Archive for the ‘History’ Category.

Catholicism is counter cultural

“Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch

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The Art of Dying

Ars Moriendi, or “The Art of Dying,” was an immensely popular and influential medieval text aimed at equipping the faithful for death and dying. It appeared by order of the Council of Constance sometime between 1414 and 1418, and although its author is anonymous, some scholars speculate that it was a Dominican friar.

It is no surprise that the Church would focus on death-related themes at this time: one of the central pastoral preoccupations of the late medieval Church was preparing souls for death, which included saving them from damnation and shortening their stay in purgatory. To suppose that this focus on death was primarily driven by the effects of the bubonic plague is probably an oversimplification; it seems, rather, to be a foundational characteristic of medieval piety, resulting from a flourishing belief in the reality of life after death and the salvific efficacy of the sacraments. Hence, securing the ministrations of a priest in the final hours of death was a chief concern. But the impact of the bubonic plague, including the loss of clergy who would assist the dying, heightened the need for additional forms of guidance—thus arose the Ars Moriendi, a standard for deathbed pastoral practice intended for the use of dying persons and their loved ones assisting them.

The span of centuries notwithstanding, some modern-day bioethicists have looked to the medieval Ars Moriendi for inspiration in discussing contemporary approaches to death and dying. They recognize that patients nearing the end of life today often are overwhelmed by the complexity of health care and miss the opportunity to prepare well for death. A modern-day Ars Moriendi, then, would serve as a corrective to the prevailing over-medicalized, technologically driven death. Whereas bioethicists generally have sought to use the medieval text as inspiration for an approach that accommodates a wide variety of belief systems, religious and secular, it seems vital that the expressed religious intent be preserved in such a work; in fact, certain insights from the medieval text may provide a helpful addition to contemporary pastoral approaches at the end of life.

Just a cursory look at the medieval Ars Moriendi may suffice to draw out some of these insights. As the text emphasizes, dying persons are commonly faced with temptations that threaten to rob them of salvation, including the temptation against faith, the temptation of despair, and the temptation of pride that leads to complacency. When faced with these temptations, such persons must realize the importance of dying in the faith of Christ and in union with the Church to attain salvation, which is true happiness. This includes the reception of the sacraments, repeated professions of faith, self-examinations, and prayer.

For sure, the sacraments are the primary means by which the faithful can attain salvation; nevertheless, one can resist the graces offered in the sacraments, and so these other practices are important to help dispose one to receive the sacraments efficaciously. In this way, simply ensuring the visitation of a priest and the reception of the sacraments does not suffice. While efforts must be made to console dying persons that death itself is not to be feared, in light of Christ’s salvific act, it is better to stir them from complacency than to allow them to drift away from God for the sake of comfort.

These insights from the medieval Ars Moriendi may be key in reclaiming an art of dying for the twenty-first century. They give cause for concern that the typical approach for Catholics nearing the end of life today presumes that the reception of the sacraments all but guarantees salvation; typically, little emphasis is placed on the need for regular self-examination, professions of faith, and overcoming common temptations against the love of God. Instead, the focus is on consoling the dying person and loved ones, not necessarily for the sake of overcoming fear of death to remove a barrier to salvation, but out of deference to social sensibilities. Based on these concerns, it seems we truly are in need of a modern-day Ars Moriendi. The medieval text makes clear that the reality of judgment after death and hope for the salvation of souls should take priority over everything else, including attempts to better navigate the complexities and limitations of medical management at the end of life.

This piece was originally written by Br. Columba Thomas, O.P.

Reclaiming an Art of Dying for the Twenty-First Century,” by Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph, Word on Fire, July 9, 2019

Also see
Memento mori
Readaeer Life Size Replica Realistic Human Skull Head Bone Model
– “The Christian Art of Dying: Learning from Jesus,” by Allen Verhey
– “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” by Atul Gawande

 


Insights – The Necessity of Thinking About Death – Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

 

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Two Thumbs up for the Trades

Our cars, the roads on which we drive, our houses and apartments, offices and restaurants, every chair, every shelf, every implement from our toothbrushes to our favorite coffee mugs: all of these things are the work of human hands. Some of these goods are the product of assembly lines, some the consequence of men and women of the trades who bring an array of skills to their tasks.

All of these people have an intelligence often hidden by the title of their occupation. A man in his early thirties I met only once worked in the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina. He spoke with the accent native to the hills where he lived and looked nondescript. During our conversation, however, he revealed he had bought a house at the age of seventeen – an uncle helped him with the financing – fixed it up, rented it out, and now owned upwards of twenty such houses. This same man was fascinated by the history of the American West, and used his summer vacations to visit such historic places as the Alamo and the Little Bighorn National Monument.

My son-in-law is a contractor, a skilled builder and maker of furniture. He is a bright man, quick on the uptake, who has read many of the great books and will soon be teaching Euclidian geometry in a private school. Many of his friends, both those who graduated from college and those who never attended, also work in the trades, and display an equal array of gifts aside from their jobs. Another woman in town, a homeschooling mom and a teacher in a local co-op, declined to college and instead became an auto mechanic.

Many young people, I suspect, labor under the expectations of others regarding their choice of a career. Bill’s parents encourage him to study medicine… but he loved his Scouting experiences and dreams of joining the U.S. Forest Service. Sally’s parents hope she’ll go into accounting and join the family business… but she imagines herself as a paramedic whirling around in an ambulance and saving lives.

In The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, a book that should be read by young people everywhere, Charles Murray offers excellent advice on choosing a vocation. “Instead of trying to choose among specific careers,” he advises, “think first about the things you especially enjoy.” He then offers a sample list of such possibilities, such items as “You enjoy being outdoors,” “You enjoy solving puzzles,” “You enjoy security and predictability,” and “You enjoy risks.” Murray concludes with this injunction: “Once you have identified what things you instinctively enjoy, then start thinking about a career.”

The key to the “pursuit of happiness” in our work does indeed lie in discovering what we enjoy and then looking for ways to match those pursuits to a vocation.

Two Thumbs up for the Trades,” by Jeff Minick

 


Mike Rowe opens up on career, confesses “lost wonder” for skilled trades

 

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Chinese and Russian Propaganda

If you ever spend any time in the Washington D.C. area, there’s a good chance you’ll come across a publication known as China Daily. In appearance, it’s a newspaper. In reality, it is official propaganda from the Chinese government that Communist Party officials deem appropriate for influencing those inside the Beltway. You can find it all over downtown D.C. in newspaper boxes. Large stacks of free copies are also dropped off directly at offices all over the city.

Even better, if you subscribe to the Washington Post, you can get communist propaganda delivered straight to your doorstep for a fee. A few times a year, the Post comes wrapped in a special advertising supplement called China Watch that, again, does its best to approximate a legitimate newspaper. But underneath the masthead in fine print, it reads: “This supplement, prepared by China Daily, People’s Republic of China, did not involve the news or editorial departments of the Washington Post.”

. . .

Certainly, the media are struggling these days and can be awfully defensive about accusations they are dishonest and grind partisan axes. So here’s a free tip to help them begin to recover their credibility: If you don’t want to be treated like propagandists, stop publishing actual propaganda on behalf of the worst people on earth.

If Media Don’t Want To Be Called Propagandists, They Need To Stop Publishing Chinese and Russian Propaganda,” by Mark Hemingway

Also see “During all the Russia hacking hype, China is rising in influence

Ozymandias and statolatry

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The noble lie of self-reliance

 


Working-class agony: Who is to blame?

 

In faith, as in work and in family, the working-class men of Philly, Chicago, Boston, and Charleston sought autonomy and self-fulfillment but rejected institutions, structure, and tradition.

“Spiritual but not religious” is a growing portion of our working-class as Americans fall away from belonging to any particular religion. One subject rejected the idea of “a God with strings telling us how to live.” Such strings constrain our autonomy.

Of course, the traditional family also constrains our autonomy. Being bound to a community with all of its rules and norms constrains our autonomy. Working for a boss constrains our autonomy.

All of these constraints, most of us believe, help make us happier people, because they foster virtues and build bonds of reciprocity and even love. But this knowledge is almost a secret among those who hold it. Because our media and political megaphones blare the message of secularization, new modern families formed with individualism in mind, a robust “gig economy,” and the need to buck “the man.”

There are virtues to this myth. But look at the record number of suicides in the U.S. Look at the rising portion of babies born outside of marriage. Look at the stagnation of the working-class male.

Then, you see the danger when folks who were told they could fly come crashing down to earth.

When the noble lie of self-reliance becomes the dangerous myth of ‘autonomy’,” by Timothy Carney, Washington Examiner, May 29, 2019

Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse

Statolatry

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Back Row America

Had I asked people in my hometown why they were still there, I would have received the answer I heard in neighborhoods from Cairo to Amarillo to rural Ohio. They would have looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Because it is my home.”

When communities and towns are destroyed, partly because of the front row’s policies of globalization, the front row solution is, “Well, just move.” What matters is growth at all costs—even if it is brutal—and that requires everyone, always, to be economic migrants. The front row likes to say that the U.S. is a country of migrants, where people have always moved for jobs. It has been done before—the Dust Bowl, the northern migration of African Americans. But those migrations were responses to failure, not signs of success.

Back Row America, by Chris Arnade

 




America’s forgotten communities — interview with Chris Arnade | VIEWPOINT

 

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What Anti-Semites and Pro-Abortionists Have in Common

One of the problems with modern politics is that everything is expressed in terms of right and left, and everyone seems to have forgotten about right and wrong. Thus, for instance, white supremacists are considered to be on the far right, whereas Antifa activists are considered to be on the far left. You’d think, therefore, that they couldn’t be further apart in terms of their respective beliefs. And yet if love of one’s neighbor is considered good and hatred of one’s neighbor is considered bad, the white supremacists and the Antifa activists are both equally bad. They are full of hatred for those whom they consider to be their enemies and are not averse to using violence to get their way.

Looking at the lessons of the past, which the white supremacists and Antifa activists seem intent on ignoring, we might think of Hitlerite Nazis as being on the far right and Stalinist communists as being on the far left. And yet both sets of extremists ruled their respective peoples with an iron fist and incarcerated millions of dissidents in concentrations camps. If one is a victim of political tyranny, it matters little if the jackboot that crushes you is on the left foot or the right foot. It is, therefore, not about right and left but about right and wrong.
. . .
No, it’s not about right and left, whatever that really means. It’s about right and wrong. Those who kill innocent people, refusing to see them as human persons, are wrong, whether they are anti-Semites or pro-abortionists. We should all be sickened by the contempt for human life shown by the man who gunned down worshippers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, but we should be equally sickened by those who kill babies in abortion mills in every city across the nation.

What Anti-Semites and Pro-Abortionists Have in Common,” by Joseph Pearce

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Freedom versus security

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The Clerisy and the Kakistocracy and the Administrative State

If anything, both Left and Right have developed a newly intense resentment of the way in which purely private actors can exercise tremendous influence over their lives: corporate mergers and restructurings take away jobs and upend the economic situation of communities dependent on them; Facebook and Twitter endeavor to silence unpopular political views, or else are used as vehicles for ochlocratic attacks on hapless Starbucks staffers and Chipotle managers; in 2008–09, the world economy was convulsed by the fact that a great many Wall Street firms made bad investments that they did not quite even understand, necessitating trillions of dollars in bailouts and “quantitative easing” to stave off economic disaster. It is easier for a man to walk away from his wife and children than from his credit-card debt or student loans. Nobody seems to really know what his health insurance will cover — or what it will cover the day after tomorrow. A third of the teachers participating in a grant program found themselves saddled with loans — loans they had never signed up for, sometimes amounting to tens of thousands of dollars —because of paperwork issues. Innocent men and women are wrongly prosecuted and end up financially ruined even when they escape jail, and even as prosecutors boldly boast about abusing their powers.

The burden of these developments always seems to fall on those who do not have much money or power. You miss filing a 1040EZ one year and you’ll get your bank account hijacked by the IRS; Lois Lerner hijacks the entire IRS for a political project and she ends up with pension that’s twice what most American households earn in a year. Corporate executives flit from one gilt perch to the next, politicians flout both law and morality without real consequence, and their cronies and minions rarely miss a paycheck. Meanwhile, the New York Times is full of advertisements for Rolex and Cartier, Tiffany and Zegna — and stories about how nobody can really be expected to get by on $200,000 a year.

In Francis Fukuyama’s magisterial Origins of Political Order, he specifies three things that undergird the development of political development: the state, the rule of law, and accountability. The first we have plenty of — more of than we need, really. The other two . . . less so. Irrespective of how you feel about the current legal efforts being made against President Trump, it is impossible for any intelligent person to look at the situation and conclude that anybody — anybody — involved in this mess is simply working to apply the law rather than conducting a political jihad or counter-jihad through legal means — lawfare, as they call it. The rule of law took a beating during the Obama administration, and the chaos of the Trump administration does not seem likely to contribute much to its recuperation.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Crony capitalism and statolatry all the way down.

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Statolatry and Illiberal Politics

Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strikes. Unlike any humans before us, we take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes, where they cannot remind us of our own fate in our daily lives. And if you pressed, say, the liberal elites to explain what they really believe in — and you have to look at what they do most fervently — you discover, in John Gray’s mordant view of Mill, that they do, in fact, have “an orthodoxy — the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

But the banality of the god of progress, the idea that the best life is writing explainers for Vox in order to make the world a better place, never quite slakes the thirst for something deeper. Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.

So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.

America’s New Religions

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