You knew, when Benedict announced his resignation, that everyone and his brother would comment, and that some of those comments would be really goofy. The conservative Anglican website Stand Firm has started a series on what the writer calls “Papal Malarkey Syndrome” — my thanks to William Tighe for pointing me to it — and the first entry comes from the writer Mary Hunt.
Writing for the Religion Dispatches website, she points to Benedict’s explaining that he had examined his conscience before God and decided he could not continue as pope. And then:
Conscience, Benedict reminds us today, is still primary for Catholics. Examination of conscience: that is just the formula millions of us use to explain why we use birth control, enjoy our sexuality in a variety of ways, and see enormous good in other religious traditions. Conscience is the ultimate arbiter, and the Pope relied on his. Good on him, and good on the rest of us.
There has been a lot of fudging on the matter of conscience in recent decades. The post-Vatican II hierarchy has claimed that conscience is primary if, and only if, it is informed as they see fit. But Pope Benedict XVI is giving conscience a new lease on life. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander—the appeal to conscience cannot be denied now that the Pope himself has had recourse to it.
Oh. The pope examines his conscience to decide whether he should do what he is allowed to do and Mary Hunt finds this reason for doing what she wants to do under an entirely different — and exceedingly vague and expansive — understanding of “conscience.” Even if her version of Catholicism were the real one, Benedict’s action gives no support for it. Invoking him is a little smarmy.
As is her idea that someone, meaning those bad old post-Vatican II hierarchs, has been “fudging” the idea of conscience by insisting that the conscience be exercised in obedience to Catholic teaching (or “informed as they see fit,” as she puts it). The Church has reflected on this matter for a very long time (see this for a simplified explanation of Aquinas’ teaching and this for Newman’s most famous writing on the subject). It is a subtle one, but the “fudging” has come not from those who explore the relation of conscience to authoritative Church teaching but those, like Hunt, who reduce it to personal choice exercised (inevitably) in open rebellion against Church teaching.
For more on this, read Conscience and Truth, an address delivered in 1991 by one Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.
Western Pennsylvania-area friends and readers: I’ll be giving a talk at Grove City College this coming Thursday evening, with the title “Between Twitter and the New York Times.” I’ll be taking up the challenges to speaking honesty and well when cultural, economic, and political forces — and our own fallen susceptibility to them — both over-simplify and ideologize public speech. I will be making references to conservative examples of the second as well as to the Times.
The lecture will be held in the Sticht Lecture Hall in the Hall of Arts and Letters and begin at 7 p.m., and run till about 8:15. It’s open to the public. If you do come, please come up afterward to introduce yourself.
In “Simple Justice,” published today on the excellent Public Discourse website, Notre Dame’s Richard Garnett argues, persuasively to my mind, for public funding of schools outside the public school’s taxpayer-funded near-monopoly, a monopoly supported by the assumption that the public money we have for schooling are “public school resources, rather than public education resources.” This assumption is supported by an extreme (though politically mainstream) view of the separation of Church and state and practical arguments for the needs public schools being so great as to require denying any help to alternatives. As Garnett argues, the former (this is my paraphrase) offers to secular enterprises a constitutional blessing the Constitution doesn’t in fact give them and the latter is as a practical matter dubious, and in any case does not over-ride the requirements of justice.
The question, as he notes, becomes especially pointed or poignant as the school that once educated Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, Blessed Sacrament School in the Bronx, is closing. If it had not existed when she was a child, she would not be on the Supreme Court. As she told the New York Times:
“You know how important those eight years were? It’s symbolic of what it means for all our families, like my mother, who were dirt-poor. She watched what happened to my cousins in public school and worried if we went there, we might not get out. So she scrimped and saved. It was a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”
My friend Anne Barbeau Gardiner writes in the last issue of the New Oxford Review about an article by Richard Dawkins, published in the English newspaper The Guardian in 2009, on the ramifications of creating a human-chimpanzee hybrid. It offers the usual anti-humanist dream. In the article, she writes,
Dawkins speaks disparagingly of the “minds of many confused people” who insist on calling the human zygote “sacred.” He attacks those who “assume, largely without question or serious discussion, that the division between human and ‘animal’ is absolute.” To show how enlightened he is compared to those “deeply unevolutionary” folks, Dawkins offers the following image of ultimate bliss:
If there were a heaven in which all the animals who ever lived could frolic, we would find an interbreeding continuum between every species and every other. For example I could interbreed with a female who could interbreed with a male who could . . . fill in a few gaps, probably not very many in this case . . . who could interbreed with a chimpanzee. We could construct longer, but still unbroken chains of interbreeding individuals to connect a human with a warthog, a kangaroo, a catfish. This is not a matter of speculative conjecture; it necessarily follows from the fact of evolution. (ellipses in original)
I’m not sure what he thinks he’s saying here, but . . . gosh. As an image of Heaven . . . as I say, gosh. I’d think even the greatest most avid fornicator would find a vision of Heaven as endless copulation a bit frightening. You think he’d realize that at some point he’d be pleading to have the chance to drink some tea or read a book or just sit on a chair outside and stare at the sky.
Dawkins, interestingly, doesn’t conceive of himself interbreeding with a chimpanzee. That he leaves for someone else several stages down the continuum.
Update: That last paragraph was a cheap shot, thrown off unthinkingly as I was finishing the item, and I apologize for it.
“This hollowing out of marriage in mainstream America is among the most consequential social facts of our era,” declares A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage, just released by the Institute for American Values. “It’s contributing to the growth of inequality, harming countless children, and weakening, perhaps fatally, our formerly strong middle class. And amazingly, if you listen to political leaders of both parties and opinion leaders from both the left and right, you’ll discover that very few of them appear even to have noticed what’s happening.”
Making a point our editor has made several times, the Call notes that “marriage is rapidly dividing along class lines, splitting the country that it used to unite. While marriage is stable or strengthening among our college-educated elites, much larger numbers of Americans, particularly in middle and working-class America, are abandoning the institution entirely, with harmful social and personal consequences.”
The current conversation, it explains, focuses on the question of gay marriage, thinks of the problem as one of welfare and of the young, treats the problems of middle-class marriage as a therapeutic matter, and assumes that nothing can be done. The new conversation asks who (regardless of their position on gay marriage) wants to strengthen marriage, thinks of the problem as one of inequality and one affecting people of every age, treats marriage as a practical matter, in particular associating marriage and thrift, and insists that something can and must be done.
The 74 signatories include Jean Bethke Elshtain, this year’s Erasmus Lecturer, and Amy Wax, who recently wrote for us. Other signers are David Blankenhorn, who runs the IAV, gay-marriage activist Jonathan Rauch, popular Atlantic writer Caitlin Flanagan, the Catholic writer Peter Steinfels, marriage scholars Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Kay Hymnowitz, and David Popenoe, and Commentary’s editor John Podhoretz.
Bravo, in general, I think. The signers offer a bolder and more substantial defense of marriage than one hears from many of its public advocates, who have often—and I fully understand the temptation—narrowed their interest to opposing gay marriage and limited their concern to the problems of the marginalized and not those of the affluent. It’s easier to complain about homosexual couples or poor men fathering children by several mothers than to confront the upper-middle-class friends divorcing and remarrying with insouciance.
Though the Call’s not completely bold: In its third point, for example, it asks questions rather than giving answers. It says: “If unwed child bearing is not good for teens”—it’s firm about that—“is it good for twenty-somethings? Thirty-somethings with good jobs? As the huge Baby Boom generation (the generation that led the divorce revolution) heads toward retirement and old age, does marriage matter for older and empty-nest Americans, and if so, why?” Not a ringing assertion of the importance of marriage for anyone but the young. I would have thought, given the Call’s overt commitments, it would have said something more definite, like “don’t divorce and remarry with insouciance.”
But still, bravo in general. Yet it’s not something I would sign. Much, admittedly, can be done by this kind of alliance, like pressing for laws making divorce more difficult, and this kind of effort has long been David Blankenhorn’s often lonely work. He is due much thanks.
But the result, and perhaps in some cases the intent, is to reduce or deflate opposition to the reinvention of marriage through the inclusion of same-sex couples, by the seductive call to do something more important and more effective. It’s not just a call to defend marriage, it’s a call to give up working for marriage as traditionally understood. More fundamentally, some of us believe that the effort to strengthen marriage while redefining it is ultimately pointless—that, to put it another way, gay marriage is itself one of the problems the Call ought to engage.
I’m all for pragmatic alliances, and dislike the partisan’s habit of rejecting anything not up to his standards, but this is an alliance I think more idealistic than pragmatic. Even while saying bravo.
Cats, declares a writer on Slate.com, are evil. Reporting on New Zealander zoologist Gareth Morgan’s plea to eliminate cats from his country because they’re killing off all sorts of birds and other animals we’d much rather have instead, Laura Helmuth notes that “Cats are a globally invasive species” and “are particularly damaging in island ecosystems that are home to species found nowhere else on earth,” like New Zealand.
Morgan runs the Cats to Go project. “Your cat is not innocent,” he points out, with a little more reserve than did Helmuth (or the editor who titled the piece), on one page of its website. For example:
The average cat brings home 13 pieces of prey each year. But this is only one in five of their kills. Cats eat a third of what they kill, and leave half of them to rot.
If they are not bringing home native birds it’s because there are none around left to kill.
Domestic cats living on the edge of wilderness areas seem to do the most damage and can wander huge distances; covering up to 69 hectares.
Before you say it, even well-fed cats kill. The fact is that cats kill on instinct, not because they need to eat, it is one of their most pleasurable activities. In one study, six cats were presented with a live small rat while eating their preferred food. All six cats stopped eating the food, killed the rat, and then resumed eating the food.
An easy target, I admit, but also irresistable: a clerical fashion show in which English clerics of various denominations walk the catwalk wearing chasables, capes, clergy shirts, and clergy skirts (short). The Daily Mail writer calls the vestments “cutting-edge,” but they’re all (except for the two capes and one black cassock) bog standard sappy vestments in the sixties liturgical tradition. The last pictured, a chasuble, features two eggs, one white and one goldenish, the second with a cross on it, apparently dancing around. And a chicken, sheep, and rabbit. And three daffodils. It’s for Easter.
According to an area manager for one of the older vestment companies, quoted at the end of the story, “Our latest range, Serenity, is for women and features cutting-edge designs.” (Cutting edge, it seems, for, oh, 1969.)
‘They don’t want to just dress in black, so we have new colours such as blush pink and rose, which are popular.
‘Each item is fitted and made to measure. It is in response to female clergy who have said they want something out of the ordinary.’
Clerical dress is a uniform. It’s supposed to be ordinary.
Update: a friend suggests the last vestment comes from the same company that produced this movie poster.
Lutherans, according to Reuters, “bristle” at the idea that the Catholic Church might offer a group for converts from Lutheranism who want to keep aspects of their tradition, as Anglicans wee offered an “ordinariate” in Benedict’s Anglicanorum Coetibus.
Rev Martin Junge, the Chilean-born secretary general of the World Lutheran Federation (WLF), said in a statement that the suggestion caused great concern and would “send wrong signals to LWF member churches around the world.”
“Bishop Friedrich Weber, the German Lutheran liaison with the Catholic Church, said the idea was unthinkable and amounted to ”an unecumenical incitement to switch sides.”
. . . This Vatican welcome has raised suspicions among some Protestants that the huge Catholic Church, which makes up half the world’s 2.2 billion Christians, now wants to woo away believers from smaller churches torn by internal debate.
I think, from the Vatican’s point of view, the better metaphor than wooing is sending a lifeboat out to a ship that’s sinking. But in any case, the Lutheran leaders’ indignation avoids the painful fact of ecumenical relations: that even with all the mutual respect and fellow-feeling in the world, the two sides disagree about where the Christian ought to be. If the Catholic Church thinks that — ideally — they ought be Catholics, the Lutherans think they ought not to be, at least for now. Both would be derelict in their duties did they not invite in those who were interested.
Weber, says the story, “said subjugation to papal authority was alien to the Lutheran view of religious freedom, which Martin Luther set out after he challenged the corrupt papacy in 1517 with the 95 Theses that led to the Protestant Reformation.” I’d be curious to know whether he actually said “subjugation” rather than “submission,” but more interesting is his (or the reporter’s) idea of what Luther was up to. As a conservative Lutheran I know wrote:
What drivel. Dr Luther had no interest in, or patience with, “religious freedom.” How could it be otherwise for a man who famously said “my conscience is captive to the Word of God”? Of course, freedom of religion with respect to the State is good, true, and important; but that is perfectly consistent with orthodox Roman Catholicism, classic Lutheranism, or with any “Lutheran Ordinariate” that might come to pass in the future.
Our problem as Lutherans with Papal authority is not that it violates the modern notion of “religious freedom” (a notion which owes nothing to Luther). Lutherans have no problem with the expectation of obedience to proper religious authority. The problem with the Papacy is (a) that its authority as conceived by Catholicism is an innovation that cannot be supported from Scripture and the Tradition rightly read; and (b) the Papacy has used its authority to teach and enforce heterodox doctrine. I don’t bring those up to debate them, but only to indicate that a modern and generalized notion of religious freedom has nothing to do with Lutheranism.
There’s a Lutheran with whom the Catholic an actually talk. It’s easier to talk with someone who says “Oh, you’re quite wrong” than one who says (in effect) “You’re cheating” or “That’s unfair.”
The latest issue of The Journal of Moral Theology, titled Christology, is just out and available online. Among the papers included are “Christ, Globalization, and the Church” “Modern Pluralism or Divine Plentitude? Toward a Christological Ontology,”, and a review essay titled “Beyond the Historical Jesus: Embracing Christology in Scripture, Doctrine, and Ethics.”
The journal is published by Mount St. Mary’s University and edited by David M. McCarthy, who teaches theology there. The college may be best know to some readers as the one at which our writer Paige Hochschild, author of “What Are Children For?” in the January issue, teaches.
Even for the English, and even for the Church of England, this is a little peculiar: The Church of St. Martin in the Fields yesterday offered a service, broadcast by the BBC, with the theme “Learning to Dream Again,” celebrating Barack Obama’s inauguration. The English blogger “Cranmer” asks:
Would they be talking about ‘the souls of the righteous’ or ‘America’s special vocation’, or singing that ‘It is well with my soul’ if Mitt Romney had won? Would thay have commissioned a special anthem (at what cost and met by whom?) if we now had a Republican back in the White House? Is ‘Learning to Dream Again’ a purposeful allusion to Martin Luther King? What, in the Name of God, is Obama’s dream? And as for ending with ‘Come thou fount of every blessing’ — was this an appeal to the Lord, or to Obama as Messiah, come to free the captives, heal the sick and proclaim the day of salvation?
The last question is unfair, but the rest is to the point. The parallel with Lincoln seems a bit much. If Obama faces a crisis as great as that Lincoln faced, that leaves those opposed to his responses to the crisis in the place of those fighting a last ditch and inevitably futile battle to preserve slavery.
Some of us spent all or much of the weekend at this year’s New York Encounter, sponsored by the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. It’s an annual event and we’d recommend it for those of you in the area who might be able to come next year.
Among the highlights for me was the talk by Paul Bhatti, whose brother Shahbaz was assasinated, by his own body-guards, for his work defending Christians and other minorities in Pakistan. Paul, who was working in Italy as a doctor, returned to Pakistan to take up his brother’s position — and the risks he had taken. He told the story very simply, with an undramatic declaration of his faith in Jesus Christ, and stopped. We were reminded that there are extraordinary people in the world.
Other talks I much enjoyed (I could only get to the afternoon sessions) were the “witness” (aka testimony) of the Irish writer John Waters and a lecture on freedom in modern art by Francis Greene.
Rod Dreher links to an El Pais story about an admirable athlete, the Un-Lance Armstrong. In second place but way behind the leader in a 3,000-meter steeple-chase, Iván Fernández Anaya pulled up when he realized his opponent had thought he’d finished and stopped before the finish line. He then, reports the newspaper, “stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.” He explained: “I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner.”
You can only applaud the man. He is, as Rod says, a mensch and a good man. I’d add that he’s a gentleman and a sportsman (as opposed to a mere athlete). He did what you’d want your children to do.
If you’re a mensch, a good man, a gentleman, and a sportsman, or aspire to be. There are many people who’d cheer their children on as they blew past the runner and took the prize. If asked, they’d say it’s his fault for not understanding the rules, for not preparing better, that losing will be good for him, that anyone else would have run past him, that part of winning is taking advantage of every opportunity, that such gestures of kindness encourage mediocrity, that everyone benefits when the competition’s most intense, that the one who did win is the one who deserved to win, that they have no responsibility to the runner but only to themselves, and being kind to him hurts their team, nation, and whoever else has a stake in their winning, that in the modern world we don’t act like that, and such traditions went out with hoop skirts, etc.
It’s a version of the small, mean mind some people bring to their economic thinking. Some form of libertarian analysis sweeps away all human values. They offload their moral decisions onto the market and approve, usually not regretfully but eagerly, any action that brings success at whatever cost to others and to the kinds of gestures and boundaries and courtesies that make a good society. Gentlemanliness is for losers.
Three cheers, no, five cheers, ten cheers, for Iván Fernández Anaya.
The young girlfriend of a prominent football player is severely injured in a car crash and then dies of leukemia. It’s so good. It’s three of the great modern inspirational narratives, all in one.
The first element is: beautiful young girl dies of leukemia. It’s Love Story, right? The most influential Hollywood tearjerker of the past 50 years. Ali MacGraw dies tragically of leukemia, leaving Ryan O’Neal bereft: Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
Then there’s the “inspirational outsider” motif, which goes all the way back to Notre Dame, Knute Rockne, and the famous “win one for the Gipper” speech. . . .
Then comes the third part — the Icarus myth. Our hero flies too close to the sun. This is the story of the star who dies tragically in a car or plane crash. . . . Too fast to live, too young to die.
Gladwell finishes his letter saying with obvious enjoyment that the “fantastic’ story “is all three narratives, all in one. It’s Love Story meets Icarus meets inspirational outsider.”
It wasn’t enough that Manti’s love affair be doomed, that his girlfriend had leukemia, and that he drew from her death the inspiration to go out and get 12 tackles in the crucial defeat of Michigan State. She also had to be severely injured in a car accident. It’s a combo platter! It’s so over-the-top I am in awe. You couldn’t be more right that this is an “aggressively modern” scandal. Why would anyone in the 21st century settle for just one played-out story line?
Klosterman responds by asking whether this makes Te’o's knowing about the scandal more or less likely, and then reflects on how people would react to the news that he knew, with reference to Lance Armstrong:
But I’ve noticed something about the people who always argued he was innocent — for the most part, they now say things like, “Actually, I don’t even care if he used steroids. Everybody in cycling uses steroids, and he did a lot of good things for society by out-cheating the other cheaters.” They all began by supporting his innocence, but — when that became impossible — they continued to support him as a non-innocent person.
I wonder if something similar will happen with this case. I suspect a lot of society will want to believe that Te’o was totally bamboozled and that the entity we’re supposed to hate (and blame) is the culture of the Internet.
But even if that theory slowly erodes — if details continue to emerge that suggest Te’o was aware of what was happening and might have even sculpted the fabrication — all the people who initially believed in his innocence will suddenly decide that the whole story is irrelevant (“This doesn’t take away from what he did on the field,” “He’s still a first-round pick in the draft,” etc.).
“They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” Christopher Tolkien says, explaining why the family declined to meet Peter Jackson. In what’s said to be his first interview, published in Le Monde, the 87-year-old executor of the literary estate and editor of the twelve-volume History of Middle Earth expresses his sadness over what the world his father created has become. He mentions not only the movies but video games and the like.
“Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”
Christopher Tolkien’s own extraordinary work took not only a scholar’s care — he resigned as a professor of Old English at Oxford to do it — but a son’s devotion. He
received his father’s papers after the death: 70 boxes of archives, each stuffed with thousands of unpublished pages. Narratives, tales, lectures, poems of 4,000 lines more or less complete, letters and more letters, all in a frightening disorder. Almost nothing was dated or numbered, just stuffed higgledy-piggledy into the boxes.
“He had the habit of traveling between Oxford and Bournemouth, where he often stayed,” Baillie Tolkien [Christopher's wife] recounts. “When he left, he would put armfuls of papers into a suitcase which he always kept with him. When he arrived, he would sometimes pull out any sheet at random and start with that one!” On top of all this, the handwritten manuscripts were almost indecipherable because his handwriting was so cramped.
“When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others.” So says Wendell Berry, speaking to Baptist ministers a few days ago. “As if,” he continues,
by law requiring the love of God to be balanced by hatred of some neighbor for the sin of being unlike some divinely preferred us. If we are a Christian nation — as some say we are, using the adjective with conventional looseness — then this Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.
He was not done:
Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred,” Berry said. “Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness — as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves.
I wrote about Berry’s confused views of abortion and homosexual marriage in the January “While We’re At It” section and annoyed Berry’s devotees (the first response I got was from a good but very indignant friend), who thought I was being unfair. “He’s a farmer, not a philosopher!” said one, as if farmers who pronounced on things in public were spared the need to be coherent. This latest statement doesn’t convince me I was wrong.
William F. Buckley appears on Woody Allen’s tv show to discuss 1967 and other matters. The nine minute exchange is very funny and a fascinating cultural artifact — just look, for example, at how the young people who ask questions are dressed.
A small testimony to the universal desire for freedom: “He just got out somehow,” said his friend, who inherited his care from his parents, and who put up “Wanted” flyers all over his neighborhood, hoping his friend would be found by April by some kind person who’d take him in.
Schloeman said Willie has no particular personality, and didn’t appear personally anguished over his disappearance.
“You can’t get close to a turtle,” he said.
The “wanted” poster, which I like the writer first saw at Sean Casey’s Animal Rescue—which I wrote about here—cracked me up. “Ran away after 70 years,” it says.
Rod Dreher reflects on the confession of the sad and pitiable Elizabeth Wurtzel, who described her One-Night Stand of a Life in the January 14th issue of New York magazine. She begins, as Rod notes, writing what seems to be a confession but ends with (unless she’s being very subtly ironic, but I don’t think she is) a proud affirmation of the life she’s lived, which is as she’s described it better called the complete mess she’s made, because “this is it for me. I am a free spirit. I do not know any other way to be. No one else seems to live as I do. In a world gone wrong, a pure heart is dangerous.”
She laments that she has no intimate in her life, no husband or husband-figure, and for that matter few if any close friends. “The people to pity are those who desperately wanted marriage, but never found it, or had it taken from them by death or divorce,” Rod writes in Elizabeth Wurtzel Has Only Been To Me.
But to pity or admire someone like Wurtzel? Forget it. It’s not everyone’s desire to marry or settle down with a partner, but if that’s the choice you make, then own it. Regretting that you took the wrong path is a way of taking responsibility for your own freedom. I suppose you could say that Wurtzel is taking a kind of responsibility for her choices by writing an essay in which she concedes that she’s pretty much ruined her life, but doesn’t regret it because she has been true to herself. I don’t buy it.
He contrasts her choices with the choices for commitment, responsibility, and bourgeois domesticity others of us have chosen, telling charming stories of his own family and with proper indignation responding to Wurtzel’s description of the life his wife (and mine) chose as a kind of prostitution.
Prostitute. What does Elizabeth Wurtzel know about prostitution? It seems to me that one who makes money, status, and power relations the measure of the integrity of love between a man and a woman is a lot closer to having a prostitute’s mindset than she may think.
I think he’s right about this and everything else, but that he’s a little too hard on Wurtzel. Her beliefs about herself and the world are intensely stupid, not just foolish but stupid, but she is her stupidity’s main victim — and more to the point, we don’t know why she is as she is and whether with the same temptations we wouldn’t have wound up much the same as she did. The conviction that one must satisfy the self, whatever the consequences, and no matter what the evidence that this does not work, is never very far away from any of us. One can imagine one’s own face at the top of the article, or one like it expressing one’s own particular brand of self-deception, had things worked out differently.
The reality’s hidden for her and from her by the ideas behind that stale cliche about the purity of her heart. The “pure heart” Wurtzel thinks she has heroically served and for protecting whose integrity she’s suffered — the “pure heart” of contemporary Romanticism, also known as “authenticity” and the like — is just the expression of ego and desire and want, pure only in the sense that the self’s drive to assert itself remains unmixed with caution or prudence or concern for the needs of others or submission to any external authority.
That’s purity of a sort, but not the sort by which the pure of heart see God, and not the sort that makes you happy.
A few years ago I picked up at a yard sale held at a local church a copy of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. As I wrote somewhere else at the time, the book contains the amusing letters, published in the teens and early twenties, of a cockroach named Archy who typed them by diving headfirst into the typewriter keys. (He couldn’t use the shift key, obviously, hence the lower case.) The letter “Certain maxims of Archy” contains, for example,
the servant problem
wouldn t hurt the u s a
if it could settle
if you get gloomy just
take an hour off and sit
and think how
much better this world
is than hell
of course it won t cheer
you up much if
you expect to go there
if monkey glands
did restore your youth
what would you do
just what you did before
yes I thought so
procrastination is the
art of keeping
up with yesterday
has it silver
lining but it is
sometimes a little
difficult to get it to
You will find these letters praised by critics and literary historians, and they are quite clever, and Marquis did get Archy’s voice down perfectly, but they’re not that good. I had never read them before, and I think part of their continued appeal is that Archy is an existentialist and a skeptic, and Maquis’ satirical targets include those beliefs secular readers like to see satirized. Take just one of the maxims:
i once heard the survivors
of a colony of ants
that had been partially
obliterated by a cow s foot
the intention of the gods
towards their civilization
I could be wrong about this, not knowing any more about the letters than I have picked up from reading this book, but this kind of satire does run through it.
A friend sends the links to three compositions, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Christor Redemptor Omnium, and Creator alme Siderum, by a twenty-two-year-old English composer named Lawrence Whitehead. The composer discusses his writing of the first and latest composition here:
My process for composing these choral pieces is always to begin by studying the text so that I understand its full meaning: this then allows me to compose music that has the appropriate mood for each section of the piece. Once I have determined how I believe the music should feel, the task of uncovering the music hidden within the words becomes far easier. It is difficult to articulate this part of the process, as it tends to involve my sitting at the piano until I go into some kind of subconscious trance whilst improvising.
It is at this point that some melodic or harmonic idea usually reveals itself. With my previous two choral compositions, settings of Creator alme siderum and Christe Redemptor Omnium, this process allowed me to conceive strong melodic themes. I used these by stating them at the outset of each piece before subjecting them to variation and development throughout the remainder of the work.
He goes on to explain the rest of the process, which will be of particular interest to other creative types, even if you’re a writer or painter and not a musician.
We try to keep up with things in the journalistic world, for obvious reasons, but this story may be of less interest to those of you without a professional interest in the subject: Will Oremus at Slate.com reports that Irish Newspapers Say It’s Illegal To Link to Their Articles. An “outraged lawyer” who has to deal with them
notes that the newspapers aren’t just seeking to crack down on sites that summarize or excerpt their articles. Their position is that publishing a hyperlink alone constitutes a violation of their copyright and is illegal without prior consent and payment. . . .
Irish newspapers have in fact been badgering Irish organizations that link to their sites with letters, emails, and phone calls demanding payment. [Outraged lawyer Simon] McGarr says the newspapers are charging €300, or nearly $400, for the right to link just once to an article on an Irish newspaper website, with prices rising to €1,350 for more than 25 links. They’ve apparently gone so far as to hound an Irish charity called Women’s Aid for linking to positive news stories about their fundraising efforts.
Publications spend money on their websites because they want people to read their articles online, in the hope (if they’re for profit enterprises like newspapers) that the readers will want to pay for the articles they can’t get for free and might even pick up the paper version. They want other sites to link to their articles because those links bring them new readers, who might pay etc. Claiming — and they just can’t seriously believe this — that copyright law covers web addresses defeats the purpose of having a website. One wants to ask the Irish newspapers: who thought it was a fabulous business plan to have their newspapers run by morons?
In any case, as Oremus writes:
Newspapers’ decline over the past decade has been due in large part to forces beyond their control. But it has been hastened in many cases by the bullheaded, greedy, and nearsighted actions of the newspaper industry itself.
“If,” as Catholic blogger Marc Barnes wrote, “in the course of human events, a cringe-inducing karaoke of an already over-played pop song is your primary response to the philosophical tradition of the Holy Catholic Church, you’ve negated yourself long, long before you’ve been rebutted.” He is talking about the hysterically funny video produced by the Women’s Ordination Conference titled Ordain a Lady.
Comment is superfluous, except to note the lines about ignoring St. Paul, “other churches” that do ordain women, the pope being “in my way,” and “God called me . . . That’s a fact.” What you have left is pretty much the Episcopal Church and we know how well it’s doing. The video has already gladdened the heart of many an obedient Catholic.
The audience reaction to a debate on the topic “Religious or spiritual or neither?”, writes the English lawyer Peter Smith, made him think. It apparently wasn’t what he expected.
Audience questions challenged the contention of Andrew Copson, the chief executive of the British Humanist Association and a leading anti-religion campaign, that there was no external thing beyond this experiential, natural universe. I sat with puzzlement as it became clear that this was considered the least likely conjecture by the audience, who preferred even muddle-headed agnosticism and Anglicanism-lite to absolute belief in nothing. There was, it seemed, a ‘God-shaped hole’ in our lives, and a simplistic materialism was not going to fill it.
In a later debate on the culture wars Smith attended, the Catholic philosopher John Haldane — whose A Tale of Two Thomases appeared in the December issue — suggested “that the fundamental cultural debate is between one collection of ideas, called ‘the anti-realists’, and another, those of ‘the realists’, and that this cultural tension is manifest in political and social policy.”
Real ideas (by which I think he also meant realistic) contained at their core the notion that the universe is natural, objectively ‘out there’, knowable but distinct, and informing views on sexuality, sex, marriage, death, etc. Anti-realist ideas, by contrast, consider everything as human constructs, plastic and malleable, which can be bended and altered but which inherently are unknowable. Realism and anti-realism contain fundamentally different understandings about what is knowable and what is not, what can be change and what cannot, and mankind’s place in creation.
This seems to me true, though I suspect the anti-realists aren’t completely consistent because man has a desire for moral and metaphysical certainties, which comes out when hurt badly enough. As C. S. Lewis suggested in the opening to Mere Christianity, everyone (though there may be a few exceptions) is a realist when dealing with their own interests. At some point everyone is going to say “But that’s right!” or “But that’s wrong!” Even if I’m right about the limits of the practice of anti-realism, Haldane has correctly identified the basic ideological divide.
The biweekly “Soho Masses” in London were celebrated for the “pastoral care” of homosexual Catholics, said the archdiocese, but as the English Catholic journalist William Oddie wrote in the Catholic Herald a couple of years ago, “It is now clear beyond peradventure that those who attend the Masses are nearly all what the archdiocese calls ‘non-celibate gay people’ who intend to continue to defy Catholic teaching. . . . The whole ethos of the Soho Masses is a committed denial of this teaching.”
The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has now closed it down and transferred the work of pastoral care to another church, while giving the church in Soho to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the English branch of the group the pope established for Anglican converts. (Our Lady of the Assumption,the archbishop notes, is the church at which John Henry Newman first heard Mass.) Even though “the situation of people with same-sex attraction has changed both socially and in civil law,” the archdiocese explained,
the principles of the pastoral care to be offered by the Church and the Church’s teaching on matters of sexual morality have not. First among the principles of pastoral care is the innate dignity of every person and the respect in which they must be held. Also, of great importance, is the teaching of the Church that a person must not be identified by their sexual orientation. The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life.
The Church is changing the arrangement for two reasons, the official statement continued:
The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass.
The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.
The effect is to reassert the teaching of the Church without being too direct about it. That “must not be identified by their sexual orientation,” for example, also means “must not identify themselves by their sexual orientation,” which is to say, must not assume they can or must act upon their desires.
You are not first a homosexual, the archdiocese is saying to the people who attended that Mass. You are first and primarily a human being, and therefore someone called to chastity, and the proper expressions of your sexuality are defined and limited and do not include homosexual practice. Being homosexual is only the personal context in which you are called to be chaste, as being heterosexual is the context for most people. But it is not an identity that brings with it a way of life.
The assumption that “I am X, therefore I must do X” is the default one, even among Catholics, for reasons all of us can understand since most of us assume it when explaining our own actions. “I’m just a cranky old man” is a version, as is “I’m just not patient” and “I suppose I’m just too selfish to . . . “. The homosexual person has better reason to assume it than the cranky, impatient, and selfish, because his desires feel so natural and seem the same as everyone else’s only directed to somewhat different subjects. But still, as the archdiocese has said, you are not your sexual orientation.