Archive for the ‘The Clerisy and The Kakistocracy’ Category.

Catholicism and Secularism and Nostaligia


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Is a Christian cakemaker required to make a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, in violation of his religious beliefs? That is the issue in a case currently before the US Supreme Court. The case looks like yet another major clash between the forces of secular progressive liberalism and their Christian targets. And yet some Christians are so optimistic as to hope for a truce. For instance, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat has appealed to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who as so often will almost certainly cast the deciding vote. Despite Kennedy’s record – he composed the 2015 Obergefell decision which divined a right of same-sex marriage in the Constitution – Douthat hopes that the judge will vote to protect the baker, and so bring about some peace, of uncertain duration, between liberalism and Christianity.

In so doing, Douthat illustrates a pervasive tendency among Catholic intellectuals today: the temptation of nostalgia. He casts a wistful glance backwards, to a time in which secular progressive liberalism and what he calls “religious conservatism” peacefully coexisted. When exactly? One candidate is the period just before the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, but it seems likely that by 2014 it was already too late to disband the competing forces. A better candidate is 1950-70, which Douthat believes future historians will identify as the glorious peak of the American polity. Douthat is slightly coy about whether he thinks these future historians will be correct, but it is clear that he thinks something went very wrong in American life in the 1970s, and that Hugh Hefner played an important role. One can see why 1950-1970 would appeal to a certain strain of traditional Catholic. The immediate postwar period was a time in which Catholics peacefully coexisted with the liberal Imperium, and indeed became increasingly integrated into it, helping to elect a quasi-Catholic President. Anthony Kennedy is no John F Kennedy, as it were, but in Douthat’s view “you appeal to the emperor you have.”

. . .

Why are self-described “trad” Catholics prone to nostalgia? The typical mistake is to conflate the traditions of the Church with the traditions of the broader society. These are very different things; the Church is an ark afloat on a dangerous sea, which preserves its own internal traditions in part with walls that prevent it from being deluged by secular practices and mores. 1 Peter thus connects Catholic rootlessness and homelessness with a rejection of human political traditions, enjoining Catholics to “live out the time of your exile here in reverent awe, for you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood …” Catholicism is not Burkeanism. Because Catholics are exiled in the world, they can ultimately have no attachment to man’s places and traditions, including political traditions. They can have no final affection for the misty English landscape that always stands just behind Scruton’s prose, for Reno’s polite distinction of liberal tradition and liberal creed, for the bipartisan fedora-hatted governance of Douthat’s postwar golden age, or even for Ahmari’s era of the triumph (albeit short-lived) of liberal democratic freedom after 1989.

As secular liberalism attacks the Church, Catholics can’t afford to be nostalgic

I am going to risk a prediction: 2018 will be the year we see an end to the fighting over Amoris Laetitia.

This might seem rather presumptuous, given that just this week five bishops have underscored the Church’s traditional teaching on the reception of Communion by the divorced and remarried. The bishops’ statement is a positive delight to read for its clarity of thought and expression – especially after some of the tortured sophistries we have had to endure of late.

The document unflinchingly reminds us that some things are just wrong, and no amount of personal reflection or mitigating circumstances can change that.

Seeming to address directly the various interpretations of that single contentious footnote in Amoris Laetitia (the one Pope Francis cannot remember), the five bishops quote St John Paul II: “The confusion created in the conscience of many faithful by the differences of opinions and teachings … about serious and delicate questions of Christian morals, ends up by diminishing the true sense of sin almost to the point of eliminating it.” This describes all too well the results, and I would say the intentions, of many of the opaque and tendentious “pastoral” guidelines which have followed Amoris Laetitia.

The doctrinal errors in interpreting Amoris Laetitia are part of a serious movement afoot in the Church to undermine her clarity of thought and expression on the moral order, especially regarding marriage, sexuality and personal conscience. What drives this movement? Let’s be clear: it has nothing to do with helping divorced and remarried Catholics. Those of us who work in marriage tribunals, where canonists and priests have more contact with such couples on a daily basis than most working in bishops’ conferences have in a year, can tell you that the divorced and remarried are, in the vast majority of cases, desperately seeking clarity from the Church, not to be told to “do whatever they think is right.”

. . .

At the time of the cultural and sexual revolution, the Church spoke powerfully and prophetically against the inevitable consequences of what was happening. In the last half-century, Paul VI’s encyclical has proven ever more prescient and relevant. It is a bitterly comical irony that, just as wider society is beginning to wake up to the consequences of a sexual ethic based solely on consent and the pursuit of personal fulfilment, the Church is having to defend herself against those within who deny not just the Church’s teaching, but the last 50 years of history which have so convincingly vindicated it.

There’s a movement to undermine Catholic morality – Communion is just the start

Growing in wisdom involves growing in the discernment of who is wise, and who only parodies wisdom. While there are many ways to parody wisdom, two stand out in the age of the internet. At first glance they might seem to be opposites, but (on closer inspection) they reveal themselves to be alter-egos of one another. Tragically, each of these tendencies has plenty of public representation. Let us label their distinctive brands as “Prophetic Performers,” and “Authenticity Acts.”

. . .

“Prophetic Performers” prey upon the humans’ natural (and good) instinct to respond to certain modes of rhetoric and prophetic inflexibility. Since humans are sometimes liable (some more than others) to say “whatever” too often, to be morally lazy, or to fail in their capacity to protect sheep from wolves, it is important that we can nevertheless be psychologically accessed by a strong rebuke, by a reminder that some things are hard, that some bits of reality are unsavory and rough-edged, sometimes you have to confront your own will and sentiments, etc.

. . .

More popular in our era is the “Authenticity Act.” Sometimes, but not always, this person started out in the first camp and ends in the second. One will frequently hear this sort waxing eloquent about how “messy” and “complicated” life is. Rather than reducing the complexity of life, they will tend to reduce the complexity of God’s law (not to mention His character) to some vague platitudes about infinite empathy. These persons are frequently hurting and broken, and use the public platform they have to tell their personal narrative, process their lives, and garner empathy for their spiritual destination, or the turns their “journey” has taken.

. . .

What do these two characters have in common? Fundamentally, they have a narcissistic relationship to reality. Even when they are correct (as they sometimes accidentally are), their relationship to the reality that they presumably elucidate is inflected through their final goals of self justification – whether it be of the deeply fearful valiant badass for Jesus in the case of the former, or the deeply broken demander of infinite affirmation in the case of the latter.

In both cases, what is required is getting out of one’s own head and into the world. Wise men do not safely wax about a reality which functions as their shield, but speak of it with fear and trembling. Wise men are humble before God. Wise men often admit that life is complicated. Wise men sometimes do not know the answer. Wise men are also willing to receive an answer that they find unsavory. And most importantly, wise men will ask divine help to bend their will to savor reality over their distorted sentiments.

Prophetic Performers, Authenticity Acts, and the Need for Wisdom


The Butterfly Circus

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Anti-Christian

Your President (I’m Canadian, I get to say “your”) has a Twitter account that sometimes comes to my attention. And this, although I try to ignore all the world’s tweeted expostulations. But they make news, sometimes; in Mr. Trump’s case, as a matter of course. And as I have confessed before, I’m still reading news.

I understand why he does it. Which is to say, I understand that Mr. Trump wouldn’t be president today if he had not availed himself of every opportunity to end-run the media gatekeepers. Contrary to the received view, I think he is very good at it; often brilliant. I’m not commenting yet on the morality of the operation, only on its efficacy. He knows how to “troll,” and to the audience of his supporters, trolls deliciously.

He has a vulgar but adept satirical sense, and can expose the hypocrisy of his opponents in ways that will “make their heads explode.” And since many of his enemies also happen to be mine, I have often giggled – in a mean-spirited, “gotcha” kind of way.

. . .

We are told free speech doesn’t extend to gratuitously yelling “Fire!” in a cinema, or uttering plausible physical threats. But in a self-described “free society” it is assumed that, short of such acts of criminal mischief, those who disagree must cope. Extreme sensibilities will have to be abraded.

I have been coping myself, for as long as I can remember. It comes with the territory Christians have occupied these two thousand years; and those with any sort of opinions, since time out of mind. One learns to ignore the goad, or deflect it. Why let another decide whether I should forfeit my good humor? Better to reply with something droll.

Alas, this doesn’t work as it used to. Rather than matching wits, or just laughing, one’s opponent may burst into hysteria. (Never be droll with a feminist, I advise.)

“Never complain, never explain,” is the counsel of the seasoned professionals. But this hardly works anymore, either. Your opponents then mount smear upon smear. As Mr. Trump learned – partly, I suspect, from the experience of Mr. Bush Junior – the refusal to “dignify that with an answer” requires a milieu from which gentlemen haven’t been extracted.

In our rat-pack world of social media, suavity is impossible, let alone gentlemanly behavior. Alas, Mr. Trump understands this. Our Lord was accused of consorting with sinners, but He did not “accompany” them into sin. Will the returning Christ have a Twitter account? I seriously doubt this.

Nor do I think He would be carrying a gun, though I would not make this ground for banning firearms. He never proposed to disarm soldiers. He accepted the claim of Rome to be Rome. He gave no political advice at all, even on marginal rates of taxation.

On the other hand, He said things most provoking. Even the Beatitudes were an (obviously intended) surprise for the comfortable. Each was the reverse of long-received opinion. At no point in the Gospels do we find Our Lord “going along to get along” with the gatekeepers of those days.

A rule to prohibit provocation would, as a consequence probably quite intended, prohibit Christianity in every day and age. It would also prohibit the telling of truth, with or without religious connotations. It would finally achieve a deathly silence; for anything said is potentially controversial. There is no statement so soft that someone could not take offense at it, if only for being too soft.

Therefore let us affirm some things, starting plainly with our Faith in Christ. Let us follow this up with every Christian teaching, as those ancestors did who converted the heathen.

We know at least the Devil will be offended, though he may be clever enough to conceal it and work with the persisting vanities of those who now believe.

Provocations

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Family in the High Tech and Affluent West

Social psychologist Jonathon Haidt writes in his book The Righteous Mind about “WEIRD” people — the people who live in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich Democracies who are very different from most of the world, and yet we are used by most psychological research studies to stand for all of humanity.

Haidt compared “weird” people to typical people elsewhere. “When asked to write 20 statements beginning with the words ‘I am,'” he said, “Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).”

Maybe in our history Americans were more connected to others. We aren’t now.

“Weird” Americans: Black Friday vs. Thanksgiving

Ozymandias

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Why Bureaucracies Don’t Stop Terror

The Sayfullo Saipov case is another instance of serial institutional failure.

Of course Sayfullo Saipov “had been on the radar of federal authorities,” as the New York Times put it in a report that had the stink of inevitability on it.

Who else was on the radar of the relevant law-enforcement and intelligence agencies? Omar Mateen, Syed Farook’s social circle, Nidal Hasan, Adam Lanza, the 2015 Garland attackers, the Boston Marathon bombers . . .

The 2015 Paris attackers were “on the radar” of French authorities, as were the Charlie Hebdo killers. The Copenhagen terrorists were known to local authorities. Man Haron Monis, who staged an attack in Sydney, had written a letter to Australia’s attorney general inquiring about whether he’d get into legal trouble for communicating with ISIS. The men behind the Quebec car-ramming and the shooting at parliament were known to Canadian authorities. Mehdi Nemmouche, who murdered four peoples at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, was a convicted armed robber who was under surveillance after traveling back and forth to Syria.

In that, terrorism is a lot like ordinary crime. Almost all of the murderers in New York City have prior criminal records, and New York is not unusual in this regard. A great deal of violent crime is committed by people who already have criminal histories.

Law-enforcement bureaucracies are like any other bureaucracy.

. . .

The Sayfullo Saipov case is another instance of serial institutional failure, from immigration authorities to domestic counterterrorism forces. We’ve given them tremendous amounts of money, manpower, and investigatory authority. Now we need to see results.

Why Bureaucracies Don’t Stop Terror

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The Administrative State

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Your Birth Control

It’s Democrats who oppose over-the-counter sale of contraceptives.

There are many horrifying things about President Donald Trump that I am prepared to believe, but the claim put forward by Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times — that he has loosened up the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate out of sexual traditionalism — is not one of them.

The Trump administration has, to its credit, issued a more liberal version of the employer-provided birth-control mandate, one that offers conscience protections to institutions beyond churches and closely held business concerns, and that expands the exemption beyond narrowly religious objections to include moral objections that are not necessarily religious in nature. A free society makes a lot of room for moral and religious disagreement, which is why the original mandate was thrown out by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that government use the least onerous means when burdening religious exercise and that it do so only in the pursuit of a legitimate public interest.

For context, consider the fact that during World War II — an existential crisis not only for the United States but for the entire free world — the United States routinely offered exemptions from military service to members of pacifistic religious sects such as Quakers and Brethren. The federal government went so far as to establish alternatives to war bonds for those who objected to supporting the war through financial instruments. Perhaps you believe that a federal law mandating employer-provided no-copay birth-control pills is very important — it isn’t as important as whipping Hitler.

Greenhouse argues that the move represents a step toward transforming the United States into something more like Saudi Arabia, a bit of hyperbole that is risible even by the basement-dwelling standards of the New York Times op-ed pages. That the Times’ generally excellent reporting remains institutionally shackled to its insipid and second-rate opinion pages must be a source of frustration for its reporters, even — especially? — the ones who share that plain-Democrat-vanilla viewpoint.

. . .

Republicans have, on the matter of contraception at least, adopted a live-and-let-live attitude, one that would make birth control available to women on the same basis as any other consumer good and that would — let’s not forget — still oblige most employers to include it, free of copay, in their health-insurance plans, unless they have strong religious or moral objections to doing so. Democrats have opposed efforts to make birth control available over-the-counter. Why?

Neither Trump nor the GOP Wants to Take Away Your Birth Control

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“Urban Renewal” and The Kakistocracy


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 1 – Tim Tielman in Niagara Square, downtown Buffalo

Urban renewal was the lethal marriage of progressive urban engineering with what Tim [Tielman] calls the “kakistocracy“—thieves who justify their crimes against place in the canting and condescending language of efficiency and inevitability.

New York’s Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, while being driven through urban-renewal-decimated Auburn, New York, “In the 1950s, with a progressive government and newspaper, you got into urban renewal and destroyed everything of value in your town. If you’d had a reactionary newspaper and a grumpy mayor, you might still have it.” Try to imagine Chuck Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand saying something one-ten-thousandth as perceptive. (Confirming Moynihan, the largest American city to reject urban renewal funding was Salt Lake City, whose voters, following the lead of their delightfully cranky libertarian Mayor J. Bracken Lee, rejected the federal bulldozer in 1965 by a vote of 29,119 to 4,900.)

Moynihan had a soft spot for Buffalo, probably because it was filled with the ethnic Catholics who claimed his heart, if not always his head. His support was critical in saving Louis Sullivan’s terra cotta-ornamented Guaranty Building (1896) from senseless demolition. (In a 1961 essay in Commentary, Moynihan called Buffalo “a big, ugly, turbulent city.” I once asked him if that description caused any problems in his campaigns. He looked at me incredulously. “How many people in Buffalo do you think read Commentary?”)

Tielman says, “Absent the federal and state money, none of this devastation occurs in Buffalo or Niagara Falls.” He elaborates: “Where did this free money go? To the existing power structure”—whose acts of destruction were facilitated, I regret to say, by urban Catholic mayors, who sacrificed significant portions of their cities to the Greatest Generation’s Greatest God: Progress.

. . .

[T]he Canal District [in Buffalo] is now threatened by every parent’s nightmare: a children’s museum, a $27 million project, jointly funded by a state development corporation and corporate donors, with the city offering a $1-a-year lease for forty years.

Tim is not enthusiastic. “Did you know Buffalo is the largest city in the country without a children’s museum?” he asks in mock outrage. “We can’t let that stand!” More seriously, he notes that “children’s museums attract fewer people than cemeteries,” and that this one “has nothing to do with the Canal District—it could be anywhere.” (It could be anywhere—what an apposite caption for so many of the edifices that deface our cities: This could be anywhere.)

. . .

Jane Jacobs occupies the catbird seat on Tim’s bookshelf. He rhapsodizes Jacobsian over pre-urban renewal Buffalo, which was “dense with buildings and crowded sidewalks, where one could wander block upon block, past shop after shop, restaurant after restaurant, office building after hotel, without apparent end. Buffalo was a beehive, where all of life’s necessities, pleasures, and luxuries could be had within the square mile of its core.”

Its demolition was not the work of some invisible hand or inscrutable force but rather, in Tielman’s phrase, “social engineers” who destroyed the essence of the city.

. . .

Next time you’re in Buffalo—and you really ought to visit; the Buffalos and Lowells and Pittsburghs are so much better for the soul than Orlando or Myrtle Beach—take one of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo‘s open-air bus tours.

The Real Buffalo Rises: How one American city lost, and then reclaimed its destiny.


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 2 – Tim Tielman visits two office buildings in Buffalo


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 4 – St. Paul’s Cathedral and Sullivan’s Guaranty Building<

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