That's the question I find myself asking when I read things like this, where I'm told that close to a quarter of a million humans would very readily volunteer to leave their civilization and planet behind, not caring that it was a one-way trip.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Thursday, July 25, 2013
I have to give props to the Vatican...guys know how to stir the pot from time to time. It's well in keeping with the Holy Father's MO of late to focus on things of direct pastoral significance, but which have been hard to talk about in the very heady language of modernity. Sometimes, though, you need to have someone look you squarely in the eye and remind you that, no, what we call the Devil is not a bogeyman, and he does not like you very much.
The Devil is not the topic for discussion at the moment, of course, but he touches the conversation, because the primary subject is about sin and the forgiveness of it.
This is, I should point out, not one of those topics I have felt a strong need to toss around because for me, these are not terribly complex questions. They've permeated my formation to the point where I hardly think of them any more. I'm almost tempted to repost this section of the Catechism and leave it at that. But that wouldn't be fun, so we're going to do this the long way. First, a little bit about confession (because you really can't make sense of indulgences without it) and then the indulgences themselves. (For the Romans in the audience, you've probably figured out by now that this is being written as a defense to somebody coming at the question from a Protestant perspective.)
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Let me get this out of the way first: I haven't read the majority opinion in the case, and I don't intend to. That's mainly because the only way this decision could have been arrived at results in what I would call "the right decision for the wrong reason." I've never had a deep emotional investment in what homosexual couples call their relationships. You could be "significant others," "spouses," or you could just call it "juggling" if you want. My quality of life will remain substantially intact. I happen to think that it's nonsensical for a government to extend civil marriage benefits to these couples, for the cold and calculated reason that it is not in the state's interest, and it diverts a tool from its intended role. Let's not forget that the state is concerned primarily with the continuation of the state, and as members die, there are only a couple of ways to replace them. Since we're not gestated in Kryptonian baby-bubbles, we either have to import new citizens, or make them in-house. From a state perspective, birth is preferable because it has the higher probability of maintaining the character of the society, whereas runaway immigration results in a gradual loss of the original social mores over time. Since it's in the state's interest to see more citizens born, there is a logical need to encourage and support procreative couples - people who, as a class and category, have fertility as a defining characteristic. It doesn't matter if some couples can't have children, because they are outliers, and we want an institution that will positively impact overall fertility and the rearing of the resultant offspring in stable units. Homosexual couples (along with, incidentally, any other categorical pairing of humans for whom there is a significant impediment to fertility) do not fit into this mold, ergo, it ought not be in the state's interest to confer benefits. Clearly that is no longer the prevailing opinion in our judicial aristocracy. I don't know whether the state is now in the business of high-fiving people "in love," or what the rationale is. I know without having to look at it that the outcome is wrong, and therefore the reasoning is wrong, too.
I'm happy about the outcome for one reason, though. It keeps civil marriage law squarely with the states, and kills what I always saw as a silly manifestation of Federal overreach.
But enough of that. DOMA's been struck down, or at least the critical portion has been. So now what?
Well, hopefully there will be a little bit of soul searching on the religious side, and a couple of things will come out. First, if the only thing you're on the bandwagon for is keeping the gays out of your marital bliss tree house, then you should probably ask yourself exactly what damage two dudes exchanging vows will do to the (remember, civil) institution that, say, divorce has not done over the last 40 or 50 years. Sorry, folks, but if you're seriously concerned about "protecting" marriage, then you gone done missed the boat in a big way. I think there's very little homosexual couples can do by way of damage to marriage that hetero couples haven't already done. So now more people can get divorced. Whoo-pee.
Secondly, I'm hoping this will remind people of something fairly critical and often-missed: that this whole debate is around a legal structure and not a sacrament. I've had this argument before with my longtime reader, but civil marriage is just not in the same ballpark as the sacramental variety, if it's even the same sport. This is an opportunity for all the churches, but Catholics in particular, to draw a much starker line between the two. There are some who suggest that we should drop the word "marriage" entirely. That would be a start. I would take it a step further and say that we should get out of the business of being a state proxy in this department altogether. We'll do what we do, confecting sacraments and dispensing graces, but if you want a marriage license, go see a justice of the peace.
That's the way I'd approach it, at any rate. I'm not an optimist, though, so I expect that the activists are going to continue to do whatever they do. There's too much money - er, too many souls, that is, at stake, for them to just take there marbles and go home. As for me, I'm going to go to work and then go home, much like I do every weekday. But maybe just a little bit gayer than before.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
But...a vocabulary, like any tool, can easily enough be turned into a weapon. It can be abused. Words can obscure, they can deceive, they can make labyrinthine the paths that they should render straight. Which is a long-winded way of saying that words, like everything else in the human experience, have a taint of darkness to them.
That's why there are certain settings in which it's imperative to be as simple and direct as possible. You don't want to create a zone of ambiguity when you're describing the physical tolerances of an aircraft. Neither do you want a blurry region around the method of producing an important pharmaceutical. These are important matters...what I believe the experts call "serious shit."
What's interesting to me is that those of us for whom material considerations, while important, are not at the top of the proverbial heap, don't seem to be quite as rigorous with our own brand of important considerations. Yes, yes, theologians - the good ones, at any rate - are very rigorous and precise when it comes to their language. But they're also not all that accessible, because their language, while precise, tends to be a little technical at best. At worst...well let's just say there's a reason I don't voluntarily read Heidegger and leave it at that.
Which is why I'm glad we have someone in the head expositor-of-theology position who can use small words and distill this stuff down. Don't get me wrong, the last couple of occupants were great, but if you were to compare the language of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis the Roman-Numeral-less, there's a pretty stark contrast in terms of accessibility.
Let's start with Exhibit A, from the soon-to-be-saint Pontiff of my childhood:
If we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to St. Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being. With the phenomenological method, for example, we can study experiences of morality, religion, or simply what it is to be human, and draw from the a significant enrichment of our knowledge. Yet we must not forget that all these analyses implicitly presuppose the reality of the Absolute Being and also the reality of being human, that is, being a creature. If we do not set out from such "realist" presuppositions, we end up in a vacuum.Yuh-huh. You lost me at "phenomenological method." Mainly because I haven't had to worry about the phenomenological method for almost ten years now, and they've been a good ten years on balance. Call me old-fashioned, but when I was a kid, we didn't need phenomenology to figure out how to live.
Now I am just a little bit German, so I was happy when one of my own took over steering the ship. But he's a bit of an academic, too, and so there's a level of abstraction in his writing which is not fully satisfying:
Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.That's great and all, but it doesn't really...connect all that well. And who the heck uses "compenetrate" in a normal conversation, anyway?
Now, contrast that with Pope Francis:
We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Leon Bloy comes to mind: "Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil." When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.There are three things that strike me about this guy: 1) nobody should have any difficulty with the language, it is very clear-cut; 2) he speaks in the communal sense of how not just an impersonal "one" ought to act, but how "we" ought to act; and 3) he really pulls no punches about actions, consequences, and how they all tie together in the way we live our lives. In short, he is a teacher. Not the abstract sort of teacher you run into in a classroom, but the very earthy, hands-on teacher that you hopefully encounter in the pulpit and in the confessional.
If not, you have this guy now. And that ain't nothing.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
I haven't really had occasion to talk about my view of Pope Francis. That's mainly because I've known him for, what, a few weeks now? I don't want to be hasty. But then this caught my eye:
The above-linked article is fascinating in that it serves as a poster work for what I have always defined as "orthodoxy". In a world where polarity defines one's position in politics, society, and, yes, even religion, it's nice to be reminded that there are people who simply refuse to use the world's yardstick at all.
"Orthodox" is not a synonym for moderate. They may live in the same neighborhood, and their kids may hang out in the cafeteria, but they are fundamentally different positions.
A moderate takes in all sides, examines every angle, before making a decision. Moderation can be a virtue when coupled with humility, allowing one to recognize that he probably doesn't have all the answers. But it carries with it a sense of lacking conviction if adhered to in every case.
Orthodoxy is, above all, convicted. It knows the fundamental framework under which moderation's inquiry ought to proceed - and, indeed, when it is warranted that an inquiry begin in the first place. It shares moderation's affinity for humility; prideful orthodoxy is about as helpful as a car made of ice in Arizona on the 4th of July. Humble orthodoxy says, "This is the answer. It doesn't come from me, but I have received it and am commanded to share it. You may accept it or not as you will, but it is the truth."
The thing I like about the orthodox label is the total lack of obligation to anything but the truth. I don't have to love a thing just because it's old, nor do I have to despise it. I can look at it squarely and say, "You are a timeless treasure, an ingot of beautiful Truth handed down over the generations"; or conversely, "You come to us from men, and at the time of your begetting you served a purpose and served it well; but today you have outlived your value and remain only vestigial. Let us recognize you for your accomplishments, but burden you no more from use."
It's a liberating place to live. And it feels like the new Holy Father will be brutally orthodox. I'm excited.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
At least, that's how I thought about it initially.
The real tension, though - at least for me - is between the individual, Christological approach to society and culture, versus what I've long seen as a consistent cycle in history. It's not my insight, this cycle, but it's pretty well documented. Civilizations rise, blossom, grow corpulent and self-destructive, and then fall. The story picks up again, somewhere else, but always it seems that for the greater good of mankind, civilizations will collapse before they can do lasting damage. "Providence," some would call it. The nature of the movement of history, others might say. And, what I find particularly interesting, is that there is no moral conflict that I can find, obvious or otherwise, between our mandate to desire the redemption of mankind and the recognition that by some agency of Providence, history comes with its very own fail-safe against destructive human behavior. Or, I should say is that there shouldn't be.
In the case of TDK, the moral problematics arise from the fact that this historical force is personalized - not just made of men, but men who are actively pursuing what they see as their task. There's a massive difference in the quality of judgment rendered by Providence and the judgment rendered by Ra's al-Ghul. This is okay for fiction, because we know that in real life there's no Ra's or Bane trying to reset civilization; there's not even an agent of chaos like the Joker trying to make things interesting by giving us a "better class of criminal" who just want to see the world burn.
I suppose at the end of the day what I feel conflicted about is about rooting for this inevitable - from my view - Providential correction. I would like to see society's disease cured, but the practical side of me says that a collapse is far more likely and far more feasible, so why not root for that. And if there were a real-world Bane figure who could show up on the scene and hurry things along, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
What is a bit odd to me is that I should feel such a strong affinity for characters who by every regular measure are villains. Ra's tries to cause a city he sees as a symbol of social degradation to destroy itself. The Joker...well, the Joker is like one of my old favorites, Tyler Durden - shaking things up is sort of his reason for being. Bane, in a way, fuses his two predecessors, incorporating an affinity for chaos with wiping corruption clean. There is a common thread that runs through each of these characters which is eerily similar to Batman's motivation: the burning desire to wipe out what's seen as wrong, as false, as evil. It's as if there's a moral in the story that good and bad, outside the structural controls of the law, are perhaps more tenuous concepts than we might be comfortable with. Both are less restrained, more violent, whether it's Batman or Bane. The truly disturbing thing to me about it as I look at the two sides in my own mind is that I'm not sure that they are two different sides, and I'm not sure whether Gotham is worth saving.
And given that Gotham is a metaphor for all of us, that bothers me more than a little bit, indeed.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
"This" being more verbosely described as "writing without injecting excessive bite into the equation." Seriously, this is not easy. I had the perfect thing lined up to write about today, too. I ran across a fairly nutty situation in Missouri that, when I read about it, just screamed to me that, yes, the experiment of representative government has failed and we may as well pack it in and go home and...you get the idea. I've managed to burn through a week's worth of days writing and rewriting things and ultimately giving up because the result was just a bunch of acerbic noise. I need to find a way of doing this that doesn't drag me into that endearing scorched earth approach to marking my territory by trying to set my neighbors on fire.
I'm having the discomfiting realization that writing, and in a fashion that is more than just wrath wrapped in wit, will be a trifle more difficult to achieve than I thought it would be. Oh, well. Tomorrow will be better.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
I've been away, stuck in my head for too long. It's not like I've been doing nothing...I've been doing a lot of reading, but I'm starting to think it's possible to do too much reading. Or, at any rate, doing a lot of reading, unaccompanied by verbalized thought, is proving to be un-salutatory to my frame of mind. So this Lent, I have decided that among my myriad feats of asceticism, I will also be forcing myself back into the habit of actually talking about the ideas in my head. Every day, I must take a total of 30 minutes to an hour to write. The rest of the day I can ruminate however much I want, but for that half- to full-hour I have to actually bang something out.
Don't worry, you aren't going to suffer through a post every single day. But I am damn well going to post. I have that thread of a manifesto I can pick up. I'll probably come up with something else on the side. Maybe somebody will pick a fight with me. That would be fun. We'll see.
Happy Ash Wednesday. Let's see how much fun we can make this Lenten season.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
By current standards, Lincoln and Douglas broke every rule of political discourse. They subjected their audiences (which were as large as fifteen thousand on one occasion) to a painstaking analysis of complex issues. They spoke with considerably more candor, in a pungent, colloquial, sometimes racy style, than politicians think prudent today. They took clear positions from which it was difficult to retreat. They conducted themselves s if political leadership carried with it an obligation to clarify issues instead of merely getting elected.My bar is, clearly, set way to high. I'm just not interested in watching grown men debase themselves in a naked pursuit of raw power. Because don't fool yourself, that's what the debates are about. What other than that most strident drive and motivation could induce men with such egos (and, one presumes, self respect) to engage in the ridiculous exercise of distilling legitimately complex issues into 30-second soundbites, and obfuscating their positions on simple points with a cloak of over-complexity? And let's not forget that these paltry excuses for circuses are brought to us by the very same people who own the primary platform of information distribution in the first place, and who therefore consider it their right to frame the debate on any given issue with whatever verbiage seems most meet to them.
No, thanks. You want an interesting debate? Give me three hours, unilateral control over questions, and a pair of electrode hookups that have the ability to channel ten million volts of electricity into whoever surpasses their BS allotment first, and I'll show you an interesting debate.
|...And that's why they call it "live"...|