Merry Christmas!

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:12-14). According to the evangelist, the angels “said” this. But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present. And so, from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent. It continues down the centuries in constantly new forms and it resounds ever anew at the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is only natural that simple believers would then hear the shepherds singing too, and to this day they join in their caroling on the Holy Night, proclaiming in song the great joy that, from then until the end of time, is bestowed on all people.

— Pope Benedict XVI


The King’s Singers – Christmas

It was impossible. Mary may have lived in a time before science, before the polite and clinical agents of reason had scrubbed the angels and demons and desert spirits away from all but the dark outer edges of our minds, but she was a woman — she knew where babies came from and how they got made. She knew that she was a virgin and that she had not become a wife to the man to whom she was engaged. She also knew what being pregnant and unmarried was likely to mean to her — socially, religiously, economically, physically — in first-century Palestine.

She’d probably witnessed her share of stonings.

Religious people sometimes get a pat on the head from their non-believing friends, who say things like, “All that stuff must be very comforting. I wish I could believe it.” But why would Mary have wished to believe it when the angel Gabriel visited her with that joyous and terrible announcement — “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus; He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” — when it would have been so much more comforting to believe that she’d simply had a strange dream? “Mary was greatly troubled at his words,” Luke’s gospel says.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. Easy for you to say, Gabriel.

. . .

But step away for a moment from the manger scene at the Christmas pageant, which surely does not smell like a real barn smells, and dwell for a moment in the world of real people: the terrified young woman, her uncertain husband-to-be, the worried politician, the simple shepherds and great holy men alike wondering in the backs of their minds if they were maybe kidding themselves, if they might possibly have it all wrong, if they’d misunderstood something along the way. “Be not afraid.” Maybe they could endure the terror of the night and the cold, the rigors and dangers of travel, even the threat of Herod’s sword — but what of that other fear, the fear that they’d made a mistake, that this was all a bizarre misunderstanding or the work of credulous fanatics? A manger is a feed-trough for livestock. “Feed my sheep,” He would later say, to confused and fearful people still not quite getting the point.

“Well, they had faith,” we tell ourselves. “They believed.” As though these little words put together in that order would be enough to exorcise doubt, terror, and the unbearable loneliness at the heart of this story. (“All that stuff must be very comforting. I wish I could believe it.”) Try to imagine the physical facts of birth in that setting, the rigors of the long road to Bethlehem and the long road home.

He Himself Carried the Fire

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Economist’s Christmas

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Gaudete Sunday

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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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Diabetes and Weight Loss

Type 2 diabetes isn’t necessarily for life, with a new clinical trial providing some of the clearest evidence yet that the condition can be reversed, even in patients who have carried the disease for several years.

A clinical trial involving almost 300 people in the UK found an intensive weight management program put type 2 diabetes into remission for 86 percent of patients who lost 15 kilograms (33 lbs) or more.

. . .

[Roy Taylor from Newcastle University] and fellow researchers studied 298 adults aged 20-65 years who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes within the previous six years to take part in the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT).

Participants were randomly assigned to either an intensive weight management program or to regular diabetic care administered by their GP, acting as a control group.

For the 149 individuals placed in the weight management program, participants had to restrict themselves to a low calorie formula diet consisting of things like health shakes and soups, limiting them to consuming 825-853 calories per day for a period of three to five months.

After this, food was reintroduced to their diet slowly over two to eight weeks, and participants were given support to maintain their weight loss, including cognitive behavioural therapy and help with how to increase their level of physical activity.

. . .

Almost 90 percent of those who lost 15 kilograms (33 lbs) or more, successfully reversed their type 2 diabetes. More than half (57 percent) of those dropping 10 to 15 kilograms (22 to 33 lbs) achieved remission also.

For those who lost less weight – between 5 to 10 kilograms (11 to 22 lbs) – the reversal still worked for more than a third (34 percent) of participants.

This Extreme Diet Reversed Type 2 Diabetes in Up to 86% of Patients

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“The Dictator Pope”

The title above is the name of a book that appeared Monday in English (after earlier publication in Italian) by a writer who has assumed a grand Renaissance pseudonym: Marcantonio Colonna (an admiral at Lepanto). He evidently could not publish under his real name, for fear of reprisals. But the case he lays out is largely convincing: that Pope Francis has carefully cultivated an image in public as the apostle of mercy, kindness, and openness; in private, he’s authoritarian, given to profanity-laced outbursts of anger, and manipulative in pursuing his agenda.

This is hardly news, least of all in Rome. This volume, however, is far more probing and detailed than anything that has previously appeared. It sometimes stretches evidence, but the sheer amount of evidence it provides is stunning. About 90 percent of it is simply incontrovertible, and cannot help but clarify who Francis is and what he’s about.

The parts of this story I know best – the Synods on the family that I reported on daily from Rome for TCT – are absolutely reliable. We know, for example, that Pope Francis was quite willing to openly manipulate the Synods by personally appointing supporters of the Kasper Proposal and that he even intervened personally at key points, changing procedures and instructing the bishops about where their deliberations should start – and end.

. . .

Despite a few lapses, the most disturbing element remains: the abundant evidence – confirmed by many particular instances now over years of this papacy – that the pope has little use for established procedures, precedents, even legal structures within the Church. These are not mere trivial rules, Pharisaic legalism, resistance to the Holy Spirit, etc. They are the means by which the Church seeks to be clear, fair, and orderly – and to address unjust actions or abuses by those in power.

When the head of the Church himself does not much feel bound by the tradition or impartial laws he has inherited, what then? That the question even has to be asked is disturbing. Any answer will have to reckon with the eye-opening material in this compelling book.

“The Dictator Pope”, by Robert Royal

The book: “The Dictator Pope”

Ozymandias

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The future isn’t over yet

There is a large and growing defection, worldwide, of Muslims to the Christian religion. This we know from many sources; I’ve been aware of the phenomenon for more than twenty years. It does not make the news because it is not “newsworthy.” That is to say, it does not fit with anyone’s agenda in the West, and is anyway a dangerous story to cover, for subjects and journalists alike. Oddly enough, it gets most play in Islamic media, where “we are losing the battle of conversions” has become almost an obsession. By “worldwide” I mean in Europe and the Americas, in Asia and in Africa, and also throughout the Dar al-Islam. It is of great historical significance, for it has been practically a truism that Muslims don’t convert.

. . .

The future of Christianity is not European. We have perhaps forgotten that Christ did not rise in the West, but in the East; or for geographical punctilio, at the interchange of the three vast continents of the Old World. Arabs, as all Africans and Asians, are capable of noticing this.

Moreover, the future of Christianity, within “The West,” is also not European.

It will prove too “traditional” for that. For the appeal of a lukewarm, compromised, corrupted, “progressive” and “secularized” Christianity — to sincere Christian converts — is zero.

The future isn’t over yet

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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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Suffering – The Way of The Cross


Skit Guys – God’s Chisel Remastered

In America we have education for success, but no education for suffering. There is instead the filter, the well-meaning deception, that teaches neither religious hope nor stoicism, and when suffering arrives encourages group hysteria, private shame and a growing contagion of despair.

How to educate for suffering is a question for a different column. Here I’ll just stress its necessity: Because what cannot be cured must be endured, and how to endure is, even now, the hardest challenge every one of us will face.

The Misery Filter, by Ross Douthat

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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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