Johnny Cash, God’s Gonna Cut You Down
Also see “A Johnny Cash Lent“
Archive for the ‘Catholicism’ Category.
Also see “A Johnny Cash Lent“
At this point in our societal degeneration, “the people” are obedient to what beloved Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.” This is understandable because few were raised in anything else. The very concept of a moral absolute (e.g. “thou shalt do no murder”) is alien to them. At the gut level, they may still individually recoil against an evil, but only if they have to watch, and find the spectacle “icky.”
. . .
My point here is that by each “transvaluation,” or inversion, of the ancient received moral order, we do not get the new one we expect. We get developments beyond anything that anyone could have expected, as the various forgotten evils that lurk in the human breast come to engage with each other.
Modernism, secularism, relativism, and the culture of death
“If Islam is such a hair-trigger religion that the slightest offense might radicalize adherents, there is something radically wrong with the religion itself.”
Anyone with a thorough understanding of Islamic culture and religion could have predicted that, even without the 2015-16 flood of Muslim migrants, the steady flow of Muslim immigrants over the years would create a combustible situation. The amazing thing is that the consequences of this massive migration were never discussed – except in glowing terms. Just about the only thing allowed to be said about the migrants was that they would solve labor shortages, refill welfare coffers, and bring cultural enrichment to Europe.
That was the official line. Anyone who deviated from it could expect censure, possible job loss, or even a criminal trial. Say something negative about Muslim immigration on your Facebook page and you would be visited by police. Say it in public and you would receive a court summons. It didn’t matter if you were a famous writer (Oriana Fallaci), the President of the Danish Free Press Society (Lars Hedegaard), or a popular member of the Dutch Parliament (Geert Wilders). If you couldn’t say something nice about Islam, then you shouldn’t say anything at all.
Practically no one spoke up about no-go-zones, sharia courts, polygamy, and forced marriages, refusal to integrate, crime waves, and the rape epidemic. Now that many are finally beginning to speak out, it may be too late to avoid capitulation (Sweden’s likely fate) or bloody conflict (more likely in France).
The very argument that criticism of Islam will drive moderates into the radical camp suggests that criticism is needed. If Islam is such a hair-trigger religion that the slightest offense might radicalize adherents, there is something radically wrong with the religion itself. We don’t worry that criticizing Catholicism is going to produce angry Catholic mobs rampaging through the streets. We don’t fear that one wrong word is going to cause a young Southern Baptist to strap on a suicide belt.
Islam invites criticism. Given its bloody past and present, it would be highly irresponsible not to subject it to a searching analysis and critique. Such a critique would not aim at alienating Muslims (although some will inevitably be alienated), but at alerting likely victims of jihad.
One of the basics that non-Muslims need to know is that Islam divides the world in two – the House of Islam, and the House of War (all non-Islamic societies). And every Muslim is expected to do his part to make the House of War submit to the House of Islam. Europeans are now experiencing a “don’t-know-what-hit-me” sense of bewilderment because they never learned this basic fact about Islam.
In Israel, Arab communities live in peace with their neighbors, they vote, and Arabs hold high public office. In the West Bank (the historic regions of Judea and Samaria), Jewish communities have to live under constant, armed protection or they face slaughter. Indeed, in the event that a true Palestinian state ever exists, one of its first orders of business will be a spate of ethnic cleansing. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told Egyptian journalists, “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.” In other words, remove the Jews, or we’ll remove them for you.
Make no mistake, when Palestinians imagine their own state, they don’t imagine a multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy. Instead, they imagine yet another intolerant, Muslim-dominated ethnic enclave. That’s their vision of “peace.” That’s their vision of statehood. No Jews in Judea. I’m not clear which American “value” dictates that we lift one single finger to facilitate such mindless hate.
That child lying in the manger in our Christmas crèches, then, the Word who will one day speak to us in our own human words, is a singular occasion for love and joy, as are all human children, and touches our hearts with a truth and tenderness that doesn’t grow stale from one Christmas to the next.
The Word was partly hidden, for the moment, however, probably because it would otherwise engulf us with such enormous light and sound in our current state that it would have rendered us even more deaf, more blind to the really real than we usually are.
It’s right that we get the warm fuzzies and are comforted at this time of year because we get it almost nowhere else, at any other time. And given what we do to one another and ourselves the rest of the time, we need comforting. Still, that comfort is a pale reflection of what awaits those blessed to someday see its source. There will be many things not so comforting in the meantime, not least the great challenges of the Word, which is why the angels are constantly telling everyone – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – “Be not afraid!”
[In a live radio broadcast from England to America on Christmas Day, 1931, G.K.] Chesterton pointed out that there is no substitute for Christmas. No new religion has made a new festival anything like it. No new philosophy has been popular enough to make a popular holiday. The pleasure-seekers with their nightclub life are not happy people. Chesterton says it is unfair to call them Pagans. It is unfair to the Pagans.
“The Pagan gods and poets of the past were never so cheap or tenth-rate as the fast sets and smart people of the present. Venus was never so vulgar as what they now call Sex Appeal. Cupid was never so coarse and common as a modern realistic novel. The old Pagans were imaginative and creative; they made things and built things. Somehow that habit went out of the world… The modern Pagans are merely atheists; who worship nothing and therefore create nothing. They could not, for instance, even make a substitute for Thanksgiving Day. For half of them are pessimists who say they have nothing to be thankful for; and the other half are atheists who have nobody to thank.”
. . .
Even though “centuries of misunderstanding” grew between the birth of Christ and the modern world, Charles Dickens captured the “that mysterious revelation that brought joy upon the earth,” and he handed on this tradition “in an uncongenial time, by an instinct that was almost inspiration. He knew enough about it to enjoy it; and to enjoy himself; and now, in the name of all such things, let us all go and do the same.”
[E]ducated and well-placed people today tend toward a stripped-down view of man and society that redefines family, religious, and communal ties as private preferences, thereby erasing their public importance. The effect is to promote exclusive reliance on the social authority of bureaucratic and commercial arrangements.
The existence and sentimentalization of non-binding private connections, such as marriage as it is now understood, doesn’t affect that result. After all, how much reliance can be placed on connections that are thought to have no intrinsic function and can be dissolved at will?
The tendency naturally concerns Catholics, because it leaves no room for Catholicism—which cannot understand itself as simply a private preference—or any number of understandings and arrangements needed for a minimally humane and functional way of life. Whatever theoretical beauty some may find in a society of radically autonomous individuals tied together by global markets and bureaucracies, it’s not a place any normal person would want to live. Nor is it one likely to hold together and last.
. . .
In part it’s a result of the stripped-down view of man and social order. If at bottom you view the social world as something like an industrial process designed to produce satisfactions and distribute them equally, then family ties and religious and cultural community make no sense unless they are reduced to private predilections of no practical significance.
To the extent they correspond to definite public standards and retain the ability to play an important role in social life—for example, to the extent marriage is viewed as a uniquely legitimate and enduring union of man and woman oriented toward new life—they’re viewed as irrational prejudices that gum up the system. As such, they are expected to reduce efficiency, equality, and stability, so they’re stupid, oppressive, and dangerous. The people who favor them evidently approve of that, so such people must be motivated by ignorance, bigotry, or rage and resentment looking for an excuse to lash out at the helpless. To many people, that conclusion seems a simple inference from basic principles.
In short, the dominant view of social order, because it leaves out basic features of human life and considers itself uniquely rational, can’t conceive of reasonable well-intentioned dissent. But for that same reason, the form of life it aims at is not achievable. We’re not going to have a global society, a sort of perfected EU writ large, in which sex, religion, and cultural community don’t significantly affect success and social position.
. . .
[I]f all identities are equally supported then no identity is supported. Identity is too basic for anyone to construct for himself, but in the world now emerging no one can expect social support for his actual identity, since any other would be accepted as equally valid. That situation guarantees that there will be a lot of fragile and insecure people who will be intensely alarmed if anything seems, even by implication, to put the equal validity of their chosen identities in question. It will seem an existential attack on what they are, and thus the moral equivalent of murder. That’s why the infinitely multiplying possibilities of “microaggression” are increasingly viewed as a serious problem: each is thought to erase the people microaggressed against.
. . .
More people move from place to place as employment becomes tenuous, home ownership an impossible dream, and locality less local as America is swallowed up by chain stores, shopping malls, apartment complexes, multi-lane highways, and the evanescent electronic world of the Internet.
Under such circumstances, many people, especially women, young people, minority group members, the unmarried and unchurched, and those who have moved away from their homes and connections, feel insecure. Such feelings are easily exploited for political gain; so politicians and publicists can be counted on to exacerbate them as much as possible.
. . .
In the storms ahead, Catholics, when engaged in the things of this world, need to remember that the most important things precede and transcend politics. Lunacy is contagious, and they’ll have to remember that to keep a cool head and steady judgment.
Clerisy, Statolatry, Ozymandias. Forward!
Following this line of thought, I don’t think the French can put much of anything on television.
– No normal, happy babies – that would make any woman who ever had an abortion feel bad.
– No married couples – that would make divorced folks feel bad.
– No soccer matches with fit athletes – that would make lazy slobs feel bad.
– No shiny new cars – that would make drivers of 10-year-old cars feel bad.
– No green lawns – that would make owners of weedy lawns feel bad.
– No basketball or volleyball matched with tall players – that would make short people feel bad.
– No beautiful actresses or handsome actors – they would make the rest of us feel bad.
– No law-abiding citizens – they would make criminals feel bad.
– No young people – they would make old people envious.
– No old people – they might scare young people about what lies ahead.
In short, there isn’t anything you can put on French television that won’t hurt someone’s fragile sensitivities. But the least hurtful certainly would be an inspiring video of young people living with Down syndrome.
Facts are becoming hard to gather because, in Canada and many other countries, progressive governments are now suppressing all statistics and other previously available information pertaining to abortions. Feminists demand that this subject be shrouded in darkness, lest the light cast prove too harsh. What I call “the woman’s prerogative,” not to hear the screaming of her victim, has become a mainstay of contemporary eugenics and family law. This I hold to be the ultimate in misogyny — for it is designed to hide women from the very possibility of redemption, which can only begin with acknowledgement of the truth.
The rate for Down’s children is the significant abortion rate. It exposes what is truly believed by the overwhelming majority of our contemporaries, when put to a practical test. Opinion polls can never do this, for opinion is “free” unless it costs us something. Actual behaviour is what matters, and we find in this proportion a black, terrible indictment of our age.
Abortion as a Sacrament.
What would you call a society that made adoption incredibly hard and abortion incredibly easy? I’d call it sick at heart.
Up to a certain age, belief in Santa Claus is charming, and entirely harmless. Blind faith in presidential benevolence is neither. If you’re teaching your kids that the president reliably tells the truth and does the right thing, then the future citizens you’re raising may turn out gullible and easily led.
Why lie to them? After all, in living memory, presidents have conducted themselves abominably in their personal relationships, lied us into war, and, in former Nixon aide John Dean’s memorable phrase, “use[d] the available federal machinery to screw [their] political enemies.” Trump, who seems positively gleeful about the prospect of turning the federal machinery against his enemies, seems unlikely to set a higher standard of presidential character.
. . .
For nearly eight years, President Obama has waged a War on Cynicism from the bully pulpit, railing against “those who question the scale of [government’s] ambitions,” and telling college students to reject the “voices” that “warn tyranny is lurking just around the corner.” Somehow, what the president decried as “cynicism” always sounded like healthy skepticism toward increased federal power. In Trump’s case, even Obama might be starting to appreciate the “cynics” point.
Statolatry and Ozymandias
When most Catholics think about Mary, we have one of two images in our heads: the virginal Jewish teen from Galilee who says yes to God’s plan; or the mother of Jesus, the woman of mercy and tenderness, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” We can too easily forget that Mary is also the woman clothed in the sun who crushes the head of the serpent. She embodies in her purity the greatness of humanity fully alive in God. She’s the mother who intercedes for us, comforts us and teaches us—but who also defends us.
And in doing that, she reminds us of the great line from C.S. Lewis that Christianity is a “fighting religion”—not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem described our spiritual struggle this way: “There is a serpent [the devil] by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite thee with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation and is seeking whom he may devour.” The great American writer Flannery O’Connor added that whatever form the serpent may take, “it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country,” not to turn away from God’s story or the storyteller.
If our theme as a meeting this week is reclaiming the Church for the Catholic imagination, we can’t overlook the fact that the flesh and blood model for our Church—Mary as mater et magistra—is quite accomplished at punching the devil in the nose. And as Mary’s adopted sons, we need to be bishops who lead and teach like the great Cyril of Jerusalem.
Having said all that, my thoughts today come in three parts. I want to speak first about the people we’ve become as American Catholics. Then I’ll turn to how and why we got where we are. Finally I’ll suggest what we need to do about it, not merely as individuals, but more importantly as a Church. We need to recover our identity as a believing community. And I think a good way to begin doing that is with the “catechetical content” of our current political moment.
. . .
Americans aren’t fools. They have a good sense of smell when things aren’t right. And one of the things wrong with our country right now is the hollowing out and retooling of all the key words in our country’s public lexicon; words like democracy, representative government, freedom, justice, due process, religious liberty and constitutional protections. The language of our politics is the same. The content of the words is different. Voting still matters. Public protest and letters to members of Congress can still have an effect. But more and more of our nation’s life is governed by executive order, judicial overreach and administrative agencies with little accountability to Congress.
. . .
Let me put our situation this way. The two unavoidable facts of life are mortality and inequality. We’re going to die. And – here I’m committing a primal American heresy — we’re not created “equal” in the secular meaning of that word. We’re obviously not equal in dozens of ways: health, intellect, athletic ability, opportunity, education, income, social status, economic resources, wisdom, social skills, character, holiness, beauty or anything else. And we never will be. Wise social policy can ease our material inequalities and improve the lives of the poor. But as Tocqueville warned, the more we try to enforce a radical, unnatural, egalitarian equality, the more “totalitarian” democracy becomes.
For all its talk of diversity, democracy is finally monist. It begins by protecting the autonomy of the individual but can easily end by eliminating competing centers of authority and absorbing civil society into the state. Even the family, seen through secular democratic eyes, can be cast as inefficient, parochial and a potential greenhouse of social problems. Parental authority can become suspect because it escapes the scrutiny and guidance of the state. And the state can easily present itself as better able to educate the young because of its superior resources and broader grasp of the needs of society.
. . .
So it is with our Catholic understanding of God. Every human life, no matter how seemingly worthless, has infinite dignity in his eyes. Every human life is loved without limits by the God who made us. Our weaknesses are not signs of unworthiness or failure. They’re invitations to depend on each other and become more than ourselves by giving away our strengths in the service of others, and receiving their support in return. This is the truth in the old legend about heaven and hell. Both have exactly the same tables. Both have exactly the same rich foods. But the spoons in both places are much too long. In hell people starve because they try to feed themselves. In heaven they thrive because they feed each other.
. . .
Optimism and pessimism are twin forms of self-deception. We need instead to be a people of hope, which means we don’t have the luxury of whining.
. . .
Serenity of heart comes from consciously trying to live on a daily basis the things we claim to believe. Acting on our faith increases our faith. And it serves as a magnet for other people. To reclaim the Church for the Catholic imagination, we should start by renewing in our people a sense that eternity is real, that together we have a mission the world depends on, and that our lives have consequences that transcend time. Francis radiated all these things during his time in Philadelphia.
If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them. And the reason we do it is because too many of us have welcomed the good news of Vatican II without carving its demand for conversion onto the stone of our hearts. In opening ourselves to the world, we’ve forgotten our parts in the larger drama of our lives—salvation history, which always, in some way, involves walking past St. Cyril’s serpent.
. . .
Catholics today—and I’m one of them—feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness. Making sure that happens is the job of those of us who are bishops.
Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.
We need to speak plainly and honestly. Modern bureaucratic life, even in the Church, is the enemy of candor and truth. We live in an age that thrives on the subversion of language.
. . .
If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.” It’s a moment for courage and candor, but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.
This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church. And so we can say with confidence: Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us. And St. Cyril of Jerusalem, patron of bishops, be our model and brother in our service to Mary’s son, Jesus Christ.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that, if left unchecked, modern society would annihilate itself if given the chance. It feels like we are there. Our collective hypocrisy is clear, as we (rightly) condemn Trump while we pick up 50 Shades of Grey at Red Box. We are all of us consumers of self-gratification.
In other words, our pornified culture exposes us as a people of enfeebled desires. We’d rather fantasize with images than do the work required for deep and meaningful relationships. In our hyper-connected society, we’ve become distracted from one another, ransoming real relationships for cheap gratification. The word “distraction” comes from a Latin term that means “torn apart.” We are not only disconnected from one another, we exploit each other, and tear ourselves apart.
In his famous Oxford address “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis said that we allow lesser objects to satisfy our desires, unaware that ultimate gratification is offered to us. “We are half-hearted creatures,” writes Lewis, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
That grabbing and ripping is the the method that remained legal after the “partial-birth” abortion ban. (Gunter eventually describes this procedure: “The fetus is essentially taken apart with a D and E to fit through the dilated cervix.” But, she says, this is not “ripping,” but “simply surgical technique.”)