Archive for the ‘Notes to a Friend’ Category.

“Facts” and “Values”


“What the Natural Sciences Do Not Explain”

The underlying assumption of our public discourse today is that facts and values are radically distinct. “The plane crashed” is a statement of fact, and therefore “real.” Crash evidence is tangible. Nobody can argue with debris. On the other hand, “Don’t kill the disabled” is a statement of value. It’s an expression of opinion and sentiment—so the logic goes—and therefore not “real” or “true” in the same solid sense. For example, the importance of protecting disabled persons is an admirable and widely shared view; surely that’s obvious. But some people might disagree. Some people might argue quite sincerely that disabled persons are a waste of precious resources, and we’d be better off without them. Some people did argue that way in Germany in the last century, with great effect.

Of course, for most of us, murdering the disabled, starving the poor, or deliberately targeting innocent civilians in war is an appalling idea; a crime against humanity. But apparently sucking the brains out of unborn children, or trading in their body parts, is not so appalling. It may even be “good,” because we already do it. We not only do it, but we also build a fortress of pious-sounding chatter about reproductive rights to surround and bless it.

This is the kind of obscenity that comes from reducing a nation’s politics to a clash of allegedly equal values. What it masks is a transfer of power from proven traditions of moral wisdom to whoever can best lobby the media, the courts, Congress, and the White House. It’s the reason [the philosopher Alasdair] MacIntyre warned that today’s barbarians “are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.”

“Facts” and “values” and darkness at noon, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Statolatry

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The Party of “Civil Servants”?

The economic interests attached to the Democratic party are fairly easy to identify: people who work for government at all levels. You may come across the occasional Ron Swanson in the wild, but when it comes to the teachers’ unions — which are the biggest spender in U.S. politics — or the AFSCME gang or the vast majority of people receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, the politics of the public sector is almost exclusively Democratic. And what they care about isn’t social justice or inequality or diversity or peace or whether little Johnny can use the ladies’ room if his heart tells him to — they care about getting paid.

Here’s an interesting point of comparison. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he opposed gay marriage. So did Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Obama’s opposition was especially interesting in that he cited religious doctrine in support of his position: “My faith teaches me . . . that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For me, as a Christian, it is also a sacred union — God’s in the mix.” George W. Bush, who was derided as a fundamentalist bigot by lifestyle liberals, never said anything like that. (Dick Cheney was well to the left of the Democrats on the question.) But there was barely a murmur of opposition to Obama’s staking out this ground “on the wrong side of history.” Social issues are for the naïfs.

. . .

What is the Democratic party? Is it a genuine political party, or is it simply an instrument of relatively well-off government workers who care about very little other than securing for themselves regular raises and comfortable pensions?

If I were a progressive, I’d be curious about that.

What Is the Democratic Party?

Clerisy, Ozymandias, Statolatry

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Fathers

What was your relationship with your father like? I’ll bet it wasn’t perfect. That’s because your father was human and wasn’t perfect, but there is a deeper reason.

It has to do with the way you’re wired. You were designed to need the perfect — I mean absolutely perfect — unconditional and complete love of a Father. In other words, you have within you a need for a Father that no human father can ever fulfill.

This is why so many people grow up and rebel against their fathers or blame their fathers or hate their fathers. They perceive that their father has failed them.

What made me come to this conclusion was speaking to a number of people over the years in counseling who blamed their father for their problems. Then when I looked at the facts objectively I realized that the fathers they were complaining about were actually pretty good guys.

I’ve had situations where the father was a good Christian man who provided for his wife and family, never cheated on his spouse, loved his kids and spent time with them, but they still blamed him for being a lousy Dad.

. . .

I believe we all — to a greater or lesser extent — carry within us something I call the Father Wound. This is the wound we received from not having a perfect father. The wound may be deep and lasting — disabling and poisoning every part of our personality, sexuality and relationships — or it may be less profound, but present nonetheless.

How does this wound show itself? It is revealed in a multitude of ways: the person may find it impossible to trust anyone in authority. They may perceive all “father figures” as the enemy. When faced with a “father relationship” at work, in sports, at church (or most anywhere), an ordinarily mature and sensible person may rebel, undermine the “father” or reject him. They may give that person the silent treatment or walk out on him. In other words, they will exhibit immature behaviors — reacting like a child or an adolescent responds to the negative father figure.

The Father wound may reveal itself in distorted sexualities. The genesis of some homosexual conditions are rooted in the search for the loving father. Some immature heterosexual conditions present as the little girl looking for “Daddy”. The wound may show itself in a person’s inability to accept himself or herself, in poor self esteem, immature rage and aggression towards others … the Father Wound can be at the root of a whole range of other difficulties.

Radical feminists, for example, often rage against “the patriarchal system”. To be sure there have always been aggressive and abusive fathers, but to accuse all fathers and all men because of the evil of some is unrealistic and unhelpful. The answer to bad fathers is not no fathers, but good fathers.

How beautiful then, that Our Lord gives us just the one prayer which covers all prayers, and it is the “Our Father“. This prayer, when prayed in a deep and meditative manner can heal the Father Wound and all it’s nasty symptoms.

Healing the Father Wound

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Worshiping Idols

The outrage and hysteria over Trump should confirm what should have been obvious during the Obama years: progressives have turned politics into a religion.

The consternation and outrage we’ve seen in response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration has little to do with the policy as such. Restricting immigration from certain countries is nothing new; President Obama did it, as did presidents Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, and Reagan.

Rather, it has everything to do with the elevation of progressive politics to the status of a religion—a dogmatic and intolerant religion, whose practitioners are now experiencing a crisis of faith.

. . .

The Left Has Been Moralizing Politics For A Long Time

Trump shook that faith. But his election also unmasked the degree to which progressivism as a political project is based not on science or rationality, or even sound policy, but on faith in the power of government to ameliorate and eventually perfect society. All the protests and denunciations of Trump serve not just as an outlet for progressives’ despair, but the chance to signal their moral virtue through collective outrage and moral preening—something that wasn’t really possible under Obama, at least not to this degree.

Not that they didn’t try. Recall that during the Obamacare debate in 2009 Ezra Klein suggested that Sen. Joe Lieberman was “willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score,” simply because he threatened to filibuster what would become the Affordable Care Act. This is the language of political fundamentalism—policy invested with the certainty of religious conviction.

Religious fundamentalism of course rests on immutable truths that cannot be negotiated.

. . .

Conservatives sometimes invoke religion in policy debates, but it’s usually not because they’re trying to make a religion out of politics. Most often, it’s in reaction to progressives’ insistence that religious beliefs be cast aside when they impede the political agenda of the Left—like when Obama tried to fine the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns, $70 million for refusing, on religious grounds, to participate in a government scheme to distribute birth control.

. . .

That progressive politics should carry the force of religious belief should not come as a surprise. For the Left, politics holds the promise of paradise on earth. Through the instrument of government, progressives believe they can right the world’s wrongs, punish the wicked, feed the hungry, outlaw bigotry, and perhaps even save the earth from climate change. All they need is control of government and sound policies. If everything that matters is at stake, then everything is justified in the pursuit of political power.

. . .

If we are consumed by politics in the age of Trump, it is not because of Trump. It is because progressives have made politics into a god, and their god is failing them.

Why Are Progressives So Angry? Trump Defeated Their Messiah

Statolatry, Ozymandias

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Modernism

[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.

What is Progressive Derangement Syndrome?

Clerisy, Statolatry, Ozymandias. Forward!

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The President is not My King or My God – How About You?

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.

Tell The Children The Same Thing About Donald Trump As For Any President: Beware

Statolatry and Ozymandias

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Cutting the tails off of pigs in factory farms

[S]tandard-issue hog farming involves the practice of tail docking—that is, shortly after piglets are born, their tails are cut off short. You might ask: why would we need to cut the tails off of pigs? Good question! Pig tails need to be cut off, in factory farms, because the pigs stand around all day in tiny, crowded spaces. Some of them seek to amuse themselves by biting other pigs on the tail. Often, the pigs being bitten are really just too listless to stop the biting. So their tails bleed. This can lead to infection, of course, but it could also lead to cannibalistic attacks on the bleeding hog—after all, pigs are omnivores! Now, having the tails docked won’t prevent tail biting, because there’s still a stump. But the stump is extremely sensitive, so even an otherwise very listless pig is likely to quickly put a stop to anyone’s gnawing on his stump. Hence, the infections or cannibalistic attacks can be prevented.

Now, tail docking is an extra task, requiring extra labor from pig farmers. So it would be nice if it were unnecessary. Fortunately, science plans to come to the rescue here—we’re working on isolating the stress gene in hogs, so that we can create new hogs that can be crowded into horrific conditions without becoming stressed out. If they’re not stressed into listlessness, they’re more likely to react quickly to anyone’s biting their tail. Problem solved.

Joel Salatin’s “The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs”

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Catholicism in 21st Century America

mary-punching-devil

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.

Archbishop Chaput’s remarks at Notre Dame University

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Our Pornified Culture of Death

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.”

Trump is the Logical Conclusion of Our Pornified Culture

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.”)

Who — Trump or Hillary — was confused or dishonest about abortion at the last debate?

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Politics Is Idolatry for Many

Supreme Court nominees will not save you. National security advisers will not save you. An Ivy League education will not save you. A quarterback who’s cool under pressure will not save you. Tax breaks will not save you. The love of Mr. Right will not save you. A traditional priest will not save you. A progressive priest will not save you. This pope will not save you. A different pope will not save you.

If there’s any heresy the internet encourages, it’s the passionate conviction that “all we need is….” All we need is a Republican president or a more compassionate bishop or a baby who sleeps through the night or a diet that actually works or a higher minimum wage or better paternity leave or free reign to go after ISIS or a new iPhone or a good harvest and then we’ll be happy.

No. All you need is Jesus.

We all seem to know, Christian or not, that we’re in desperate need of a savior. Every four years, we find that savior in a political candidate, appalling as he or she may be. In between, our savior might be an ecclesial movement or a dear friend or a cup of coffee. They’re not bad things until they’re everything and then they’re idols just as much as any golden calf or statue of Bel.

. . .

It’s not just politics, of course. We look to money and love and fame and comfort to save us just as much as we do to our political leaders—more. We make them our gods, confident that what we need is a raise or a faithful spouse or a vacation or more reliable internet provider and then we’ll be okay.

Those things might be nice. Or they might be bricks building up into a wall of self-sufficiency, good things that blind us to our need for a savior. And without making a single deal with the devil or even skipping a single Mass we suffer the loss of our souls because we have installed created things in the place set aside for the creator.

Looking for our savior in all the wrong places

Statolatry, Idolatry

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