Jan 15, 2021

More Human Things with the Carmelites

I've adopted Anthony Esolen's New Year's resolution to "do more human things" since leaving Ricochet, and encouraging my friends and family to do the same. In my case, I'm returning to playing piano and taking lessons from a truly great teacher, working on behalf of the garden committee planning this year's Colorado Springs Garden Tour, "reading" the Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz, praying (lots of praying), and taking care of my family as usual. 

But, the Carmelites of Fairfield, Pennsylvania? They're really upping the ante. Watch and enjoy. 

Jan 12, 2021

Antecedents to Consequence

Joan of Arc is the fictionalized memoir of a contemporary of Saint Joan's, which Twain described as the "best of all my books." Some literary critics agree, but others have problems with the novel because they doubt Saint Joan's visions as antecedents to the consequences that played out in Joan's real life. As the author of the Introduction states, 

Readers who can accept the historical validity of Joan's visions will be able to read the fictional memoir in an historical way, that is, according to the ordinary way history proceeds, by antecedent to consequence.

The events of the past week in our nation's capitol bear examination by the light of their antecedents, and the reaction to those events might be considered as antecedents to future consequences. I won't pretend to be thorough in this post, I only present my thoughts in brief now before they are overcome by further events.

The Capitol crimes were preceded by months of social and political disruption due to COVID-19 and BLM/antifa riots, and the model for the events of the day was established in Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Kenosha, to name several. I needn't recount the details. And before that? Ferguson, and Occupy Wall Street. It isn't the Tea Party that established political violence and destruction as the means to ends. It was the Left and its useful idiots, among whom we can count the president-elect and vice-president-elect.

Last week was tragic on many levels. As the blogger at The New Reform Club noted,

Nihilism is what is killing our democracy. The leftists who toppled statutes believe, because they are taught to believe, that the people the statues depict – the people who founded our country – hated them. And thus that the country itself hates them. The Trump supporters who invaded the Capitol believe – because the people in that very building told them – that the people in that building, who run this country today, hate them. A country cannot have peace while its government tells its people the country hates them. Yet our government has managed to tell both halves of its divided nation that they are hated. If there were a Darwin Award for governments, the American political establishment would be tough to beat. 

 Read the whole thing

This spirit of hatred, accusation, unforgiveness -- murder, in the end -- must necessarily precede violence. What did we expect? Which begs the question, what do we expect from the (over-)reaction to January 6, 2021? 

It's my belief the violence will only be stoked by reactions like that of the Editor in Chief of Ricochet. A people stricken by the last year of disease, joblessness, personal and professional loss, and a significant loss of freedom, are given the message they're hate-worthy because of the misguided actions of a few. That they're unworthy of the representation of their choice and that they must be silenced for the "common" good.

While I believe the hatred of Donald Trump is mostly irrational, I will hold him responsible in one way, suggested by Elder Daughter: he should have said some time shortly after the election, "if I must leave office, I will do so peacefully." He needed to reassure the hysterical Nevers who've always exhibited a bad-faith belief in the worst of him (he's a Russian agent, he threatened Ukraine for personal political gain, he believes neo-Nazis are "good people" on both sides -- all lies), and he needed to signal to his supporters that this would be an orderly transition one way or another. Not saying so was irresponsible and unwise.

But, I am in agreement with Dennis Prager when he says "it matters who starts it" (a conflict). The breakdown of the rule of law and civil society was started by the Left. The Left has spent decades corrupting our institutions and destroying the public trust. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (both of whom corrupted our government and deserve prosecution more than Donald Trump ever will) signaled their hatred of ordinary Americans with "bitter clingers" and "basket of deplorables." Have candidates for high office ever spoken of people they hope to govern that way before? I suppose so, but I don't know of examples.

I agree with the blogger at The New Reform Club that rough speech is preferable to political violence. I expect most of us on the Right do. Too bad the Left, Big Tech, and the ruling elites prefer suppression of dissident speech. I predict they're going to get more political violence as a consequence -- and so will we all. 

Jan 10, 2021

It Still Works!

I haven't updated this blog since 2014. I wasn't sure all the buttons and levers would still operate, but they do! At least, I think they do. This is my test run to see how it goes. 

If you're just visiting for the first time, I'm guessing you're a friend from Ricochet. Welcome. I'm going to use this as an outlet for ideas no longer welcome there. But, I also plan to keep mostly clear of politics. That doesn't rule out religion and philosophy and those creative enterprises that make us human. I hope to opine on those. 

It's a fresh start on this blog. I've learned a lot while I was away. I hope you find the lessons I'll share worthwhile. 

Jan 22, 2014

What Feminists Really Want for Their Daughters: A Maid

Carolyn Jones, feminist, tells the story of shopping with her mother for her three-year-old daughter's birthday present here. Sure, there's all the requisite feminist angst about glass ceilings and Barbie's DD breasts and persistent gender inequality in housekeeping duties, but I find the whole read delightfully revealing.
I'll concede housekeeping isn't glamorous. And no one -- not even the girl with the most traditional "I only want to be a wife and mother" aspirations -- envisions herself cleaning the commode someday. But, to state the obvious, someone has to do it!
There are a million and one ways to make oneself unhappy in life and marriage. One of the most common we succumb to is having unrealistic expectations. As a favor, let me advise the ladies: it is in a man's nature to go out and make the kill and drag it back to the cave for you to cook. It is not in his nature to notice that your mother's cut glass cruet collection could use  a thorough cleaning.

Let's face it, women will continue to shoulder the lion's share of housekeeping, because it's more important to us. It is in our nature to keep the cave tidy and free of pests. If you marry a man expecting the even distribution of housework, you're in for some unpleasantness. Feminism, once again, has lied to you and set you up for serious disappointment.
I recommend spending some time considering what it means to have a full and meaningful life. I entered adulthood knowing I wanted a husband and family, but not realizing the full implications for how I would end up spending my time. Once I saw the struggles of my contemporaries to have it all, and experienced the "joys" of the working world, I knew the feminist myth wasn't for me.
I'm very privileged to have a husband able to sustain our family and provide for our retirement without my having to get a job. We're both blessed that he likes his work -- he's out there on the fruited plain with his hunting buddies every day.
Do I feel my life is less fulfilling because I don't use my engineering degree to pull in a paycheck? Not at all. The service I provide to my family in the way of homemaking is more than compensated by the time I'm able to spend practicing my faith and satisfying my intellectual curiosity (thank you Ricochet).
There are two ways to approach that which must be done. One may graciously accept the fact, and make the best of it. Or one may resent the fact, and make oneself (and usually everyone else) miserable.
We all want our daughters to have choices. I'm not opposed to women becoming high powered CEOs, stay-at-home moms, or anything in between. What I am opposed to is denigrating work that, most likely, somebody's daughter will be doing, even if it's not your own.
Keep the "pigeonholed pink" toy vacuum cleaner with the brightly colored bouncy balls. Lose the elitist feminist attitude about housework.
First published on Ricochet, May 13, 2013. Subsequently linked at James Taranto's Best of the Web, Wall Street Journal under, "Questions No One is Asking."

Jun 24, 2011

Was Jesus Anti-Eunuch?

Circumcision, Marriage and a God-Ordered Universe: Why the Right Should Never, EVER, Align With the Left on Social Issues

What I'm about to express may seem like a theological argument. It is really the background for the political positions I hold, which I believe are well-aligned with the live-and-let-live conservatives and libertarians on the right, even though we may not share anything in common theologically. I'm going to give an orthodox religious view, in my case Roman Catholic, on the timely and controversial issues of circumcision, which the Left in San Francisco is working to prohibit, and marriage, which the Left nationally would like to redefine to include same-sex partners.

These issues are two of the battlefronts of the cultural war the Left is waging on the orthodox religious, with only the life issues drawing more blood – literally. I contend that in a highly advanced Western society based upon Judeo-Christian values and exceedingly tolerant of homosexuals, the attempts by the Left to order the universe according to its image of perfection is not about tolerance and social equity. It's about coercion and thought control, which are the hallmarks of the totalitarian temptation to which the Left routinely succumbs.

Before I give the orthodox explanations for the practices of circumcision and opposite-sex marriage, let me say I'm very understanding of people's view, on the left and the right, that these traditions are antiquated, if not barbaric, given I spent the first two-thirds of my adult life as an atheist liberal. I only ask that we remember the cultures which formed these ideas are the progenitors of the society in which we are very fortunate to live. And I ask, if we think of ourselves as being on the right, to please remember our commitment to defend the right of orthodox believers to hold these beliefs, whether we ourselves share them or not.

Orthodox Jews and Christians believe the Torah and the Bible, respectively, are the authoritative word of God. They believe God made a covenant, an unbreakable promise, with His people. The Abrahamic Covenant is in three parts: The Land Promise (Mosaic Covenant); the Kingdom Promise (Davidic Covenant); the Promise of a Worldwide Blessing (Christians believe this was fulfilled in Jesus Christ).

These covenants are manifested in multiple signs:
  • The Sabbath observance commanded to the first holy couple, Adam and Eve (Gen. 1-3);
  • The rainbow as a sign to the first holy family, Noah's, of God's promise not to flood the Earth again (Gen. 9);
  • Circumcision as a sign of God's covenant with Abraham at the establishment of the one holy tribe of Israel (Gen. 15, 17, 22);
  • The Ten Commandments given as The Law to Moses at the establishment of the one holy nation of Israel (Ex. 24, Deut. 29);
  • The Temple at the establishment of the one holy kingdom at the time of David (2 Sam. 7);
  • Finally, for Christians, the one holy catholic and apostolic church established by Jesus (Mk. 14).
Without putting you through a nine month Bible study, I hope it is apparent how essential, foundational really, are the signs of God's promises. Marriage is the first relationship established by God. Circumcision is the price of entrance into God's family. Orthodox religious believe God ordered the universe in this way for His purposes.

You may be wondering, why circumcision? It was the practice of the Hebrews at the time of Abraham to seal an important contract, a marriage covenant, for example, with a blood sacrifice. The families joining in the covenant would split sacrificial animals from nose to tail and lay the pieces on either side of a pathway, which was then traversed by the patriarchs of each family to signify the seriousness of the promise being made. If either party broke the covenant, it would be as the sacrificial animals – bloody and dead.

Circumcision is a splitting of the flesh. God made a three-part covenant with Abraham and commanded that the sign of that covenant be forever carried by the men of Israel. To not circumcise one's son would be to break the covenant with God, or to not have the child enter the holy contract at all. It's asking too much of an orthodox Jew to forgo the practice. Prohibiting circumcision is a direct assault on religious freedom.

On the other hand, same sex marriage is an indirect assault on religious freedom, but an assault nevertheless, because rather than a prohibition of religious practice, it is an attempt to co-opt an institution the orthodox religious view as instituted by God. For this argument, I refer you to Matthew Chapter 19, which is Jesus' teaching on marriage.

By this point in the narrative, the Pharisees want Jesus dead. They set a trap by asking him if a man may divorce his wife for any cause whatever. Jesus responds,
“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mt 19:4-6)
There are several layers of importance in these verses. First, Jesus is quoting from Genesis at the establishment of the institution of marriage by God. Second, he is referring to the natural order and procreative nature established by God. And third, he is affirming the covenant nature of marriage and how divorce was not part of God's original intent.

The Pharisees then ask why Moses gave a command allowing for divorce. Jesus refers again to God's intent at the original establishment of the institution of marriage, he explains that the Hebrews were excepted because of the hardness of their hearts, and he presses the point home by saying anyone who divorces and remarries is guilty of adultery, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. At this point, his own disciples are concerned about the seriousness of the covenant and suggest it is better not to marry at all. And this is where Jesus' teaching gets really interesting for our purposes. He says,
“Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Mt 19:12)
The notes of my study-Bible say that Jesus is talking about eunuchs in this verse, but he was speaking before the idea that homosexuals might want to marry was even conceivable. His teaching could easily be universally applied to anyone who is incapable of entering a procreative sacramental marriage. But, what about infertile couples, you ask? I think intent counts in this case. Very few infertile couples enter marriage knowing they're infertile, and certainly none did during Jesus' time. The vast majority enter marriage having accepted “this word”.

Same-sex marriage is a social innovation promoted by the Left. This, alone, should make anyone on the right wary. In a Judeo-Christian society where homosexuals are not only not ostracized or abused, tortured and murdered like, say, in Arab Muslim societies, but are our neighbors, friends and family and have access to most of the same legal protections as heterosexuals, if pursued through powers of attorney and such, tolerance is not the issue. What gays want through same-sex marriage is approval. Tolerance is a behavior, but approval is a belief. Advocates of same-sex marriage don't want us to change our society's behavior toward gays. They want us to change our thinking. If you understand the orthodox explanations I gave above, you'll understand why orthodox religious people consider same-sex marriage coercive. Freedom of conscience is at stake.

I predict there will be dire consequences to tampering with the foundational cultural institutions of our society, even if these innovations “don't affect my marriage” – a specious and narcissistic argument, at best. Already Catholic adoption agencies are being driven out of business because they refuse to adopt to gay couples. Here's a question for the social equity crowd. If an adoption agency has two couples contending for the same child and, all else being equal, one couple is gay and the other is straight, should the agency be allowed to discriminate on the part of the mixed gender couple? Why or why not?

When same sex marriage is considered as equal in every way to male/female marriages, what happens in state-run education? Do the teachers read Johnny Has Two Daddies or One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads to the class as an exercise in “tolerance”? I'll take my children out of public school on that day, because this is a perversion of my religion. If, that is, the Left hasn't already outlawed home-schooling.

When same sex marriage is established on the well-intentioned vision of a universe ordered by man, will priests and ministers be free to teach from Matthew 19? Will they be allowed to teach a God-ordered universe? Don't scoff. Ministers in western European countries are facing prosecution for such things. Hate speech, as Mark Steyn well knows.

If conservatives agree that life is a series of trade-offs, what will we be trading for blowing apart the standards for marriage which Jesus taught? Do homosexual couples teach a standard to their children? Do they want their children to have heterosexual relationships or are all relationships equal? If even we on the right can't agree to fight to preserve the ideal of covenant marriage, I'm pretty sure we'll find out.

Dec 26, 2010

Imagining God and Christopher Hitchens

Somehow I can't bring myself to believe my dog imagines me on all fours running for the food bowl at 5:00 pm every day or tearing out the patio door to chase a squirrel. However, I am delighted by the thought of my Pembroke Welsh corgi reclining in a tufted leather chair dressed in a paisley smoking jacket, reading glasses poised jauntily at the end of his long nose, with a pipe in one paw and a copy of G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy in the other. Christopher Hitchens prefers to believe that this human-animal distinction – this ability to imagine – is an accident of mutation over eons of evolution. What, exactly, is adaptive about my Alistair Cooke corgi fantasy, I can't, well... imagine.

I believe this distinction is explained by our Creator God who imagined and spoke us into being. We, not other animals, are made in God's image and likeness and therefore, we have this ability to imagine and, as such, are often capable of reflecting God's creative enterprise. Thus, an Alistair Cooke corgi nearly out of nothing.

I love Christopher Hitchens and I'm not just saying that to establish my Christian bona fides. I really do. What I see in him is a righteous indignation about the suffering of innocents. I deeply admire his commitment and passion to his cause. He's willing to get his nose bloodied over it and even put his own life in danger. I find this very attractive and heroic. It doesn't hurt that Hitchens has one of the sharpest minds of our era and is a master of the English language too.

Where Hitchens fails, however, is pride (it's always the pride, isn't it?) in his ability to reason. He cannot imagine how a good God could allow such abject misery and suffering in the world. And therefore, he rejects the very notion of God.

The Christian response to the paradox of a God who desires mercy and yet allows evil into the world is often answered by “evil is allowed to enter to reveal the glory of God.” This isn't the most intellectually satisfying response, is it? The best I can do is the old Jewish saying, “if I understood God, I would be him.” Both are inadequate to a man who rests all his understanding of the world on evolution and reason.

I like to imagine an omnipotent corporeal God with a restraining hand on Christopher Hitchens' forehead while the lesser, still beloved and magnificent creation, Hitchens, flails away with all the indignation he feels at injustice in the world, trying to land one good blow to make his point. If I can feel this way about a man I've never met and with whom I have profound philosophical disagreements, imagine how much more the Father, who sent his only Son to die for us all, must love and cherish such a man.

And so, I pray, Lord, if it be your will, please save Hitchens from his pride and his sickness. After this lifelong struggle, let his hand come to rest on Yours so that he may know Your Presence and make him an example, like St. Paul, of the good that is possible when we imagine You.

Oct 22, 2010

The Well-Deserved Bad Reputation of Good Intentions

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

The original aphorism seems to have been, “Hell [itself] is paved with good intentions,” which is often attributed to St. Bernard of Clairveux, a doctor of the Church. Isn't it fascinating that in this formulation, good intentions aren't so much along the route one takes to Hell, but a sign that one is already there?

I once told a campus missionary she should avoid “God-talk” if she wants to be understood by the youth she aims to convert. Now I'm going to illustrate the point by explaining the problem with good intentions in a way only some in my audience will fully understand.

God, in the person of Jesus Christ, calls us to empty ourselves or die to oneself to make ourselves hospitable vessels for the Holy Spirit to indwell. We are to minimize the Ego, but being fallen humans, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for us to eliminate Ego altogether. However, when we succeed at hosting the Holy Spirit, good fruits are in abundance – with no regard whatever to our intentions.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life. “Period. End of issue.” - to borrow a phrase from my second-favorite Jew, Dennis Prager.

Practicing Christians are now dismissed. Lesson over. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Do dee do dee do... “oh, watch out there - you dropped your pencil!”

“See you same time next week. Don't forget your assignment!...”

“Test in two weeks.” Do dee dum dee do...

I now resume explaining, while limiting the “God-talk,” for the unbelievers. Please take your seats.

Let's analogize using the “virtue bank account” or “VBA.” The VBA is like the Hotel California (you can check out, but you can never leave) in that you really only want to make deposits. If you withdraw from your VBA, you are behaving in un-virtuous (in God-talk, “sinful”) ways. It is like the Hotel California in one other way... it is a death-trap.

See, tracking the balance of your VBA is all about YOU. It is about your virtue and your self-regard and your status among your peers. It has very little to do with actual goodness - for the love of God! Good intentions are its currency. And this particular currency is worth-less. Not worthless, but worth less than good results (fruitfulness in God-talk).

Example One. Let's say you worked for the government advising the president in a time of terrible economic hardship for the country. And let's say you had the idea to devise a system which would provide financial security for retirees. Let's call your plan Social Security. The plan would have workers pay into the system over their lifetime of work and then make withdrawals upon retirement. Theoretically, most people would end up withdrawing about as much as they deposited and any overages would be covered by revenue paid in by current workers. This seems to work when the ratio of workers to retirees is six or seven to one. Not so much when the ratio gets down to two to one or lower. Good intentions? In abundance! Unsustainable? You betcha! In God-talk, we'd call this plan a “false-promise.” For our purposes, let's call it a Ponzi scheme.

Example Two. Let's say you worked for the government advising the president in a time of terrible economic hardship for the country. And let's say you had the idea to devise a system which would provide health care for everyone... Oh, wait. We've already done this one... let's see, um – massive sovereign debt and unfunded liabilities... check, false promises... Ponzi scheme... check, check, increased suffering of innocents... check... net evil... check.

Example Two Redux. Let's say you want to do your part to care for the environment. In God-talk, this is called stewardship. Good intention? Check. You're convinced that recycling is a commonsense way to decrease the demand on limited resources. You decide to diligently recycle your newspapers to save the trees (Is recycling utter rubbish?)! What if the net effect of your recycling actually uses more non-renewable energy resources (oil) than the resources it saves (renewable trees)? What if transportation energy to haul your papers to the recycling plant and manufacturing energy to transform your waste paper into something usable is less efficient than the transportation and production of the newspaper in the first place? This is hypothetical, because frankly, I don't know the truth, but neither does anyone else. But, for the sake of argument, lets say the net effect of your good intention is increasing demand for and consumption of non-renewable fuel, the production of which has been limited locally in a heavily environmentally regulated and decent society (the U.S.) by the activities of well-intentioned environmentalists, effectively increasing demand and consumption of fuel from despotic environmentally disastrous societies such as in the Middle East, Sudan and Russia, for example. Good intentions... meet road to Hell.

Example Three. This is subtler yet. Let's say you are an elderly parent on a modest fixed income. You live relatively comfortably in your own home, but the financial stresses of paying your bills and shelling out every month for your expensive prescription drugs keep you on edge. You don't make long-distance calls to your kids despite your desperate loneliness because you're afraid you can't afford the expense. You worry about putting five bucks in the grandkids' birthday cards. So, your adult children agree among themselves to each make a modest deposit to your bank account every month to ease your anxieties. You make an unsolicited promise to them that you're spending as little of the money as possible so they'll all get something back when you die. You're making deposits in your VBA.

Unfortunately, your kids still aren't getting calls from you and you're still desperately lonely. You're still worried about the prescription drug costs and even refuse to fill some prescriptions because you can live without the medications although you'd be more comfortable with them. Your kids hesitate to call you because they hear the same complaints from you as before... and the repeated promise of “return” on their investment upon your death. Your deposits into your VBA have accrued exclusively to you and contributed exactly nothing to the good on their accounts. They would rather have their parent be serene, content and grateful for their show of concern than have their parent dead and receive a portion of the inheritance which came at the expense of their parent's happiness and well-being. You have stolen their virtue.

The previous case is the best example of good intentions gone awry. A priest once told me, “your life is not about you.” “Well,” an unbeliever might ask, “if it isn't about me, what is it about?” This is harder to answer without some serious God-talk. Perhaps, for the unbeliever, the best answer is, your life is about the truth. The truth is, as an elderly parent, you should receive your children's' charity with grace, and then pay the grace forward by delighting in the gifts. Let your children accrue something worthwhile to their own VBAs as well as contribute to your happiness.

The truth is, you'd contribute more to the well-being of the environment by picking up litter when you see it (a good moral test for any action is to ask, “what if everyone did this?”) and insisting on local oil drilling (Ethical Oil, by Ezra Levant) and nuclear energy production than recycling your newspaper.

The truth is, neither you nor anyone else in the electorate should put your faith in or vote for politicians making false promises. You will not be spared struggle and pain by the federal government, or if you are, like the early recipients of Social Security, your consolation will ultimately come at great cost to people utterly innocent of the decision to implement an unsustainable Ponzi scheme, who will have paid into the system the better part of their working lives, who will receive nothing when the scheme becomes insolvent. Your secure retirement came from stealing other people's future. Sometimes, the truth hurts.

The answer to “what is my life all about?” is more succinct for the believer. My life is about The Truth. The Way. And The Life. Sounds simplistic, but as we've seen, it isn't. The “my life is not about me” Ethos is big and expansive and life-affirming. It is actually the “my life is all about me” Ethos and the fixation with one's VBA which is narrow, niggling and soul-killing.

Am I suggesting, because of my disregard for the VBA, we shouldn't practice the virtues – prudence, justice, courage, restraint, faith, hope and charity? Not at all. I am saying the type of virtue which accrues by pride in our good intentions into our VBA is counterfeit. Satan has a counterfeit for every aspect of God's Kingdom and this is no exception. When your life is all about you, Satan has lured you into a death-trap. In contrast, when you make your life about reflecting the love and mercy of Jesus (or if you prefer, the small-t truth), you are truly poor in spirit (humble) and will be received into the Heavenly Banquet (produce truly good results). You'll probably even get a taste of happiness here on Earth.

I see our time is up. Class dismissed.

For extra credit, watch the following video of Andrew Klavan and his dog, Virtue, on illegal immigration, titled, Imagine There's No Border. If you were paying attention, you already know where this road is going...