Monthly Archives: June 2015

Rebuild My Church

Amen, Peter. You do realize, of course, that almost no one presently alive has ever lived in a society in which marriage is anything other than an optional (and when consummated, temporary) matter of convenience that exists for the purpose of providing tax breaks, family health insurance policies, and rules of descent? Teaching them that the particular piece of reality we call “marriage” is impervious to their efforts to redefine it requires that they first abandon the way they comprehend the world. And they really, really like how they comprehend the world. They like it so much they would sooner reduce society to rubble than desist. If you have any thoughts on how to undertake this Herculean task, with some hope it isn’t Sisyphean, I’ll look forward to them.

(source: Back to Life, Back to Reality | Hang Together)

I know of nothing I can do, here, but pray, study, teach, and advocate–I know of nothing else that would work.  When I have a chance to influence policy questions, I choose the one which best approximates what I advocate:  in results and expression, if possible; in results alone, if the expression isn’t counterproductive; in expression alone, if I can’t get results; that system leaks in the middle, but is better than advocating merely symbolic voting, quietism, or an indefinitely-removed-from-any-real-ends pragmatism.

And I plan to spend my life trying to ensure that as many as possible are hedged, sandbagged, and provisioned to last out the winter of our culture’s failure.  All the while softly hoping that I’ll be proved wrong, that there were hundreds of prophets in the next cave over, that Hercules was ready with a shim to wedge the boulder at the top.  Softly hoping, not smirking with futile optimism.

Forgive me for being too much of a poet, but I can live with relative despair to avoid absolute despair.  Faced with despair, our alienated moderns still reflexively reach for something that simulates reality, even if they have to wrap it in subjectivist gobbledygook:

Yet there remains a persistent counterimpulse, an irresistible tug toward stasis and toward those truths that, in Melville’s words, will not be comforted. At the antipode of American exuberance and optimism there is the poet’s small, still, private voice, the voice of individual conscience; the voice, for instance, of Dickinson, who, like Rainer Maria Rilke and Gerard Manley Hopkins, mined the ideal vocabulary for investigating those shifting, penumbral states of consciousness that do, in the long run, constitute our lives. Whatever our public identities may be, whatever our official titles, our heralded or derided achievements and the statistics that accrue to us like cobwebs, this is the voice we trust. For, if despair’s temptations can be resisted, surely we become more human and compassionate, more like one another in our common predicament.

There is a pain — so utter —
It swallows substance up —
Then covers the Abyss with Trance —
So Memory can step Around — across — upon it —
As one within a Swoon —
Goes safely — where an open eye —
Would drop Him — Bone by Bone. [Emily Dickinson]

(source: The Deadly Sins/Despair – The One Unforgivable Sin –

Or, as someone alienated from faith still earlier than Joyce Carol Oates penned in persona Sancti Pauli:

As long as there are glasses that are dark—
And there are many—we see darkly through them;
All which have I conceded and set down
In words that have no shadow. What is dark
Is dark, and we may not say otherwise;
Yet what may be as dark as a lost fire
For one of us, may still be for another
A coming gleam across the gulf of ages,
And a way home from shipwreck to the shore;
And so, through pangs and ills and desperations,
There may be light for all. There shall be light.
As much as that, you know. You cannot say
This woman or that man will be the next
On whom it falls; you are not here for that.
Your ministration is to be for others
The firing of a rush that may for them
Be soon the fire itself. The few at first
Are fighting for the multitude at last;
Therefore remember what Gamaliel said
Before you, when the sick were lying down
In streets all night for Peter’s passing shadow.
Fight, and say what you feel; say more than words.
Give men to know that even their days of earth
To come are more than ages that are gone.
Say what you feel, while you have time to say it.

(source: Three taverns : a book of poems / by Edwin Arlington Robinson [electronic text])

What would I do, but educate and advocate, and build and share with my neighbors?  What else is there to be done, when “trust in princes” and faith in the tenuous consensus of the Founding has been so thoroughly given the Pharoah’s-plague treatment by an entirely natural, yet wholly unnatural, swarm of locusts over the past many, many years (go back at least to Reconstruction)?

I know Greg will writhe at fear some of my friends will find this vocabulary too intense, but I can think of no honest alternative.

And if the result is rubble, well, then I will build with rubble.  It has been done before.

But this is why I speak of the self-destruction of classical liberalism by its anti-realist fecklessness in the face of those who have learned how to rig the language-game in their favor as the entrance of a new Dark Age.  Because whether it is comfortable and materially prosperous for a while, or whether our spiritual indigence is manifested rapidly, the dominant modes of thought and living in our culture promise darkness and poverty, narrowing and alienation, on a scale properly called cataclysmic.  (should it actually be Apocalyptic, well, Laudate Deo!)

Reality does have a way of asserting itself.

Back to Life, Back to Reality

I’m going to mention this post again, because in light of a stray (and on its own terms quite sensible) remark in an interview with Chicago’s new Archbishop Cupich and other comments I’ve seen, it seems relevant.

There are several word/thing relationships that we really MUST distinguish (not sever, sunder, separate, or believe to be exclusive–but observe that the terms do not refer to precisely the same thing in precisely the same way). Let me just enumerate as briefly as I can manage:

  1. marriage per se, or “natural marriage”
  2. marriage of the baptized, or “sacramental marriage”
  3. civil recognition of marriage
  4. ecclesial recognition of marriage

Each of these deals with either a state of affairs (1 & 2, a describable, observable, intelligible, verifiable condition) or an official notice that such a state of affairs exists, needed in order to adjudicate its consequents (3 & 4, instruments whose meaning is wholly contingent on acknowledgement of a state of affairs).

In dealing with these, we potentially encounter a whole realm of “other” terms, as well, terms which describe states of notification or transition or discovery with regard to #1-4: attempted marriage, putative marriage, nullity, “annulment,” marriage license, divorce, “remarriage,” etc.

What happens to people deeply confused by the radical nominalism that undergirds our entire system of Constitutional laws and classical liberal presuppositions about politics–that is, my fellow children of the Enlightenment (made children of dubious legitimacy by the discovery that we are also Heirs of God in Christ Jesus)–is that we confuse arguing about how to settle arguments about words about things with the actual constitution of things. We barely even notice that we have quit believing we can know things, know them good and well, without our knowing being subject to renegotiation by clever wordsmiths.

I spent over a decade of my life working hard to be a card-carrying post-structuralist literary critic/theorist while also arguing that «il n’y a pas de hors-texte» opened modernity to Biblicist interpretation of divine revelation. I do know well how profoundly we are ensorcelled by our own spelling of words, friends.

But it is quite impossible that any real state of affairs–in a community, in a family, in a nation-state, in a communion–should meaningfully persist across generations merely by continuous renegotiation of words.

We must–it is utterly essential that we do this–return to an understanding in which our language (including our legal language, and especially including our “science” of humanity, which has been so badly vitiated by the separation of the reality from the data) is subordinate to reality, serves our understanding of reality, and therefore can only carry authority to the extent that its claims are demonstrably about reality.

In such an understanding of reality, a cleverly construed counterexample to one register of a word’s meaning would not justify erasure of that word’s connection to the reality which is always, intrinsically, greater than the word. Where such an understanding of reality is institutionalized, nihilism is not permitted to win; it is prevented, with authority backed by power, from doing so. Only such an understanding preserves human life and provides for the flourishing of those who, body and breath, have “become a living soul” and may, by becoming “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” cause others to do the same.

And so, I apologize to those whose critiques of post-structuralist hermeneutics I scoffed at when I, like some who read me now, mistakenly believed that I could see the trajectory better than they. Their vantage was superior, and what I have said above is deeply dependent on the words of others.

But it really does come to this: a state of affairs exists; that state of affairs has consequences; those consequences implicate civil society and ecclesial communion; and the only just way to acknowledge that state of affairs and adjudicate those consequences is one which preserves the essential distinctions between one sort of thing–a marriage, that is, a potentially fecund, indissoluble, voluntary bond between a man and a woman–and whatever other sorts of things you might like to arrange.

It is this distinction, and not any larger “religious” versus “secular” distinction, which is really at issue, here. It is not a question of whose will is to be imposed, though our incoherent politics makes it so, but of what really *is* and whether we plan to compel each other to lie about it.

And it is the situation of this question at present as “you must all lie, or you will be treated as beyond-the-pale, as those who have no claim on justice while you persist in these views” to which the faithful have no choice but to vigorously and vehemently object, and which we are obligated to use all just means to resist, reverse, undermine, and nullify.

Or, as I said in the linked post:   Continue reading »

Sentimentality and Tact Are Different

This recently came across my path, one of many “don’t advocate for truth if it might hurt someone’s feelings” posts from one of the less credible pop-Christian voices of the past century:

(source: Someone on Facebook)

My comment:

neo-Gnostic nonsense, cleverly mediated by supplemental adverbs.

If you cannot clearly teach and advocate, in private and in public, while also loving those you encounter and building and sharing with whoever will let you, then you should probably avoid emoting in public, too.

There are plenty of people who will tell you how warm and sticky a Nerf Jesus who does not discredit your delusions can be–from Madeleine L’Engle to Shelby Spong to Joel Osteen and back again–and Jesus would not have met their high standards for fecklessness. He made a difference; He made people angry; He loved them to death; He died for His love; He wept when they chose hatred and damnation instead.

Do not try to make of that terrible Love a soppy plaything for popular sentimentality. Do not dare to do that.

(source: Catholic Memes on Facebook)

Silence, Tact, and Sincerity

A wonderful friend with a wonderful family brought up the subject of coworkers who are celebrating the recent Supreme Folly, and doing so in a way that seems to call for a response.  As is my wont, I monologued, thus:

So, silent is better than just being obnoxious, right? So that’s a place to start. I really admit that it’s awkward–during the academic year, I’m around friendly colleagues all the time whose views are radically opposed to my own, or just radically different.

Obviously it wouldn’t be possible to sincerely congratulate them or join in their celebration–and it’s not decent of them to expect you to, or to celebrate in front of you (in fact, if it causes a lot of pressure for you, it may well constitute a “hostile work environment,” but that’s a whole different question). Sometimes, though, I do just let a flat observation–“Yeah, I can see that you’re happy”–stand in the place of an agreement or disagreement, when there’s no way to make that understood.

I try not to get into conversations where there is little chance of being understood, double if there is great chance of offending, triple if there are high stakes like people getting upset enough to ruin the work environment.

Much comes down to how we approach our workaday lives in the first place, right? Continue reading »

WordPress and the art of ‘In Your Face’

Ed Peters writes about something I had also noticed with sharp distate: WordPress and the art of 'In Your Face'.

Today, though, when I went to post my blog on the Supreme Court case, there was suddenly blazoned across the editing screen a marquis style Gay Pride Rainbow flag. Atop my usual shades of grey, the multiple colors veritably screamed ‘Gay Marriage! Gay Marriage! Gay Marriage!’. Unless WordPress got hacked or something, it looks like they (with all the lately-found bravery of one who jumps on a bandwagon after someone else has won a fight) wants folks to celebrate this Supreme Court decision. Mind, WordPress has never, in my three or so years of using it, marked its tool pages with any political logos or symbols of any kind. But today there is an in-your-face gloat over the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell.

The Delegitimation of the Supreme Court

The Court might, of course, from time to time, get some other cases correct, but it clearly cannot be relied upon as a repository of judicial, or even logical, good sense in tumultuous times. The loss is a grievous one for the American body politic.

(source: Two thoughts re the Supreme Court decision on ‘same-sex marriage’ | In the Light of the Law)

This is what a political institution’s loss of legitimacy looks like.  It is this, and not any reforming friction between branches, that is truly a “constitutional crisis” in this country–a slow-burning crisis, but a crisis nonetheless.

Swap inscriptions, and the cartoon works:

Self-Destructive Folly

See the Obergefell v. Hodges opinion here:

The first premise of this Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.

That is why you fail.

Autonomous individuals don’t get married. They don’t even exist. And, at any rate, any autonomous individuals that might exist are ipso facto dysfunctional in civil society. We all depend, and we all either conform to certain reality-based norms, or we damage ourselves and others in our folly.

This nation takes folly for law, and treats law as folly.

Now, at its highest level.

Lord, have mercy.

On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and made an oration to them. And the people shouted, “The voice of a god, and not of man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died.

But the word of God grew and multiplied.

(source: Acts 12:21-24 RSVCE)

Lord, have mercy.

A Balancing Act

Reading the latest encyclical with an eye to actual, concrete steps is like walking a tightrope. As is so often the case when moral concern attempts to see right through a complex of problems on a global scale, the need to simplify must constantly be held back from a false reliance on easy, chunky, top-down “solutions”:

A delicate balance has to be maintained when speaking about these places, for we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations. In fact, there are “proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations”.[24] We cannot fail to praise the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.

(source: Laudato si’ (24 May 2015))

Answers to a Survey on the Family–part 9

In early 2015, our Archdiocese like many others was offered a 47-question open-ended survey in order to gather information about what people throughout the world understand about the Church’s teaching, her pastoral practice, current conditions, and the reality of marriage and family life.  The survey was probably a poor translation, and the questions were ill-structured, so I ended up writing about 15,500 words in the one week window for completing it.  I have chosen to share a few of these, here, as well, for your comments.  I will quote the question, and what follows is my answer.  I have edited the answers slightly for brevity, politeness, and clarity.

18. What initiatives can lead people to understand the value of an indissoluble and fruitful marriage as the path to complete personal fulfilment? (cf. n. 21)

Well, someone seeking “personal fulfillment” is likely to be disappointed, as “personal fulfillment” is not possible on the terms our culture offers. Instead, one will be compelled to pursue distractions and delusions to the point of exhaustion, for satiety is impossible in such circumstances.

Nevertheless, for the one who hears the call to participate in the lives of others, most highly in the life of God by being made part of the Body of Christ, and therefore part of the lives of all the faithful in all times and places, whose joys and sufferings are essential to the good of all souls and the fulfillment of all Creation, there can be “personal fulfillment” in the form of surrender to the Creator, the Christ, His Cross, and His Church. The Sacrament of Matrimony is the way in which Christ especially calls into that life many of those not called out of this world (to holy virginity) or not configured to His foot-washing Headship within the Body (in the Sacrament of Order). Until we are satiated with Christ, so that we hunger for Him more than necessary food, we are condemned to restlessness (acedia) and avidity (concupiscentia).

Almost every religious and philosophical viewpoint except that of perpetual adolescence in a consumerist culture, that is, every mature viewpoint not obliterated by the “youth culture,” recognizes that this restlessness and avidity are the diseases common to all; that physical poverty is only the most recognizeable mask of spiritual poverty, and its least dangerous one. By boldly proclaiming that the Sacrament of Matrimony, as the ministry of the faithful husband and wife to the Church, embodied most plainly in their children, is a calling unlike any simulacrum available, and that even “natural marriage” is more truly fulfilled in the love of Christ that calls forth a response from His Bride, the Church engages in a verbal and practical catechesis, an “echoing” that has the richness God’s Word alone can give it, and is therefore immeasurably superior to any public-relations strategy or quasi-pastoral dilution.

We, married people in the Church, carry this burden—a difficult weight, an obligation, and a message—for the world, and we long for the whole Church to boldly say, “We are with you!” so that we can then say to those who struggle around us, “We, our families, our friends, we are all with you.” We cannot do it alone, or unsupported; we cannot stay strong for the whole Church while the Church weakens us by her lack of support, her uncertain words on vital matters of the Word.

Chesterton and Francis, without further comment

11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.[19] His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.[20] Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

(source: Laudato si’ (24 May 2015))

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves—the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

(source: Orthodoxy – Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

St. Francis walked the world like the Pardon of God. I mean that his appearance marked the moment when men could be reconciled not only to God but to nature and, most difficult of all, to themselves. For it marked the moment when all the stale paganism that had poisoned the ancient world was at last worked out of the social system. He opened the gates of the Dark Ages as of a prison of purgatory, where men had cleansed themselves as hermits in the desert or heroes in the barbarian wars. It was in fact his whole function to tell men to start afresh and, in that sense, to tell them to forget. If they were to turn over a new leaf and begin a fresh page with the first large letters of the alphabet, simply drawn and brilliantly coloured in the early mediaeval manner, it was clearly a part of that particular childlike cheerfulness that they should paste down the old page that was all black and bloody with horrid things. For instance, I have already noted that there is not a trace in the poetry of this first Italian poet of all that pagan mythology which lingered long after paganism. The first Italian poet seems the only man in the world who has never even heard of Virgil. This was exactly right for the special sense in which he is the first Italian poet. It is quite right that he should call a nightingale a nightingale, and not have its song spoilt or saddened by the terrible tales of Itylus or Procne. In short, it is really quite right and quite desirable that St. Francis should never have heard of Virgil. But do we really desire that Dante should never have heard of Virgil? Do we really desire that Dante should never have read any pagan mythology? It has been truly said that the use that Dante makes of such fables is altogether part of a deeper orthodoxy; that his huge heathen fragments, his gigantic figures of Minos or of Charon, only give a hint of some enormous natural religion behind all history and from the first foreshadowing the Faith. It is well to have the Sybil as well as David in the Dies Irae. That St. Francis would have burned all the leaves of all the books of the Sybil, in exchange for one fresh leaf from the nearest tree, is perfectly true; and perfectly proper to St. Francis. But it is good to have the Dies Irae as well as the Canticle of the Sun.


But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

I have first to say, therefore, that if I have had a bias, it was always a bias in favour of democracy, and therefore of tradition. Before we come to any theoretic or logical beginnings I am content to allow for that personal equation; I have always been more inclined to believe the ruck of hard-working people than to believe that special and troublesome literary class to which I belong. I prefer even the fancies and prejudices of the people who see life from the inside to the clearest demonstrations of the people who see life from the outside. I would always trust the old wives’ fables against the old maids’ facts. As long as wit is mother wit it can be as wild as it pleases.

(source: Orthodoxy – Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

By this thesis, in short, the coming of St. Francis was like the birth of a child in a dark house, lifting its doom; a child that grows up unconscious of the tragedy and triumphs over it by his innocence. In him it is necessarily not only innocence but ignorance. It is the essence of the story that he should pluck at the green grass without knowing it grows over a murdered man or climb the apple-tree without knowing it was the gibbet of a suicide. It was such an amnesty and reconciliation that the freshness of the Franciscan spirit brought to all the world. But it does not follow that it ought to impose its ignorance on all the world. And I think it would have tried to impose it on all the world. For some Franciscans it would have seemed right that Franciscan poetry should expel Benedictine prose. For the symbolic child it was quite rational. It was right enough that for such a child the world should be a large new nursery with blank white-washed walls, on which he could draw his own pictures in chalk in the childish fashion, crude in outline and gay in colour; the beginnings of all our art. It was right enough that to him such a nursery should seem the most magnificent mansion of the imagination of man. But in the Church of God are many mansions.

Every heresy has been an effort to narrow the Church. If the Franciscan movement had turned into a new religion, it would after all have been a narrow religion. In so far as it did turn here and there into a heresy, it was a narrow heresy. It did what heresy always does; it set the mood against the mind. The mood was indeed originally the good and glorious mood of the great St. Francis, but it was not the whole mind of God or even of man. And it is a fact that the mood itself degenerated, as the mood turned into a monomania.



15. It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the present situation, so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes. This will help to provide an approach to ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings. In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy. Finally, convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.

(source: Laudato si’ (24 May 2015))

Hope and Progress are not Synonyms

Again, we find ourselves facing the question: what may we hope? A self-critique of modernity is needed in dialogue with Christianity and its concept of hope. In this dialogue Christians too, in the context of their knowledge and experience, must learn anew in what their hope truly consists, what they have to offer to the world and what they cannot offer. Flowing into this self-critique of the modern age there also has to be a self-critique of modern Christianity, which must constantly renew its self-understanding setting out from its roots. On this subject, all we can attempt here are a few brief observations. First we must ask ourselves: what does “progress” really mean; what does it promise and what does it not promise? In the nineteenth century, faith in progress was already subject to critique. In the twentieth century, Theodor W. Adorno formulated the problem of faith in progress quite drastically: he said that progress, seen accurately, is progress from the sling to the atom bomb. Now this is certainly an aspect of progress that must not be concealed. To put it another way: the ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.

(source: Spe salvi (November 30, 2007))

The Banality of Nihilism

Surveys of self-reported religious identification continue to yield interesting, if not always encouraging, results.  This one has a straight-up Baylor connection:

Forty-four percent of the respondents to a 2011 Baylor University study reported spending no time whatsoever seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19 percent replied that “it’s useless to search for purpose.” In the same year, Lifeway, an evangelical research agency, found that 46 percent of those it surveyed never wondered whether or not they will go to heaven, and 28 percent reported that finding a deeper purpose in life wasn’t a priority for them.

This variety of “none” is more confounding and dismaying. It’s one thing to respond to atheists who think you have the wrong answers or seekers who think you might have part of a bigger answer, but what of those who think you are answering questions that don’t even need to be asked? Higher purpose? Eternal joy? Meh.

(source: From “Meh” to “Amen” | Molly Oshatz | First Things)

Perhaps I can use this research to point out a truth which, though it cuts both ways, still cuts true:

One way this cuts is that there is nothing absolutely new in this situation.  Our moment in history is unique and nonrepeatable, but so are all the others, and it shares with many of those others almost all the essential features of this situation.  “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be.”

But the other thing to notice here is that it is essentially this finity of mortal possibilities which leads us to anticipate an illimitable God’s action to radically and finally alter the situation; Continue reading »

There are Nerds, and then there are Bigots

nerd (n.)

1951, U.S. student slang, probably an alteration of 1940s slang nert “stupid or crazy person,” itself an alteration of nut. The word turns up in a Dr. Seuss book from 1950 (“If I Ran the Zoo”), which may have contributed to its rise.

(source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

So it has long been accepted that, whether under the heading “nerd” meaning someone so absorbed in the esoteric that commonplace life makes little sense–the sort of person dozens of wonderful and slightly creepy movies have been made about–or under even less complimentary terms like “geek” or even “dork,” we find many people who (quite like me) are both serious about what we do, serious about good relationships, eager to be of service, and prone to be socially awkward.  

Many nerds have been bullied by the same thoughtlessly cruel sorts we now try to educate for a living, and often we cherish those few relationships that have proved healing as transcendent experiences, categorically unlike the many social collisions that turned out to be hurtful.  And lots of us are good at what we do, care about our friends and colleagues and students, and still say or do awkward things that can cause confusion.  

I’m not talking about actual, correctible errors in understanding–and I’m not talking about deep-seated, systematically pursued hostility against particular people or groups.  Confirmed bigotry merits no hearing, as far as I’m concerned.  But I’m not talking about bigots, yet.

I’m talking about nerds.  

About the social stratum that dominates the faculty lounge (and not the admissions office), a social stratum for whom some few relationships mean the difference between becoming the inventor of Flubber and becoming Quasimodo:

For some time, now, our society has been receptive to marginal people, has even exalted nerds.

No more, it seems.  The mob will not have it–vox turbae, vox Dei.  Now, it’s taps if a 72-year-old nerd commits a serious faux pas, of the sort plenty of my friends (including the feminist ones, and including the ordained ones) have made at one time or another–the kind that grow more likely the farther out of one’s familiar precincts one is lured.  The torch-and-pitchfork crowds await, and one gets no reasonable opportunity to make amends or seek redress for injustices:

“I stood up and went mad,” he admits. “I was very nervous and a bit confused but, yes, I made those remarks – which were inexcusable – but I made them in a totally jocular, ironic way. There was some polite applause and that was it, I thought. I thought everything was OK. No one accused me of being a sexist pig.”

Collins clutches her head as Hunt talks. “It was an unbelievably stupid thing to say,” she says. “You can see why it could be taken as offensive if you didn’t know Tim. But really it was just part of his upbringing. He went to a single-sex school in the 1960s. Nevertheless he is not sexist. I am a feminist, and I would not have put up with him if he were sexist.”

Hunt may have meant to be humorous, but his words were not taken as a joke by his audience. One or two began tweeting what he had said and within a few hours he had become the focus of a particularly vicious social media campaign. He was described on Twitter as “a clueless, sexist jerk”; “a misogynist dude scientist”; while one tweet demanded that the Royal Society “kick him out”.

(source: Tim Hunt: ‘I’ve been hung out to dry. They haven’t even bothered to ask for my side of affairs’ | Science | The Guardian)

Be prudent.  Keep your feet firmly planted in reality.  The bigots are on the march.

Defenestrating Institutionalized Evil, One Clever Devil at a Time

Using a living child’s image to sell tests that will help you kill such children before they can be born?  No, actually, it happens.  Welcome to the slouching-towards-Mengele phase of our slide into smiley-faced fascism.  But don’t lose heart; rather, keep your eyes on reality, your feet firmly planted on the ground of authentic human relationships, and speak truth boldly against the lies.  Like “this Mama Bear” does:  

Until I realized, I did nothing wrong. They broke the law. This heartless company that used my daughter’s photo without our consent, or that of our photographer. Legally a copyright infringement, but also breaking what is referred to in copyright law as “moral law” since her image was used in a derogatory fashion. They insulted and abused my innocent child in their pursuit of profit. They broke faith with common human decency. And the world is watching.

What’s worse (for them), they angered this Mama Bear.

Where initially I considered taking all our photos offline, deleting my social media accounts and hiding in my house for the next 10 years, now I’m determined to weather the storm. We will not flinch. We will not hide. My daughter is beautiful and her life is worth celebrating.

(source: My Child’s Photo was Used in an Offensive Corporate Campaign | So Here’s Us…)