• This will be, we should warn you, a Catholic-heavy “While We’re At It.” But then popes don’t resign every day.
• First, a word from New York. A friend who works in a New York City agency tells us that its employees have been told not to call anyone “homeless.” The proper term is now “undomiciled.” So those poor people sleeping on the street aren’t homeless; they’re just without a home.
• And another word from New York. “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low cut neckline allowed in this store,” says the sign in several Hasidic-owned stores in Brooklyn. This seems, we think, rather charmingly old-fashioned and inoffensive, but then we are not New York City’s Commission on Human Rights.
“These stores are public accommodations, and they are prohibited from posting any kind of advertisement specifying a preference for one type of customer or another, or expressing discrimination against one type or another,” declares its deputy commissioner, Clifford Mulqueen. The rule is “pretty specific to women” and thus discriminatory. He claims that people in the neighborhood complained.
The stores, and four cheers for them, are fighting back. Their attorney, Devora Allon, notes that “the complaints do not allege discriminatory intent, and that is what the human rights law outlaws.” But what the law actually says does not impede human rights commissions.
Marc Stern, a lawyer for the American Jewish Committee who’s advising the store owners, noted that businesses can impose dress codes and that the courts have let them establish different codes for men and women. “They’ve even upheld the Hooters dress code,” which we’d note is pretty much: really short shorts, no sleeves, and as low cut a neckline as possible. We’d have thought that code pretty specific to women.
• This is a city, mind you, in which you can’t easily smoke in public or in bars (bars!) and can’t buy large sugary drinks, because those hurt your body. Which is to say, the city recognizes physical harm but not moral harm.
And, you might say, in a diverse, pluralistic society, fair enough. But a wise city, knowing that there is such a thing as moral harm even if it doesn’t want to define it, would let individuals make such decisions on their own in the hope that some of them will get it right. That is also part of living in a pluralistic society.
• And a word from the past. Energetic scholar Thomas Pinney discovered in family papers and other people’s archives fifty unknown poems of Rudyard Kipling’s, including “The Press,” written in 1899, which ends:
Had your friend a secret
Sorrow, shame or vice—
Have you promised not to tell
What’s your lowest price?
All the housemaid fancied
All the butler guessed
Tell it to the public press
And we will do the rest.
We think he’s being critical. The new poems were just published in the three-volume Cambridge Edition.
• When Pope Benedict resigned, the world of commentary flowered with ignorance and goofiness like the desert after a rain, and with more than a little anti-Catholicism. Some writers delivered really cheap shots, like Slate writer William Saletan’s attempt at the classic “gotcha” article.
The article’s heading declared: “Catholics who eulogized Pope John Paul II for serving to the bitter end now praise Pope Benedict for quitting. Make up your minds.” The title in the web link called this praise for both men “Catholic hypocrisy.” Saletan quoted people like George Weigel and Peggy Noonan as if they were just saying whatever they needed to say to praise the pope at the moment.
“A clash between these two schools won’t be as tidy as a chorus of gymnastic apologists bent on defending both popes,” he concluded. “But it will be more fruitful and more honest.”
“More honest.” Were Saletan honest enough to try to understand someone else’s point of view before calling them “gymnastic apologists” (meaning, effectively, “deceptive prostitutes”), he would see that one can think John Paul II did the right thing in his circumstances and that Benedict did the right thing in his, or that they had different vocations, or that they understood their vocations and the papacy differently, or that both of them were doing the best they could when the right thing to do is not obvious.
But then, if he dealt honestly with them, he couldn’t write the gotcha article about “Catholic hypocrisy” and mock people like George Weigel and Peggy Noonan in print.
• Even cheap shots help, though. As G. K. Chesterton said in The Catholic Church and Conversion, the first stage of conversion is often feeling that someone’s being unfair to the Church. Many people, reading this kind of thing, will feel some sympathy for Pope Benedict and his Church, and from there they may find their way in. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, as Tertullian said, and the bruises of the popes may be too.
The odds of Richard Dawkins becoming the next pope, according to the Irish betting site Paddypower.com, which apparently has some knowledge of the book of the Apocalypse (a.k.a. Revelation), were 666 to 1.
• The English writer John O’Sullivan wonders at those in the Vatican who obstructed Benedict’s attempt to respond to the child abusers and their protectors as apparently “strange beyond understanding.” But they’re not, he notes, exceptional.
He offers, writing in the Spectator, an analogy from current English politics. “Consider the defensive reactions of both Labour and Tory politicians to the news that several thousand people have died needlessly and wrongfully as a result of abuse and neglect in National Health Service hospitals. A desire to defend the NHS itself against criticism and a reluctance to hold the guilty to account—their reactions are eerily similar to those of the Vatican bureaucracy, without even the excuse that people accused of serious crimes deserve the legal presumption of innocence.”
“The gentle Benedict,” he concludes, “was tougher than that.”
• A local television reporter announced, solemn-faced, that with Benedict’s resignation, “local Catholics don’t yet know who they’ll be praying to this Easter.” A Catholic friend, vexed, wrote, “To which we reply, ‘Silly reporter, yes we do. We will pray to whom we always pray, this Easter and every Easter. To statues. Of Mary.’”
He was, we hasten to say, being sarcastic.
• “Reviewers are in general much milder than they used to be,” says Allan Massie in the Daily Telegraph, after finding one of his reviews nominated for “hatchet job of the year.” Reviewers may just be nicer now, he thinks, while also knowing that if they attack a book, they may find their next book attacked. Safer to be nice.
If you do want to take a swing at someone’s head, he writes, don’t beat up on a younger or less successful writer. Pick on someone your own size, or bigger, and a book that really, really deserves it: “a highly praised and established author” whose book is “bad in a distinctive way, not merely incompetent and slipshod, but pretentious or dishonest. Often, though not always, it will be badly written. Pretentious, dishonest, badly written; any of these may make a book a legitimate target.”
We tend not to publish reviews of bad books, the kinds of reviews that make even the intellectual in his study feel like a Red Sox fan when the Sox take a 17–4 lead over the Yankees in the third inning. We publish only fifty or so reviews a year and don’t have the space to waste on bad books.
And when we have to, because the bad book is an influential book, we try to deal with it in a “do unto others” way, assuming the author has meant well and done his best from his point of view. More charity, perhaps less drama, but also perhaps more clarity. See, for example, Edward Feser’s review of Ray Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind in this issue.
• Massie’s review begins, we’ll mention in case you like this kind of thing, by calling Craig Raine’s novel The Divine Comedy “a poet’s novel,” explaining that this isn’t necessarily a compliment and pointing to poets who’ve written novels that aren’t “poetic.”
They are not full of self-consciously fine writing. They have characters in whom the reader can take an interest, and even plots. Because they have these essential ingredients of the novel, you read them from start to finish. You want to find out how stories end and how the author develops his characters, exploring the situations they find themselves in. Raine’s book isn’t like this at all.
It’s a very entertaining review of what must be, if he’s right, a very bad novel and a book that is bad in a bog standard way. “The subject is however consistent, from the first to the last page. It is sex, and more particularly the sexual organs. . . . It grows wearisome, very quickly.” Raine writes about sex and the sexual organs, judging from the quotes in the review, like a literary and dirty-minded fifteen-year-old, which is a deadly combination.
Massie concludes the review quoting Raine’s declaration that “it follows that good writing is bound to give offense—by saying inconveniently unconventional things, by disagreeing.” This, Massie writes, “is nonsense,” and he’s quite right too. “Good writing is not ‘bound to give offence.’ More often it delights. Who is offended by the ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ David Copperfield or The Cherry Orchard? Bad writing on the other hand will indeed often seem ‘disagreeable,’ and this book is an example of that truth.”
• “Put not your trust in princes,” says the psalmist, advice nearly everyone forgets when he finds a prince he likes. Princes will be found in other places than political life, particularly among writers who become gurus for their readers, which explains, I suspect, the horror that Wendell Berry’s recent support of homosexual marriage has caused his followers.
• White women who dropped out of high school live on average five years fewer than they did in 1990 and white men three. They die at the average age of 73.5 and 67.5 years, ten and thirteen years earlier than white women and men with college degrees.
So reports Richard Longworth of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Genetics may have something to do with it,” he argues, and we would add that higher infant mortality in these groups will bring down the average, not that that makes it better. “But not as much as economics and the fallout from economic differences.”
“Poor people get less schooling, which leads to worse jobs, which leads to poorer lifestyles, which leads to stress, which leads to more smoking and drinking, which increases the chances of joblessness, which means no health insurance, all of which adds up to the kind of debilitating despair that never lengthened anyone’s life.”
Longworth adds that “in the same period, both black and Latino life expectancy rose at all levels of education.” Which sounds good, until you find that the average life expectancy for all black men, including the college-educated, is 67.6 years—partly because, if he is right, they already suffered the economic losses less educated white men are now suffering.
One wonders who represents them. The Democrats’ main idea of helping them is to give them small amounts of money while pursuing policies that destroy their families and communities, that is, the source of economic security and success. Most Republicans either dismiss them as parasites (“the 47 percent”) or assume, blithely, that general economic growth will help them as well rather than immure them in poverty.
• We liked the article, but were a little perplexed at Longworth’s list of the pathologies affecting rural whites: “poverty, bad health, reliance on government handouts, high dropout rates, drugs, . . . broken families, empty futures” and . . . “down-home religions.” We would have thought that even the fundamentalist sects (presumably what he means) provide a community of support and friendship, a set of moral standards, and a way to order one’s life that helps the poor rather than hurts.
• Our “intuitive sense of self,” says the first page of a New Scientist magazine special issue, “is an effortless and fundamental human experience. But it is nothing more than an elaborate illusion.” So begins a ten-page feature explaining, or claiming to explain, that “our deeply felt truths are in fact smoke and mirrors of the highest order.” You may think you’re you, but you’re not.
We’ll leave the formal refutation to the philosophers, but would note that all the evidence the magazine gives only proves that our perception of ourselves and our world is imperfect—that we see, as someone said, through a glass darkly, which is not exactly news. That the self is an illusion does not actually follow.
In one study, for example, people lying on their backs while a machine stroked their backs watched a video of someone else’s back being stroked, and some felt that they were floating facedown above their own body watching it being stroked. This effect “provides more evidence that the brain’s ability to integrate various sensory stimuli plays a key role in locating the self in the body” and of the way it “puts together our autobiographical self.”
Which means that the brain figures out you have a body, even though sometimes under specialized circumstances it can be fooled into thinking you’ve gotten separated from your body for a few minutes. We are not worried. You are you, and I am I, and someone’s the walrus, goo goo g’joob (or coo coo ca chu, depending on the translation).
• Moral conservatives quickly, and often too quickly, find a moral source for an idea they reject. People think X because they want to do Y; he wants to do Y, therefore, the nasty man, he naturally thinks X.
We do wonder, though, if, on a parallel with Dostoevsky’s famous contention, the New Scientist writers see that if the self does not exist—if man, as the magazine’s deputy editor writes, is “a mere arrangement of matter and energy”—everything is permitted. You can enjoy this idea as a liberation. All you have to give up is the glory and the dignity of man.
• “When we checked towns out,” this Brooklyn hipster said, explaining her move to the suburbs, “I saw some moms out in Hastings with their kids with tattoos. A little glimmer of Williamsburg!” She is, the New York Times reports, an acupuncturist.
Her husband “is one half of the lauded street-art duo Faile, known for its explosive swirls of graffiti art, wheat-paste sloganeering and punk rock. He wears his hair in a top bun and bears tattoos with his sons’ names, Denim and Bowie, on his forearms.”
I did not, I swear, make that up.
• These hipsters, suddenly finding themselves older with children, have started moving out of the now very expensive fashionable parts of Brooklyn north to the suburbs. They’re moving, the Times reports, to find cheaper housing, and houses with attics and basements and yards for their children to play in, and to avoid loud parties upstairs with the bass thumping through the floor that last till 3 a.m., and to get their children out of over-crowded schools.
But they’re not, you will understand if you’ve spent five minutes listening to hipster conversation, and as the Times itself notes, their parents, and they want you to know that. They’re moving, explains an urban planner, “not just because they [the ‘funkier suburbs’] have good schools, spacious housing and good transit, but because lately the restaurants are good enough to keep them in the suburbs on a Saturday night. ‘The creative class is trying to replicate urban life in the suburbs,’ he said.”
“You’re not a failure if you decide to leave Brooklyn,” says a dancer and yoga instructor of her move to the suburbs after she and her husband had a child. “She finds herself looking hopefully for signs of creative ferment,” reports the article. “We’ve found it in pockets,” she says. “Once in a while, you’ll think, ‘This place gets it,’ because they have a Fernet Branca cocktail on their menu.”
• Their parents wouldn’t, we suspect, be bothered by the fact that these suburbs are so white. But neither, apparently, and a little to our surprise, are the hipsters. “The relative lack of racial diversity is striking to newcomers,” the article says in a throwaway line at the end. Striking, not upsetting. But then hipster culture is as white as the cheap beer they, ironically of course, drink.
• If you’ve already read Gerald Russello’s “Leaving Brooklyn,” let’s quickly note that Gerald is not a hipster. He wears ties, and not ironically, drinks good beer, because he likes it, does not swear, etc.
• You are, dear reader, if you agree with this magazine’s commitment to marriage as it’s traditionally been understood, a cousin, if perhaps a distant cousin, “of people in the 1950s and 1960s who, citing God and the Bible, opposed black people sitting in the bus seat, or dining at the lunch counter, of their choosing.” According to Patrick B. Pexton, the ombudsman of the Washington Post.
Responding to the “steady stream” of readers he says complain about the Post’s promotion of homosexual causes and its disdain for moral conservatives, he quotes one of the newspaper’s reporters, who explains to some poor conservative reader that “the reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time. Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that’s the ‘view of the world’ that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law.”
And besides, he continues, “should the media make room for racists, i.e. those people who believe that black people shouldn’t marry white people? Any story on African-Americans wouldn’t be wholly accurate without the opinion of a racist, right?” And then he pulls out the line that “the true conservative” would agree with him and “would want the government out of people’s bedrooms, and religion out of government.”
Pexton agrees with the reporter. Journalists are all about freedom and fairness. We know journalists, and we have, shall we say, our doubts about this claim as a generalization and have other suggestions for the sources of their defense of homosexuality. (It’s sometimes true that people think X because they want to do Y.)
In any case, Pexton concludes that “the Post should do a better job of understanding and conveying to readers, with detachment and objectivity, the beliefs and the fears of social conservatives.” We like that “fears.” You’re not just a bigot, you’re a scaredy-cat bigot.
• News You Can Use, or maybe not: A worker at the Strand Book Store a few blocks south of the office—the store that advertises “Eighteen miles of books,” though we think they’re exaggerating, this being New York and all, by about, oh, sixteen miles—said as she led a customer into the stacks: “The occult is actually divided into three sections: paranormal, magic studies, and divination.”
• This seems to me, as a convert, true. “My experience as the editor of a Catholic magazine,” writes Brian Doyle, whose “The Brilliantine Coattails of Lust” appeared in these pages last month, and whose poems appear from time to time, “is that the wildest How Dare You letters we get (I have a box full) are from converts.”
“It seems to me that those born into the utterly ridiculous and thus admirably believable faith (its very unreasonableness and illogicality is its genius, I think) have spent their lives grappling and running, waxing and waning, ebbing and flowing, and have in large part come to understand that it is a vast tent, with shrill corners claiming to be the whole tent. Converts, partly I suspect to prove their epic decision right and partly from shock at the shaggy humor of most Catholics, are pretty rigid about What the Church Says.
“I try to say gently that we are all the Church (here comes everybody, as Joyce says), and that the Church is an active verb in the world, always changing, not a static noun in Rome, but that’s uncomfortably loose for converts, seems to me.” They do not feel comfortable with “the shaggy everything of the Catholic genius.”
Brian edits the University of Portland’s quarterly magazine. You will want to read Portland (not to be confused with the monthly Portland magazine) and can find it at up.edu/Portland.
• Catholic theology has its complexities and subtleties hard to reduce to journalistic summaries, but even so. In a story on Evangelical responses to Benedict’s announcement, our friends at Christianity Today explained that the First Vatican Council emphasized the “divinity of the pope.” The editors quickly noted the mistake, admitted it was theirs and not the writer’s, and explained that the article should have said that the council “emphasized the divine character of the papal office.”
Glad they cleared that up, and we hope someone explained to the copy editor how easy it is to look these things up on the internet. Ewtn.com will tell you all you need to know.
But, and not to be difficult, the definition’s still not quite right. As a theologian we know wrote when he saw the story, “The office is of the will of God and enjoys the authority conferred on Peter as head of the College of Bishops by Christ, an authority that continues to be exercised with the aid of the Holy Spirit.” But the office itself doesn’t have a divine character in the sense that the queen of England has a regal character.
It doesn’t make much difference, of course, but it does puff up the papacy when the claims Catholics do make are divisive enough. Vatican I’s definition of infallibility itself, for example. When the pope “as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, . . . defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”
Add to that claim the idea that the papacy has a “divine character” and you can just watch the Reformation divide widening. We’d like to keep it as narrow as possible.
• Because it’s wide enough as it is. Relations between serious Evangelicals and Catholics have progressed so far even in the last decade that one assumes that now only the self-described fundamentalists, at the margins even of their own world, insist on the extreme Protestant rejection of Rome. Timothy George and his peers in Evangelicals and Catholics Together represent the leading edge of a liberality now general among those Christians.
But then recently, reading a blog written by serious and thoughtful Calvinists who haven’t in the past shown much interest in attacking the Catholic Church, we came across an item commending as thoughtful, worth engaging, etc., a very, very, very anti-Catholic paper. The author implied that the writer was on to something.
The writer, a pastor, described Catholicism as a religion competing with true Christianity and in fact deeply anti-Christian, a false religion that loudly repudiates the true gospel and is as bad today as it was at the Reformation, an apostate body that tells infernal lies and has murdered true believers, a deep spiritual threat to all mankind, and finally, the devil’s kingdom and the enemy of the Lord, which he prays the Lord will quickly destroy. The writer is willing to say that the pope is not necessarily the anti-Christ but insists that he’s at least one of the anti-Christs.
One reads this with the surprise mixed with concern one feels upon watching a man betting all his savings on the Mets or the Pirates winning the 2013 World Series in four games. We’re certainly not offended, and respect the writer’s sincerity and consistency, and are not worried that the paper will have any effect, even to confirm the prejudices of the people who read it. It’s an echo chamber kind of paper.
But we are surprised by the recommendation, which was close to a commendation, coming from someone within the mainstream of the serious confessional Calvinist world. These are people with whom, I would have said from my own experiences with them, the Catholic can speak, but apparently not so freely or easily as I would have said, since some of them want the Lord to destroy our Church, now. It’s vexing. We have not moved as far as I had thought.
• At the 3:30 mark of a “Hockumentary” produced by the major sports website Grantland, New York City basketball legend Tom Konchalski, perhaps the best high school basketball scout in the nation, a man trusted by the most powerful coaches in college basketball, people such as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Louisville’s Rick Pitino, is seen, as he talks to a young man who’d just pulled down twenty-two rebounds, holding the December issue of First Things.
Well, we thought this was very cool.
• “My heroes are my mother, Mother Teresa and David,” Konchalski told Sports Illustrated, David being a young basketball player who lost his leg and then his life to bone cancer. Konchalski prayed for him “to St. Peregrine, the patron saint for cancers of the bone. ‘You endured painful sufferings with such patience as to deserve to be healed miraculously of an incurable cancer in your leg by a touch of His divine hand . . . .’”
He prays daily for the players and others he’s known, including their family members who have died. The prayer now takes him twelve minutes. “Hospitals, hospices and funeral homes are common haunts. Three-to-four times per week he attends mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, around the 12th row, altar left. On holidays he visits with friends suffering from illnesses as dire as terminal cancer.”
This makes it even cooler. It’s also an example of re-evangelizing the culture: Do your job well and practice your faith, and even if you’re not a famous basketball scout, people you wouldn’t expect to notice will notice.
• Expensive but, as the saying goes, cheap at the price is the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy, published by Scarecrow Press and edited by Grove City College’s Michael Coulter, Ave Maria’s Richard Myers, and SUNY’s Joseph Varacalli. First issued in two volumes in 2007, it’s recently been reissued with a third volume, a four-hundred-page supplement covering subjects ranging from G. E. M. Anscombe, Augustinianism, and St. Basil the Great to Down Syndrome, St. John Fisher, original sin, palliative sedation, public goods, symbolic interactionism, sports in modern America, and (the last entry) Florian Znaniecki, as well as several Catholic thinkers still alive.
The Encyclopedia lists for $175 (its first two volumes) and $85 (the third) but can be found for less online. Cheap, as we say, at the price. When the first two volumes appeared, Richard John Neuhaus commended it as one of the few books that must be in every Catholic academic library (we agree) and said that he was “impressed by its scholarly diligence, fairness, and lucidity” (and we agree again). It would provide you, among other things, a very good education in Catholic social teaching for rather less than you’d pay for a class on the subject.
• Congratulations to the editors of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, who on February 18 published their 5,000th issue. In his editorial, Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., quotes a reflection by the then-editor Fr. John LaFarge written when the magazine published its 2,000th issue in 1947. It is a wise reflection on the magazine’s calling (every magazine, we mean, not just America) then and now.
The difficulty of the issues of the day, he says, “makes us very humble [because] we realize now . . . the terrific responsibility of the United States for the welfare of the world—and consequently the severe obligation that rests upon us of this country today, somehow to understand the issues and look into their inner and permanent meaning.” That call has if anything grown.
He offers two cautions for this work: First, do not “confuse the transitory with the permanent. A transitory event rouses us from our lethargy and is a challenge to our courage and intelligence. But the permanent issue remains as a subject for study and an ever-greater clarification of objectives and methods.”
Second, do not “confuse various levels at which the issue is posed. It is all too easy to shift from one level to another and try to make religion do the work of politics, or make politics do the work of religion.”
America is not, as will surprise no one, a magazine with which we always agree, but it is one always worth reading. See americamagazine.org.
• We’ve published only 232 issues and fall three more issues behind America every month. We’re trying not to feel competitive. And we’d be grateful for your help in continuing to publish. Please send us the names and addresses of any friends who’d like to see a sample copy. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 35 East 21st Street, Sixth Floor, New York, NY 10010.
while we’re at it sources: No shorts, etc.: gestetnerupdates.com, Febuary 15, 2013. The Press, alas: guardian.co.uk, February 25, 2013. Saletan doesn’t gotcha: slate.com, February 12, 2013. Tories compared with Benedict: The Spectator, February 16, 2013. Mild reviewers: blogs.telegraph.co.uk, January 11, 2013. Bad book: hatchetjoboftheyear.com, no date. Rural lives: globalmidwest.typepad.com/global-midwest, February 7, 2013. Selfless selves: New Scientist, February 23–March 1, 2013. Historyless Evangelicals: reformation21.org/blog, January 21, 2013. Hipsters: nytimes.com, February 17, 2013. You’re a bigot: washingtonpost.com, February 22, 2013. CT and the divine papacy: christianitytoday.com, February 13, 2013. The reader scout: grantland.com, February 19, 2013. The reader scout’s prayers: sportsillustrated.com, November 11, 2009.
wwai tips: Mark Barrett, Brandon McGinley, Chris Rupar.