Thursday, May 30, 2013, 11:57 AM
The National Catholic Reporter is not happy. The American bishops have appointed someone of “conventional views on marriage and sexuality” as the new head of their secretariat of doctrine and canonical affairs. Conventional means, as you will have guessed, Catholic.
Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J., has been the director of spiritual formation and professor of moral theology at the Archdiocese of St. Louis’s Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and senior fellow at the Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person. He is also a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Catholic here meaning what the NCR would call conventional).
He replaces the Franciscan Fr. Thomas Weinandy, who was not so popular with the Catholic theological establishment. They’re probably going to be no happier with Fr. Ryan than they were with Fr. Weinandy.
Sunday, May 26, 2013, 10:15 PM
A cheering story: The Atheist Orthodoxy That Drove Me to Faith. “Faith is something my generation is meant to be casting aside, not taking up,” writes Megan Hodder, writing in the English weekly The Catholic Herald.
I was raised without any religion and was eight when 9/11 took place. Religion was irrelevant in my personal life and had provided my formative years with a rolling-news backdrop of violence and extremism.
Wanting to deal with her (apparently few) worries about atheism, she decided to read the religious enemies of reason. She was, you will have guessed, in for a surprise:
I started by reading Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address, aware that it had generated controversy at the time and was some sort of attempt –futile, of course – to reconcile faith and reason. I also read the shortest book of his I could find, On Conscience. I expected – and wanted – to find bigotry and illogicality that would vindicate my atheism.
Instead, I was presented with a God who was the Logos: not a supernatural dictator crushing human reason, but the self-expressing standard of goodness and objective truth towards which our reason is oriented, and in which it is fulfilled, an entity that does not robotically control our morality, but is rather the source of our capacity for moral perception, a perception that requires development and formation through the conscientious exercise of free will.
It was a far more subtle, humane and, yes, credible perception of faith than I had expected.
She goes on to describe the changes in her thinking and then in her life that followed her discovery that Christianity wasn’t ridiculous after all.
Saturday, May 25, 2013, 10:00 AM
Mistakenly thinking the great Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen had written a book on Catholicism and wanting to give it as an example of Protestant apologetics in yesterday’s item, I googled the subject and found that he didn’t, but he did say this in his book Christianity and Liberalism:
Far more serious still is the division between the Church of Rome and evangelical Protestantism in all its forms. Yet how great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today!
We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.
He had some thoughts on how such divided Christians could face their division, noted by our friend Darryl Hart. Machen’s thoughts appear in a discussion of pernicious laws against Christian schooling — which he called the clearest “attack upon tolerance in America” — being proposed in the mid-twenties:
Against such tyranny, I do cherish some hope that Jews and Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, if they are lovers of liberty, may present a united front. I am for my part an inveterate propagandist; but the same right of propaganda which I desire for myself I want to see also in the possession of others. (more…)
Friday, May 24, 2013, 9:01 PM
A reader of the “Catholic Sense” column I write for the Pittsburgh Catholic and a few other diocesan newspapers writes:
I believe we Catholics could do much better at defending our faith. Would you recommend books on Basic Christian apologetics (CS Lewis type of apologetics) and Catholic apologetics.
I will be sending him some suggestions but I would be grateful for recommendations from you. In three categories: the two he lists and a third offering Protestant apologetics, which may include works arguing directly against Catholicism.
Friday, May 17, 2013, 3:39 PM
This is no ordinary scandal, Peggy Noonan writes on her Wall Street Journal weblog Declarations, calling the IRS’s abuse of its power “the worst Washington scandal since Watergate.”
Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.
As always it comes down to trust. Do you trust the president’s answers when he’s pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not.
I’ve been wondering when, in the course of the president’s second term, the tide would turn against him. Lame ducks are vulnerable even to their friends, who have their own reasons for being critical — for reporters, for example, being critical makes finding the story that might make the front page or the nightly news much easier. You have a choice between loyalty to an ideological comrade who’s losing power day by day and the chance to advance your career which has a good many yeas to run, and it’s bye-bye comrade.
The IRS scandal brought this on rather sooner than I would have expected. Obama as per usual throws up in his hands in shock and horror and fusses and claims he’ll do something about it. It’s an Inspector Renault in the casino moment, and the president has had so many of these that even his supporters must begin to doubt how shocked, shocked! he actually is. As Noonan writes:
The president, as usual, acts as if all of this is totally unconnected to him. He’s shocked, it’s unacceptable, he’ll get to the bottom of it. He read about it in the papers, just like you.
But he is not unconnected, he is not a bystander. This is his administration. Those are his executive agencies. He runs the IRS and the Justice Department.
A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too. Presidents always undo themselves and then blame it on the third guy in the last row in the sleepy agency across town.
Those of us who remember Watergate (I was in junior high) will remember all the talk about “the arrogance of power” and the Actonion warnings about what happens to men who have it. The effect of Nixon’s personality and character on those who worked for him was endlessly analyzed and the argument made that the kind of man he was determined the kind of men who worked for him and what they did. People felt that a Nixon would naturally, if not inevitably, have an Erlichman and a Liddy under him.
And these were, though at the time partisan, good lessons. I don’t think I’ve yet heard anyone on the left use those words, or see in Obama’s character an encouragement to the arrogance of power in those who staff his administration, though the lessons are obviously as true now as they were then. And truer, if anything, the administration’s sense of entitlement and righteousness being something that weakens one’s resistance to temptations.
The temptations are built into the nature of political power. They’re the ordinary temptations fallen men experience, whether in sixth grade student government or the White House. (Or, we should be honest, in an editorial office.) Though I know what Noonan means by “no ordinary scandal,” and agree with her, the odds seem to be good that the current scandal is really quite ordinary — extraordinary in scale, of course, but boringly ordinary in nature.
Friday, May 17, 2013, 10:40 AM
A kind of Greyfriars Bobby, only more pious: dog attends Mass where owner’s funeral was held.
Wouldn’t find a cat doing this.
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 4:34 PM
“Opponents of gay marriage are now treated by the press in the same way queer-rights agitators were in the past: as strange, depraved creatures, whose repenting and surrender to mainstream values we await with bated breath,” writes Brendan O’Neill in Spiked! Which raises the question: “How do we account for this extraordinary consensus, for what is tellingly referred to as the ‘surrender’ to gay marriage by just about everyone in public life?”
And is it a good thing, evidence that we had a heated debate on a new civil right and the civil rightsy side won? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can even call this a ‘consensus’, since that would imply the voluntaristic coming together of different elements in concord. It’s better described as conformism, the slow but sure sacrifice of critical thinking and dissenting opinion under pressure to accept that which has been defined as a good by the upper echelons of society: gay marriage. Indeed, the gay-marriage campaign provides a case study in conformism, a searing insight into how soft authoritarianism and peer pressure are applied in the modern age to sideline and eventually do away with any view considered overly judgmental, outdated, discriminatory, ‘phobic’, or otherwise beyond the pale.
This “extraordinary consensus” or “conformity” was not achieved by gay rights activists changing public opinion, he argues, but by elites led by judges in particular. (Judges, he notes, are described by Harvard Law School professor Michael Klarman as a “distinctive subculture,” and a more liberal one, of the cultural elites.) O’Neill then reviews the mechanisms by which this conformism was achieved, including the effective use of social media as explained by Scientific American.
But, one thinks, all this elite pressure wouldn’t have worked even ten years ago, and certainly not twenty or thirty years ago. How could what then seemed a settled conviction about sexuality (or prejudice, if you wish) disappear so fast?
O’Neill has an answer, which seems to me correct. The non-elites proved susceptible to such pressures for a reason, he notes. “The fragility of society’s attachment to traditional marriage itself, to the virtue of commitment, has also been key to the formulation of the gay-marriage consensus. Indeed, it is the rubble upon which the gay-marriage edifice is built.” He continues:
If lawyers, politicians and our other assorted ‘betters’ have successfully kicked down the door of traditional marriage, it’s because the door was already hanging off its hinges, following years of cultural neglect. It is society’s reluctance to defend traditional views of commitment, and its relativistic refusal more broadly to discriminate between different lifestyle choices, that has fuelled the peculiar non-judgmental tyranny of the gay-marriage campaign, which judges harshly those who dare to judge how people live.
Through a combination of the weakness of belief in traditional marriage and the insidiousness of the campaign for gay marriage, we have ended up with something that reflects brilliantly John Stuart Mill’s description of how critical thinking can cave into the despotism of conformism, so that ‘peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes, until by dint of not following their own nature, these [followers of conformism] have no nature to follow’.
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 10:14 AM
Here is the Statement regarding police measures on Holy Saturday issued by the patriarchs and heads of local churches of Jerusalem, after police assaulted Christian pilgrims, including an 85-year-old Coptic priest. “We understand,” they said,
the necessity and the importance of the presence of security forces to ensure order and stability, and for organizing the celebration of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Resurrection. Yet, it is not acceptable that under pretext of security and order, our clergy and people are indiscriminately and brutally beaten, and prevented from entering their churches, monasteries and convents. . . .
We deplore that every year, the police measures are becoming tougher, and we expect that these accidents will not be repeated and the police should be more sensitive and respectful if they seek to protect and serve.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin formally apologized to the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church and that the police are investigating the incident “in coordination” with the Church. For more on this, see our earlier post.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 12:03 PM
We are, supposedly, an average of fourteen IQ points less smart than our Victorian ancestors, according to a study published in the journal Intelligence and reported in the Daily Telegraph. Our reaction times, which the reporter notes is “a reliable marker of general intelligence,” are longer than theirs. Apparently the decline would be greater did not better nutrition and schooling increase our average IQ compared with what it would have been if we were all fed and taught as the Victorians were.
The difference in reaction times is genetic, and the scientist who led the study draws from that the conclusion that
Our declining intelligence is most likely down to a “reverse” in the process of natural selection, he explained. The most intelligent people now have fewer children on average than in previous decades, while there are higher survival rates among people with less favourable genes.
“The pressures of modern life, a nine-to-five modern lifestyle, have created all these pressures against very smart people having break-even numbers of children,” he said.
In other words: smart people should have more children. Which is a lesson I’d endorse, though with the concern that many people who would say so would also say that less smart people (people with “less favourable genes”) should have fewer children simply because they’re not as smart as other people.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 10:58 AM
An easy target but it may amuse some of you: Don’t Make Fun of Renowned Author Dan Brown. The critics (this is Brown thinking)
said his writing was clumsy, ungrammatical, repetitive and repetitive. They said it was full of unnecessary tautology. They said his prose was swamped in a sea of mixed metaphors. For some reason they found something funny in sentences such as “His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack.” They even say my books are packed with banal and superfluous description, thought the 5ft 9in man. He particularly hated it when they said his imagery was nonsensical. It made his insect eyes flash like a rocket.
See also The Eight Worst Sentences in Dan Brown’s Inferno. For example:
Chapter 5: Emerging from the darkness, a scene began to take shape . . . the interior of a cave . . . or a giant chamber of some sort. The floor of the cavern was water, like an underground lake.
A giant chamber – perhaps like a cave! And a giant cave with a watery floor – why, you’re right, that is like an underground lake. Uncannily so, in fact.
Chapter 6: As Langdon stared into his own weary eyes, he half wondered if he might at any moment wake up in his reading chair at home, clutching an empty martini glass and a copy of Dead Souls, only to remind himself that Bombay Sapphire and Gogol should never be mixed.
I have no idea what is going on here. I think it might be a joke of some sort. But we can be reassured that Dan Brown knows who Gogol is.
You may also enjoy Christopher Bailey’s Secret Sequel, an “Exclusive Look at Dan Brown’s Next Blockbuster Novel.” And this one of his (nothing to do with Dan Brown) is a classic: The Church of Moloch (Reformed).
Monday, May 13, 2013, 11:05 AM
For Pope Francis, “the devil is not a myth, but a real person.” In one of his morning homilies, reports Sandro Magister, Francis said:
“With his death and resurrection, Jesus has ransomed us from the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world. The origin of the hatred is this: we are saved and that prince of the world, who does not want us to be saved, hates us and gives rise to the persecution that from the earliest times of Jesus continues until today.
“One must react to the devil — the pope says — as did Jesus, who “replied with the word of God. With the prince of this world one cannot dialogue. Dialogue is necessary among us, it is necessary for peace, it is an attitude that we must have among ourselves in order to hear each other, to understand each other. And it must always be maintained. Dialogue is born from charity, from love. But with that prince one cannot dialogue; one can only respond with the word of God that defends us.”
This is not something theologians and pastors, at least those in the developed world, tend to say, outside very conservative Protestant circles. Many readers will, I suspect, share with me the instinctive wish that Francis wouldn’t talk like that. Everything we’ve learned outside church has trained us to feel that talk of a personal devil is the point at which religion crosses into fruitloopery, like snake-handling. We believe in the supernatural, but do not feel entirely comfortable with talk of certain elements of the invisible world traditionally believed.
But belief in the devil and his legions is part of the Christian revelation, and an important part at that. As C. S. Lewis noted in his sermon Learning in War-Time:
I spoke just now of fiddling while Rome burns. But to a Christian the true tragedy of Nero must be not that he fiddles while the city was on fire but that he fiddles on the brink of hell. You must forgive me for the crude monosyllable. I know that many wiser and better Christians than I in these days do not like to mention heaven and hell even in a pulpit. I know, too, that nearly all the references to this subject in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is Our Lord Himself. People will tell you it is St. Paul, but that is untrue. These overwhelming doctrines are dominical. They are not really removable from the teaching of Christ or of His Church. If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tomfoolery. If we do, we must sometime overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them.
And as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”
392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies.”
If this is true, it is something we should know not just for our eternal destinations but for happiness in this world. Something you can’t see, like the HIV virus, wants the worst for you, and as would one exposed to the virus, you should take prophylactic measures. What you don’t know can hurt you.
Sandro Magister’s article includes a helpful article from a recent issue of L’Obbservatore Romano on How the Scripture Speaks of the Devil. Here is a useful short summary of Catholic teaching.
Update: Lewis was talking specifically about Hell, a friend points out. I was thinking of his insistence that “crude monosyllable” — like “Hell” but also “Devil” or “Satan” — are biblical and not something we can avoid if we want to speak the same language as Scripture (and the Church), and that the gospels speaks rather clearly of Satan and the devils in a way equally impossible to blow off as a kind of optional extra not relevant to the whole message. I should have made this clear.
Friday, April 26, 2013, 11:00 AM
Added as a speaker to Portsmouth Abbey’s conference on Catholicism and the American Experience, being held June 7th to 9th, is Robert P. George, who will be speaking on “Religious Liberty and the Human Good.” Other speakers are George Weigel, who’ll be talking on “Catholics in an Unfamiliar America,” the Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, Roger Kimball, the editor of The New Criterion, former New York Times religion editor Peter Steinfels, and Orthodox writer Jim Forest, a friend and comrade of Dorothy Day’s. Friends who have gone to previous conferences commend it.
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 8:37 PM
Those living in or near Charlottesville, Virginia, and are interested in helping start a ROFTERS (Readers Of First Things) group should write Edward Maillet at email@example.com. He is interested, energetic, and eager to get started.
Those of you interested in finding similar groups in your area, check here. I have spoken to a couple groups and found them collections of rather different but all lively, interesting, and (not as common in such groups as it might be) cheerful people. Regular readers of the magazine and weblog would enjoy being a part.
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 11:48 AM
A bit of church trivia: In The Man Who Rewrote Bunyan, Christopher Howse writes of Percy Dearmer — “a strange cove, but an energetic one” who “combined the visionary and practical,” notably in his Parson’s Handbook — who was, kind of, the author of He Who Would Valiant Be, a hymn familiar to Anglicans, having adapted some lines from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Bunyan’s poem begins: “Who would true valour see, / Let him come hither; / One here will constant be, / Come wind, come weather.” The English Hymnal version was rewritten by Percy Dearmer, to begin: “He who would valiant be / ’Gainst all disaster, / Let him in constancy / Follow the Master.”
The Master is no doubt meant for Jesus, and Dearmer introduced explicit references to the Lord and the Spirit. It must, of course be remembered that Bunyan was writing an allegory, so his lyrics are only metaphorically Christian. They are, I think, more vigorous, as Dearmer cut out references to a lion, hobgoblin and foul fiend.
The tune was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:27 PM
“If only the Church of England had paid Mrs Thatcher the courtesy of taking her Christianity seriously when she was in power,” writes the Telegraph’s Damian Thompson about her years as prime minister. She was, he argues, a serious and thoughtful Christian, but the established church’s bishops did not engage her as one. “Perhaps some policy mistakes could have been avoided if the bishops were prepared to engage with Thatcherism instead of winning cheap applause by misrepresenting it.”
Thompson quotes from “a remarkable interview she gave to The Catholic Herald” in 1978 (the link can be found in his article):
Christianity is about more than doing good works. It is a deep faith which expresses itself in your relationship to God. It is a sanctity, and no politician is entitled to take that away from you or to have what I call corporate State activities which only look at interests as a whole.
So, you’ve got this double thing which you must aim for in religion, to work to really know your faith and to work it out in everyday life. You can’t separate one from the other. Good works are not enough because it would be like trying to cut a flower from its root; the flower would soon die because there would be nothing to revive it.
That’s well put, of course, but Thatcher’s legacy is, as people say, complicated. She seemed to confuse her semi-libertarian form of individualism with Christianity, for one thing, and then there was her failure on the test case of abortion — something most religious conservatives, like our friends Mark Tooley and Albert Mohler, have not mentioned in their praise for the late Conservative leader.
Thatcher had voted — “without compunction,” as Nicholas Wapshott puts it in Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher — for the 1967 act liberalizing England’s abortion law and does not seem to have made not the slightest gesture in defense of the unborn thereafter. (“The various social issues meant little to her,” writes Wapshott.)
Her thinking on the matter was at best muddled and revealed a defective view of the human person that undoubtedly played itself out in other matters. Also from the interview in the Catholic Herald:
Abortion, I said to Mrs Thatcher, was a subject of great concern to Catholics. What was her attitude to it in principle?
“The abortion law is only related to the early months and I voted for abortion under controlled conditions.
“I’m perfectly prepared to have the Act amended along the lines of the Select Committee recommendations because I think that it’s operating in a slightly more lax way than was intended, but I’m not prepared to abolish it completely.
“Abortion only applies to the very, very early days, but the idea that it should be used as a method of birth control I find totally abhorrent.”
Mrs Thatcher accepted that we differed on this subject, and said that while Catholics believed that as soon as the ovum was fertilised you had a human being, she believed that after a few months of pregnancy the foetus took on the characteristics of a human being.
Even then, she said “you may have to take the life of the child in order to save the life of the mother, but that is a medical judgment.”
What about the future of the abortion issue in the House of Commons? I asked Mrs Thatcher.
“It is not a party political thing at all. We have so much private time both for discussion and legislation, but no one has taken it up this time.”
Among those who didn’t take it up was, of course, Margaret Thatcher.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 9:25 PM
Much recommended is Brian Doyle’s All the Flinty Women, published in the Notre Dame magazine. It’s in the same mode but more sober than his The Brilliantine Coattails of Lust, which we published in the March issue. Though this was amusing:
My father said my grandmother would never die because you have to acquiesce to death, and she would not acquiesce to Jesus Blessed Christ Himself if Jesus came into her room and asked her politely. Jesus wore white after He died and came back to life and walked out of the tomb in which no one had been laid. Mary Magdalene said so, and she was an Eye Witness, as my father said. When he said those words you could hear the Capital Letters. My father said the gospels would be much improved if someone had deposed Mary Magdalene properly in the first few days after the Incident.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 8:00 PM
Unlike baseball managers, writes Robert Patterson in the Washington Examiner, Republican leaders — “the same old roster of political consultants, think-tank policy wonks and losing-candidate types” — don’t get fired for failure. One reason they’ve failed to win elections, and he suggests will continue to fail, is their love of
one big liability: libertarian economics, which has been undermining the Republican brand with the party’s natural middle-class base for years.
Indeed, the failure of Mitt Romney’s economic platform to resonate with an anxious electorate was no fluke. That message represents the heart and soul of a party that started sleeping with far-right libertarians in 1990.
Even those “influential Republican policy wonks,” he says, who
concede the GOP middle-class disconnect, downward mobility and the waning of Midwest manufacturing by Wall Street finance . . . think mostly in terms of party “modernization” or “reforms” of education, health care, welfare and entitlement policy. When they do place tangible policies on the table, the focus remains narrow: helping the poor and illegals, not the vast middle class.
These “libertarian fellow travelers” will not support programs that would strengthen the middle class and create middle class jobs, he continues, because they are afraid these programs would “increase federal spending, strengthen private-sector trade unions or damage the free-trade regime.” Instead,
the party falls back on familiar turf: fiscal, tax and regulatory matters. So the best that Republicans can muster are static plans of budget balancing in distant out-years, like those of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which shortchanges middle-income families with more tax breaks for the wealthy and scaled-back popular earned-benefits programs.
Which means, he concludes, that the Republicans will “never make the playoffs, let alone win the White House.” One doesn’t want to say “never,” but he has a point. Hard libertarianism isn’t a winning philosophy, except among some testosterone-poisoned single twenty-something males.
Mr. Patterson’s is an ideological analysis, treating the effects of the Republican commitment to “free market absolutism,” but one with a darker view than he does might note that political failure doesn’t hurt the “political consultants, think-tank policy wonks and losing-candidate types” personally at all — there is always money to be made —and the ability to act in permanent opposition may profit them a great deal. There are people who will pay well to see hard libertarianism advanced. Ideas become popular for a reason.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 11:44 AM
Richard John Neuhaus writing in the magazine after the funeral for Pope John Paul II, reporting “the state of the chatter”:
Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is high on every list. Known as an incisive thinker and intensely holy man living an austere life, it is held against him that he is a Jesuit, although he has suffered the slings and arrows of fellow Jesuits of a more “progressive” bent. No member of a religious order has been elected pope since 1831.
Update: Our alert intern Tristyn Bloom points out that Matthew Schmitz quoted the version from RJN’s book Catholic Matters on Friday. Which I’d missed because, um, last Friday was Good Friday. This quote I came across while looking for something else entirely and thought interesting that Father Neuhaus had heard his name seriously proposed then.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 10:59 AM
From Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s Good Friday homily at St. Peter’s:
Despite all the misery, injustice, the monstrosities present on Earth, he has already inaugurated the final order in the world. What we see with our own eyes may suggest otherwise, but in reality evil and death have been defeated forever. Their sources are dry; the reality is that Jesus is the Lord of the world. Evil has been radically defeated by redemption which he operated. The new world has already begun.
One thing above all appears different, seen with the eyes of faith: death! Christ entered death as we enter a dark prison; but he came out of it from the opposite wall. He did not return from whence he came, as Lazarus did who returned to life to die again. He has opened a breach towards life that no one can ever close, and through which everyone can follow him. Death is no longer a wall against which every human hope is shattered; it has become a bridge to eternity. A “bridge of sighs”, perhaps because no one likes to die, but a bridge, no longer a bottomless pit that swallows everything. “Love is strong as death”, says the song of songs (Sgs 8:6). In Christ it was stronger than death!
In his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, the Venerable Bede tells how the Christian faith made its entrance into the North of England. When the missionaries from Rome arrived in Northumberland, the local King summoned a Council of dignitaries to decide whether to allow them, or not, to spread the new message. Some of those present were in favor, others against. It was winter and outside there was a blizzard, but the room was lit and warm. At one point a bird came from a hole in the wall, fluttered a bit, frightened, in the hall, and then disappeared through a hole in the opposite wall.
Then one of those present rose and said: “Sire, our life in this world resembles that bird. We come we know not from where, for a while we enjoy the light and warmth of this world and then we disappear back into the darkness, without knowing where we are going. If these men are capable of revealing to us something of the mystery of our lives, we must listen to them”. The Christian faith could return on our continent and in the secularized world for the same reason it made its entrance: as the only message, that is, which has a sure answer to the great questions of life and death.
Monday, April 1, 2013, 5:04 PM
Commended to your attention is this summer’s conference at Portsmouth Abbey, Catholicism and the American Experience. Leading the speakers is our own George Weigel, who’ll be talking on “Catholics in an Unfamiliar America.” Other speakers include the Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, Roger Kimball, the editor of The New Criterion, former New York Times religion editor Peter Steinfels, and Orthodox writer Jim Forest, a friend and comrade of Dorothy Day’s. The event includes daily Mass, various social events, and a harbor cruise to boot.
Friends who went to previous conferences have recommended it with enthusiasm. Information can be found here.
Monday, April 1, 2013, 12:08 PM
For those of you who don’t know his writing, here are two of today’s items from the always entertaining and thought-provoking Anthony Sacramone, once of First Things and now of ISI Books. (To be absolutely honest, let’s say “almost always” or maybe just “frequently.”) They appear on his weblog Strange Herring. First one that illustrates his ability to report odd news items amusingly and insightfully:
The Least-Free State in the U.S. Is . . .
New York. This according to the Mercatus Center of George Mason University.
And by “free,” they mean . . .
We ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.
A quick perusal of some of the criteria, however, reveals that there is a libertarian/laisse-faire preference at work here (“marijuana,” “gaming” and “tobacco” liberties are given weight in these measurements, as is “marriage” freedom). A liberal-left set of criteria applied to the states — freedom from “want,” say, or freedom from “discrimination,” all government supervised, of course — would most probably result in an inversion of this list, no doubt.
Oh, the five most free states according to Mercatus: North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Tennessee.
And the second least-free state was . . . California.
And a second also entertaining item demonstrating another of Anthony’s skills, this one for pointed sarcasm, this item written in his full frontal assault mode rather than his sly and indirect mode:
“Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” Rewritten by MSM Religion Editors
Jesus Christ is in the news to-da-ay, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Another tedious God-bothering da-ay, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Through with this I would have bet! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Suffer now we Mark Burne-ett, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
It’s now proved and they’re so pi-issed, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
That Jesus Christ ne’er did exi-ist, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Which he himself did so opine! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
In Gnostic gospel fragment ni-ine, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Pints of ink we now shall spi-ill, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
To keep a-churning duh-gree mi-ills, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Proving Christ was not himself! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
So my tomes may clog your she-elf, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Oh the pains we do endu-ure, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
As stupid Christians so cocksu-ure; Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Insist that Christ was surely raised! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Please may we punch them in the fa-ace? Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Now we seek to shut their ho-ohles, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
No more talk of immortal so-ouls, Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
Labs have proved we’re earthenware! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
So drop the God stuff or I swe-ear! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ley-ey-lu-u-ya!
And a happy birthday to Cesar Chavez!*
*Cowl tip to Will S. in the combox for directing me to the Evil Empire’s Easter homepage.
Friday, March 29, 2013, 9:00 AM
The Christian, it should be safe to say, but apparently isn’t, should not stomp on a paper with Jesus’ name on it. He should have a physical reaction at the thought of doing so. Matthew Franck dealt well and at length yesterday with the latest national Christian controversy in his The “Stepping on Jesus” Contretemps.
Yet one of the commenters, responding to Matt’s question “Am I reading too much symbolic communication into the act?”, writes:
Yes, I would say so, and that is what makes the exercise and this controversy quite fascinating. Christians don’t worship idols or images. The letters J E S U S that you have written yourself on a piece of paper are not Jesus Christ. The actual, living, historical person we call Jesus was not even called Jesus. On the other hand, many Hispanic men are named Jesus (Spanish pronunciation).
The letters are not Jesus, well duh, but they are not not Jesus either. They bring Jesus to mind, they participate in his being in some way, and I suspect no Christian in the world could manage to read that name as five random letters in a way that makes stepping on the paper a meaningless act. Images are not just pictures, if I may put it that way. Nominalism may be philosophically plausible but in cases like this I think it’s psychologically impossible. Stepping on the Name of Jesus will always be stepping on Jesus.
On his weblog Mere Inkling, a retired chaplain named Robert Stroud quotes a relevant passage from C. S. Lewis’ The Hideous Strength. One of the main characters, a vain young sociologist named Mark Studdock, desperate to be on the inside, is being initiated into the service of a genuinely evil enterprise, and finds that part of the initiation involves trampling and insulting a nearly life-size crucifix. “Mark had never believed in it [Christianity] at all,” but now
At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that [he had briefly experienced, and dismissed, the same thought during his own initiation].
“But, look here,” said Mark.
“What is it?” said Frost. “Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal.”
“This,” said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance to the horrible white figure on the cross. “This is all surely a pure superstition.”
“Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn’t it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean— damn it all— if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”
“That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion. We find in practice that it cannot be dispensed with.”
“An explicit action in the reverse direction,” that is what the author of the education book and people like the adjunct professor who imposed the exercise are asking for, whatever they think they’re doing.
It is also a good definition of sin, which this day of all others should make clear to us. This is the day we mourn (yet celebrate) the event that all our uncountable acts of stepping on Jesus brought. The Christian will at least avoid stepping on his Name when it’s written on a piece of paper. That’s an obvious explicit action in the reverse direction to avoid.
Thursday, March 28, 2013, 12:09 PM
Jesus: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:13).
Pew: “Roughly half (48%) of Christians in the U.S. say they believe that Christ will definitely (27%) or probably (20%) return to earth in the next 40 years.”
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:46 PM
This is a point several of us here and many others have made over and over, but it’s nice to see it being made again: Our mainstream intellectual culture declares religious opposition to abortion theocratic, a violation of the separation of church and state, etc., and often says so very loudly and with great indignation, but either doesn’t say anything at all when religious leaders push liberal causes or praises them for it. It is rare to find anyone on the left who applies to all sides a consistent idea of the relation of religion to public life.
As I say, it’s nice to hear this said again. Yair Rosenberg writes in the Tablet,
Consider the following statement: “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life.” It’s a fairly anodyne sentiment. But when Rep. Paul Ryan said these words in response to a moderator’s query during October’s vice presidential debate, the reaction was anything but mild.
“That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian ‘Ayatollahs’ [Ryan] kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well,” exclaimed The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik. “Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that ‘the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.’ ”
But now consider this statement, uttered by another American politician: “If we leave our values at the door, we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Heschel—the majority of great reformers in American history did their work not just because it was sound policy, or they had done good analysis, or understood how to exercise good politics, but because their faith and their values dictated it.”
Those are the words of President Barack Obama at the February 2011 National Prayer Breakfast. He went on to say: “I’d be remiss if I stopped there; if my values were limited to personal moments of prayer or private conversations with pastors or friends. So instead, I must try—imperfectly, but I must try—to make sure those values motivate me as one leader of this great nation.”
Neither Gopnik nor Sullivan flagged that Obama speech as objectionable.
Of course they didn’t. The charge is a political tactic, not an expression of serious principle. It’s the ruling of a different kind of Mullah.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 5:48 PM
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“Maybe God is telling us that the kind of tepid Christianity we find in the northern hemisphere is no longer vigorous enough to face the challenges the Church is faced with,” and so God gave us an Argentinian pope, says the Archbishop of Philadelphia and, we’re proud to say, frequent First Things contributor Charles Chaput, speaking to Vatican Insider.
Maybe mediocrity in our faith isn’t worthy of God’s son or of our own destiny as baptized Christians. The Church in Latin America is alive, and the United States itself is becoming more Latino by the year. It’s a good time for the universal Church to acknowledge that new reality, and an Argentine Pope embodies it.
In reflecting on the pope’s choice of the name Francis, he said “I’m a Capuchin Franciscan myself, and I think many people have a mistaken image of Francis of Assisi in their heads as a kind of flower child or 13th century hippie.”
The real man wasn’t anything like that. He was certainly “counter-cultural” — but only in his radical poverty; his radical obedience to the Church; and his radical insistence on living the Gospel fully, including all of its uncomfortable demands. That’s the kind of purity that leads to a genuine rebuilding of Church life. One other thing: The most important quality about St. Francis was his commitment to “fraternity,” being a brother. Pope Francis is already showing that in relation to the cardinals — riding the bus with them is just one small example — and asking the people to pray for him.
For more click here.
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