First Things RSS Feed - Michael W. Hannon
en-usCopyright 2016 First Things. All Rights Reserved.firstname.lastname@example.org (The Editors)email@example.com (The Editors)Fri, 28 Oct 2016 02:28:53 -0400https://d25wp47b6tla3u.cloudfront.net/img/favicon-196.pngFirst Things RSS Feed Image
60Against Obsessive Sexualityhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/08/against-obsessive-sexuality
Wed, 13 Aug 2014 00:00:00 -0400 For the March issue of
, I wrote an essay called “
.” In brief, my argument was that the concept of sexual orientation is not historically inevitable, not empirically accurate, and not morally useful. The heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy is counterproductive to encouraging the virtue of chastity, so we Christians should do our best to eliminate “gay” and “straight”especially “straight,” actuallyfrom the way we think and talk about sex, always with prudence directing us as to the particulars. There is an apologetics benefit to this general approach, since a generation from now, our culture will almost certainly have abandoned the bizarre psychosexual determinism of this outdated framework anyway.
Tue, 03 Jun 2014 14:43:00 -0400 Do
readers care that the American Theatre Wing’s 2014 Tony Awards are happening this weekend? Most probably don’t, and that’s probably okay.
]]>The How I Met Your Mother finale was an April Fools jokehttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/04/the-how-i-met-your-mother-ending-was-an-april-fools-joke
Wed, 02 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400Remember
how, towards the end of the
movies, Wayne and Garth would do ridiculous endings in the style of various
other films, just before they’d get to the real final scene? The
Thelma and Louise
ending, etc.? Well that’s exactly
the trick that
How I Met Your Mother
Monday night in its (alleged) series finale. They opted for the
Sat, 01 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0500 Alasdair MacIntyre once quipped that “facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a seventeenth-century invention.” Something similar can be said about sexual orientation: Heterosexuals, like typewriters and urinals (also, obviously, for gentlemen), were an invention of the 1860s. Contrary to our cultural preconceptions and the lies of what has come to be called “orientation essentialism,” “straight” and “gay” are not ageless absolutes. Sexual orientation is a conceptual scheme with a history, and a dark one at that. It is a history that began far more recently than most people know, and it is one that will likely end much sooner than most people think.
]]>Some Millennial Frustration with America’s New Evangelizationhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/02/some-millennial-frustration-with-americas-new-evangelization
Fri, 07 Feb 2014 00:00:00 -0500I have an awkward confession to make. When I hear American Catholics
cheerlead the New Evangelization, I’m sorry to say, I become very skeptical
very quickly. As they unpack their bold vision for evangelical reform, I start
feeling a lot like Mugatu, who, in an exasperated breakdown at the end of the
exclaimed, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
]]>Sexual Disorientation: The Trouble with Talking about “Gayness”https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/10/sexual-disorientation-the-trouble-with-talking-about-gayness
Thu, 10 Oct 2013 00:00:00 -0400 In the wake of Pope Francis virally circulated airplane interview, orthodox Catholic writers from every corner of the blogosphere have united in defense of our Holy Father, against the bizarre and ignorant statements of the popular media. Whether attacking the
et al. for skewing the story to advance their own agenda, or complimenting the pope for using an unsuspecting press to help him broadcast Gospel truths, almost all such authors have agreed in insisting that there was nothing contrary to doctrine in the matter of our pontiffs remarks. On this point, I certainly agree as well. Judge not is hardly foreign to Christianity.
]]>What Is Water Polo?: And Its Surprising Relevance for Marriagehttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/01/what-is-water-polo-and-its-surprising-relevance-for-marriage
Thu, 31 Jan 2013 00:01:00 -0500 Back in high school, I played a sport that most people have encountered, if at all, only in the Olympics. It is an athletic game both exhilarating and exhausting, and while I would probably drown if I tried to play it again now, still I count my adolescent water polo career among my life’s greatest blessings. The lessons I learned in the pool might turn out to be particularly relevant today, and in a surprising fashion. For understanding water polo can, I contend, help us to understand a far more important human institution: marriage.
]]>Love God and Do What You Will: Avoiding Over-Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Discernmenthttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/01/love-god-and-do-what-you-will-avoiding-over-devotion-to-our-lady-of-perpetual-discernment
Fri, 06 Jan 2012 00:01:00 -0500 In so many Christian contexts today, it is almost impossible to avoid hearing about the importance of discerning one’s “personal vocation.” This label, apparently, is meant to denote the specific calling God gives to each individual, through which each is to live out his own particular call to holiness. Yet this language reflects only a half-truth. We are indeed meant to follow the will of God in all that we do. But such popular talk of one’s “calling” also betrays a crucial misunderstanding of discernment, a cardinal error that is entirely foreign to the great tradition of the Church.
The confusion is rooted in the oft-overlooked sin of presumption. For when a Christian goes to prayer with the expectation that God will reveal to him a personalized plan for his life, he presumes that God will make him the recipient of a miraculous private revelation. Now, our Christian history has seen numerous instances of his doing exactly that, particularly with some of the Church’s most venerable mystic saints. But God is under no constraints to act in this way, and far be it for me to deem myself worthy to receive so extraordinary a message from Our Lord.
But if a Christian is not to presume that God will supernaturally reveal his “personal vocation” to him, how then is he to know God’s will for his life? I would contend that, if he has been going to church on a weekly basis and has received at least average catechesis along the way, he probably already does know his will for his life. God summarizes it succinctly in the Ten Commandments, and even more succinctly in Matthew 22: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. That, further informed by the ordinances of the Church, is all the instruction we need to achieve our fulfillment and arrive at salvation.
In a recent documentary on Eastern Christian monasticism, NYU’s Norris Chumley asked a monk in the Ukraine if God speaks to him in prayer. “He does not speak to me,” the monk answered, “because he has already said everything, through the Gospel and through the works of the Holy Fathers, of the saints.” Such a response might sound borderline blasphemous to contemporary Christians. And yet, this answer reflects perfectly the consensus of the Church over the past 2,000 years. In general, it seems that God provides the graces people need to serve him in whatever station of life they occupy.
So God does not tell each of us exactly what to do all the time. In fact, he does not necessarily even tell us what to do with regards to major life choices, including choices between religious and secular life. He gifts us with any number of good and virtuous options, and then leaves the decision to us. As a mantra classically attributed to St. Augustine puts it, “Love God and do what you will.”
This attitude obviously flies in the face of most of today’s popular literature on vocation, wherein “discerners” are told to look within themselves to see if their desires indicate that God has singled them out to live a religious life. So, in addition to the prideful presumption lurking within that common strategy, this typical modern message about discernment also sows a dangerous confusion about the nature of a religious vocation.
The religious life is a
calling, not an esoteric, separate one. Just as giving an extra hundred dollars to the collection plate is not as good as giving an extra thousand, still both are goods, and there is no immorality in opting out of the heroically generous higher option. That is an ancient doctrine of the faith, but too often today people shy away from it and try to mitigate the revealed truth that a religious vocation is more perfect than any secular life can be. The message of Our Lord and St. Paul in the Scriptures, and that of the Church’s tradition throughout history, is simply this: “Let those who can take religious life take it.”
God tells Jeremiah that he knows well the plans he has made for him, “plans for his welfare and not for his woe.” What he does not say is that Jeremiah will likewise know these plans before they come to fruition. God promises never to abandon the Christian in his pilgrimage towards Heaven, but not that the path ahead will be made clear to him before he walks it. Does this seemingly radical rejection of “personal vocation” mean that God does not care what I do with my life? Of course it does not. It simply means that God does not condemn all ways but one.
The Christian ought to make major life decisions as he ought to make all decisions: by evaluating how he can serve God, by choosing a course of action accordingly, and by having the courage to follow through and do it. As Pope Benedict XVI writes, “If I listen to [God] and walk with Him, I become truly myself. What counts is not the fulfillment of my desires, but of his will. In this way life becomes authentic.” May we each have the courage to live such an authentic life, free from the unnecessary burdens we impose on ourselves by becoming too preoccupied with what one of my friends refers to as “an over-devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment.”
Michael Hannon studies philosophy, religion, and medieval studies at Columbia University.
]]>Peace If Possible; Truth At All Costshttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/09/peace-if-possible-truth-at-all-costs
Tue, 06 Sep 2011 00:01:00 -0400 Peace if possible, truth at all costs! Thus heralded Martin Luther half a millennium ago, and let no man accuse him of failing to practice what he preached. Of course, whether or not a Christian agrees with Luthers particular interpretation of truth will determine whether he is a Catholic or a Protestant. But less obviously and perhaps more interestingly, whether or not a modern American agrees with Luthers principle”that despite the very real goodness of peace, truth trumps it each and every time”will in large part determine whether he is a conservative or a liberal.
Its no secret that these two contemporary political labels are problematic. Unfortunately, conservative and liberal are too often associated with just two distinct sets of seemingly randomly connected positions on the hot-button issues of our day. But perhaps the two contemporary camps identified by these labels of conservative and liberal are not as random as they seem. And perhaps Luther has presented the key for understanding their primary difference.
The question is this: Why does the pro-life camp typically align with the anti-same-sex marriage camp? Why are those in favor of the death penalty so often the most outspoken critics of euthanasia and assisted suicide? The answer cannot simply be partisan loyalty, for a large number of critically reflective persons today would just as soon have no affiliation with any political party.
There indeed is something deeper linking these various positions together:
while the conservative agrees with Luther and recognizes truth as a higher good than peace, the liberal would again and again subordinate truth to peace for the sake of maintaining societal harmony.
Take same-sex marriage as a case in point here. A popular New York City subway ad captures the relevant liberal sensibility quite well: If you dont like gay marriage, dont get gay married. The idea there, of course, is that while everyone may not agree about whether or not a same-sex couple is capable of becoming a married couple, the law should leave that discernment up to the discretion of each individual. As is heard so often today, one should not impose ones own personal morality upon others. The Left thus seeks to preserve peace by letting everyone decide the truth for himself.
On the conservative side, while of course societal peace is always a consideration, the key question is rather one about the truth of the matter. Even the so-called New Natural Lawyers, a morally traditional philosophical camp famous for drawing a fairly rigid distinction between metaphysics and morality, have realized that the primary question in this whole debate is very simply What is marriage? Conservatives thus try to get at the nature of marriage to determine whether or not it even makes sense to talk about a marriage between two persons of the same sex. This is the reason I have been putting same-sex marriage in scare quotes throughout this article: not to purposefully give offense to those who disagree with me, but rather to emphasize that the central issue here is whether or not that phrase even makes sense. If marriage is necessarily oriented to procreation, then no legislative or judicial fiat can make homosexual unions into marriages at all.
We similarly could break down any number of other examples into this type of truth-peace distinction. In the case of abortion, conservatives say that the truth of the unborn childs right to life makes killing him reprehensible, while the liberal tries instead to preserve peace by insisting that every woman ought to be able to decide that for herself. Likewise with euthanasia, and the list goes on and on.
So, who is correct, the conservative or the liberal?
Which is the higher good: truth or peace? To ask that question is to answer it, for of course what the question wants to know is the
of the matter about which is better. But, should the reader remain skeptical, here are two further arguments to persuade the unconvinced.
First, we can know that truth is more important than peace because the only peace worth having in the first place is
peace. Hence Jeremiahs curse on those who cry Peace! Peace! when there is no peace. But truth, on the other hand, is worth having even when it leads to conflict. For example, battling slavery in the United States led to animosity, violence, war, and death. But because of the importance of the cause”namely, upholding the inherent dignity of all human persons”peace could be justifiably sacrificed to defending this truth.
C.S. Lewis in his essay First and Second Things, we can know that truth trumps peace because when we subordinate truth to peace, we lose not only truth but peace as well. The eugenic plots of so many totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century are a prime example of this. The goal there was essentially to stabilize and thus bring peace to society, but because such important personalistic truths were sacrificed at the altar of utopianism, there was less peace and more instability than ever before. In a less bloody but no less real way, the unrest in America today regarding abortion and same-sex marriage, even once both have been deemed legitimate by civil law, also reveals that peace itself is lost when truth takes a backseat to it.
So while the liberals desire for peace is good
, he errs in putting peace first, making toleration the
, and embracing moral relativism for the sake of avoiding conflicts. The conservative on the other hand, following in the longstanding tradition that stretches back to Aristotle and beyond, recognizes that our political order ought to follow from the moral order, which itself flows from our human nature.
Where does this battle between conservatives and liberals finally end? If our opponents emerge victorious, nowhere good. For the logical conclusion of liberalism”which liberalism fights against in the name of peace, but which liberals insofar as they are men must be led towards by the natural reason they try to suppress”is Nihilism, the most terrifying worldview imaginable. Eventually, my truth and your truth are seen for what they really mean: No truth. And a culture without any grasp of truth is a culture without any connection to reality, a culture thus doomed to die. We can still avoid demise, but to do so, we need a hefty dose of metaphysics, a serious consideration of truth to serve as the guiding principle of our civilization.
Michael Hannon studies philosophy, religion, and medieval studies at Columbia University.