Idols

 I watched 60 Minutes last night. I do that a lot; it's still a great show. Speaker Pelosi was on, talking about the attacks, and what she intended to do next. To be honest, never in my life have I felt such tenderness and affection for Nancy Pelosi. I always wanted to triumph over her politically; I don't want anything bad to happen to her, and I never did.

That's the interesting part of an early young adulthood spent dabbling in politics: on the one hand, you treat it like a sport. Win or lose, you come back and fight tomorrow. As it turned out, every question and its consequences was much more grave than a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal Wimbledon final. On the other hand, it was never meant to be a blood sport in any case. Our loss of epistemological realism and our lack of virtue now means that a great many people can't fight it out in good faith in the political arena, and come back and do it again tomorrow.

Our political system was never meant to bear the weight of the total meaning of our lives, and our place in society. Perhaps that is the greatest lie of classical liberalism: that it could bear that weight, and tell us exactly who we are.

We can say that we want politics as such to matter less, but what does that mean? We cannot easily reclaim the ground of meaning and purpose which politics is now filling for most people. Family bonds are strained or broken, solidarity and mutual care has been replaced by market mechanisms. We tell people that they are worth what we pay them to do, and then we pay most people almost nothing.

And how exactly are we going to tell generations of people that their sexuality--which we treated as just one more consumer choice in the marketplace--isn't as fluid as some would like to think, and that part of their confusion is due to the idol of Choice?

Generations of people have now believed that government should not legislate morality, and now there is no morality for any purported government to legislate. Our selfish individualism that masqueraded as a political ideology has revealed some people's reliance on an older underlying philosophy, while they took great pains to deny its relevance.

And maybe our system never deserved all its praise, premised as it was on individualism, conditional peace, and insurrection, from the very first.