April 6, 2013

Things we can learn from Pope Francis (and the business world)

Pope Francis

Ethan Hahn wrote and chided me on no having written anything on Pope Francis. I'm guilty, but the problem is that the perspective I want to take is rather off the world's main line of thought. People will surely think me weird. But here goes...

As I have written before, we see a multitude of failing institutions all around us, and I think this is due to their clinging to Industrial Age "mental maps" and practices when we have long since entered a new age, commonly known as the Information Age. [Link to other posts on this.] The Catholic Church is among the dysfunctional institutions. It is the great frustration of my life right now that I have utterly failed to even start any sort of conversation on this. Nobody wants to hear it.

I use examples from the world of business here because that's almost the only sector of our world that has transitioned to Information Age thinking. Our religious leaders ought to be reading business books for clues. A concept I have not managed to make popular!

Anyway, my initial impression is that the new Holy Father is very promising in this respect. I'm not saying he exactly "gets" the new age, but many things he does have the right flavor. The quotes below are from a very interesting article by John L Allen Jr, who is always worth reading. He is interviewing Cardinal Bergoglio's former press officer in Argentina...

What was Cardinal Bergoglio’s core aim in Buenos Aires?
He wanted to promote the idea of a missionary church, a church that gets out into the streets. His vision was for the church to reach out to those who have been tossed onto a sort of existential garbage heap. He was especially concerned for those about whom society didn’t seem to care, such as single mothers, the poor, the elderly, the unemployed.

In this new age you have to be FOR something. In the past an established business could just continue to exist. You could assume any Fortune 500 company would be around for the rest of your life. Levi Strauss sold blue jeans in complete stability for 100 years. Then found themselves in a world where the numbers of blue denim products probably is in the millions. No one in business expects long-term stability now, yet that remains the Catholic mind-set. I'm sure most of my fellow parishioners think what we are "for" is just continuing to exist. We just expect this to happen. Which is fatal in this age. There's just too much else going on to make an impression on minds without a clear message and non-stop marketing. Everyone in Bergoglio's diocese knew that he and his people were doing something compelling and real. (No, I'm not suggesting my parish become a slum parish. SF's problems are very different. But we desperately need to stand for something exciting.)

Concretely, how did he do that?
He was fond of saying that we already have plenty of theory about what the church should do, so let’s put it into practice. He formed a large network of people who were already working in the areas that were his priorities. For instance, he’d take a priest and move him into the shantytown areas so he could get to the schools, the soup kitchens, the churches, all of the major institutions serving the people there. He’d send the priests into these areas to be a resource for the other people who were already working there. He wasn’t interested in theory, but in concrete practice...

Successful Information Age organizations just jump in and DO things. This works because everyone can exchange information easily. The results of an experiment can be disseminated instantly to all, and all can contribute thoughts and suggestions and criticisms. Problems can be fixed on the fly.

They tend not to have experts plan everything in detail, in advance. That's too slow, the competition will race past you. Successful businesses often use the motto: "Ready. Fire. Aim." This does not mean you don't think, it means never letting thinking paralyze action.

...He used to joke that we need to learn from the model of the Evangelicals, meaning that we have to knock on doors and talk to people. He also wanted to make the church visible outside its buildings, which is why Buenos Aires developed some very interesting outdoor events. For instance, the Via Crucis procession during Holy Week moves through the entire city, going on for miles and miles. There are also lots of open-air Masses. The most important Masses here don’t take place inside the cathedral, but in the square.

Don't worry about the specifics here. See it as a different way of thinking. For one thing, an Info Age organization does not have "thick walls." My parish is like a castle, with a small door. Right now every parishioner has contact with probably thousands of people outside the castle walls. But that information can't get "inside." Most info goes through the hands of priests and staff. They couldn't possibly handle so much stuff. That's typical of an Industrial Age organization. Information processing was always a bottleneck, so they always "throttled back" the flow. Only a few people in the company dealt with the public. That sure doesn't work in business now, or anywhere else.

Where did the laity fit in to this vision?
It wasn’t just about priests doing the job. He was also concerned with getting the laity active inside these movements, and letting them take charge. Priests were just one leg of the stool, along with the religious and the laity. He felt that if you didn’t do it that way, you end up with a church that’s too focused on itself, and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s not just about what priests do, but above all the laity.

Because the Church has long been focused inwards, the position of the laity has long been odd and awkward. The job of the Church is to save the world, and that's primarily the job of the laity! Not the bishops and priests. Once the Church gets back on task, clericalism will tend to fade away. Everyone will have more than enough important work to do.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:27 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2013

Happy Easter! Christos Anesti!

Easter Vigil, fire and Pascal candle, Fr Xavier


Easter Vigil, St Dominic's Church, March 30, 2013.
This picture I took may be a blur to most people, but it's a very cool moment. Sunday in the Church's reckoning begins at sunset on Saturday. The Easter Vigil commences in spooky darkness. A fire blazes up. The procession enters and approaches the fire, for the Service of Light, the Lucinarium. The fire is blessed and the Pascal Candle is prepared—you can see our pastor reading, and the candle. Everyone has small candles, and the flame begins to be passed from person to person, until the whole church is ablaze. Christ is risen!

The Vigil is the real celebration of Easter in the Church. The Sunday services are awesome, but secondary.



Bl. John Henry Newman, on why Jesus did not show himself to the multitudes when he was resurrected from the dead. [link]...

..It would seem, then, that our Lord gave His attention to a few, because, if the few be gained, the many will follow. To these few He showed Himself again and again. These He restored, comforted, warned, inspired. He formed them unto Himself, that they might show forth His praise. . . .

Doubtless, much may be undone by the many, but nothing is done except by those who are specially trained for action. . . . If the witnesses were to be such as really loved and obeyed the Truth, there could not be many chosen. Christ’s cause was the cause of light and religion, therefore His advocates and ministers were necessarily few. . .

Now, let us observe how much matter, both for warning and comfort, is supplied by this view. We learn from the picture of the infant Church what that Church has been ever since, that is, as far as man can understand it. Many are called, few are chosen. . . .

But, besides this, we are comforted too; we are comforted, as many of us as are living humbly in the fear of God. Who those secret ones are, who in the bosom of the visible Church live as saints fulfilling their calling, God only knows.

. . .Let all “who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity” be quite sure, that weak though they seem, and solitary, yet the “foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The many are “deceitful,” and the worldly-wise are “vain;” but he “that feareth the Lord, the same shall be praised.” The most excellent gifts of the intellect last but for a season. Eloquence and wit, shrewdness and dexterity, these plead a cause well and propagate it quickly, but it dies with them. It has no root in the hearts of men, and lives not out a generation. It is the consolation of the despised Truth, that its works endure.
Posted by John Weidner at 6:44 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2012

He shoulda stuck to what he knows about...

The Gateway Pundit, Rick Warren on Obama: “Biggest Disappointment Is the Disunity… Our Nation Is More Divided Than Any Time Since Civil War” :

Pastor Rick Warren was a guest this morning on FOX News Sunday. The popular evangelical weighed in on the Obama presidency:
“I don’t know what his (Obama) biggest accomplishment would be. I really don’t know that. My biggest disappointment is the disunity. President Obama ran saying “I’m going to be a unifier” and our nation is more divided than ever before. I think our nation is more divided than any time since the Civil War. That’s disheartening.”

I'm a big fan of Rick Warren in his own field, as a planter of churches. His book The Purpose Driven Church is the book to start with. But like so many clergy, he has this idea that Christianity means being a soft-headed liberal. Any number of us conservatives could have told him Obama was a phony, and was neck-deep in the corruption of Chicago politics.

Look, Rick. Here's a tip for you. People don't change much when they are 46 years old. They are pretty much exactly what they are going to be for the rest of their lives. So if a fast-talker tells you he's "going to be a unifier,” all you need to check is whether he's done any "unifying" in the past. If, like Barry Obama, he never has in his whole life, then, guess what...... he ain't gonna change now. You got conned big time. And you should have known better.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:11 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2012

My Thanksgiving thought...

I wrote earlier about how archeologist's views of ancient Israel and the Exodus have changed. It looks as if most "proto-Israelites" escaped "bondage in Egypt," but did it by escaping the oppressive Canaanite kingdoms (which were Egyptian vassal states) and founding a new civilization high up in the hills of Palestine, hills which had mostly been un-settled until then.

The Exodus narrative in the Bible is, I think, true, but as truth expressed in a story, not in a history. Probably there was a real exodus from Egypt, but not of 600,000 people. (If that many people, with herds and flocks, set out on the narrow trails of the region, they would I think literally stretch all the way across the Sinai Peninsula.)

So I'm thinking about the Pilgrims, and how we celebrate their story every year. The story is factual, but so are a hundred thousand other stories. Why this one? We keep repeating it because it embodies profound truths about America. About us.

Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock


Many religious and ethnic strains went into the genesis of our country. Probably the most important element in the mix are the English Puritans who Settled in New England. The Pilgrims were just a few hundred people, but they were the first group in that great migration. And they happened to tell their story in a clear and attractive way, in governor William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. Which includes that story f that first "Thanksgiving." The Pilgrim story has come to represent all of them. And it is truthfully so--that story will give you a very good picture of what the Settlers in New England were like.
So they lefte that goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.

Besides the English Puritans, we received perhaps half a million radical Protestants from continental Europe, displaced by the vast calamity that was the Thirty Years War. Anabaptists, Mennonites, including the Amish, Hussites, Palatines. The Pilgrims also were emblematic of them.

So, as a thought experiment, imagine that our early settlers were illiterate. Were an oral culture. And that the story of the Pilgrims was passed down orally for many generations among the Puritan settlers. It would not be surprising if the story grew to be the story of all of them. And it would still be truth!

I suspect that that's what happened with the Exodus story. Some Israelites literally escaped from Egypt, and met God on Sinai, and passed through many trials to the Promised Land. Their more numerous relatives in Palestine were also finding their way with heroic efforts to the Promised Land. But their story was less dramatic, and the more cinematic story came to be the story of all. But it was still truth.

WORD NOTE: When you see "ye" in older English writings, such as "but lift up their eyes to ye heavens" in the above quote, the word is in fact "the," and should be so pronounced. It is not pronounced "yee." Why so? English used to have a letter, called "Thorn," that made initial "th" sound. It looked like: Þ. When printing presses came to England from the continent, they had no letter Thorn, so "Y" was used in its place, and came to be the normal way to write.
Posted by John Weidner at 5:54 PM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2012

Write 'em off...

Joseph Pearce,Slimey Limeys:

Against my better judgment I watched the closing ceremony of the London Olympics last night. I was expecting the worst and it was even worse than I expected! The whole thing was a nasty and narcissistic celebration by the denizens of modern Britain of how wonderful it thinks it is. It was a debauched celebration of atheism and hedonism, including schoolchildren singing Lennon's atheistic anthem, Imagine, as hundreds of people came together to create a giant icon of Lennon's face. Lennon, the most ethno-masochistic and anti-Christian of the Beatles, had once claimed that the "Fab Four" were more popular than Jesus. Judging by last night's closing ceremony, he is right. Everything is more popular than Jesus in modern Britain. The Son of God is well and truly hated as is His Church. Anti-Catholicism reared its intolerant head during the ceremony as dozens of roller-skating women, dressed as nuns, cavorted across the stage, lifting their habits to reveal their underwear.  

Another feature of the closing ceremony was the celebration of the homosexual lifestyle, demonstrated by the resurrection on the big screen of Freddie Mercury to lead the crowd in inane chants. There was also a performance by the leather-clad George Michael, sporting a skull on his belt buckle, symbolic of the culture of death of which he is a symbol. There was much more that was much worse but I don't have the stomach to continue with the litany of smut.  

As an Englishman, I might have felt ashamed of such a spectacle. Instead I just felt as if my body had been covered with slime. I also felt a great sense of gratitude that I had shaken the smut and dirt from my sandals and had left the sordid culture of which I was once a part. Deo gratias!  

As for the land of my birth, I am reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis who would have been as appalled by last night's spectacle as was I. In The Great Divorce, he wrote that in the end there are only two possibilities for each of us. We can either say to God, "The Will Be Done", or else God will ultimately say to us, "Thy will be done". Modern Britain has what it deserves; it has what it wants. The slow and tortuous decay of its barely living corpse will continue until it dies of self-abuse. Its passing will be a blessing...

Sounds like some street fair in San Francisco. Blech. Both cultures are dying. Literally, because they are both reproducing well below replacement rate. And more importantly, they are dead or dying spiritually. If you worship yourself, you are traveling like a person lost in a dark wood, who thinks he's going straight when in fact he's going in a circle. You are, as Augustine put it, incurvatus in se. Curved in on yourself. You are going nowhere.

The Remnant will inherit the future. It's like when Elijah wandered off into the desert, because all the good guys had been killed. Which left him kinda disheartened. God told him to buck up and get back to business, because Elijah didn't know it, but there were seven thousand men in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:24 PM | Comments (10)

August 12, 2012

Question for my readers, concerning Mormonism...

I've several times picked up hints that what is actually going on in the heads of ordinary rank-and-file members of the LDS Church is more like fuzzy generic American Protestantism, with the kooky heresies of Joseph Smith kind of slid over and mostly ignored.

Does anyone know anything about this? It's not really important to me, just a matter of curiosity that has been re-stimulated by the rise of Mitt Romney.

My experience of being first an evangelical, then an Episcopalian, now a Catholic, has given me a pretty clear idea that most Christians don't think at all about Truth. They just drift along with the common opinion. Which is a bad thing, in most ways. But, possibly in this case, is a good thing. A kind of unconscious rejection of alien elements. A sort of "reversion to the mean...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 PM | Comments (2)

April 29, 2012

"Formula of lament"

I used to read the mysterious Catholic commentator "Diogenes" with avidity. He's gone silent these last few years. But you can still search for his work at CatholicCulture.org

I just stumbled upon this tidbit, at the post: 3 Degrees Kelvin:

...ATTENTION ALL ACADEMICIANS: First-person complaints of a "chilling effect" are performatively (retorsively) self-refuting. For: no agency so trammeled by cliché as to make use of the term "chilling effect" has any intellectual heat to cool off (Diogenes' First Law of Thermo-semantics). For the sake of your own reputations, please find another formula of lament.
Posted by John Weidner at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

April 8, 2012

Wildest thing I've ever built...

Since today is Easter, it is an appropriate moment to post about this recently installed project. It is a reliquary, holding a tiny fragment of the True Cross. (And to forestall the obvious question, I don't know if it is a true relic. But I don't see any historical reason to think such a thing implausible. I've posted some historical thoughts below the fold.) The actual fragment is too small to see here—it's a minute splinter at the center of the crystal cross you see.

Reliquary with True Cross

The design specifications were like nothing I'd ever even considered. I wanted piece of traditional-looking woodwork, that would also be secure from thieves, yet accessible so the relic could be removed for veneration on Good Friday. And lighted.

The projecting part you see below hides two steel cages (thanks to one of my sons, who can weld a bit). Sandwiched between them are windows of polycarbonate plastic (Lexan). The steel is sheathed in two layers of oak. An ugly tough layer with lots of steel screws holding it all in shape. And that layer was then covered in some thin veneers of very handsome White Oak. And all this was just invented as I want along. There are no how-to books to consult!

Detail of the Oak used to sheath the reliquary

White Oak is prized by people like me for its "ray flakes." Those are those pale lines that stripe the wood. (If you have heard the term "quarter-sawn oak," that is the sawing angle that shows the flakes best.) The flakes on the shield-shaped back of the piece are typical—fairly big and irregular. NOW, look at the oak wood in the projecting part of the reliquary. See the ranks of slender close-drawn flakes, which are an appropriate size for such slim components. Almost thread-like. You are seeing something rare. I've only seen them like that once. I starting building a piece of oak furniture for Charlene at least 15 years ago. But the project stalled, and I put some parts away to maybe maybe work on later. They cluttered my shop for years. And dozens of times I considered turning them into fire-wood. And each time I said, "Naw. Too pretty. Just can't do it!"

So, there they were, when their moment came!

Here's a bit of the construction process. I'm gluing and clamping strips of veneer onto the rough oak. Lordy, what contortions I went through. I often wished I'd chosen a different job.

Reliquary, glueing and clamping the veneers onto the substrate

Historical note... I'm a history buff, and have been thinking a bit about relics of the Cross. Here's something I wrote...

People in our culture tend to scoff at the very idea, but actually there's nothing historically implausible about fragments of the Cross surviving into our time.

The Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, is said to have obtained the Cross and brought it to Constantinople. That she or some other worthy might have obtained the actual cross is not far-fetched. The Romans were exceedingly organized and meticulous in everything they did. It is likely that they had their crosses made to high standards under government contract, and then took very good care of them. I'd guess they painted numbers on them, and had inventory lists. Probably the Roman soldiers had to sign them out of a warehouse, and some fussbudget bureaucrat told them that any damage would be deducted from their pay!

And the Christians of the first couple of centuries would have been angling all the time to get their hands on that cross, and hide it. There were wealthy and influential people among them, and they were highly motivated. Bribery could accomplish a lot. If Joseph of Arimathea could obtain the body of Jesus, if Nicodemus could buy a hundred pounds of spices to bury him with... it would be more surprising if they didn't get the Cross!

Erasmus of Rotterdam famously stated that if all the pieces of the True Cross were gathered together, it would take a ship to carry them. But that was hyperbole used for literary effect in trying to combat supposed superstition. He didn't study the matter. Charles Rohault de Fleury published a study in 1870, analyzing all known Cross fragments. They added up to much less than any reasonable estimate for a cross.
Posted by John Weidner at 9:14 PM

April 7, 2012

Chesterton on Good Friday...

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask: 'What is truth?' So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was behind all the mythologies like the sky behind the clouds. It was the most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the world. Perhaps there is something overpowering in pure personal theism; like seeing the sun and moon and sky come together to form one staring face. Perhaps the truth is too tremendous when not broken by some intermediaries divine or human; perhaps it is merely too pure and far away. Anyhow it could not save the world; it could not even conquer the world. There were philosophers who held it in its highest and noblest form; but they not only could not convert the world, but they never tried. You could no more fight the jungle of popular mythology with a private opinion than you could clear away a forest with a pocket-knife.
The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle. They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind. Since that day their representatives have been like blind men in broad daylight, striking to right and left with their staffs, and cursing the darkness. But there has been that in their monumental monotheism that it has at least remained like a monument, the last thing of its kind, and in a sense motionless in the more restless world which it cannot satisfy. For it is certain that for some reason it cannot satisfy. Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right. And as it was with these powers that were good, or at least had once been good, so it was with the element which was perhaps the best, or which Christ himself seems certainly to have felt as the best. The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world, showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society. The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumour. Just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative. Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. In all this we recognise the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops.

But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned. It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, 'It is well that one man die for the people.' Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had also been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honoured for ever. It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing. The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

From The Everlasting Man, by GK Chesterton

Posted by John Weidner at 7:16 AM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2012

Additional thought on the previous post...

...The Catholic way is not a life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, for their own sake. But a realization that the abundant life comes through death to self, true liberty comes through slavery to Christ and true happiness is really something called blessedness... ( -- Fr. Dwight Longenecker, quoted in my previous post.)

This makes me think that it was a big mistake on the part of the Founders to change the formula in the Declaration of Independence from its original draft, which was: "Life, liberty and property." "The pursuit of happiness" implies things that are outside the preview of government, and muddies the issue of what "rights" really are.

It occurs to me that this is also is an issue concerning the Information Age, which is my current obsession. Before the current era the "pursuit of happiness" would have implied much less extravagant things to most people than it does now. Back when it mostly meant having a family and a job and enough to get by on, it would not have looked like something that is the opposite of Christianity.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

February 4, 2012

Reverting to pagan sacrifice...

David Mamet: Israel, Isaac and the Return of Human Sacrifice - WSJ.com:

...What is the essence of the Torah? It is not the Ten Commandments, these were known, and the practice of most aspired to by every civilization. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches they are merely a Calling Card; to wit: "remember me . . . ?"

The essence of the Torah is the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac. The God of Hosts spoke to Abraham, as the various desert gods had spoken to the nomads for thousands of years: "If you wish me to relieve your anxiety, give me the most precious thing you have."

So God's call to Abraham was neither unusual nor, perhaps, unexpected. God had told Abraham to leave his people and his home, and go to the place which God would point out to him. And God told Abraham to take his son up the mountain and kill him, as humans had done for tens of thousands of years.

Now, however, for the first time in history, the narrative changed. The sacrifice, Isaac, spoke back. He asked his father, "Where is the Goat we are to sacrifice?" This was the voice of conscience, and Abraham's hand, as it descended with the knife, was stayed. This was the Birth of the West, and the birth of the West's burden, which is conscience.

Previously the anxiety and fear attendant upon all human life was understood as Fear of the Gods, and dealt with by propitiation, which is to say by sacrifice. Now, however, the human burden was not to give The Gods what one imagined, in one's fear, that they might want, but do, in conscience, those things one understood God to require.

In abandonment of the state of Israel, the West reverts to pagan sacrifice, once again, making a burnt offering not of that which one possesses, but of that which is another's. As Realpolitik, the Liberal West's anti-Semitism can be understood as like Chamberlain's offering of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, a sop thrown to terrorism. On the level of conscience, it is a renewal of the debate on human sacrifice....

Good stuff. And it makes sense to call the Akedah "the Birth of the West." But personally I don't think we are dealing with Realpolitik "sops thrown to terrorism." My suspicion is that the "liberal West" is really hardly aware of terrorism, at least consciously. It is unconsciously reacting to symbols, according to how they they affect their inner suffering--which is also unconscious. They have lost God and Truth, and that's a scary place to be. And so they try to kill God.

What symbolizes God? More than anything else, Jews. Anti-Semitism is, I think, more common now that it was in the 1930's. But it is mostly expressed by proxy. The so-called Palestinians are proxy Jew haters and Jew-killers. And the obsession of the liberal West with the Palestinians is utterly bizarre by any rational standard. One small oppressed group gets more attention than all the other oppressions and genocides of the whole planet. A million dead in Rawanda get far less attention than does some diplomatic wrangle about settlers on the West Bank, with no one even injured.

And we pay the Palestinians to hate Jews. They are economically better off than their brethren in Egypt or Syria or Jordan. Because of our 'foreign aid"--The US for instance gives them 600k a year. Of course they will never stop terrorism, it's their livelihood.

My guess is that the supporting of the Palestinians is a way for Western liberals to "kill God." It always makes me think of how the emperor Julian the Apostate undid his Christian Baptism by having himself "baptized" with bull's blood. It was totally illogical, unless you view it on the level of symbols.

I theorize (yes, yes, I know. I'm way out of the mainstream) that the other popular way to "kill God" is through abortion. If true, that might explain why support for abortion is higher among liberal American Jews than any other group. (The stats are stupefying. Something like 80%. And many more abortionists are Jewish than their numbers would indicate. )Why? Maybe because Jews are the ones who can't easily kill God by supporting Palestinians.

Mount of Olives, looking west over Kidron

Posted by John Weidner at 9:42 PM | Comments (5)

January 24, 2012

"Thou hast shaken hands with reputation... and made him invisible."

Archbishop calls Obama habitual violator of Constitution | Times 247:

Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has recorded a video message bluntly stating that the Obama administration has a habit of advancing policies that violate the U.S. Constitution.

The new video message is the latest step in an escalating and historically unprecedented confrontation between the Roman Catholic Church and an American president.

It centers around what the American Catholic bishops see as the Obama administration's efforts to restrict the right of Catholic citizens and institutions to freely exercise their religion as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution....

His Weightiness the Archbishop speaks out boldly in defense of... the Constitution. Color me unimpressed. Here's the scoop, your Excellency. What you are really talking about is the rule of law. It's an old tradition of this country, and in the Anglosphere, that the laws should be administered without fear or favor. All are equal under the law. That the rights of all are protected. In fact, America is a little like the Catholic Church. Morality, dogma, doctrine... they are binding on all, and they all demand our respect. I'm sure you will agree that it's not cricket to just obey the doctrines you like. Or when you like. That would destroy the Faith that saves us.

The rule of law is similar. It must be respected and maintained. Defended and fought for. Or else you can easily lose it. Sort of like the old lines of John Webster...

"FERDINAND: Dost thou know what reputation is?
I'll tell thee, to small purpose, since th' instruction
Comes now too late."...

I shall tell thee. The leaders of the Church, including you, have given scant respect to the laws of our country. Now you are bleating for help because you are being attacked by a lawless regime. Too late, fools. You cozied up to the Chicago banditti when it was convenient to your politics, and now you pay the price. We all pay the price. Obama got a big chunk of the Catholic vote. "Hey Frodo, let us use that Ring of Power, to help people. What could go wrong?" But it was obvious to any clear-eyed observer that Obama and the Dems were evil-doers and enemies of the Church. People like me told you. Over and over. Click on this LINK. That should have been ALL you needed to know about the Obama regime.

Th' instruction comes now too late, but I will tell thee. If you want the rule of law to protect you, then you must defend the rights of others. You must defend the rule of law. Fight to the death "in a narrow dusty room" if that's what needs to be done. Die in the last ditch. Fight with a knife, or with your teeth. I've yet to hear a Catholic leader even mention the concept. As a small but telling example, a grave injustice was done when the "Occupy Wall Streeters" were allowed to do what is against the law for the rest of us. If tea partiers or pro-lifers, like me, want to have a march or demonstration, we have to get permits, pay money to the city, get big insurance policies. And of course, we must pack up and go home at a set time. These laws were not enforced on OWC, because corrupt officials thought it would be politically advantageous. You acquiesced in this lawlessness. And, if I know my Catholics, many of you thought it was way cool that people like me should get the mucky end of the stick. NOW it is happening to YOU. Wake up! You are in trouble because you did not defend the rights of others. Because you didn't defend MY rights. YOUR rights. I'm now a second-class citizen in San Francisco, because my rights are less than those of others. And you sat by and watched and did nothing. You sat there and let the law be trampled on, and now you say, "Why aren't I protected by the law?"

[By the way, The protestors of the Civil Rights Movement were different.They broke the law as a protest, and then accepted the necessary punishment. They were not lawless.]

You probably sneered at the Tea Parties when they arose. That's what happened in my parish. And lies were told, even from the pulpit. Did you participate in the lies? But the Tea Parties have been trying to prevent the very mess Catholics are in now. The Founders clearly envisioned a limited central government, and they assumed that issues like, say, health care, would be local matters. (This is also a Catholic notion. It is called Subsidiarity. Have you been a fighter for Subsidiarity? Too late now.) Our form of government has been perverted, and the Federal government has grown monstrously, cancerously powerful, to the point where it can simply snuff out Catholic institutions. The Tea parties, to put it bluntly, have been fighting to keep you out of jail.

I tell you, the lawless Dems will gladly throw your Episcopal ass in prison. And laugh! And they may well have the chance to do it. Once you let the law be destroyed, then anything goes. You'll be wearing an orange jump-suit, and leg irons, and whackin' weeds on the county roads. And they will laugh. Wake up!

Now perhaps you see that there is a pertinent reason for limiting government power, and putting it in the hands of states and local governments. And best of all, leaving it to the people. Things will always go wrong when people have power. The Founders believed in Original Sin; the Constitution was designed to limit the damage. Catholic leaders have consistently worked for bigger and more powerful government. You should have thought about Original Sin. The idea behind limited central government (and Subsidiarity) is that, if things go wrong locally, if one part becomes a lawless kleptocracy—say, Chicago—that evil can't spread across the country. Now Chicago politics has been put in charge of the whole country. And you Catholic leaders helped.

Another example, t' small purpose. You Church leaders scoff at the law when the topic is illegal aliens. And, you claim to care about them. But I say you don't care. Do you not realize that most of them would rather stay home with their family and friends, in their own country? Duh! Why don't they? Because there are no jobs. Why are there no jobs? Because they lack the rule of law. Wages are very low in Mexico, the climate is lovely, there are natural resources in abundance, but, mysteriously, industry and commerce do not flourish there as they do in other places. Why? Because corrupt officials will plunder you. Because judges will give verdicts to their relatives. Because thieves and looters run amok. Because bribery is necessary to do anything.

[Please note, I'm not just making stuff up. I grew up in the family nursery business. My father loved Mexico, and started a branch business in Chiapas. He hoped to grow plants in the tropical warmth and ship them to America. That business (and a bunch of jobs for Mexicans) was destroyed because perishable shipments of plants were held up at the border, and died, waiting for someone to find out which officials to pay bribes to.]

If American Catholics really cared about the people who illegally enter America, our very highest priority would be to work for the rule of law in Mexico, and Central America. It never happens. Illegal aliens come here, because we have the rule of law, and therefore prosperity and freedom. By disdaining the law, you are destroying the very reason that people are crawling across burning deserts to get here. And you can't even SEE them. That's my suspicion. They ask for the sweet tortillas, and you give them... Wonder Bread and scorpions. You don't love these people... you love your theories.

Sorry, Your Weightiness. Th' instruction comes now too late. I tried. It's too late, too late, too late to whimper about the Constitution, when you've tolerated and supported thugs who laugh at that document. As the old saying goes, "If you sup with the Devil, bye and bye the waiter will hand you your bill on a little tray."

Suppose you did not fight for the Faith during your life... and the Judgement Day comes... what are you gonna say? Hmm? Similarly, on a much lower plane... if you have never fought for the Constitution... and your Judgement Day comes... like, uh, now... and you haven't stood fast for the Constitution... if you haven't loved her... If you have never put her above your little self... It's like, where are you? Why are you talking about this, M. l'Archevêque? The Constitution will tell you plainly, "I never knew you. Away" ...

Statue of Our Lady destroyed by scum

Posted by John Weidner at 7:10 PM

January 8, 2012

Mars colony thoughts...

Putting Scientists on Mars in Permanent Colonies (Thanks to Rand):

...Eminent physicist Paul Davies has a proposal for you: a one-way ticket to the Red Planet. As it's typically conceived, a round-trip Mars mission would take about two years and cost at least $80 billion. But you could cut 80 percent of the expense, Davies says, by nixing the return and initiating a permanent Mars colony. The hard part, he says, isn't subsisting in a hostile environment millions of miles from home but changing the Space Shuttle-era culture of timidity. That's starting to happen, though: The NASA Ames Research Center teamed up with Darpa to put $1.1 million into a study of manned interstellar travel. Even so, no one's going anywhere, Davies argues, unless we can bring the price down. To do that, the ticket has to be one-way.

Wired: Who would sign up for a mission with no return?

Paul Davies: That's the least of our worries. About 1,000 people volunteered after I wrote about this in the Journal of Cosmology. Of course, most are starry-eyed adventurers, not serious scientists who want to be on Mars to do great science....

This makes perfect sense to me. I'd be up for it if I did not have a happy family. Our "official" culture would hate it, because it is a culture devoted to destroying souls by means of fostering selfishness and dependence on the welfare state. It would be reflexively opposed for the same reason defending oneself with a gun is hated by liberal nihilists.

Another cultural idea that needs to be overcome is the author's own idea that space has to equal scientific research. I'd say that the real reason for space colonies should be to enlarge the human spirit. And that "starry-eyed adventurers" should be preferred! And since the starry-eyed types would surely be picked for intelligence and general competence, they could easily collect scientific data, or perform experiments. Or be scientists, without being filtered by our usual credentialism. Which I suspect is a dying artifact of the Industrial Age.

Actually, the idea that scientists are some sort of specialized and exalted caste that can do things no one else can is just silly. 95% of what's done by the average scientist could be picked up by a smart amateur in a year or two. We have seen it happen in the climate debates. (Link, link.) Actually, I'd argue that 95% percent of the people labeled "scientist" aren't really scientists at all. They are just technicians. A scientist is a truth-seeker. That's what the word really means. How many of our current white-coat-wearers would follow a truth faithfully if they knew it was going to, say, get Republicans elected? Or cause the scientist to fail to become tenured? Ha.

Davies says, "But I think it's unethical to send young people, since there are serious health risks. You need highly trained scientists with a life expectancy of less than 20 years." Is this true? He doesn't mention any specifics. I'd guess he means radiation risks, which I would think could be overcome. Space travel itself would pose problems, but I imagine that any Mars base would be mostly underground. One could dig trenches with explosives, assemble pre-fab tube-sections, and then fill over using more explosives. I wonder if the various minerals that can make cement are available on the Martian surface?

I would venture to say that the assumption that only older people should go to Mars is not so much a practical necessity, but rather a result of the vertigo that many people seem to feel when thinking about outer space. It is frightening because its possibilities are limitless. We shrink space to our psychological size by limiting it to fabulously expensive and inefficient government-only exploration and science.

Alas, if one thinks about space colonies, then the number one question that should be asked can't be asked. At least not in the context of the liberal/secular worldview most associated with space and the natural sciences. And that question would flow from Mark Steyn's apophthegm, here, that "There aren't many examples of successful post-religious societies." Well, actually, folks, there are none. It doesn't seem to work.

If one is actually contemplating space colonies, and not old age homes for scientists, then the book to read is How Civilizations Die, by David P. Goldman (AKA Spengler). Because we are in fact surrounded by dying societies, and it would be grossly impractical for anyone to ignore this factor. It would be bad engineering. Demographers are in complete agreement that reproducing at sustainable rates is most closely related to faith. (More specifically, faith that has discovered how to live with modernity. Faith that is just an attribute of a sheltered pre-modern culture won't do it. Those crash when exposed to modernity. Think Islam, or Ireland.) Read the book, and think.

 

Posted by John Weidner at 3:10 PM

December 24, 2011

It's sort of like a riddle....

Your voice speaks:

In my arms I still carry flowers from the wilderness, the dew on my hair is from the valleys of the dawn of humankind.

I have prayers that the meadows lend an ear to, I know how storms are tempered, how water is blest.

I carry in my womb the secrets of the desert, on my head the noble web of ancient thought.

For I am mother to all Earth’s children: why do you scorn me, world, when my Heavenly Father makes me so great?

Behold, in my long-vanished generations still kneel, and out of my soul many pagans shine toward the infinite.

I lay hidden in the temples of their Gods, I was darkly present in the sayings of their wise men.

I was on the towers with their star-gazers, I was with the solitary women on whom the spirit descended.

I was the desire of all times, I was the light of all times, I am the fullness of all times.

I am their great union, I am their eternal oneness. I am the way of all their ways, on me the millennia are drawn to God.

      ~ Gertrude von le Fort

Happy Christmas to you all! I hope Santa is kind.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2011

"Debauched science"

Climate change and the Catholic Church - phillyBurbs.com : Doylestown:

In the wake of yet another fiasco at the latest U.N. Convention on Climate Change (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, and on the heels of another release of damaging emails between high-profile climate scientists (Climategate 2.0), I believe this to be a propitious time for the Catholic Church and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to faithfully re-evaluate their position on climate change science. As a practicing Catholic and one who has also diligently researched this subject for the last several years, I am increasingly disconcerted to see the church and the bishops take such an inflexible position on an issue that has become more fraught with controversy and uncertainty as new studies and data fail to corroborate earlier claims of the climate-change alarmist community.

Moreover, the Catholic Church’s active membership in the National Religious Partnership for the Environment — the NRPE is an organization of mainline churches promulgating “environmental sustainability and social justice” — is disturbing given the radical environmentalist positions taken by various ecotheologian leaders in the history of this group and the principles the organization embraces.

Coming full circle, the Catholic Church and the USCCB, in associating with the NRPE and its more extremist affiliate members, have disingenuously communicated a message to church members conflating ideas of stewardship of the Earth with the debauched science supporting the claims of those in the radical environmentalist community....

It's disgusting to me to see the Church sucked into this kind of malarky. But you have to realize that there is a bigger issue. For most people, re-thinking is a worse thing than death. To admit that lefty environmentalism might be flawed (not to mention anti-Christian, as I think) would be to admit that all sort sof other lefty notions might be flawed. Impossible!

Hmm. I wonder which term denotes the greater amount of tricksy hidden wickedness and folly, "social justice," or "sustainability?"

Posted by John Weidner at 5:29 PM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2011

Bible facts you may not know, #3

Guerin pyramids

(Here are Bible Facts number one and number two.)

1. No nuclear families. Usually where the Bible shows an individual doing something, it would have been assumed by all early readers that the person was accompanied by an entourage. I recently read Anne Rice's novel about Jesus' childhood, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. I think the whole idea of Jesus novels, including those of Ms. Rice, to be preposterous folly. But the book is good as historical fiction. Especially in the way it shows the household of Joseph and Mary as a crowd of uncles and cousins and children, working and living together. And traveling together, to Bethlehem, and to Egypt. All those pictures of Joseph and Mary meandering by themselves with a donkey are nonsense.

The picture is by a favorite artist, Jules Guerin. But Joseph and Mary would likely have headed for Alexandria, and never come near the pyramids.

2. The Gospels were not written for specific communities. It is a commonplace among biblical scholars that each of the Gospels was written for an isolated community. (i.e.: the Gospel of Matthew was written for the "Matthean Community.") And that scholars can discern the nature of that group by what was being written for them, and then write papers about their pecularities. This might be called the "Scholars Full-Employment Act," since there is no end to the blarney one can come up with when writing about imaginary things. There is in fact no independent evidence for the theory. And the First Century world simply didn't work like that. People and ideas and manuscripts circulated rapidly, much like today, and no one writing a book on some important topic would have imagined that it would only be read by his local group.

This is what the world of Jesus was really like: (From Paul's second letter to Timothy, chap. 4)

...Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessaloni'ca; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me. Tych'icus I have sent to Ephesus... Greet Prisca and Aq'uila, and the household of Onesiph'orus. Eras'tus remained at Corinth; Troph'imus I left ill at Mile'tus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubu'lus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren.

3. The Diaspora. By the time of Jesus there were probably more Jews living outside Palestine then within. All the major cities of the empire had Jewish communities. Christianity first spread to these groups, as the early Christians were mostly Jewish, and were addressing questions that Jews were very aware of, such as the coming of the Messiah. I used to imagine that when the family of Jesus fled to Egypt, they would have been penniless refugees in a strange land, and unable to speak the language. In fact there were lots of Jews in Egypt, and it would have been like the way now that someone from China can go to any large city in the world, find the Chinatown, and be right at home. And a bit of Greek could make you understood anywhere, even in Rome.

4. WORD NOTE: "The gates of hell." People commonly take the phrase: "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18) as a sort of poetic way of saying that the power of Hell will not defeat the Church. (Example.) But Jesus spoke in the days when siege warfare against walled cities was a major component of war. There's nothing cutsey or poetic about it; he meant something tough. It's the Church which is attacking Hell, not the other way around. And the Gates of Hell will be battered down, be they never so strong! We are not on the defensive!

5. St Ignatius of Antioch. You will recall that when Ignatius, the third Bishop of Antioch, was being transported to Rome to be thrown to the lions, he wrote a series of letters to Christian communities that we still read today, with great profit. (Well, actually, when I was growing up an Evangelical Protestant I never even heard of him. I wonder why.) Antioch in Syria was then the third largest city of the Empire, and Ignatius, who was its Christian bishop for about 40 years, would have been a high-value target. High value if one assumes, like the Roman authorities did, that a cult would melt away if its leaders were killed. Ha!

One should also realize that the bureaucratic efficiency with which we deal with prisoners did not exist before the Industrial Age. Prisoners in the past were almost always accessible; a small payment to the guards would get your friends in to bring you comforts and have a nice visit. It is not at all surprising that John the Baptist, while in Herod's dungeon, was able to send his disciples to question Jesus. Likewise Ignatius, though traveling under a military guard, received many Christian visitors.

6. The real name of Easter. Chaps like Christopher Hitchins scoff because the chief Christian holy day is named after an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess, Eostre. But Easter isn't the name of Easter. The real name of what we call Easter is Pascha, and has been since long before the Anglo-Saxons even came into existence. (The h is silent, it's pronounced Pahss-kuh.) Pascha is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Pesch, which is the Passover. Actually Eostre also meant "Spring," so the whole question may be moot. BUT, Christ is Lord of all, and He is not in the least bit diminished by pagan names. Or any other pagan things we absorb and put to good use. We devour them, we crunch them up like peanut brittle. (By the way, does anyone still eat peanut brittle? I haven't encountered it in years. Does that date me?)

7. Fishing rights belonged to the state. Peter and Andrew, or James and John and their father Zebedee, were fishermen because they bought a contract to do so. Possibly through Matthew the tax collector. You didn't just fish on a whim. Presumably the cost of a contract was high enough that you couldn't get rich, but low enough that fishermen could afford boats and nets, etc.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:53 PM

November 26, 2011

Amen, brother Albert....

One of the more odd-but-meaningful moments of my life was in 1971. One of my professors at UC Berkeley was the well-known architecture critic Allen Temko. He brought a batch of his students over to SF for the "unveiling" of the Vaillancourt Fountain, and we handed out his flyers deriding it. (I remember the flyer described Justin Herman as "the Gauleiter of the Redevelopment Agency.") It was a signal moment of my life, though it took me 3 decades to really start to "see" it. To see what it meant.

Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.' I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.
      -- Albert J. Nock

Well, we can see this all around us. It's plain as a pikestaff, but no one wants to see. Look at this picture of the Vaillancourt Fountain, with the Ferry Building behind it...

Nihilist Vaillancourt Fountain and noble tower

Our world is belatedly becoming conscious that there's something very bad going on with birthrates. (If you are new to our brave new situation, "TFR" stands for Total Fertility Rate. It's how demographers designate birthrates. The TFR number is births-per-woman. A TFR of 2.1 is replacement rate. That is, the birth-rate at which population will stay the same. Below that, population shrinks. Above, it grows. Europe now has an average TFR of 1.5. Europe is toast.)

The book to read right now is David P. Goldman's How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) (I wish I had the ooompf to write a full review, but I did write a bit here.)

Goldman points out that the most reliable correlation is between birth rates and faith. Family size correlates with frequency of religious observance. (This is not controversial, demographers are in agreement on this one.) I'd like to suggest that there is something else that dovetails with birthrates, although it can't be quantified or pinned down.

Knowing what we know now, I will submit with confidence that the people who built the tower in the background had a TFR of at least 3. And the people responsible for the abomination in the foreground—that's you, SF liberals—have a TFR well south of 2.

Beauty is really a proxy for something deeper. Beauty comes from God. The San Franciscans who built the Ferry Building and its towering 1898 were still in touch with the deep wells of faith from which beauty grows. (Explicit religious observance was in decline, and the architect may not have been a church-goer, but, as those who have followed my arguments about nihilism will understand, the habits of Judaism and Christianity still lingered on.)

Liberalism is the idea that we humans can navigate ourselves, without need for outside landmarks or guide-stars. [Link] One expression of that idea has long been that art and poetry etc will flourish once people are liberated from the shackles of religion and tradition and stuffy morality. So, human race, how's that bit of hopey-changy working' out for you? Hmm? Are we all happy with the buildings we are getting? With the poems—do they linger in your mind like a fragrance? How about paintings and sculpture? Do they make your life sweeter? Or nobler?

This has turned into a stream of consciousness post, and I should really outline my thoughts and re-write it. Ha ha, how likely is that? Maybe later.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:54 PM | Comments (1)

October 15, 2011

Compare...

Milton Friedman, From Capitalism and Freedom, p.3:

...The second broad principle is that government power must be dispersed. If government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington. If I do not like what my local community does, be it in sewage disposal, or zoning, or schools, I can move to another local community, and though few may take this step, the mere possibility acts as a check. If I do not like what my state does, I can move to another. If I do not like what Washington proposes I have few alternatives in this world of jealous nations...

And...

Wikipedia, on the Catholic teaching called subsidiarity :

...Functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, and voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole...
It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 79

Posted by John Weidner at 9:59 PM | Comments (2)

October 1, 2011

Some thoughts, probably destined to go nowhere...

The people to whom I want to address thoughts like this don't want to hear them. Well, no one wants to hear that everything they know is wrong! (Except sans-culotte weirdoes like me.)

But I'll post this scribble here, and thus have it stored, like honey in the great Interweb beehive, in case I ever need it. It's just a sketch, it should be heftier, and explain things much more thoroughly...

      LOSER HOLDING ACES

In the Great Poker Game, the Catholic Church in America currently looks like a loser, destined soon to be busted. I think the truth is that the Church is holding aces, but is simply blind to them. We are clinging to the recent past, and to the World's "wisdom," and can't see the possibilities that are on the horizon.

Our world is entering a new age. We have left the Industrial Age, and are being plunged into the Information Age. Everything is in flux. Many of the "models" society has used to guide our actions and understand the world are failing. For instance, the model of government we have been using is failing catastrophically, with (among many other problems) a large percentage of our governmental units effectively bankrupt—they will simply not be able to pay the pension and health benefits they have promised workers. This includes San Francisco and California, Chicago and New York. [The Adachi Commission pegged SF's unfunded pension liabilities at $6.5 Billion. In a city of 700k people. Utter madness. We will have to change our name to "Micawber-ville.]

This is not an coincidence or random happening. Rather, our model has failed to fit the reality of the new age. The Church is sleepwalking along with this, alas, and will probably share in the coming disgrace and confusion. But in fact she has stores of wisdom from her 2,000 years of pondering and collecting that could be very useful right now.

We could lead.

Another example [the subject of one of my previous papers-- Link.] is the way masculinity is in crisis in the developed world. Men no longer know "how to be men." If you look only at the surface, the Catholic Church has nothing to offer, since she has become all too effeminate, and manly men avoid her.

But we have the needed wisdom, I suggested, hidden in the bosom of the Church. We could lead.
Another example is the current dire condition of higher education. Most of the Catholic institutions seem to be as muddled as secular ones. But education in the West started in the Church, and she has other models that might be usefully applied. For instance, the institution of the university arose and became stunningly successful using a model where students paid the teachers themselves, spot cash, out-of-pocket. If a teacher didn't satisfy the "customer," he didn't get paid! And there was no administration at all.

New models are waiting to be born, and we could lead.

Yet another example. Industrial Age institutions tended (for good reasons) to be ponderous and bureaucratic. Information Age institutions must be nimble, quick to change and adapt. The Church today is very much the former type, and is probably doomed to horrible collapses and ruin because of it. But, she was originally something different. In the early days she invented "guerrilla marketing!" The early Church was agile, dispersed, decentralized and self-activating. The poor Romans were clueless. As fast as they killed bishops, new ones popped up. Today we like to say: "The Internet routes around obstacles." But the Church before Constantine did exactly the same thing. Before it was cool.

Similarly, globalization is an acid now dissolving cultures and tribes and nations and languages. But the Roman Empire was very much like that too. And most of the nations and cultures that the empire absorbed fell into decline. They ceased to grow or contribute as they had before. And, like today, many of those nations suffered demographic collapse. But the Church thrived and grew in that morass, creating a new "tribe" that anyone could join, that was protean, and not confined to any one place or class or culture.

We could lead.

I would suggest that the Church should always be "counter-cultural," in the sense of always being skeptical of the current models of thought, whatever they are. Catholics should be involved in everything, but captive to nothing. I doubt this is ever going to happen, but if it does it will get started in a time like this.

St Anthony, engraving by  Dürer
An engraving of St Anthony, by Albrecht Dürer.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:59 PM | Comments (6)

July 25, 2011

Thoughts for Hale Adams...

Hale Adams is in a foul mood, which is always good for the creative juices! Me, I'm in a pretty cranky mood too, and for some of the same reasons. This is a hasty answer to a comment he posted here. (Other comments deserve answers, but this may use up my limited amount of time and energy--sorry.)

Um, John, maybe it's you who should think. How does the State allowing gays and lesbians to enter into a marriage contract make you and Charlene any less married? How are the two of you injured?

That wasn't my point at all, but yes, we are "less married." We have invested the bulk of of what we are and possess in an institution, and now the terms of the contract are being downgraded. In libertarian terms, it might be like spending all your money to join an exclusive club, and then having the government say that other people must be admitted for free.

The State has to define marriage because it is, in its civil aspects, a partnership.

No, the state has never even considered doing that until recent decades. It merely adumbrated the tradition of all of Western Civilization. Likewise, the early Republican opposition to Mormon polygamy was really saying: "No, you cannot change the definition of marriage."

Now, I understand your impulse to say "Ick!" at the idea of gay marriage. But what two consenting adults do in private ain't my business or yours. If those two consenting adults are doing something the Church doesn't like, and they are members of the Church, then the Church has the duty to impose discipline.

You insult me. I'm talking ideas, not "Ick!"

If they aren't members of the Church, the Church can certainly say its piece, but it doesn't get to use the power of the State to impose any kind of penalty on them. Allowing the Church to impose such penalties, or to prohibit the conduct outright only gives power to the Church, "power which is not going to deployed to make you more free. No way," if I may hurl your words back at you.

If this was a case of "the Church" as a human institution coming up with a rule or discipline and imposing it on people using the power of the state, I'd agree with you. I don't think you should be forced to eat fish on Friday! But that's not the issue here. The theory is that God defined marriage. (And just FYI, he didn't define it in the sense of an arbitrary rule; rather, this is an expression of the moral law woven into the fabric of the Universe, and even God can't change it unless he abandons his character as the Divine Lawgiver.)

So, why should a libertarian care? I'd answer, "In what sense do we have rights?" The founders wrote: "...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." Do you believe that that's true? I assume not. So do we have "rights?" Our country is founded on the that rights are "unalienable." That means they CANNOT be taken away. A tyrannical government can deny you the enjoyment of them, but they still exist, and always will.

In the libertarian worldview, I suspect, we do not have any rights. Not in that sense. Humans can pass a law that says we have such-and-such a "right," but next year other humans can repeal that law. That's why I tend to say the libertarianism is a form of liberalism. Liberalism is always, on a deep level, the idea that we humans can navigate ourselves, without reference to fixed landmarks outside our system.

Our founding fathers explicitly rejected this. As John Adams put it, "The rights of Englishmen are derived from God, not from king or Parliament..." And they also wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident." Which is to say, you can't get there by human powers of reason. You just have to dig it. (And this is exactly what I mean by a "fixed landmark.")

That, I think, is the crux, for any American in politics. That's what really bugs me about Gov. Perry's statement. (Thank you Hale for stimulating me to ponder this.) He is rejecting the essence of our American system, without thinking! Our system rests on the idea of God as the Divine Lawgiver. Our rights exist in exactly the same way that the ancient theory of Judeo-Christian marriage exists. Our Bill of Rights is just a local and human instantiation of moral laws that are baked into the structure of the universe. Human rights and the definition of marriage stand or fall on the same theory.

I think Perry is a good example of what I consider a fundamental rule: Your "philosophy" is the most important part of your mental equipment, because if it is not rock-solid, sooner or later you will be swept away by the world's torrents of fad and fancy and change.

I won't go into the rest of your comment, which I mostly agree with. As the old saying goes, "The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops." Fortunately our younger priests are a lot more solid than the baby-boomers in charge now. So time may improve things a bit.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:00 PM

July 24, 2011

This is why Conservatism doesn't work...

...because most people who label themselves "conservative" refuse to think. And therefore the world thinks for them, and they drift along with whatever ideas are popular at the moment.

Rick Perry Says He's "Fine" With Gay Marriage in NY | TheBlaze.com:

Rumored Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he's "fine" with New York's recent passage of gay marriage — because he supports states' rights.

Speaking at an Aspen, Colo. forum Friday, Perry called himself an "unapologetic social conservative" who personally opposes gay marriage, but is also a firm believer in the 10th Amendment, the Associated Press reported.

"Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, that's their business, and that's fine with me," Perry said. "That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business."...

This is so philosophically insane, I hardly know what to say. Perry says he's an "unapologetic social conservative." So Governor, where does that come from? Hmm? What is it, precisely, that you are conserving?

The odds are that Mr Perry bases his "unapologetic social conservatism" on Christian and Jewish teachings. (I suppose it is possible to be an atheist social conservative, but that has to be fairly rare.) Right, Mr P.? But Christianity unapoligetically says that there is TRUTH, Including Truth on marriage. In fact, Christianity says that marriage was instituted by God. It is right there in the beginning, in the book of Genesis.

Now Christian teachings on marriage are either true or false. There is no fuzzy middle ground. If true, then what New York is doing is catastrophic folly and wickedness. At the very least, a Christian should strongly protest against self-destructive behavior. It's a Christian duty!

(If Christianity is false, it is still an open question whether we ought to be mucking around thoughtlessly with an institution that's at least 10,000 years old.)

(Oh, and for my Libertarian friends. You ought to be thinking more too. Allowing the state to define what marriage IS, is to yield to the state enormous power. Power which is not going to deployed to make you more free. No way. )

Posted by John Weidner at 2:02 PM

July 23, 2011

Git me back to Mt Pisgah!

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Truth in Advertising:

I notice as I toot around Greenville how the local Protestant churches are shifting away from honest self description. It used to be that they put out a sign stating just exactly who they were so you knew what you were getting when you went church shopping.

The old way was often friendly and inviting so churches were called: Friendship Baptist Church, Fellowship Baptist Church, Welcome to All Bible Church. Other church names were linked with a locality making it homey and easy: Pebble Creek Baptist or Pumpkintown Presbyterian or Silver Falls Church of God or Reedy Fork Methodist or Hudson Road Bible Church. Even the old names of First Baptist, Second Presbyterian or Hortonville United Methodist had clarity, integrity and honesty in advertising. Furthermore the churches looked like churches. They had a porch with pillars and a steeple on top. Even if they were inexpensive warehouse type buildings they plopped a steeple on top and put a cross on the front and made it look like a church.

You also had the churches named with quaint, but obscure Biblical references. These made you feel a little bit confused or perhaps a bit happy because you recognized the Biblical reference and felt you might be privileged enough to be on the inside. Thus, Beulah Baptist Church or Mount Pisgah Church of God or Bethany Baptist or Church of the Nazarene or Zion United Church or Mount Moriah Church of God Prophecy....


....Not anymore. Now the church buildings are indistinguishable from a retail shopping strip or a warehouse or a movie theater. The names are totally misleading. What if you went looking for a church with one of these 'creative' names? It could be a church. It could be something else. Furthermore, they not only don't call themselves a 'church' (that would be so alienating to the unchurched you know) they also don't tell you what denomination they are. The local community church named 'Heartrock' or some such might be Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or most anything. This is because most Evangelical Protestant theology is now post-modern eclectic (which is another words for relativistic cafeterianism) But that's the stuff of another post. Instead I'm observing the confusion that arises in their current penchant for creative groovy but goofy Protestant church names. Here's a list of 'community church' names which could lead the consumer to something totally different....

I recently learned that the church of my childhood, Temple Baptist, of La Habra, Californina.... is now "Crossroads Community Church." "Crossroads Community Church is a faith community where the doors are open wide to people from all backgrounds regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey. We have exciting things going on for people at every stage of life. Come enjoy great music with our live band and practical, life-changing messages."

Sorry, not buying it. Sounds like floofy BS to me. "Crossroads." What does that mean? Nothing. Mush.

The cool thing about being Catholic is not that we don't have problems--we have a list of problems as long as my arm. But our problems are not the permanent type. Christ founded his Church upon a rock, and promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it. and so it has worked out, for 2k years, and counting. Nothing else, nothing human, has lasted so long. (That doesn't mean that my particular little corner of the Church can't perish, though I wish it did. But I'm not an island, I'm part of the maine.

...It is the peculiarity of the warfare between the Church and the world, that the world seems ever gaining on the Church, yet the Church is really ever gaining on the world. Its enemies are ever triumphing over it as vanquished, and its members ever despairing; yet it abides. It abides and it sees the ruins of its oppressors and enemies. "O how suddenly do they consume, perish, and come to a fearful end."

Kingdoms rise and fall; nations expand and contract; dynasties begin and end; princes are born and die; confederacies are made and unmade, and parties, and companies, and crafts, and guilds, and establishments, and philosophies, and sects, and heresies. They have their day, but the Church is eternal; yet in their day they seem of much account...

    --John Henry Newman

Word Note logoWORD NOTE: People commonly take the phrase: "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" as a sort of poetic way of saying that the power of Hell will not defeat the Church. (Example.) But Jesus said that in the days of siege warfare against walled cities. There's nothing cutsey or poetic about it; he meant something tough. It's the Church which is attacking Hell, not the other way around. And the Gates of Hell will be battered down, be they never so strong!

Posted by John Weidner at 10:22 PM

June 19, 2011

"bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser"

Carl Olson debunks once again the line that the God of the Old Testment is an ogre... Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: One bad of a hell argument:

...One of the more memorable instances of this is the description by atheist Richard Dawkins in his best-selling book The God Delusion of the God of the Old Testament as "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." As I wrote in one of my "Opening the Word" columns, "That remark indicates far more familiarity with the dictionary than with the Bible." To make this point, here's a quick quiz: which of the following statements is made by or about God in the OT and which were made by or about Jesus in the Gospels?

1. "But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire."

2. "But thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."

3. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell..."

4. "Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the LORD is gracious, merciful, and righteous."

5. "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell..."

6. "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness..."

7. "And you, Caper'na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."

8. "I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel which he has granted them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love."

9."There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out."

10. "Nevertheless in thy great mercies thou didst not make an end of them or forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God."

Yep, you guessed it: 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 are statements made by Jesus in the Gospels, and 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 are statements by or about God found in the Old Testament. The basic point is that both the Old and New Testaments speak of judgment and mercy, punishment and love, communion with God and separation from God. And the word "hell" is just one way of describing or referring to eternal separation from the presence, life, and love of God, just as "heaven" is one of many ways to refer to everlasting communion with God....

There's lots more one could say on this subject. My post here might be interesting, on how the conquest of Caanan (Palestine) depicted in the OT was in fact far less violent than it is portrayed; that the slaughters were a sort of literary device that was applied to any take-over, even if it was really a peaceful change.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:38 PM

May 1, 2011

Atheists demand Affirmative Action...

This is just a quick fisking of some sloppy or fallacious arguments. But the real counter-argument is that the authors are sociologists. They are pleading for tolerance of their atheism, but there isn't any sociology department in the country (except maybe in religious colleges) that is tolerant of conservatives or theists. And you will notice that the authors never suggest that respectful debate is of any interest to them. Or seem to have any personal acquaintance with the other side...

Why do Americans still dislike atheists? - The Washington Post:

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don't like much: atheists. [Category error. These things are simply not equivalent. Atheism is a philosophy, none of the others are.] Those who don't believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can't join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently "spiritual" in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens. [Strawman argument. Actually, the more thoughtful of conservative critics present clear arguments FOR the benefits of religious belief on people and societies. None of which you have answered.]

Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

A growing body of social science [Most of which is done by atheists] research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights [This is a bullshit argument, since you've made your own list of what constitutes morality, and then: surprise! You discover you are moral. ] — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, [Only when YOU get to decide what is "ethical." ] particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious. [This paragraph is a very good argument for forcing "diversity" (diversity of thought, that is) on sociology departments. These fools have obviously never been forced to defend their ideas in debate. They are pampered pets that can't survive out in the jungle! ]
Consider that at the societal level, murder rates are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States, which also has a much greater portion of its population in prison. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than far less religious states such as Vermont and Oregon. [Bogus. Japan and Sweden are DYING, you fools. Both of them are in demographic collapse. As are ALL the post-religious states. Your atheism KILLED THEM.]

As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. [A bullshit argument, because only high-scoring types take the trouble to define themselves as atheists. The world is thick with stupid atheists, but they don't talk about it.]They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. [Wrong. I live in San Francisco, I know these people, and they are close-minded and fearful. They can't even CONSIDER conservative or Christian ideas. And try to give them a scientific argument against Man-made Global Warming... Ha ha.] They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. [By what authority do you say "nationalistic or ethnocentric" are inferior? Your own, of course. And even if one accepts your list, who defines the terms? You do.] They value freedom of thought. [Try defending Sarah Palin in the sociology department, and you will discover how much atheists value freedom of thought. ]

While many studies show that secular Americans don't fare as well as the religious when it comes to certain indicators of mental health or subjective well-being, new scholarship is showing that the relationships among atheism, theism, and mental health and well-being are complex. [Obfuscation by reference to un-named "studies." What's your divorce rate, sociology boy? ] After all, Denmark, which is among the least religious countries in the history of the world, consistently rates as the happiest of nations. And studies of apostates — people who were religious but later rejected their religion — report feeling happier, better and liberated in their post-religious lives. [As judged by... themselves.]

Nontheism isn't all balloons and ice cream. Some studies suggest that suicide rates are higher among the non-religious. But surveys indicating that religious Americans are better off can be misleading because they include among the non-religious fence-sitters who are as likely to believe in God, whereas atheists who are more convinced are doing about as well as devout believers. On numerous respected measures of societal success — rates of poverty, teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, drug use and crime, as well as economics — high levels of secularity are consistently correlated with positive outcomes in first-world nations. None of the secular advanced democracies suffers from the combined social ills seen here in Christian America. [They have the REAL social ill; they are DEAD. Nobody goes to Germany for exciting ideas, or Sweden for new philosophies. Nobody is worried that Japan or France will become economic colossi. The EU will not launch private spacecraft. No Reagans or Palins or Tea Parties will arise in Italy or Spain. Or San Francisco. The secularist parrot is dead. ]

More than 2,000 years ago, whoever wrote Psalm 14 claimed that atheists were foolish and corrupt, incapable of doing any good. These put-downs have had sticking power. Negative stereotypes of atheists are alive and well. Yet like all stereotypes, they aren't true — and perhaps they tell us more about those who harbor them than those who are maligned by them. So when the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly and Newt Gingrich engage in the politics of division and destruction by maligning atheists, they do so in disregard of reality. [A good example of a lying atheist, since those people do NOT malign atheists. Show us an example!]

As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth. Despite the bigotry, the number of American nontheists has tripled as a proportion of the general population since the 1960s. Younger generations' tolerance for the endless disputes of religion is waning fast. Surveys designed to overcome the understandable reluctance to admit atheism have found that as many as 60 million Americans — a fifth of the population — are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities. [Atheism is a philosophy, so it is not analogous to minority groups. And for a philosophy, respect of means being willing to debate. To suggest that a philosophy should be exempt from criticism, in the way we often think blacks should not be criticized, is to admit that it is either weak, or perhaps harmful. If the authors really wanted respect for their beliefs they we be saying, "Bring on your strongest criticism, and we will defeat it!" ]

Gregory Paul is an independent researcher in sociology and evolution. Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College, is the author of "Society Without God."
Posted by John Weidner at 9:43 AM

April 11, 2011

"Oh look, Spring Spheres!"

There's a bunch of things one might say about this bit of lunacy (feel free) but the first one that pops into my mind is, these people are afraid! The old lady getting up on a chair because there's a mouse on the floor is brave compared to these doofuses. Yet I bet if you asked them they'd say that their atheist/secularist positions are brave, because, you see, they aren't "using religion as a crutch." They are fearlessly, without illusions, facing a vast cold cosmos, blah blah blahbitty blah. Just don't threaten them with a chocolate egg!

Seattle school renames Easter eggs 'Spring Spheres' - Seattle News - MyNorthwest.com:

...Jessica, 16, told KIRO Radio's Dori Monson Show that a week before spring break, the students commit to a week-long community service project. She decided to volunteer in a third grade class at a public school, which she would like to remain nameless.

"At the end of the week I had an idea to fill little plastic eggs with treats and jelly beans and other candy, but I was kind of unsure how the teacher would feel about that," Jessica said.

She was concerned how the teacher might react to the eggs after of a meeting earlier in the week where she learned about "their abstract behavior rules."

"I went to the teacher to get her approval and she wanted to ask the administration to see if it was okay," Jessica explained. "She said that I could do it as long as I called this treat 'spring spheres.' I couldn't call them Easter eggs."

Rather than question the decision, Jessica opted to "roll with it." But the third graders had other ideas.

"When I took them out of the bag, the teacher said, 'Oh look, spring spheres' and all the kids were like 'Wow, Easter eggs.' So they knew," Jessica said.

The Seattle elementary school isn't the only government organization using spring over Easter. The city's parks department has removed Easter from all of its advertised egg hunts....

St Mary magdalen with miraculous egg that turned red

(The icon portrays an old legend that Mary Magdalene was carrying eggs when she discovered the Resurecton of Christ, and the eggs turned red.)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:09 PM

April 7, 2011

Industrial Age crack-up...

I've been a poor blogger lately partly because of some other things I've been writing. I'm going to try out a bit of the other stuff on the blog here, and you may feel free to criticize...

This is from some developing thoughts on the Catholic Church as an institution which, among many other institutions, is facing challenges because we are moving from the Industrial Age into the Information Age. [NOTE: I'm intentionally neglecting spiritual factors, and treating the Church here as just another organization. This is, of course, just part of the story, and not the most interesting part.]

We are entering a new age, sometimes called the Information Age, and lots of older groups and institutions and models are changing or dying. Including many Catholic entities.

It is very important to realize that many of the things we think of as typically Catholic were in fact invented in the last century or two, in response to the new possibilities and new wealth opened up by the growth of industry.

For instance we lament the ongoing collapse of the great orders of religious sisters who used to teach and nurse. The truth is that the Church existed for 18 centuries in which female religious were far fewer than male. Those orders and their tasks were mostly innovations from the time of Queen Victoria! The 19th and early 20th centuries were when mass education and mass access to hospitals were invented. The Industrial Age both made them possible, and required them, in order to have a higher quality of workers and managers. The Church was inventing them, and secular institutions and Protestant churches were busy inventing the same things at exactly the same time.

And both the church and the secular world staffed these burgeoning new institutions with large numbers of women. Women who typically lived lives dedicated to service, usually with some degree of poverty, and often without marrying. In other words, poverty, chastity and obedience!

Look at this picture. What does it make you think of? It is in fact purely secular; the young woman is a Red Cross nurse of the time of WWI. (This is a painting by the Swedish artist Carl Larsson, of his daughter Suzanne.) School teachers of the time often had a somewhat similar flavor—we've all heard of the prim starched spinster schoolmarm.

The industrial Age gave us our public school systems, and also what we now think of as a "normal"� Catholic parish, with attached school and convent.

And these models all started breaking down at the same time! Breaking down along with many other Industrial Age institutions.

My father was on the board of trustees of a hospital when I was young. (St Jude, in Fullerton, CA.) And, some time around the early 60's, they were having trouble with some very unhappy nurses. He told me that the board had realized with a bit of shock that they were paying their nurses less than their janitors! That was the old model, and it wasn't going to work anymore. Changes had to be made.

The timing? I don't remember precisely, but it was roughly the same time as the Second Vatican Council! And simultaneous with that, the teaching profession was changing drastically. Men were taking up teaching in ever larger numbers, and expecting wages that would support families. That was the time of the unwise decisions to have a Department of Education, and to allow the creation of teacher's unions.

So, much as I might like to criticize liberal folly (and there was an appalling lot of it) for deconstructing the orders of sisters, I suspect that much that happened in the second half of the 20th Century was going to happen one way or another no matter what the Church did.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:57 PM

February 17, 2011

"Joshua fit de Battle of Jericho"...but it wasn't the bloodbath you thought it was

I recently bought a very interesting book, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? by William Dever.

I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the story of the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. As the story goes it's a bloody mess. Downright genocidal, in fact, and that at the command of God. That's where a lot of the "wrathful God of the Old Testament" stuff comes from. And even though I'm one of those violent Tea-Partiers, mass slaughter can get a bit tiresome!

But the odd fact is that the archeological record does not show much evidence of war and destruction in Palestine in the relevant time-period, late 13th Century to early 12th BCE.

Canaan, the region we call Palestine, was then divided up into fairly small (think 25 miles wide) city-states, under petty "kings." These were typical Middle Eastern states with a traditional pattern of agriculture practiced mostly in the flatlands and lowlands. Featuring great estates, oppressive nobles, and miserable slaves and serfs and peasants. And all of them more or less under the thumb of Egypt. However, in this period the little Canaanite kingdoms seem to have gone into decline, with fewer signs of wealth found in excavations. But not evidently suffering from much destruction or conquest

At that same time, something new was happening. Settlements were growing up in the nearby Palestinian hills, where few had lived before. Often right on a hill-top. And those settlements seem to have been egalitarian hamlets, without signs of social stratification. No big-shots, no kings, no landlords. (Continued)

 

The people who settled the hills were creating new land and wealth by the extensive use of technology, including terracing, silos and cisterns. There is little sign that they were fleeing attackers—they weren't building any fortifications, and few weapons have been found. Nor do they seem to have driven anyone else off the hills.

Dever feels that, despite the lack of inscriptions or distinctive pottery, these people were ethnically Israelite. The same type of pillar-and-courtyard house they built is what is considered typical of the Israelites a century or two later. That the Israelites were not conquerers from outside as much as they were a local development from out of Canaanite culture.

But remember, the Canaanite petty kings were all vassals of Egypt. So it could be said that the new Israelite culture was in fact based on escape from bondage to Egypt! Dever takes no position on the historical reality of Moses, but one can infer that if some people did indeed escape from Egypt (maybe the Joseph tribes, who play a disproportionate role in the story), their history could become the defining story for the larger culture. And the stories of bloody conquest are just what would seem natural and proper as explanations in those days. God could have worked through these people in a more peaceful way than the stories tell.

Of course Israel eventually adopted the usual organization of kings and aristocrats and standing armies and corvees. But it is interesting that many passages in the OT assume that the right way of life is one without kings or landlords, with everybody sitting under his own fig tree, etc.

There's also I think an interesting similarity to Victor Hanson's thinking in his fascinating book The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. That what really made Greece what it was was a movement during the Greek Dark Age (c. 8th Century BCE) of people leaving the old-style aristocratic grain-and-cattle agriculture of the flatlands, and "homesteading" small plots of typically about 10 acres up on the unused hillsides. They developed a diverse and intensive agriculture, with vines, olives, grain, fruit-trees, vegetables, animals. This was extremely productive, at a cost of year-round labor, and much thought and experimentation. Leading to a culture of thinking and individuality and sturdy democratic values.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:01 PM

December 30, 2010

Christians in combat...

A lot of bloggers have been taking apart this stupid and shabby op-ed from the WaPo, Colman McCarthy - 'Don't ask, don't tell' has been repealed. ROTC still shouldn't be on campus. (Here's VDH)

I will merely touch one point, which no one else has seemed to mention...

...When I suggested that Notre Dame's hosting of ROTC was a large negative among the school's many positives, Hesburgh disagreed. Notre Dame was a model of patriotism, he said, by training future officers who were churchgoers, who had taken courses in ethics, and who loved God and country. Notre Dame's ROTC program was a way to "Christianize the military," he stated firmly.

I asked if he actually believed there could be a Christian method of slaughtering people in combat, or a Christian way of firebombing cities, or a way to kill civilians in the name of Jesus. Did he think that if enough Notre Dame graduates became soldiers that the military would eventually embrace Christ's teaching of loving one's enemies?

The interview quickly slid downhill....

As a president of a great university, Hesburgh should have been intellectually able to reply "YES, there is a Christian method of slaughtering people in combat." (Or at least have replied that there are arguments one can make--even if he did not personally hold them.)

So I will fill in the blanks. Let us ignore the fascinating question of Just War Doctrine and assume that diplomacy has failed and the war has already been started. And that it is generally accepted that this particular war is necessary, and is being waged against an unjust regime.

What might we see Christian forces doing in combat? I'd suggest...

  1. Following the laws of war as much as possible.
  2. Using the smallest amount of deadly force practicable.
  3. Being willing to sacrifice themselves when it will limit the destruction of war.
  4. Being willing to forgive enemy forces as soon as combat stops, and if possible, to welcome them back to friendly relations.
  5. Winning the war decisively, so as to make future wars less likely. (This, paradoxically, may over-ride #2)
  6. Working to restore a defeated nation to health.
So, let's apply these points to some recent conflict, and see how they fit. I'll just take out my Magic 8 Ball and turn it over and see what floats up. Ah ha. The American Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003. Classic! (I personally would call this a campaign, not a war. But never mind.) Read on if you are curious...

(Note: All the following points cold be expanded into essays if needed. This is a quickie post, but I've been blogging on such things since 2001. I have the information to back this up.)

1. The basic purpose of the Geneva conventions and other war laws is to keep war away from civilians. For instance one may not use schools or hospitals as firing points, fight in civilian clothes, transport arms in ambulances, explode bombs in marketplaces or police stations...stuff like that. Hmm. I'd say the Yankees look good on that score, and their opponents are clearly a mob of war criminals. (Link)

2. Using the least force possible.That describes the American military to a "T," though our vile press doesn't report this. For instance America's ordinary cannon artillery gathered dust in Iraq--too destructive. The US Army rushed to develop very small and precise guns--with shells weighing only 50lbs! (Link) America also deployed bombs with no explosive at all! There are many other examples that could be mentioned.

3. Self-sacrifice to save lives. The perfect example is the Second Battle of Falluja. The US forces could easily have just flattened that nasty city. But many civilians would have been killed along with the terrorists. So Falluja was conquered in brutal house-to-house fighting. (Link)

4. Being willing to forgive enemy forces. Well, Americans have always done that. And a good example is the way American forces cooperated with the Sunni tribesman during the "Surge." In 2007 American forces were patrolling side-by-side with guys they knew perfectly well had been killing Americans in 2006.

5. Winning the war decisively. This may seem counter-intuitive. But the classic example of the other way is the Armistice that ended WWI. It was just a sort of cease-fire, without a clear recognition the Germany has lost, and should surrender. The armistice was the basis of Hitler's rise, since he could claim that Germany had never really lost, but had been "stabbed in the back." The result... World War II.

In the case of Iraq, the Americans and their allies persisted in the face of great difficulties, and in the end no one could doubt that al-Qaeda and the Ba'athists had been crushed beyond any hope of a re-match in Iraq. This is true pacifism; not the fake kind that encourages future wars.

 
Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 PM

December 8, 2010

Why aren't men in church?

I've written an essay on the question of why in America fewer men go to church than women. It was intended to spark discussion in our parish, but I doubt that's going to happen. So I thought I'd post it here. Perhaps someone will Google it up when they are looking for thoughts on the subject...

Here's a link to a PDF: Where Are The Men?

Also, I have two extra files. One on some very successful altar boy programs, which give a hint of what a less feminine church might be like. And a collection of quotes that seem to me to be thought-provoking in one way or another...

Appendix 1, On Altar Boys

Appendix 2, Quotes

Feel free to cricket-ize, or comment, or make suggestions. (Or to call me a sexist whatchamacallit. Though I will reply that the Catholic view of women actually gives women far more dignity than the "feminist" view that success for women lies in becoming just as swinish as men.)

* Update: I've recently discovered the book The Church Impotent, by Leon Podles. I recommend it, it is a splendid piece of work on this subject, and makes me feel quite abashed to be opining. If I ever re-write my essay, I'll have to make changes. (Though I think what I wrote still has value.)

Professor Podles has a web-site and blog here. And he has made his book available as a PDF you can download.

UPDATE; I would add that my essay is meant to provoke thought, not to be some final answer. Especially, we need to think more about what manliness really is. What is its essence?

I deeply wish that there was a "conversation" on this subject, that I could add to. Not because I think the problem can be solved in the short run. But because if, as I often fear, the churches of the West simply crash into ruins, then there will be a Remnant. And they may be ready to make changes, if we have prepared the ground.

American troops praying before a patrol in Iraq, 2005
American troops praying before a patrol in Iraq, 2005

(just some lines for helping people search for this subject)

Why men don't go to church?

Why men hate church

Why some men don't go to church

Reasons why men don't go to church

Effeminate churches

Posted by John Weidner at 7:19 PM

November 17, 2010

Is "Moderate" the new "Progressive?"

Word Note logoDiogenes is rightly sarcastic over this line, in an article about the election of Archbishop Dolan to the presidency of the US Conference of Bishops...

Washington Post: ...Victim advocates spoke out against Kicanas, but the more significant opposition came from conservatives, who considered him too moderate in tone....

Don't "conservatives" usually oppose those who are too **ahem** "liberal?"

This interests me especially in the way Leftizoids are slippery about defining themselves. The word "liberal" is itself a deception. As I wrote here, about Hillary Clinton referring to herself as a "progressive"...

...That's the problem when you start to tell lies. You get all tangled up. The lie started, as you probably already know, when various New Dealers were asked if they were Socialists. They didn't want to admit that (though it was true, and a bunch of them were Communists, foul secret agents of Stalin) so they dubbed themselves "Liberals." Thereby giving the word a new meaning that was very different from the classical meaning of Liberal.

Of course the word Liberal soon came to mean "Quasi-socialist." So now our current crop of quasi-socialists label themselves "Progressive." So cute. And now, now we see Hillary squirming away from that word!! If you tell one lie, you have to tell more lies to cover up the first one...

To me the deep problem with lying is that once you start, you begin to live in fear. If you mis-represent yourself, then you can never be sure what people think about you. And if you lie very much, then you will start to lose track of what's true in general, and you will really be afraid. Including afraid to admit to yourself that you have a problem, so more palaces of lies are built to cover that up.

If you've read me on the subject of Nihilism, you know that I think that many "liberals" (and some conservatives too) are living in very elaborate lie-palaces indeed.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:29 AM

October 30, 2010

"Orgulous infidels"

David B. Hart, ...of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves...

...As far as Patrick was concerned, the matter had been settled; [his young son had been "taught," absurdly, that science had proved there were no "spirits of the trees and streams."] but I have to admit that the episode continues to trouble me. It is not that I expect my son never to be exposed to any of the conceptual confusion or magical claptrap of his age; and I trust to his native intelligence to disabuse him of the worst of it. But it is still depressing to think how much conceited gibberish has become simply part of the received wisdom of our time.

It puts me in mind of a particularly annoying witticism that one occasionally encounters in the current popular debates between atheists and theists: the orgulous infidel waves his hand contemptuously and announces that he believes neither that there is a God nor that there are fairies at the bottom of his garden—or (a slight variation on the theme) observes that everyone in the room is an unbeliever when it comes to Thor or Baal, and that the atheist is simply an unbeliever in one god more.

There are two reasons for treating such remarks with indignant disdain: the obvious one and mine. The obvious one, of course, is that only a simpleton could mistake these two orders of conviction for specimens of the same kind of belief.

A person who believes in fairies or in Thor may or may not be mistaken about certain finite objects within the cosmos; a person who believes in God may or may not be mistaken about being, the nature of existence itself, the logical possibility of any world, the moral meaning of the universe, and so on. The former kind of belief concerns facts of experience, the latter truths of reason, and to suggest that they occupy the same conceptual or existential space is either to confess one's own stupidity or willfully to engage in cheap rhetorical thuggery.

That though, as I say, is obvious. My reason for taking exception to such remarks is perhaps somewhat more precious, but still quite sincere. Simply enough, what if there are fairies at the bottom of one's garden? Or, more precisely, what the hell is so irrational in believing there are or might be?

One may be in error on the matter, naturally—one may just have misread the signs—but one cannot justly be accused of having committed any trespass against logic. Nothing gives us warrant to imagine that, on account of our grasp of various organic processes, we have succeeded in lifting the veil of Isis....

I've just started a very witty and interesting book by Mr Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, so it was a treat to enjoy this article, and then belatedly realize that they were by the same person. I think the book is going to be one I'll recommend.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:10 PM

October 10, 2010

Through the Randian thickets...

Pajamas Media — Values and the Defense of Freedom, by Amit Ghate

I felt the need to respond to this AynRandish screed, because it misreads both Christians and conservatives...
[Note: By "Christian" I will be refering to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. 3,000 years worth of profound thought, all of it clearly expressed and defined, in a way suitable for reasoned discourse. (Link) I am aware of the schismatic and fissiparous Christian sects called "Protestant," but they seem to be capable of believing almost anything, and are therefore not worth trying to discuss.]
In the wake of the recent Values Voter Summit, a worrisome question arises: will the Tea Parties or a reformed GOP be able to champion limited government and fiscal responsibility, without also importing the religious right's so-called "social values"?

HotAir's Allahpundit raises this issue [2], noting that speakers at the summit repeatedly asserted the idea that limited government must ultimately be based on religious beliefs — on the existence of a "Big God." Uncomfortable with these assertions and searching for a better, secular defense of freedom, Allahpundit asks how Objectivists (adherents of Ayn Rand's philosophy) would respond.

It's a perceptive question. Though many recognize Rand as a stalwart defender of freedom, few appreciate how radically her defense differs from that of traditional religionists. Key to her innovative approach is an original conception of values and morality — one which ultimately puts her at odds with much of the religious program.

How then might she respond to the religionists' claims? Though of course no one can speak for her, I imagine that she might begin by challenging a common misconception, one that can be gleaned from listening to speakers at the Values Voter Summit: viz. that religion has a monopoly on values. According to them, either you're religious and have values, or you're non-religious and don't. [I don't think this is the conservative argument normally made. The real argument is that our culture's values COME FROM religion, and therefore the non-religious will tend to lose them. Well, we can see this all around us.] But this, Rand would argue, is a false dichotomy. The choice isn't between Judeo-Christian values and nothing; it's between various conceptions of values, e.g., values derived from faith vs. values grounded in reason. [The "faith vs. reason" contrast is false. ALL Christian values are consistent with reason (though some have depths reason alone cannot attain).]
As an example of the latter, she'd offer her own system of ethics. Its essentials were first presented in a seminal essay [3] where she began by asking: what are values and why does man need them? Her answer is rooted in biological facts. Values — from the most basic ones like food and shelter; to the most sublime, like love, art, and self-esteem — are necessary for man's life on Earth. As autonomous rational living beings, each of us needs a whole host of values to live the fulfilling life appropriate to man.

In effect, Ayn Rand argues, values reflect the objective requirements of life; they're not generated by the commandments and whims of some ineffable being. [This has NEVER been the Christian theory. Our values are Natural Law; they are rooted in the fundamental construction of the cosmos, and apply to all men. They are never God's "whims." In fact they are not really "commandments;" the Hebrew word translated as "commandment" is probably better translated as "statement."] Accordingly, values can — and must — be rationally discovered, evaluated, defined, and defended.

But though values are objective, they're far from obvious or innate. Beyond the simplest ones like the need for food and warmth which we recognize through direct sensory feedback, determining our values takes thought and work. Consider, for example, the process of discovery necessary for each of us to decide what type of person would "complete" us in a romantic relationship, or what type of long-term career to adopt. Likewise, the problem of prioritizing and integrating our values requires serious reflection and identification. (Is the value of watching a football game more or less important than taking time to write this opinion piece? Is purchasing a new car more valuable to me than other things I could do with the money?) [The fatal flaw in this kind of reasoning is that it is self-referential. There is no objective standard, no Pole Star to steer by. What type of person would "complete" me? To answer that I must understand myself. But there is no innate rational way to do so--it's like having the lab rats evaluate the experiment. (More thoughts on this here)]

Given these questions and challenges, we need a science to help provide us with the knowledge and guidance required to identify, codify, and achieve our values. That science is morality.

Rand fleshes out this [4] new conception of morality with a series of detailed [5] arguments and broad historical observations (like the cultural flourishing of ancient Greece and the enormous prosperity engendered by the Industrial Revolution). From these she concludes that, more than anything else, choosing and achieving values requires unswerving rational thought and productive effort. And what conditions are required to exercise these? The absolute freedom to think and act. This, she argues, is the line of reasoning required to defend freedom and individual rights. [True as far as it goes, but freedom-to-think won't get you to a science of morality. It's the same problem as above. Unless there is some objective standard from outside, there can never be a science. None of the sciences, including Natural Science, can proceed unless there are agreed-upon presuppositions and premises, which cannot be deduced from within the science.]

As such, Rand is opposed to many modern libertarians who consider freedom to be an irreducible primary, one which justifies the choice of any "values" whatsoever. To her, it's the other way around: she defends freedom as a consequence of man's need to pursue rational, life-affirming values. [Good!]

While the conclusion that values underlie freedom may seem superficially similar to the religious view, [So far it is identical. The actual Christian definition of freedom is the same as that of the great pagan philosophers, such as Aristotle. Freedom is the ability to do the good. This can be shown by reason, though I haven't the energy tonight.] Rand's account of the source and nature of those values sets them diametrically apart. (As an illustration of just how great the difference is, consider that in contrast to the Christian reverence for faith and humility, Rand counts reason [6] and pride [7] among her primary values and virtues.) [Pride is the enemy of reason and science, as reason can show. The problem with any science is that the scientist himself is a distorting lens. No human can ever be completely objective; our presuppositions and psychology shape what we can perceive. The best palliative to this is humility. The humility to welcome criticism, and humility in the face of evidence.]

Yet her fundamental disagreement with the religious approach doesn't end here; it also extends to her view of man. Many traditional religionists see the need for a "Big God" because man, in their view, is fundamentally flawed (see the doctrine of Original Sin). Because of his inherent flaws — be they greed, pride, or what have you — man can't be trusted to do good. [Has there ever been a society of which one could say, "These people can be trusted to do good?" Wake us up when that happens.] He must be kept in place by a supernatural Authority. [NO, that is not what Christians believe. Mr Ghate should know better if he is going to write on this. Christians believe in Original Sin, that is, that we are fundamentally flawed and can't, by our own strength, do the good over the long haul. But if we freely chose to accept it, God will give us the gift (we say "Grace," which means "gift") of the ability to do the good. Which is freedom. (It's beyond this topic, but, far from wishing to "keep us in place," God wants to elevate us to share in his divinity as His adopted sons and daughters. See Romans 8:11-15. A far higher view of human dignity than anything proposed by the "Enlightenment.")]

Rand, on the other hand, sides with the giants of the Enlightenment in considering man to be morally perfectible. [So, Ayn baby, how many centuries has this project been underway? Hmmm? Are we achieving perfection soon? And do we imperfect people have a (perfect?) definition of the perfection we seek?] According to her, man has in his possession the means (free will and a reasoning mind) and the incentive (the betterment of his life) to choose and practice the good. Thus, when left free, men will tend to a life of achievement. (This is borne out on a historical scale, where the freest countries were both the most productive and most moral. Think of America and the UK during the 1800s vs. any theocratic or communist state.) [Uh, yeah. And they were also the most Christian (and Jewish). Whereas the communists were...... Oh right, they were siding with the "giants of the Enlightenment" in considering man to be morally perfectible.]

In her view, freedom is both moral and practical. No top-down authority is necessary to keep man in his place, [Again, that's not the Christian position] and most laws are written primarily to punish the relatively few who would choose to initiate force against others. [One of the ugly problems with inventing your own morality is that you get to define who the "others" are in "initiate force against others." You can just define someone as "not human," and then kill them without a qualm. For instance, 1.3 million unborn children are killed each year in the US. The same logic could declare "Randians" as outside the rules, and kill them off.]

The debate over limited government and fiscal restraint, in Tea Parties and GOP alike, hinges on the grounding and defense of freedom. Does freedom come from the alleged endowments and pronouncements of a Judeo-Christian God, or is its source this-worldly, residing in the nature of man and his faculty of reason?

Ayn Rand offered powerful arguments for the latter view. Moreover, as she once wrote [8]:
[T]o rest one's case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one's enemies — that one has no rational arguments to offer. The "conservatives" claim that their case rests on faith, means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights …. [As already pointed out, conservatives and Christians say no such thing.]
Thus Rand not only establishes how to champion limited government without appealing to religion — she also shows why we must. Let's heed her advice by giving our values and freedom the rational defense they deserve.
Posted by John Weidner at 8:01 PM

August 29, 2010

Inertial navigation....

Hale Adams wrote in a comment to my neo-Gnosticism post...

...I think this ties in neatly with my periodic rants on "political Taylorism". Taylorism, as properly applied to the production of goods, resulted in such astounding success that we no longer truly want for any material thing.

Being as how it's hard to argue with success, Taylor's principles have been applied improperly to other realms of human activity. I've ranted about its application to politics and society— it's what we call "Progressivism"— but it shows up in religious matters as well, as the "neo-gnosticism" in your post. Rather than stick with the tried-and-true Judeo-Christian beliefs about human nature, too many people go with new-fangled ideas promoted by "experts"...
"applied improperly to other realms of human activity"

You are exactly right. And we see the same thing in many other areas. We constantly hear that "science" or "research" or "experts" or "psychology" tell us things about how to live. But how we are to know with certainty whether we can trust them? That's never explained.

More broadly, this is all part of the problem of inertial navigation. Which is, you can't navigate inertially unless you can occasionally refer to fixed landmarks outside your own system. Apollo missions could not depend on their own instruments and computers alone to get them to the moon or back. The astronauts took sightings on stars, with sextants, and made course corrections. Today's ships and planes get fixes from satellites, and adjust course accordingly. (When I was young they still used sextants. And the satellites must themselves be calibrated by reference to the stars, or to fixed points on Earth.)

Taylorism is proper to use for something like industrial production, because we can stand outside and measure and criticize the results, and because the goal is pretty much defined. (One of my own heroes, Peter Drucker, pointed out some of the flaws of managing people purely by efficiency. The ugly labor relations of the US auto industry are an example, and one that has led to very inefficient results.)

But if we are adjusting ourselves, guiding ourselves, then how do we stand outside and judge the results? And make course corrections? We can't, unless we have some sort of fixed reference points outside ourselves to navigate by.

"Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live." Same problem. If you are using yourself as a guideline, how can you measure the results? You are your own measuring instrument, and you are changing yourself.

Humans have never come up with a long-term solution except various forms of transcendent religious faith. All other attempts have failed. Marxism tried to use "laws of history" as fixed points. Taylorism/Pragmatism/Progressivism uses efficiency, or "what just works." But that just begs the question of how we decide that efficiency is what matters. Or what guidelines to use to judge "what works."

"The wisdom of our forefathers" has always been a good stopgap, but it breaks down over the long run once people become self-conscious about it, and start to try to pin down exactly what that wisdom is. That's the dilemma of non-religious conservatism—you still need guidelines for what exactly should be conserved! Conservatism itself cannot give an answer.

And even if by some magical revelation one knew for sure that efficiency, or the Federalist Papers, or "the greatest good for the greatest number," or Liberty should be our guide in politics and society, there remains the deeper problem that the results are being measured by the very people and societies you are tinkering with! It's like the lab rats running the experiment on themselves and then saying what it means.

Every non-religious thought-system is in deep philosophical trouble. (That doesn't mean that the religious ones are true; that's a different question.) DEEP TROUBLE! WAKE UP! And none of them want to think about it, which is why I don't have vast numbers of people avidly reading this blog.   ;-)

If there is something in your life you don't want to think about, then you are living in fear! You are skating on thin ice. And if there's even one thing you don't want to think about, then you can't be confident about anything. Why? Because you can't know the extent of the problem-area....... unless you think about it!

And this is at the core of the problem of nihilism I keep nattering about. My theory is that until recently most people in the Western world retained many habits left over from Judaism and Christianity, even though formal religious faith has been in decline for centuries. Therefore they felt like they had solid ground under their feet, and were much less fearful. Those habits have now mostly worn off, and many people have no belief in anything greater or truer than themselves. And so people are acting very strangely, because on some deep level they know that they are in trouble...

As unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to learn to experience what this honestly means. Nietzsche had already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades [this was written in the 1950's] have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning...
   — Romano Guardini, from The End of the Modern World
Posted by John Weidner at 9:51 AM

August 10, 2010

Pascal notes. (For the happy few)

This is in response to some recent comments, mentioning Pascal's famous line: "The heart has its reasons, of which the reason knows nothing."

Peter Kreeft writes...
..."Reason" meant something broader to pre-moderns than it has since Descartes narrowed it to scientific analysis and calculation. (Discourse on Method I, I, I). Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, for example, all meant by "reason" intellectual intuition as well as calculation, and moral intuition as well—that is, intuitive knowledge of moral first principles. Pascal uses "reason" in the new, modern, narrower way, to refer to what medieval Scholastic-Aristotelian logic calls "the third act of the mind" only: discursive reasoning, not the understanding of the meaning of an essence (= "the second act of the mind") or the affirmation of the truth of a proposition (= "the second act of the mind"), but the process by which we discover or prove one truth (the conclusion) form another (the premise).

When Pascal demeans the power of reason in relation to our knowledge of God, he means this narrow, modern "reason," not the broad ancient reason. The difference between Pascal and Aquinas is mainly a verbal rather than a real contradiction...

Emotionalism, the tendency to substitute emotions for reason, is a grievous error, but not one Pascal is guilty of, as far as I can see.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:21 PM

July 19, 2010

A too-easy out..

I don't have time to do it justice, but this comment on Romney's religion speech is very much in tune with my thoughts. I felt something similar recently when Nikki Haley indignantly rejected comments on her Sikh upbringing. What she should have said is that she's proud of her parents, and that their religion has many virtues that are very compatible with Christianity. And that she welcomed scrutiny!

It's from a good piece by Kenneth Anderson at The Volokh Conspiracy, Mormons in the Financial Times.

...What Romney's religion speech did was to take the tack adopted by some Muslim intellectuals and their defenders, but it has lots of antecedents among minority religions in American debates over politics and the public square — to challenge any demand to have a reasoned discussion of tenets of the faith as racism. Romney put his religion out of bounds — all of it — on roughly the same grounds. That can't possibly be right, and anyone in Romney's camp who thinks that it is should ask themselves whether they would accept that for a moment when, say, a Muslim says that this or that is required by God — honor killing, for example, or stoning an adulterous woman — end of discussion. Obviously it could be any religion or really any belief system; my point is to pick one where a conservative Republican is unlikely to agree on the grounds of moral relativism that, however, Romney's speech at a couple of crucial junctures demands. However inconvenient for Romney having to answer at least some questions as to the demands of his faith, that is what an engagement with reasoned toleration — rather than multiculturalism or relativism — demands in a liberal society. The rest of the article sets out criteria for what should be available for question and what not....

...It is a crucial mechanism that the United States has to get right(er), and avoid the ways in which Europe has got it wrong, if it seeks to have the traditional American resolution of religion and public life as Muslims, Mormons, and other faiths seek a place within the demos and the polis. For this reason, I would certainly urge Romney's advisors to do a fundamental re-think of his too-easy out last time around. ...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:41 AM

July 11, 2010

Bible facts you may not know #2

I wrote a previous post on various historical facts that can help make the Bible intelligible. (Read it here.) Here are some more...

Talent. The thing to keep in mind was that a Talent was a LOT of money. When Jesus told the story of the man giving his servant ten Talents to invest, (Matthew 25:14-30) it was probably like us saying ten million dollars! People would have smiled at the humor of it (and remembered the story because of it). No ordinary person would see such an amount in their whole life.

6,000 Greek Drachmae (or the equivalent Roman Denarius or Jewish Half-Shekel) made a silver Talent. One Drachmon was a very good day's wage. You could hire a mercenary for that. If you figure six work-days a week, then a silver Talent was over 19 man years! Ordinary people would have been thinking in terms of silver—a gold Talent was worth ten times as much.

The coin shown is a Greek Tetradrachmon coin, (four Drachmae) owned by my son the classicist. It's about the size of a nickel.

The name "Jesus." It's a Greek version of Jeshua, or Joshua. It is not some alien imposition. Palestine was embedded in the Greek-speaking world, and many Jews of the time also had Greek names or used alternate Greek versions of their Hebrew names. Something similar happens now. My kids have a friend named Sam, but he is also named Schmuel. There's no ambiguity because everyone knows both his names and what context they are used in.

Did Jesus speak Greek? Of course he did. My take is that the situation was similar to immigrant Jewish communities in America in, say, 1900. You spoke Yiddish in the neighborhood, but if you were a person of any smarts or ambition you needed to speak English too.

Joseph the carpenter. The word translated as carpenter is the Greek word "tekton." But this could also mean a builder or mason or even a tentmaker. Joseph might have been a very humble village carpenter making yokes and plows. But he could equally have been the master of a workshop. Or what we would call a contractor, employing workers. Nazareth was about four miles from Sepphoris, the largest city in Galilee. Sepphoris was destroyed by the Romans in 4BC, and was perhaps being busily re-built in Jesus' youth.

It is very possible that Nazareth was the equivalent of an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood today, with men going out to work among the gentiles, but returning to a small pure stand-offish community afterwards.

Bethlehem is about six miles south of Jerusalem. It was the birthplace of King David, and the place the Messiah was expected to come from. Archeologists say it was a very small place. Maybe a hundred houses. (And caves!) There would have been no inn, a visitor would have lodged in someone's house. Despite what "scholars" aver, it is historically likely that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem. Why? Because people in a small pre-modern village would remember every happening or visitor. And certainly every kinsman, which Joseph was said to be. The Gospel of Luke came out a generation after Jesus, and the many enemies of the new Christians could easily have verified the story. Plus the Roman census records would still exist.

Dead Sea nearby. One of the interesting things I discovered when we went to Israel was how small the region is. And especially, how close the Dead Sea, the mouth of the Jordan, and the fortress of Masada are to Jerusalem. You could walk there in a day. My mental picture had been of places far far out in the desert, and I wondered why people would bother to go so far. No so. Also, these were places one typically went down to in the winter to escape the cold and wet of the Judean highlands. If you had money, it was sort of like Florida.

Slavery in classical world. It was very different from what we had in America. It was not chattel slavery. Think of it as a really obnoxious labor contract. There was no racial element, and the typical slave could expect to be freed if he worked out his time obediently. There was no permanent stigma; it could happen to anyone who was captured in war, or who fell into debt.

Jesus as peasant. "Scholars" love to take Jesus down a few pegs below their exalted level by referring to him as a peasant. But the word is fairly ambiguous. For instance a medieval English peasant might be a substantial village landholder with peasants working for him! (Good book: Life in a Medieval Village.) Likewise, being poor meant something different in a society where almost everyone was poor by our standards. Most of the priests for instance needed regular jobs to support them when they were not taking their turn serving in the Temple. The same with many a famous rabbi, and many of the prophets. Most of them could be called "peasants" by sneering academics.

.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:09 PM

July 3, 2010

Atheists in church? Too cool...

From an exceedingly interesting piece (to me at least), Elaine Howard Ecklund, Ph.D.: What Scientists Think About Religion:

...Almost a quarter of Americans think scientists are hostile to religion. But what do we really know about how scientists think about morality, spirituality and faith?

From 2005 to 2008, I surveyed nearly 1,700 natural and social scientists on their views about religion, spirituality and ethics and spoke with 275 of them in depth in their offices and laboratories. It turns out that nearly 50 percent of scientists identify with a religious label, and nearly one in five is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month. While many scientists are completely secular, my survey results show that elite scientists are also sitting in the pews of our nation's churches, temples and mosques.

Of the atheist and agnostic scientists I had in-depth conversations with, more than 30 percent considered themselves atheists; however, less than six percent of these were actively working against religion. Many atheist and agnostic scientists even think key mysteries about the world can be best understood spiritually, and some attend houses of worship, completely comfortable with religion as moral training for their children and an alternative form of community. If religious people better understood the full range of atheistic practice -- and the way that it interfaces with religion for some -- they might be less likely to hold negative attitudes toward nonreligious scientists. The truth is that many atheist scientists have no desire to denigrate religion or religious people....

Fascinatin'. Among many reasons, because I've often thought about my Catholic faith, that scientists should dig this stuff. Christianity is actually very scientific, in the broader sense of the word. (and I'm myself very much scientific, in all senses of the word, and my reaction to discovering the Church Catholic was, like, wow. So cool!

The immense prestige of the natural sciences caused people in the 19th Century to start applying the word "science" only to the study of the natural realm. But actually science means, by my dictionary, "a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject : the science of criminology." Myself, I'd define the word science as "disciplined truth-seeking within a particular field of knowledge." One could be a scientific pasty cook.

I noticed especially the line about atheist scientists being "comfortable with religion as moral training for their children," because commenter AOG mentioned that he was doing much the same thing. And he's a respect-worthy thinker. I'd say that AOG's on the right track, but not yet thinking things through clearly. A great scientist named Blaise Pascal pinned all this question down about 350 years ago. (Link, link.)

One of his points was that God can not be discerned by the senses. There's never going to be "scientific evidence" for the existence of God. A fact he regretted as much as we do. But, there is another instrument we can use, and that is the heart. (Not the pump in your chest, of course, but an inbuilt faculty we have for perceiving things in the realm of God.) And you calibrate the instrument... how? By not being hard-hearted. As the operator's manual says, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart."

If there is a Creator God, then the realm of God is the larger context which contains the natural realm which is the study of the natural scientist. So the scientist, if he is an intellectually bold chap, ought to be delighted to expand his horizons into a larger sphere. Especially since the Judeo-Christian God (at least in the Catholic view; I can't vouch for Protestant deviants) is the source of that lawfulness of creation upon which natural science is based.

Alas, there's that problem of hardness of heart.


.
Posted by John Weidner at 8:45 PM

June 24, 2010

The deep perniciousness of "social justice"

I saw this quote by one Jerry H. Tempelman in an amazon.com review of Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 2: The Mirage of Social Justice, by F. A. Hayek...

...The following passage sums up the entire book quite well: "[I]n...a system in which each is allowed to use his knowledge for his own purposes the concept of 'social justice' is necessarily empty and meaningless, because in it nobody's will can determine the relative incomes of the different people, or prevent that they be partly dependent on accident. 'Social justice' can be given a meaning only in a directed or 'command' economy (such as an army) in which the individuals are ordered what to do; and any particular conception of 'social justice' could be realized only in such a centrally directed system. It presupposes that people are guided by specific directions and not by rules of just individual conduct.

Indeed, no system of rules of just individual conduct, and therefore no free action of the individuals, could produce results satisfying any principle of distributive justice...In a free society in which the position of the different individuals and groups is not the result of anybody's design—or could, within such a society, be altered in accordance with a generally applicable principle—the differences in reward simply cannot meaningfully be described as just or unjust." (pp. 69-70) ...

Thanks, I'm glad I don't need to read the book    ;-)

Actually, I'm posting this mostly because a blog is a good place to store this sort of thing. And I may need it someday because the term "social justice" is heard a lot in the Catholic world. I never say nothin' but I could someday, and I think 'social justice' is a deeply wicked idea.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:05 PM

May 24, 2010

Liberalism is a form of "middle class secular messianism"

From Liberalism and Zionism, by Benjamin Kerstein. It's a reaction to Peter Beinart's, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.

...It should be noted first that, ideologically speaking, Zionism is not necessarily opposed to liberalism; it does, however, assert that liberalism, in and of itself, is not enough. It is not enough to provide safety and security for the Jewish people, let alone the kind of cultural and political renaissance that Zionism sought to create. It is not a coincidence that Theodore Herzl was moved to found political Zionism by the Dreyfuss trial in France and the rise of organized political anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria. What drove Herzl—originally a liberal not unlike Beinart himself—was the realization that liberalism was failing, and inevitably would fail completely. The promise of liberalism in that era was that, if the Jews became good liberals, they would be left alone to pursue happiness as best they could. "But I do not think," Herzl wrote ominously, "that we will be left alone." For Herzl, the promise of liberalism, which for him was much as it is for Beinart, could only be realized for the Jews within the framework of a Jewish state.

That liberals then and liberals now find this uncomfortable should not be overly surprising. Liberalism has always been, generally speaking, a form of middle class secular messianism; an edifying millennialism for those with much money and many guns between them and reality. Once everyone becomes liberal, liberalism has always assumed, we will all be happy. Beinart, not unlike his predecessors, clearly believes more or less the same thing. Zionism asserts that not only will the Jews not be happy under liberalism and liberalism alone, but they will not even be capable of surviving the depredations of the modern world. For that, a stronger force is needed; namely, national independence and political sovereignty. Of course, there is a strongly messianic element to Zionism as well, especially in its religious form, but it is a competing and different messianism than that of liberalism. Liberalism asserts that for the Jews to be good and free, they must become liberal. Zionism asserts that for the Jews to exist at all, let alone be good and free—or liberal for that matter—they must first have a Jewish state.

It is worth asking what, one hundred or so years after Herzl, the verdict of history has been in regard to liberalism and the Jews. ...

Of course neither Kerstein nor Beinart will touch the possibility that the story is true, and the Jews might actually be God's Chosen People. I'd say that's the most parsimonious explanation for a lot of things we've seen over, oh, say, the last 2,000 or 3,000 years...

Posted by John Weidner at 10:00 AM

May 22, 2010

"The salvation of souls is the supreme law in the Church."

Interesting post, Signaturae Apostolicae Referendarius from Canonist Ed Peters.

...This morning it was announced that His Holiness Benedict XVI has appointed me a Referendarius (Referendary) of the Apostolic Signatura. As one of some dozen international consultants to the Church's highest administrative tribunal, it will be my privilege and responsibility to advise*, on an as-needed basis, the officials of that dicastery regarding matters impacting the administration of law and justice within the Church.

A number of persons have graciously conveyed their congratulations to me on this honor, and I am truly grateful for their kind words. But I want to underscore that I see this appointment not so much as an honor, but rather, as an invitation to serve more effectively the mission of the Church as the Speculum Iustitiae.

Even as I prepare, however, to place my training in canon and common law more readily at the service of the Church, I recall what Canon 1752 stresses, namely, that "the salvation of souls [is] the supreme law in the Church." Salvation is not, in the end, a work of law, but one of love. As such, it is a work toward which we all can, and must, contribute.

Ergo, oremus pro invicem! + + +...

"The salvation of souls [is] the supreme law in the Church."

Silly people sometimes opine that dogma and law are hindrances to faith and creativity. They we can accomplish more if we are free of such encumbrances, and just let "the spirit" work. Actually the opposite is the case. Dogma and law are supremely necessary; they can't be dispensed with without risking catastrophe.

Free verse, free love, free religion. Whenever you find them you find people who are slaves. Slaves to the intellectual fads of the moment. People who claim to be free from the chains of dogma and tradition and rules, and then act like a "herd of independent minds."

Now the Church can get carried away by fads too. Happens all the time. But she can never go too far, because her dogma cannot change. Chesterton pointed out how Medieval ascetics tended towards a hatred of the flesh and the material world that might have led them to be like Hindu fakirs and swamis. But they couldn't carry that line to disastrous extremes, because the Church teaches that the material realm is good. (Though tragically alienated from its creator.)

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

And that can't change. The Church, though she makes all sorts of human mistakes, is protected from error on these main points. The Pope and the councils are, in the core doctrines, infallible. People find that word distressing, but they don't understand it. Infallibility is not an arrogant claim, it is a humble one. It basically means that a pope can't teach heresy. A pope can be wicked, a pope can be stupid, he can be bigoted and vengeful and greedy, BUT, he cannot get up and say that the created realm is evil. Or contradict any other dogma. He is protected against that; it has never happened and it will never happen. Likewise for an Ecumenical Council.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:03 PM

May 14, 2010

Philosophical muddle-headedness...

This is a way of thinking that really bugs me. The example concerns religion, but the same woolly thought is seen in lots of purely secular realms of thought. (Such as politics.)...

...LONDON (RNS) A top British judge has ruled that Christian beliefs have no standing under secular law because they lack evidence and cannot be proven.

Lord Justice John Grant McKenzie Laws made the declaration on Thursday (April 29) in throwing out a defamation suit by Christian relationship counselor who refused to offer sex therapy to gay couples.

Gary McFarlane protested that he was fired because offering sex therapy to same-gender couples violates his Christian principles.

But Laws said "religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence." He added that to use the law to protect "a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified."

No religious belief, said the judge, can be protected under the law "however long its tradition, however rich its culture...

The philosophical confusion of this judge is profound. The fact is that most of the things he thinks or believes are also subjective, and can't be proven, either by natural science or formal logic. Including the proposition that things ought to be "provable!"

He's like the person who says, "I don't believe anything that can't be shown to be true by science." SO, where is the scientific "proof" that that statement itself is valid? You believe it, so it must have been shown to be true by science? Of course that proof is impossible. [Even without considering that natural science is inductive, and never proves anything.]

And he is confused in what he thinks constitutes "evidence." For instance part of the evidence for the truth of Christian faith is that large numbers of people testify that they have personally found it to be convincing and to work for them. He would doubtless reject that evidence. Yet if you asked him to give the evidence that his view of evidence is correct, he would use the exact same argument, in slightly different words.

Furthermore, everyone has a religion. That is, everyone has beliefs about life and the cosmos which they hold on faith. Secularism is a faith, because no one can prove its basic tenets. No one can prove there is no god, and no one can prove that people are, say, "better off" if they follow secularism. But I'm sure the judge thinks that his secularist faith should have "have standing under secular law." And I'm guessing he takes it on faith that the law is in fact secular. I'll bet that is not stated in English law.

And even more funny, anyone who attempts to prove that secularism works as a philosophy immediately begins to refer to moral or spiritual truths that don't come from secularism. That are usually mostly Judeo-Christian.

Actually there are no atheists. Every person who says there is no objective truth, or that morality is just whatever a particular culture says it is, has some moral evil about which they would say, "That is WRONG." And even if you pointed out that is is morally right within that culture, they would still think it wrong. Therefore they believe in objective moral truth. Self-described secularists and atheists denounce things as wrong all the time, and would not be impressed if you said that chattel slavery in the South of George Washington or Robert E. Lee was morally right and beneficial because that culture believed it to be so.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM

April 20, 2010

Quinque anni ut Papam est....

Five years already. It doesn't seem so long. This is the best anniversary piece I've noticed...

Planting the Seeds of Reform:

...Contrary to today's conventional wisdom, Pope Benedict did not create a "Church in crisis"; he inherited one. But instead of throwing up his hands and succumbing to doctrinal and disciplinary drift, he has been planting seeds of reform that will germinate and produce great fruit in the decades to come.

To the dismay of those largely responsible for the abuse scandal in the Church, he restored the long-neglected ban on the ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood, which is the single most important reform in eliminating the scandal.

To address catechetical collapse and the scandal of unchallenged heresy, he has issued a steady stream of important speeches, encyclicals, and clarifications, such as the CDF's Doctrinal Note on Evangelization, and repeatedly urged bishops to confront Catholic public figures who defy and distort Church teaching.

To address laxity and chaos within dioceses, he has called for a revival of canon law and used the occasion of the retirement of derelict and dissenting bishops like Roger Mahony to name orthodox replacements.

To arrest secularization of the liturgy and end a poisonous atmosphere of contempt for tradition within ecclesiastical circles, he issued Summorum Pontificum, which authorizes wider use of the Traditional Latin Mass and makes clear to all Catholics that the old Mass and the new Mass express the same changeless theology.

To redirect vague and feckless ecumenism and interreligous dialogue toward more fruitful and serious ends, he has undertaken historic initiatives such as Anglicanorum Coetibus and launched important talks with the Eastern Orthodox.

But perhaps his most lasting contribution to reform, apart from any one reform or initiative, will come from the progress he makes in removing the wedge dissenters have driven between the pre-Vatican II Church and the post-Vatican II Church. Therein lies the fundamental source of much of the confusion and crisis in the Church, as Pope Benedict is keenly aware. ...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:21 PM

April 4, 2010

Winner: Most awesome Easter Vigil experience!

Loyal reader SGT Ethan e-mailed me about his attending Easter Vigil Mass at St. Elijah Monastery, near Mosul, Iraq. The church is in semi-ruinous condition, and US forces have been trying to preserve it. you can read more about it here and here.

St. Elijah Monastery, Mosul, Iraq

He writes...

Very cool site, and a wonderful mass. Mass was first offered on this site somewhere between 1400 and 1700 years ago, depending on whom you ask. This structure is Byzantine construction from the 1600's, built on top of the old site. The mass was humble, very much unadorned, open air, occasional sound of automatic gunfire from the test fire pit not far away...two soldiers and one contractor were baptized, confirmed and received their first communion, and we had folks from everywhere - lots of Assyrians who work as linguists, then a lot of Indians and some Ugandans who work here, and a good number of soldiers.

It was awfully cool - if for no other reason than how often do you go to mass with an assault rifle on your back and a knife on your hip? The open air, the monastery – yeah, it was a stunning night. Honestly, now I don't want to go on the tour they offer – I want to keep that place in my mind exactly as it was...
Posted by John Weidner at 2:57 PM

April 3, 2010

Easter 2010

cross, St Mary's, Krakow

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Easter Vigil, Saint Peter's Basilica, Holy Saturday, 3 April 2010 [Link]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

An ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book "The life of Adam and Eve" recounts that, in his final illness, Adam sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be anointed with it and healed. The two of them went in search of the tree of life, and after much praying and weeping on their part, the Archangel Michael appeared to them, and told them they would not obtain the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die. Subsequently, Christian readers added a word of consolation to the Archangel's message, to the effect that after 5,500 years the loving King, Christ, would come, the Son of God who would anoint all those who believe in him with the oil of his mercy. "The oil of mercy from eternity to eternity will be given to those who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. Then the Son of God, Christ, abounding in love, will descend into the depths of the earth and will lead your father into Paradise, to the tree of mercy." This legend lays bare the whole of humanity's anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man's resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere – people have constantly thought – there must be some cure for death. Sooner or later it should be possible to find the remedy not only for this or that illness, but for our ultimate destiny – for death itself. Surely the medicine of immortality must exist. Today too, the search for a source of healing continues. Modern medical science strives, if not exactly to exclude death, at least to eliminate as many as possible of its causes, to postpone it further and further, to prolong life more and more.

But let us reflect for a moment: what would it really be like if we were to succeed, perhaps not in excluding death totally, but in postponing it indefinitely, in reaching an age of several hundred years? Would that be a good thing? Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation. The true cure for death must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness. What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is that we are told: yes indeed, this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed.
To this some, perhaps many, will respond: I certainly hear the message, but I lack faith. And even those who want to believe will ask: but is it really so? How are we to picture it to ourselves? How does this transformation of the old life come about, so as to give birth to the new life that knows no death? Once again, an ancient Jewish text can help us form an idea of the mysterious process that begins in us at baptism. There it is recounted how the patriarch Enoch was taken up to the throne of God. But he was filled with fear in the presence of the glorious angelic powers, and in his human weakness he could not contemplate the face of God. "Then God said to Michael," to quote from the book of Enoch, "‘Take Enoch and remove his earthly clothing. Anoint him with sweet oil and vest him in the robes of glory!' And Michael took off my garments, anointed me with sweet oil, and this oil was more than a radiant light … its splendour was like the rays of the sun. When I looked at myself, I saw that I was like one of the glorious beings" (Ph. Rech, Inbild des Kosmos, II 524). Precisely this – being reclothed in the new garment of God – is what happens in baptism, so the Christian faith tells us. To be sure, this changing of garments is something that continues for the whole of life. What happens in baptism is the beginning of a process that embraces the whole of our life – it makes us fit for eternity, in such a way that, robed in the garment of light of Jesus Christ, we can appear before the face of God and live with him for ever.

In the rite of baptism there are two elements in which this event is expressed and made visible in a way that demands commitment for the rest of our lives. There is first of all the rite of renunciation and the promises. In the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the west, the symbol of darkness, sunset, death and hence the dominion of sin. The one to be baptized turned in that direction and pronounced a threefold "no": to the devil, to his pomp and to sin. The strange word "pomp", that is to say the devil's glamour, referred to the splendour of the ancient cult of the gods and of the ancient theatre, in which it was considered entertaining to watch people being torn limb from limb by wild beasts. What was being renounced was a type of culture that ensnared man in the adoration of power, in the world of greed, in lies, in cruelty. It was an act of liberation from the imposition of a form of life that was presented as pleasure and yet hastened the destruction of all that was best in man. This renunciation – albeit in less dramatic form – remains an essential part of baptism today. We remove the "old garments", which we cannot wear in God's presence. Or better put: we begin to remove them. This renunciation is actually a promise in which we hold out our hand to Christ, so that he may guide us and reclothe us. What these "garments" are that we take off, what the promise is that we make, becomes clear when we see in the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Galatians what Paul calls "works of the flesh" – a term that refers precisely to the old garments that we remove. Paul designates them thus: "fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like" (Gal 5:19ff.). These are the garments that we remove: the garments of death.

Then, in the practice of the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the east – the symbol of light, the symbol of the newly rising sun of history, the symbol of Christ. The candidate for baptism determines the new direction of his life: faith in the Trinitarian God to whom he entrusts himself. Thus it is God who clothes us in the garment of light, the garment of life. Paul calls these new "garments" "fruits of the spirit", and he describes them as follows: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22).

In the early Church, the candidate for baptism was then truly stripped of his garments. He descended into the baptismal font and was immersed three times – a symbol of death that expresses all the radicality of this removal and change of garments. His former death-bound life the candidate consigns to death with Christ, and he lets himself be drawn up by and with Christ into the new life that transforms him for eternity. Then, emerging from the waters of baptism the neophytes were clothed in the white garment, the garment of God's light, and they received the lighted candle as a sign of the new life in the light that God himself had lit within them. They knew that they had received the medicine of immortality, which was fully realized at the moment of receiving holy communion. In this sacrament we receive the body of the risen Lord and we ourselves are drawn into this body, firmly held by the One who has conquered death and who carries us through death.

In the course of the centuries, the symbols were simplified, but the essential content of baptism has remained the same. It is no mere cleansing, still less is it a somewhat complicated initiation into a new association. It is death and resurrection, rebirth to new life.

Indeed, the cure for death does exist. Christ is the tree of life, once more within our reach. If we remain close to him, then we have life. Hence, during this night of resurrection, with all our hearts we shall sing the alleluia, the song of joy that has no need of words. Hence, Paul can say to the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!" (Phil 4:4). Joy cannot be commanded. It can only be given. The risen Lord gives us joy: true life. We are already held for ever in the love of the One to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given (cf. Mt 28:18). In this way, confident of being heard, we make our own the Church's Prayer over the Gifts from the liturgy of this night: Accept the prayers and offerings of your people. With your help may this Easter mystery of our redemption bring to perfection the saving work you have begun in us. Amen.
Posted by John Weidner at 4:00 PM

March 28, 2010

"The barbarians have breached the citadel..."

Spengler puts it in a nutshell,. Cultural Obamalypse: the Attack on the Pope:

The Obamalyptic mood in the White House seems to have infected the cultural left generally. Thirty-year-old news is dragged daily into the headlines to make it appear that some dreadful truth has been dragged out of the Vatican vaults, demonstrating Pope Benedict XVI's culpability in child abuse. It is hard to avoid the impression that the nihilists have a sense of empowerment as never before.

There's something ugly in the air. The two central institutions of the West are the Throne of St. Peter and the Oval Office. That is not an exaggeration, for the Catholic model in Europe and the American model are the two modes of life that the West has developed. When Catholic universal empire failed with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, and was buried by Napoleon, the United States emerged as an alternative model; the non-ethnic nation founded on Christian principles albeit without an explicit tie to a particular Christian confession.

For the first time in history the barbarians have breached the citadel; to have Barack Obama in the White House is the cultural equivalent of electing Madonna to the papacy. America, the source of a civil religion that held together the world's only remaining superpower, is committed to its own self-demolition. Nihilists around the world are in a triumphant mood and believe that it is time to mop up the remnants of their enemies everywhere.

"The barbarians have breached the citadel." Well, yeah, but they had to do it by a trick. Obama was never elected; people voted for a phantom, and if they had known what he and the Dems were up to, John McCain would be President. The same thing is true about a lot of the Dems in Congress. They got in by deception. And I bet a lot of them are going to pay for it in November

My guess, my hope, maybe just a dream, is that the nihilists have over-reached on both fronts, and that Pope Benedict and President Palin will stand together against them just as JP-II and President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher stood against Soviet Communism, and won.

Pope John-Paul II
Posted by John Weidner at 9:00 PM

March 8, 2010

St Augustine, Tea Partier...

From a good talk by Archbishop Chaput:

...Robert Dodaro, the Augustinian priest and scholar, wrote a wonderful book a few years ago called Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine. In his book and elsewhere, Dodaro makes four key points about Augustine's view of Christianity and politics.

First, Augustine never really offers a political theory, and there's a reason. He doesn't believe human beings can know or create perfect justice in this world. Our judgment is always flawed by our sinfulness. Therefore, the right starting point for any Christian politics is humility, modesty and a very sober realism.

Second, no political order, no matter how seemingly good, can ever constitute a just society. Errors in moral judgment can't be avoided. These errors also grow exponentially in their complexity as they move from lower to higher levels of society and governance. Therefore the Christian needs to be loyal to her nation and obedient to its legitimate rulers. But she also needs to cultivate a critical vigilance about both.

Third, despite these concerns, Christians still have a duty to take part in public life according to their God-given abilities, even when their faith brings them into conflict with public authority.  We can't simply ignore or withdraw from civic affairs. The reason is simple. The classic civic virtues named by Cicero – prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance – can be renewed and elevated, to the benefit of all citizens, by the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity. Therefore, political engagement is a worthy Christian task, and public office is an honorable Christian vocation.

Fourth, in governing as best they can, while conforming their lives and their judgment to the content of the Gospel, Christian leaders in public life can accomplish real good, and they can make a difference. Their success will always be limited and mixed. It will never be ideal. But with the help of God they can improve the moral quality of society, which makes the effort invaluable....

 

Posted by John Weidner at 7:50 AM

February 21, 2010

"That awful, never-dying duel"

[Word Notes: "Awful" here has its old meaning of "awe-inspiring." And "apologia" does not mean: "apology," It comes from the Greek apologeisthei, "to speak in one's own defense." The title of Newman's famous book, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, means "a defense of my life."]

...it will at first sight be said that the restless intellect of our common humanity is utterly weighed down [by the authority of the Church], to the repression of all independent effort and action whatever, so that, if this is to be the mode of bringing it into order, it is brought into order only to be destroyed. But this is far from the result, far from what I conceive to be the intention of that high Providence who has provided a great remedy for a great evil,—far from borne out by the history of the conflict between Infallibility and Reason in the past, and the prospect of it in the future. The energy of the human intellect "does from opposition grow;" it thrives and is joyous, with a tough elastic strength, under the terrible blows of the divinely-fashioned weapon, and is never so much itself as when it has lately been overthrown.

It is the custom with Protestant writers to consider that, whereas there are two great principles in action in the history of religion, Authority and Private Judgment, they have all the Private Judgment to themselves, and we have the full inheritance and the superincumbent oppression of Authority. But this is not so; it is the vast Catholic body itself, and it only, which affords an arena for both combatants in that awful, never-dying duel. It is necessary for the very life of religion, viewed in its large operations and its history, that the warfare should be incessantly carried on.

Every exercise of Infallibility is brought out into act by an intense and varied operation of the Reason, both as its ally and as its opponent, and provokes again, when it has done its work, a re-action of Reason against it; and, as in a civil polity the State exists and endures by means of the rivalry and collision, the encroachments and defeats of its constituent parts, so in like manner Catholic Christendom is no simple exhibition of religious absolutism, but presents a continuous picture of Authority and Private Judgment alternately advancing and retreating as the ebb and flow of the tide;—it is a vast assemblage of human beings with willful intellects and wild passions, brought together into one by the beauty and the Majesty of a Superhuman Power,—into what may be called a large reformatory or training-school, not as if into a hospital or into a prison, not in order to be sent to bed, not to be buried alive, but (if I may change my metaphor) brought together as if into some moral factory, for the melting, refining, and moulding, by an incessant, noisy process, of the raw material of human nature, so excellent, so dangerous, so capable of divine purposes.

St. Paul says in one place [2 Cor. 10:8] that his Apostolical power is given him to edification, and not to destruction. There can be no better account of the Infallibility of the Church. It is a supply for a need, and it does not go beyond that need. Its object is, and its effect also, not to enfeeble the freedom or vigour of human thought in religious speculation, but to resist and control its extravagance. What have been its great works? All of them in the distinct province of theology:—to put down Arianism, Eutychianism, Pelagianism, Manichæism, Lutheranism, Jansenism. Such is the broad result of its action in the past;—and now as to the securities which are given us that so it ever will act in time to come...
    -- John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Chap 5. [Link]

Posted by John Weidner at 7:54 AM

February 15, 2010

Being "anti-torture" kills...

This news is bad for the war, but it also points up the serious moral error of the anti-torture (so-called) crowd, who have gummed-up the interrogation process to the point where the administration would rather just kill people. To put it simply, the only reason to snatch terrorist leaders rather than kill them, is to squeeze info out of them. Therefore the Mark Shea types are effectively putting a gun to the heads of people like Saleh Ali Nabhan and executing them.

And the moral error is double because every one of those anti-torture types, if offered the choice between death and water-boarding, would himself chose the latter. But they are making the opposite choice for other people, and condemning them to death. And feeling smug about it!

And they are triply wrong, because they, and pacifist types in general, are always slippery about their own responsibility. None of them ever comes out and honestly says, "My policies will result in deaths, and I take responsibility for that." And quadruply wrong because the brute fact is that Islamic terrorists kill about 10 Moslems for every Westerner. So the small extent to which the pacifistic crowd does acknowledge that they want less done to protect us still leaves most of the iceberg underwater: A little less protection for us is a lot less for wretched folk in the Third World.

This is a specific instance of my more general point that the sort of people who call themselves "pacifists" are always engaged in turning someone else's cheek. They are happy to let some niggers in Pakistan do the suffering and dying, while they toddle home to a comfy bed. And if hoodlums are breaking their back door at night, they instantly call the cops, to come with guns and protect them! I'll believe there is such a thing as "Christian pacifism" when I start to hear stories of pacifists dying rather than protecting themselves.

Washington Post Confirms We Are No Longer Capturing & Interrogating High-Value Terrorists:

The Washington Post reported yesterday morning front-page, above the fold that the Obama administration has stopped capturing and interrogating senior al-Qaeda leaders, killing them instead with Predator drones. This confirms my story last week in Foreign Policy, "Dead Men Tell No Tales," explaining the danger of this approach.

The Post tells the story of a senior leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa named Saleh Ali Nabhan who was located last September. The White House was given the choice of either killing him or capturing him alive for interrogation. The military wanted to take him alive. But the White House chose instead to take him out. A senior military officer is quoted as saying: "We wanted to take a prisoner. . . . It was not a decision that we made."

The Post adds: "The opportunity to interrogate one of the most wanted U.S. terrorism targets was gone forever."

And the paper quotes a senior military officer explaining why the opportunity to interrogate this senior al-Qaeda leader for intelligence was sacrificed: We "don't have a detention policy or a set of facilities" to hold high-value terrorists.

A former intelligence official briefed on current operations tells the Post that killing, instead of capturing terrorists is far from ideal, saying "now there's an even greater proclivity for doing it that way."...
Posted by John Weidner at 8:03 AM

January 31, 2010

"Life is full of things which don't lend themselves to precise definition"

Macklin Horton has a very good piece on what conservatism is, Catholic and Conservative (1):

...My opponents in the disagreement documented above seem to believe that it [conservatism] is, or at least intends to be, a systematic philosophy, which makes it a rival to the Church, which in turn makes a Catholic who is also a conservative less than fully faithful to the Church because, as we all know, a man cannot serve two masters. They also insist that it fails as a system, because it is full of contradictions and inconsistencies; it is not only a rival to the Church, but an incoherent one.

I have to say that the attempt to respond to this complaint reminded me of arguing with objectivists, in that in both cases there is an insistence that certain terms must be defined with absolute precision or be dismissed as meaningless. The statement that the word "conservative" does not have a very precise meaning is taken as an admission that it has no meaning at all.

But life is full of things which don't lend themselves to precise definition, but yet exist, thereby making meaningful the words by which they are named. There are many such terms in the arts. Terms like "romantic" and "classical" cannot be defined in such a way that as to remove all doubt about whether or not any given work belongs to one of those categories, and there are others that are even more slippery—post-romantic, neo-classical, jazz. There are very few, if any, artists or individual works of art which fit perfectly into any of these categories, or which does not contain elements of both. Yet we continue to use these words because they serve a purpose in describing broad tendencies. If a critic describes one pianist's playing as more romantic than another's, everyone knows what he means; no one shouts Define your terms! And if he did, he would be laughed at, and deserve to be.

In answering the question "what sort of thing is conservatism?" these aesthetic terms provide the most useful analogy I've been able to come up with. Like them, the word "conservative" is more descriptive than prescriptive (as conservatives often note). Like them, it does not begin with a set of abstract principles. Like them, it is more understandable as a product of temperament and attitudes than as a book of rules. As Russell Kirk insisted, it is not an ideology, but rather the negation of ideology. It is a concrete human phenomenon, not an invented system. It has no necessary metaphysic, and one may be a conservative and an atheist, or a conservative and a Catholic. It is a loose alliance of people with broadly similar views about the management of worldly affairs....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:42 PM

January 23, 2010

Walk against death...

Here's a few short clips from the San Francisco Walk for Life today. I'm sure the "press" will pretty much ignore it, but it was even more impressive than last year. The last section of the video is above Fort Mason, heading towards the Marina Green. Charlene and I sat on a bench and ate our picnic for more than 45 minutes while those crowds passed non-stop. They were still going when we finally moved on. I'd say there were no less that 20,000 people in the march, and we had lots of rain....

The first clip is along the Embarcadero, and the second is going up the hill into Fort Mason. In the last bit you can see some red-roofed buildings in the background. Those are the buildings and piers of Ft. Mason from which 1.36 million Americans embarked for the Pacific campaigns of WWII.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:45 PM

January 16, 2010

A passion for justice...

The Just-War Tradition by George Weigel on National Review Online:

...The classic just-war tradition did not begin with a "presumption against war." Augustine didn't begin there; Aquinas didn't begin there. And indeed, no one in the tradition began there until the late 1960s (surprise!), when a Congregationalist moral theologian (James Gustafson) sold a Quaker moral theologian (James Childress) the idea that the just-war way of thinking began with a prima facie moral duty to do no harm. Childress then successfully sold the notion to J. Bryan Hehir, the Catholic theologian and political theorist who was the chief architect of "The Challenge of Peace."

In fact, however, the classic just-war tradition began, not with a presumption against war, but with a passion for justice: The just prince is obliged to secure the "tranquility of order," or peace, for those for whom he accepts political responsibility, and that peace, to repeat, is composed of justice, security, and freedom. There are many ways for the just prince (or prime minister, or president) to do this; one of them is armed force. Its justified use can sometimes come after other means of securing justice, security, and freedom have been tried and failed; but it can also sometimes mean shooting first. Two obvious examples of the latter come from modern history.
The first (to which the president alluded in Oslo) was in the case of humanitarian intervention to forestall or end a genocide. (Thus all those liberal synagogues and churches with "Darfur: A Call to Your Conscience" on their lawns might consider whether there is any solution to that humanitarian disaster other than the use of armed force.) The second comes from a more classic instance of an "aggression under way" (as some just-war thinking construes "just cause"), but without a shot having yet been fired. As students of World War II in the Pacific know, a U.S. carrier battle group under Adm. William Halsey was steaming off Hawaii in early December 1941. Suppose Halsey and the Enterprise had run across Admiral Nagumo's carriers in their stealthy approach to the Hawaiian archipelago. Would Halsey have been justified in assuming that Nagumo wasn't there to check out vacation real estate on Oahu — and shooting first? Of course he would have been, and from every rationally defensible moral point of view. (The analogy here between my Halsey hypothetical and hard intelligence of Iran loading a nuclear warhead onto a medium-range ballistic missile will strike some as suggestive.)

So the notion that just-war analysis begins with a "presumption against war" (or, as some put it, with a "pacifist premise") is simply wrong. The just-war way of thinking begins somewhere else: with legitimate public authority's moral obligation to defend the common good by defending the peace composed of justice, security, and freedom. The just-war tradition is not a set of hurdles that moral philosophers, theologians, and clergy set before statesmen. It is a framework for collaborative deliberation about the basic aims of legitimate government as it engages hostile regimes and networks in the world. The president's lifting up of this venerable moral tradition, which has deep roots in the civilizational soil of the West, was entirely welcome, if not to the Norwegian Nobel Committee and other bears of little brain. The next step is the retrieval of the classic intellectual architecture of just-war thinking and its development to meet the exigencies of a world of new dangers and new international actors.

   

Posted by John Weidner at 11:12 PM

January 15, 2010

Rights come from Big Brother...

One reason among many why the Massachusetts Senate race is important...

Kathryn Jean Lopez, It's a Good Thing for Martha Coakley That There Are No Catholics in Massachusetts:

During an interview today, Martha Coakley was asked about the conscience issue Catholic medical personnel encounter when it comes to a law that mandates the distribution of  emergency contraception, which sometimes works as an abortifacient. (I wrote about the details of this issue as pertain to Scott Brown and Massachusetts and Martha Coakley's misrepresentation of all of this here.)

Coakley explained that this should not be a problem because "we have a separation of church and state." "Let's be clear," the attorney general added.

The radio host, Ken Pittman, pointed out that complex legal principle that "In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom."

Coakley agrees that "The law says that people are allowed to have that." But, making clear her view — the attorney general who wants to be the next senator from Massachusetts — she declared that "You can have religious freedom, but you probably shouldn't work in an emergency room....

"The law says that people are allowed to have that." In other words, rights are given to us by the government. If you change the law, you change our "rights." I'd guess the majority of Leftists believe exactly that. Coakly doesn't seem like a person who actually thinks about such things, or even is capable of so doing; I'm sure she's just absorbed it from the kultursmog.

I assert that rights exist, not only regardless of government, but regardless of the existance of humankind. They are part of the moral law which is embedded in the fabric of the universe. They are implicit in our being made in the "image of God."

Posted by John Weidner at 7:40 AM

December 25, 2009

Podcast project...

I and a few others in our parish, St Dominic's San Francisco, have been working on getting podcasts of homilies (sermons) up on the parish web-site. It has not been easy to get the ball rolling! But at last there is progress...

You can see them here. Just click on the "Homilies Podcasts" button on the left. They are all good so far (the Dominicans are not called the "Order of Preachers" for nothing) but I especially recommend anything by Fr. Xavier Lavagetto, our pastor.

I assembled most of those. (Feel free to criticize.) I've been using the Apple program Garageband, which is quite astonishin', and very easy to use...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:20 PM

A happy and holy Christmas to all of you...

From The Pope's Christmas Eve Homily, 2008:

Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?" This is what Israel sings in one of the Psalms (113 [112], 5ff.), praising God's grandeur as well as his loving closeness to humanity. God dwells on high, yet he stoops down to us! God is infinitely great, and far, far above us. This is our first experience of him. The distance seems infinite. The Creator of the universe, the one who guides all things, is very far from us: or so he seems at the beginning.

But then comes the surprising realization: The One who has no equal, who "is seated on high", looks down upon us. He stoops down. He sees us, and he sees me. God's looking down is much more than simply seeing from above. God's looking is active. The fact that he sees me, that he looks at me, transforms me and the world around me. The Psalm tells us this in the following verse: "He raises the poor from the dust." In looking down, he raises me up, he takes me gently by the hand and helps me to rise from depths towards the heights. "God stoops down". This is a prophetic word. That night in Bethlehem, it took on a completely new meaning.

God's stooping down became real in a way previously inconceivable. He stoops down: he himself comes down as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity's neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable. In the Old Testament the Temple was considered almost as God's footstool; the sacred ark was the place in which he was mysteriously present in the midst of men and women. Above the temple, hidden, stood the cloud of God's glory. Now it stands above the stable. God is in the cloud of the poverty of a homeless child: an impenetrable cloud, and yet a cloud of glory!...

Posted by John Weidner at 10:07 AM

December 22, 2009

A little Christmas info for your files...

If some black-hearted secularist ever hits you with that old chestnut about Christmas being celebrated on December 25 because it was a Christian take-over of pagan solstice celebrations, or some such... well, there's not a shred of historical evidence for it. However, there IS good reason to believe in an entirely different explanation...

How December 25 Became Christmas - Biblical Archaeology Review:

...Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus' conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: "Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered." Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus' birth to the winter solstice.

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In On the Trinity (c. 399–419) he writes: "For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th."

In the East, too, the dates of Jesus' conception and death were linked. But instead of working from the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the easterners used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar—April 6 to us. April 6 is, of course, exactly nine months before January 6—the eastern date for Christmas. In the East too, we have evidence that April was associated with Jesus' conception and crucifixion. Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis writes that on April 6, "The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world." Even today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Annunciation in early April (on the 7th, not the 6th) and Christmas on January 6.

Thus, we have Christians in two parts of the world calculating Jesus' birth on the basis that his death and conception took place on the same day (March 25 or April 6) and coming up with two close but different results (December 25 and January 6)....
Posted by John Weidner at 9:19 PM

December 19, 2009

What you learn from being a Dad... (or Mom)

From a piece titled The Gift of Authority, by Matt Teel, a former Episcopal priest, now a Catholic...

...Now, up until that point, I was not very happy with the lack of authority in the Episcopal Church. It seemed to me that anyone could do anything and call it legitimate. No one was really 'in charge.' The buck didn't stop anywhere.

With the Catholics, the buck stopped with the pope.

With the Baptists, the buck stopped with the Bible.

But we just muddled through and came to our own conclusions.

I remember one of my professors in seminary telling us, with some pride in his voice, that Anglicanism is 'Christianity for adults'—the implication being, of course, that we weren't like those 'children' in the other churches who needed to believe that they could get all the answers from someone. Only very weak people need to believe that the pope is infallible. Only very childish people need to believe that the Bible is infallible. We Anglicans don't need anything to be infallible: we are responsible for ourselves. Don't take your answers from some guy in Rome, we'd say, or some book (no matter how holy): forge your own path. Find your own way. Figure things out for yourself. This is Christianity for adults!

And as I said, I wasn't too enthusiastic about that, but I bought into it and I thought I could live with it. For a while.

And then I had my first child.
And it was the experience of having a child that forced me to the conclusion that that is a very sad way of exercising one's authority. Parents have a RIGHT to tell their child how to act, they have a DUTY to raise them right and tell them the truth, and they have a RESPONSIBILITY to give them direction.

Have you ever known a man or a woman who refused to take responsibility for raising their children? They don't want to tell the child to stop jumping on the couch because they don't want to be perceived as mean or grumpy. They don't want to tell the child to do his chores because they don't want to be perceived as a buzz-kill. They want to be the cool dad, the friend dad, the buddy dad. And what happens to those children? They generally act like brats and run roughshod all over everybody else and bring the whole family down around them. Which is basically what we see going on in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

It was the experience of having children and being a father that told me that NOT exercising the authority you've been given is actually very CRUEL.

Here's what I have learned in being a dad for twelve years: When you are speaking to your child, especially about something very important, you give them very clear and simple directions, so that they can understand what you're saying. And you tell them what the results will be if they decide not to follow through. And sometimes, that doesn't even require coming up with some elaborate punishment for them; sometimes, the results of their actions will be enough.

"Abby, don't stand on the coffee table or you'll fall and hurt yourself."

"Abby don't stand on the coffee table or you'll fall and hurt yourself."

"Abby don't—okay, see? What did I tell you? I told you you'd fall and hurt yourself and you did. Yes, I know it hurts. Yes, I still love you. But now you know, don't you?"

A good parent says, "This is what you need to do, and this is what will happen if you don't do it." Or he says, "Don't do that. And if you do, here are the consequences."

And it seemed to me that, no matter how much I loved Anglicanism—and she was a good mother to me in many ways—she had to do more than let me parent myself.

Here's another:

A good parent does not say something that can be interpreted in a variety of ways, unless it doesn't MATTER if it's interpreted a variety of ways.

My oldest daughter is a little Jesuit. We tell her all the time: she needs to go into the law as a profession: she will find the loophole in whatever direction you give her.

"I told you not to eat cookies before dinner."

"Yes, but you didn't say I couldn't eat a SANDWICH before dinner."

A good parent will frame his directions in such a way that he will catch the loopholes. Do you do that because you're the tyrant your children always say you are? No, you do it for their own good, even if they don't understand that.

Let me ask you: would you leave a morally ambiguous babysitter in charge of your children? Of course not. Would you leave NO babysitter in charge of your children? Of course not. But that's what I, as an Anglican, was asked to believe about Jesus: he left no one in charge. And if he did, the directions are so ambiguous they can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. Only a cruel or neglectful parent would do that...

Given the corrosiveness of human imagination and creativity and restlessness, it is simply not possible that Jesus could have left us without some rock-like infallible guide to conserve his message. Without that, the whole enterprise would be pointless.

People change things, sometimes out of sheer fidgetiness. And then they change the changes. And change the changes to the changes. And the people immersed in the changes become self-referential. The endlessly-mutated realm becomes the only reality they know, and they forget totally the original ideas. Reality drifts, and those inside the system don't even know it, unless they have some reference point outside.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:06 PM

December 12, 2009

Poor Hitchins.... Straining so hard to be an atheist...

I started out to mock and fisk this piece by Ebenezer Scrooge Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens: Merry Christmas. Now, about that public display...

But I gave it up. It's a parody in itself. Poor Hitch, a fine fellow, I like him, but working so hard at the atheist schtick, and looking like something else altogether. You can run, daddy-o, but hide? And his fantasizing about America being a "secular republic." Ha ha. You'll be long in your grave before that happens, Mr H.



American troops pray before action in Iraq.Jpg
David Furst / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images
Soldiers from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division gather together to pray moments before setting off on a patrol of western Baghdad on Thursday.
Army Times 11/8/05

Posted by John Weidner at 3:47 PM

December 11, 2009

"Totalitarian in the strict sense"

From a talk by Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Expressing the Good

...A second example: That everyone should have access to health care would seem to be –and is– a very good thing. However, we must keep in mind that universal health care is not a good, but an ideal. Therefore, there has been little discernment of why it is a good thing, and little clarity concerning what we are attempting to achieve. There is no consensus concerning what we might mean by "universal" (should the health of all children be included, even those of illegal immigrants?) and no consensus concerning what we might mean by "health" (does health involve access to abortion?).

The role of government is regarded as one that proposes new social possibilities –posits ideals– and therefore the government has the task of legislating the ends, along with the means to fulfilling the ends. Therefore there is an urgency that "universal" and "health" must not be too closely defined; they must have the character of an ideal that we are striving for, so that everyone remains free to insert his or her private notions, founded upon previous social constructions, of what that ideal might look like in realization.

I do not suggest that government is bent upon tyranny or that those who govern are not attempting to seek good things; I do suggest that, willy-nilly, this process is totalitarian in the strict sense, in that it must relativize the particular communities that were once subsidiary societies –families and churches, for example– in order to create consensus around an ideal. I do hold that a totalitarian state is one that admits of no subsidiary societies, and that a government that presumes to define what is a family is precisely totalitarian....

I think that the way Catholic opposition to the healthcare bills has focused on abortion is a grievous mistake. Abortion is just one particular outcome of the much deeper problem of letting government define and control ever-increasing amounts of what we do and what we are. Tomorrow abortion may go out of fashion, and government-controlled health-care may be implanting genes to make us more healthy and..... cooperative. Or the court may decide that our "right to privacy" lets us kill red-headed stepchildren. Or any number of helpful things, with "helpful" decided not by us, but by the the "helping bureaucracies." Or the popular fad of the moment.

I'd guess that if the Founding Fathers had dreamed that in the future people would be re-defining morality by whim, or re-defining who is human and who is not, they would have instantly and firmly enshrined in the Constitution traditional Judeo-Christian moral beliefs. All of them in fact just assumed that those beliefs would continue as part of normal culture, even if individuals did not have any Christian faith.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:40 AM

November 14, 2009

Not all trends are down... Even in Europe

Spanish cloistered nuns see surge in vocations:

Madrid, Spain, Nov 5, 2009 / 01:51 pm (CNA).- A 43 year-old prioresses has revolutionized an old Poor Clares convent in Spain, turning it onto a magnet for dozens of young professional women.

Sister Veronica joined the Poor Clares Convent of the Ascension founded in 1604 in Lerma (Spain) at at time when it was going through a vocations crisis. It was January 22, 1984, and Marijose Berzosa - Sr. Veronica's name prior to entering the convent - decided, at age 18, to leave behind a career in medicine, friends, nightlife and basketball.

"Nobody understood me. There were bets that it would not last, but they did not feel the force of the hurricane that drew me in," says Sr. Veronica. "I was a classic teenager looking for a way out ... and I made a decision in just 15 days."

Sr. Veronica joined the convent which had not seen a new vocation in nearly 23 years....
Posted by John Weidner at 4:13 PM

November 12, 2009

"It is whatever its various adherents say it is."

Charlene recommends some good stuff from Mark Shea (thanks to Kathy Shaidle):

...We want very much to believe that Violent Islam is a perversion of the Islamic tradition and Wise and Benevolent Islam is the Real Islamic tradition. But the reality is that Islam is an invented human religion that borrows from fragments of Judaism and Christianity, mixes in Mohammed's own delusional (or lying) claims of revelation, and completes it with a dash of conventional wisdom from seventh-century Arab culture. It is not a magisterial faith with some adjudicating body that defines what is and is not the orthodox reading of the Koran. It is whatever its various adherents say it is.

That means that if you are looking for a sanction for violence in the Koran, you can find it, because it's there. So is the wisdom, almsgiving, and peace stuff, if you want that. So Muslims who commit these heinous acts with such frequency are not "betraying Islam" when doing so out of self-described piety. They are, in fact, implementing one possible interpretation of the Muslim tradition (and often slaughtering a great many other Muslims in the process). Westerners who lie to themselves that these monsters are "not real Muslims" are simply self-deluded fools. They are as Muslim as Mohammed, as are their Muslim victims. There is no Islamic Magisterium to excommunicate them. They don't speak for all Muslims, but they most certainly do speak and act for the disturbingly large percentage of Muslims who either applaud them, remain silent, or complain about being victims of suspicion and distrust by the victims of terror instead of complaining about the thugs who commit the terror in the name of Islam.

That said, the reality is that the cure, if it is to come at all, will have to come from within Islam: from Muslims who inculcate in their children a sense of shame for Radical Murderous Islam, just as Christians have successfully inculcated shame in their own ranks for expressions of Christianity that turned a blind eye to slavery, terrorism, oppression of women, and racism. It will not come from the preferred Western dream of a post-religious secular world scrubbed clean of "religion." Such experiments have been attempted in communist countries; they are akin to saying, "We've noticed a correlation between immune systems and disease, so let's get rid of immune systems." Not accidentally, the disease of human sin has only prospered in such regimes to the tune of millions slaughtered. Instead of pretending the beast of Radical Islam is not there, the West will sooner or later have to learn how to educate itself about theology again -- or perish. It will also have to profile those who have not a particular skin color but a particular ideological paper trail of ideas and views that makes it obvious they sympathize with Radical Islamic violence, just as we should profile those who sympathize with skinheads, Klansmen, or tales of the Glorious IRA Terrorists.

Most of all, it means we need to get theologically literate again and find a more sophisticated way of understanding things than simply dumping Christianity and Islam into a bucket and calling it all "religion" (which, as we all know, leads to undifferentiated "violence"). The only way to counter an inflamed theology like Islam is with a healthy one, not with the watery delusions of postmodern secularism. And that, sooner or later, means a return to the sanity of the Catholic Faith.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:39 AM

October 24, 2009

Reagan could act because he KNEW. Because he could SEE...

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, and the announcement of Personal Ordinariates* for Anglicans seeking union with Rome...

...Benedict will be seen as a kind of Ronald Reagan of the Vatican. When Reagan got to the White House he discovered that the established way of dealing with the Soviets was detente, talk, talk, talk and more talk. He decided that victory was in his grasp and proposed a firm confrontation. "Mr Gorbachev, pull down that wall!" His professional statesmen and diplomats were shocked at his 'foolishness.' But it worked. Communism was already fragile all it needed was a puff of air to knock it down completely. [Well, that's just about what happened. There were also some trifling matters like overstraining the Soviet economy by challenging them with a massive military build-up, Pershing missiles and SDI. And he had help from Mrs Thatcher, and J-P II.]

Pope Benedict's move this week will have similar impact in the world of Christian dialogue. With Personal Ordinariates not only have the professional ecumenists been shown the way forward, but the duplicitous liberal Catholic bishops who would have stalled, moved it into 'discussion groups' and presented 'further obstacles' have also been very effectively gone around. No longer will a gifted, willing and able convert priest have to wait years to be ordained and in the meantime be pushed from pillar to post by Catholic bishops who are driven by a liberal agenda that is actually illiberal....

Most of my readers—bless you all—will not have too much interest in this, or even know what's going on. But I assure you the comparison with Reagan is in no way an exaggeration. I'm just dazzled. And both cases are ones where true leaders cut through the malarky while "experts" simply could not SEE what was right in front of them.

I read somewhere a fascinating piece about how one of Reagan's men put out a request to the researchers in our intelligence agencies for any information they had on unrest or things-falling-apart in the Soviet Union. It turned out that there was a huge amount of information on things like wildcat labor strikes, and riots and protests. But it had never been collected or analyzed because no one had asked the question before. The experts had all decided that Communism worked, so they never looked for signs that it didn't.

But Reagan KNEW! He knew that communism (and socialism and big-government liberalism) Don't work. He could see, like the boy who could see that there was no emperor inside the fancy clothes.

And Pope Benedict could see that "dialoging" (ugh—spit on ugly word) with a zombie like the Church of England so-called was never going to yield fruit. (Actually Newman saw it in the late 19th Century.)

*A bishop is the "ordinary" of a diocese. (From Latin ordinarius, �orderly�). A diocese is a district. A personal ordinariate is a bishopric over certain persons, without regard for territory. B-16 has just cut his liberal English bishops out of the loop. And all the talk-talk-talkers. Anglicans now have the possibility of joining Rome while keeping things such as their ancient and beautiful liturgy and music.

Pope John-Paul II
A couple of famous characters
from long long ago...

Posted by John Weidner at 4:14 PM

October 8, 2009

Ya know what the best thing about not being a "cradle Catholic" is?

I have NEVER voted for anyone named Kennedy!!!!!

TED KENNEDY: "I SLEPT WITH OVER A THOUSAND WOMEN" —National Enquirer:

Ted Kennedy slept with more than a thousand women — and spent at least $10 million in hush money over the years to keep his skirt-chasing a secret!

The late senator made those sensational confessions in a chapter of his autobiography, but horrified family members and advisers cut them out.

Before he died of brain cancer at age 77 on Aug. 25, the womanizing politician also revealed that he planned to seduce Mary Jo Kopechne on the night she drowned, said a close source.

"While dictating his memoirs into a tape recorder, Ted decided to tell the whole truth about his life - including his love life. He said that his first lover was an Irish nanny. She was about 19, and Ted was only 13," the source divulged....

Perhaps even creepier than the fact that Catholics vote for those animals is that "feminists" do. Yechhh.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:49 PM

September 24, 2009

Subsidiarity. Something all conservatives should be for...

From a column by Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis...

....Reading the commentaries of my brother bishops, I realized that I did not mention another essential Catholic principle that should have been included in my last column: subsidiarity, which posits that health care ought to be determined, administered and coordinated at the lowest level of society whenever possible.

In other words, those intermediary communities and associations that exist between the federal government and the individual must be strengthened and given greater control over policies and practices rather than being given less and less control. [have this sentence tattooed on your arm.]

To usurp this "hierarchy of communities" is terribly damaging in the long run, both to society as a whole and the individual citizen (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1883, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 185 ff).

Papal insights

Two quotes from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are instructive in this regard:

Pope John Paul II has written:
"By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending" (Pope John Paul II, "Centesimus Annus," No. 48).
Pope Benedict writes:
"The State which would provide everything, [That sounds familiar somehow] 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 which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, 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 . . . . In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) — a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human" (Pope Benedict XVI, "Deus Caritas Est," No. 28).
To neglect the principle of subsidiarity inevitably leads to the excessive centralization of human services, which leads to higher costs, less personal responsibility for the individual and a lower quality of care...

Leftism always tends toward increasing the power of the state, and decreasing that of individuals, families, communities churches, and organizations of mutual benefit. In this, and in many other things, Leftism is profoundly anti-Christian. (Also anti-American) It is materialism, it is living by bread alone.

A Christian (or conservative) health care plan would put power into the hands of individuals and families. How to do that? Easy. Put the money in their hands, and let them choose how to best spend it. Then health care organizations and providers would bend their efforts to serving the people, the same way businesses work tirelessly to satisfy and keep customers. (Here are examples. Link. Link]

But that's what you will never see in a Leftist health-care proposal. Instead you get thousands of pages of rules and laws and fines and criminal penalties. And that's just the laws themselves. Those are always supplemented by the regulations. They will end up being tens-of-thousands of pages of the CFR. Just as with the tax laws and regs, no one will know them all, so everyone will be a criminal in having violated some regulation they've never heard of. Which is precisely the point.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:09 PM

September 20, 2009

"Inextricably intertwined"

Why Should America Support Israel? -- Spengler:

...But there is a far more fundamental reason for America to support Israel. Israel is part of America's DNA. As Michael Novak showed so effectively in his book On Two Wings, America's founding drew on the uniquely Hebrew concept of holiness of the individual and divine love for the weak and powerless, as much as it did on the natural law tradition of Grotius and Locke. The destiny of the United States of America and the people of Israel are inextricably intertwined for that reason, and America's affinity for Israel and deep interest in the welfare of the Jewish people are bred in American marrow.

From this point of view, what is sacred about America is a reflection of the holiness of Israel. If America succeeds in banishing the sacred from public life — and that is the broader agenda of the liberal Democrats [precisely so.] — there will be little reason for America to have a special relationship with Israel except for military convenience. And if this banishment of the sacred from public life were to coincide with a demoralized retreat from the exercise of power in Western and Central Asia, there would be little reason at all for a special relationship.

America's Jewish leadership has failed on all counts.

The liberal left with its smarmy universalism has demanded that Israel make any concession required to appease the paranoia of the Arab world. But this is a paranoia that cannot be appeased, for the patient really is dying. [See Spengler here.]

The secular right argued that because Israel is the region's only democracy, it deserves a special relationship, and argued further that imposing democratic governments on other countries would lead to cheer and goodwill everywhere. But Americans never cared enough about whether other countries were democratic to make it the criteria for a special relationship (how about Iceland?), and project of imposing democracy on the Arab world came to a horrible end. [I disagree on both points. And if Iceland were beleaguered we would discover that the Icelanders are our cousins, and their democracy emerged from the same Dark Ages germanic WALD as did the "Rights of Englishmen," for which we fought our revolution.]

The religious leadership should have had the most to say about Israel's holiness and the American character. Not only did it fail to make this argument, but it stuck its fingers in its ears and turned its back when Christians made this argument—Michael Novak, for example. Rather than make common cause with the Christians who sought Jews out in friendship in the clear belief that the welfare of the Jewish people was of existential importance for the United States, the religious community for the most part dwelt on past injuries. That, perhaps, is the most disappointing of all.

Obama's betrayal of Israel forces a reconsideration of Jewish policy in general. It exposes the left the rage of the majority of the Jewish organizations (weighted by donors), although younger secular Jews will continue to pursue their pipe-dreams....

Israel is us. America and Israel are the only countries that are, in their essence, ideas. Not "nations," not a volk, not a language, not a history...but an idea. Therefore they are the only two countries one can easily join, just by accepting the idea. (Technically an Israeli Jew needs to be born Jewish, but in practice one can convert. But even without that, Jews from long-isolated regions, who have almost entirely forgotten Jewishness, can still be Israelis.)

And Israel and the US were both founded by escapees from domination by European elites. (That's one of the reasons Leftists are so anti-) They are countries of the self-made, of pioneers who started with nothing, fought savages and reclaimed the land. The first Israelis had much more in common with Sarah Palin than Barack Obama.

And both are The Chosen People. The Jews of course. And Americans symbolically, in virtue of America being a Christian refuge and project, for Christians are God's New Israel. And because we see ourselves as a"City on a Hill." A light unto the nations. That's the biggest reason why our Leftists and fake-pacifists hate both America and Jews, and cling lovingly to any supposed sin by either, and repeat them gloatingly for generations. They hate God.

Or rather, they hate the demand to serve God. Not themselves. (It's not really a demand demand....it's just the obvious thing one should do given the situation. If the guy who created a universe of at least 100 billion galaxies cares about—loves—little me....there is no other reasonable response.) The self-worshipper feels imposed-upon by Jews and Christians and American and Israeli patriots, even if he or she doesn't have any contact with them at all. It's really their conscience speaking, through Jews and Americans as symbols.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:16 PM

September 6, 2009

Believing impossible things before breakfast...

I wasn't going to mention l'affaire Van Jones, since everyone is doing it this morning. But this bit made me think about my own conjecture, that leftists are (unconsciously but intentionally) lowering their own IQ's, in order to not see the contradictions in what they believe.

Mark Steyn:

...Traveling through the Middle East about six months after 9/11, I was struck by the number of Arabs, from Egypt to the Gulf, who simultaneously believed (a) the Mossad were behind the attacks and (b) it was a great victory for the Muslim world. Van Jones would seem to be an American variant of the same phenomenon: a man who believes 9/11 was (a) blowback for the actions of the US government's war machine and (b) an inside job by the US government's war machine.

No wonder the left derides those boorish enough to bring this stuff up: Why, surely all sophisticated persons know these positions are little more than lifestyle accessories or fashion hemlines. One season, everyone on the catwalk is agreed 9/11 was blowback by Jihadists for Social Justice. The next, everyone is equally agreed that Bush called up the White House Steel Melting Czar and buried the whole thing under "miscellaneous" in the budget....

"Jihadists for Social Justice." I like that!

I suspect the same "IQ lowering" thing is at work in some of the traits we see in the Islamic world. They are trying to believe a faith that does not quite make sense (Islam is a Christian gnostic heresy, and like all heresies it takes a portion of Catholic Truth and tries to make it the whole.)

Also the Islamic realm needs to ignore the huge fact that their religion is an utter failure civilizationally.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:36 AM

September 3, 2009

Can we get equal time?

The obvious conservative objections to this have already been made by bloggers, I'm sure. [Link] But I have a few other thoughts...

ADF: NH court orders home-schooled child into government-run school:

...The parents of the child divorced in 1999. The mother has home-schooled their daughter since first grade with curriculum that meets all state review standards. In addition to home schooling, the girl attends supplemental public school classes and has also been involved in a variety of extra-curricular sports activities.

In the process of renegotiating the terms of a parenting plan for the girl, the guardian ad litem involved in the case concluded, according to the court order, that the girl "appeared to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith" and that the girl's interests "would be best served by exposure to a public school setting" and "different points of view at a time when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief...in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs."

Marital Master Michael Garner reasoned that the girl's "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view" and then recommended that the girl be ordered to enroll in a government school instead of being home-schooled. Judge Lucinda V. Sadler approved the recommendation and issued the order on July 14...

But think of the possibilities! I'm surrounded here in SF with children raised with rigidity in the faith of secular humanism. Surely we should be able to take them away from their parents and the government schools, and give them exposure to "different points of view at a time when they must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief..." I can think of quite a few "points of view" I'd love to see little lock-step liberals exposed to.

Also, the article makes no mention of a specific faith. But we all know that it is Christianity. This could be considered yet another item of evidence of the truth of Christian faith. No Lefty judge would care if a child is raised rigidly Buddhist or Baha'i. None of them hate Unitarians or Quakers.

And it would be hilarious if a similar case had been presented just after to the same judge, with the parent being a Moslem, and raising a child as a rigid little jihadi! How funny to watch some cowardly Lefty weasel judge squirm and sweat, and then declare that we must consider all cultures equally valid!

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM

August 30, 2009

Rationalism..

Newman Reader - Essays Critical & Historical I - Rationalism 1:

RATIONALISM is a certain abuse of Reason; that is, a use of it for purposes for which it never was intended, and is unfitted. To rationalize in matters of Revelation is to make our reason the standard and measure of the doctrines revealed; to stipulate that those doctrines should be such as to carry with them their own justification; to reject them, if they come in collision with our existing opinions or habits of thought, or are with difficulty harmonized with our existing stock of knowledge. And thus a rationalistic spirit is the antagonist of Faith; for Faith is, in its very nature, the acceptance of what our reason cannot reach, simply and absolutely upon testimony....

[...]

...Conduct such as this, on so momentous a matter, is, generally speaking, traceable to one obvious cause. The Rationalist makes himself his own centre, not his Maker; he does not go to God, but he implies that God must come to him. And this, it is to be feared, is the spirit in which multitudes of us act at the present day. Instead of looking out of ourselves, and trying to catch glimpses of God's workings, from any quarter,—throwing ourselves forward upon Him and waiting on Him, we sit at home bringing everything to ourselves, enthroning ourselves in our own views, and refusing to believe anything that does not force itself upon us as true. Our private judgment is made everything to us,—is contemplated, recognized, and consulted as the arbiter of all questions, and as independent of everything external to us. Nothing is considered to have an existence except so far forth as our minds discern it. The notion of half views and partial knowledge, of guesses, surmises, hopes and fears, of truths faintly apprehended and not understood, of isolated facts in the great scheme of Providence, in a word, the idea of Mystery, is discarded...

Like most of the Christian thoughts I post, this would still be true even if we knew that God did not exist. Rationalism would still be an abuse of reason. Because there would still be large realms of existence that our private judgement would not be adequate to understand.

And also because rationalism would still be psychologically wrong. Or perhaps one should say, anthropologically wrong. If our own selves are "contemplated, recognized, and consulted as the arbiter of all questions," as Newman puts it, we are in big trouble. One will be guiding oneself by imagining a compass, and then following where it leads.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:05 PM

August 15, 2009

The distinction is between unhappy atheists and happy atheists...

I'm reading an excellent book containing the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, with interspersed commentary by Peter Kreeft. Here's a morsel from it...

(Pensées means "thoughts." They were a collection of notes written on odd scraps of vellum that Pascal wrote over many years, hoping to turn them into a book which would appeal to the young people of his time, who were almost as heedless about the important things of life as people are now. It is generally conceded that Pascal's early death was in one sense a good thing, since his book could probably never have had the intensity and vividness of his dashed-off thoughts. There are very few books written in the time of Louis XIV that can still excite people the way Pascal's "non-random jottings" do.)

...And that is why, amongst those who are not convinced, I make an absolute distinction between those who strive with all their might to learn and those who live without troubling themselves or thinking about it.

I can feel nothing but compassion for those for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business.

But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end of life and who, solely because they do not find within themselves the light of conviction, neglect to look elsewhere, and to examine thoroughly whether this opinion is one of those which people accept out of credulous simplicity, or one of those which, though obscure in themselves, none the less have a most solid and unshakable foundation: I view them very differently.

This negligence in a matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity; it astounds and appals me; it seems quite monstrous to me. I do not say this prompted by the pious zeal of spiritual devotion. I mean on the contrary that we ought to have this feeling from principles of human interest and self-esteem....

Peter Kreeft comments on this section:

The absolute distinction, which will become the distinction between the Heavenly and the Hellish, is not between believers and unbelievers but between seekers and non-seekers; for all unbelievers who seek will eventually become believers who find , according to the very highest authority (Mt 7:7-8). The distinction between believers and seeking unbelievers is only temporary; but the distinction between seeking unbelievers and un-seeking unbelievers is eternal.

The absolute distinction is between unhappy atheists and happy atheists. Unbelievers who are content and happy now will be unhappy eternally, but those who are unhappy and seeking now will be happy eternally (Lk 6:21-26).

Pascal's judgement simply follows God's. God does not judge unbelievers by the supernatural standard of faith but by the natural standard of reason. As St Paul says in Romans 1, the truth they know by natural reason is what they hold down or suppress because of their unrighteousness (1:18), and this--natural reason, natural law, natural sanity is enough to condemn them.

The battle for eternal souls is largely decided here in the beginning, in the plain plains of natural reason, rather than later, in the mysterious mountains of faith. If we are honest with truth, reason will lead us to faith...

Here's a link to another post I wrote on Pascal, which is worth reading—because of the good stuff I quote, not because of my own thoughts.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:07 PM

July 31, 2009

Muddled thinking...

Mark Shea (A writer I highly approve of...except when I want to wring his neck for his partisan venom):

...But the knee-jerk Talk Radio junk about how health care is not a right appears to me to owe far more to maintaining a system in which money is exalted over the good of the person than to anything remotely connected with Catholic teaching or common sense. One can base a credible opposition to so-called "health care reform" on worries that it's going to wind up killing a lot of innocent people as a cost-cutting measure. That I can respect.

But basing opposition to health care reform on the parroted claim that "health care is not a right"--a claim that is demonstrably rubbish if we are paying any attention to the Church's teaching, suggests that other agendas besides the desire to enact Catholic social teaching as public policy are the guiding principals at work in our thinking. That's no longer really a surprise to me, given the spectacle of Faithful Catholics[TM] striving with might and main to justify torture, but it still may be worth pointing out for Catholics who may be sensing a disconnect between the Church's actual teaching and what they are hearing from the conservative side of the blogosphere that so commonly claims adherence to the Church teaching in stark contrast to the Awful Dissenters....

This is mostly a case of getting two different ideas muddled together. Two different "rights."

I have myself actually heard Rush Limbaugh talk on this point. (I betcha Shea has just picked up some leftish rumors, and doesn't know or care what's actually said.) Rush's point was that we have a responsibility to maintain our own health, and we have a moral obligation to help those who can't help themselves. And I think (I'm not an expert) that this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church is actually saying when it asserts that people have a right to health care.

People have a right to expect that we will assume our moral obligation, and help them if needed.

But the leftish position is something different. It is that people have a right to health care in the same way that they have a right to, say, freedom of religion. What our Constitution calls "inalienable rights." Rush's point is that this would destroy both our responsibility and our moral obligation. It would destroy Caritas.

And I would add another point, which I think is desperately important. In America we have always regarded our rights as coming ultimately from God, and thus being inalienable. They somehow exist regardless of what laws we may pass. But once you start inventing new basic rights, that concept goes out the window. Rights become just human inventions, and can be given and taken away at will.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:18 PM

July 21, 2009

commenting on commentings...

Hale Adams wrote, in a comment on the previous post,

I've said it before, John, and I'll say it again: You're mixing religion with politics.

If the Church wants to insist, for its own purposes, that homosexual or multiple unions are not marriages, that's fine. Far be it from me (and it should be far from anyone else) to dictate to the Church how it deals with parishoners who break its rules.

As far as the State is concerned, however, marriages are simply contractual arrangements voluntarily entered into by the parties concerned. Yes, traditionally, such arrangements have been between one man and one woman, but if two men or two women (or any permutation of one or multiple men and/or women) want to enter into such a contract-- I say, "Let them." Maybe their arrangements will work, maybe they won't. And if (when?) the arrangements don't work, then they should suffer the messiness inherent in the dissolution of the contract. (It just might discourage others from following their example, and your position carries the day, John.)

Actually, even if marriage is just a contractual arrangement, what I wrote is still valid—that the argument made by Boies is fallacious, since it sneaks past the point that people are really divided about. (And any state regulation of contracts involves defining things, and people will always have a valid gripe if someone moves goalposts by slipping in a re-definition of terms. I myself have a valid gripe on a purely contractual level, since I'm a party in a marriage contract, and now people are trying to change what my contract says!)

But I don't think that people will ever consider marriage just part of the realm of contract, nor will they want the state, which reflects our wishes, to do so. (Nor do I think you really believe that, Hale.)

In California we already have a domestic partners law which is close to a marriage contract, and hardly anyone notices it. WHY?

People sometimes understand things without being able to think clearly about them. They drift along with what they are told by "experts," (like, say, materialists who think life can be just regulated by contract and majority vote) not realizing where the small steps are leading. Until they crash against something like the marriage issue. Then suddenly they are howling in pain, and the experts say, "Tsk tsk, how irrational the little people are. Democracy is a poor system of government. Decisions should be left to the experts."

In fact the experts usually know where they are heading all along, and carefully conceal the truth, just because democracy works pretty damn well when people have enough information. And boy do they heap contumely upon anyone who says that such-and-such a small step is leading to some big step that people will hate. The people who said that overturning state sodomy laws would lead to gay marriage were called crazy, and bigots!

Politics and religion are always going to intersect, because they are both about what human beings really are. They both define us, although politics is much less explicit about this. In America we hope to use politics to merely create a neutral space for personal decisions to be made. But that is pretty much impossible, because even the smallest political decision tends to define us. If the small town of Mudville puts up the first traffic light on Main Street, that says something about the people who go along with it. A little bit of customary law has been replaced by explicit law, and that changes the definition of citizens of that town.

It seems silly to say it about such a small matter, but it is a religious decision. A tiny bit of life has been removed from the realm of conscience and morality and personal responsibility. After that when the preacher gets up in the pulpit and says that our moral choices have big consequences, and that even tiny sins can lead to bigger ones and get us into trouble, the government has also preached a tiny but different sermon.

Everyone has a religion. That is, everyone has beliefs about the universe and existence that are not based on logic or science. Hale Adams has a religion. He is making a political proposal based on his personal faith; he has no formal or scientific proof that his view of what people are is true.

* Update: Actually, Hale's sentence: "If the Church wants to insist, for its own purposes, that homosexual or multiple unions are not marriages, that's fine..." is, itself, a religious position. One which the Catholic Church rejects. We think that our view of marriage is part of Natural Law, and is just as valid—and real—in the Cannibal Isles as it is among Christians.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:11 AM

July 19, 2009

"The very lawfulness of nature points to a divine Lawgiver..."

From an excellent piece, How God and Science Mix, by Stephen M. Barr...

...My fellow particle physicist Lawrence Krauss has argued that "God and science don't mix." He began with an interesting statement of J.B.S. Haldane, an eminent biologist of the last century:
"My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course."
Scientists are atheists in the lab, said Krauss, and so it is only logical that they should be atheists everywhere. This is a logical argument, yes, and also quite popular, but it is based on a conception of God that is alien to Jewish and Christian tradition. For Haldane and Krauss, religion is about miracles, and miracles are about magic and the irrational, and therefore belief in God stands in opposition to the world revealed by science, a world intelligible by reason and governed by law.

For Jews and Christians, however, pitting God and the laws of nature against each other in this way is an absurd mistake; for it is the very lawfulness of nature that points to a divine Lawgiver. In the Bible, God gives laws not only to the people of Israel, but to the cosmos itself, as in Jeremiah 33:25, where he declares his fidelity to Israel in these terms: "When I have no covenant with day and night, and have given no laws to heaven and earth, then too will I reject the descendants of Jacob and of my servant David."

In arguing against pagans for the existence of a creator God, ancient Christian writers pointed to the order and lawfulness of nature, not to the miraculous. The following passage from the second-century writer Minucius Felix is typical:
If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat, and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it, and that he was himself much superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order, and law in the heavens and on earth, believe that there is a Lord and Author of the universe, more beautiful than the stars themselves and the various parts of the whole world.
...What then of miracles? Doesn't belief in them make nonsense of everything I have just said? On the contrary; there is no logical contradiction in believing in both natural laws and miracles; for if the laws of nature are God's ordinances to begin with, then what he has ordained he may also suspend. Indeed, to speak of a miracle in the absence of law would be meaningless...

...In the Christian view, miracles are not mere outbreaks of lawlessness in nature that happen in an utterly capricious way. Since only God can suspend his own laws, miracles are always divine acts, and serve a divine purpose. In the Bible and Christian tradition, that purpose is always to manifest God's love and mercy, and to attest to the authority of singular figures who teach or act in his name. Miracles are thus exceedingly rare events, fraught with deeply symbolic religious significance. The idea that God would interfere in the scientific experiments of Haldane or anyone else, as if he were a mischievous imp or poltergeist, is utterly silly from a Christian point of view. And to consider the fact that he doesn't do so an argument for atheism is on a par with Khrushchev's triumphant announcement that the cosmonauts had not seen God in outer space...
Posted by John Weidner at 5:52 AM

July 12, 2009

"With the lifted head of a lion-tamer..."

From The Catholic Church and Conversion by GK Chesterton, 1926

...To us, therefore, it is henceforth impossible to think of the Quaker as a figure at the beginning of a new Quaker history or the Calvinist as the founder of a new Calvinistic world. It is quite obvious to us that they are simply characters in our own Catholic history, only characters who caused a great deal of trouble by trying to do something that we could do better and that they did not really do at all. Now some may suppose that this can be maintained of the older sects like Calvinists and Quakers, but cannot be maintained of modern movements like those of Socialists or Spiritualists. But they will be quite wrong. The covering or continental character of the Church applies just as much to modern manias as to the old religious manias; it applies quite as much to Materialists or Spiritualists as to Puritans.

In all of them you find that some Catholic dogma is, first, taken for granted; then exaggerated into an error; and then generally reacted against and rejected as an error, bringing the individual in question a few steps back again on the homeward road. And this is almost always the mark of such a heretic; that while he will wildly question any other Catholic dogma, he never dreams of questioning his own favourite Catholic dogma and does not even seem to know that it could be questioned. It never occurred to the Calvinist that anybody might use his liberty to deny or limit the divine omnipotence, or to the Quaker that anyone could question the supremacy of simplicity. That is exactly the situation of the Socialist...
Bolshevism and every shade of any such theory of brotherhood is based upon one unfathomably mystical Catholic dogma; the equality of men. The Communists stake everything on the equality of man as the Calvinists staked everything on the omnipotence of God. They ride it to death as the others rode their dogma to death, turning their horse into a nightmare. But it never seems to occur to them that some people do not believe in the Catholic dogma of the mystical equality of men. Yet there are many, even among Christians, who are so heretical as to question it. The Socialists get into a great tangle when they try to apply it; they compromise with their own ideals; they modify their own doctrine; and so find themselves, like the Quakers and the Calvinists, after all their extreme extravagances, a day's march nearer Rome.

In short, the story of these sects is not one of straight lines striking outwards and onwards, though if it were they would all be striking in different directions. It is a pattern of curves continually returning into the continent and common life of their and our civilisation; and the summary of that civilisation and central sanity is the philosophy of the Catholic Church. To us, Spiritualists are men studying the existence of spirits, in a brief and blinding oblivion of the existence of evil spirits. They are, as it were, people just educated enough to have heard of ghosts but not educated enough to have heard of witches. If the evil spirits succeed in stopping their education and stunting their minds, they may of course go on for ever repeating silly messages from Plato and doggerel verses from Milton. But if they do go a step or two further, instead of marking time on the borderland, their next step will be to learn what the Church could have taught.

To us, Christian Scientists are simply people with one idea, which they have never learnt to balance and combine with all the other ideas. That is why the wealthy business man so often becomes a Christian Scientist. He is not used to ideas and one idea goes to his head, like one glass of wine to a starving man. But the Catholic Church is used to living with ideas and walks among all those very dangerous wild beasts with the poise and the lifted head of a lion-tamer. The Christian Scientist can go on monotonously repeating his one idea and remain a Christian Scientist. But if ever he really goes on to any other ideas, he will be so much the nearer to being a Catholic.....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:29 AM

July 11, 2009

Street of the dead...

Here is a really cool virtual tour of the Scavi, the Roman necropolis under St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. (Thanks to Argent.)

The Romans liked to construct little shrine-like buildings to bury their dead in. The Vatican Fields was a sort of trashy district outside of ancient Rome, which included a "village" of such tombs, with the buildings lined up along a "main street.". A necropolis. After St Peter was martyred, Christians buried him there secretly, and would slip off to the necropolis to pray by his grave. Pretty clever, hiding a tomb among tombs!

When Christianity became the official religion under Constantine, the first St Peter's Basilica was constructed right over the site of the burial place of Peter. The sloping area had to be built up to level ground, using, as I recall, 10 million baskets of soil. The necropolis was simply buried in the process, thus preserving it for us.

It was excavated from 1939 to 1950. Now you can tour the Scavi, something we'd love to do someday. The actual bones of Peter were found there, to a high degree of certainty! The "obvious" spot turned out to have some odds and ends of human and animal bones. But close by was a chamber embedded within a wall, and lined with slabs of marble. A graffito was found on the wall that said something like "Peter here." Inside were a man's bones, minus the feet. By tradition Peter was crucified upside-down, and might well have been just cut loose at the ankles.

(There's no mystery about the way Christians would have obtained the body. A bribe to the guards would be the expected thing. People being "disappeared" only began to happen in the Industrial age, when governments could afford bureaucratic organisations of regularly paid workers.)

[Note: The virtual tour locations can be navigated not only 360 degrees around, but also up and down. I got confused because I couldn't see the arrows to go on to the next spot...but actually I was looking down towards the floor!]

Posted by John Weidner at 5:04 PM

May 31, 2009

For Pentecost...

From the Book of Joel, Chapter 2.

...Thus says the LORD:
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions;
even upon the servants and the handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
And I will work wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood, fire, and columns of smoke;
the sun will be turned to darkness,
and the moon to blood,
at the coming of the day of the LORD,
the great and terrible day.
Then everyone shall be rescued
who calls on the name of the LORD;
for on Mount Zion there shall be a remnant,
as the LORD has said,
and in Jerusalem survivors
whom the LORD shall call...

Just as a point of information (sort of like one of my word notes), the old timers didn't really expect the moon to turn to blood, or the sun to go out. When you read things like that, they are not about *gasp* the End of the Earth. Rather apocalyptic, which is what that kind of writing is called, is and was a literary genre. God acts in history, acts in the world we live in. And saying that the "stars were going to fall" and similar things was understood by everyone to mean that God was going to be making big changes. Not that he was striking the circus tent, and ending the show.

The great irony is that when certain Protestant sects have calculated, from apocalyptic Bible passages, that the world is going to end on a certain day, their thinking is very much a product of the Enlightenment. They are taking, in fact, a rationalistic or "scientific" approach to scripture. They have lost the ability to "see" what Joel was saying. Even if they are Six-Day Creationists, and think dinosaur bones were planted by the Devil, they are as much chained to the narrow room of natural science as Richard Dawkins or poor Christopher Hitchins.

That's why we have the Church. The Church does not forget.

The Catholic Church is the only thing
which saves a man from the degrading
slavery of being a child of his age.
    -- GK Chesterton


Posted by John Weidner at 10:06 AM

May 9, 2009

Base camp. High above the tree line...

From If Only Atheists Were the Skeptics They Think They Are, by Edward Tingley:

..."Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy," as Dawkins says—though it is odd that he does so in a discussion of Pascal, who, like him, is a skeptic. A complete misunderstanding of Pascal, however, is crucial to the way that Dawkins and every one of his fellows (past and future) always think.

Evidence is just not available to demonstrate the existence of God, said Pascal, who called himself one of those creatures who lack the humility that makes a natural believer. In that, he was of our time: We are pretty much all like that now. Three hundred and fifty years ago he laid out our situation for us: Modern man confronts the question of God from the starting point of skepticism, the conviction that there is no conclusive physical or logical evidence that the God of the Bible exists.

"I have wished a hundred times over that, if there is a God supporting nature, [nature] should unequivocally proclaim him, and that, if the signs in nature are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether"—but nature prefers to tease, so she "presents to me nothing which is not a matter of doubt" (429). "We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty" (401). "We are . . . incapable of knowing . . . whether he is" (418). This is where the modern person usually starts in his assault on the question, Is God real or imaginary?

This is base camp, above the tree-line of convincing reasons and knock-down arguments, at the far edge of things we can kick and see, and it is all uphill from here. Thus, it is astounding how many Dawkinses and Dennetts, undecideds and skeptical nay-sayers—that sea of "progressive" folk who claim to "think critically" about religion and either "take theism on" or claim they are "still looking"—who have not reached the year 1660 in their thinking. They almost never pay attention to what the skeptic Pascal said about this enquiry.

Instead, the dogmatic reflex, ever caring for human comfort, has flexed and decided the question already, has told them what to believe in advance of investigation and rushed them back to the safety of life as usual....
[...]

...Pascal the skeptic has ruled out a fruitless path, the path to God via logic or concrete evidence: the easy route to the summit, sought for centuries but never found. The only way forward is up from where we are, onto the icy slopes out past the limit of concrete evidence. If that is possible.

At this point, of course, the venture is not looking especially promising. The mind is made for hard evidence. It gets traction on rough ground, but what stretches before us is sheer ice (minds are not issued with crampons). Is there a way forward?

That is now the question. If we care about the truth more than we care about some favored means of data-collection, we need to discover whether there is any other way, up here where the air is thin and the ice treacherous, that a rational person could settle the question of God.

A Question, Not an Answer

"Is there anything more?" is the scientific question, but as Pascal asks it, the "scientists" vanish.

The agnostics ski down the mountain into the woods, searching for hard evidence on the basis of which to decide whether God exists—which is very odd, given that a moment ago they were standing here with us, ready to climb as declared skeptics. Agnostics, plainly, are wafflers in their skepticism: As the team gets going, they U-turn back to the foothills, where every true skeptic says there is nothing to find. They do not care about the truth.

But even more astonishing than that, the atheists have just gone home. They are not down in the valley looking for evidence; they are not looking at all. They have packed in the science without lifting a boot, as if the summit were already taken, the question answered.

The atheist is the team-member who was always talking up the loftiness of the mission, but after all his fervid urgings to "search for what is true, even if it makes you uncomfortable," to go on no matter how hard and painful the going gets, he is the chap who grandly announces, without bending a knee, that victory is ours: "God should be readily detectable by scientific means." "Absence of evidence is evidence of absence." We now "rule out the God worshiped by most Jews, Christians, and Muslims." The climb is done, and the atheist scampers back to town to meet the press....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:55 PM

April 20, 2009

Commenting on a comment...

I started to answer a comment by our friend Bisaal at this post, and decided to just make my answer—or rather, partial answer—a post in itself.
I am not clear on this subject at all but are you saying that rough work works so it is OK to do it now and then?.

Mark Shea I don't think radiates any partisan hatred or venom. He is consistent: anything that deviates from Church preaching is to be rejected.

Had the Catholics consistently followed this principle, a lot of past trouble eg World Wars might have been avoided.

Maybe you will object, that this goes against Prudence and thus Catholic States never applied such standard to themselves. But perhaps USA needs to set higher standards for itself.

The virtue of Prudence is crucial for Moral Reasoning. (For all people, not just Christians. Moral law exists objectively, applies to all of us, and can be apprehended by reason.) Prudence is not optional. It is not a "lower standard." It is not some sort of fudge-factor added on so that people can compromise with the strict demands of doing what is just. ALL good deeds and good things can be bad if done at the wrong time or place or situation. The beautiful poverty and service of St Francis would have been an evil thing if he had left a wife and children to starve to death!

There is NO situation—either personal or societal—to which one can simply "apply Church teachings" without considering Prudence.

And therefore there is no complex situation where one can simply take one small aspect and demand that people do the moral thing, without considering the whole. Prudence demands looking at the whole picture.

Therefore, if a moralist is going to try to influence people on how we should fight the "War on Terror," then he or she must consider the situation as a whole, and think through things. Think about questions like how, in general, this new kind of war can best be fought. And how those tactics and strategies fit in with moral principles.

As an example, people need to ponder how Christian "Just War" thinking should be applied to a new sort of war Aquinas never imagined. Another example: one needs to think about how our words and actions will be seen by others, and what behavior they will elicit. Are we tempting people to wrong-doing? (I'd say that Mr Shea is broadcasting messages that encourage terrorism.)

There are lots of similar things that need to be considered to decide what the moral way to deal with our world situation is. I don't follow everything Shea writes, so I may be doing him an injustice, but, it looks to me like he has cherry-picked those issues he happens to be interested in, and opines on them without ever articulating a philosophy of how the situation as a whole should be seen, and how dealt with. This is morally wrong; it is a failure to exercise Prudence.

In fact he not only has the duty to think through the whole situation, he also has the duty to encourage criticism and discourse. The way he sneers at those who disagree with him is itself a moral failure—it is doubling-down on his basic failure of Prudence. I wouldn't even consider challenging Shea's ideas at his blog, because I've never heard of him making reasoned responses like this one I'm trying to write. (Bisaal is doing me a favor by criticizing me, by prodding my reasoning, and I'm grateful.)

And I think Shea is partisan because his attitudes and the issues he in interested seem to match precisely those of far-left political activists. You can SEE this. The issues that make his cheeks glow and his eyes sparkle match up closely with groups like moveon.org or Code Pink. And he never seems (I don't read everything he writes, so I may be mistaken) to work up a sweat over the victims of terrorism, or over the war crimes that groups like al-Qaeda commit every day.

Who are the REAL Christians today? Well, I've blogged my opinion on one that often enough. Try this post. Or this....

Cradle
(photo by Michael Yon, of a child deliberately slaughtered by terrorist madmen.)

(And now I've really got to get to work, and I haven't even addressed torture specifically. Oh well, another day)

Posted by John Weidner at 10:31 AM

April 19, 2009

"Truth's priority over goodness in the order of virtues"

Cardinal Ratzinger on Newman. From Conscience and Truth: (paragraphing added)

...For Newman, the middle term which establishes the connection between authority and subjectivity is truth. I do not hesitate to say that truth is the central thought of Newman's intellectual grappling. Conscience is central for him because truth stands in the middle. To put it differently, the centrality of the concept conscience for Newman, is linked to the prior centrality of the concept truth and can only be understood from this vantage point. The dominance of the idea of conscience in Newman does not signify that he, in the nineteenth century and in contrast to "objectivistic" neo-scholasticism, espoused a philosophy or theology of subjectivity. Certainly, the subject finds in Newman an attention which it had not received in Catholic theology perhaps since Saint Augustine. But it is an attention in the line of Augustine and not in that of the subjectivist philosophy of the modern age. On the occasion of his elevation to cardinal, Newman declared that most of his life was a struggle against the spirit of liberalism in religion. We might add, also against Christian subjectivism, as he found it in the Evangelical movement of his time and which admittedly had provided him the first step on his lifelong road to conversion.
Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-a-vis the claims of authority in a truthless world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Much more than that, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. The verse Newman composed in 1833 in Sicily is characteristic: "I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou me on!" Newman's conversion to Catholicism was not for him a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need. He expressed himself on this even in 1844, on the threshold, so to speak of his conversion: "No one can have a more unfavorable view than I of the present state of Roman Catholics." Newman was much more taken by the necessity to obey recognized truth than his own preferences, that is to say, even against his own sensitivity and bonds of friendship and ties due to similar backgrounds.

It seems to me characteristic of Newman that he emphasized truth's priority over goodness in the order of virtues. Or, to put it in a way which is more understandable for us, he emphasized truth's priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups. I would say, when we are speaking of a man of conscience, we mean one who looks at things this way. A man of conscience, is one who never acquires tolerance, well-being, success, public standing, and approval on the part of prevailing opinion, at the expense of truth. In this regard, Newman is related to Britain's other great witness of conscience, Thomas More, for whom conscience was not at all an expression of subjective stubbornness or obstinate heroism. He numbered himself, in fact, among those fainthearted martyrs who only after faltering and much questioning succeed in mustering up obedience to conscience, mustering up obedience to the truth which must stand higher than any human tribunal or any type of personal taste. Thus two standards become apparent for ascertaining the presence of a real voice or conscience. First, conscience is not identical to personal wishes and taste. Secondly, conscience cannot be reduced to social advantage, to group consensus or to the demands of political and social power....

"...not a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need." That is very important. When I first became a Catholic a friend said something to the effect of: "That happens to be what works for you. My [insert Protestant denomination] is what works for me." But if you are a Catholic it is of great importance to simply NOT think in those terms at all. Don't look for "what works for me." The working of the Church is objectively true, like a car takes you places whether you like its style or not. Ex opere operato.

And it is our duty to be in communion with God's Church even if the local manifestation is repulsive. Charlene and I love our parish intensly, but suppose we moved to some small town where the only parish was similar to what Fr. Dwight described recently:

...Then in becoming a Catholic I had to give it up. The churches we attended were dull modern auditoria. Some of them not too bad, many of them awful. The liturgy was often the usual modern Catholic Howdy Doody show with felt banners, priests walking around with a hand held mike being folksy. The music was torture. Plump middle aged ladies strumming guitars, beardy weirdy men in sandals standing at a keyboard swaying to the beat. Bad music. Heretical words. Excruciating.

But we had to be Catholic. So we made the sacrifice. The beauty, the reverence, the dignity, the sublime music, the architecture, the learning, the glories of Anglicanism: all of it went on the altar...

Yeah, like he said. Charlene and I would still faithfully attend Mass, even if we hated every minute of it. And when I considered becoming a Catholic, I dug that almost immediately. I take a little bit of pride in that.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:19 AM

April 14, 2009

So why do you CARE?

One of the squirrelier things I've stumbled on today is this: Happy Easter - To hell with the Vatican edition...

The old celibates and child molesters at the Vatican have said no to a US Ambassador who supports abortion and stem cell research. Vatican blocks Caroline Kennedy appointment as US ambassador...

...Now I'm not sure why we even need an ambassador to a church but I think my friend Jazz gets it right.

"The broader point there, though, is the truly bizarre concept that foreign entities should be rejecting ambassadors because of policy differences between them and the person selected. Perhaps our ambassador to Venezuela should only be someone who supports Castro, hates America and wants Russian missile installations throughout Central and South America? Here's an idea... let's have an ambassador to England who wants the United States to forfeit its independence and go back to being a territory of the U.K.

A quick note to our Obama bashing pundits who are cackling with glee over this: ambassadors, by definition, are representatives of our nation and, in particular, of the positions and views of the current administration. The current administration happens to be pro-choice, and to the extent that should ever come up in discussions, they need to represent those views. All they really need is the ability to communicate well and be, well... diplomatic. They deliver messages, gather information and facilitate relations behind the scenes."

This is a false analogy. For a better analogy, think of the old days when we would send ambassadors to communist countries. They never were upset that our ambassadors were mostly capitalists. BUT, suppose we had sent an ambassador who was a prominent Communist who believed fervently in the right to private property! THAT they might well have objected to, since it would be a clear attempt to subvert Communist beliefs using fake Communists.

More interesting would be what the nomination of that "pro-private property communist" would have said about us. It would have said that we believed in Communism, and needed to subvert it within its own philosophical framework.

That's what Obama (and the quoted bloggers) are revealing about themselves. They know exactly who their real opponent is, and they CARE. Same thing with Obama's HHS picks, Daschle and Sibellius. Pro-abortion Catholics both of them. Why did he choose them?

This all reminds me of the way satanic cultists will steal consecrated hosts from a Catholic Mass to use in their ceremonies. Why do they care?—why not just BUY communion wafers from a religious supply company? The satanic-types are admitting that what happens in the Liturgy, in the central Christian Mystery, is real! (also interesting is that nobody steals communion bread from Protestants! The Devil knows what's what.)

Also, if one is honestly interested in diplomacy, then the reaction to being told that one's ambassador is unacceptable is to say. "Thanks, we almost made a big mistake." It's not diplomacy Obama's pursuing here in his sneaky cowardly way, it's war.


Posted by John Weidner at 1:56 PM

April 12, 2009

Have you ever been to a clambake?...

...."Wait without hope," wrote TS Eliot, "for hope would be hope for the wrong thing." If you frame Easter in the terms of the perceived problem, you belittle it. Whether you think in terms of pie in the sky (at best a thoroughly subChristian concept) or a better society, all you get is a happy ending after a sad or sinful story.

And whatever Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were doing in writing the final sections of their books, they were not telling the story of Jesus's resurrection as a happy ending. They were telling it as a startling new beginning. Easter morning isn't a slow, gentle waking up after the difficult operation. It's the electric shock that brings someone back to life in a whole new way.

That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports - and then, stories like nothing else before or since. As the great New Testament scholar EP Sanders put it, the writers were trying to describe an experience that does not fit a known category. They knew all about ghosts and visions, and they knew it wasn't anything like that.

Equally, they knew the risen Jesus wasn't just a resuscitated corpse, still less someone who had almost died but managed to stagger on after all. They had the puzzled air of people saying, "I know this sounds wacky, but this is truly how it was." They were stumblingly describing the birth of new creation, starting with Jesus but intended for the whole world.

It sometimes seems that the church can hardly cope with this any more than the world can. Perhaps that's why, after 40 days of Lent, many churches celebrate Easter for a few hours and then return to normality. But nothing can be "normal" after Easter. New creation has begun, and we are summoned to get on board. We should at least have an eight-day party, or even a 40-day one.

And if Easter is all about the surprise of new creation, there is every reason to suppose that it will ripple out into the world in ways we would never imagine. Gangsters and drug-dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God's love, while pale churchmen drone their disbelief and warn against extremism.

Extremism? What can be more extreme than God raising Jesus from the dead after the world has done its worst to him? Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? What might that look like?...

      -- NT Wright (Link)

"That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports..."  Exactly. And what does that mean? Well, for one thing it means that nobody just made the story up while sitting at a desk wondering how to get a new "religion" started. It's just too messy and even slightly comical a story. Various scholars have opined that the disciples had some sort of "spiritual" experience, and then later interpreted it as something concrete like a resurrection. Pahhh! That's just stupid. (And I know what they are up to because I used to feel the same embarrassment about Easter, and used to wish that Jesus had been more like, say, Lao Tze.)

And the thing that has always tormented gnostics—and we have more of them now than ever—is that there's nothing "spiritual" about the Passion and Resurrection. It's all so grittily real and physical, it's kind of a pie-in-the-face to all the lofty "spiritual" types. Have you ever been to a clambake?...

...When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead...

Well, Charlene and I have been there, by that very sea. Who knows, maybe on the very same spot--this picture is taken near Caperneum. It's an awesome place, but it also resembles San Diego County to a disappointing degree. And it's nothing like a Zen monastery. If you want "spiritual," go trekking in the Himalayas.

Francis and Shelley by Sea of Galilee
Our friends Fr. Francis Goode and Shelley Goodale by the Sea of Galilee...

  

Posted by John Weidner at 5:29 AM

April 8, 2009

The Left doesn't care about gays...they're just cannon fodder in the real war

Dafydd asks a great question. There are surely far more homosexuals affected by the ban on their openly serving in the military than there are gays who really want to get married. And far less justification for a ban. So, where is the Left? Why are no "liberals" clamoring for lifting the ban?

...At a guess, I believe that at least a hundred times as many gays serve (more or less secretly) in the military as want to get married to members of the same gender, and an even larger number are veterans or would like to serve in the future. At a guess, if about five million legal American residents are homosexual (loosely defined -- say 2% of men and 1% of women), easily as many as a million could be directly adversely affected by the policy. (I cannot imagine that anywhere near ten thousand gays and lesbians seriously intend to get married.)

And Congress or the president could enact that change right this very minute; I don't think Republicans could possibly muster 41 votes to filibuster a bill to lift the restriction, even if they wanted to -- and assuming congressional action is even required; it's possible that all it would take is an Executive Order from the Commander in Chief.

The Left could do it in a snap, even against unified Republican opposition (which I doubt could be mustered anyway). So why don't they?

Well, I didn't plan to leave that hanging as a rhetorical question. As anybody who has read more of this blog than just the seven paragraphs above knows, I ask because I think I know the answer -- which is simply this...

Democrats and liberals couldn't care less about gays, lesbians, transsexuals, transvestites, or any other such subgroup. They only champion the gay (or blacktivist, or feminist) agenda when a particular policy serves the larger agenda of the hard Left: the destruction of traditional Western culture and its replacement by secular humanism.

Simply and brutally put, destroying traditional marriage advances that liberal agenda, so liberal Democrats pursue it with a passion; but allowing gays to serve openly in the military does not advance that vile agenda -- so liberal Democrats truly could not care less...

There is really only One War. The only thing different now is the openness of the fight. (And yes, you are choosing sides even when you think you are neutral.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:07 AM

March 26, 2009

Contrary to Reason...

Charlene recommends this post from ShrinkWrapped: Scientists and Morality. I started to blog my agreement, but was sidetracked by this paragraph...

...Scientists spend their working lives pursuing a rational understanding of the world around them. They are often both ignorant of, and intolerant of, the irrational. Because they pursue a rational understanding of the world they typically do not recognize their own irrationalities. This can be a problem when scientists venture into discussions of politics and morality....

Christians do NOT think that morality or faith in God are irrational. Not one little bit. (Well, actually, there is a modern splinter-movement, calling itself "Protestant," that has abandoned reason for a make-stuff-up-as-you-go approach. Perhaps the author is influenced by them. But the result of that experiment is that there are 30,000+ different Protestant groups--all claiming to have "the truth!" Nuh uh.)

I can't really blame people for not understanding this, since I am only starting to discover it myself. I'd heard the general idea of our catholic faith being based on reason, but, as a former Protestant I assumed that it meant that there was a glaze of philosophical justification painted over the totem pole. Turns out, not so. Christian faith is based on deductive reason in exactly the same way a proof in geometry is. Reason can prove to even a pagan like Aristotle that there must be one all-good and all-powerful god, and also the basics of traditional morality. (In addition to this other things are revealed. We are given additional information by God such as the Trinity or the Incarnation.)

That's why I've been recommending [link, link] the book The Last Superstition by Feser. He refutes the "new atheists" with a clear explanation of the metaphysics of Aristotle and Aquinas, which has been a huge "ah ah" moment for me. (And no one has ever refuted their logic, by the way. Modern philosophers have just tagged it "Medieval," laughed at Aristotle's mistakes in physics—which his metaphysics is not based on—and moved on.)

Scientists today have no philosophy that ties their work into the wider world, or helps them even think about such things. The result is that scientists are vulnerable when they try to extend their discipline into realms like politics or morality. They don't even notice that AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) has become a quasi-religion, and they excommunicate heretics and take things on faith, all the while telling themselves that are just "doing science," and are being hindered by "irrational" people.

And they don't understand that Secularism and Materialism are "faiths" just as much as the conventional religions. They can make "scientific judgements" on, say, the value of human lives compared to endangered species...and not realize they've left the realm of things that natural science can speak about.

Mr Shrinkwrapped also writes something that I've tried to get at before:

...Note the assumption that the greatest danger now resides in the alliance between science and business, ie the profit motive. Many, perhaps most, scientists are liberal by temperament and intellectual insularity. They have generally focused far more on their areas of expertise than on the political and moral dimensions of their work. Since liberalism has gained a monopoly (in the popular press and especially in academia) on morality, the assumption is that government run programs will be protected form the dangers of avarice. Government research is therefore, somehow more pure than business supported research. (We see this all the time when research supported by business is always reported in ways conducive to accepting that such research is tainted by its funding whereas government supported research is never considered tainted by the analogous human desires that determine its course and contents.)...

One can be avaricious for all sorts of things besides money. I suspect that many a scientist would kill (if there was an easy fool-proof way to do it) to be known for a significant discovery. Or to have a big lab full of top-notch post-docs. Or to be invited to important conferences. This is just as much greed and covetousness as wanting to earn millions of dollars. And it can corrupt people in just the same way. Actually, one could live like St Francis, and give the clothes off your back to the shivering poor... and still be a greedy miser. If, for example, what you coveted most was being considered "saintly."

And of course even in government-funded science there are potential big monetary-equivalent rewards. A "science star" might be flown first-class to a posh resort to mingle with rock-stars and shake hands with Al Gore or Prince Charles. That's worth enough money to corrupt almost anyone.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:38 AM

March 22, 2009

To repeat, it's a really good book...

I'm starting to re-read Feser's The Last Superstition. (I mentioned it last week.) By the time I got to the end I'd become fuzzy about some of the arguments from the beginning of the book, and the structure rests on them. So I'm starting over.

Here's a little more, from the first chapter, just in case some strange soul out there in the "audient void" still actually reads books to try to understand things...

...Nothing that follows will require of the reader any prior aquaintance with philosophy or its history, but the discussion will in some places get a little abstract and technical—though never dull, I think, and the dramatic relevance of the occasional abstraction or technicality to issues in religion, morality and science will amply reward the patient reader. Some abstraction and technicality is, in any case, unavoidable. The basic philosophical case for the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the natural law conception of morality is at one level fairly straightforward. But the issues have become ever more greatly obscured in the centuries since so-called "Enlightenment" thinkers and their predecessors first started darkening the understanding of Western man, and a nearly impenetrable philosophical smokescreen of unexamined assumptions, falsehoods, clichés, caricatures, prejudices, propaganda and general muddle-headedness now surrounds the average person's (including the average intellectual's) thinking about religion. It takes considerable intellectual effort to dissipate this kultursmog (to borrow R. Emmett Tyrrell's apt coinage).

The task is not unlike that which faces debunkers of popular but intellectually unsupportable conspiracy theories...

...Similarly, everyone "knows" that the cosmological argument for God's existence says "Everything has a cause, so the universe has a cause, namely God" and that this argument is easily refuted by asking "Well, if everything has a cause, what caused God then?"— except that that that is not what the cosmological argument says, and none of the philosophers who have famously defended the argument — not Aristotle, not Aquinas, not Leibniz, not anyone else — ever committed such a stupid and obvious fallacy. Everyone "knows" that to say that morality depends on religion means that God arbitrarily decides to command something or other ("just 'cause He feels like it," apparently) and the only reason to obey is fear of hellfire — except that that is not what it means to say that morality depends on religion, certainly not in the thinking of the many serious philosophers who have defended that claim. And so on and on...

...As we heard Quentin Smith and Jeremy Waldron complain above, apart from the few who make a professional specialty of arguing about religion, secularist thinkers are generally unacquainted with anything but absurd caricatures of traditional religious idea and arguments, are utterly unaware that anything other than these caricatures exist, and thus don't bother to look for anything but straw men to attack. They simply don't know what they are talking about, and they don't know that they don't know it...

Kultursmog! Great word. This kind of thing is worth studying just because kultursmog describes our world so very well. To think clearly about anything is an accomplishment. (One needn't, by the way, be interested in religion to appreciate Feser. His skewering of the muddled philosophy that underlies natural science is very good.)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:12 PM

March 21, 2009

We "are called to the same most high dignity"

Pope Leo XIII on Socialism...

For, indeed, although the socialists, stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary, have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes, nevertheless so great is the difference between their depraved teachings and the most pure doctrine of Christ that none greater could exist: "for what participation hath justice with injustice or what fellowship hath light with darkness?"

Their habit, as we have intimated, is always to maintain that nature has made all men equal, and that, therefore, neither honor nor respect is due to majesty, nor obedience to laws, unless, perhaps, to those sanctioned by their own good pleasure. But, on the contrary, in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel, the equality of men consists in this: that all, having inherited the same nature, are called to the same most high dignity of the sons of God, and that, as one and the same end is set before all, each one is to be judged by the same law and will receive punishment or reward according to his deserts. The inequality of rights and of power proceeds from the very Author of nature, "from whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named."...

...For, while the socialists would destroy the "right" of property, alleging it to be a human invention altogether opposed to the inborn equality of man, and, claiming a community of goods, argue that poverty should not be peaceably endured, and that the property and privileges of the rich may be rightly invaded, the Church, with much greater wisdom and good sense, recognizes the inequality among men, who are born with different powers of body and mind, inequality in actual possession, also, and holds that the right of property and of ownership, which springs from nature itself, must not be touched and stands inviolate. For she knows that stealing and robbery were forbidden in so special a manner by God, the Author and Defender of right, that He would not allow man even to desire what belonged to another, and that thieves and despoilers, no less than adulterers and idolaters, are shut out from the Kingdom of Heaven...
      -- Pope Leo XIII, Quod Apostolici Muneris

Leo XIII is a favorite of mine for various reasons, including that it was he who made John Henry Newman a Cardinal.

And he was the first Pope to have his voice recorded, and to be in a motion picture....in 1903!! (It doesn't sound like much--he was close to death at the time. But it's still a cool thing.)




Posted by John Weidner at 9:57 PM

March 14, 2009

Chewed up and spit out...

I have to recommend a very good book, The Last Superstition, by Edward Feser. It's a debunking of the recent spate of "New Atheist" books, drawing on the classic arguments of Aristotle and Aquinas. I've long been aware that they, and other philosophers, had given proofs of God's existence, but I must confess I've never studied them. In fact, like many people, I had picked up a vague impression of what those arguments might be--impressions that are simply wrong! (For instance Thomas does not base any arguments on the universe needing a creator to get it started in the first place!)

The actual arguments are very interesting, and Feser presents them wittily, and with lots of snark at the lameness and ignorance of people like Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins. If there are any people with enquiring minds left in the world, they could enjoy this book even without being interested in the actual questions... just to appreciate clear thinking.

...But enough of this unpleasantness. Let us turn to Aquinas. To understand his arguments for God's existence, you need first to understand what is wrong with the way philistines like Dawkins read them, or rather misread them. Like many who are not familiar with philosophical modes of argumentation, Dawkins assumes that Aquinas is engages in a kind of empirical theorizing, "postulating" God's existence as a "hypothesis" to "explain" certain pieces of "data." That is, he thinks Aquinas's reasoning is analogous to the sort of reasoning a detective engages in when he infers from a cigarette butt and the size of a shoe print that the suspect was probably a six-foot tall smoker...

...When understood in this light, arguments for God's existence inevitably come to seem like what are called "God of the gaps" arguments: "Here is something science hasn't yet explained; probably God is the explanation." Dawkins, Harris, et al., come along and have little trouble coming up with some imaginative materialistic exlanation of the evidence in question, and even if the proposed explanation is unsupported or far-fetched, it serves rhetorically to undermine any confidence their hapless readers might otherwise have in the whole enterprise of arguing for God's existence.

But Aquinas does not argue in this lame "God of the gaps" manner, and neither do any of the great philosophical theologians referred to above (Aristotle, Maimonides, Duns Scotus, Leibniz, et al.). I will admit that some theists argue this way: Paley did, and "Intelligent Design" theorists influenced by him do as well. But their faulty methodology should not be read back into thinkers who would have had no truck with it. Why atheists are so fixated on Paley, I cannot say, unless it is precisely because he is such an easy target: If he didn't exist, atheists would have to invent him, or find some other straw man to beat. Aquinas, as is well know, always painstakingly considered all opposing arguments, and always made a point of attacking an an opponent's position at its strongest point. (This contrast is one reason I compare the moral character of the New Atheists so unfavorably to that of Aquinas, and it is a reason they will be hard-pressed to dismiss, � la Hume, as a mere "monkish virtue.")...

...What Aquinas is doing can be understood by comparison with the sort of reasoning familiar from geometry and mathematics in general...

 

x
Posted by John Weidner at 5:54 PM

March 8, 2009

"Like the tides of an invisible sea"

The Anchoress quoted this...

From Flannery O'Connor's letter to Alfred Corn on May 30, 1962:

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It's there, even when he can't see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian sceptism. It will keep you free -- not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your intellect or the intellects of those around you...

Faith, by the way, is transparent. You can't see it, or touch it, but you know that it is there because you see other things more clearly--faith is sort of like the glass in a diving mask. You don't see the glass itself, but you see the underwater world much more clearly, so you know it is there.

Actually, the statement that "faith lets you see things more clearly" is true of pretty much everything. You can not, for instance, be a good scientist or engineer if you do not have faith in those disciplines. (I suppose it would be possible to do science merely as an intellectual game that you do not believe in, but it never happens.) The engineer has at some point in his life had a "conversion experience," which turns many small pieces of knowledge gained in life into a meaningful whole. (Or it could be, Catholic-wise, a series of small conversions throughout life.)

I love history, and I well remember my "conversion experience" the first time an entire period of history snapped into focus as a coherent whole, rather than a collection of interesting facts. It was dazzling. (The book was The Fatal Inheritance; Philip II and the Spanish Netherlands, by Edward Grierson.) Once that happened, then I could presume that any period of history would be found to be a comprehensible whole, if I cared to delve into it. Politics, art, clothing, military tactics, religion....all would be inter-related and meaningful. I could "see" the idea, because I had faith.


 

Posted by John Weidner at 2:11 PM

February 23, 2009

Misses the real question....

Randy Barnett:

...Fair enough. But even with this admonition in mind, I will modify my claim only slightly: No avowedly creationist Republican candidate will be elected President of the United States. Not. Gonna. Happen. And if that creationist Republican candidate is far superior with respect to governing philosophy and executive experience and skills, as he or she may well be, it will be so much the worse for the country. Sorry Bobby, Tim & Mark. Republicans: Do NOT try this electoral experiment. Please!...

(Thanks to Glenn)

My guess is that Randy is off the mark here. The real issue has little to do with science*. (I am by the way a Catholic, and I think Creationism is quite silly. Darwinian evolution is the best model of biological science we have so far, and is not in conflict with Christian faith.)

The real issue is that natural science is commonly used--in a way that has nothing scientific about it--to attack Christian and Jewish faith. We absorb from the culture around us a vague idea that science (or history) has already answered the questions, and have clearly shown that there is no god, etc. Of course science doesn't say anything of the sort.

And this should be of concern even to, say, non-believing libertarians, because the same bogus methods are used to attack things like our civil liberties. Or our belief in our own Western civilization. How so? These things have always been supported by a quasi-religious assumption that they have authority, as things handed down from revered ancestors.

If you say that rights are "inalienable," for instance, you are expressing something analogous to religious faith. Something that can be destroyed by pushing the fraudulent idea that "science" has already debunked all those old fuddy-duddy notions, and that "experts" should be given a free hand to improve and bring-up-to-date. (Experts connected with government, of course.)

A Creationist is attacking an important problem with the wrong weapon. But I would gladly vote for a Creationist if the alternative were someone who vaguely implies that science has rendered things like nations and free speech and human dignity and economic freedom obsolete.

[*As an example of the sort of misuse of science I'm thinking of, I recently read some conservative secularist declare something like "we have no need of improbable events like virgin births..." But an action by God is inherently outside the realm of things we can assign probabilities to. The statement is absurd and meaningless, but many people will take it as good sense.]

Posted by John Weidner at 11:28 AM

February 15, 2009

Of course it's improper to critique a book just from a review....

...but liberal thinking just doesn't compute, and I'm willing to bet money this stuff wouldn't make more sense if I read the whole thing...

Beliefs - The New Atheism, and Something More - NYTimes.com:

...Mr. Aronson proposed that neither it nor the other [atheist] books under review provided "the most urgent need" for secularists today: "a coherent popular philosophy that answers vital questions about how to live one's life." [It can't be done. You've been trying for several centuries now.]

A "new atheism must absorb the experience of the 20th century and the issues of the 21st," he wrote. "It must answer questions about living without God, face issues concerning forces beyond our control as well as our own responsibility, find a satisfying way of thinking about what we may know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis for morality, point to ways of coming to terms with death and explore what hope might mean today." [Tall order! You've rejected authority, so if you succeed, what authority will validate your success? It will just be a theory, competing with ten-thousand other theories.]

"Living Without God" (Counterpoint, 2008) is now the title of Mr. Aronson's own effort to provide such a popular philosophy. It is meant to take up, he writes, where books like "The End of Faith" leave off.
Mr. Aronson makes a good argument that Americans are far more secular -- or at least less religious -- than is often recognized. But, he says, contemporary secularism has lost the buoyant confidence it once gained from "its essential link to the idea of Progress, which promised so much and came to such grief during the 20th century." [Nuh uh, pal. Secularism and "Progress" caused the grief of the 20th century. YOU killed a hundred-million or two people in pursuit of various secular paradises. It doesn't work to pretend that these things just happened out of the blue. The blood is on your hands.]

"To live comfortably without God today," he says, "means doing what has not yet been done -- namely, rethinking the secular worldview after the eclipse of modern optimism." [That optimism was itself a transference of the HABIT of Christian Hope to the secular realm. But the habit's wearing off. Now you are realizing you are bankrupt. ]

Indeed, "religion is not really the issue, but rather the incompleteness or tentativeness, the thinness or emptiness [couldn't have described it better myself], of today's atheism, agnosticism and secularism. Living without God means turning toward something." [Well fancy that! Let me just guess--it's going to be a very amorphous "something." Characterized by... incompleteness or tentativeness, thinness, emptiness... Right? C'mon pal, surprise me! Invent a secular worldview that has even one one-hundredth of the gritty REALNESS of the Church Catholic.]

For Mr. Aronson, that "something" is not the ideal of an autonomous individual striding confidently into the dawning future but the drama [drama??] of an interdependent humankind embedded in complex systems of forces, knit into networks of natural environment, historical legacies, social institutions and personal relations. [What a load of galumpfh. "Embedded in complex systems of forces." What does that MEAN? Embedded like bees in a hive? Like raisins in a cookie? If you have complex systems, then decisions need to be made. Who makes them? How do people set priorities and goals?

What if your priority involves my being eliminated for the good of the whole? Hmmm? What if people don't WANT to be knit into networks? Every revolution starts with wooly-headed intellectuals sketching vague paradises of happy embeds. But the kulaks prefer not to be embedded in the collective farm. So then the ruthless rise to the top, and start forcing people into the mold. And probably sending guys like Aronson on that long march to nowhere.]


From this larger story of interdependency, he draws a ground, not surprisingly, for responsibility and morality: a recognizable left-of-center commitment to collective struggle against "domination, inequality and oppression, rooted in scarcity." [This one sentence has enough lunacy to write a whole essay on. To take just one, morality requires drawing lines. Saying X is immoral, and it is wrong to do it. Period. But just proposing your own morality gives no authority to draw hard and fast rules. How can you? What justifies your rule over someone elses?

And, importantly, who DEFINES things? Liberal morality tends to say "I can do what I want if I don't hurt someone." BUT, it's the liberal himself who is defining what "hurt" is. And who is a "someone." So they can define an unborn baby as "not human," and murder it. Or define the entrepreneurs who provide society's wealth as "parasites" and zeks, and expropriate them, or send them to the camps.]


More originally, he argues that this interdependence should summon gratitude -- gratitude "for," even if not "to." Giving thanks, he recognizes, has been central to religion, and secular culture needs to be enriched with an equivalent.... [There is no equivalent. Gratitude is, in its essence, humble. You can't be grateful for something you think you deserve; you are grateful for a gift. You must acknowledge something bigger and better than oneself. But that's a religious attitude. No one's ever going to feel gratitude to "complex systems of forces."]

I suspect that the recent spate of atheist books is not because atheists think they are winning, nor that, as some have suggested, they think they are losing. I think we are at the moment that Guardini predicted, back in the 1950's. (link) They are staring into the abyss. They are finally realizing what it's like to live without God, or without anything greater than the self.

 

Posted by John Weidner at 6:37 PM

February 1, 2009

"agnosticism slips out of one's hands like a soap bubble"

Benedict XVI, from Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures: ...The true way to call agnosticism into question is to ask whether its program can be realized. Is it possible for us, as human beings, purely and simply to lay aside the question of God, that is, the question of our origin, of our final destiny, and of the measure of our existence?...

...Even if I throw in my theoretical lot with agnosticism, I am nevertheless compelled in practice to choose between two alternatives: either to live as if God did not exist or else to live as if God did exist. If I act according to the first alternative, I have in practice adopted an atheistic position and have made a hypothesis (which may also be false) the basis of my entire life...

...Let us leave this question here: it is clear that the prestige enjoyed by the agnostic solution today does not stand up to closer examination. As a pure theory, it may seem exceedingly illuminating. But in its essence, agnosticism is much more than a theory: what is at stake here is the praxis of one's life. When one attempts to "put it into practice" in one's real field of action, agnosticism slips out of one's hands like a soap bubble; it dissolves into thin air, because it is not possible to escape the very option it seeks to avoid. When faced with the question of God, man cannot permit himself to remain neutral. All he can say is Yes or No--without ever avoiding all the consequences that derive from this choice even in the smallest details of life. Accordingly, we see that the question of God is ineluctable; one is not permitted to abstain from casting one's vote...

Thanks to Macklin Horton, who adds, "...I've never heard anyone say 'I don't know whether there is a God or not, so I'm going to become a Catholic.' No, a commitment to agnosticism--as opposed to agnosticism still open to the alternative-- is a form of atheism."

Posted by John Weidner at 10:13 AM

January 31, 2009

New Cabinet post: Department of People-elimination,


The American Spectator: Nancy Pelosi's Modest Proposal:

..."It will reduces costs," Nancy Pelosi said on This Week, in reference to the "stimulus" rationale for sending millions of dollars to the states for "family planning."

What would once have been considered an astonishingly chilly and incomprehensible stretch is now blandly stated liberal policy.

The full title of Jonathan Swift's work, A Modest Proposal, was, For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public. Change a few of the words and it could be a Democratic Party policy paper. Swift suggested that 18th-century Ireland stimulate its economy by turning children into food for the wealthy. Pelosi proposes stimulating the U.S. economy by eliminating them....

...Pelosi has helpfully if dimly blurted out what's often implicit in many of the left's schemes for human improvement: that, after all the rhetorical bells and whistles have fallen silent, the final solution concealed within the schemes is to eliminate people.

Alan Weisman's The World Without Us isn't a horrifying thesis to the liberal elite but enjoyable beach reading. Al Gore lists population control as the first solution to global warming and they nod and give him a Nobel Prize.

They name awards after eugenicists like Margaret Sanger. "Unwanted" children are immediately seen as an unspeakable burden. Pregnancy is a punishment, and fertility is little more than a disease. Pelosi's gaffe illustrates the extent to which eugenics and economics merge in the liberal utilitarian mind. Malthus lives.

Hillary Clinton's State Department will soon treat people-elimination, in one form or another, as "development."...

The Lefist obsession with reducing population doesn't make sense if you think of it as "liberalism." But it makes perfect sense if you realize that most leftists (you've heard this from me before--sorry) are really self-worshippers, who care for no cause higher than themselves. I can easily slip into that frame of mind myself, and then it seems obvious that a lot of people should just vanish. Think how much less crowded the freeways would be!

All this is a good example of how there is terrible moral danger in a vague "do-gooder" attitude. What's that Google motto? "Don't be evil"? Something like that. That kind of thinking is a road that leads to....being evil. Morality isn't something you can just take for granted. Your conscience has to be educated. And it has to be exercised. If it isn't you just drift into the path of least resistance, a la Pelosi, and start thinking what a better world it would be if those icky poor people would just stop being born...

   


Posted by John Weidner at 8:08 AM

January 25, 2009

The biggest "youth protests" of our time...

...but it's a funny thing. The people who usually want "youts" to march and protest and shake-up the stodgy sclerotic establishment seem oddly unamused. I can't imagine why.

Well, Charlene and I and our daughter Betsy had a great hike on the Walk for Life. I'd guess there were 20k of us. (another estimate says 30k) Lots of families and kids. And I kept thinking of Mark Steyn's phrase, "The future belongs to those who show up for it."

Walk For Life, San Francisco, 2009

Photo by Elizabeth Weidner

Posted by John Weidner at 6:49 PM

December 30, 2008

Puzzling things...

Madoff the Jew: The Media's Hypocritical Obsession With the Fraudster's Faith, by Phyllis Chesler:

...Most Jews do not recognize themselves in what Madoff did; they still expect to be judged on their own merits. I doubt this will happen. I think� Jews will be judged as if we are all guilty, whether or not we are innocent or poor, and whether or not we fight for justice for Palestinians or for justice for murdered Chabadniks in Mumbai. Here's one reason why.

For days now,� I have been following the media coverage of the Madoff scandal. I could not help but note that the New York Times kept emphasizing that he is Jewish and moved in monied, Jewish circles; not once, but time and again, in the same article, and in article after article. 'Tis true,� alas, 'tis true, the rogue is a Jew: But how exactly is Madoff's religion more relevant than Rod Blagojevich's religion?� The Times has not described Blagojevich� (or Kenneth Lay of Enron) as "Christians," nor do they describe the Arab or south Asian Muslim terrorists as "Muslims."....[Thanks to Bookworm]

That last sentence is misleading. If there was some way to link Ken Lay with real Christianity, they would have leaped at it. Imagine if he had been a pro-life activist!

Still, the kind of Jew-hatred the Times is showing is strange. It is exceedingly likely that most of the Jews touched by the Madoff mess are not very Jewish, except as a cultural holdover. For most American Jews, their real "religion" is liberalism, and the percentage of them who read the NYT is probably far higher than the general population. Yet we se leftist anti-Semitism all the time, especially in the truly insane hatred of the state of Israel. Think how crazy it is--Israel is a tolerant democratic society where Muslim MP's can heckle the Prime Minister, who might well be a woman. Israel is a place that has "gay pride" parades--and yet the Left invariably prefers Muslims who oppress women and gays.

Equally puzzling is why American Jews continue to put up with this. Perhaps they have just transferred their stubborn religious faithfulness to the new faith of liberalism, and are refusing to be detered by persecution!

Also puzzling is the philo-Semitism of so many of us on the Right. We sure don't gain any tangible benefits! One of the oddest things I read this year was this piece about President Bush's speech to the Israeli Knesset on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel. The Israelis were quite embarrassed to be lauded as Zionists and the Chosen People. Not to mention those references to that quaint old thing, the Bible!

It's almost like nobody believes the current "non-Jewishness" of so many Jews is real. Like any day now they will pull off the mask and be the People of the Book again...

An excerpt from the article:

....nd most embarrassingly of all, what President Bush believes about the Jews is something that nearly all Jews once believed about themselves. It's aggravating to be reminded of the you you once were and would like to forget. Remember the time back in high school when you had great ambitions and thought you had a God-given talent that the world would hear about some day? Not really, because now, decades later, you've done everything you can to banish it from your mind -- which is why you cringe when you run into an old classmate who recognizes you and exclaims with a slap on the back, "Hey, it's you! I'll never forget the impression you made on me."

For many Jews, President Bush is like that classmate. They wish he hadn't recognized them.

The president, it was observed rather ruefully in Israel, gave a Zionist speech such as hasn't been heard from mainstream Israeli politicians for many years. If by that is meant that he invoked the Bible, rather than the Oslo "peace process" or his own "road map," this is certainly true. The Bible has long ceased to be bon ton in Israeli intellectual life. It has become politically incorrect for Israelis to think that just because some possibly imaginary progenitors of theirs had religious fantasies about God's pledging them a country, their contemporary thinking needs to take this into account. If an American president feels comfortable with such fairy tales, that's no reason why they should.

President Bush clearly believes the Jews are central to history in a way most Jews themselves no longer do. They find such thinking primitive. The only problem is that history itself shows signs of agreeing with the president.

This, really, is the astonishing thing about the country Mr. Bush addressed last week when he said, "Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again and America will be at your side": How central to everything it is. A tiny place with a population that wouldn't fill any of the world's ten largest cities, it finds itself in the middle of all the great conflicts of our times: The battle for democracy, the war against terror, the fight against Islamic fundamentalism, the campaign against nuclear proliferation. Practically every scenario for a nuclear Armageddon, ranging from that of the most wild-eyed preacher of the Gospel to that of the most cool-headed political scientist, revolves around Israel.

Perhaps it really is primitive to believe, as President Bush does, that this has something to do with the Jews being the people of the Bible. Certainly, most Jews themselves would like to think that it has to do with other things. They would rather not be at the center of anything. It makes them nervous when someone reminds them that, despite their best efforts, that's where they still are. The role of being a chosen people is big on them.

The president of the United States disagrees. That's part of the reason why many Jews will be relieved to see him leave office next January. It's not just stem-cell research, or even the war in Iraq. The man thinks too much of us. That's something we're not prepared to put up with...
Posted by John Weidner at 10:57 AM

December 28, 2008

Faxes of faxes of faxes...

I often mention "hollowing out" --that is, the way meaning seems to drain out of modern people's lives leaving an outer shell with nothing much inside. And how people construct substitutes for what they've lost, and how meaning then drains away from those substitutes...

I haven't seen a better example than this NYT editorial, When Christmas Comes:

...But, really, Christmas needs no saving. It does not exist apart from what we make of it. And, on its own, it cannot save us, though it contains the gestures of generosity and thankfulness that are halfway to being a better person, a richer community. Christmas is all the better for being a simple place, nothing more, perhaps, than two red cardinals, male and female, against the backdrop of a snowy field. They are there every day. The only difference is that today it feels like Christmas.

So what IS this "Christmas" the editors are editorializing about? Heaven knows. It's like a document that's been faxed around so many times it's turned to a gray blur. Somebody long ago fudged-up "secular Christmas." And then somebody created a secular version of that still quasi-religious thing, and then the newer blander version was refined into a yet-more secular thing..... Finally we get to "Snowflake Day," when, for some forgotten reason, we feel sort of warm and fuzzy inside when the city puts snowflake decorations on the lamp posts along Main Street!

The underlying reason for the hollowing-out is that anything that has "meaning" is bigger then the self. And therefore it makes demands on us. So if people become self-worshippers, then they will try to get rid of meaning. Get rid of the solidity, the real-ness of things.

We see this process all around us, and it bewilders me how little people will "observe" it. Everything that is tough and chewy gets tenderized into pablum. Marriage, for instance, has been repeatedly faxed throughout my lifetime, becoming ever less demanding and real. People keep hoping and wishing it will be meaningful for them, while at the same time eagerly knocking off any sharp edges that might bruise them. What a sick joke. It should be re-named "White Dress Day." And the especial insanity is that each time the document gets faxed, the proponents of that particular iteration insist that it stands alone, that this faxing is a one-time thing, and the document will really be the same.

It's all kind of funny, but once you really "see" it, you see that people are sliding over the edge of a terrifying abyss. If you worship yourself you worship Moloch. The "self" will ask for the sacrifice of anything that rivals it. We all say, "Of course I would not do such-and-such! There are lots of things I would not sacrifice for my own satisfaction." Alas that "of course" is actually for most of us just a collection of habits that we have all inherited with our culture.

But the habits aren't "real," aren't solid, aren't something you can take to the bank. We tend, for instance, to feel a bit less selfish at Christmas, to think more about family and friends..........but, that's just a habit. And habits have a way of wearing off. Especially if people are trying to get rid of the underlying reasons for them. (The ultimate source, sometimes buried under many layers, is Jewish and Christian faith.)

The more the habits (not to mention the underlying reality) wear off, the more scary things are going to be.

...As unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to leam to experience what this honestly means. Nietzsche had already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades [the two world wars] have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning...
      -- Romano Guardini, from The End of the Modern World

"He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies." That's what we see all around us.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:49 PM

December 18, 2008

Well, Wright's a prophet, doncha know...

Mary Katharine Ham, Liberal Logic: Wright vs. Warren

Let me get this straight:

A 20-year association with a radically leftist, anti-American, racist preacher whom Obama referred to as a spiritual adviser meant absolutely nothing about Obama's judgment or philosophy, and illustrated only the bigotry of those who dared criticize it.

A 20-minute association with one of the country's most well-liked, mainstream evangelical preachers who happens to support traditional marriage cannot be countenanced and illustrates only the bigotry of those who would dare allow it.

Got it.
Posted by John Weidner at 4:40 PM

December 7, 2008

Parasites...

Our letter to Amazon.com, regarding their: "Amazon Music's 12 Days of Holiday" promo... (Thanx to Mark Steyn.)

Please tell someone in charge who cares about your customers (if there are any) that we are people who spend a lot of money with you, and we are disgusted and offended by your "twelve days of holiday" promotion.

You probably have some BS line about "Christmas" being offensive to other faiths, but it isn't. It's only offensive to lefty nihilists. To YOU.

If you don't like "Christmas," why don't you have the HONESTY to stop having what are obviously Christmas promotions, from which you make a mint of money! And stop using a Christmas carol for advertising that is unwilling to use the word "Christmas."

John and Charlene Weidner

PS: Have a happy and Holy Christmas.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:06 PM

December 3, 2008

Moral choices are not made in a vacuum...

[Warning: A post that rambles away from the original topic.]

A stupid idea, from Robert Kagan...

....Rather than simply begging the Indians to show restraint, a better option could be to internationalize the response. Have the international community declare that parts of Pakistan have become ungovernable and a menace to international security. Establish an international force to work with the Pakistanis to root out terrorist camps in Kashmir as well as in the tribal areas. This would have the advantage of preventing a direct military confrontation between India and Pakistan...

What's wrong with this idea? The problem is that dealing with the Tribal Areas and the frontier regions as a whole will require fighting. Murderous savage combat. Aggressive fighting by small units, willing to take casualties, and inflict lots of them. [Actually, my guess is that the region will not be pacified by anything less than neutron bombs. Expect trouble for the rest of your lifetime.]

And we have discovered over and over the last few decades that there are no "international forces" that will fight. We have seen it with UN "blue helmet" operations--often gruesomely as the international forces stand by and let genocide happen. We see it right now in Afghanistan, where the "NATO forces" are meaningless as a whole. As always, the Anglosphere nations. Americans and Brits and Australians will fight. The French a little bit, the Germans or Dutch not at all.

The whole idea of "international institutions" is a fraud and a sham, and probably always will be. When significant things are accomplished in the world, it is because people believe in something. And the essence of an "international institution" is that it does not believe in anything. Why? Because it has to be a "lowest-common-denominator" of the belief of the national components. And then you have to reduce that by a factor of ten, because the people who run or promote such institutions are almost always going to be those who like a lack of belief.

It is (sorry to bore those who have already heard this) the draining away of belief in the hearts of the developed nations that is the core problem that has caused the terror war, and caused analogous problems like piracy in the Indian Ocean. Of course we were always destined for lots of ugly violent situations as globalization collided with Third World (especially Islamic) chaos and primitiveness. But a West that still retained belief in is own values would have been slamming down hard on things like terrorism or piracy when they first arose. And doing so would be morally correct. (Because, among other reasons, it is always the locals who suffer most when lawlessness is tolerated!) Those would have been actions similar to those of loving teachers or parents not allowing children to fall into crime or vice. It would be tough-love. The same thing works in analogous ways at every level. For instance, it is morally wrong for a city to let a race-riot develop, when killing a few rioters at the beginning would prevent it. Even if the rioters have legitimate grievances.

Focus for a moment on the magistrate who has to make the moral choice that a race-riot must be stopped at its first moment, even if deadly force is needed, and even if some innocent people may die. That's a very tough choice. It takes moral fiber. If he lacks it, then the result may be weeks of violence and killing, and the destruction of whole communities. Entire neighborhoods burnt down, and schools, homes, small businesses and churches gutted. We have seen this...

And the official doesn't make his choice in a vacuum. He feels the support--or lack of it--of the community and the culture. Unless he (or she) is very strong, support is needed. If only for the knowledge that he won't be hung out to dry for making a tough call! And therefore, brothers and sisters, it is WE who are really making that decision. It is OUR moral strength that is called into question. And we exert that strength mostly through a thousand smaller moral decisions. We communicate to our surroundings our integrity, and unconsciously we influence others, at their moments of moral choice.

And the ladders of influence go from the lowest rungs to the highest, and back down. The local magistrate who makes the hard choice to stop a riot instantly, before he knows how bad it will turn out to be, sends a message to national leaders who may have to chose to violently stop piracy before they know how big the problem is destined to grow.

I remember in my youth the first airplane hijacking, or at least the first one to grab the world's attention. And the reaction of officialdom was, "Give the hijacker what he wants, to save lives." We see now that that was a catastrophic decision, one that has caused thousands of deaths, and vast loss of treasure, and led directly to 9/11. And yet in a sense that decision was based on many previous bad decisions-- for instance deciding to give in to the demands of criminals who took hostages.

Sheer prudence and logic should have told us long ago that a policy of reacting to any hostage situation by instant deadly force would save many many lives in the long run. But prudence and logic are never enough. Not when the bank-robber is holding a gun to a child's head. Logic cannot generate moral law, and engrave it on our hearts. Moral law only can come from God, or from other sources of authority [Read this.]. Countless attempts to provide alternative man-made "liberal" sources of morality have all failed. And we see the results all around us.

Based on observation of the state of religious faith around us, I feel confident in predicting that these quasi-wars that afflict our planet will continue, and probably grow. Expect Mumbai.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:08 AM

November 27, 2008

For many seasons, many years...

FIFTH DAY

11. THANKSGIVING.

0 Lord, my Lord,
for my being, life, reason,
for nurture, protection, guidance,
for education, civil rights, religion,
for Thy gifts of grace, nature, fortune,
for redemption, regeneration, instruction,
for my call, recall, yea, many calls besides;
for Thy forbearance, longsuffering,
long longsuffering
toward me,
many seasons, many years;
for all good things received, successes granted me,
good things done;
for the use of things present,
for Thy promise, and my hope
of the enjoyment of good things to come ;
for my parents honest and good,
teachers kind,
benefactors never to be forgotten,
fellow-ministers who are of one mind,
hearers thoughtful,
friends sincere,
domestics faithful;
for all who have advantaged me
by writings, sermons, converse,
prayers, examples, rebukes, injuries;
for all these, and all others
which I know, which I know not,
open, hidden,
remembered, forgotten,
done when I wished, when I wished not,
I confess to Thee and will confess,
I biess Thee and will bless,
I give thanks to Thee, and will give thanks,
all the days of my life.
Who am I, or what is my father's house,
that Thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog
as I am?
What shall I render unto the Lord
for all His benefits toward me?
for all things in which He hath spared
and borne with me until now?
Holy, holy, holy,
Thou art worthy,
O Lord and our God, the Holy One,
to receive glory, honour, and power:
for Thou hast created all things,
and for Thy pleasure they are
and were created.

From The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes, ca. 1600.
(Andrewes was one of the men who
created the King James translation of the Bible.)


Posted by John Weidner at 8:11 AM

November 23, 2008

Try to believe that 2 + 2 = 5...

From chapter five of Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua...

...People say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is difficult to believe; I did not believe the doctrine till I was a Catholic. I had no difficulty in believing it as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation. It is difficult, impossible to imagine, I grant--but how is it difficult to believe?......

Newman is getting at an important point. (Just in case anybody out there in "the audient void" is repelled from faith because various things are "hard to believe.")

In general, Christian doctrines are not hard to believe, they are hard to imagine.

If someone told you that 2 + 2 = 5, now that's hard to believe!

On the other hand, that a god created the universe is unimaginable (ie: You cannot imagine what the event might have been like), but at least as believable as any scientific explanation I've encountered.

(Scientific explanations such as this: "The creation of the universe itself involved information processing: random fluctuations in the quantum foam, like a random number generator in a computer program, produced higher-density areas, then matter, stars, galaxies and life...").

Likewise, once you believe in a creator god, it's not unbelievable that he might be interested in us, if only on the analogy that we can be very interested in microbes and insects.

Likewise, if there is a god who created the universe, he presumably is outside the realm of this physical universe which we apprehend by our senses. Therefore it's believable that there are realms where god and other beings can exist that our five senses cannot perceive. Ie: the Supernatural.

You can apply this down the line, and find that it works...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:55 AM

November 16, 2008

False step....

John Henry Newman, on "religious liberalism." (He was not writing about political liberalism, but it is easy to descry the analogous false step that underlies leftist politics)...[link]

....Whenever men are able to act at all, there is the chance of extreme and intemperate action; and therefore, when there is exercise of mind, there is the chance of wayward or mistaken exercise. Liberty of thought is in itself a good; but it gives an opening to false liberty. Now by Liberalism I mean false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought upon matters, in which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place. Among such matters are first principles of whatever kind; and of these the most sacred and momentous are especially to be reckoned the truths of Revelation.

Liberalism then is the mistake of subjecting to human judgment those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception simply on the external authority of the Divine Word....
This is from the notes to his Apologia pro Vita Sua. Newman's Apologia is a classic. The Latin title means "defense of one's life." It is the sort of book that you would guess would be a very dull dry book indeed, since it is purely a history of Newman's religious thought during the first half of his life, and rigorously excludes all the action and personalities of his very active life. But the book is oddly compelling and readable. Recommended for all serious people, if there are any left.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:14 PM

"Everything is of consequence..."

From Letters to a Young Catholic, by George Weigel

....And here's the second proposition to ponder: for all the sentimentality that occasionally clings to Catholic piety, there is nothing sentimental about Catholicism. "There is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism," Flannery O'Connor wrote, because Christianity stands or falls with the Incarnation � God's entry into history through Jesus of Nazareth, who is both the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the son of Mary, a young Jewish girl living on the outer fringes of the Roman Empire.

History and humanity are the vehicles by which God reveals himself to the world he created. History is the arena and humanity is the vessel, through which God redeems the world. History and humanity count, and count ultimately: not because of our pride but because of God's merciful love, the unsentimental but cleansing love of the father who welcomes the prodigal son hame, knowing full well that the prodigal has made a thoroughgoing mess of his life by his selfishness, his "autonomy," his conviction that nothing, including himself, really counts.

"If you live today you breathe in nihilism...it's the gas you breathe," wrote Flannery O'Connor; "If I hadn't had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now." So, I expect, would I. So, perhaps, would you. So here's one more way to think about Catholicism and its distinctive optic on the world and on us: Catholicism is an antidote to nihilism. And by "nihilism," I mean, not the sour, dark, often violent nihilism of Nietzsche and Sartre, but what my friend, the late Father Ernest Fortin (who borrowed the term from his friend Alan Bloom) used to call "debonair nihilism": the nihilism that enjoys itself on the way to oblivion, convinced that all of this�the world, us, relationships, sex, beauty, history�is really just a cosmic joke. Against the nihilist claim that nothing is of consequence, Catholicism insists that everything is of consequence, because everything has been redeemed by Christ....

Posted by John Weidner at 5:09 AM

October 26, 2008

"Almost the opposite of abstraction"

From Saint Thomas Aquinas, by GK Chesterton....

...First, it must be remembered that the Greek influence continued to flow from the Greek Empire; or at least from the centre of the Roman Empire which was in the Greek city of Byzantium, and no longer in Rome. That influence was Byzantine in every good and bad sense; like Byzantine art, it was severe and mathematical and a little terrible; like Byzantine etiquette, it was Oriental and faintly decadent. We owe to the learning of Mr. Christopher Dawson much enlightenment upon the way in which Byzantium slowly stiffened into a sort of Asiatic theocracy, more like that which served the Sacred Emperor in China. But even the unlearned can see the difference, in the way in which Eastern Christianity flattened everything, as it flattened the faces of the images into icons. It became a thing of patterns rather than pictures; and it made definite and destructive war upon statues.

Thus we see, strangely enough, that the East was the land of the Cross and the West was the land of the Crucifix. The Greeks were being dehumanised by a radiant symbol, while the Goths were being humanised by an instrument of torture. Only the West made realistic pictures of the greatest of all the tales out of the East. Hence the Greek element in Christian theology tended more and more to be a sort of dried up Platonism; a thing of diagrams and abstractions; to the last indeed noble abstractions, but not sufficiently touched by that great thing that is by definition almost the opposite of abstraction: Incarnation. Their Logos was the Word; but not the Word made Flesh. In a thousand very subtle ways, often escaping doctrinal definition, this spirit spread over the world of Christendom from the place where the Sacred Emperor sat under his golden mosaics; and the flat pavement of the Roman Empire was at last a sort of smooth pathway for Mahomet. For Islam was the ultimate fulfilment of the Iconoclasts....
Chesterton's book is very worth reading, by the way. If you want an introduction to Aquinas, you simply cannot do better, as many Aquinas scholars have agreed. It is highly readable and thought-provoking...

Posted by John Weidner at 4:32 PM

October 12, 2008

"In the waste of waters...."

Charlene and I were at a social event yesterday, with a crowd of what might be described as greying long-hairs and hippie-types of our "Baby-Boomer" generation. (And, I hasten to add, as nice a group of folks as you might hope to meet. Pleasant to be around.) But it made me think about various things that are happening around us.

One is that there were no young people among the invitees. I thought of Mark Steyn: "The future belongs to those who show up for it." I also had to contrast this with our situation in our parish (Perhaps atypical, being Dominican.) Charlene and I are dealing with young people all the time. The place is crawling with them. Good-looking, thoughtful, challenging kids. Just talking with them makes us stretch, and they are not shy about teaching us things.

This is especially interesting in our R.C.I.A, which I help out with. (R.C.I.A is Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which is how one becomes a Catholic. See note below.) The help I provide is very minor, but just hanging around is, to me, like hanging around the lab where some world-shaking series of experiments is being run. Utterly fascinating. We have young people and old, all races and backgrounds. And most of them seem, in one way or another, to be groping for a way out of the self-worshipping traps that my generation so conspicuously flooded the world with. [Charlene adds, "They are groping for Truth." Of course, we are the original firm.]

(I hasten to add that I think that the 60's were a sort of "perfect storm" of trends that have been developing for centuries, and that things would have worked out much the same even without the grotesqueries of my youth. I'm not the sort of conservative who blames it all on the 60's!)

Newman, 1877: :...my apprehensions are not new but above 50 years standing. I have all that time thought that a time of widespread infidelity was coming, and through all those years the waters have in fact been rising as a deluge. I look for the time, after my life, when only the tops of the mountains will be seen like islands in the waste of waters...."

Anyway, back to groping for Truth. My first intellectual "mentor" was Peter Drucker. And one of the things he always emphasized was the supreme importance of asking the right questions. Of figuring out what question it is that you are actually asking. Part of what intrigues me about our R.C.I.A. groups are the many people who, though they are by my standards muddled and shockingly ignorant, are groping towards exactly the right question. It fills me with awe. And fear. I think of the old saying, "God watches over drunken sailors and lost children."

Another thing that struck me about the crowd we were in yesterday was that it was pretty much all white. C and I are so used to a multi-racial multi-ethnic milieu that we feel odd and a bit out of place in that sort of monoculture. Yet it's a likely bet that they were all Obama supporters, and if he loses they will be calling Republicans like us racists!

It made me think of yesterday's post...

Shannon Love: ...I think that politics on the Left has become a social process, i.e., a means of group identification and self-validation. Leftists care less about the triumph of ideas and far more about the triumph of a group of people with which they ego-identify. They need their ego-identity candidate to win so that they can feel good about themselves. The character and policies of the actual candidate does not matter...

I suspect that yesterday we were among the original type about whom that was written. I can just imagine the bland assumption that "everyone" is voting for Obama, coupled with bland ignorance of and indifference to the queasy-making things in his actual record. Perhaps I'm wrong---hope so.

To me "searching for Truth" is not something like hiking up in the Himalayas to pose questions to a bearded swami. It's more like the California Gold Rush, which was (in reality, not the cartoon version) a matter of men doing gritty back-breaking endless work, in sun and rain, in pursuit of the tiny elusive flecks of pure gold. And this is particularly a Catholic approach. The Church is always busy writing documents in painstakingly parsed Latin, defining the truths of the faith more completely than before. (Latin is used partly because it is a dead language and so the meaning of words does not change.) The core truths of faith are mysteries---we can't possibly really understand God---that's silly. But we have been given by God some things anyone can understand, and those we Catholics like to bite on, like people used to bite gold coins.

And this gold-panning for truth is something I think we should be doing all the time, because you never know where in daily life gold may appear. That's what really infuriates me about the Obama supporters I know; their utter indifference to the gnarly tactile details of truth-seeking. (I almost wish they were the dedicated socialists some people claim they are---at least they would have a "truth" to be dedicated to.)

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EXPLANATORY NOTE: R.C.I.A., Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, appears externally as a series of once-a-week classes over six months. (Alas, in many parishes insipidly taught. There are only a limited number of Dominicans.) It starts about September, and ends at the Easter Vigil, when you may, if you chose, be Baptized (if you are not already) and Confirmed in the Catholic Church.) But it is really less about gaining knowledge (important as that is) than about conversion. Conversion means, literally, "turning around." Catholics believe in "continuous conversion," not the one-swoop "I'm saved" moment of the Evangelicals.

So R.C.I.A. is the start of the conversion process, which goes on life-long. We Christians are always noticing that we have somehow got going in the wrong direction yet again, oops, and turning ourselves around for the thousandth time. And conversion comes from hearing. Cor ad cor loquitor---"heart speaks to heart." As St Thomas put it: Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, Sed audito solo tuto creditur... Which, poetically translated, is "Taste and touch and feeling, to discern Thee fail, Faith that comes from hearing, pierces through the veil." (Yes, it is not "scientific." We are in a different realm, with different rules. Be adventurous, try something peculiar.)

Posted by John Weidner at 4:25 PM

September 24, 2008

The usual Quaker scam...

By James Kirchick...
....Meanwhile, other religious figures are reaching out to Ahmadinejad. On Thursday, the Iranian president will be the honored guest at an Iftar dinner--the ceremonial breaking of the Ramadan fast--at the New York Grand Hyatt Hotel. That meal is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, Quaker United Nations Office, Religions for Peace, and the World Council of Churches-United Nations Liaison Office (notice the absence of any Jewish organization.) According to the invitation, the assembled guests--including Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Rev. Kjell Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway and President of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights--will hold a "conversation about the role of religions in tackling global challenges and building peaceful societies." The discussion will occur "In the presence of His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

You'd think that with such a high-profile figure addressing such an important topic, the Quaker lobby and its friends would want to share their honored guest's views with the world. But the event is closed to the press. So I called Mark Graham, Director of External Relations for the American Friends Service Committee. He said that "Jewish individuals," but not Jewish organizations, had been invited to Thursday's event, though he wouldn't name any of them for me. As far as the program is concerned, the evening's discussion will consist of a "dialogue around the idea that God has created us all and our common humanity. People are going to speak about the politicial, social,and religious implications that it has for their faith perspectives." This is actually the fourth event that AFSC (which has led interfaith delegations to Iran, though, again, with no Jews participating) has held with Ahmadinejad, and when I asked Graham about Ahmadinejad's thoughts on the Holocaust, he defended the Iranian President, telling me that "he readily says that the Holocaust was an historical event and he feels for the Palestinian people since the creation of Israel." When I asked if AFSC would press the Iranian President about his pursuit of nuclear weapons capability, support for international terrorism and the murder of American soldiers in Iraq, Graham told me that, "What we hope for with this event, like with others, is that we will help to understand each other a bit better. We will have more precedent for open questioning and a two-way dialogue that's open and honest."

There will be a protest of this Quaker Meeting. Details here.

The pacifist position is simple. War is something that America and Israel do. Iran openly racing to build nuclear bombs while openly talking about frying Israel is not war. So, why should any pacifist object?

Actually, it's worse than fake-pacifism. The Quakers and all those other "inter-faith/peace" groups are completely hollowed-out. They have no faith of any kind. All that's left is leftist politics. (And they would be much more respect-worthy if they really believed in those.) You can bet money that these useful idiots will conclude that Ahmadinejad is a mis-understood peace-lover, but Sarah Palin is a threat to the planet.

And you can be sure no Quakers will be holding "candle-light vigils" about this Christian convert under sentence of death in Iran.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:30 AM

September 10, 2008

Interesting guy...

Peter Robinson at NRO is putting up videos of an interview with writer Andrew Klavan. (The latest installment is #3 of 5.)

I recommend them. Very intelligent and thought-provoking. Normally I don't want to see a video, I just want to read stuff. But I'd say Klavan is an exception. It's worth seeing and listening to him "in person," so to speak.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:52 AM

August 5, 2008

Analogy to the Inquisition...

I got another e-mail on the subject of the Inquisition, in response to my post here.

...I'm OK with people calling some beliefs heresy, but killing people for it just feels over the line, especially for someone saying they are fully authorized agent of Jesus. If that's what being a Catholic is, that's a deal breaker for me. Is it still OK to kill heretics?...

No. Absolutely not. And to a considerable extant it never was. I don't think this was ever a part of Catholic dogma or doctrine.

What you have to realize is that until recently religions were the "political" groups. And a person who secretly believed something different from the state religion was often a political danger. Someone who would fight in a rebellion, or assassinate the monarch. If you read a bit about the Wars of Religion, you will see a lot this. There was back then no concept of a "loyal opposition." (In the religious sphere that's actually something that developed in the 17th and 18th Centuries out of the bloodbath of the Thirty Years War.)

And many accounts of the Inquisitions don't give you that context. They leave you to imagine that a bunch of cruel Dominicans were simply imposing their religion on peaceful folk, when in fact the real movers were usually governments worried (often with good reason) about fifth-columnists.

There is something of an analogy in what the Communists in the earlier 20th Century were to us. A Communist back then was NOT just someone with a different philosophy, he was often a secret agent for Lenin or Stalin. For the Comintern. If an American "converted" to Communism, there was a good likelihood that he would no longer be loyal to our country, and might work actively to subvert it. A splendid book to read, to understand the period, is Witness, by Whittaker Chambers.

This justified measures that were not normally acceptable in American tradition. It has never been right in America to blacklist or harass people because of their political beliefs. The "McCarthy Era" is often portrayed by liars as if it were just that, but in fact it was about hunting down people who were secret agents of a totalitarian conspiracy. One that was responsible for at least 100 million deaths in the 20th Century. Of course many of those who were harassed were not working for the Soviet Union, and had no real desire for the triumph of tyranny.

Innocent people were persecuted. BUT, the responsibility for this rests entirely on those traitors who concealed themselves among those who were, as you might say, "loyal communists." If someone was dragged in to testify before HUAC, and maybe had their career ruined, they usually are portrayed by liberal historians as people who were crushed by America, by cruel red-baiters, etc.

Bullshit. The responsibility rests with those who were hiding among them, using them as cover for their attempts to destroy our country. The most famous of these of course was Alger Hiss. And due to the fall of the Soviet Union we now have access to archives that show that Hiss was in fact a Soviet spy. But for 50 years he was pictured by cynical leftists as an "innocent victim" of men like Chambers and Richard Nixon. In fact the opposite was true. Hiss was guilty as hell, and was working hard to give us our own American Gulag Archipelago. And Chambers and Nixon were true American heroes, fighting ugly subversion with necessary roughness.

The "McCarthy Era" is usually portrayed as a period of madness, and analogized to the Salem witch trials. (Or the Inquisition!) The difference is that in the 20th Century there really were witches, and if they had achieved their ends people like you and me might be routinely rounded up at gunpoint and sent on that long march to nowhere....

Posted by John Weidner at 12:31 PM

August 3, 2008

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition"

A reader wrote to me, concerning yesterday's post:

....This quote mentions, "the medieval Albigensians and Cathari" and says, "Gnosticism can't handle the Incarnation". Since the Inquisition killed and tortured them and burned their books, it's my understanding we only know what they thought and practiced through what the Inquisitors said about them.

I'm not a Catholic (or a virulent anticlerical). To me, the Inquisition seems evil and an enormous contamination of the Christian teachings and I've never seen that explained away successfully. Maybe in a future post you might touch on that a little. Maybe I've got the facts wrong, or maybe there's some positive take on it I've missed...

Neither the Cathari nor the Inquisitions are things I have deep knowlege about. But hey, that never stopped me yet...so, a few thoughts...

I've learned some things about the inquisitions just from dabbling in history. (There were various inquisitions; they were local institutions, not an arm of the Church as a whole.) I think it is pretty safe to say that they were not nearly as bad as the grim legends make them out to be. They have mostly been portrayed by Protestants or by "Enlightenment" historians who had a big big ax to grind against the Church. (Rather like Leftists today have an ax to grind against the USA, and turned the fairly minor abuse of abu Ghraib into the worst thing ever, while ignoring real torture happening all around the world.) The savage torturing and murdering of Catholics by the Tudors and Stuarts gets little mention in history books, while everybody has shivered with horror about those dreadful dungeons of the Inquisition.

The methods and ethics of the inquisitors were the same as were used in all judicial processes of their time. It's not like the civil courts back then were any less oppressive. Probably just the opposite. I have read that the Spanish Inquisition was in fact quite scrupulous and just by the standards of its age. And that over several centuries of operation it only killed about 3,000 people--that's not exactly mass slaughter. Also, anyone convicted of a first offense could recant and go free. (But if you were caught in heresy again you were toast.) That's rather better than what you could expect from the average medieval king and his justices.

And it was done for what they considered a very good reason---heresy could lead people to eternal damnation, and could spread rapidly if not stopped. Torquemada would have said that it is WE who are cruel and unjust in allowing people to imperil their souls with false doctrine! I don't agree with the usefulness of his tactics, but the logic is perfectly correct. If I could save your soul from the fires of Hell by a bit of brutality, then I as a Christian would be obligated to do so! As it happens the Church teaches that this won't work, so I can focus my energies elsewhere, like torturing people with blogposts.

My wife Charlene is currently reading a book about the Cathars, The Perfect Heresy. She says we actually know quite a lot about them, because the inquisitors kept careful records, including transcripts of testimony. We don't, however, know for sure where Catharism came from. There was a very interesting book a few years ago, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, which revealed a extraordinary amount of detail about everyday life in a medieval French village---because the whole village had been hauled in and interrogated about their religious practices, and the bulky transcript then sat in the Vatican for 600 years until a historian mined it.

The Perfect Heresy looks like an informative book, though marred, to my casual perusal, by the assumption of the author that orthodox Christian faith is something people did back in the Middle Ages, and which no modern person would take seriously....

"Albigensian" (from the city of Albi) and "Cathars" were names invented by their enemies, by the way. They called themselves "good Christians."

   

Posted by John Weidner at 10:33 PM

July 15, 2008

"The power of hope and the limits of fear"

Mike Plaiss sent me a link to this Tony Snow quote in the WSJ...

Tony Snow in The Jewish World Review, 2005:

The art of being sick is not the same as the art of getting well. Some cancer patients recover; some don't. But the ordeal of facing your mortality and feeling your frailty sharpens your perspective about life. You appreciate little things more ferociously. You grasp the mystical power of love. You feel the gravitational pull of faith. And you realize you have received a unique gift – a field of vision others don't have about the power of hope and the limits of fear; a firm set of convictions about what really matters and what does not. You also feel obliged to share these insights – the most important of which is this: There are things far worse than illness – for instance, soullessness.
Posted by John Weidner at 10:27 AM

July 6, 2008

Jerusalem 2

Last Sunday we stood on the Mount of Olives, looking over the Old City of Jerusalem. I pointed out the narrow road on the right side of the picture. Walk down the road—it's quite steep—and you come to the Garden of Gethsemane. It may not have looked much different in the time of Jesus. Olive groves can be pleasant places, and rather garden-like even without any improvements.

Path in the Garden of Gethsemane
It would be a good place to slip away to at night to pray, as Jesus did. To pray in his agony, knowing he would soon die a terrible death. And it was here he was arrested. The place which tradition says was the actual spot is now covered by a church, The Church Of All Nations, or Basilica of the Agony, about a hundred feet from here. (We are just north of the road, the basilica is on the other side.)

And here is our dear friend Father Francis Goode, about to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass right in the garden. Let me tell you that was an amazing moment! We are there early, and all is quiet and peaceful.
Fr Francis, Mass, Garden of Gethsemane
Behind him you see one of the gates of Jerusalem, the Golden Gate. But observe, it is walled up. You can't go in! Legend says it will open only on the Judgement Day. Jesus and his followers might have stood at this very spot and seen the morning sun strike the golden ornaments of the Temple. Just a few days before his death Jesus did a shocking thing, turning over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. I follow N.T. Wright's explanation that this was a brief symbolic act such as Hebrew prophets were wont to do. But also a kingly act, because it was kings who built the Temples (this was the second Temple, and you could also call it the third since it had been greatly rebuilt and expanded by King Herod the Great) and kings who cleansed the Temple. It was an announcement, which he had avoided before, that he was the Messiah, the coming king who would restore all things, liberate the Children of Israel, and usher in the Kingdom of God. He would have been well aware that the powers would have to destroy him after that. And in submitting to death, he made the Perfect Sacrifice as our Great High Priest.

We believe that Christ has three aspects, Priest, Prophet and King. These are seen, among other ways, in the Mass, when our priest, acting in persona Christi, sits in a chair as King, stands in the pulpit as Prophet, and stands at the altar as Priest. Those whose minds are dimmed by Protestantism and Nominalism will no doubt refer to these as "figures of speech," or metaphors. No, sorry, they are real, as real this chair I'm sitting in. You can say they are metaphors that have come to life. They do that, wherever the Kingdom breaks in upon our world. And if you see it, if you are bowled over one day, as I was, to see metaphors become real things (sort of like waking up in a fairy tale and hearing trees and animals talk) well then you cease at that moment to be a Protestant....

If you are the rare sort who wants to understand these things by delving into history, I give my highest recommendation to N.T. Wright's three books that comprise his Christian Origins and the Question of God.

       

Posted by John Weidner at 5:04 AM

June 29, 2008

Jerusalem

I haven't blogged yet about our trip to the Holy Land. Really, I'm not a good enough writer to express what feel. And what I feel will tend to be regarded as crazy by most people, since I believe that there is, all around us, much that is real without being in any way observable by natural or scientific means. I am very much not a Nominalist, and Nominalism is the factory-default setting for people in our culture. (In fact I'm coming to suspect that the common thread in all the things that creep me out, and that I blog against, such as Communism, Postmodernism, Nihilism, Deconstructionism, "Progressivism" and the like is....Nominalism. Here's a summary on that subject)

And the unseen realities are not off in some woo woo "spiritual realm;" they interpenetrate our world at every point. The eyes of Faith can, to some extent perceive them. And yes of course I'm aware that such subtleties can be just self-deception, just products of the imagination. BUT, but, going up to Jerusalem...It's like having pondered hints of the unseen that are sort of like faded postcards of Yosemite...and then actually going to Yosemite. Words are useless. The reality is awesome....

Anyway, I just blog for the fun of it, so it doesn't matter what I write. Pass by, or pay attention. SO, attendez! (And thank you Mary Anderberg for prodding me.) In the picture below you are standing on the Mount of Olives. You are looking west. In the foreground is the Jewish cemetery. (The world's most expensive, by the way. You could easily pay a million bucks to rest your bones there.) It's hard to realize it in the picture, but the hillside is steep, especially past those spiky junipers. You can walk down that walled road on your right and you will go down to the Garden of Gethsemane hidden below the brow of the hill.

Mount of Olives, looking west over Kidron

The Valley is the Kidron Valley. Above the spiky trees you can see its other slope. There are the remains of old terraces of olive trees, then a road, then the Moslem Cemetery, and then, the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Which on this side are where they have been for more than 2,000 years. (They've been rebuilt a few times, but in the same place.) Behind the wall you see a lot of greenery. That is the Temple Mount. It is a broad plateau built up over what was once a hill by the construction of vast retaining walls, the largest of them built by Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C. Before AD 70 the plateau was covered by the Temple Complex, and, where that gold dome is, The Temple of Jerusalem. The gold dome is on the Dome of the Rock, a Moslem shrine (Not a mosque.)

When you look at that dome you are looking at the center of the world. Not the scientific center, but the real center. That's the very hill where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. The very place where King David planned, and Solomon built the first Temple...

Or, more accurately, you are looking at what used to be the center. 2,000 years ago the center was moved. Look to the left and a little above the dome. You will see a small grey shape, below the tallest building on the horizon. That's the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (It's not really small—just distant.) That's the place where Jesus of Nazareth was killed, buried, and rose again to life.

In Roman days it was a knob of rock just outside the city walls, with quarries, and also with the rock-cut tombs used by those who could afford them. A good conspicuous place for making an example of those who don't appreciate the benefits of big government....

Now I had none of this geography clear in my head when I went to Jerusalem. Perhaps I dozed off in Sunday school, but I had never got the hang of how things fit together. Saliba, our splendid guide, would always get us going early in the mornings to miss the crowds. So we wandered onto the Temple Mount when almost no one else was there. That in itself was a moment of a lifetime. But then we walked to the Dome of the Rock, and Saliba pointed out that you could draw a straight line between the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden of Gethsemane, and it would pass exactly though the Temple. You can see it. That just made my hair want to stand on end.

If I maintain my energy perhaps next Sunday I'll walk you downhill, down the walled road that's on the right side of the photo...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:52 AM

June 5, 2008

"The libertarian dream turns into the totalitarian nightmare..."

In one sense, much of my blogging is just wasted electrons, since I'm often arguing against liberalism, which is incapable of arguing back. Or even thinking clearly. I've never once, since 11/2001, been given a real argument by a leftist. The poltroons carp and sneer, but don't dare think, or express their philosophy clearly

But I have often been counter-punched by my libertarian readers. Actually been forced to think to defend my hasty posts. Thank you, friends!

And in that spirit, this is a criticism of libertarian thinking that puts clearly things I've sort of groped towards...

R.R. Reno, in First Things, writing about the book Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage, by Douglas Farrow...

...In other words, in the old system, the state presumed the existence of a substantive, natural reality that required legal adumbration: the union of a man and a woman, and the children resulting from their sexual relations. Now the Canadian government sees that it must intervene and redefine marriage and parenthood in order to give fixed legal standing to otherwise fluid and uncertain social relations. When the gay friend donates his sperm to the surrogate mother hired by a lesbian couple, the resulting “family” is a purely legal construct, one that requires the power of state to enforce contracts and attach children to adoptive parents.

The result is the opposite of the libertarian dream of freedom. As Farrow observes, with gay marriage we are giving over the family to the state to define according to the needs of the moment. The upshot, he worries, will be a dangerous increase in the power of the state to define our lives in other realms once thought sacrosanct. “Remove religiously motivated restrictions on marriage,” he writes, “and it is much easier to remove religiously motivated restrictions on human behavior in general, and on the state’s power to order human society as it sees fit.” The libertarian dream turns into the totalitarian nightmare. Who can or cannot be a spouse? That’s for the state to decide. To whom do children belong? It’s up to the state to assign parents as its social workers and judges think best...

One of the big "projects" of Enlightenment thinking was (and is) to try to construct morality without religion. "Morality without dogma." As far as I know, it's never worked, never happened. What really happens is that secularists retain a lot of Jewish and Christian morality, and fool themselves into thinking that that's what people can come up with as a matter of course, using reason, without needing religion.

Same with libertarianism, which is an off-shoot of this project. The libertarian assumes that people, if they are free to choose, will choose the good. But in fact each generation of libertarians re-defines "the good" down to whatever reduced level of morality prevails at that moment. A libertarian of fifty years ago would have said that people, if free to choose, will—most of them—form stable marriages of a man and a woman, and raise several children, and act wisely in a variety of similar ways, without those hectoring preachers and restrictive laws. And indeed they did, back then.

Libertarians now probably say that we shouldn't worry; if people are free to choose they will, most of them, marry other human beings. Or at least form caring relationships that can be expected to last for a period of several years.

And I'll bet that fifty years from now, libertarians will be scoffing at those stick-in-the-mud theists with their fear-mongering about the rise of cannibalism-as-entertainment. "Just let the market-place work, and people will choose the good. Most of them, anyway."

Posted by John Weidner at 7:34 AM

April 6, 2008

The old Manichean error

A bit of Michael Heller, quoted at First Things:

....And what about chancy or random events? Do they destroy mathematical harmony of the universe, and introduce into it elements of chaos and disorder? Is chance a rival force of God’s creative Mind, a sort of Manichean principle fighting against goals of creation? But what is chance? It is an event of low probability which happens in spite of the fact that it is of low probability. If one wants to determine whether an event is of low or high probability, one must use the calculus of probability, and the calculus of probability is a mathematical theory as good as any other mathematical theory. Chance and random processes are elements of the mathematical blueprint of the universe in the same way as other aspects of the world architecture.

Mathematical structures that are parts of the composition determining the functioning of the universe are called laws of physics. It is a very subtle composition indeed. Like in any masterly symphony, elements of chance and necessity are interwoven with each other and together span the structure of the whole. Elements of necessity determine the pattern of possibilities and dynamical paths of becoming, but they leave enough room for chancy events to make this becoming rich and individual.

Adherents of the so-called intelligent design ideology commit a grave theological error. They claim that scientific theories that ascribe a great role to chance and random events in the evolutionary processes should be replaced, or supplemented, by theories acknowledging the thread of intelligent design in the universe. Such views are theologically erroneous. They implicitly revive the old Manichean error postulating the existence of two forces acting against each other: God and an inert matter; in this case, chance and intelligent design. There is no opposition here. Within the all-comprising Mind of God, what we call chance and random events is well composed into the symphony of creation....

-- Michael (Michał) Heller is a Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest. These remarks were made at the news conference announcing his reception of the 2008 Templeton Prize.

PS: I just saw this, posted by JB Watson:

Any deity worthy of a graven image can cobble up a working universe complete with fake fossils in under a week… But to start with a big ball of elementary particles and end up with the duckbill platypus without constant twiddling requires a degree of subtlety and the ability to Think Things Through: exactly the qualities I’m looking for when I’m shopping for a Supreme Being.
-- a Usenet poster
Posted by John Weidner at 5:10 AM

March 31, 2008

"Stultifying spiritual emptiness"

Spengler's latest offers us a clear view of what may really be going on with the Pope's baptism of Magdi Allam.

...Magdi Allam presents an existential threat to Muslim life, whereas other prominent dissidents, for example Ayaan Hirsi Ali, offer only an annoyance. Much as I admire Hirsi Ali, she will persuade few Muslims to reconsider their religion. She came to the world's attention in 2004 after a Muslim terrorist murdered Theo van Gogh, with whom she had produced a brief film protesting the treatment of women under Islam. As an outspoken critic of Islam, Hirsi Ali has lived under constant threat, and I have deplored the failure of Western governments to accord her adequate protection.

Yet the spiritual emptiness of a libertine and cynic like Theo van Gogh can only repel Muslims. Muslims suffer from a stultifying spiritual emptiness, depicted most poignantly by the Syrian Arab poet Adonis (see Are the Arabs already extinct?, Asia Times Online, May 8, 2007). Muslim traditional society cannot withstand the depredations of globalized culture, and radical Islam arises from a despairing nostalgia for the disappearing past. Why would Muslims trade the spiritual vacuum of Islam for the spiritual sewer of Dutch hedonism? The souls of Muslims are in agony. The blandishments of the decadent West offer them nothing but shame and deracination. Magdi Allam agrees with his former co-religionists in repudiating the degraded culture of the modern West, and offers them something quite different: a religion founded upon love....

It's worth reading...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:24 PM

March 26, 2008

"Don't be foolhardy"

Gerald Augustinus posted some comments from the National Catholic Reporter on the Pope's recent baptism of a prominent Muslim who has converted to Christianity...

They make, for me, painful reading. If you want to know WHY we are in a Global War on Terror, this one comment is worth thinking about:

This does seem to be a very dangerous political game for the Vatican to be playing. It is like poking a stick in their cave. It seems rather foolhardy.

Western Civilization is, more than anything else, Christian Civilization. And there is no moment and no place that is closer to the heart of Western Civilization than St Peter's at Easter. And there is no human being who has better right to claim to be the leader of our civilization, than Benedict XVI. (Think not? Name another.)

And there is nothing closer to the heart of all that is Christian, than the Sacrament of Baptism, especially baptism of an adult catechumen, one who may be risking martyrdom for the Faith.

There could not possibly be a better moment to stand bravely�defiantly�up for what we of the West believe in than this one. Stand up even at the risk of death and war. Ruat caelum fiat iusticia. Even an honest atheist should see that flinching away at this moment would be a grave error.

But what is the reaction of today's "Christian?" "Don't poke a stick in their cave."

Imagine the early Christians saying, "Best not poke a stick in Caesar's cave." Imagine the countless Christian martyrs saying: "Don't be foolhardy. Don't poke a stick at Mao/Hitler/Henry VIII/Emperor of China/Emperor of Japan."

Imagine Martin Luther saying, "Here I stand. Er, umm, on second thought, maybe not. It would be foolhardy to poke a stick in the Pope's eye."

Imagine the heroes of Lepanto and Vienna and The Siege of Malta saying, "Let's not poke a stick in the Sultan's eye. Better to be a live coward than a dead hero."

And the kind of thinking expressed in the comment is not only profoundly non-Christian, it is precisely the thinking that has resulted in WAR.

The War on Terror is not an affair of one nation trying to conquer another. It is a matter of violent crazy criminals growing bolder and bolder over the course of many decades, while the West has repeatedly flinched. Think of a violent gang in your town. And think of the authorities saying, "It's dangerous to poke a stick in their cave. Better to just leave them alone."

If any lefty Christians are reading this, THINK! You are the warmongers.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:01 AM

March 15, 2008

Turning over a rotting log...

OBAMA'S JEREMIAD. By Investor's Business Daily:

Election 2008: Imagine the uproar if John McCain's pastor used the "N"-word and asked God to "damn" blacks. Yet Barack Obama's pastor condemns whites, and liberal pundits bite their lip.

This newspaper was the first to draw attention to Obama's hate-mongering preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, and his black segregationist church in Chicago. Our January 2007 editorial, "Obama's Real Faith," exposed their preaching of a militantly anti-white and socialist doctrine called the "Black Value System," triggering a major story in the Chicago Tribune, which led to other stories.

Now comes the leaking of recently videotaped sermons by Wright angrily condemning whites as racists and America as evil. If you close your eyes, you'd swear you were listening to the hateful rantings of uber-bigot Louis Farrakhan. Like the Nation of Islam minister, Wright feeds his 8,500-member flock, including Obama and his family, legends about whites keeping blacks down by getting them hooked on crack and then locking them up. He even claims whites invented AIDS to destroy blacks.

Obama is not immune to such myths. Until recently, when he was informed it wasn't true, he repeated a favorite Wright line that "we've got more black men in prison than there are in college."

"The government gives (black men) drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," Wright thundered in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

Locked in a Jim Crow time warp, he claims America — which he affectionately calls "the US-KKK-A" — is "controlled by and run by rich white people." Never mind that institutionalized racism is a distant memory. Or that the most popular candidate in the country right now, according to some polls, is his top acolyte.

In 2006, Wright said from the pulpit: "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God. And. And-and! God! Has got! To be sick! Of this sh*t!"....

If Mr Obama has been sitting in the pew for twenty years listening to this foul lying stuff, he not only does not deserve to be President, he does not deserve to be welcomed into the company of decent people. And if Democrats are not anti-American racists, they will repudiate him. Ha ha...I won't hold my breath on that one.

Of course in one sense he wasn't sitting in a pew, since this is not religion. It's politics. Mr Wright's church has been "hollowed-out," its faith replaced by politics, just as much as the many mushy white churches that have replaced salvation through the Lord Jesus with "peace 'n justice 'n the UN Millennium Goals."

And of course this is a perfect example of how the news-media hurts Democrats by trying to help them. Maybe, just maybe, certain Democrat Primary voters would have wanted to know this stuff. Hmmm? D'you think? Too late now, suckers. Maybe you Dems should think about telling the press to just report the damn news honestly, instead of trying to mold the country with their superior elite wisdom.

"When mystery no longer counts for anything, then politics necessarily becomes the religion"
      --Pope Benedict XVI, Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions, p. 126

Posted by John Weidner at 8:35 AM

March 11, 2008

Information post—R.C.I.A.

[Note: This post is NOT aimed at my usual readers. I'm just dropping it into the Interweb as information for people around here who might be Googling the subject. Blogs are useful that way; they get high Google rankings because they change frequently. Or so I've heard.]

[Some search-terms: R.C.I.A. San Francisco, RCIA San Francisco, RCIA Program San Francisco, RCIA Program Bay Area, RCIA Program St Dominic's.]

R.C.I.A. stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. This is how you become a Roman Catholic, whether you are coming from another Christian tradition, or are not a Christian at all. It's also for Catholics who have never been confirmed, or who just wish to learn more. The program includes a weekly class, from September to the following Easter, when candidates join the Church. Attending the program doesn't commit you to anything--you can come and explore and see how you like it. You won't be put on the spot.

And our program at St Dominic's is simply the best. I kind of follow these things on the Web, and I've never heard of any RCIA half as good. Father Xavier, our pastor, and Scott Moyer, our Director of Adult Faith Formation, will give you more information and ideas than you can possibly absorb. You will learn what the Church is, and WHY. You will learn about Sacraments, moral reasoning, history, saints, prayers, and rites. You will find out what God is up to. You won't be bored!

I'm currently on my second time around. I entered the Church on Easter of 2007, and now I'm back in the program as a humble helper. And I don't feel like I've learned the half of it!

(We also have a very fine Landings Program. That's for Catholics who have drifted away from the Church, and wish to return. My wife Charlene helps out with that program.)

Contact Scott Moyer for info (scott@stdominics.org 415 674-0422) or feel free to e-mail me, John Weidner: weidners@pacbell.net.

Posted by John Weidner at 4:20 PM

March 9, 2008

Pull of gravity...

This article from the WaPo about evangelical churches adopting traditional Catholic practices such as Lent, confession, ashes on Ash Wednesday... well, it made me smile. We Catholics know what's happening (don't tell anybody).

Chesterton put it rightly long ago:

...It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair..
-- GK Chesterton

[Thanks to Gerald]

Posted by John Weidner at 7:44 PM

March 4, 2008

Tough-love...

AOG writes:

Gateway Pundit has an article about various Islamic radicals threatening and / or encouraging the assassination of Prince Harry. What struck me as odd is that these radicals live in the UK. I am a fervent supporter of free speech, but even I think that kind of direct, personal, encouragement of political killing is over the line. As far as I know, saying something like that here about a member of the President’s family would result in an arrest and hopefully prosecution.

In my opinion, the proper course of action is internment, not prosecution. These things are not really within the scope of criminal law. This is a very different matter from, say, those leftists who have "suggested" that Bush ought to be assassinated. We are at war with Islamic radical terrorists, and these British radicals are, at the very least, giving them encouragement.

We are at war, and it is not our fault that our enemies are violating the laws of war. Our situation now is analogous to that which Lincoln faced. The uniformed armies of the Confederacy were, of course, fought openly and honorably. But, there were also large numbers of Confederate sympathizers scattered among the northern population, among whom were spies and saboteurs, and all sorts of ankle-biters and foot-draggers.

The situation required that Lincoln that Lincoln win the war. That was his Christian and American duty. And therefore it required that he use irregular methods against those who opposed us by irregular means. And for that reason he tapped telegraph lines repeatedly (no warrants), suspended Habeas Corpus, and had Lafayette Baker and the 1st DC Cavalry out kidnapping people and disappearing them into Old Capitol Prison. (Known locally as "Baker's Bastille.") And, yes, squeezing information out of them by methods you would not prefer over waterboarding. (Baker was, alas, far less clever than he thought he was, and the assassins who killed Lincoln gathered right under his nose.)

Our schoolchildren are subject, at least in California, to relentless propaganda about how wrong the US was to intern Japanese-Americans during WWII. This is a product of America-hating leftists. In hindsight it looks like Roosevelt was wrong—in practice—to intern them, BUT in principle he was absolutely correct. If he honestly feared that there were significant numbers of saboteurs among the Japanese-American population, who could not be easily identified, it would have been morally wrong not to intern that group. Roosevelt's duty—his Christian duty—was to win the war, and if the methods needed were irregular and brutal, then it was his duty to use them.

If the Western nations interned Islamic radicals who were inciting violence, the moral opprobrium would rest on the terror groups who use these people. Not on those doing the interning. There are laws and moral norms for waging war. Leftists tend to use these (and things like "International Law" and "Just War Theory") as if they only apply to America and her allies. Doing so is utterly dishonest and despicable. If the Islamic radicals mentioned above have gone so far as to actually encourage someone to assassinate Prince Harry, they are waging war. And committing a war crime. They could, with perfect legality, be stood up against a wall and shot. And that would arguably the morally correct thing to do, though in practice we would more likely give them a long comfortable vacation somewhere.

Our fake-pacifists often argue from Christian morality, saying in effect that we should "turn the other cheek" to terrorists or genocidal tyrants. This is false reasoning. Why? Because they are turning someone else's cheek! They don't suffer. They condemn some poor devil in the Third World to suffer, and then jump in the Prius and go home to a gourmet dinner and a safe (Thanks to our armed forces) night's sleep.

The analog, on the level of nations, to "turning the other cheek," is to flatten your enemy utterly, so he does not think of starting another war. And THEN to extend the hand of friendship, and give him aid and encouragement, and help him onto a better path. That's what we did after WWII. That's what Lincoln wanted to do after the Civil War.

And if any of you "pacifists" out there don't like what I write, don't sneer and carp, like scrubs. Make a case. Show me where my reasoning is wrong.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:02 AM

February 25, 2008

Risibly lame.....

Diogenes writes:

The Religious Right is what Lefties call believing Christians during an election year. Believers are generally loathed by the glitterati, but there's votes in them thar hills, and every four years, in order to score higher in the southern states, the Democratic leadership makes tardy and risibly lame attempts at church-going. It always backfires. The news footage of Hillary leaving church with her white-gloved hand clutching a prayer-book is as convincing as the famous shot of the senior George Bush tossing back a beer in that Jersey City tavern. To fake an interest, you need a trace of familiarity with your subject....(There's more. Fun.)

Too true. Obama has a huge advantage here, because he can tap into the whole "Christianity equals the Civil Rights Movement equals liberal Democrats" thing. It's a fake, but it always plays well. Blacks have a pass on the derision that liberals heap on Christians. It's allowed, as a sort of charming folk-custom among the colorful simple folk. White liberals can patronize their darkies, much as they might go watch whirling dervishes or Hindoo fakirs. It's understood that this faith stuff has nothing to do with the elites.

Things are much harder for Lefty white guys. I always remember Al Gore saying that we do such-and-such "In my faith tradition." Clang! He gave away the game right there. Fake, fake, got no rhythm. I bet Bush senior gave away his little game of being one of the guys, by politely sipping his schooner of beer, and leaving half of it unconsumed. He should have downed it with a smile, and wiped the foam off his lip with the back of his hand. And maybe asked for a shot to go with it...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:26 AM

January 6, 2008

New prince...

If anyone's interested in Catholic stuff, you might like Rocco Palmo's long piece on (newly-minted) Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston. An awesome guy.....


Posted by John Weidner at 2:54 PM

December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to you all, from the Weidners...

From last year's Christmas homily, by Benedict XVI ...

....God's sign is simplicity. God's sign is the baby. God's sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby � defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will � we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.

The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God's new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: "God made his Word short, he abbreviated it" (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small � small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us...

Posted by John Weidner at 4:39 PM

December 9, 2007

Evangelizing the world...

Charlene and I just read a great book, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power, by David Aikman. There are amazing things going on in China, with Christianity growing and spreading ceaselessly, despite cruel persecution and harassment. But what really made my hair stand on end was that these people are not just content to survive, they are seriously dreaming of missionary work in other lands. Their central driving idea is that, over history, the main movement of Christianity has been westward, from the Near East across Europe, and to the New World, and across the Pacific to Asia.

And so, what's the next step for Christianity and its missionaries? To go from China westwards, along the Silk Road, through the Moslem world.....to Jerusalem! Here are a few snippets, to give you a bit of the flavor ...

...A few of the Americans present were familiar with this notion: 100,000 Chinese missionaries on a global evangelization expedition. [Dr Luis] Bush was dumbfounded. For a comparison, the total estimate for American Protestant and Catholic missionaries working overseas in any given year is 40,000 to 50,000. The U.S. annually sends more missionaries overseas than any other single country by far; the current effort is built on two centuries of experience, and the considerable wealth of ordinary Americans. Could 100,000 Chinese be prepared for missionary work and sent out by the year 2007? Almost certainly not. But the process could begin. In fact, even before the Beijing Forum of February 2002, it had already begun...

..."Back to Jerusalem." It was impossible not to hear this term from Chinese house church Christians of all ages in all parts of the country. The origins of the movement are as complex as they are dramatic.

The first time the notion that China's Christians had a role to play in evangelizing the world, and in connection to Jerusalem, seems to have been in the 1920's in Shandong Province. 1n 1921, Jing Dianying founded a small independent Christian group. It was called the Jesus Family, and was not dissimilar in format to the Little Flock, founded by China's most famous twentieth-century Christian, Watchman Nee... The five word slogan of the Jesus Family was "sacrifice, abandonment, poverty, suffering, death." This turned out to be the fate of the group's members who set off on foot spreading the Gospel in nearby towns and villages...

...It isn't clear what rekindled the Back to Jerusalem fervor among China's house church Christians from the mid-1990's onward. It could have been the influence of Zhao's story or simply the spontaneous reemergence of the same vision that animated the Northwest Bible Institute students and others back in the 1940's.Certainly the enormous confidence that the house church networks had acquired during the phenomenal expansion of the 1980's was part of the explanation...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:13 AM

December 4, 2007

Reason 898 why I hate "the press"

I hate them, and I laugh with bitter pleasure each time I read of declining circulation for the nation's newspapers....

From NCR:

NEW YORK — When the Associated Press set out to investigate an apparent problem with sexual assault of children in public schools, the organization spared no expense. A congressionally mandated study by Hofstra University had already found school-based sexual abuse to be a big problem.

“It was one of our priorities for the year,” said John Affleck, editor of the AP’s national reporting team.

The result was a three-part series, available to editors throughout the country beginning Oct. 20, that revealed widespread and routine sexual assault of public school students throughout the country. The first story summarized: “Students in America’s schools are groped. They’re raped. They’re pursued, seduced and think they’re in love.”

The series told of an entrenched resistance to stopping abusers on the part of teachers, administrators and the National Education Association, a teacher’s union.

So why apparently have only a handful of newspapers nationwide run the series — in stark contrast to the avalanche of press received by the Catholic Church since 2002? Paul Colford, corporate communications director for the AP, said he was inundated with complaints from people wondering why their newspapers were not carrying the series...

And, a few figures for contrast...

...“The Boston Globe began publishing on Jan. 6, 2002, a series of reports regarding sexual abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston,” Nussbaum wrote “In a flash, newspapers around the country began reprinting the Globe’s reports and developing their own. They published 728 stories in January; 1,095 in February, and 2,961 in March. By April, these papers were publishing a new story every nine minutes, 160 every day, 4,791 for the month. By year-end, American papers provided their readers over 21,000 stories of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.”

Boston Globe editors contacted by the Register claimed only vague knowledge of the AP series, and could not answer as to whether part of it ran in their paper....
Posted by John Weidner at 5:57 AM

November 18, 2007

Indispensable man...

(I'm not, by the way, signing on to the views on the War on Terror of the columnist who dubs himself Spengler. But for 'thought-provoking," he's hard to beat. And this book sounds great; I'm surely going to read it.)

Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians by Fergus Kerr. Reviewed by Spengler

It may seem eccentric to hail a theological text by a Scots Dominican, ranked 133,692nd in recent Amazon sales, as the year's most important work on global strategy. Now that I have your attention, humor me for a paragraph or two.
To win a gunfight, first you have to bring a gun, and to win a religious war, you had better know something about religion. America's "war on terror" proceeds from a political philosophy that treats radical Islam as if it were a political movement - "Islamo-fascism" - rather than a truly religious response to the West. If we are in a fourth world war, as Norman Podhoretz proclaims, it is a religious war. The West is not fighting individual criminals, as the left insists; it is not fighting a Soviet-style state, as the Iraqi disaster makes clear; nor is it fighting a political movement. It is fighting a religion, specifically a religion that arose in enraged reaction to the West.
None of the political leaders of the West, and few of the West's opinion leaders, comprehend this. We are left with the anomaly that the only effective leader of the West is a man wholly averse to war, a pope who took his name from the Benedict who interceded for peace during World War I. Benedict XVI, alone among the leaders of the Christian world, challenges Islam as a religion, as he did in his September 2006 Regensburg address. Who is Joseph Ratzinger, this decisive figure of our times, and what led the Catholic Church to elect him? Fr Kerr has opened the coulisses of Catholic debate such that outsiders can understand the changes in Church thinking that made possible Benedict's papacy. Because Benedict is the leader not only of the Catholics but - by default - of the West, all concerned with the West's future should read his book...
....Kerr's subtitle is, From Neo-Scholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism. By this he means something quite accessible to laymen and non-Catholics. Between the early years of the 20th century, and the papacies of Wojtila and Ratzinger, emphasis in Catholic theology shifted from attempting to prove the tenets of the faith by philosophical argument, to portraying God's self-revelation through love by reference to such Biblical texts as the "Song of Songs". The present pope's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"), summarizes what Kerr calls "nuptial mysticism".[3] ....
...In Kerr's engaging account, the rationalistic mainstream was challenged by theologians at the margin of the Church, such as the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac and the Swiss Jesuit Hans Urs von Balthasar, now widely regarded as the greatest Catholic theologian of the century. They were encouraged by the research of medievalists such as Etienne Gilson and Marie-Dominique Chenu, who challenged the Enlightenment distortion of Thomas Aquinas. These dissenters spent long and lonely years in the wilderness, sometimes forbidden to write or preach. Their day came with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and the reigns of John Paul II and Benedict XVI....

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 6:41 AM

November 16, 2007

"Come home"

From Michael Yon's latest dispatch, on the re-opening of a Christian church in Baghdad....

....A Bishop came to St John’s Church in Baghdad today, 15 November, where a crowd of locals welcomed him home. They were joined at the service by soldiers from the 2-12 infantry battalion, many of whom had fought hard to secure these neighborhood streets. Members of the hard-fighting Iraqi Army 3rd Division were also here for this special day...

....LTC Michael told me today that when al Qaeda came to Dora, they began harassing Christians first, charging them “rent.” It was the local Muslims, according to LTC Michael, who first came to him for help to protect the Christians in his area. That’s right. LTC Michael told me more than once that the Muslims reached out to him to protect the Christians from al Qaeda. Real Muslims here are quick to say that al Qaeda members are not true Muslims. From charging “rent,” al Qaeda’s harassment escalated to killing Christians, and also Muslims. Untold thousands of Christians and Muslims fled Baghdad in the wake of the darkness of civil war. Most of the Christians are gone now; having fled to Syria, Jordan or Northern Iraq.....

....Today, Muslims mostly filled the front pews of St John’s. Muslims who want their Christian friends and neighbors to come home. The Christians who might see these photos likely will recognize their friends here. The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John’s today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, “Come back to Iraq. Come home.” They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. “Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.”....

I don't know how many of those Christians will return. ALL the Christian communities of the Middle East are shrinking, even disappearing. Or rather, they've moved--nobody disappeared, they've moved to Australia or Britain or the US. One thing is for sure, the America-hating Leftists who used the flight of Baghdad's Christians as a club to bash the Bush Administration and our nation will not take any notice if they do.

And of course they will never criticize the real villains--the vile murderers of al Qaeda. You can't criticize your allies! And anyway, only the United States does bad things to the world.

In 1900 Istanbul was about 50% Christian--Now there are only a few thousand Christians left there. Iraq is actually more hospitable to it's old Christian communities than most Moslem countries.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:12 AM

November 11, 2007

Faith involves the whole man...

From A Newman Treasury, edited by Charles Frederick Harrold...

...In other words we actually know more than we can express in conscious logical statements. We are constantly entertaining convictions with absolute certainty on grounds which we could never reduce to explicit argument. This is because a great deal of our reasoning is what Newman calls "implicit" or what we should call subconscious. If the mind is "unequal to its own powers of apprehension," then conscious logic cannot always adequately test the accuracy of its apprehensions.

Thus Newman must disagree with Locke, whom he quotes in the Grammar of Assent, that no one should "entertain any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built on will warrant." Life is too short for a philosophy or religion of inferences; it is also too concrete, too rich, too unbounded. We cannot always wait for proofs. In fact, says Newman, we do not wait, but proceed in our daily lives upon a vast number of implicit reasonings on probabilities, and only now and then follow the dictates of a syllogism. We are therefore living by faith far more than we realize. And when we face the problem of religious faith, the same facts of human nature spring into view, except that the virtue of a "right state of heart," and the moral imperatives of the conscience have a far greater rational import than than is commonly supposed.

In religious faith , the simple and the unlettered have the advantage over the mere intellectual, if the latter does not qualify his explicit reasonings with the right moral disposition and with the realization that faith involves the whole man and is never a matter of logic alone. Clearness of statement or even of thought is often not essential at all for the recognition of a great truth. Thus the ignorant but inspired man may arrive at truths which only a logician could analyze or debate; similarly, says Newman, "consider the preternatural sagacity with which a great general knows what his friends and enemies are about, and what will be the final result, and where, of their combined movements."...

 

Posted by John Weidner at 6:42 AM

October 21, 2007

"What was I to myself, but a guide to my own destruction?..."

From an excellent essay by R. R. Reno, in First Things...

....We tend to see what we want to see in the books we read. Our culture is one of leave-taking and it champions the seeker as the hero of the spiritual life. We think that we must brave arid deserts and snowy mountain passes on our quest for God. Recall Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, William James’ will to believe, and Paul Tillich’s courage to be. Having read Sartre’s hot rhetoric of existential choice and Heidegger’s cooler image of the heroic modern man patiently walking the meadows of our disenchanted culture as a shepherd of Being, I came to believe that truth and holiness, like elves and unicorns, had been veiled and hidden in distant realms and secret forests. It was our vocation to energize our souls and get on with the search. Or so I imagined.

After many rereadings of the Confessions, I have been mortified to discover that St. Augustine does not commend the great preoccupation of modern Christianity, the quest for faith. For him, the journey of his young adulthood was a futile circular movement. Imagining himself to be a seeker after God, he was in fact ever returning to himself. What began as a projected heroic journey ended in exhausted despair. Ten years after Cicero had ignited in him a love of wisdom, St. Augustine reports, “I had lost all hope of discovering the truth.” What seemed like a journey was nothing more than the huffing and puffing of a presumptuous soul that thought it could storm the citadel of God with earnest longing and good intentions. The upshot was paralysis,...

....Still, our inability is not a condemnation to stasis. There is a journey of faith for Augustine, but the guidance comes from God, not us. Far from finding God, Augustine confesses, “You pierced my heart with the arrow of your love.” Indeed, the arrows had already been loosed many times, but in his agitated desire to control his own destiny, Augustine had dodged and deflected them. Only after Augustine has recognized the vanity of his own efforts does the arrow of divine love strike its mark. In the silence of the garden, God’s Word finally reaches his heart. “The examples given by your servants,” Augustine reports, “burnt away and destroyed my heavy sluggishness.” Then and only then does his journey begin: to baptism, back to Africa, and to Hippo.

The general principle of Augustine’s own self-analysis is clear, and its relevance to the temptation to embark on our own searches for God is direct—even, and perhaps especially, when that search takes us across the strange terrain of denominationalism. “The soul needs to be enlightened,” he writes, “by light from outside itself.”.....

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 6:10 AM

September 23, 2007

"The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life"

Charlene and I have been reading an entrancing book, German writer and novelist Martin Mosebach's Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and its Enemy.

I have no plans to blog here my opinions on various controversies within the Church. Or get involved in them at all—there are plenty of others who can handle that job better than I. But I did want to give you a little of the flavor of Mosebach's book, just in case there are any others reading this who find these sorts of things intriguing...

In 1812, in Carlsbad, Goethe encountered the young empress Maria Ludovica; when the empress heard what a profound impression she had made on Goethe, she communicated to him the "noble and definite sentiment" that she "did not want to be identified or surmised" in any of his works "under any pretext whatsoever". "For," she said, "women are like religion: the less they are spoken of, the more they gain." It is a fine maxim, and one that deserves to be taken to heart. However, I am about to ignore it by speaking to you about religion in its practical aspect, lived religion, that is, liturgy. Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI's reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy....

...We have had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy—something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy....And finally, we have started to evaluate liturgy—a monstrous act....

...what have we lost? The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life, days begun with a quiet Mass in a modest little neighborhood church; a life in which we learn, over decades, discretely guided by priests, to mingle our own sacrifice with Christ's sacrifice; a Holy Mass in which we ponder our own sins and the graces given to us—and nothing else: rarely is this possible any more for a Catholic aware of liturgical tradition, once the liturgy's unquestioned status has been destroyed...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 7:47 AM

September 9, 2007

"out of touch with the body of Christ"

[Thanks to David Schütz, and Louise...]

Peter Holmes writes:

Several friends have, of late, admitted they send their children to Protestant bible classes because "there is nothing Catholic" or "the Protestants are much better at this" and the old "at least they are getting something."

I surprised them by advising they remove their children immediately and take steps to remedy the damage done so far. "But isn't it better that they know Scripture? Isn't that what you've been saying all along?" they protest. My point wasn't about knowing Scripture. It was about knowing the truth, and where it all fits.

As an evangelical I learned 200-300 verses a year in Sunday School and had to recite them all at the end to get my 'prize', and yet never understood sin or grace. I understood a wickedly twisted version invented (in human terms) by a reformer hundreds of years ago, and seemingly supported by the selective choice of verses interpreted by my teachers.

As a Lutheran seminarian I read the Bible backwards, forwards in the original Hebrew and Hebrew, in later translations of Latin, German and various historic English translations. I learned critical method and medieval exegesis, read the fathers take on Scripture and STILL didn't understand grace and sin (I persist with these examples though there are many others) in the Catholic sense.

It's hard for a Catholic with a positive outlook to suspect a Protestant is undermining their belief when they use all the same words, even some of the same formulae, but only discover later that they mean different things. (The joint statements b/w Catholics and Protestants tend to be full of such language.)

If a Protestant encourages me to read the Scriptures, that is a great and noble thing. If they offer to TEACH me the Scriptures, I have to decline. They are lacking the context they were written from, and into. They are out of touch with the body of Christ that preserved them and interprets them authoritatively.

Specifically they justify their non-catholicity on the basis of Scripture. We should expect their interpretation to contradict the Church not only in some aspects, but in method, content, context and in spirit.

I am astounded when good Catholics, who would not let a religious sister or priest within a mile of their children's faith education, will entrust their education in the central aspect of the Catholic Tradition to people who reject Catholicism...

I'm just starting to understand the slight-of-hand involved in supporting Protestant theology sola scriptura. Fascinatin' subject. A book to begin with is Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David Currie. Charlene and I both give it our highest marks...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 7:08 AM

August 19, 2007

"The open obvious democratic thing..."

...Some how or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.The open obvious democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder...
-- GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Everyone has a faith. Everyone has a religion, in the sense that they have beliefs about the universe and human existence that they cannot "prove" using any thought-system such as natural science, or formal logic, or "common sense." And it really nettles me that most people won't acknowledge this.

The person who says, "I believe only things that can be scientifically proven" is expressing faith in a proposition that science cannot validate. But try to tell him that, and you will often find a person more dogmatic and blinkered than any superstitious peasant. And usually more fearful than the peasant of ideas that might threaten his security.

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 6:03 AM

July 9, 2007

Good corrective to the stuff you are hearing...

What Bono Doesn't Say About Africa, By William Easterly (Thanks to Orrin)

....It's a dark and scary picture of a helpless, backward continent that's being offered up to TV watchers and coffee drinkers. But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help.

Let's begin with those rampaging Four Horsemen. Do they really explain Africa today? What percentage of the African population would you say dies in war every year? What share of male children, age 10 to 17, are child soldiers? How many Africans are afflicted by famine or died of AIDS last year or are living as refugees?

In each case, the answer is one-half of 1% of the population or less. In some cases it's much less; for example, annual war deaths have averaged 1 out of every 10,800 Africans for the last four decades. That doesn't lessen the tragedy, of course, of those who are such victims, and maybe there are things the West can do to help them. But the typical African is a long way from being a starving, AIDS-stricken refugee at the mercy of child soldiers. The reality is that many more Africans need latrines than need Western peacekeepers — but that doesn't play so well on TV....

A lot of people have a vested interest in a "a helpless, backward continent." (Not least from the superiority implied by being the advanced people helping the poor wretches who can't help themselves.) My own Christian community is among them, and I suspect that they will not want to hear messages like this for the additional reason that African poverty is an easy problem. My estimate is that in our world prosperity is far more dangerous to souls and bodies than poverty, but is a much tougher nut to crack, or even to get a grip on. It's easy to drop a twenty in the collection basket to help the poor darkies, and feel like one has done something. What to do about our own world of prosperity, where we absorb nihilism and corrosive change and the "Culture of Death" through our pores?—That's tough! And baffling.

I put a bit more of the article below...

...Further distortions of Africa emanate from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's star-studded Africa Progress Panel (which includes the ubiquitous Geldof). The panel laments in its 2007 news release that Africa remains "far short" of its goal of making "substantial inroads into poverty reduction." But this doesn't quite square with the sub-Saharan Africa that in 2006 registered its third straight year of good GDP growth — about 6%, well above historic averages for either today's rich countries or all developing countries. Growth of living standards in the last five years is the highest in Africa's history.

The real Africa also has seen cellphone and Internet use double every year for the last seven years. Foreign private capital inflows into Africa hit $38 billion in 2006 — more than foreign aid. Africans are saving a higher percentage of their incomes than Americans are (so much for the "poverty trap" of being "too poor to save" endlessly repeated in aid reports). I agree that it's too soon to conclude that Africa is on a stable growth track, but why not celebrate what Africans have already achieved?

Instead, the international development establishment is rigging the game to make Africa — which is, of course, still very poor — look even worse than it really is. It announces, for instance, that Africa is the only region that is failing to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs in aid-speak) set out by the United Nations. Well, it takes extraordinary growth to cut extreme poverty rates in half by 2015 (the first goal) when a near-majority of the population is poor, as is the case in Africa. (Latin America, by contrast, requires only modest growth to halve its extreme poverty rate from 10% to 5%.)

This is how Blair's panel managed to call Africa's recent growth successes a failure. But the reality is that virtually all other countries that have escaped extreme poverty did so through the kind of respectable growth that Africa is enjoying — not the kind of extraordinary growth that would have been required to meet the arbitrary Millennium Development Goals...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:32 AM

June 30, 2007

Not reported...

I highly recommend a piece by Rod Dreher, The Godless Party: Media Bias & Blindness—And the Big Story They Missed

....Indeed, religion has become such a galvanizing issue for both parties that, say the authors, "the religious gap among white voters in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential elections was more important than other demographic and social cleavages in the electorate; it was much larger than the gender gap and more significant than any combination of differences in education, income, occupation, age, marital status and regional groupings." The media have thoroughly reported the key role religious conservatives play in Republican Party politics; what they’ve ignored is the equally important role militant secularists play in setting the agenda of the Democratic Party—as the late pro-life Governor Bob Casey, denied a decent podium at the 1992 Democratic convention, could have attested.

The divide has become so stark that the authors have discerned a new kind of voter: the "anti-fundamentalist." According to the 2000 ANES data, the hatred of religious conservatives long apparent among Democratic convention delegates has found a home among a disproportionate number of Democratic voters. Twenty-five percent of white respondents in the ANES survey expressed serious hostility towards religious conservatives, as opposed to only one percent who felt this strongly against Jews, and 2.5 percent who disliked blacks and Catholics to a strong degree. (Ironically, these are people who say they "‘strongly agree’ that one should be tolerant of persons whose moral standards are different from one’s own.") Eighty percent of these voters picked Bill Clinton in 1996, with 70 percent choosing Al Gore in 2000. Conclude the authors, "One has to reach back to pre-New Deal America, when political divisions between Catholics and Protestants encapsulated local ethno-cultural cleavages over Prohibition, immigration, public education, and blue laws, to find a period when voting behavior was influenced by this degree of antipathy toward a religious group." If Al Smith were to return and run for president today, his enemies wouldn’t be yesterday’s rustic anti-Catholic bigots of the Bible Belt, but today’s urbane anti-Christian bigots of liberal coastal cities dubbed (by the Wall Street Journal ) the Porn Belt...

....But their most striking finding was the near total lack of editorial and news coverage devoted to the increased importance of secularists to the Democratic Party versus the role of traditionalists in the GOP. The numbers are mind-boggling: 43 stories on secularist Democrats, 682 stories on traditionalist Republicans. In 1992, the Times alone published nearly twice the number of stories about Evangelicals in the GOP than both papers did about secularists among the Democrats for the entire decade. The bias is even worse among television journalists, who filled the airwaves with stories about the "Religious Right" and the Republican Party, but who didn’t file a single story—not one—about the Secular Left’s relationship to the Democrats. But their most striking finding was the near total lack of editorial and news coverage devoted to the increased importance of secularists to the Democratic Party versus the role of traditionalists in the GOP. The numbers are mind-boggling: 43 stories on secularist Democrats, 682 stories on traditionalist Republicans. In 1992, the Times alone published nearly twice the number of stories about Evangelicals in the GOP than both papers did about secularists among the Democrats for the entire decade. The bias is even worse among television journalists, who filled the airwaves with stories about the "Religious Right" and the Republican Party, but who didn’t file a single story—not one—about the Secular Left’s relationship to the Democrats....

The numbers would seem to indicate a cover-up, but my guess is that it's mostly a matter of people in the news media considering secularism so normal, that they don't even see it. Sort of like the way you don't hear your own accent, and think you are just speaking "normally."

But I think there is a huge psychological cover-up going on, as liberals try to pretend that they are still the modern mainstream, and anyone who disagrees is kooky or primitive. And that psychology is a subject that utterly fascinates me...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:56 AM

June 25, 2007

Driving us apart...

I can't resist commenting on Mr Obama's latest, Obama Says Some Have `hijacked' Faith...

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Sen. Barack Obama told a church convention Saturday that some right- wing evangelical leaders have exploited and politicized religious beliefs in an effort to sow division. [No other motive, I'm sure.]

"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked," the Democratic presidential candidate said in remarks prepared for delivery before the national meeting of the United Church of Christ. [Faith is not supposed to "bring us together." Faith's loyalty is to Truth, not togetherness.]
"Part of it's because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who've been all too eager to exploit what divides us," the Illinois senator said.

"At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, [I'm in a city that's about 85% Democrat, and yes, you Democrats DO "disrespect" my values and my church.] while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design," according to an advance copy of his speech. [Religious Americans care about those and a LOT of other things. Those issues are in the news because our traditional beliefs there are under attack by nihilists like Obama, and so we fight back.]

"There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich," [That's simply a lie] Obama said. "I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version." [Tax cuts help the poor, as our current very low unemployment rates attest. The welfare state corrupts and destroys the poor, morally and spiritually and economically.]

Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ, a church of about 1.2 million members that is considered one the most liberal of the mainline Protestant groups. [Which have also been corrupted and destroyed by Leftist/Democrat thinking.]

In 1972, the church was the first to ordain an openly gay man. Two years ago, the church endorsed same-sex marriage, the largest Christian denomination to do so. [Oh. And those aren't things that tend to "drive us apart?"] Obama believes that states should decide whether to allow gay marriage, and he opposes a constitutional amendment against it. [Way to take a strong moral stand there, Barak. Real "Profiles In Courage" stuff.]

Conservative Christian bloggers have linked Obama to what they call the "unbiblical" teachings of his church. Theological conservatives believe gay relationships violate Scripture, while more liberal Christians emphasize the Bible's social justice teachings... [Notice the multiple slights-of-hand here by the unbiased reporter. Like the substituting the word "relationships" for "marriage." And the side-stepping into "social justice," without touching on whether liberals say gay marriageor ordinations ARE scriptural. And never a mention of 2,000 years of Christian traditions.]

[End of article. I put a few more thoghts below.]

I'm sorry, but Mr Obama's complaints are pure bullshit. It is a grave error for any Christian group to conflate its politics with its faith. But the Christian Right is in fact far less guilty of this than the "Christian Left." The Christian Right has been driven into politics by massive attacks on things that most Americans have always just believed in, and is always a reluctant partner in the Republican coalition. The Christian Left has been "hollowed out," and has simply jettisoned traditional Christianity for a mush of leftist ideas. Nobody forced them into the Culture of Death, or gay marriage, or being anti-American, or anti-Semitic. They just go along with whatever the current leftist positions are without a qualm. Without a thought. Without giving a damn whether they are "scriptural."

One of the most creepy things I ever read was some writer's account of sitting with a group of Anglican leaders as they discussed one of the "issues." I think it was female clergy, a few years ago. He was shocked, because there was no mention of morality or theology, or even, to put it bluntly, Christianity. Their talk was was pure brute politics: How do we ram this through, how do we smash or sideline the opposition.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:54 AM

June 22, 2007

"Clarion of freedom"

Sorry, I'm probably out of the mainstream here, but I think you all oughta appreciate George W Bush now, because you aren't going to see his like again in your lifetime. And in about 20 years, when he's regarded as bigger than Reagan, you will have to scurry over and pretend you gave him heartfelt support all along...

This happened weeks ago, but just came to light today...

By Robert D. Novak
Thursday, June 21, 2007; Washington Post:

On May 31, President Bush met for 35 minutes in the private living quarters of the White House with Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Hong Kong, in an event that was not announced and did not appear on his official schedule. Their meeting did not please the State Department, elements of the Catholic hierarchy and certainly not the Chinese government. But it signifies what George W. Bush is really about.

In Hong Kong, Zen enjoys more freedom to speak out than do his fellow bishops in China proper, and he has become known as the spiritual voice of China's beleaguered democracy movement. Since Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing by the British government in 1997, he has increasingly called for both religious freedom and democracy in China. Consequently, the China desk at the State Department in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing contended that, for the sake of Sino-American relations, it would be a bad idea for the president to invite the cardinal. So did some of Zen's fellow cardinals.

So, why did the president invite him? The fact that no news of the session leaked out for two weeks indicates that this was no political stunt to revive Bush's anemic poll ratings. The president got divided counsel from his advisers regarding the impact the meeting would have on China's rulers. As he nears the end of a troubled presidency, Bush as a man of faith places the plight of the religious in unfree countries at the top of his agenda...

Cardinal Zen! And the cowboy! Two titans. This must have hit State Department commies and certain Vatican Euro-weenies like being doused with pails of ice-water. Makes me cackle and grin. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Charlene says, "They have no clue what's going on." That's for sure.

...But more important to Bush than advice from a college chum is what he believes, as the difficult days of what has been an unpopular presidency dwindle. He met in Washington last year with dissident "House Christians" from China. Speaking in Prague, a week after his talk with Zen, Bush affirmed his position on the side of religious dissidents everywhere: "Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul."...

...Bush asked Zen whether he was the "bishop of all China." Replying that his diocese was just Hong Kong, Zen told Bush of the plight of Catholics in China, including five imprisoned bishops. The cardinal is reported by sources close to him to have left the White House energized and inspired. George W. Bush is at a low point among his fellow citizens, but he is still a major figure for Catholics in China who look to him as a clarion of freedom....

"but he is still a major figure for Catholics in China who look to him as a clarion of freedom..." Got news for you, kiddos. People all over this planet think the same thing. Just as prisoners in the Gulag used to pass scraps of paper with Reagan's words of freedom on them, people are passing the words and deeds of George W Bush right now. And Reagan came through for the hundreds of millions who were oppressed by communism, despite everything the Democrats and pacifists and realists doing everything they could to keep them enslaved.

And the same thing is happening now. As always, the process is messy and bloody and slow, but the Freedom Train is rolling, and the Democrats and sneering leftists and diplomats and Quakers won't be able to stop it.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:21 PM

June 13, 2007

Odd stuff...

Phillip Jenkins has a "counterintuitive" piece relevant to the question of the decline of Europe. I'm always interested in such counter-trends, though I have to say I'll have to see a lot more of them before I'm likely to change my opinions. I tend to suspect they are just chips tossed in a larger stream.

...For all we hear about Islam, Europe remains a stronger Christian fortress than people realize. What’s more, it is showing little sign of giving ground to Islam or any other faith for that matter.

To be fair, the trend is counterintuitive. Europe has long been a malarial swamp for any traditional or orthodox faith. Compared with the rest of the world, religious adherence in Europe is painfully weak. And it is easy to find evidence of the decay. Any traveler to the continent has seen Christianity’s abandoned and secularized churches, many now transformed into little more than museums. But this does not mean that European Christianity is nearing extinction. Rather, among the ruins of faith, European Christianity is adapting to a world in which its convinced adherents represent a small but vigorous minority.

In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness...

....Similar trends are at work within the Protestant churches of Northern and Western Europe. The most active sections of the Church of England today are the evangelical and charismatic parishes that have, in effect, become megachurches in their own right. These parishes have been incredibly successful at reaching out to a secular society that no longer knows much of anything about the Christian faith. Holy Trinity Brompton, a megaparish in Knightsbridge, London, that is now one of Britain’s largest churches, is home to the amazingly popular “Alpha Course,” a means of recruiting potential converts through systems of informal networking aimed chiefly at young adults and professionals. As with the Catholic movements, the course works because it makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge: Everyone is assumed to be a new recruit in need of basic teaching. Nor does the recruitment technique assume that people live or work in traditional settings of family or employment. The Alpha Course is successfully geared for postmodern believers in a postindustrial economy....(Thanks to Orrin).

I read Jenkins' book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. Fascinating stuff, especially about the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa. Maybe this article portends a new book.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:45 AM

June 6, 2007

"As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts."

A D-Day Prayer, broadcast by President Franklin D Roosevelt...

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944

"For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home..."

So it was then, so it is now. Our soldiers are today's "Samaritans," who succor those in need, while elitists pass on the other side of the road. The difference is that then all Americans recognized the basic Christian goodness of our troops and the rightness of their mission. Now our country is divided, divided into Americans and poisonous nihilistic reptiles who miss no opportunity to slander our brave soldiers, and to suggest that their deeds are meaningless, or even evil.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:40 AM

April 1, 2007

"he did not have much company on the road now so well known..."

For Sunday, here's yet another quote from Meriol Trevor's Newman (vol. II, Light in Winter):

...True son of Philip Neri, he had no desire to repudiate the new techniques of knowledge or to oppose theories which seemed at first sight to contradict Christian tradition: patience would reveal the truth in time. But he wanted Christians so to exercise their minds as to assimilate and contribute to what was good in natural science and social improvement, without losing their grip on the supernatural reality which was the source of true happiness and real power. He wanted to help the young generations so to orientate themselves as to be able to explore the new worlds of knowledge and yet be firmly rooted — not in the old, but in the eternal.

It was here that Newman's vision went beyond the view of many who misunderstood him, of whatever Christian allegiance. It was the partial identification, in the nineteenth century, of the eternal with the old that led to the loss of so many from Christian belief. The nostalgia for an imaginary medievalism, imitation Gothic churches, effete naturalism or unreal sentimentality of religious statues and pictures — all this was the secondary effect of deep fears, an inability to shed the habitual in order that the eternal might work freely in a world that was changing. Of course there is danger in mere novelty, but it is rarely a pressing one in the Cathulic Church, which on the human side is ruled by a multitude of old men and the customs of hundreds of years.

Newman always puzzled his contemporaries by being at the same time so ancient and so modern. He was at home with the Martyrs and the Fathers — and with scientists and factory girls. He practised fasting and penance — and was an immediate and inveterate train traveller. He read St. Athanasius and Anthony Trollope. He was a venerable man, but he talked the slang of the moment. Puseyites were disconcerted by his modernity. Catholics by his antiquity — for most of them had forgotten what their spiritual ancestors were like. Protestants are apt to imagine that it is only they who renew themselves by a return to the beginnings, but there are Catholic renascences too. Since Newman was a pioneer in the return to the Fathers, and to a new understandins of the Scriptures, he did not have much company on the road now so well known. He was regarded with suspicion by those for whom the last hundred years was the standard measure, and who could not conceive that the next hundred would be very different. Psychologically the great difference between Newman and the Ultramontanes and Anglican conservatives was that they were ridden bv fears and he was not...

Vatican Council II is associated in our minds with "dangerous mere novelty," and certainly there has been a catastrophic lot of that! A great many Catholics used the council as an excuse to say, "Wheee, I'm freee.....time to party!" But that was never the intent, and not what is in the actual documents produced by the council. The true spirit of which is now reasserting itself in the Church in a myriad of ways. (Historically, councils have usually produced 50 years or so of turmoil in the Church. So I'm signing up at the right time.) The actual results of the council will probably have their effect over centuries. The world needs them.

And it is a commonplace to say that the Venerable John Henry Newman is the "father of the Council." More than anyone else, Vatican II was about his ideas. (Such as ecumenism, return to the teachings of the Fathers, Development of Doctrine, and the correct approach to the modern world.) He saw and understood our world more than anyone else.

That's certainly been my conclusion (in my own humble realm). 9/11 was a revelatory event, and my 5½ years of blogging has been a process of peeling the onion to try to see what it was that was revealed. And then I recently discovered Newman, and found that he had explained it all 150 years ago! So he's my hero, no doubt about it.

"...An inability to shed the habitual in order that the eternal might work freely in a world that was changing." "...without losing their grip on the supernatural reality which was the source of true happiness and real power."

If you are going to "shed the habitual," you have to have a firm grip on some things that are solid and unchanging. Not just religious truths, but authoritative traditions of other kinds, such as you might find reading the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. Which are themselves based on the authoritative and immemorial tradition called "the Rights of Englishmen." And, brothers and sisters, I have to tell you that you are going to have to discard the habitual whether you like it or not! Because we are all trapped in a science fiction story. We are being shoved into a time-machine and sent into the future at fearsome speed. Our world is changing drastically. Mere habits or prejudices won't be weighty enough to keep us in ballast.

That's what I'm talking about when I complain that left-leaning people are nihilists. In my generation and after, being "Left" is just a habit of thought, not the philosophical system (false though it was) that used to ballast many people's lives. (If you don't believe me, try to get a leftist in a real philosophical argument, one that goes down to first principles.) But mere habits won't cut it anymore; change is happening too fast and too scary. Which is why leftists are so brittle and angry of late. (And some rightists too—think of Paleocons like Pat Buchanan.)

Here's a link to the splendid St Phillip Neri.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:31 AM

March 18, 2007

For Sunday..." the clever and charming sons of men"

From the book I am currently reading, Newman: vol. II, Light in Winter.

Intellect, the Instrument of Religious Training<. It was Saint Monica's feast, and he took her, the mother of that convert intellectual, St Augustine, as a type of the Church, weeping and praying for the clever and charming sons of men, spiritually dead in spite of all their gifts, until they yielded their rebel wills to God. He gave a vivid account of how a young man may drift out of his faith if he never thinks about it; for him Newman made the excuse that he was an intellectual as well as a moral being, and must have teachers in whom intellectual training was equal with moral. 'I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons. I want to destroy that diversity of centres, which puts everything into confusion by creating a contrariety of influences. ...I want the same roof to contain both the intellectual and the moral discipline.

Devotion is not a sort of finish given to the sciences; nor is science a sort of feather in the cap...an ornament and set-off to devotion. I want the intellectual layman to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual.'...

Of course you could just click on this link and read the actual sermon; it is worth ones time...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:55 AM

March 11, 2007

Girl, sword, Brobdingnagian opponent...

On the very very slight chance that someone reading this is BOTH in the Bay Area, and is interested in the work of Alyssa Pitstick, she will be giving a Lenten reflection at our Parish, St Dominic's of San Francisco, on March 21, at 7:30.

Dr Pitstick is famous and controversial right now for challenging parts of the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. I had to laugh; I was Googling and found a partisan who had illustrated a blogpost on her with a picture of Eowyn taking a sword to the horrid whatchamacallit in Lord of the Rings!

(I myself have no settled opinion on the issues, but I plan to read (I skimmed it before) her debate with Edward T. Oakes, S.J., in First Things.)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:11 PM

"critics by conviction and Christians by habit"

From Meriol Trevor's excellent biography of John Henry Newman, vol 1, Newman: The Pillar of the Cloud.

...Liberal Churchmen had no monopoly of the social conscience, though they were more concerned with politics than other parties in the Church. What really distinguished them was their approach to the doctrines and history of Christianity. In effect, if not always in theory, they gave the highest authority to Reason.

But Newman had just come to believe that Reason, improperly exercised to judge the data of a divine revelation, was the chief instrument of the World in the modern age — the World of which Satan was the ruler: nature, human and non-human, so far as it is in rebellion against God and in opposition to the kingdom of Christ. During 1829 and 1830 his sermons in St. Mary's expressed these ideas of the World and the Church, which were basic to his thought for the whole of his life. He published his last words on the subject when he was eighty-four and quoted some of these early sermons.

With his clear mind — Whately himself had said it was the clearest he knew — Newman foresaw the general development of the liberal idea in religion, as in fact it has come to pass. Wherever reason is made sole judge of religious truth, faith weakens and in logical minds is destroyed ; not because the Christian faith is irrational or false, but because it is something given to the human mind, not discovered by it. Reason is within the scheme, not superior to it. Perhaps Newman saw this so clearly because of his own early scepticism ; Christianity could never be to him merely an habitual frame of reference, within which the individual critical reason could be let loose without danger. But to most of the liberal Churchmen, this was just what it was ; they were critics by conviction and Christians by habit. Later generations shocked them by losing the habit. Newman was not shocked, though he was grieved, because he expected it. In fact, he began by expecting general scepticism to arrive sooner than it did.

Whately never understood the nature of Newman's opposition to Liberalism. He thought Newman abandoned the liberal cause for orthodoxy because orthodoxy was in power, that his motive was worldly ambition ; yet the truth was that Newman parted company with the liberals because he saw that their principles, though they did not realize it, would betray the Church to the World...

The Anglican (in America Episcopalian) Church has three main factions or flavors. Evangelical, Liberal, and Anglo-Catholic. A bit of history that I find quite stupefying is that two of these groups originated, in the 1830's, in the common room of Oriel College, Oxford! (The Evangelicals arose in the 18th Century. The most famous of them were John and Charles Wesley, who left to form the Methodists.)

Richard Whately, mentioned above, "...was a strong liberal, and bid fair to be the leader of the new party of progressive men in the Church...He did not look on the Church as a sacred society preserving divine doctrine, but as a kind of moral order within society..." He and other Oriel men, Hampton, Hawkins, and Arnold of Rugby, started the liberal movement in the Anglican Church that spread rapidly through Oxford and beyond. And Newman raised up an opposition, known to history as the Oxford Movement, or the Tractarian Movement. Whose most important members, Newman, Keble, Pusey, and Froud were also Oriel men. (Though some had taken "livings," that is, positions as rectors or vicars of parishes. But they remained members of their college. All Oxford and Cambridge Fellows were, in those days clergymen, usually young, who expected to take up livings as soon as possible. If for no other reason than that they could not marry as long as they remained in the university. There were no old fossil college teachers then.)

The Evangelicals are still a large part of the Anglicans. The liberals are still the liberals, culminating in a certain peculiar lady bishop now head of the Episcopalians. The Tractarian flavor became what is now known as "Anglo-Catholic," that is, those Anglicans who feel that their church is part of the "Church Catholic," though not Roman Catholic. Newman, and many since, came to the conclusion that that just wasn't true, and left to join.......The Church.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:12 AM

March 3, 2007

"Social Justice:" A definition...

One hears the buzzwords "Social Justice" very frequently these days. But I've never heard the term defined. I suspect—Oh dear, how can I be so cynical—I suspect that this is intentional. That if we knew what was really meant....we would not be too happy.

Charlene heard something on the radio that I think may shed a bit of light. Someone she was listening to on KSFO quoted from a "progressive teacher" magazine. The subject was using Legos to build a town, as part of some sort of curriculum. For the very young, I would assume. And the comment in the magazine was, that this was a great tool for teaching "social justice." Because all the houses could be the same size, and they could all be communally owned!

What an exciting new idea...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:10 PM

February 19, 2007

"to be an enemy of a man's creed but a friend to the man himself"

I was noodling around looking for a Chesterton quote, and came upon this great little essay by Paul Cella, from 2003: What Threatens Us. I think I read it back when, and it's worth re-reading. It's partly about how modern secularist society just can't "see" faith, and can't therefore get any feel for the threat posed by Islam. And that we need to consult men who did understand, such as GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. Both of whom were astonishingly prescient, both of them predicting the future rise of Islam at a time when Moslem lands were impoverished backwaters, and seemed to "rational" types to be of no account whatsoever.

I liked this part in particular, since last Sunday's lesson was on the old "loving your enemy" thing. Ouch. Hard, if you take this stuff seriously, especially if your enemy is a jihadi who would torture and kill you just for the heck of it. (Or, far worse, if your enemy is a leftizoid nihilist whose non-creed is eating like acid at the roots of our beloved civilization.)

...In this, "ChesterBelloc" again reveal narrowness of the modern world's bluster about tolerance and pluralism: having repudiated in a glib and small-minded way the power of faith on the minds of men, the modern mind makes itself ignorant as mud, and walks about the world in a kind of daze. The hardest thing for the Modern Age to do is actually see a thing other than itself.

Chesterton and Belloc saw in Islam precisely the sort of spiritual energy which was proving evanescent in the West even in their time. Belloc, for example (and probably Chesterton too, although I myself do not recall reading it) emphatically declared Islam a heresy -- a heresy which derived its strength from the affirmation of some true doctrines of Christianity while denigrating fatally other true doctrines. A heresy is not necessarily evil; it is simply wrong; staggeringly, definitively, but plausibly wrong. This sort of judgment is very nearly impossible today: it provokes the charge of crankishness, or even bigotry. But therein lies our suffocating narrowness. We have resolutely undertaken to amputate some of our mental faculties; like the faculty of distinguishing a creed from its adherents. The rigid secularist cannot see the creed, only its followers. But it is, I think, a solid fact, no matter what modern insularity avows, that a man may be an implacable enemy of Islam and still a friend of Muslims.

Modern multiculturalism denies this fact. And I will grant it this small concession; that it is no easy mental task to be an enemy of a man's creed but a friend to the man himself. Not easy, but possible -- and indeed necessary. In this sense secularism, along with its accomplice multiculturalism, is a capitulation or abdication of responsibility; it is the surrender of clever poltroons. In the face the challenge of charity, the challenge propounded by the awesome equality of the Christian creed: "love your neighbor as yourself," the modern world resigns itself to dull platitudes....

Mr Cella blogs here. Some recent interesting posts concern his A Reactionary’s Shorter Catechism, which is thought-provoking, to say the least...

Posted by John Weidner at 5:43 PM

February 16, 2007

Job done...

I just finished installing these wardrobes, for a choir rehearsal room. I think they turned out well, but this project beat me up in a bunch of ways. A lot of them just because the two units are big! 7 1/2 feet high, and 5 feet wide. That complicates everything. For instance, there's no 1/4" plywood available wide enough to form the backs— I had to stitch two pieces together for each one. And once the cases were assembled, it's not like I could pick them up and move them about...

Wardrobes for choir room, St Dominic's Parish
However, it was for our own dear parish, St Dominic's, of San Francisco, and for its world-class choir, so it was a labor of love...

Choir wardrobes, St Dominic's Parish

* For any woodworkers who might be interested, those sliding doors are not really frame-and-panel construction (which would be pretty scary at that size). They are pieces of 1/2" Birch plywood (I was lucky to get some good-looking C-2 at a good price) with strips of 1/4" thick Birch glued on. It worked out well, but there were a lot of pieces to put together. They are lightly dyed to match some other wood in the room..

They are hanging on Hettich System 72222 tracks and wheels--very cool. But the little bottom guides sold with the system were useless--I threw them out and made some long guides of my own.

Posted by John Weidner at 2:41 PM

January 21, 2007

Sunday Thought--don't add cornstarch

John Henry Newman, ca. 1840.
True faith is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little really rests upon it and contemplates it, as the eye can see the air.

When, then, men are bent on holding it (as it were) in their hands, curiously inspecting, analyzing, and so aiming at it, they are obliged to colour and thicken it, that it may be seen and touched. That is, they substitute for it something or other, a feeling, notion, sentiment, conviction, or act of reason, which they may hang over, and doat upon. They rather aim at experiences (as they are called) within them, than at Him that is without them.

John Henry Newman

Posted by John Weidner at 6:30 AM

December 31, 2006

For Sunday, a little pome from about the year 800...


This life is naught but a struggle for good men.
The holy book hath sung it in your ears.
The son the father loves most tenderly
He chastens most: and so God proves his saints
By hard blows here, and recompense of joy hereafter.

So take it not to heart, my brothers,
This inconsistency of earthly things,
      The swirling eddies.
So was and so shall be this changing world,
And let none think that he is sure of joy.
He lies bedridden now, who coursed with stags
Over the ploughed lands: age was far away.
And this man tugging at his ancient tatters
To hide his shivering legs
Slept under purple once.
The eyes are dim and fogged with length of days,
That counted dancing atoms: the right hand
That swung the sword and brandished
      the stout spear
Is shaky now, and finds it hard enough
To carry to the mouth a piece of bread.
Beloved, let us love the lasting things
Of heaven, than the dying things of earth.
Here time brings change, and nothing
      canst thou see
But suffers alteration: there abides
One sole unchanging everlasting day...

For He that cast down raiseth up again,
He maketh sore and bindeth up,
He woundeth and his hands make whole.
Breaketh in shards and buildeth up again.
By day and night entreat in holy prayer
The kind Christ, that He keep you everywhere;
And if ye learn the things that please Him best,
Then let your hand do what the heart hath willed.
So Heaven itself shall be your shield and buckler,
And God's own hand protect and be your guide.
    -- Alcuin

Alcuin (died 804) was a noted churchman, scholar, and confidant of Charlemagne.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:30 AM

December 28, 2006

I'm all agog...

This article, Holland's Post-Secular Future, by Joshua Livestro (Thanks to Amy) is just fascinating. Even though you frequently read here about the decline of Europe, I'm also always hungy for any signs of renewal. I'd be thrilled if things turned around. I've blogged two or three possibilities over the years, but they've always seemed like too little, too late. Mere crumbs. But this looks like more than a crumb. Maybe a snack. (And of course I'm aware that connecting the general European decline with the decline of Christianity is just a hypothesis. Maybe it's a symptom, not a cause.)

....According to Bakas and Buwalda, God is back in Europe's most notoriously liberal country. Or rather: The Dutch are moving back to God. It seems an implausible hypothesis. After all, Europe was supposed to have entered the realm of post-Christianity, to use C.S. Lewis's term--a state of eternal unbelief from which there is no return. And yet, Bakas and Buwalda claim, the Dutch are turning back. Take the almost unnoticed reintroduction of crucifixes and other religious artifacts into the classrooms of Catholic schools throughout the country. Years of gradual but seemingly unstoppable secularization have given way to a reaffirmation of old religious identities. The change is also starting to affect the attitudes of pupils at these schools. In a recent newspaper interview, a head teacher at a Catholic secondary school in Rotterdam observed, "For years, pupils were embarrassed about attending Mass. Now, they volunteer to read poems or prayers, and the auditorium is packed."

There's also the remarkable critical and commercial success of a number of openly Christian writers. Holland's most prestigious literary prizes were awarded in 2005 to books dealing in a sympathetic way with Christian issues of faith and redemption. The Libris Literatuur Prize went to the Catholic author Willem Jan Otten for his Specht en zoon (Specht and son) while the AKO Literature Prize was awarded to Calvinist Jan Siebelink's Knielen op een bed violen (Kneeling on a Bed of Violets). Siebelink's novel sold nearly 350,000 copies in its first year, making it the single bestselling Dutch-language book of the past decade--apart, that is, from a new Bible translation published in 2004, which sold more than half a million copies (in a population of 16 million people).

The success in the Netherlands of the so-called Alpha Course program--a sort of Christianity 101 for beginners--is another case in point. The Alpha formula, first developed at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, aims to provide small groups of interested people with an introduction to Christianity through a series of meals-with-discussion evenings. Since its inception in 1997, 120,000 people have taken the Dutch version of the course. The number of related courses is growing by around one hundred a year. Prison Alpha, Business Alpha, Student Alpha, Youth Alpha, and more recently the Alpha Marriage Course: Collectively, they seem to have struck a chord in Holland's secular society. Jan Bakker, national coordinator of Alpha Holland, admits he is as surprised as anyone about the success of the program: "There are still those who laugh at Christianity. But there's a growing group, most of them young people, who are genuinely interested, for whom this is all completely new."

There's statistical evidence to back up the "new orthodoxy" hypothesis....

The article also has interesting stuff on Islam in the Netherlands....

....They're symbols of Dutch Islam's remarkable growth over the past 30 years, from less than 1 percent of the population in 1970 to 6 percent today. According to SCP predictions, that growth is set to continue to around 7.5 percent in 2020--a significant increase, to be sure, but nowhere near the apocalyptic figures predicted by those who fear Holland will become a majority Islamic country by the end of the 21st century. One reason it won't is that Islam, at least in its Dutch variant, is not a proselytizing faith. When asked about the importance of proselytizing, Dag volunteered that, on his list of priorities, trying to convert the indigenous Dutch population comes "just about last." Even the most optimistic estimates of Dutch Muslim organizations put the number of converts to Islam at no more than a few hundred a year. With immigration from Islamic countries grinding to a halt and birth rates among the Muslim community further approximating average Dutch birthrates with each new generation, it seems unlikely to say the least that visions of a caliphate in Holland will come to pass in this century--or the next, for that matter.

Since they don't seem to be interested in spreading the good news of Muhammad, the main priority of the Islamic communities in Holland will be to fight off the twin challenges of apathy and apostasy. Apathy is not yet a challenge in a community that defines Islam largely in cultural rather than religious terms. But once the third and fourth generations of offspring of the original immigrants start to replace the first generation, these cultural ties will start to lose some of their binding force. At the same time, it's far from clear that Dutch Islam will be able to keep religious liberalism at bay indefinitely. With government sponsorship--and the accompanying demands of gender neutrality--of university-based imam training courses about to become a reality, the day is not far off when the first feminist and gay imams will start preaching in mosques in Holland. There is no reason to assume Islam will be any better placed to deal with this liberal onslaught than mainstream Christianity was in the 1950s and '60s....

One of the things that's kept Christianity alive in America is that we've never had a state church. so the denominations are all in competition, and any that become slack or complacent are culled by a sort of "darwinian" pressure. something of a similar situation may grow in Europe as the state and "mainline" churches shrink and become irrelevant. And of course having a mosque built in your neighborhood tends to concentrate the mind too...Read the whole thing. The world is stranger than we think...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:21 PM

December 26, 2006

Cool tool...

My collegiate son is studying Classical Greek, and showed me this web site, The Unbound Bible. It lets you compare bible passages in an astonishing range of versions and languages. You could, for instance, see side-by-side the same verse in Armenian, Amharic, Africaans and Aramaic....

Sample from Unbound Bible

Posted by John Weidner at 5:01 PM

December 24, 2006

Not an end in itself...

Nowadays it is sometimes held, though wrongly, that freedom is an end in itself, that each human being is free when he makes use of freedom as he wishes, and that this must be the aim in the lives of individuals and societies. In reality, freedom is a great gift only when we know how to use it consciously for everything that is our true good.
    — John Paul II
Posted by John Weidner at 6:15 PM

December 20, 2006

There are those people who believe that little things matter....

I liked this bit, which was written by a commenter at Amy Welborn's blog. You don't have to be interested in the religious aspect of this to appreciate the philosophical divide among people. I myself am among those who think the little things are crucial, and if I could live life as I wished...well, I'd have to live at least 10,000 years to have enough time to get all the details properly savored and squared away...

Amy writes:
"The recognition - the profound recognition - that the little things exist at the service of the greater—the life-changing presence of Jesus Christ in the world..."
This is a good insight; one of the central divides that I'm finding as I grow older is between those people who believe that little things matter and those who believe that they are...well, just little things....

...There is a wisdom in the small things that is hidden from the big minds, almost an inability to see the importance of the little stuff unless we can directly see the big changes linked to it...and even then only admitting to it with grumbling. The joy of the world as God created it is that not only do the little things point to and affect the big things, but even the littlest thing has a value that the Lord does not miss in his count of all things. Only a God-made-infant could arrange a world in which the most common of all people is offered, each day, the chance to participate in the salvation of the world by the careful love of so many little things.

The small things are important because, at the very least, we seem to have a God who is deeply amused at making the little things matter...
Posted by John Weidner at 6:36 PM

December 9, 2006

"Don't mince matters...Give it to them good and strong"

For Sunday, a bit of one of the all-time great conservative essays, Isaiah's Job (here's the whole thing) by Albert J. Nock...

...I referred him to the story of the prophet Isaiah....I shall paraphrase the story in our common speech since it has to be pieced out from various sources. . .

The prophet's career began at the end of King Uzziah's reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however like the reign of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, or the administration of Eubulus at Athens, or of Mr. Coolidge at Washington where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.

In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are,'' He said. "Tell them what is wrong, and why, and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,'' He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you, and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.''

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job in fact, he had asked for it but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so, if the enterprise was to be a failure from the start, was there any sense in starting it?

"Ah,'' the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it''....
Posted by John Weidner at 10:19 AM

November 30, 2006

There's only one war....

Charlene and I caught on the radio a little of author John O'Sullivan discussing the events he writes about in his new book, The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World.

It sounds like a great book! Three oddballs who no one expected would be put in charge of anything, especially not the crusade to defeat the evil of Soviet Communism. In fact, most "experts" didn't think there was, or even should be, a crusade.


Then, just afterwards, I found this very interesting piece, on just what the present Pope is up to. One doesn't have to be religious to suspect that we have an ally in the Vatican, just as we did during the 80's. I suspect Pope and President would both be saying that we are not at war with Islam (Yeah, yeah, I read Michelle Malkin too, and sometimes I doubts it myself) but rather we are tacitly allied with the majority of Muslims (though they may not have figured it out yet; they don't seem to be too big on thinking things through), who don't really wish to be clamped inside some Taliban death regime, OR to have their faith dissolved by corrosive secularism. And if that's true, then probably only the Pope has the standing to convey the message to them.

...Thus Benedict's true purpose in Turkey is that of uniting all the monotheistic faiths against a militant and self-consciously destructive secular culture. To that end he will seek a new political communion with Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople — the symbolic leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. Even the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexei II, who rejected overtures by the late Pope John Paul II, has indicated that he would now welcome talks with Rome.

Nor are the pope's attempts to produce a concerted monotheistic alliance restricted to Christians. On the first day of his visit, Benedict quoted an 11th century pope, Gregory VII, who talked about the duties that Christians and Muslims owe each other "because we believe in one God."

Far from being anti-Muslim, the pope views Islam as a key cultural ally against the enlightenment liberalism that for him corrodes the moral core of Western society.

It is important to realize, however, that Benedict recognizes a mutual problem in this explicit project of religious realignment around shared critiques and common discernment. Secular conceptions of race, state and nation have corrupted all the faiths, too often turning them into a vehicle for nationalism or racism...(Thanks to Amy)

It's worth reading the whole thing. I'll paste in a bit more below...

...But the papal visit is not primarily an attempt to pacify relations between Christianity and Islam. Instead, Benedict is there to engage with Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy in the hope of persuading both to join his project of overcoming secularism.

The Pope, far from being sectarian, wants to inaugurate a new religious renaissance in Europe that opposes both secular and religious fundamentalism. This apostolic journey is of a piece with the logic of the Regensburg address, rather than a belated act of repentance for it.

Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.

Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe's common political project to the growing secularization of European culture.

Benedict's religious alternative is not some form of theocratic absolutism. On the contrary, the Pope is a staunch defender of secularity — the separation of church and state. Benedict wants to disentangle the church from the state, but without divorcing religion from politics, because only a religion freed from subservience to the state can save modern culture from itself...

One has to suspect that the Regensburg speech was the equivalent of the old joke about hitting the mule with the 2 x 4. "You don't have to beat this mule. You just have to get his attention first."

Posted by John Weidner at 9:34 AM

November 26, 2006

From heroes to bums in not much more than a generation...

[Rambling Sunday thoughts] I've been thinking about how in the comments at this post of mine, Andrea Harris and I got onto a discussion of the decline of Europe (and perhaps the USA), and it's possible cause in the enormously high levels of welfare common in European countries.

I for various reasons have Germany much in mind these days, and I wrote:

....West Germany in say 1960, was to outward appearances, hard-working, economically vibrant, Christian, confident, with a rapidly growing population and lots of young people. Experts were saying that we Americans had better pull up our socks or be totally out-classedI

And that's all gone! All of it. The corpse is still walking but nobody's fooled except those who want to be fooled. We're not talking slow decline-of-the-Roman-Empire here, these guys went from heroes to bums in not much more than a generation. If that's happened before in history I really missed something....

I'd say the proximate cause is welfare, which I know increased hugely in Germany in the 1970's. (By the way, the post-war German economic miracle was made possible by low taxes and reduced regulation. It's not like Germany is unacquainted with what makes for success.) Welfare meaning not just checks for the poor or unemployed, but all sorts of cozy security blankets for the whole population.

And I'd say the ante-proximate cause, the cause right behind the cause, is socialism. Socialism promotes the welfare state because it wants to destroy souls, and to make men dependent on the state. It has given up on the Revolution, and the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," but the goal is still the same.

But frankly, these things are so obvious they've become boring. There is no intellectual battle to be waged against socialism or the welfare state. There is ceaseless war to be waged against the things themselves, of course. But no open intellectual fight. Any leftist reading this will curl his lip in disdain, but not one of them will have the guts to make a case for what he believes. "Fell-lurking curs," as Shakespeare put it.

So, what interests me is, what is the root cause? Welfare is destructive, but why wasn't there resistance, in Europe, to its terrible threat? In the US every increase in welfare and other socialistic innovations has generated vigorous criticism and political opposition. One result of which was the federal Welfare Reform law in the 1990's, which cut our welfare rolls in half!

Why was there—is there—little or nothing like this in Europe? I can think of several possibilities. One clue that smells right to me—can't prove anything here—comes from one of the smarter chaps living...

...Bonn in those years was the almost accidental capital of Adenauer’s Germany. In the divided land, whose eastern states were behind the Iron Curtain, economic and civilian rebirth was proceeding at a dizzying pace. In the 1957 elections, the Christian Democratic Party had won an absolute majority in Parliament. After the Nazi nightmare, the German Church, with deserved pride, offered an essential contribution to Germany’s new beginning.

In an atmosphere that could have encouraged triumphalism, the young professor-priest Ratzinger had just written an article in 1958 for the magazine Hochland some reflections arising from his brief but intense pastoral experience as a chaplain in the parish of the Most Precious Blood in Bogenhausen, an haute-bourgeois section of Munich.

In that article, he uses the term “statistical deception” for the cliché that described Europe as “a Continent that is almost totally Christian.” The Church in the postwar modern world appeared to him instead as “a Church of pagans – no longer, as in the past, a church of pagans who have become Christian, but a Church of pagans that still call themselves Christian but who have really become pagans.”

He tells of a new paganism “which is growing ceaselessly in the heart of the Church and threatens to demolish it from the inside.”....[link]

I'd sure love to know what tipped him off! He knew, all-right. He saw. But nobody else seemed to see it. What did he see?

<armchair theorizin'> One of the things you have to do, if you are going to grow in faith, is to fight against ones natural desire to avoid suffering. (Or just grow psychologically. It's not a specifically Christian insight. One of the Noble Truths the Buddha taught was "Life is suffering.") It seems wrong-headed; avoiding pain is just good sense, right? (Seems like that to me too, most of the time.) But it's a mistake. And if your goal is to avoid pain, your faith will shrink. (And you'll get the suffering anyway.)

And a priest is going to observe people's pain and suffering up close. This will tell him a lot, if he has eyes to see. I wouldn't be surprised if there was something like that that was clear to young Fr. Josef Ratzinger. It would not be surprising in a nation that had endured millions of deaths in two world wars...</armchair theorizin'>

Young Fr. Josef Ratzinger

Josef Ratzinger, priest and professor of dogmatic theology, Freising, 1959

Posted by John Weidner at 4:10 PM

"some truth that he has never seen before"

...Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before.

There is one only other parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say “My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell.” No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day.

And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated. Now, when society is in a rather futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact that they alone rule education until education becomes futile: for a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything. The real thing has been done already, and thank God it is nearly always done by women. Every man is womanised, merely by being born. They talk of the masculine woman; but every man is a feminised man. And if ever men walk to Westminster to protest against this female privilege, I shall not join their procession...[Link]
Chesterton portrait by Zach Brissett
(Sketch by Zach Brissett)
Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 AM

November 25, 2006

"Christmas is everybody!"

Christmas is back at Wal-Mart - not that it really ever left.

After testing out a generic, yet all-inclusive, "happy holidays" theme last year, the nation's largest retailer announced this month that Christmas will dominate its seasonal marketing in the U.S. "We've learned our lesson," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone. "This year, we're not afraid to say, 'Merry Christmas.'"

Neither are Walgreens, Target, Macy's, Kmart and Kohl's, among others. In interviews this week, spokesmen from those major retailers said that their stores acknowledge the Christmas holiday, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year's backlash led by conservative Christian groups.

Such groups often criticize the commercialization of Christmas. But in 2005, they instead railed about its dearth, taking Wal-Mart, Best Buy and others to task for not mentioning the day in their holiday advertising - dubbing it "anti-Christian and anti-Christmas bias."

Petitions were passed around, boycotts were threatened and the existence of a "secular progressive agenda" was suggested by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who complained that the political correctness police had religion on the run...[link]

'cause I'm a nice guy, I'll give you "progressives" a tip. Of course you want to destroy Christianity, it's in your philosophical genes. But getting rid of "Merry Christmas" isn't the way to do it. That just emphasizes that something's been removed. Subversion works better. The best tactic is to appeal to our egos, our desire to be the center of the universe. I suggest your new theme should be, "Christmas is you and me!" Or perhaps, "Christmas is people being special!" (And Andrew Sullivan can chime in about how "Christianists" are hijacking a holiday whose theme has always been that "doubt is the noblest of virtues.")

And tolerance is always a good wedge to help destroy morality and religion. You might emphasize the idea that Christmas is also for Moslems, Jews, Buddhists and Hindoos. "Christmas is everybody!"

Posted by John Weidner at 9:27 AM

November 19, 2006

I could probably stare at this for hours...

St Anthony, engraving by  Dürer
An engraving of St Anthony, by Albrecht Dürer.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:16 AM

November 18, 2006

Our place...

Blogger Gerald Augustinus has posted pictures he took of our church, St Dominic's, in San Francisco. I think you might enjoy them...

(By the way, if you are in Southern California and need photography, he's trying to go full-time as a photographer. You can see his work often on his blog.)

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus
Posted by John Weidner at 8:17 AM

November 9, 2006

Improved my morning...

You gotta read this. Blogger Chris Lynch invents an interview with Secretary Rumsfeld. But I HOPE people in the White House are laughing and saying, "Heh heh. Truer than he dreams..."

...ALR: But Mr. Secretary are you saying your tenure as Secretary of Defense was ended simply to control news cycles?

Rummy: Goodness no. When all is said and done I will be the longest serving Secretary of Defense in history. All Secretaries of Defense step down. This just happened to be the right time for me and if the President was able to time the announcement to take the wind out the sails of some blowhards well then that's just gravy. The important thing to me is that our brave men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are honored and protected and I think this resignation helps with those ends.

ALR: Again Mr. Secretary I apologize but I don't follow your reasoning.

Rummy: Well Chris you understand the process involved here correct? It will be a few months before Bob Gates even gets his confirmation hearing. The administration will be able to use the confirmation hearings and my farewell tour to reinforce the case of what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ALR: Mr. Secretary can you elaborate on that a little more?

Rummy: Sure Chris. You see between now and the confirmation hearings I will be going back to Iraq on several occasions. The media normally just covers bad news from Iraq but this time they will have no choice. They will have to get soldiers reaction to my resignation and how they feel about their mission in Iraq. A great percentage of the soldiers really believe in their mission and the American people will see that. Oh and the confirmation hearings are a trap for the Democrats. You'd think they would have learned from the Justice Roberts hearings but I guess not.

ALR: Can you share with us what you foresee happening at the confirmation hearings?

Rummy: Oh its going to be great theater. The back seat drivers will finally have to go on record for what they think is the best course instead of always complaining that we just missed a turn....

Leftists don't really care about Rumsfeld himself, though I'm sure his candor and confidence and wit are a huge irritation. But mostly he, and our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, are symbols of the idea that there are things worth fighting and even dying for. That there are things bigger than their bulbous egos. To the nihilist, the thought of young men and women volunteering to go in harm's way because they believe in service and duty is just insanity, and a very disturbing and irritating sort of insanity.

My own suspicion is that it's disturbing to them because serving is what we were made to do, and little voices inside us whisper that this is so. And I'd say that serving one's country in a post of danger is analogous to serving God [Ed: sounds like you are saying that...No, I am not!] and serving God is what we are really long for. What did Satan say? Non Serviam, I think it was. I will not serve! Our letter-day mini-Satans hate America's military for just that reason. Watch them when they say those bullshitting things about "supporting the troops." They never say or imply that serving our country is in itself noble or admirable. ..

Posted by John Weidner at 11:43 AM

November 5, 2006

Let us live while we live...


John Henry Newman, ca. 1840
We were made for action, and for right action,—for thought, and for true thought. Let us live while we live; let us be alive and doing; let us act on what we have, since we have not what we wish. Let us believe what we do not see and know. Let us forestall knowledge by faith. Let us maintain before we have demonstrated. This seeming paradox is the secret of happiness. Why should we be unwilling to go by faith? We do all things in this world by faith in the word of others. By faith only we know our position in the world, our circumstances, our rights and privileges, our fortunes, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our age, our mortality. Why should religion be an exception? Why should we be unwilling to use for heavenly objects what we daily use for earthly? —Newman

Most of the problems that vex our world today would not have surprised John Henry Newman. He looked into the future back when Queen Victoria was still a princess, and described many of them (and solved some of them, if anybody wants to pay attention).

The quote above alludes to his writings about the difficulty of having faith in a skeptical world. There is an argument that goes, "One should not believe anything that can't be proved by logic, or proved by science." (Usually said of religion by the village atheist.) Newman explained that this is a false argument. Almost everything we know we accept by adding together probabilities, and arriving at a certainty. I believe I was born on a certain date because I add the unliklihood of an incorrect birth certificate to the unliklihood of my parents telling a lie (which itself is based on adding up probabilities) and come up with a certitude. Like 99.9% of the things I know, I have not tested it by formal logic or scientific experiment. It is by the same process that I have come to have faith in the existance of Neutrinos and viruses, neither of which I've ever seen or touched...

Newman called this process the "Illative Sense."

Posted by John Weidner at 6:00 AM

October 22, 2006

Something for Sunday...

...It is the peculiarity of the warfare between the Church and the world, that the world seems ever gaining on the Church, yet the Church is really ever gaining on the world. Its enemies are ever triumphing over it as vanquished, and its members ever despairing; yet it abides. It abides and it sees the ruins of its oppressors and enemies. "O how suddenly do they consume, perish, and come to a fearful end."

Kingdoms rise and fall; nations expand and contract; dynasties begin and end; princes are born and die; confederacies are made and unmade, and parties, and companies, and crafts, and guilds, and establishments, and philosophies, and sects, and heresies. They have their day, but the Church is eternal; yet in their day they seem of much account...
--- John Henry Cardinal Newman
Posted by John Weidner at 6:43 AM

October 5, 2006

Something to chew on with your Cheerios...

From Harry Potter and the Decline of the West, by "Spengler," in Asia Times...

...It may seem counter-intuitive, but complacency is the secret attraction of J K Rowling's magical world. It lets the reader imagine that he is something different, while remaining just what he is. Harry (like young Skywalker) draws his superhuman powers out of the well of his "inner feelings". In this respect Rowling has much in common with the legion of self-help writers who advise the anxious denizens of the West. She also has much in common with writers of pop spirituality, who promise the reader the secret of inner discovery in a few easy lessons.

The spiritual tradition of the West, which begins with classic tragedy and continues through St Augustine's Confessions, tells us just the contrary, namely, that one's inner feelings are the problem, not the solution....

I'm not sure I agree with this. Harry Potter is also a guy who follows a lonely path and gets a lot of scorn and misunderstanding along the way. and one is never sure the story will have what we call a happy ending...

(Thanks to Orrin)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:34 AM

September 22, 2006

Because you are not golden enough...

Pedro wrote yesterday, in a comment here, "...but consider: Communism, the great killer of the 20th century, is dead. Once the Jihadists have been vanquished - a twenty year task, but we shall prevail - I think the main enemy of Man will be the militant humanity-hating greens. And once we're through with them, paradise. I'm very optimistic long term. The Golden Age is at hand...

My, response was:

Sorry Pedro, I'd love to agree, and I used to rather agree, but lately I just can't. I more and more find myself in agreement with Henri de Lubac, who said that the evils of the 20th Century: Communism, Socialism and fascist Socialism (and their new imitator, Jihadism) are ALL products of the project he labeled "Atheistic Humanism." Which is to say, trying to create paradise without the help of God.

We've repented of Hitlerism, and (very half-heartedly) of Communism, but the underlying error is still very much the "religion" of our times. So I expect that things are going to get worse. And that the "worse" may well be ever more subtle and disguised, and may look rather like a "golden age," unless you happen to be one of the victims who is expendable because you are not golden enough.

Solzenhitzyn wrote that the borderline between good and evil runs through every human heart. I think he nailed it...

As if to give me a bit of confirmation, this morning there's this (Thanks to Orrin)

BRITONS suffering from depression could soon be legally helped to die in Switzerland if a test case in the country’s Supreme Court is successful next month.

Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas, the Zurich-based organisation that has helped 54 Britons to die, revealed yesterday that his group was seeking to overturn the Swiss law that allows them to assist only people with a terminal illness.

In his first visit to the country since setting up Dignitas, the lawyer blamed religion for stigmatising suicide, attacking this “stupid ecclesiastical superstition” and said that he believed assisted suicide should be open to everyone.

“We should see in principle suicide as a marvellous possibility given to human beings because they have a conscience . . . If you accept the idea of personal autonomy, you can’t make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right,” he told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

“We should accept generally the right of a human being to say, ‘Right, I would like to end my life’, without any pre-condition, as long as this person has capacity of discernment.”....

I could fisk this in a dozen different ways, but if you can't see it yourself, you won't with my help....

* Update: By the way, I'd LOVE to be proved wrong in all this. Make my day; demolish my arguments!

Posted by John Weidner at 7:41 AM

September 19, 2006

"Something important had happened..."

I don't have time, alas, to comment sensibly on the Pope's Regensberg lecture, or even read it with proper attention. Too much work (which is good!) Amy has some great round-ups of reactions. I recommend this article, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J....

On September 12, on his visit to his native Bavaria, Benedict XVI gave a formal academic lecture at the University at which he formerly was a professor. It is a brilliant, stunning lecture, and it is a lecture, not a papal pronouncement. It brings into focus just why there is a papacy and why Catholicism is an intellectual religion. Indeed, it is a lecture on why reason is reason and what this means. The scope of this lecture is simply breathtaking, but also intelligible to the ordinary mind. In watching my computer and listening to various colleagues the day after this address was given, I felt a kind of hush in the air. Something important had happened, something more than the ordinary went on in Regensburg, something that was addressed to the heart of modernism but also to Islam, our current enigma....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:36 AM

September 17, 2006

Some blog graphics...

I made a couple of sidebar gizmos, feel free to use them...

B-16, Faith and Reason are not antonyms

Faith and Reason2

"...But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you were not a priest.'

'What?' asked the thief, almost gaping.

'You attacked reason,' said Father Brown. 'It's bad theology.'


From
The Blue Cross, in The Innocence of Father Brown, by GK Chesterton.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:57 PM

"There's really only one Christian power left in the world"

Ron Coleman, at Deans World, gets something exactly right...

...Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted the pope apologize to the Muslim world, saying he had spoken "not like a man of religion but like a usual politician."

...Erdogan has actually got it exactly backwards. What the Pope was said was consistent with his being the leader of the Roman Catholic church; what they want him to say is the usual political pap. Of course, Erdogan himself, a moderate chap, is looking over his own shoulder at the suicide belt crowd. He's got little choice; he was probably already in hot water with those cats over a papal visit to Turkey. Now his back is to the wall.

Pity Rome. There's really only one Christian power left in the world, though it isn't a Catholic one. And that one is already at war with these perpetually "raging" charmers, having gotten precious little support from the world's tiniest, and also its largest, state. It is hard to imagine the Pope staying the course on this one, but so far, he has...

The Vatican changes only verrrry slowly. And that's a good thing. And it can't take sides in a war of course. But things are obviously changing, and the Regensberg speech was, I think, calculated to a nicety to open a few minds that are still capable of opening, and also to change the position of some of the pieces on the board.

It's true that the Holy See hasn't given us much encouragement so far in the War on Terror. But if it just happens to be under attack by Islamic savages and the nihilist press and lefty appeasers everywhere, well....it may find itself on the side of the good guys de facto.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:19 PM

"...or the malice was intended"

David Warren writes an excellent piece on the press coverage of the Pope's Regensburg speech...

...This was not a crude anti-Islamic polemic; nor was it so at the end of the 14th century. It was a quest for peace and amity, then as now.

By turning the story back-to-front, so that what’s promised in the lead -- a crude attack on Islam -- is quietly withdrawn much later in the text, the BBC journalists were having a little mischief. The kind of mischief that is likely to end with Catholic priests and faithful butchered around the Muslim world. Either the writers were so jaw-droppingly ignorant, they did not realize this is what they were abetting (always a possibility with the postmodern journalist), or the malice was intended. There is no third possibility.

From the start, the BBC’s reports said the Pope would “face criticism from Muslim leaders” -- in the present tense. This is a form of dishonesty that has become common in journalism today. The flagrantly biased reporter, feigning objectivity, spices his story by just guessing what a man’s enemies will say, even before they have spoken.

While I don’t mean to pick especially on the BBC, when other mainstream media are often as culpable, they are worth singling out here to show the amount of sheer, murderous evil of which this taxpayer-funded network is capable...

"sheer, murderous evil..." Yes.

And it should be kept in mind that we of the West are teaching the Islamic fanatics to react the way they have. By our various apologies in the past for things like the Danish cartoons, we have rewarded angry mobs burning this or that. Even when we are in the wrong, we should never apologize in reaction to unreasoning violence.

In fact, the very first violent Islamic mob (within Western lands) should have had its leaders publicly hanged. [Well, OK, maybe pardon them after they've had a good scare.] That would have been the path of peace. Instead, the self-loathing appeasers and pacifists have been running things, and the result is murderous violence, and the destruction of civilized discourse, with lots more to come.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:00 AM

September 16, 2006

Obscene

Tigerhawk, on the controversy around the Pope...

...Predictably, the greatest beneficiaries of the Western enlightenment blamed reason, the true victim of Muslim rage through the ages. The editors of The New York Times said this morning, to the eternal discredit of that once great paper, that
[t]he world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.
This is obscene. Apart from its factual inaccuracy -- there is no evidence that any of the enraged Muslims "listened carefully" to the words of the pope -- this is like blaming a beaten wife for provoking the bastard who throttles her. It is the leaders of prayers in the mosques of the Muslim world who call on their faithful to riot in the streets. It is they who sow pain and incite violence, and anybody unburdened by a loathing of Western civilization knows it. Pope Benedict has nothing to apologize for...

This is a stunning example Western self-loathing. And if the NYT had themselves "listened carefully to the words of the Pope," they would have noticed that the churches of unreason he criticizes include the one that has its American "vatican" in the NYT Building...

...They are not children, however much the cultural relativists who absolve the rioters and their sympathizers infantalize them. I condemn these people for making bad choices; liberals, such as the editors of the New York Times, refuse to condemn them because they believe that Muslims are incapable of choices. I may deplore the choices of these rioting Muslims, but the New York Times holds them in contempt, regarding them as nothing more than wild animals. Just as we all blame humans who antagonize an animal into a violent response, the New York Times blames Westerners who "sow pain," as if Muslims have the free will of a cornered wolf...
Posted by John Weidner at 7:00 AM

September 12, 2006

I'm sure there must be some kind of lesson hidden in this somewhere...

Reborn
We have always been told there is no recovery from persistent vegetative state - doctors can only make a sufferer's last days as painless as possible. But is that really the truth? Across three continents, severely brain-damaged patients are awake and talking after taking ... a sleeping pill. And no one is more baffled than the GP who made the breakthrough. Steve Boggan witnesses these 'strange and wonderful' rebirths....

.. .For three years, Riaan Bolton has lain motionless, his eyes open but unseeing. After a devastating car crash doctors said he would never again see or speak or hear. Now his mother, Johanna, dissolves a pill in a little water on a teaspoon and forces it gently into his mouth. Within half an hour, as if a switch has been flicked in his brain, Riaan looks around his home in the South African town of Kimberley and says, "Hello." Shortly after his accident, Johanna had turned down the option of letting him die.

Three hundred miles away, Louis Viljoen, a young man who had once been cruelly described by a doctor as "a cabbage", greets me with a mischievous smile and a streetwise four-move handshake. Until he took the pill, he too was supposed to be in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state.....
Posted by John Weidner at 2:11 PM

September 8, 2006

I would hate to try to write satire in this age...

Diogenes found this. Apparently it is not a joke...

Gavin Young has a M.A. in Systematic & Historical Theology from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. A second M.A. in Pastoral Ministry from The Franciscan School of Theology, also in Berkeley. His undergraduate work was in German, with a minor in English. Gavin is a certified Life Coach through the Coach Training Alliance.

Mr. Young has worked at Christie's and Doyle New York in New York City as an appraiser and specialist in 19th & 20th Century Decorative Arts, and taught at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, CA, prior to earning his certification as a Life Coach. He has published several short stories and is currently working on a book about praying the Psalms.

Mr. Young's spiritual path has been rich and varied leading him from the Presbyterianism in which he was raised, through agnosticism, New Age spiritualities with Wiccan and Pagan influences, and back to Christianity through Roman Catholicism with strong Quaker leanings. He's identified most firmly as a progressive Christian humanist and ecumenist, who attempts to promote "critical thinking and intellectual honesty."

Gavin is a 29 degree Taurus with Cancer Rising and an Aries Moon. His Meyers-Briggs rating is either INFJ or ISFJ and he is a Two (The Helper) on the Enneagram. His soul and personality card in the Tarot deck is the Hierophant V.

He passed through Roman Catholicism (with strong Quaker leanings?) to Christianity??? Jeeze Louise, give me strength. My enneogram machine's goin' beep beep beep.

All I can say is, when terrorists are putting guns to peoples heads and demanding conversion to Islam, have I got a feller for them...

Posted by John Weidner at 3:49 PM

August 20, 2006

Sketches...

I stumbled on an artist, Zach Brissett, who has cool images of Catholic figures. I especially like his Belloc and Chesterton, and I'll now be able to add them (with his kind permission) to future quotes, and to the Belloc poem I posted a week ago...

Belloc portrait by Zach Brissett

Chesterton portrait by Zach Brissett
...But there are some people, nevertheless — and I am one of them — who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them.
--GK Chesterton

Posted by John Weidner at 8:24 PM

No man knows the way to it...

There are mines for silver
and places where men refine gold;
where iron is won from the earth
and copper smelted from the ore;
the end of the seam lies in darkness,
and it is followed to its farthest limit.
Strangers cut the galleries;
they are forgotten as they drive forward far from men.

While corn is springing from the earth above,
what lies beneath is raked over like a fire,
and out of its rocks comes lapis lazuli,
dusted with flecks of gold.
No bird of prey knows the way there,
and the falcon's keen eye cannot descry it;
proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no serpent comes that way.

Man sets his hand to the granite rock
and lays bare the roots of the mountains;
he cuts galleries in the rocks;
and gems of every kind meet his eye;
he dams up the sources of the streams
and brings the hidden riches of the earth to light.
But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the source of understanding?
No man knows the way to it,
it is not found in the land of living men.
The depths of ocean say, 'It is not in us,'
and the sea says, 'It is not with me'
Red gold cannot buy it,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver;
it cannot be set in the scales against gold of Ophir,
against precious cornelian or lapis lazuli;
gold and crystal are not to be matched with it,
no work in fine gold can be bartered for it;
black coral and alabaster are not worth mention,
and a parcel of wisdom fetches more than red coral;
topaz from Ethiopia is not to be matched with it,
it cannot be set in the scales against pure gold.

Where then does wisdom come from,
and where is the source of understanding?
No creature on earth can see it,
and it is hidden from the birds of the air.
Destruction and death say,
'We know of it only by report.'

But God understands the way to it,
he alone knows its source;
for he can see to the ends of the earth
and he surveys everything under heaven.
When he made a counterpoise for the wind
and measured out the waters in proportion,
when he laid down a limit for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
even then he saw wisdom and took stock of it,
he considered it and fathomed its very depths.
And he said to man:
    The fear of the Lord is wisdom.
    and to turn from evil is understanding.

--- The Book of Job

(New English Bible. Quoted in A Book of Faith, by Elizabeth Goudge)
Posted by John Weidner at 5:17 AM

August 15, 2006

I'm feeling a bit guilty...

Because it's the Feast of the Assumption, and poor Charlene is away visiting in the far hinterlands, where the liturgical fare is not promising. Whereas tonight St Dominic's laid on a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, ad Orientum, with parts from Schubert's Mass in G by our awesome choir plus strings, plus Ave by Josquin, plus Dominican chant...I'm still light-headed, and she will be soooo jealous.

Also, something I HATE---people who ride motorcycles or bicycles at night wearing dark clothes. I came Way too close to some motorcyclist, all in his cool black garb.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:53 PM

August 13, 2006

Help of the half-defeated, House of gold...

Ballade to Our Lady of Częstochowa

I
Lady and Queen and Mystery manifold
And very Regent of the untroubled sky,
Whom in a dream St. Hilda did behold
And heard a woodland music passing by:
You shall receive me when the clouds are high
With evening and the sheep attain the fold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

II
Steep are the seas and savaging and cold
In broken waters terrible to try;
And vast against the winter night the wold,
And harbourless for any sail to lie.
But you shall lead me to the lights, and I
Shall hymn you in a harbour story told.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

III
Help of the half-defeated, House of gold,
Shrine of the Sword, and Tower of Ivory;
Splendour apart, supreme and aureoled,
The Battler's vision and the World's reply.
You shall restore me, O my last Ally,
To vengence and the glories of the bold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Envoi

Prince of the degradations, bought and sold,
These verses, written in your crumbling sty,
Proclaim the faith that I have held and hold
And publish that in which I mean to die.

    -- Hilaire Belloc

Belloc portrait by Zach Brissett
(Sketch by Zach Brissett)

Just for your information, Częstochowa is pronounced Chens-toe-HOE-vah... It is the premier pilgrimage site in Poland, the home of the monastery of Jasna Góra, and the shrine with the painting of the Black Madonna.

As poetry, this is just what I like, and just the sort that is, of course, is not written any more. And also, I encountered it by chance just after talking to a girl whose sister was on a pilgrimage to Częstochowa...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:17 AM

July 15, 2006

More murk...

Charlene and I were both keenly disappointed in Cardinal Secretary of State Sodano's statement about the conflict between Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah. Particularly this:

..."In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and gives assurances of its closeness to those people who have suffered so much in the defense of their own independence...

Uh, Israel is also a "free and sovereign nation," and its civilian population is being showered by hundreds of Iranian-made rockets fired from...Lebanon. Fired by a group that has members in the Lebanese Parliament.

This is the usual rubbishing Euro "moral equivalence." Or maybe "un-equivalence," since the terrorists always get the best of these arguments. But it should be noted that Sodano retires in a month, and Bertone of Genoa is coming in. I have hope that shafts of light will soon start shining down into certain murky corners of St Peter's.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:59 AM

July 9, 2006

Sunday thought

Jul. 07 (CWNews.com) - The most prominent leader of the "underground" Catholic Church in China's Hebei province has been arrested for the 9th time in the past 3 years.

Bishop Jia Zhiguo of the Zheng Ding diocese was taken into custody on June 25, the Cardinal Kung Foundation reports. The bishop-- who was still recovering from a recent medical operation-- was taken from a hospital to an undisclosed location. Authorities said that the prelate was being sent for "education."

Bishop Jia had last been arrested late in 2005, and held for 5 months before his release in April. (He was allowed to return to his home-- although he remained under surveillance there-- just as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in the US for a diplomatic visit.) The bishop has now spent more than 20 years in prison.

Chinese authorities have put heavy pressure on the clergy of the "underground" Church to accept the authority of the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association. That pressure has been most pronounced in Hebei, a province outside Beijing, where the underground Church is particularly strong. Bishop Jia-- a beloved figure who cares for 100 handicapped children in his own home-- has frequently been the focus of government "re-education" efforts.

This is leftism in a fairly pure form. The diluted form we see all around us, with the "re-education" efforts always in the form of enforced tolerance. The current campaign is for gay rights (which no one should be so foolish as to imagine has anything at all with helping gays). A campaign that keeps ratcheting up, with new demands every year. Don't be surprised when some of our bishops get sent to the pokey for some re-education time for "bad thoughts."

The technique is to hijack some cause that's good in itself. Commies used to "help" workers, by organizing unions and strikes. But once they gained power, the freedom to organize unions was gone for good. Same thing with other "good causes." Rights for minorities, women, the handicapped...anyone who disagrees is labeled a bigot. Same with the environment. If you are not for every new regulation, then you are against "saving the Earth." And always the goal is to have criminal and social penalties, to punish those who disagree.

There's only one war. The front-lines are everywhere.

* Update: Charlene adds, that if you need a reason to look favorably on the Church, just notice who its enemies are...

Posted by John Weidner at 10:44 AM

July 8, 2006

"like firecrackers and drunken yahoos on the Fourth of July"

Patrick Hynes of Anklebiting Pundits (referring to this Op-Ed) makes a useful distinction...

....I might quibble with Meacham in a couple of places, as when he says the Founders “struggled with religion’s role in politics.” They, of course, did no such thing. They fought, bitterly at times, about religion’s role in government, but religion and politics—in this Christian nation—have always gone together like firecrackers and drunken yahoos on the Fourth of July. Politics and religion are so intertwined that Thomas Jefferson, who was not an orthodox Christian actually pretended to be one by attending church regularly and contributing large sums of money various churches across Virginia in order to maintain his political viability. The insistence that we separate religion from politics is a relatively new obsession of the modern political Left....
Posted by John Weidner at 12:37 PM

July 4, 2006

"That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom"

Michael and Jana Novak have a nice piece in First Things, “Under God”—Mystic Chords...

...These two General Orders, [by General Washington, quoted in the article] for July 2, 1776, and July 9, 1776, echo like mystic chords in Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg. For Lincoln seemed to believe it would be very odd, indeed, if the first birth of freedom was achieved “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” and “under God,” while “a new birth of freedom,” wrested from “the last full measure of devotion” at Gettysburg, did not also begin “under God.” And so Lincoln, too, followed Washington in picking up the echo:
“. . . That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln reaffirmed this faith in God’s judgments as “true and righteous” in his magnificent Second Inaugural.

And Washington in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Savannah, after he became president, reminded the nation that “the same wonder-working Deity” whose name “is Jehovah” who had rescued the Israelites from Egypt was active in 1776 in “establishing these United States as an independent nation.”

To understand the public religion of America from its beginnings until now, it is essential to study the language, the conceptual structure, and the presuppositions about world order that quietly and “on deep background” formed the minds of Washington, Lincoln, and all successful leaders who have been able to touch most deeply the soul of the American people.

This same public religion, which is accessible to atheists and agnostics in their own fashion, should always echo in the minds of children, as in grown men and women, so that the spirit of liberty may thrive forever, beyond the power of any Caesar to add or to subtract...

"...and all successful leaders who have been able to touch most deeply the soul of the American people." I think that's exactly right. People keep coming up with all sorts of clever-Johnny arguments about how "separation of church and state" should mean public atheism and hostility to Christianity. But somehow Americans don't pay much attention.

And the real meaning of "separation of church and state" is obvious from Washington's words. He didn't endorse any particular church, not even a particular religion, such as Christianity, and was easily able to include Jews in his belief in Divine Providence. And, as the Novaks point out, even agnostics and atheists can participate in the belief that America is somehow singled out for great deeds. And many of them have in our history. The current deluge of anti-Christian propaganda is really leftist anti-Americanism at work...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:18 AM

June 25, 2006

sitting here in Pelosiville...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, in a speech yesterday on the Inheritance Tax...

..."Pope Benedict recently put out his new encyclical. And in his encyclical he quoted Saint Augustine. He talked about the role that politicians have and that a government should be promoting justice: ‘A State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves.’ This is a pope saying this in an encyclical, quoting a saint.

"I ask this Congress: Is it justice to steal from the middle class to give tax cuts to the ultra super rich? It is not just, and it is an injustice that we cannot afford. Americans can no longer afford President Bush and the Republicans. It’s time for a new direction. We can begin by rejecting this estate tax giveaway to the wealthy and insist on a vote to increase the minimum wage – that would be a real values judgment."...

This is idiotic in a dozen different ways, and you can probably figure them out as well as I can. I would just say to Ms Pelosi (and this will bewilder liberals) that it is just as wrong to steal from the rich as it is to steal from the poor.

Better than my poor thoughts, Domenico Bettinelli, who I got this from, quotes the Godfather himself, from the same encyclical...

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 which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, 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...

Is it just me, or does that seem vaguely familiar?

Posted by John Weidner at 5:06 PM

June 18, 2006

Quote for Sunday...

A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness towards the beautiful are not incidental: they necessarily are reflected in his theology.

-- Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. 1985
Posted by John Weidner at 4:33 PM

June 15, 2006

"The very goodness of life, the goodness of being..."

Charlene and I, normally as simpatico as any couple can be, tend to differ on one point, which comes up like a recurring speed-bump in our conversations. Usually over some new Islamist outrage, usually in Europe, something like the rioting and threats over the Mohammed cartoons.

She thinks it's all part of a movement, a conspiracy, a plot, and must be stopped! I respond that there's no active plot, but rather, that these enormities are being drawn out, summoned, by the moral vacuum in the soul of Western Christian society, especially (but not exclusively) in Europe. And that if a country like Denmark had even a tenth of the moral self-confidence it had a hundred years ago, there is no way a crowd of shit-kicking North African peasant immigrants would even think of making demands and committing blatant crimes.

Which is why I found this quote, from a column by George Weigel, very apposite to my thoughts:

...[Prof. Rémi] Brague, who knows a great deal about Islamic philosophy, knows all about the threat to the West from jihadist Islam. In Vienna, however, he insisted that nihilism – a soured cynicism about the mystery and wonder of being — is the prior enemy-within-the-gates. For nihilism leads to deep skepticism about the human capacity to know the truth of anything; skepticism leads to what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described on April 18, 2005, as the “dictatorship of relativism;” and relativism is a solvent eating away the foundations of western self-understanding, western civilizational morale — and the western capacity for intelligent self-defense.

An Enlightenment intellectual, cited by Professor Brague, once said that he didn’t have children because begetting children was a criminal act — a matter of condemning another human being to death, to oblivion. That is the kind of nihilism that lies beneath Europe’s demographic suicide of recent decades. That is the kind of nihilism that occupies some of the commanding heights of American culture. That is the kind of nihilism that makes the defense of western civilization difficult today — and would make it impossible tomorrow, were it to triumph culturally.

The very goodness of life, the goodness of being — that is The Issue beneath all the other issues of the 21st century. So suggested Rémi Brague. I’m afraid he’s right...

"The Issue beneath all the other issues". I too am afraid he is right.

(You can access Weigel's columns here.)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:49 AM

May 29, 2006

Do not be discouraged...

I liked this. Pope Benedict, speaking to young people in Kraków-Błonie...

...My friends, in the heart of every man there is the desire for a house. Even more so in the young person’s heart there is a great longing for a proper house, a stable house, one to which he can not only return with joy, but where every guest who arrives can be joyfully welcomed. There is a yearning for a house where the daily bread is love, pardon and understanding. It is a place where the truth is the source out of which flows peace of heart. There is a longing for a house you can be proud of, where you need not be ashamed and where you never fear its loss.

These longings are simply the desire for a full, happy and successful life. Do not be afraid of this desire! Do not run away from this desire! Do not be discouraged at the sight of crumbling houses, frustrated desires and faded longings. God the Creator, who inspires in young hearts an immense yearning for happiness, will not abandon you in the difficult construction of the house called life....

Pope Benedict XVI

AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

And I like this picture. The Pope is not, to my mind, a very photogenic guy. In fact he often looks like some strange uncle drawn by Charles Addams. Here he looks like the sweet person that those have met him always describe, but also like the intellectual heavyweight he is. Dangerous (in the good sense, like Gandalf). What a time this is to be alive...

Posted by John Weidner at 2:45 PM

May 21, 2006

"just fiction"

Mark Shea puts DVC nicely in perspective:

[Interviewers kept] asking the tired question, "Isn't it just fiction?" I proposed a fictional film in which all the homosexuals in the world were engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy Western Civilization.

"That would be offensive."

No duh.

The *only* time people fall for this notion that a fictional story which goes out of its way to malign and defame a billion people is "just fiction" is when it bashes Christians. The only time such people believe it will have absolutely no effect on what people think is with the Da Vinci Code. Try making a modern fictional film in which blacks are all watermelon-eating Stepin Fetchit dunces, or Jews are all conniving lechers and you will (rightly) get a storm of protest because these lies are pernicious and do real damage. But declare Christians the suckers of a 2000 year old Vatican conspiracy of murder and lies in the service of "the greatest coverup of all time", blaspheme Jesus and call all Christians fools for believing in him: that's just fiction....

Actually, it is also permissible to portray evil greedy white male American businessmen conspiring to destroy Western Civilization. (Easy too, writers and directors could just extrapolate from their own industry.) Or Republicans; it's OK to expose their horrid conspiracies and call it fiction. But neither of those frighten lefties as much as the Church.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:32 AM

April 30, 2006

The word "war" doesn't mean what it used to mean.

One of the sins of Donald Rumsfeld, in the eyes of many, was the canceling of the Crusader artillery system. Crusader is what we are not doing. What's more interesting is what we are doing. Jason van Steenwyck writes:

The artillery is getting a new weapon: The Excalibur features a precision-guided warhead as small as 50 pounds, with a near vertical drop to the target. It's about time.

The Army has depended on Air Force CAS for far too long, while the Air Force has steadfastly resisted creating and fielding munitions that are suitable for close-in urban combat...

...Our M109 Self Propelled Howitzers are largely gathering dust. It's a fine system - but the enemy rarely chooses to engage or allow himself to be engaged in open areas where our artillery and Close Air Support can be effective. Many of our cannoncockers have been relegated to quasi-infantry and quasi-police tasks on the ground in Iraq.....

An artillery shell that weighs 50 lbs! (23kg). I could lift it with one hand.

Think about that.

And those big dogs not barking in the night.

Think about them.

And there are lots of related things I've blogged over the last few years, about us not using the destructive force we have. Bombs filled with concrete instead of explosives. The incredulity of people in Kabul when we dropped bombs into housefulls of Talibs, without harming the neighbors. Or the attack of our Israeli brothers on Jenin, which, despite the filthy leftist campaign of lies about it, was an act of extraordinary humanity. The Israelis could have flattened that neighborhood with impunity, but instead sent soldiers to fight (and die) house-to-house to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.

The same is true of most of our actions in Iraq. In 2004 I blogged this: "....He informed us that a large number of the residents of Fallujah, before fleeing the battle, left blankets and bedding for the Marines and Soldiers along with notes thanking the Americans for liberating their city from the terrorists, as well as invitations to the Marines and Soldiers to sleep in their houses...."

The image in most of our minds when we hear the word "war" is some pointless mass slaughter, some Belleau Wood, with poor fellows being mowed down in their thousands by machine guns. But war is not like that any more.

War is no longer All Quiet on the Western Front. It's like this. And this, It's, well, like Seven Samurai.

War is a Christian duty in this time.

Cradle
(This photo was taken by Michael Yon. I blogged it here.)

War as Christian Duty. This article by Darrell Cole explains it well.
....This strikes a discordant note among many. How, we are asked, can an act of force be loving? The short answer is that force becomes an act of love when it seeks to resemble God’s use of force. In practice this means, among other things, that acts of force must never involve intrinsic evil (such as intentionally killing innocent people, for instance).

The most noteworthy aspect of the moral approach to warfare in Aquinas and Calvin is that it teaches—contrary to today’s prevailing views—that a failure to engage in a just war is a failure of virtue, a failure to act well. An odd corollary of this conclusion is that it is a greater evil for Christians to fail to wage a just war than it is for unbelievers. When an unbeliever fails to go to war, the cause may be a lack of courage, prudence, or justice. He may be a coward or simply indifferent to evil. These are failures of natural moral virtue. When Christians (at least in the tradition of Aquinas and Calvin) fail to engage in just war, it may involve all of these natural failures as well, but it will also, and more significantly, involve a failure of charity. The Christian who fails to use force to aid his neighbor when prudence dictates that force is the best way to render that aid is an uncharitable Christian. Hence, Christians who willingly and knowingly refuse to engage in a just war do a vicious thing: they fail to show love toward their neighbor as well as toward God.
Posted by John Weidner at 9:41 AM

April 25, 2006

“statistical deception”

Here's a translation of a fascinating article on Joseph Ratzinger as young professor of theology in the 1950's and 60's. (If anyone still needs a corrective to the hateful caricatures of him, read this.) It's a portrait of a teacher, a man of rare wisdom and charm.

But this bit of prescience made my hair stand up...

...Bonn in those years was the almost accidental capital of Adenauer’s Germany. In the divided land, whose eastern states were behind the Iron Curtain, economic and civilian rebirth was proceeding at a dizzying pace. In the 1957 elections, the Christian Democratic Party had won an absolute majority in Parliament. After the Nazi nightmare, the German Church, with deserved pride, offered an essential contribution to Germany’s new beginning.

In an atmosphere that could have encouraged triumphalism, the young professor-priest Ratzinger had just written an article in 1958 for the magazine Hochland some reflections arising from his brief but intense pastoral experience as a chaplain in the parish of the Most Prescious Blood in Bogenhausen, an haut-bourgeois section of Munich.

In that article, he uses the term “statistical deception” for the cliché that described Europe as “a Continent that is almost totally Christian.” The Church in the postwar modern world appeared to him instead as “
a Church of pagans – no longer, as in the past, a church of pagans who have become Christian, but a Church of pagans that still call themselves Christian but who have really become pagans.”

He tells of a new paganism “which is growing ceaselessly in the heart of the Church and threatens to demolish it from the inside.”...
(thanks to Amy Welborn)

1958! Who else saw it? No one I've read of.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:04 AM

April 16, 2006

Happy Easter...

I'm pretty tired, we went beforetimes to the Easter Vigil last night so Charlene could help set up, and didn't get home until late. But it was worth it. Very moving.

I hadn't been to one before, and so had never heard the traditional hymn, The Exsultet. Here's a little part of it, which hopefully will display side-by-side...


...This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave...

...Haec sunt enim festa paschalia,
in quibus verus ille Agnus occiditur,
cuius sanguine postes fidelium consecrantur.

Haec nox est,
in qua primum patres nostros, filios Israel
eductos de Aegypto,
Mare Rubrum sicco vestigio transire fecisti.

Haec igitur nox est,
quae peccatorum tenebras columnae illuminatione purgavit.

Haec nox est,
quae hodie per universum mundum in Christo credentes,
a vitiis saeculi et caligine peccatorum segregatos,
reddit gratiae, sociat sanctitati.

Haec nox est,
in qua, destructis vinculis mortis,
Christus ab inferis victor ascendit...
Posted by John Weidner at 10:36 AM

April 10, 2006

One change after another...

One of the neatest things about blogging is how it forces me to clarify my thoughts. And one thing I've discovered is that the interest that underlies most of my other interests is change. Not so much the Glenn Reynolds "Nano-machines, Life-Extension, Heh!" variety, but more what we need to do or BE to deal with change. To ride the wave and not be drowned.

We are already being flung into changes that would have been science fiction in the time of Jules Verne. Just having countries where virtually no one is poor or hungry is flabbergasting from a historical perspective. And we already see clear evidence that such change can be destructive, as witness demographic collapse and economic stagnation in Western Europe. And when you look at that, and then look at those countries that seem to be doing better, you see a couple of obvious possibilities for tools we might want to have in our societal toolkits if we are being sent in a time machine into the future...And the two big possibilities are the culture of the Anglosphere, and monotheistic religion...

This morning Charlene passed me this story, which has one of those possibilities in a context of amazing change...

....Carlos Charco bought a turban, tunic and sandals on the first day of a short mission trip three years ago in a West African country.

He wanted to blend into this Sahara Desert region, far from Mexico's Pacific coast, where he grew up. Far from the San Antonio seminary where he was studying Christian theology.

The new duds and his mestizo features — black hair and brown skin — matched those of the Arab community there. Nearly everyone assumed he was Muslim.

"It was an advantage as a missionary that I'm not white and my eyes were not blue or green," said Charco, a San Antonio pastor who's preparing — along with his wife, Viviana, of South America — to be missionaries in a Muslim country.

They are part of a rising evangelical movement of Latin-American missionaries going to areas that are the least Christianized in the world....

I remember how it was only a couple of decades ago that I was amazed to discover that American Protestants were sending missionaries to Central America, and were meeting with great success. I had just assumed that anything south of the border was a Catholic stronghold where Protestants would probably be tarred and feathered, or just laughed at. Protestants going there seemed as outlandish then as sending Christians to Muslim countries does now!

Now Latin America is sending out thousands of missionaries to other places...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:34 AM

April 3, 2006

A slander with few parallels...

I haven't yet read Hugh Hewitt's new book Painting the Map Red, but Betsy Newmark has posted a quote that is right on target...

...The attempt to scare America into voting against Republicans because of the absurd charge that their followers want a "theocracy" may be the biggest electoral mistake of the past fifty years. It is simply impossible to persuade majorities of Americans that they and their neighbors want mullah-style government because they and theose neighbors oppose gay marriage or think that devout Catholics can make great great judges. The deep offense given to people of faith upon being charged with extremism and kinship with the Taliban and the Iranian mullahs is sinking deeper and deeper into the consciousness of the American electorate.

It is a slander with few parallels, and the rote denials of religious bigotry when confronted with the record can not undo the deserved reputation of the left, and especially leading pundits of the left, for religious bigotry....

I think he's correct in thinking that the accusation is incredibly stupid electorally. (It's so stupid as a reality that it's not even worth arguing with. The idea that the Religious Right, which includes Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, the few Jews who are still serious, and a variety of other flavors, could institute a "theocracy" is so ludicrous only a liberal could imagine it.)

But I'm sure it's "sinking deeper and deeper into the consciousness" of a lot of other people besides us that going to church on Sunday is considered, by our sophisticated neighbors, to be weird and old-fashioned. Unless it's to some "hollowed-out" mainstream denomination that has substituted liberalism for Christianity, and espouses "justice" and "peace" as a replacement for the Gospel.

Actually it's liberalism (Big Government Liberalism, not Classical Liberalism) that's old-fashioned. It gelled around 1974, and hasn't had a new idea since...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:38 AM

April 2, 2006

Not like the cartoons...

John Allen has a very good piece on the Pope's first year...

....Thus the L'Unità cartoon showed Benedict XVI at the same window, saying, "Tonight, when you go home, I want you to give your children a spanking, and tell them that this spanking comes from the pope."

It perfectly crystallized the expectations many had of this allegedly draconian, Darth Vader figure. Many people expected that if Ratzinger were elected on a Tuesday, by Wednesday priests would be saying Mass in Latin with their backs to the people, and one would hear a great flushing sound across the Catholic world as all the dissidents and liberals were washed out of the system.

The most striking thing about Benedict's first year, therefore, is how relatively little of this sort of thing we've seen....
Posted by John Weidner at 2:04 PM

March 13, 2006

Three Squares a Day for the brain...

Charlene and I have been working our way through N.T. Wright's Christian Origins and the Question of God. He's written three volumes (so far) of densely-reasoned and annotated history—splendid meaty satisfying stuff that's giving us a lot to think about. (And an utter OASIS of good sense if you have ever wandered through the strange deserts of modern "Jesus scholarship.") It's too soon to blog about it, and I may likely never be so presumptuous as to even try. But highly recommended.

You can get a bit of the flavor of Wright and his thoughts in this lecture, Decoding The Da Vinci Code...

....In fact, the contemporary myth gets things exactly the wrong way round. It isn’t the case that the canonical New Testament is politically and socially quiescent, colluding with empire, while the Jesus whom we meet in the Nag Hammadi texts and similar documents is politically and socially subversive, so dangerous that he had to be suppressed. It’s the other way round, and this may be among the most telling points we have to recognize for today. You may salve your own conscience by embracing Gnosticism, by telling yourself how very wicked the world is and how you are going to escape it once and for all by following the path of spiritual self-discovery and enlightenment. But if Caesar takes any notice at all, all he will do is sneer at you and go on his way to yet more triumphs of sheer power. And if that happened in the second century, we can be sure it’s precisely what’s happening today. Heidegger and Bultmann couldn’t prevent Hitler; Derrida and Foucault and their numerous disciples can’t do anything to stop the new empires of today. Certainly those who are advocating a new kind of do-it-yourself spirituality, and claiming that Jesus is somehow in or behind it all, cut no ice on the political front.

The challenge comes, therefore, at the level of worldview. Yes, of course the church has often got it wrong, including in its views of women (where it has, basically, failed to see what was there in the New Testament itself). Yes, the Constantinian settlement was deeply ambiguous; but they knew it at the time, and it was only with the high Middle Ages that things went so badly wrong. Yes, Christianity has — especially in the 20th century — pretended that it’s a “faith,” unrelated to history. But its historical roots are rock solid, and the faith that is based on them is not a loose, “whatever-works-for-you” postmodern construct. This faith, and the worldview which it generates, are the heart of the challenge with which I want now to conclude.

3. Conclusion
Let me sum up this lecture in the following way. The Da Vinci Code is a symptom of something much bigger, a lightning rod which has throbbed with the electricity of the postmodern western world.

One of the basic fault lines in the contemporary Western world is the line between neo-Gnosticism on the one hand and the challenge of Jesus on the other. Please note that, despite strenuous attempts to make this line coincide with the current sharp left-right polarization of American culture and politics, it simply doesn’t. Nor, for that matter, does it coincide with the polarizations of British or European culture either. So what is this real, deep polarization which runs through our world?..... (Thanks to
Pontifications)
Posted by John Weidner at 12:47 PM

March 7, 2006

Instructions from headquarters...

Mark Kleiman has a blog called "The reality-Based Community, so you know you can expect some stuff that's off in the left field of some other galaxy. But this is particularly ridiculous...

No exodus to the GOP

Jews, it has been said, combine the incomes of Episcopalians with the voting patterns of Puerto Ricans. The Republicans keep hoping, and I keep worrying, that increasing numbers of Jews will start to vote their fears and their capital gains instead of their morals and their religious tradition.

Tom Edsall has some good news on this front: it's not happening, at least for now. Apparently the number of Jews with enough of a goyishe kopf to want to follow Jack Abramoff's lead is encouragingly small.

Update The Solomon Project has some data. It looks as if Jewish women are more Jewish in their voting patterns than Jewish men, and that attending synagogue weekly makes you less Jewish in the voting booth...

What defines a "Jew?" Why, doing things that are Jewish! Let's see, that includes NOT voting Republican, and NOT going to synagogue and....well, hey, what more do you need? That just about covers it!

(Thanks to Pejman)
Posted by John Weidner at 8:08 AM

January 29, 2006

Just click the "Jesus" button in Preferences > National > Non-Persons ...

Bryan Preston notes that Google China is not just tossing political matters like Tianamen Square down the Memory Hole; religion is another inconvenience the commies and their capitalist under-strappers would rather do without:

...It’s easy enough to check. Google’s Chinese page for image searches is http://images.google.cn. We’ve been running searches from there and the surprising thing is that you don’t always get the same search results each time you run it. It’s almost as though your own machine’s cache of previous searches is influencing the results you get on subsequent searches. Or maybe Google is still tweaking the filters, so some things slip through sometimes but not at other times. Whatever is happening behind the scenes, it’s beyond argument that Google users in China are not getting the same search results as Google users in the US and elsewhere.

The difference in search results can be striking. On a clean search, Google-China turned up 10 hits on an image search for jesus christ. Just like that, no quotes. By comparison, the US version of Google image search turns up 168,000 hits on the same exact search terms. 168,000 versus 10. And this is just an image search. We’re not searching for the teachings of Jesus, just pictures. China’s version of Google significantly filters the search

Further, Google-China is even censoring photos of churches for some reason. On the US image search page, a search for church turns up more than 2.8 million hits. On Google-China, church turns up just 723 hits.

How about christian? In the US, 2.36 million hits; Google-China nets 819.

This is no accident. Google is helping its business partners in Beijing airbrush Jesus Christ right off the Chinese internet. Its cyber dragnet even nets people with the word “Christian” in their name, just to make sure Chinese citizens won’t get religion from their search engine results. Google needs to drop its “Don’t be evil” motto and replace it with something more honest, like “We help evil be evil.”

This is a very serious issue. Google has put its financial bottom line over basic human rights. An American company is assisting the Chinese government in a Stalinistic airbrushing of faith from the internet. That Google is helping Beijing wipe Jesus Christ off the web at the same time that it is defying a fairly routine request from the US government for search data to determine if kids are accessing hard core p)rn is unconscionable...

But don't you understand!! If the brave young idealists of Google don't stand up to the jack-booted Bush Brownshirts....it could be the first step on the road to..to...TYRANNY! THEOCRACY! The slippery slope! First they came for the Child P)rn. But I was not that kind of perv, so I did nothing. Then they came for bestiality...!

I just wonder what the Google people thought, when told by the Chinese that they would have to hit the ol' Delete Key on Jesus Christ...How did they feel? Are they so "modern," so secular-rationalist that they felt nothing? It makes me feel queasy.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:11 PM

January 21, 2006

Marching

Charlene went marching today, on the Walk For Life. She had a great time, but was disappointed that the counter-protesters were a pretty puny bunch, so she doesn't have much exciting to report. No violence, only one giant puppet, and the twisted-demented-and-repulsive component was pretty mild by SF standards...

She thought the marchers numbered several thousands, and the anti's only a hundred or so....

Walk For Life, the marchers
She took pix that show more marchers, but I liked this one, with the Balclutha in the background, and the steam ferryboat Eureka next to it. [You're letting yourself wander off-topic --ed. Ooops.] Charlene regrets not getting a picture of the Gay/Lesbian Pro-Life group!

She said the anti's kept running ahead and posing themselves as a backdrop to the march, so they would look more impressive on TV.

* Update: More links and details here. Apparently there were 15,000 people on the march!

Notice the same sign in different places...
Walk For Life, protest signWalk For Life, protest sign
You know, maybe some people should be in burqas...

AND, in the Giant Puppet category, the WINNER, and only entrant...

Walk For Life, giant puppet

Posted by John Weidner at 4:54 PM

January 6, 2006

Wrath Of God...

Scrappleface has the latest from Pat Robertson...

By Scott Ott: (2006-01-06) — Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, who yesterday told viewers that God’s wrath spurred Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke, today said his own “ignorant remarks are another manifestation of God’s anger.”...

...“If Christians would read the Bible, instead of just watching TV, they would understand that people who claim to know exactly why God does what He does are usually false teachers,” said Mr. Robertson. “God disciplines American Christians for their willful ignorance of the Scriptures by having me embarrass them every 60 days or so with another ridiculous remark.”...

Lordy, what an embarrassment that guy is....

Posted by John Weidner at 7:50 AM

January 3, 2006

The other group of reformers...

I was writing in the last post about the book God's Choice : Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, by George Weigel. Charlene and I are both enjoying it, learning a lot of stuff that you won't get from the press. There's a lot they don't want you to know. It rather looks to me like the situation we have here in domestic politics and culture, with press and leftists frantically demonizing conservatives to try to hide their own reactionary emptiness and bankruptcy.

It's much the same with Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger. The same sort of people hate him not because he really is a reactionary, but because he was a leader in the other group of reformers of Vatican II and after. (He is, interestingly, the last figure of Vatican II still active in the Church.) Here's a little snippet, to give you a slight flavor of what I'm reading...

...Ratzinger agreed with those who thought that the church of the past few centuries had shrunk itself, theologically and spiritually, and that Vatican II's task was to "usher Catholics into a larger room." The reform Ratzinger imagined would have two dimensions, usually described in Council argot by a French term and an Italian term. The reform required ressourcement—a "return to the sources" of Catholic theology in the Bible and in the early Fathers of the Church, where, as Nichols writes, "the Christian religion took on its classic form" from men such as Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom. Ressourcement, it was believed, would free Catholic theology from the cold logic and bloodless propositions of the neo-scholastic system; and having been liberated in that way, theology would revitalize Catholic life. That revitalization was the second dimension of the kind of reform Ratzinger imagined: the famous aggiornamento, or "bringing up to date" of the Church's practices, structures and methods of encounter with modern culture and society...

...the biblical and patristic ressourcement would allow the aggiornamento of the Church in the modern world to be a genuine, two-way dialog, with the Church offering fresh insight to modernity, its aspirations and its discontents....

...The problems came, in Ratzinger's view, when aggiornamento lost its tether to ressourcement—when the "updating" of the Church did not begin with a return to the sources of Catholic intellectual and spiritual vitality...Instead of building Nichols's larger room in the Church, an aggiornamento unmoored from ressourcement stripped the room of a lot of its furniture...unleashing what a later generation would have called Catholic "deconstruction": the new question became, "How little can I believe, and how little must I do, to remain a Catholic?"...

"Two-way dialog, with the Church offering fresh insight to modernity." Think about that one a moment. In liberal culture, such a statement is unimaginable. It's the stuffy old Church's job to listen to modern culture, and get up to date. A position which was reduced to banality by certain clueless TV commentators at John Paul II's funeral, who said things like, "This may be the last chance for the Church to become relevant." (I kid you not, they really said that.)

Uh huh. Gotta become relevant to the secular rationalist world, or....or what? Thing is, the secular welfarist world is dying. Literally, in Europe and Japan, which are facing demographic collapse. Someone recently pointed out that by 2050, 60% of Italians will not know the experience of having brothers/sisters/aunts/uncles/nephews or nieces. And spiritually dying---dead--producing no exciting new ideas or movements, no compelling art, taking no risks, believing in nothing enough to fight for it (which fits a lot of Blue State America too). While the Catholic Church, and the non-liberal Protestant Churches are growing vigorously, and still produce people willing to die for their faith. (And, just as meaningful, to put aside a lot of personal pleasures, and follow God's command to be fruitful and multiply.)

I suspect there's "a last chance to become relevant" happening for somebody, but it's not who the Hollywood script says it is...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:35 PM

December 15, 2005

Warrior creed...

I just read a very interesting book, The Faith of the American Soldier, by Stephen Mansfield. Most of us are aware that active Christian faith is common in our military. Mansfield probes the subject, and also the history of faith in the US military. Very interesting stuff.

One odd thing is that, for many of our troops, their faith is improvised, self-taught, and exists in small groups, rather than being part of any denomination or organization. Partly this mirrors developments at home, where new stand-alone churches are drawing people away from older denominations. And also the old main-line denominations, their Christian faith having been mostly replaced by mushy leftism, have no interest (of a positive sort) in our military and no longer contribute many chaplains. (Which is probably good, because many of those frauds are on the other side, and would be as eager to betray the Iraqis and Afghans into tyranny and torture and murder as they were to betray the South Vietnamese into tyranny and torture and murder.)

Partly it is because, as I was shocked to learn, the chaplain corps is severely limited in what they are allowed to do or say. They are not allowed to accompany troops into combat (!) which makes them seem irrelevant to those who come under fire. And, in fact, they are not supposed to do much of anything except personal counseling and conducting ceremonies. Most crucially, they are not allowed to provide a warrior creed for our troops. They can't say that we are fighting a just (or unjust) war! Christianity and American tradition both support just wars, but the secularists have pretty much stopped any official support for these great traditions.

A warrior's creed is what is needed, and it is fascinating to see how our soldiers are cobbling together their own.

Remember how General Boykin was castigated and reproved for saying that the War on Terror was a Christian and moral war, that America is a Christian nation with a Christian President? What you didn't hear is that his words resonated with the troops...

...As one Lieutenant Colonel serving at USCENTCOM at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida said, "I won't say it publicly, and you can't use my name, but I will tell you that I agree with everything Boykin said. Most of us would give anything if the chaplains or our commanders would speak to us in the same terms Boykin did. What he gave us was the spiritual map we needed."

Posted by John Weidner at 9:17 AM

December 1, 2005

Important Word Note for the Christmas season...

Charlene has a book of Advent meditations, and she read me this:

The English word "merry" did not originally convey "jolly, mirthful." It was more along the lines of "blessed, peaceful"—a deep down inner joy rather than revelry.

One gets a sense of its original meaning in the well-known carol "God rest ye merry, gentlemen." As can be seen from the comma, the word is not used to describe
jolly gentlemen, but rather it is a blessing from God invoked upon them—"God rest ye peacefully, gentlemen."

Thus, Merry Christmas," when spoken to one another, is a
blessing...
* Update: This post seems to be in error. The definition does not appear in the OED. See comments.
Posted by John Weidner at 5:12 PM

September 17, 2005

Mitzvahs...

From the President's speech, at a dinner celebrating the Judaisim's 350th year in America; the first Jews in America arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654.

...One of the greatest Jewish soldiers America has ever known is Tibor Rubin. After surviving the Holocaust and the Nazi death camp, this young man came to America. He enlisted in the United States Army and fought in the Korean War. He was severely wounded and was later captured by the enemy. For two-and-a-half years, he survived in a POW camp. He risked his life for his fellow soldiers nearly every night by smuggling extra food for those who were ill -- it was a skill he had learned in the Nazi camps -- and because of his daring, as many as 40 American lives were saved.

This evening, I'm happy to announce that next week, I will bestow upon this great patriot our nation's highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor...


Tibor Rubin
Tibor Rubin in Korea, 1950

Here's a fascinating article on Rubin. The reluctance of the Pentagon to award this guy ANY medals is flabbergasting...

...[Sergeant] Watson, who according to lengthy affidavits submitted by nearly a dozen men who served under him — mostly self-described "country boys" from the South and Midwest — was a vicious anti-Semite, who consistently "volunteered" Rubin for the most dangerous patrols and missions.

In one such mission, according to the testimonies of his comrades, Rubin secured a route of retreat for his company by single-handedly defending a hill for 24 hours against waves of North Korean soldiers....

...Faced with constant hunger, filth and disease, most of the GIs simply gave up. "No one wanted to help anyone. Everybody was for himself," wrote Sgt. Leo A, Cormier Jr., a fellow prisoner.

The exception was Rubin. Almost every evening, he would sneak out of the camp to steal food from the Chinese and North Korean supply depots, knowing that he would be shot if caught.

"He shared the food evenly among the GIs," Cormier wrote. "He also took care of us, nursed us, carried us to the latrine....He did many good deeds, which he told us were mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition....He was a very religious Jew and helping his fellow men was the most important thing to him."...

x

Posted by John Weidner at 8:30 AM

September 7, 2005

Aquinas put it under Charity...

Christians should remember that the just-war doctrine is not grounded in revenge, punishment, or even justice. Thomas Aquinas discussed it in Summa Theologica -- not in the section on justice but in the section on charity (that is, the love of God). As Christian scholar Darrell Cole writes, 'The Christian who fails to use force to aid his neighbor when prudence dictates that force is the best way to render that aid is an uncharitable Christian. Hence Christians who willingly and knowingly refuse to engage in a just war ... fail to show love towards their neighbor as well as towards God.' Out of love of neighbor, then, Christians can and should support a preemptive strike, if ordered by the appropriate magistrate to prevent an imminent attack.

      --
Charles Colson
Posted by John Weidner at 7:38 AM

August 23, 2005

Answer to prayers...

From a column by Katherine Kersten in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a heartwarming story about Americans helping Iraqi Christians...

Pastor Ghassan Thomas was overjoyed on April 9, 2003, when coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein. For four years, in the face of relentless persecution, he had operated an underground Christian church of about 50 members in the heart of Baghdad.

Saddam's police had tortured him repeatedly, Thomas says -- beating him, suspending him from a ceiling fan and attaching electrodes to his tongue.

Though Saddam's fall brought an end to official persecution, it also brought challenges. The living quarters where Thomas' fledgling flock had worshipped couldn't accommodate his swelling congregation, and he lacked resources to address their daunting needs.
As his frustration mounted, Thomas says, "I prayed to God for a sister church to stand with me and help me."
The answer to Thomas' prayers came from half a world away: Eden Prairie, Minn....
Posted by John Weidner at 12:10 PM

June 28, 2005

"There aren't many examples of successful post-religious societies..."

I said in the comments in a recent post, that THE QUESTION, what may be THE big question that our world faces, is, 'Why is Europe dying?" It's much on my mind....

Mark Steyn, as always funny and serious at the same time, writes:

....It seemed faintly unbecoming for a Daily Telegraph columnist to protest about how much action he's getting, but, had I run into Mr Roberts in the Cheltenham singles bar, I would have endeavoured to explain that what's at issue is not which of us is getting more and better casual sex but whether it's an appropriate organising principle for society. Or at any rate whether a cult of non-procreative self-gratification is, as the eco-crazies like to say, "sustainable".

I was reminded of our Gloucestershire lad by some remarks Frank Field made at a Centre for Policy Studies seminar last week. The subject under debate was poverty and social disintegration, and pondering the collapse of civility in modern Britain Mr Field gave seven reasons. Number One, he said, was the decline of religion.

At that point, many Britons will simply have tuned out for the remaining six, and the more disapproving ones will be speculating darkly on whether, like yours truly and other uptight squares, he has "casual sex" issues. Religion is all but irrelevant to public discussion in the United Kingdom, and you'd have to search hard for an Anglican churchman prepared to argue in public, as Mr Field does, that material poverty derives from moral poverty.

But the point is: he's not wrong. There aren't many examples of successful post-religious societies. And, if one casts around the world today, one notices the two powers with the worst prospects are the ones most advanced in their post-religiosity. Russia will never recover from seven decades of Communism: its sickly menfolk have a lower life expectancy than Bangladeshis; its population shrinks by 100 every hour, and by 0.4 per cent every year, a rate certain to escalate as the smarter folks figure it's better to emigrate than get sucked down in the demographic death spiral.....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:54 AM

June 24, 2005

"Regnum = Reh-nyoom ; Magnificat = Mah-nyeé-fee-caht"

One of Amy Welborn's commenters links to this page with the proper pronunciation of Ecclesiastical Latin. I found it very interesting. And the pronunciations sound very fine. There are other Latin resources in the thread.

Not that I speak Latin, but there are a few odd words and phrases rattling around in my head...

.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:16 PM

June 22, 2005

Symbolism...

I need to quibble with Alan Sullivan about a portion of one of his posts. He writes:

...the Pope, claims that secular Europe is inviting jihad by refusing to put a clause about Christianity in the defunct Euro Constitution. Somehow this is supposed to offend the religious sensibilities of Muslims.
"Europe has developed a culture which, in a way never before known to humanity, excludes God from public conscience, either by being denied or by judging his existence to be uncertain and thus belonging to subjective choices, something irrelevant for public life," Benedict writes.

He dismisses arguments that inclusion of the reference would have offended Jews and Muslims, saying they are more offended by Europe's attempt to deny a historic fact.

"It's not the mention of God that offends the followers of other religious, but precisely the attempt to build a human community absolutely without God," he writes.
This is delusional. Muslim hatred of Jews is ubiquitous, God or no god; and Christians aren't exactly popular among the hardliners either. Let them be offended. Pope Benedict's rationale would also excuse the sex-crazed Arab men who demand that women wear veils on pain of rape or murder. But the women are not at fault, and neither is Europe. Not this time.

Actually, I think the Pope is making good sense. He must of course, like Bush, gloss over the craziest 10% of the Moslem world, beause he is trying to build bridges to moderates.

But, it's not Christianity or Judaism that offend Moslem traditionalists, but secular decadence and the attractiveness of superior Western culture and technology. I've read various accounts of jihadis, and very frequently one reads that they became fanatics after a period of exposure to the West. But it isn't cathedrals and synagogues and the faithful at prayer that drive them to fanaticism. It's the tempting fleshpots, the open hedonism and secularism that fill them with dismay. (And of course many believing Christians and Jews feel much the same, though we have a better idea of how useless violence is as an antidote.)

And Moslems have not, traditionally, hated Jews. That's a 20th Century phenomenon, copied from Europe, and mostly a response to the humiliation of having a modern, secular and extremely successful state thrust into the midst of their failed ones. Plus an endless propaganda campaign by those failed states, using hatred of Israel to distract from their own failings. Pious Jews (and Christians) have been living in Palestine all along, without inspiring anyone to foam at the mouth.

Also, the Pope isn't here excusing anything. To think that offending someone excuses their actions is a modern leftist or secular notion, not a Christian one. (And is normally used only to excuse privileged groups. You can offend white male capitalists all you want, without excusing their hideous transgressions.) A Christian should avoid leaving his money lying around, so as not to tempt someone to the sin of theft. But that doesn't excuse the sinner in the least.

Nor is the Pope literally saying (or thinking) that that clause will in itself make a big difference. It's symbolic of a larger problem. The Pope has to make symbolic points, he has no other leverage. And that EU Constitution is a very good symbol of what's wrong with Europe. (Fortunately, it's now looking like it will not become a large part of what's actually wrong with Europe.) The Holy Father says things like that, and usually they are ignored. But maybe, just maybe, one day, the time is right, and some symbolic point makes a lot of people suddenly stop and wonder if they are taking the wrong path...

Posted by John Weidner at 3:18 PM

April 28, 2005

if his son ask for bread

Mrs P has a good piece on the Episcopal train-wreck....

...Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will he give him a stone? (Mt 7:7-9)...

...Many moons ago I happened to be in a minivan seated next to the retired Episcopal Bishop of Colorado, the Right Reverend William Frey. Several years earlier, Bishop Frey had lost the election for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to Bishop Edmund Browning. After winning the election Presiding Bishop Browning decided during his time at the top the full integration of the active homosexual life into the Episcopal Church would happen. As this did not happen, Browning's successor, Presiding Bishop Griswold, is finishing the job for him. Had Bishop Frey won the Presiding Bishop election, it is possible that the Episcopal Church would not be on its current schismatic path today.

Realizing I was sitting next to a somewhat historical figure and he couldn't escape, I asked Bishop Frey all the questions I could think of, poor man. Among them was, what he thought was the gravest aspect about the acceptance of the active homosexual lifestyle into the Church. He told me, "I am concerned that homosexuals have come to us, the Episcopal Church, asking for bread. We have given them rocks instead....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:12 AM

April 26, 2005

Isn't there some law against saying things like that?

The bishops of the United Church of Secularism are probably having a cow right now. Their cozy theocracy is being challenged by a rival religion, one they thought they had driven underground lo these many years...

In particular, Janice Rogers Brown's nomination for the federal appeals bench has now gone to the Senate. And what did she have to say yesterday?

...The Advocate quoted Brown as lamenting that America had moved away from the religious traditions on which it was founded.

"When we move away from that, we change our whole conception of the most significant idea that America has to offer, which is this idea of human freedom and this notion of liberty," she said.

She added that atheism "handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom…. Freedom then becomes willfulness."...

Her remarks are worth reading. I don't think this is any sort of "Profiles in Courage" thing. It might even make it harder for the filibusteros to stop her since they've been insisting that the accusation that they are showing religious bigotry in opposing judges is just absurd Republican fantasying. We shall see.

(Thanks to Captain Ed)

Posted by John Weidner at 12:52 PM

April 25, 2005

All the evidence suggests the opposite...

Ross Douthat has an article of great clarity in TNR disputing the idea that the Catholic Church should become more liberal...

...and all the while insisting--often from major op-ed pages and tenured positions at Catholic universities--that all of the Church's difficulties, from declining vocations to dwindling mass attendance to the sex-abuse scandals, would be solved if only Catholicism were to become more in step with the modern world.

It's an appealing notion, particularly to people whose lives and beliefs already conform more closely to modern mores than to traditional Catholic teaching. But it has almost no empirical support. All the evidence suggests the opposite--that a more liberal Catholic Church would be far weaker, smaller, and less influential even than the wounded and divided Body of Christ that Benedict XVI will govern.

The problem for liberals is that their preferred path to the Catholic future has already been tried, and with less-than-encouraging results. In America, the Church's decades-long slide in mass attendance and ordinations to the priesthood is at its worst not in Catholicism's more conservative precincts but in the liberal-minded dioceses and religious orders--the places where implementing the spirit of Vatican II has meant ignoring the actual Vatican on matters of liturgy, theology, and morality. The once-rigorous, now-latitudinarian Jesuits, for instance, have seen ordinations slow to a trickle, whereas self-consciously traditional orders like the Legionaries of Christ (and, of course, the notorious albino monks of Opus Dei) are growing rapidly. When a
recent survey compared 15 "progressive" dioceses to 15 "orthodox" dioceses, it found that the proportion of priests to practicing Catholics in conservative dioceses actually grew slightly between 1956 and 1996, while the proportion in the more liberal dioceses steadily dropped....

When one reads Andrew Sullivan moaning about the Church and gay marriage, one always wonders why he doesn't just become an Episcopalian. They'd probably make him a Bishop! Probably it's like Groucho's old joke, that "any club that would let me in isn't worth joining." He wants a church that stands for something, that demands adherence to the ancient moral standards and doctrine...except for one teensy little exception.

(Thanks to Juddblog)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:41 PM

April 24, 2005

Sunday morning...

Charlene and I and our daughter went to St Dominics today for a fine choral mass in honor of Pope Benedict. It was a treat.

We're not Catholic, though Charlene grew up in the Catholic church. We're just not on the same wavelength with a lot of contemporary catholicism, but St Dominics is a very impressive parish. They even included a prayer for our troops! That was a new one for us in San Francisco.

Being a Protestant, I'm always taken aback because Catholics can't or won't sing. The choir and organ were excellent, but the congregation...mush. Maybe the new Pope will make a difference, he's very much a part of the rich religious musical tradition of his homeland

Posted by John Weidner at 7:17 PM

"on the eve of Passover"

From The Jerusalem Post:

The decision by Britain's 40,000 member Association of University Teachers (AUT) to boycott two Israeli universities on Friday has ignited scathing condemnation from Jewish communities worldwide and has prompted the immediate resignation of Jewish academics from the AUT.

In a blitz procedure timed - on the eve of Passover - to exclude Jewish members from the conference, the AUT rushed through two motions to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan universities, exhibiting an unprecedented escalation of a campaign by British academics to target Israel.

A jovial executive union meeting heard unanswered orations by Sue Blackwell and Shereen Benjamin, both lecturers at Birmingham University. The academics labeled Israel as a "colonial apartheid state, more insidious than South Africa," called for the "removal of this regime," and depicted Israeli universities as "repressing" academic freedom....

....The speeches were met with rapturous applause from the audience, before AUT executive president Angela Roger cut short the session and moved to deny a right of reply to opponents of the motions. The session was then directed towards a vote, and a "lack of time" was cited as the reason preventing challenges to the motions from being heard....

"Rapturous applause" huh? No surprise there.

If there are any leftish Jews reading this, and you are tempted to imagine that this is just a move of sympathy for Palestinians, answer a couple of questions. Like, "How come these people never have "sympathy" when the Palestinians are oppressed or mistreated by other Arabs? And how come they never notice the plight of any other oppressed groups in the Middle East?

The whole Palestinian question is, for Western leftists, a chance for some Jew-bashing without being, ha ha ha, "anti-semitic." And those poor stupidest of saps, the Jewish lefties, have to just slide along with this, or make weak protests about how everyone should be willing to "just get along, and talk to each other."

Posted by John Weidner at 9:53 AM

April 23, 2005

Two great men...

Katherine Lopez writes,

A journalist in Rome e-mails me:
I just got back from a press conference with Jeb Bush and the rest of the Presidential delegation.

An Italian journalist asked about Dowd's column ("in your newspaper, the New York Times..." "I would just like to make it clear that it is not MY newspaper")

Jeb said that Dick Cheney should be proud to be compared to Pope Benedict, and Pope Benedict should be proud to be compared to Dick Cheney.

I think Jeb has it just right...

Posted by John Weidner at 1:06 PM

March 26, 2005

"I am dust and wind and shadow..."

O God that art the sole hope of the world,
The only refuge for unhappy men,
Abiding in the faithfulness of Heaven,
Give me a strong succour in this testing-place,
O King, protect Thy man from utter ruin,
Lest the weak flesh surrender to the tyrant,
Facing innumerable blows alone.
Remember I am dust and wind and shadow,
And life as fleeting as the flower of the grass.
But may the eternal mercy which hath shone from time of old
Rescue Thy servant from the jaws of the lie.
Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of the flesh,
Strike down the dragon with the two-edged sword
Whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds
And break down strongholds, with our Captain, God. Amen

      --The Venerable Bede
Posted by John Weidner at 8:44 PM