Mass at Midnight on Christmas Morning

This Christmas my local parish was something to behold. Midnight Mass began with light only from decorations on the Evergreen trees, the Priest, escorted by the Deacon and members of the local Knights of Columbus, processed through the Pews with an icon of the baby Jesus to be laid in the Manger. The entire Church was silent and it was beautiful.

As is typical of Christmas and to a lesser extent Easter Masses, the Church was full. This is an unusual circumstance for my parish, as on any typical Sunday the Church is probably half empty. In New England, people who don’t usually come to Church come to Church on Christmas. This is a disheartening reality of Catholic life in America. Is there anything that should be done about it?

Faithful Catholics try to have the mind of Christ. They care about these people that show up in a Catholic Church once a year. Once a year, after all, is not good enough. If they are Catholic and they are not attending Mass every Sunday of the year, they are in grave sin and put themselves in danger of eternal separation from God. This is a reality more distressing than the lack of universal health insurance. Indeed, these people are not simply at risk of dying, like everyone else, but they are at risk of dying and being separated from God forever. I think that if this is true something needs to be done about it.

There are lots of factors that contribute to infrequent Mass attendance and poor catechesis is chief among them. Lots of good people, good Catholics, simply do not know that they are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays. If you are reading this you likely know that Mass is not optional for Catholics; if we are to consider ourselves Catholic then we must consider Mass attendance a necessary component of our salvation. Another factor that contributes to poor Mass attendance is simply lack of faith. Many Catholics do not believe in the God of the Bible. Rather they believe in a god of their convenience, one that fits their particular idiosyncrasies and who is conducive to them “being a good person.”

Given that it seems that poor Mass attendance is largely the result of intellectual problems, it is wise to think an intellectual solution will be the most efficacious. So my question is this: why don’t priests say anything about this? Is it wrong to include simple truths about the Faith in Christmas sermons? And I don’t just mean priests who aren’t deeply in love with God – even very holy priests, very orthodox, very prayerful priests would seem to have qualms with discussing the truths of the faith at the pulpit.

I would be the first one to admit that the Sermon cannot be only an exposition of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. The true proper place for this type of teaching is during Confirmation classes. But another sad fact about Catholic life in America is that catechesis doesn’t happen at Confirmation anymore. At least in my Diocese, we have moved from teaching the truths of the faith to trying to teach the experience of a personal encounter with Christ (this is difficult to teach for a number of reasons). So more often than not, a person’s only encounter with the Church and Her teachings is that once a year experience at Christmas or Easter. This is a holy opportunity to reach out to these wayward souls, and it is being squandered.

My priest, who I believe to be very holy, very orthodox and very much in love with Jesus and the Church (even the teachings) gave a homily that spoke of the obligations imposed on a person in relationship with God. This was good – very good, except that the content of these obligations was left undefined. Yes! The Incarnation means we are in a new and holy relationship with God. Yes! Catholics have obligations to God. But what those obligations exactly are, well, we’re not allowed to talk about? Does a priest have an obligation to define these obligations, especially on Christmas? It would seem to me he does.

Or maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. Maybe the sermon isn’t the place to catechize the Catholic people. Maybe I’m supposed to accept the thousands of Catholics who are being left out of life’s greatest joy, which is the fullness of the Catholic faith. But maybe I’m not.


Starving eternally

It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature's nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George Macdonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men, 'You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give to you'. That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives us what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God - to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response - to be miserable - these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows - the only food that any possible universe can ever grow - then we must starve eternally.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Ch.3 Conclusion, (pp. 47)

Here is a profound insight into happiness and the nature of sin. When we sin, we participate not in the life of God, but in disorder and nothingness. God creates this universe and He also sustains it: everything that is not of Him is essentially nothing, doomed to disappear into the void. This is I think in a very real sense what Hell is: total lack of true being.

We must learn to do only God's will because in reality that's the only thing there is to do. Any time we deviate from God's will we participate in a life that is doomed to nothingness, that is, to death.


crash and burn

There is a band I enjoy sometimes named Further Seems Forever. They are not quite a Christian band, but their lyrics are deeply influenced by Christian themes in a way that is refreshing. Their last CD is titled "Hide Nothing" and has some excellent songs on it. The title track opens with this lyric:
We live and we learn and we crash and we burn and we're gone /
We take what we know and we learn as we go and we run /
run until that day /
we can see who we are
I like this. It's rare to see a lyricist deal with life and death in a way that contains any semblance of wisdom or hope, and I think this song exemplifies both virtues. Many other tracks on the CD have the same qualities. And on top of this the guys in this band are phenomenal musicians, especially the drummer. It's not Led Zeppelin, but it can be awesome.


independents are annoying

crankycon says:
One of my particular pet peeves is the way that so-called independents or “independent-minded” thinkers always like to remind everyone on a seemingly constant basis that they are independent-minded thinkers. They act like they expect a treat or pat on the belly for their “ferocious” independence of thought, as though everyone else on planet Earth but them is a sheep.


on social charity

JVS: When I read a passage like this, I am concerned about what is the subject of this "social charity." The human person is the substantial bearer of all human reality. The state is not a person. It is not a substance. It does not have an intellect and will of its own. There is no such thing as corporate guilt or corporate virtue that belongs to some collective "being" that transcends the persons who actually live and die.

The Trinity is the heart of the Church's social teaching. Here we have a multiplicity of persons, a unity of nature, a divine nature. All love is ordered to another person who actually exists. However, there is an order in this relationship. Sometimes it sounds like we are more responsible for those far off beings we do not know than we are for those we do. This is dangerous doctrine. It makes any real charity impossible. It smacks of Rousseau, of loving man but not one's actual neighbor. Sometimes it sounds like we should reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator in the name of the common good. The whole of Aquinas was in the opposite direction. We should bring out the full potential of everyone. That was the "common good" meant, not some kind of collective being. This meant that some are more talented, some will have more than others in a ways that has nothing to do with injustice.

The whole interview is well-worth reading.



I saw this on Pentimento's blog and I really liked it:
Metanoia, or repentance, is that moment of grace when the truth about ourselves and God strikes us, pierces the heart, and makes new life possible. (Irénée Hausherr, SJ)
It's easy to hide from that moment.


Philip Hamburger's new book is a rare find

Michael McConnell, a Law Professor at Stanford, offers this in a First Things review of Philip Hamburger's new book titled Law and Judicial Duty:
Hamburger traces the development of modern conceptions of the law to the realization, in Europe and especially Britain, that human reason rarely provided clear answers to moral questions and therefore that an attempt to ground law in divine will, or a search for abstract reason and justice, would inevitably lead to discord. As a result, "Europeans increasingly located the obligation of law in the authority of the lawmaker rather than the reason or justice of his laws." The task of judges, then, was not to seek after elusive notions of justice and right reason but to enforce the law of the land. Natural law shifted in emphasis from moral content to legitimacy and authority, and increasingly to an understanding of authority based on the will of the people.
This seems to me a profound explanation of how and why we understand law today the way we do. It simultaneously shows you what is wrong with the modern conception of the law and what is right.

As Hamburger argues, Europeans and the British especially were right in an important way in seeing the insufficiency of human reason in uncovering moral truths. They were also right to be skeptical of claims to divine authority in public life because of the fact of pluralism. Not all persons are of the same mind and so there is moral, cultural and philosophical divergence that necessarily produces social discord. Therefore, the Europeans and the British were right to change the emphasis of the law as they did. But it is immediately apparent that something is deeply wrong with this new emphasis placed on the authority of the lawmaker (i.e., the will of the people).

Without a firm or solid grounding in natural law, the will of the people is and will be arbitrary, unfixed and anarchical. Without the natural law, politics becomes a contest of competing desires. This is part (perhaps the most important part) of what is wrong with liberalism. Insofar as liberalism is foundationless, it will produce social discord. But its foundationaless nature is also its greatest strength: it produces a certain social stability by resting the authority of the law in the hands of those it serves. No one is excluded by philosophy or religious belief from the liberal society. Tocqueville said Liberalism requires a moral and religious people: a people with a particular character. He was right. In the absence of such people, liberalism cannot produce social harmony, and this is what we see today in the faithless 21st century America.

The task of the person who appreciates the virtues of liberal republican government (the conservative) is then clear. We must promote the proper understanding and relevance of natural law and religious faith in our public life. How we do this, exactly, I'm not sure. I think the best place to start is at home, in our families and our local communities and fraternal associations. Personally I like to drink beer and talk about important things.


The wisdom of Father Schall

Every sentence he writes is gold:
Joseph Pieper once wrote: “No calamity causes more despair in this world than the unjust exercise of power. And yet, any power that could never be abused is ultimately no power at all – a fearful thought.” Such are sage words. The “power” to create “values” exists. The alternative to the unjust use of power is not "no" power, but the just use of power, one that recognizes the measure.

The just use of power, however, rejects wickedness. We are to be defended against wickedness by first knowing that it exists and can be identified. It can likewise be chosen, even democratically, as a public policy.

Civilization depends on there being a truth to which those who suffer under unjust power can turn even in the face of established and enforced wickedness. It is this latter ground that relativism denies us. The central issue behind every public controversy and every threat against our national existence lies here. Yet this is the one threat to civilization that we choose not to recognize. We have “created” our own “values” in order to deny the truth in our being.


Exciting News

My wife and I are going to see our baby for this first time tomorrow (ultrasound)!


nothing but an unformed gaze

There is an interesting article in this month's First Things that argues there is no such thing as natural desires. Every desire, he contends, is not natural in that it has been deformed by original sin. A discussion of this contention forms the main part of the article. Desires, the author contends are infinite, of every variety and can take any form. This largely rings true to experience, but I think the language he employs overreaches. He seems to suggest that natural law theory does not recognize or account for this sense in which all desires are "unnatural," and this is not true. Despite this petty criticism of mine, the author demonstrates deep wisdom and learning throughout.

My favorite part comes at the end and is a distillation of his argument into a neat anthropological/psychological insight:
Among the strongest currents of thought these days is one that encourages us to discover who we are and to act accordingly - to gaze with the inward eye on our glassy essence and respond to what we find there. That gaze yields a vast range of identities: of gender and sex and ethnicity, of trait and temperment and passion. If what I have argued is right, when we attempt to discover who we are in that way, we find only phantasms - creatures of the imagination that wither when we turn our imaginations away from them.

This rejection of the language of natural desire opens us, instead, to the truth that we are creatures - inchoate, unformed, and hovering over the void from which were made - who must seek either to return to that void or to find happiness in the arms of the one who brought us forth from it. There is no glassy essence to discover; there is nothing but an unformed gaze that receives form only by looking away from itself and receiving the gift of being looked at by God.

- Paul J. Griffiths, "The Nature of Desire"
The last image is an especially beautiful one, and one that is entirely true. Philosophy agrees. Socrates devoted his life to answering the Oracle's riddle: Know thyself - his somewhat paradoxical answer was that one can only know oneself by looking outside oneself, by asking questions and practicing the virtue of humility. Humility is openness to the truth. This is another way of saying one can only find oneself by looking outside oneself; we must look at God.


Would a Catholic political party be a good thing?

My short answer is no, and what follows is a brief justification of this answer.

Christ's Kingdom is, as He says in today's Gospel, "not of this world." We are called to build Christ's Kingdom on earth not by ruling the secular realm and enforcing Christian morality and charity with the force of law, but by living out of vocation as Christians and winning hearts and minds by word and deed. Christians are called to transform society from within - we are "the salt of the earth," ideally bringing out the best in all of our various communities. In this way, Christians do not need the secular law to be successful. I do not mean to imply that the secular law is not necessary for social order; it is clearly a fundamental component of the common good. Catholics do and ought to work for the common good in our political life, but we should not seek this good in the name of Jesus. He Himself did not establish a political party or an Earthly kingdom. His Kingdom is "not of this world," and it is our task as Christians to build this Heavenly kingdom here on Earth. The Heavenly kingdom is not one of coercive political force, but freely given sacrificial Love.


Individualism is not a political philosophy

Individualism is not a political philosophy but a tendency of persons. Persons isolate themselves from one another; a government limited in its powers does not necessarily produce isolation, nor does a government expansive in it's powers produce isolation.

In other words: the absence of the legal enforcement of communities does not mean the absence of communities in general, but only the absence of government-mandated communities.

Morning's Minion of Vox Nova
seems to think that advocacy of limited government entails support for "individualism" and that limited government means the rejection of solidarity. Neither of these things are true. You can have solidarity without big government (or with it, for that matter). And in fact, the attempt to apply the principle of subsidiarity to politics entails a concern for solidarity. The health of the community, which is an expression of our solidarity, is dependent on the proper application of subsidiarity.


The Best Explanation of the Church's Teaching on Capital Punishment

Is available in this paper here. Here is a taste, which happens to be the major thrust of the argument:
Throughout the history of the Church, Catholic philosophers and theologians have said that capital punishment is licit. But they have done this without ever denying that, in a more abstract sense, any such killing goes against what is favored even by nature. Given certain conditions, capital punishment is a perfectly reasonable political expedient. Since reasonableness determines morality, this expedient found its way into human law in a relatively permanent way; indeed, there are very few Christian (or formerly Christian) nations in existence today that have not had some form of capital punishment in their legal history. But, even still, few of these nations (or their legal experts) would have resisted the argument that there is something foul or disordered about the practice. In itself killing is bad, but allowed. Mercy, in itself, is good and invoked whenever possible and appropriate.


Reaching for the levers of the law

What's the point of the struggle for same-sex marriage?
It is a fable drugging the mind to suggest that the activists are seeking simply to be left alone in their “personal” relations. When they seek the levers of the law, they are moving beyond things merely “personal.”

They are seeking the public and moral approval that the law bestows, along with the moral condemnation of those who will not share their views. The purpose now is to use the law to withdraw that freedom of others to object; to punish people who would dare speak or act in ways that honor a moral understanding at odds with same-sex marriage or the homosexual life; and to make it finally unrespectable, even legally perilous, to express certain moral sentiments, in settings public or private. For the media, the story line is of people in love, now hurt and bewildered. But serenely unnoticed are the accounts of the repression, in things large and small, all offered in the cause of “love.” Surely it is 1984 once more with the inversion of words: Under the banner of love there is loosed a barrage of hatred, and in the name of freedom, repression.
- Hadley Arkes


The End of Art

There's a band I rather enjoy called Attica! Attica! Here I note the lyrics to one of their songs titled "The End of Art" It's important to mention that the vocalist sings almost entirely in a tongue-in-cheek manner, so the lyrics seem cliche but it's ok because the vocalist is aware of it. Download the entire album HERE (free download)
When I was pretty lean on cash, I was alone, no place to crash
Music flowed out of me like faucets spouting tasty melodies
Now there’s a love that’s in my life, I sleep the same place every night
Comforts of industry are happily surrounding me

And nowadays, I have no complaints
Nothing more to say
Nothing more to say

Is this the end of art? is this the end of passion?
Is this the end of grief? Are all our feelings has-beens?
Is this the end of pain creatively imagined?
Is this the end of art? Is this the end of art?

It’s cool to like the President so there’s no reason for dissent
Everyone put down their guns and all that pesky violence is done
Our nukes are sleeping with the fish and everybody’s birthday wish comes true
And children sing and fairies dance on sparrow wings

And no complaints, no one wants a change
Nothing left to say
Nothing left to say

Is that the end of art? Is that the end of passion?
Is that the end of grief? Are all our feelings has-beens?
Is that the end of pain crafted in abstraction?
Is that the end of art? Is that the end?

Is anything here more depraved than a country singer who just raves about how swell his country is, just shilling for the government?
Sit down my friend and let me bore you while we sit here on the porch with cocktails as I bloviate about how life’s so f’in great
I’m not happy unless I’m pissed but that reveals my privilege: no matter who’s in charge today, my life is pretty much the same
So with no reason to protest, I’ll whine about how art is best when we know sadness, anguish and distress

Is this the end of art? Is this the end of passion?
Is this the end of grief? Are all our feelings has-beens?
Is this the end of pain creatively imagined?
Is this the end of art?

Is this the end of art? Is this the end of passion?
Is this the end of grief? Are all our feelings has-beens?
Is this the end of pain all crafted in abstraction?
Is this the end of art? Is this the end of art?
It's a good synopsis of leftist sentiments in the aftermath of the election of President Barack Obama.


Little known fact: The Devil fears the Confessional

swine flu scam?

This seems interesting

Is this nun crazy?

BELL TOLLING for the Swine Flu (CAMPANAS por la gripe A) subtitled from ALISH on Vimeo.



do the math

President Obama's stimulus bill cost $787 billion and it created 30,000 new jobs (according to the government) or (according to the Associated Press) 25,000.


the decline of the newspaper

Permit me, however, to add another factor. Many American newspapers in the course of the last century developed a stultifying self-importance. Hegel, who as far as I know is the first philosopher to edit a newspaper, was present at this attitude's birth. In his diary he wrote: "Reading the morning newspaper is the realist's morning prayer." To Hegel, in other words, the daily paper represents the ascent from superstitious faith in God to realistic faith in science and history. The newspaper's account of world events is the first draft of true scripture, showing God's will at work turning Earth into rational heaven.

But have you tried reading the heavenly editorial pages of, oh, the San Francisco Chronicle or the New York Times? It's impossible, at least if you value lively writing, humor, and sharp thinking. Everything is ex cathedra, written with a drear infallibility far surpassing any pope's. A kindred smugness—Rather is its public face—often grips the news pages, leavened only by the irony oozing from the lifestyle and entertainment reporting. And how few papers retain any sense of local character, most of which has been sacrificed to Hegel's God of universal wisdom, known in the business as the journalism schools and wire services. The only sections responding to the natural limits of human affection and knowledge are the business and sports pages. The latter are superior because they invite readers to share in the athletes' beautiful, unironic, and unashamedly partisan (Go Dodgers!) quest for excellence.
- Charles Kesler in the Claremont Review



Blackadder says:
Let me make an analogy. Why is it that Democrats prefer cap and trade to a carbon tax? Both have the effect of reducing emissions (to the extent that they do) by making things like fuel more expensive. Yet in the latter case, it is clearly government that is responsible for the price increases, whereas in the former case private businesses are the ones who are raising prices, even if the ultimate reason they are doing so is because of the cap and trade scheme. So Democrats prefer cap and trade to a carbon tax because it makes it easier to shift the blame for the policy’s consequences away from themselves.

It’s the same with health care. If premiums skyrocket after the health care bill passes, it won’t be because the government made them go up. No, the insurance companies will be the ones increasing prices. And Democrats can argue that they would not have been able to do so if they had faced competition from a public option, etc.


health care reform and abortion

News from the King's county:
WASHINGTON (AP) - House Democrats are at an impasse over whether their remake of the nation's health care system would effectively allow federal funding of abortion.

At least two dozen anti-abortion Democrats believe it would, and while their opposition is unlikely to stall the legislation in the end, they are at odds with Democratic leaders just weeks ahead of anticipated floor action on the bill.

Lawmakers on the other side say they've compromised as far as they can to address the anti-abortion lawmakers' concerns by specifying that people receiving government subsidies to buy health insurance couldn't use that money for abortions.

Negotiations to find common ground have not yielded fruit.
Pray for the Democrats speaking up for the unborn. They are the only political force standing between now and taxpayer funded abortions.


Bad Catholic Theology on TV

Can a priest withhold absolution from someone in the Confessional?

In tonight's episode of House, Chase visits a confessional. He recently killed a dictator while at work, and his conscience was causing him great grief. He went looking for forgiveness. He asks the Priest, "what do I have to do for God to forgive me?" The Priest answers, "you must accept responsibility for what you have done." This is true - if Chase does not accept responsibility for what he has done, he cannot be forgiven. And Chase does not want to accept responsibility. The television Priest then makes a big mistake! The Priest says Chase's forgiveness is conditional upon his turning himself in to the Police. This is absolutely not allowed. A Priest cannot withhold forgiveness if he thinks the penitent's confession admits a sincere admission of guilt. Requiring Chase to turn himself in to the Police would violate the Seal of the Confessional by forcing him to admit to his sin outside of the Confessional. The Priest could certainly encourage Chase to turn himself in, but he could not make his absolution conditional upon this action.

This episode is also a great illustration of the natural law. Chase thinks that he is doing the right thing by killing the dictator - it is justifiable given the monstrous evil. But he cannot avoid the guilt that comes with actually going through with the deed. Guilt is part of nature. Having transgressed the moral law, he seeks the only thing that could ever give him peace - God's forgiveness. He needs to know that he can be forgiven for what he has done. And not any person will do - he has already told House and received his indifference as justification. This is insufficient, and really, no human person's forgiveness can ever really heal the wounds caused by great sins. This type of forgiveness can only be a gratuitous gift of the Divine Person.


Government cannot love

Archbishop Charles Chaput writing in First Things this month:
We need to rededicate ourselves to the work of Christian charity and the Catholic soul of our institutions. Charity is a duty for the whole believing community. But is also an obligation and privilege for every individual member of the Church, flowing from our personal encounter with the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Government cannot love. It has no soul and no heart. The greatest danger of the modern secularist state is this: In the name of humanity, under the banner of serving human needs and easing human suffering, it ultimately, ironically - and too often tragically - lacks humanity. As Benedict forsees in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:
The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person - every person - needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a state that regulates and controls everything, but a state that, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something that often is even more necessary than material support.
It seems to me that Archbishop Chaput always teaches in true Catholic style: he is always giving principles, not policies. Even in this passage, where he is speaking about the extent of government, he does not specifically iron out government's limits - just that there ought to be some. These limits are for lay people to decide. The good Archbishop is not justifying my particular political predilections or anyone else's - he is laying out good authentic teaching, which ought to be listened to and absorbed.


Marriage, Rightly Understood

“St. John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should say to their wives: I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us… I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.” (CCC 2365)

Matt Talbot on Being "A Liberal"

Here's a fairly honest definition of American liberalism in 2009, followed by a disjointed and unedited rant about the nature of liberalism by yours truly:
"“It meant standing up for unions by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, refusing to shop at Walmart, Whole Foods and other union-busting stores.

Being a liberal means recognizing that the government has an important role in helping balance society by equalizing the distribution of society’s goods through: 1. A (way more than now) progressive tax system, and 2. redistribution of wealth through both direct payments, and indirectly through support for public education (K through college) that is heavily subsidized and of excellent quality, and other public services."
Matt rightly describes liberalism as essentially a belief in an egalitarian form of justice. American Liberalism is concerned with attaining the power necessary to take from the wealthy and give to the poor - in this way, liberalism advocates for a Robin Hood-esque state. Further, Liberalism is a belief that entails a certain confidence in one's own view of what is just - the rich don't really deserve the money they have earned, even if through legal means, and poor people don't in any significant way contribute to the poverty (loosely defined) they may find themselves in. Liberalism argues that wealth is a consequence of exploitation, and poverty is the result of this exploitation. It does not tolerate or allow for any hierarchy in man's ability to provide for himself. In a way, it robs man of a certain aspect of his dignity - what you have is not really yours, but the result of a system that you cannot escape. No matter whether you work hard or you don't work at all. You are either an exploiter or exploited, and in either case you are a problem. Those who cannot or will not provide for themselves should be provided for by others of more capable means, even if it is against their will. An American Liberal knows what is fair and is confident that they will be able to enact this fairness through the mechanism of American government. An American liberal knows a lot and wants you to know of their great beneficence. They are concerned with poor people (as if others are not) - they are concerned with education (as if others are not) - they are concerned with exploitation (as if others are not) - and perhaps most of all they are concerned that you know that they are concerned with all these things. Liberalism combines a great desire for power and a great feeling of moral superiority, and in this way it is dangerous.


things I lament, no. 352348

Politics today is all about money. Listen to NPR, and tell me if you come across a conversation that isn't primarily about economics. Politics is now entirely divorced from morality, and therefore divorced from justice, being a part of morality. Politics divorced from justice is absurd, especially from a classical point of view, where justice is the entire reason for politics. In short, politics needs more justice-talk.


The Bostonians

I finally finished a book I have been reading forever - The Bostonians ! You shouldn't be mislead by the length of time it took me to conquer the book; it was really a fantastic novel. Think an updated version of Pride and Prejudice, with a bit of Persuasion. Or, if you're already a Henry James fan (I think there are at least three of us out there..), it's a romantic version of The Portrait of a Lady, which, if I remember correctly, wasn't romantic at all. At any rate, this novel has it all: a crotchety young feminist; a less-crotchety older feminist; a beautiful young sophist; her ill-kempt, hippie partents; and a dashing young Southerner whose chivalry cuts through their feminist b.s. in a fitting tribute to Mr. Darcy.

Here's the gist of it: Oliver Chancellor is an uptight champion of women's rights in Boston in the 1870s. She writes a letter to her long-lost southern cousin (the handsome Basil Ransom), who journeys to New England to meet her. She realizes he is hopelessly opposed to her radical cause; he sees she is a stuffy bachelorette who categorically dislikes all men who aren't falling over themselves to embrace feminism. After ten minutes together, she vows to hate him for all eternity, and he realizes that following her around for the day will really irritate her - so he insists that he accompany her to a gathering of supporters she is attending after dinner. He tags along and meets Verena Tarrant, a beautiful, but slightly vapid, up-and-coming feminist lecturer. Clearly, Basil instantly falls in love. But Olive already has her sights set on Ms. Tarrant, whose talent for discoursing on feminist nonsense is just waiting to be exploited. As you can probably guess, the remainder of the novel is a battle royale between Ransom's chivalry/chauvanism and Olive's feminism. Ransom wants to marry Verena and put her gift for discourse to use on the homefront, while Olive wants to harness her talent for her own purposes. It's really a struggle between one end of the spectrum (Olive's extreme feminism and disdain for all men) and a more middle ground place, occupied by the caring, but firm in his beliefs, Ransom.

I think that James does a brilliant job with the book; most feminists would have you believe that a woman must either renounce all connections with men (as Olive wants Verena to do) or those same men will make sure you stay barefoot and pregnant, but James paints a much more nuanced picture on Ransom's side. Ransom truly cares for the innocent Verena, and though marriage would effectively put an end to her lecture circuit, he astutely sees the feminist movement as using Verena's gift to further its own ends, at the expense of her happiness.

As usual, the back of the Penguin Classics version (which I read) completely mischaracterizes the novel as either "embody[ing] the triumph of chauvinism or mourn[ing] the tragic collapse of avant-garde feminism," so my recommendation would be to skip the blurb on the back and the useless introduction until you've worked your way through The Bostonians and can make your own opinions about its content. I promise you won't be disappointed.


things forgotten

Here is Edmund Burke, speaking against the popular grain, then and now:
You would have had a protected, satisfied, laborious, and obedient people, taught to seek and to recognize the happiness that is to be found by virtue in all conditions; in which consists the true moral equality of mankind, and not in that monstrous fiction, which, by inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and imbitter that real inequality, which it never can remove; and which the order of civil life establishes as much for the benefit of those whom it must leave in an humble state, as those whom it is able to exalt to a condition more splendid, but not more happy. You had a smooth an easy career of felicity and glory laid open to you, beyond any thing recorded in the history of the world; but you have shown that difficulty is good for man.

- Reflections on the Revolution in France, pp. 35 (Dover Thrift ed.)
Here are some truly unpopular truths. True happiness is to be found in virtue! Virtue can be pursued by any human person, irrespective of material, social or intellectual circumstances. That this capacity for goodness is the foundation and source of our true equality. That over-emphasis on material equality can create and aggravate inequality, which is written into our very nature. That Nature itself sets limits on politics.

These are some of the things forgotten or ignored by our nation of religiously optimistic pragmatists whose only god is the equals sign. These ideas are more or less entirely absent from our popular political discourse. American politics is nothing but a tired argument about who will give what money to whom. I think this is one reason it's generally pretty boring and never surprising. Modern politics isn't about truth - which is interesting and important and moves hearts and minds - politics is about ambition and power and ultimately, control.

This needs to change!


an attempt to describe the present regime

What of America, these days?
In the new dispensation, we are not the “land of the free” and the “home of the brave.” We are the cause of domestic and foreign ills. We need to acknowledge our sins before the world. Our new leader gladly takes up this noble task.

“Democracy” has replaced “republic.” The republic was a mixed-regime, with separation of powers, checks and balances, designed to guarantee responsible rule by limiting the ignoble or tyrannical tendencies of any one branch of government or of the people themselves.
Federalism was designed to leave most important government activities as local as possible. Our states and often our cities themselves compare with many nation-states. Our “neighbor” is usually not “next-door.”

We are now a “democracy” in the classic sense; that is, a regime of “liberty” now redefined to remove any distinction between good or evil in how we live. Our laws reflecting life, family, and human integrity begin to enforce their new definitions established by positive law.
Our democratic rule is based on theoretic relativism. Truth or order is its principal antagonist. If we admit truth, we deny liberty. The resultant moral chaos is acknowledged. But we do not address the cause and the consequences remain. They require a new politics of “care” for the whole society.

But this “care” cannot be personal. It is non-preferential, egalitarian, same-for-all. Government is its best administrator. If people do whatever they want, they often must be “taken care of.” They are primarily victims of themselves and of old “structures.” They need someone to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Everyone needs equal access to what anyone else has. The “natural” distinctions caused by differing talents, wills to work, habits, and virtue are unjust. They cause the poor to be poor. Human nature needs some change.

We become more of a one-party, central command system. The state is “all-caring.” We are not the best judges of our own good. Our model is not ourselves and our wretched traditions. The president does not speak of American standards being good for the world, but of (selective) world standards being “good” for us. We should imitate the world and apologize to it. Our “uniqueness” has caused most of the wars and unbalances in the world.

Looking over his initiatives, Victor Davis Hanson remarked that, on balance, the president is “neither a pragmatist, as he insisted, nor even a liberal, as charged. Rather he is a statist. The president believes that a select group of affluent, highly educated technocrats…supported by a phalanx of whiz-kids fresh out of blue-chip universities with little or no experience in the market place, can direct our lives for better than we can ourselves.” The people have lost their grip. They need to be guided, taken care of for the common good.

Out of democracy’s chaos, Plato said, will arise a “leader.” Such a “leader,” Fouard Ajami writes, is familiar: “(The president’s) politics of charisma was reminiscent of the Third World.” He was familiar to Aristotle too.
This is a sad read because it's true.


What's worse: being branded a socialist or being tagged a racist?

Considering a large portion of the world seems to think that the first epithet is actually a positive one, I would have to go with racist as the greater of two evils. Which, I think, is exactly the gameplan the President and his motley crue are running recently: bench Van Jones; sub in a "teary" Nancy Pelosi; have the peanut farmer toss the race card as a Hail Mary pass; and hope no one notices that you're ramming health care through while cozying up to Russia. Unbelievable. And since Americans are left with only two choices, being called a socialist or a violent racist, the administration is counting on you weighing the social stigma and hopping on board with a socialist agenda. For the President and his administration, everything is an either/or proposition: you can't object to Obama's policies without being a racist, and you can't raise your voice in opposition without being violent. Funny, though, that the San Francisco violence and bigotry that the emotionally wounded Pelosi is referring to in the YouTube video were the murders of Mayor Moscone and the openly gay Harvey Milk at the hand of a fellow Democrat. And Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard has recently noted that, off the 10 documented acts of violence at townhall meetings and protests, 7 of these were Obama supporters attacking opponents of healthcare - including one story where a Democrat crossed a busy street to incite a scuffle with an old man that culminated in the former biting off the finger of the latter, and then, during the turmoil of recovering the appendage and getting the old man to an emergency room, the biter returns to his side of the road to continue his support of the President! Does that sound like someone you want in your camp?

I'd cry if those people were on my team, too, Pelosi. Except I think I'd be able to make it look a little more authentic.


"this is the reality, people"

And if we stood back to take in the view of the whole, what would we see? In the first place, we see the bill brought forth under the most radical pro-abortion president the country has ever seen: a man who opposed the move even to protect a child who survived an abortion; who promised his supporters than any program of medical care would cover “reproductive” rights; and whose administration pushes that notion of “reproductive rights” at every conference under the United Nations, and in every place where there is discretion under our laws. This president has declared his intention to remove the protections of “conscience” put in place for doctors and nurses in dealing with abortion, and to repeal the Hyde Amendment that barred the use of federal funds to support most abortions.

Every level of the administration is filled with people who regard abortion as a medical procedure legitimate, desirable, urgently necessary. And so when the bill mandates “professional services of physicians and other health professionals”; when it seeks a new Health Advisory Panel to recommend other medical procedures to be covered; and when the recommendations are made to a Secretary of Health and Human Services who is famously pro-abortion – with all of these ingredients in place, what is one reasonably to expect? The presumption must be that abortion would be amply covered at many points unless there is an explicit move to forbid the coverage of abortion in the bill. And yet, when amendments of that kind were offered, they were routinely voted down in committee along party lines by the Democrats.

What is unique about Barack Obama was revealed during the controversy over his opposition, in Illinois, to protecting the children who survived abortions. When this news broke out in the presidential campaign, his response, audacious and clever, was to accuse his critics of lying for bringing the news. They would be tarred as liars for telling, about him, such a monstrous truth. And what worked in the campaign is now taken up as his standard operating procedure. What hasn’t been fully grasped about Obama is that he lies even when there is no need to lie; he lies in the way that concert pianists need to practice every day. For apart from the utility of it, he needs to practice, as any true artist needs to practice, for the sake of cultivating his art at its highest level.

Hadley Arkes at his finest.


modern martyr

(CNN) -- Authorities have charged an Owosso, Michigan, man with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the Friday shooting deaths of an anti-abortion activist and another man, a prosecutor's office said.

Activist Jim Pouillon was shot and killed Friday while protesting outside Owosso High School.

Authorities say the suspect, Harlan James Drake, was offended by anti-abortion material that the activist had displayed across from the school all week.

Drake, 33, is accused of shooting anti-abortion activist Jim Pouillon, 63, and Michael Fuoss, 61, who were killed in separate locations Friday morning, the prosecutor's office in Shiawassee County said.


It's scary how easily the President lies

Forgive me while I temporarily lapse into semi-thoughtful emotionally charged political commentary: A lie is an intentional distortion of the truth. The truth is correspondence with reality. Therefore a lie is anything that intentionally distorts the correspondence between one's knowledge of reality and the intentional meaning of one's words. Either
(a) President Obama does not know the content of his party's health care bill
(b) President Obama does know the content of his health care bill
(c) President Obama knows some of the content of his party's health care bill
If (a) President Obama is not a liar - just delusional. If (b) or (c), this President lies more easily than perhaps even President Clinton, and lies even more insidiously. He is intentionally trying to distort the truth, and he does it so easily and so "persuasively". And what really gets me is how obvious it all is. Listening to some of the content of the President's speech, I cannot help but wonder how anyone does NOT know he is lying. He so clearly avoids speaking plainly about anything. Almost everything he says is a half-truth.

The Democrats, good Machiavellians that they are, know that a lie in service of the greater good is a justifiable, and therefore a good lie. Christians, with the true knowledge that God is perfectly just, can rest comfortably knowing that no lies, no matter how they may serve the putative goodness of some cause, go unpunished. And so we continue to pray for the immanetization of the Eschaton when true justice will be served.

(For a look at the lies in the President's speech, see this website.)


life at high speed

Time flies


Same tired stuff

I originally posted this over a year ago, but I just stumbled upon it again and it's worth rereading Father Schall's article. It's funny how some things never change: whether it's Obama trying to smooth things over while sweeping things under the rug; Father Schall being devastatingly spot on with his critiques of politics; or Plato telling it like it is while everyone chooses not to listen...

In an age when the trendiest political slogans are "Together we can" and "Change you can believe in," it's nice to hear someone bringing the Utopian masses back to their senses. Fr. James Schall, in a pithy contribution to the Ignatius Press website, writes about a question that has dominated the Western mindset for millenia: How can we make life better? And not in the future, but right now? Illustrated by Deval Patrick and Barack Obama's vapid campaign slogans, the "forward-looking" Progressive quest for improvement is humorously ironic, in that it is the same quest that Plato remembers having experienced as a young man. At the age of 40 in 334 B.C., the philosopher is reminded of his youthful enthusiasm by an encounter with a boy who has yet to be jaded by politics. Plato is empathetic with the youth's optimism and belief that his city of Syracuse "ought to be free and live under the best of laws," but experience (not the least of which includes his relationship with Socrates and hemlock) leads Plato to understand "how difficult it is to manage a city's affairs rightly." One's own daily experience with the fallible nature of man provides easy corroboration for Plato's claim. How is it that some people can find so much wrong with the world and still insist that it would take so little to make it all right? If only we had universal health care, if only this law were in place or that law were repealed or free market economies were magically changed to some Utopian ideal. Ahh, wouldn't things be wonderful then? Obama says that's change we can believe in. Patrick says that if we all work together, we can achieve this ambiguous and elusive state of happiness.

But what exactly is it that these politicians are campaigning on? If Plato, in 334 B.C., knew that the perfectly just city was to be forever beyond the earthly grip of man, what are Progressive politicians promising the masses? Fr. Schall notes that "Some philosophers even say that this very desire to have the perfect city is the cause of all political evils that do happen in the world." In my opinion, the careers of politicians of this stripe can have one of two endings: First, they may prove neutered and insipid like Patrick's, having failed to deliver on any of the grandiose promises made on the campaign trail. Second, and infinitely more dangerous, they may follow the path outlined by the philosophers of which Schall speaks in the last quotation, sacrificing many for the good of the whole.


too strong?

Have you read Father Thomas J. Euteneuer's column this week? Whoa.
We must, as a matter of precept, pray for the salvation of heretical Catholics like Senator Edward Kennedy, but we do not have to praise him let alone extol him with the full honors of a public Catholic funeral and all the adulation that attends such an event. There was very little about Ted Kennedy's life that deserves admiration from a spiritual or moral point of view. He was probably the worst example of a Catholic statesman that one can think of. When all is said and done, he has distorted the concept of what it means to be a Catholic in public life more than anyone else in leadership today.
Beating back scandal is important, I suppose.



There's hope

India Arie:
You don't have to pay to smile
It doesn't cost a thing to laugh
You better thank God for that


The Catechism on immanetizing the Eschaton

Via Christopher Blosser:
#676 - The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.


for the funky

Check out Marc Ronson's CD version - it's awesome.


Modern liberalism (i.e. progressivism) is in practical consequence the attempt to enforce, using the machine of government, communal charity.

This effort has the unintended effect of increasing social isolation by making the commitment we have to one another something abstract, and therefore something easily ignored. Our responsibility for each other is passed on to our politicians, who take care of our responsibilities to the greater community for us - so that we can be "left alone".

I am opposed to this form of progressivism because I do not believe that the redistribution of wealth via the mechanism of democratically elected representatives is an effective way to ensure the basic demands of justice. Further I think this putatively well-intentioned desire to force the work of charity destroys the fabric and cohesion of our authentic communities by misappropriating the charitable motive (thanks Roger Scruton).

Is this an ideological point of view? I don't think so, but I would be interested in the thoughts of someone who thinks otherwise.


the presuppositions of happiness and the importance of the spirit and practice of liberty

A strong belief in free will is an essential component of happiness. We are free to choose good or evil; true happiness consists in choosing what is good. It follows that belief in determinism cannot produce true happiness. It is important that we work, as Catholics and other people of good will, to remind people of the true way to happiness, and to steer people away from thinking that they are helpless with respect to their state of soul.

Modern society and culture does its best to convince us we are nothing but automatons whose actions and condition in life are more or less nothing but the sum of the forces of nature and circumstance. This is a demoralizing, degrading, and depressing force that is mass produced by our society that is without (eschatological) hope.

To counter this culture of demoralization, we must cultivate an ethic of liberty, rightly understood. Liberty is a free gift given to all human persons that enables us to choose happiness despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. This capacity is something real, something concrete we find in our nature. I think our culture, by and large, has lost knowledge of this capacity for greatness - or perhaps we have given it up intentionally, having found its practical difficulties too much to bear. But our willful ignorance does not change the truth. We will only be happy when we choose the good, and this is only possible when we believe such a choice is possible in the first place.


what's foreign policy for?

Those who advocate “national greatness” American foreign policy (thinkers who came to be identified as neo-cons after 911) share quite a bit in common with their multilateral critics who argue that the United States should use global institutions to remake the world along the lines of their vision of a just society (we are the world). Both parties misunderstand human nature in that they fail to understand how different peoples are from one another. Both parties misunderstand the use and abuse of statecraft in that they believe that institutions rather than men will shape the course of history. But most importantly, both groups misunderstand the purpose of American foreign policy, namely that it is a means to the end of preserving the Republic. A Republic . . if you can keep it. . .a republic.
David Corbin at Republican101


great quote

"In order for human experience to bear fruit in our spiritual lives, it must lift us upward to God, not collapse downward in a celebration of ourselves." - David G. Bonagura, Jr.

Facts are Stubborn Things

In case you guys aren't regular readers of the White House blog (shame on you), or consistent viewers of the Glenn Beck Show (what else is there to watch?), here are some fun links to check out:

1. Meet Linda Douglass! As the communications director for the White House's Health Reform Office, she alerts the average, misinformed American that everything they have been told by their friends about universal health care is wrong. Don't read the DrudgeReport (she displays a headline that is FALSE); read whitehouse.gov/realitycheck/ for the real facts. Would the government lie to you? Of course not. But your friends would. In casual conversation, or in insidious chain emails. If you receive one, or your friend tells you something that is in direct contrast with what the Führer... uh President... has said, do the American thing and immediately write to flag@whitehouse.gov . As Linda says, they are doing their best to squelch any "rumors," but if you hear something "fishy"...do the American thing and report the treason to the White House. They'll handle it from there.

2. Glenn Beck respectfully mocks Linda Douglass! The clip really speaks for itself. Enjoy.

You know what, just to be safe, maybe I better email this whole post to flag@whitehouse.gov . I'd hate to spread rumors..even if those rumors do contain a few stubborn facts.

After all, treasonous exile to Siberia works wonders for one's literary career.


Faith and Feeling

Here is a useful bit of information I find very helpful to many people thinking about religion:
Faith is not some state of feeling we get ourselves into. It is much simpler than that. It is simply believing in God and therefore believing everything he has revealed - no matter how we feel. "God said it, so I believe it, and that settles it."

Feelings are influenced by external things, like fashions and fads, wind and weather, diet and digestion. But when God gives us the gift of faith, he gives it from within, from within our own free will.

The devil can influence our feelings, but he has no control over our faith.

We are not responsible for our (unfree) feelings, but we are responsible for our (free) faith.

Yet, though faith is not a feeling, it often produces feelings: of trust, peace, gratitude, and confidence, for instance. And faith can also be aided by feelings: for instance, when we feel trustful or grateful to someone, God or man, it is much easier for us to believe him than when we feel mistrustful or ungrateful.;

But even when we do not feel trustful or peaceful, we can still believe. Faith is not dependent on feelings. It is dependent on facts: divinely revealed facts.

- Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity
It is easy to reject something because we do not feel it to be true. Personally I can say there are many times when I do not feel something to be true; nevertheless, I know it is true because of faith, or conscience, or experience.

So what is one to do when faced with something that is supposedly divinely revealed but contradicts one's feelings, perhaps strong feelings? My suggestion is to try out what God says - take a leap, trust in God for a moment. Humbly submit yourself to God's will. See what happens.


Correct me if I'm wrong...

...but isn't the Democratic party the equality club (at least on their party banner)?

Then why does everyone just roll over and take it when the President and his motley crew claim that we need universal health care to level the playing field, but sorry, Grandma, you're past the age the government has set for "worthwhile" people? The Democrats determine whether or not unborn babies have "worth," they determine whether or not Grandma and Grandpa have "worth," they tell you whether or not your wheel-chair bound son with Cerebral Palsy has "worth," but they are the party of equality? You know what, Mr. President? If we're all equal, then why aren't you and your children and your illegal alien aunt going to be on the very same health care that you insist will solve all of America's problems? In fact, the health care plans of government officials will be privately run, won't they, Mr. President? Of course they will. Because who better than government officials to know how crappy things get when the government is involved?

Some more things to think about:

The father of the wheel-chair bound man with Cerebral Palsy talks with Megyn Kelly

The article he references
The article's main point? "Dr. Emanuel [could he be any more ironically named?] wants doctors to look beyond the needs of their patients and consider social justice, such as whether the money could be better spent on somebody else."

And finally, if you thought that at least the President must have a little compassion for Grandma...
OBAMA: I don't think that we can make judgments based on people's spirit. That would be a pretty subjective decision to be making. I think we have to have rules that say that we are going to provide good, quality care for all people. End-of-life care is one of the most difficult sets of decisions that we're going to have to make. But understand that those decisions are already being made in one way or another. If they're not being made under Medicare and Medicaid, they're being made by private insurers. At least we can let doctors know and your mom know that, you know what, maybe this isn't going to help. Maybe you're better off not having the surgery but taking the painkiller.

But in whose mind are you "better off," Mr. President? Isn't that another subjective decision? Or not, because you can quantify a person's monetary worth but not their spiritual worth?

Everything about this administration and this president disgusts me.


this should be circulated, at least so people know

Items that are in President Obama's health care bill:
Sec. 113, Pg. 21-22 of the Health Care (HC) Bill MANDATES a government audit of the books of ALL EMPLOYERS that self-insure in order to “ensure that the law does not provide incentives for small and mid-size employers to self-insure”!

• Sec. 122, Pg. 29, Lines 4-16 - Your health care will be rationed

• Sec. 123, Pg. 30 - There will be a government committee deciding what treatments
and benefits you get.

• Sec. 142, Pg. 42 - The Health Choices Commissioner will choose your benefits for you. You have no choice!

• Sec. 152, Pg. 50-51 - HC will be provided to ALL NON-US citizens.

• Sec. 163, Pg. 58-59 beginning at line 5 - Government will have real-time access to individual’s finances & a National ID health care card will be issued!

• Sec. 163, Pg. 59, Lines 21-24 - Government will have direct access to your bank accounts for electronic funds transfer.

• Sec. 164, Pg. 65 is a payoff subsidized plan for retirees and their families in unions & community organizations (ACORN).

• Sec. 201, Pg. 72, Lines 8-14 - Government is creating an HC Exchange to bring private plans under government control
Maybe it's worth distributing this around public locations in your local towns and cities. Via the Liberty Council


Divininizing one's political opinions

I've tried to give expression to this a few times before, but I thought I'd give it one more try this evening.

I think that the greatest danger for Catholics thinking about politics is the desire to anoint one's political opinions. By this I mean the temptation (or tendency) to argue that a personal prudential judgment about political (i.e. secular and sacred) matters is somehow part of revelation. I think this is the root of authoritarianism and I think it belies a ideological or closed-minded intellectual disposition.

This disposition stems from primarily from an inability to distinguish between principles and judgments. For Catholics, this distinction is very clearly defined. Principles are not, as some would have you believe, difficult to comprehend or nuanced. They are generally quite simple and can be understood with little effort. They are also authoritative assuming that they are true. Catholics are given authoritative confirmation that their moral principles are true by faith. Catholics are not, or should not be confused about principles.

Judgments about political reality are different. They require an assembly of moral principles and additionally facts about reality. In other words, we must understand both our principles and more difficultly, we must have true knowledge about present reality. Our knowledge of circumstances is always imperfect and flawed. It is clouded by our "filter", as Fr. Corapi would say, and is subject to our limited knowledge and also limited ability to assemble that knowledge into a conceptual whole. Our judgments about political reality can go wrong in failing to incorporate an applicable principle, or by applying faulty logic, or by being ignorant of what is the case, or some combination of these things.

This is perhaps a good time to express the danger I see as inherent in reading Catholic Social Teaching. Social Teaching is a combination of both moral political principles and political judgments. We need to be able to distinguish between these two types of ideas if we are to read Social Teaching correctly. If we see prudential judgments in an encyclical, we must be able to recognize them as such. If we see principles, we must understand them as principles. We should not elevate the status of judgment to principle.


what the belief in "progress" has wrought

WASHINGTON – The recession is starving the government of tax revenue, just as the president and Congress are piling a major expansion of health care and other programs on the nation's plate and struggling to find money to pay the tab.

The numbers could hardly be more stark: Tax receipts are on pace to drop 18 percent this year, the biggest single-year decline since the Great Depression, while the federal deficit balloons to a record $1.8 trillion.
This will all work out, though.


rightly critiquing liberalism

Professor Patrick Deneen of Georgetown is one of my favorite political thinkers. He does excellent work on defending authentic political (and apolitical) communities. There is a new lecture posted at ISI in which he uses the work of sociologist Robert Nisbet to render an extremely intelligent critique of liberalism, and offers remedies for its various maladies.

I can't summarize it here, so I will simply leave you with a strange fact that I did not know until I heard this lecture: the pledge of allegiance was written by a socialist.

Think of that!

Father Sirico on Caritas in Veritate

Writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Caritas in Veritate is a reminder that we cannot understand ourselves as a human community if we do not understand ourselves as something more than the sum or our material parts; if we do not understand our capacity for sin; and if we do not understand the principle of communion rooted in the gratuitousness of God's grace. Simply put, to this pope's mind, there is no just or moral system without just and moral people.
The persistent claim that this Priest is an ideologue is usually disproved by a simple reading of what he actually writes.


An Exorcist Tells His Story

Thanks to a Barnes & Noble gift card, Zach and I got yet another book to add to our super-duper library earlier this week. We were debating between various titles in the Christian section (besides Jane Austen and Dostoevsky, what else is there worth reading?) when we found Fr. Gabriele Amorth's An Exorcist Tells His Story. I've been really intrigued by the subject since we listened to a talk by Fr. Euteneuer earlier this year. It's a topic that Christians hear about so little within the religious community. The secular world seems much more willing to enter into the conversation, if only to use exorcisms as material for cheesy movies or as a subject to be denounced as an anachronism rendered moot by the development of modern psychology and the introduction of Prozac and Zoloft. Besides educating his readers on the mechanics of exorcisms, bringing the subject back to the table is one of Fr. Amorth's main goals in the book. He fears for the souls of those suffering from demonic possession who find it nearly impossible to locate a modern exorcist, and he fears for the souls of those bishops who fail to recognize the expulsion of demons as a necessary and crucial task given by Jesus Christ to the Church Militant. It is the job of Bishops to appoint exorcists to parishes and diocese, yet Fr. Amorth tells how he (the chief exorcist of Rome) performed exorcisms on victims from around the world, all unable to find an exorcist when they or a concerned family member approached their local bishops.

Whatever the reason for the dearth of modern exorcists (and the author has many damning things to say about certain religious leaders and theologians and their lack of backbone and proper catechesis), Fr. Amorth insists that the need for exorcisms grows stronger with each passing decade as faith is falling by the wayside and new age "spirituality" is on the rise. In the age of Harry Potter, no one seems to find it odd or disturbing that the Wiccan section of Barnes & Noble appears to have doubled in size every time you look. Fr. Amorth, in reinvigorating the discussion of demonic possession, asserts the Catholic truths that religious leaders (often) at best present as abstract, and at worst completely ignore: that there is a very real battle for the surrender of our souls. Fr. Amorth emphasizes the teaching that Satan and the legions of demons are real creatures and that they desire nothing more than to win possession of our immortal selves. If one internalizes this Catholic teaching, than the very real need for exorcisms logically follows.

Lest potential readers of An Exorcist Tells His Story think that the book is a depressing lamentation on the state of modern souls and the Church's unwillingness to provide a cure, I want to say that it is one of the most uplifting and heartening religious works I have read in a long time. First, Fr. Amorth reminds readers that the final battle has already ultimately been won, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the soul of every man, woman, and child. Demonic possession, although very real, is nothing more than a last-ditch effort by a group of defeated creatures whose last chapter is already written! Additionally, there are many nuances to possession which Fr. Amorth outlines eloquently and by analogy and example, but the point to take away is that a demon can only enter or oppress a soul which has invited the demon's presence, which includes living life in a state of sin. Frequent reception of the sacraments and the living of a Christian life are like immunizations against evil (as one victim in the book puts it). Fr. Amorth calls confession "more painful to a demonic creature than the act of exorcism," presumably because it dilates the soul and increases receptivity to grace while closing oneself off from the hollow whispers of Satan.

Finally, I'll end with a quote from a victim's story in the book. Posting the following words is really the reason I wanted to write this entry in the first place, but I thought they would be best received on the foundation of an explanation of what I had been reading.

"Satan's true goal is not to make you suffer or to harm you. He does not seek our pain but something more. He wants our defeated soul to say, 'Enough. I am defeated; I am a piece of clay in the hands of evil. God cannot liberate me. God forgets his children if he allows such suffering. God does not love me; evil is greater than he is.' This is the true victory of evil. We must rebuke it even if we no longer have faith because our pain dulls it. 'We must want faith.' The devil cannot touch our will. Our will does not belong to God or to the devil; it is ours alone because God gave it to us when he created us. We must always say 'No' to those who want to destroy it. We must believe, like St. Paul, that 'in the name of Jesus Christ every knee must bend in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth.' This is our salvation."

Read this book and Psalm 27 and you'll sleep soundly at night.

The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom shall I fear?


the many reasons for opposing the Democratic plan for health care

Via the Weekly Standard:
The reasons for the public revolt are easy to see. The Democrats want to spend $1.5 trillion over a decade, impose an $800 billion tax increase in the midst of the worst recession in a generation, increase federal borrowing by $239 billion (on top of the $11 trillion the Obama budget already requires us to borrow through 2019), impose costly mandates on employers that will discourage hiring as unemployment nears 10 percent, force individuals to buy one-size-fits-all government defined insurance, and insert the government in countless new ways between doctors and patients. All of that would occur whether or not the plan includes a "public option," which at this point it does include and which will exacerbate all of these problems.
Read the whole thing here. Yuval Levin is one of the most thorough policy experts around.


selections from Schall's column on environmentalism

Ignatius of Loyola teaches that man is created to “praise, reverence, and serve God and by this means to save his soul.” Modern man thinks little of saving his soul, if he has one. He wants to “save” the earth. He does not want “dominion” over the earth to achieve his worldly and transcendent purposes. His “transcendent” purpose is immanent, “to save the earth” from himself. Save it for what? Well, for future generations. For whom do future generations save the earth? For generations beyond the future, and so on, down the ages.
To claim to be saving future, not present, generations, gives any government a transcendent purpose: To save man from himself. What could be nobler or more statesman-like? Human beings are mired in original sin. They need to be redeemed, protected from themselves. They need laws and regulations. They need to be subject to a Spartan regime where everything they eat, drink, or do is factored into the “good” of future generations—who do not yet exist, indeed may never exist, since population control is allegedly part of the answer to warming.
No one knows what future generations will need or want or know how to do. The Lord probably created a world in which just enough resources are present for His intentions. With the help of the human brain, the only real resource, human beings might reach the end for which God created them. The end God intended is not in this world. The earth-warmers are really heretical theologizers who somehow think the purpose of the species man is to spin round and round on this planet forever, with the aid of much government control. Meanwhile, all actual men will have died, after being told that their only purpose in life was to save the earth.
- James Schall, S.J.

the difference between dualism and distinction, and the necessity of politics with different people

Michael Iafrate recently suggested to me that I think dualisitically about politics. By this he meant I unnecessarily and wrongly separate the natural and the supernatural community. Here is what he said:
As for church vs. politics, yes, what I have said applies to the Church as the Church has (among other things) a political dimension. In its on-the-face worldly level, the Church is a society (or a society-of-societies if you will). But I could not compartmentalize the tasks of the Church against the tasks of politics in general, Christianly understood. As you probably remember from Gutierrez (you also find it in De Lubac and Rahner) we should not too strongly separate the spiritual and the worldly as if they were two “spheres.” I think such a dualism is active in your thinking.

I’m usually talking about theopolitics, and yes, that often throws people because it is not politics-as-usual. It’s the politics of the Kingdom.
I would like to respond to this in some blog-like depth.

Let me get the nitty gritty out of the way first. I never suggested that we "compartmentalize the tasks of the Church...", and even if I did (which I didn't), I would never suggest an opposition between the two compartments, as he does instinctually when he finishes his sentence: "...against the tasks of politics in general". I believe Michael places opposition where there was none to begin with. I believe this is rooted in an intellectual disposition that sees distinctions as things that are necessarily opposed. In this view, distinctions must be eliminated because they are divisive. A healthy view of distinctions would see them as the work of the finite human intellect trying to understand reality. Things can be distinguished without being separated. I can tell my pupil is not my eye, and thus I have distinguished between them. But this does not mean I have separated my pupil and my eye. The pupil is a part of the eye, not separate from it.

In his book Socratic Logic, Peter Kreeft explains this better than I can:
If we do not distinguish things (in the world) or points (in our thought or writing or speech), we confuse them; and if we confuse them, we are confused. To have a clear idea, the idea must also be distinct.

Modern minds often have a vague ideological aversion to distinctions; they think they are "discriminatory." In other words, they fail to distinguish three very different kinds of distinctions: (1) distinctions between thoughts, which are always helpful, (2) just and reasonable distinctions between things and people, such as distinguishing between medicines and poisons, or between students who pass and fail, and (3) unjust and unreasonable distinctions between people, "discrimination" in the ideological sense, e.g. basing salaries on gender or race instead of performance.
We must make distinctions in our ideas; this does not mean we are separating things. On the contrary, as Professor Kreeft explains, this is a process necessary to have any meaningful conversation at all.

Now back to the original contention - At the time, I was trying to make the argument that his politics does not account for the natural community, by which I mean the community not bound together by Catholic faith. Political thinking that does not include and account for the reality of pluralism is fundamentally deficient.

I think a good case can be made that Catholic anarchism prima facie does not account for pluralism. After all, a Catholic anarchism must begin with Catholic people.

This is why I originally suggested to Michael
that he was not really talking about politics, but about the revitalization of small local communities. I am not saying these communities are not political, but that they are not political in the usual sense of including everyone.

This is also where Michael and I agree: small local communities are extremely important for human flourishing. Modern Western society works in many ways to the destruction of these communities. The "status-quo" does indeed prefer larger indifferent bureaucratic administrative arrangements and isolated autonomous suburban life, and this is truly something which Catholics of all political predilections can and should work to oppose.

Cross-posted at The American Catholic


a most excellent book to read

Is Matt Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft. I found it to be a refreshing apology for the manual trades, which in my time have been derided to the point that anyone who practices "a trade" can be seen as less of a person. This criticism comes from a common class of people who view academic accomplishment as the primary thing that makes a person valuable. This book is an excellent antidote for that felonious idea.

It's also a rather profound contribution to philosophical conversation, as Professor Deneen explains here. Check out Front Porch Republic's symposium for a greater appreciation of this interesting book.


Kudos to Rep. Christopher Smith

A New Jersey representative was on the floor of the House last night clearly and passionately articulating the connection between state-funded health care and state-funded abortions. Sure, the House was empty and he was talking to two other Representatives. His arguments were no less compelling.

The number of abortions will dramatically increase under the coming state-controlled health care plan. This is something we need to amplify for public consideration; especially to those of a religious mindset who may be inclined to favor state-enforced health care.

I hope to find a video soon; let me know if you do!


the unique genius of the American political Constitution

A former Professor of mine is currently contributing to a blog which seems to be an effort to recover the uniqueness and greatness of American republicanism in the minds of its readers. It comes highly recommended. Click here to check it out.

Here is a taste:
For Machiavelli, and those won over by his lively political philosophy, politics was and always has been a struggle for importance between the haves and the have nots. Moving forward, the haves would be granted a higher designation as long as they kept the have nots “satisfied and stupefied” with bread and circuses. The have nots should not expect to rule but should happily accept a pleasant form of mediocrity in which their patrimony was made secure. In essence, everyone was a have and a have not in Machiavelli’s schema.

If one accepts the premise that the American founders understood the creation of the American republic as simply another chapter in this Machiavellian novel on politics, than it is possible to imagine that we are as republican now as we were then, that leaders and led have always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship at the expense of liberty.

But part of what we are attempting to show on this blog is that American republicanism (referenced in Tuesday’s posting in John Adams’ definition of a political body in which leaders and led ascribe to an empire of laws rather than an empire of men) is a different species of republicanism than Machiavellian republicanism. While American republicanism is challenged by the lingering effect of Machiavelli’s reformulation of politics, it is not beyond our reach as Americans to re-acquire the knowledge and sentiments that first gave it life. We’re not where we need to be because these timeless principles are covered in muck and mire. Yet we’re not completely lost because these timeless principles are.

Firing Line Reflections, Pt. 1 - Malcom Muggeridge

Thank you all for your well wishes! My new wife and I have returned from our Caribbean excursion and have settled into our new apartment.

We received as a Wedding gift episodes of William F. Buckley's the Firing Line. And within the first episode we watched we have already been able to extract something immensely useful. WFB is talking to Malcolm Muggeridge, a rather confused European intellectual who calls himself a man of the left. Within the course of the episode, they begin discussing the usefulness of the Christian gospels, and of the appeal of religion without dogma. In this context, Muggeridge brings up an interesting proposition for WFB to consider. He asks him to recall Christ's temptation in the wilderness, when the Devil offers him the Kingdoms of the Earth.

The point Muggleridge is making is actually quite profound, despite his total incoherence in almost everything else. I will let him speak for himself:
"Let's take what is the most fascinating thing: that temptation in the wilderness, when the Devil offered Christ the kingdoms of the earth. He wouldn't take them, of course (interestingly enough the kingdoms of the earth should be the Devil's gift, which I cordially approve of, cordially agree with.) Now you see from the point of view of the sort of Anglicans, other clergyman, and so on, that I am talking about, that was an act of madness. Christ should have accepted the kingdoms of the Earth, and he should have set up excellent socialist, egalitarian, forward-looking, welfare-creating, governments in them - and then mankind would have lived happily ever after. That's the view of the clergy today.
It seems to me that Mr. Muggeridge quite accurately describes the position of many Christians today who favor "immanetizing the Eschaton", so to speak. Our world is a fallen one; it will not be not so until it has all passed.

In other less somber tones, if you get a chance to see this episode of the Firing Line, titled "The Culture of the Left", I highly recommend it. Dissecting the muddled ideas of Mr. Muggeridge is worth many hours of entertainment.


not an occasion for condolences

I am getting married this Saturday!

I am very blessed and privileged to be marrying a virtuous and beautiful woman.

Pray for us.



The world has a lot to learn from Charles Kesler. That's right. The whole world.

on the evil that God permits

Ralph McInery reflects on evil:
Moral theologians concentrate on the evil we bring about, on ourselves and others, and which thus has a remedy in moral conversion. But it is misfortune that takes center stage when people complain that God is not doing his job properly.

Misfortune may be an unintended consequence of what we do, but it is not unintended by God. Like physical pain, it can be essential to the good. No bleeding, no bandage, no healing. Stepping for the elevator and getting the shaft, as it were, does not cease to be a rough experience when we ask why God permitted it. What is he trying to tell us through the misfortunes that befall us?

He’s got the whole world in his hand. Every little movement has a meaning all its own. Discovering what it is, approximating that discovery, and profiting from it, could be a description of the spiritual life. Not that anyone can have theoretical certainty that he has grasped God’s reason. The point of the inquiry is doing, not knowing.
(my emphasis)


Line of the Day

Those of us foolish enough to call ourselves “conservative” are forced to admit that culturally and politically at least we live amidst less and less worth conserving.
- Katherine Dalton

Although, I suppose I'd prefer the "traditionalist" appellation, if I must choose one.

Ratzinger on progress

In Salt of the Earth, Joseph Ratzinger remarked: “Christianity, in fact, does not have such a notion that history necessarily always progresses, that, in other words, things are always getting better for mankind.” The reason for this caution is that “history” is not independent of the choices of actual human persons who must decide whether or not to live a Christian life.


haha! Angelo Codevilla is such a jerk and it's awesome

Here he is on the Obama speech in Cairo:
Just imagine: After a thousand years during which Islam and Western civilization have trod opposite paths in philosophy, science, and the most basic attitudes toward relations between the sexes and the role of work in life — and after a half-century during which Muslims have murdered Western ambassadors and Olympians, to the cheers of millions of their own — suddenly a young American seems to believe he can conjure up a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” How could anyone imagine he possesses such a “reset button”? The answer only starts with Yuppie hubris.

It is all too clear that Obama and his followers share one of the postmodern world’s most dangerous intellectual habits, indeed a habit that mainstream Islamic civilization adopted circa 1000 AD and that has so lowered its quality of life, namely disregard for the relationship between ends and means, cause and effect. Hence Obama told the Muslim world, “This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.” Must? Who will make it stop? How? He went on to say, “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace,” True enough. But at the same time he preached those differences, especially regarding women. In his piece de resistence he urged his audience to “abandon violence,” because “resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed.” But his audience knew perfectly well that the U.S. government had given billions of dollars to to the Muslim world precisely because so many Muslims had succeeded in killing so many Americans. Of course they had succeeded.

Americans have only begun to suffer for having empowered a leadership class so intellectually crippled.
"Someone who finds no fascination in watching games is probably much farther away from what is highest in our human experience than someone who does, because games, like ourselves, exist for their own sakes." - James Schall


what's left out of the debate on marriage

A smart analysis of marriage at an excellent new website called Front Porch Republic:
This last observation points to a basic feature of marriage that has largely been left out of contemporary debates over marriage (whether gay marriage or heterosexual marriage). Marriage is but one part of a larger set of cultural conditions. Marriage is a condition in which individuality is subsumed to the larger considerations, demands, and obligations of culture and commonweal. At the most basic level, we sacrifice our autonomy on behalf of the good of a “unit” now defined as a couple, not two individuals. At a basic level, that unit is the source of future generations - the very source and conduit for the conveyance of human life and particular cultures. But the unit is itself an expression of, and draws from, the community as a whole. Thus (as I’ve written elsewhere), marriage is entered into through the blessing of and in the presence of community, not (as Las Vegas versions would suggest) as a contract of individuals. Marriages derive from, exist for, and are legitimized by the community and culture from which they derive. Thus, in their earliest instantiation marriages had nothing to do with the wishes of the individuals who composed them. They were the arrangements by families who looked to the continuity of a way of life (and, yes, family status) rather than the individual wishes of the partners.

Even when the consent of the individuals became a central feature of marriage - an innovation of Christianity, as Remi Brague reminds us (see the last paragraph of the interview that Mark Shiffman kindly linked for us) - it was still understood by all parties that marriage was most fully a union by and for the greater community. Blessings of parents and the publication of “the banns” was a necessary precondition for a wedding. This was especially because the married couple - by committing to marriage - was not merely joining to each other in an official capacity, but was in fact becoming a constitutive unit of the community and the conduit for the continuation of culture. Marriage was thus essential to the life and future of culture, and could not be permitted to take place between two individuals who happened to love each other but who were culturally unrelated. Rather, and necessarily, marriage was the union not simply between individuals, but between two people who would convey the lived traditions of a culture - most obviously (for instance), a man and woman of the same religious faith (this is one of the main points of Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye can brook the choices of his two older daughters - even marriage to a communist - because they are both Jews. It is only when his youngest daughter proposes to marry a Christian that he withholds consent). Marriage was most essentially a commitment to a community, not the sum of personal choices of individuals.

What can it possibly mean to defend marriage when one cannot also defend or even conceive of a culture in which individualism is not the reigning basis for self-understanding? Our “debate over marriage” is emaciated and unsatisfying precisely because the contending parties - Left and Right alike - are not even capable of discerning the more fundamental issues at play, and are content to play out the drama in the most deracinated and culture-less venue imaginable - the legal brief. At the distant end of a broken connection, we debate over an institution - marriage - that carries ancient connotations but for which the cultural preconditions have ceased to exist. We debate over a dried and dead husk.
Kinda dark, but true. Check out the rest of the article if you have time.