Saturday, July 31, 2010

Open thread for 4Real visitors

Hello! I just wanted to provide a place for those who wished to share opinions on the question of whether or not T.O.R.C.H. is too closely tied to the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi to be useful--and for those who think any affiliation wouldn't matter anyway. All opinions, of whatever strength, are quite welcome so long as conversation is courteous.

I do think that LC/RC connections are red flags to joining a group. Does it mean all people who have ever been involved with LC/RC are "tainted" in some way? Not at all. But the order/movement is famous for hiding or downplaying its role in or connection to various apostolates, and it is a legitimate concern to wonder if, nationally speaking, T.O.R.C.H. leaders are tied to Regnum Christi and would, eventually, seek to move the group under the Legion's affiliations or otherwise "integrate" the T.O.R.C.H. group with Regnum Christi.

If you agree, if you disagree--tell me why below! :)

Friday, July 30, 2010

This insanity has to stop

Today is July 30, 2010.

Today, in the mail, I received...a Christmas catalog.

This insanity has to stop. Otherwise, before we know it, June 1 will officially be the beginning of the secular "Holiday season." At least as far as the retail industry is concerned.

A magisterium of one

In the modesty post below this one, a commenter asked why I write about this issue so often. I answered off the top of my head--interested in the topic, try to avoid what I see as the extremes, saw it crop up in a few places last week, have teenage daughters, etc. But as I was doing some chores this afternoon I pondered the question further: is there a reason why what might be called "Catholic trivia" topics intrigue me so much?

Now, by labeling the modesty debate "Catholic trivia" I don't mean that modesty itself is a trivial thing. It's a virtue, and virtues aren't trivial to the Christian life. But what ends up being at the point of trivia is the way this issue gets hashed out again and again, with people--myself included--offering specifications and parameters and helpful hints and further reflections and examinations and dissertations on exceptions to general rules, etc. ad infinitum.

In general, I think that's kind of a healthy, natural thing for us to do. The Church says, in effect, "Be modest," and leaves it up to us to discern the details (though the discussion of it here is fruit for much reflection). Clothing is only a part of what "be modest" means, but it's not an insignificant part.

But where things start to resemble trivia is when the argument breaks down along the usual battle lines. On one side, you have what might be called the traditionals/conservatives, and on the other, the liberals/progressives; one side is characterized by the "Popes and saints have declared that women are immodest unless they are covered up to two fingers below the collar bone, their arms to their elbows, and their skirts to eight inches below the knee!" argument, and the other by the "I have great legs and an awesome gluteal region, so why shouldn't I wear shorts to Mass if I want to?" argument. Of course, there are many variations; the "we should dress like the Blessed Mother," is one, and the "God doesn't care what we wear," is another--but the lines are drawn between these two extremes.

Since I'm not a proponent of either of these two arguments, why do I want to enter these discussions to preach a path of moderation? Chances are the people on the extreme sides aren't going to listen, anyway. So what makes me do it?

Here's the thing: I've seen a lot of nice, friendly, kind, peaceful Catholics get sucked into these kinds of arguments, ending up convinced by one side or the other--just long enough to get hurt. And, redhead that I am, I get mad when people get hurt by other people who are trying to be a magisterium of one.

On the one side, you have those Catholics who believe that the Church is going to Wake Up and Listen to the Holy Spirit one of these days, and get around to ordaining women, sacramentalizing abortion, and celebrating gay weddings, among other things. The rest of us are guilty of the grave sin of Intolerance, and it is the duty of these Catholics, so they think, to chastise us for these sins lest we fall into the fiery pit--if they believed in it, of course, but it's probably metaphorical. Anyway, though, whether they are talking about why female permanent deacons would be a good idea, or chiding the modesty-discussers with their lack of charity in not seeing that that woman who shows up at Mass to lector or cantor or Extraordinarily Minister while falling out of a skin-tight strapless sundress is honoring God as best she can, they are convinced that they've figured out the right, best way to please God by never, every judging anybody (except rad-trads, of course, but they don't count). They are a magisterium of one--they certainly don't need anyone else telling them the right way to be a follower of Christ.

On the other side, you have those Catholics who believe the Church is going to Wake Up and Listen to the Holy Spirit one of these days and get around to suppressing the quasi-heretical Vatican II Council and its so-called "mass." The rest of us are guilty of the sin of Indifference, and it is the duty of these Catholics, so they think, to chastise us for these sins lest we fall into the fiery pit--which is real, and eternal, and the likely destination of most of us, a fact which somehow is more productive of a feeling of satisfaction than of sorrow. Anyway, though, whether they are grudgingly admitting that opening up the E.F. Mass was a good idea (which didn't go nearly far enough, of course, and did you notice Father's distressing lack of shoe-buckles last week?) or castigating the modesty-discussers with their brazen desire to bare nearly two-thirds of an arm in open defiance of popes, saints, Our Lady of Fatima, and, more importantly, themselves, they are convinced that they've figured out the right, best way to please God by always, always judging everybody against what they know to be His standards (but not the liberals, of course, because they're beyond hope already). They, too, are a magisterium of one--they certainly don't need anyone else telling them the right way to be a follower of Christ.

The thing is, people who set themselves up as a Magisterium of One have a way of someday following through and becoming a church of one--or if not of one, at least of a few others who, while quite possibly still going to Hell for not being exactly right, are somehow perhaps less damned than everybody else. But before they do that, they can trouble the souls and consciences of many around them, by insisting on their personal dogmas above and beyond anything the Church has ever taught, and performing private excommunications against anybody who fails to measure up to their standards.

So every time one of these debates opens up, I see that sort of dynamic forming, and I want to be a voice for those caught in the middle, just to remind everyone (again, myself included!) that we already have a Magisterium. Which has not issued, and probably never will issue, a Definitive Ultra-Perfect Catholic Standard of Dress on the one hand, or open bikini churches for the surfer crowd on the other.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Combating carelessness in dress

As summer draws to a close, a few Catholic blogs and websites are tackling the thorny question of modesty in dress yet again, focusing (as usual) on women's apparel.

In an uncharacteristic display of good sense, I'm not going to link directly to any of those blogs or websites. That way, I can't be accused of bullying or beating up on any specific person or group of people as I share some thoughts these post have inspired.

This may seem like a radical statement to some people, but here goes: I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of Catholic women in America do not intend to dress immodestly or offensively. This holds true whether we're talking about their dress at Mass, their dress generally, or both.

The problem is that plenty of Catholic women, just like lots and lots of other women, do tend to dress carelessly and thoughtlessly, if not all of the time, then at least some of the time. And sometimes they even dress carelessly and thoughtlessly for Mass--though at least the habit of wearing one's pajama bottoms in public, which has become distressingly common (in every sense of the word) has not yet inflicted itself upon the Holy Sacrifice, or at least, not so much where I live, anyway.

A woman may do tons and tons of Good Works, and be a Thoroughly Nice Woman, full of Charity and Human Kindness--but her fellow parishioner may be tempted to judge her as immodest, simply because she was careless enough, when shopping, to believe the mendacious manufacturer who printed a size "12" on the tag of the blouse she purchased, when in fact the bust of that blouse is cut to a size "10" (since today's blouses are cut one bust size smaller than the rest of the shirt, for obvious if deplorable reasons), and, in further fact, the last time she was really a size "12" in shirts was two babies ago.

I honestly think that this sort of clothing-manufacturer shenanigans, plus the pressure from other women, is why so many women either shrug at the idea of modesty and go on wearing the things they most unfortunately purchased, or else take the opposite extreme, arbitrarily declare that slacks, short-sleeved shirts, and skirts which hit a couple of inches below the knee are always and everywhere the clothing of women of ill-repute, and proceed to swath themselves in trailing folds of denim and knits. Which are, at least, comfortable. I'm just saying.

But the truth is that the closest thing we have to any kind of guidelines as to what is considered acceptable clothing for church are the Vatican guidelines, and the Vatican simply requires the body from the shoulders to below the knees to be covered, on men and women. In practical terms, this means: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, no sleeveless tops, and no bare midriffs. Both men and women can wear long slacks; women can wear longer skirts or dresses, so long as they go below the knee. Short-sleeved tops are fine; tank tops or sleeveless dresses aren't. One would gather that strapless dresses or one-shoulder dresses would be right out at the Vatican, too.

Is it possible to adhere to these guidelines and still dress inappropriately for Mass, or even immodestly? Sure. A women could wear a skin-tight, clingy dress that has long sleeves and goes to her ankles, after all (think of Morticia Addams, for example). A man could wear too-tight jeans and a shirt which made it possible to determine that yes, he does have six-pack abs. But just because it is possible to find a long dress, or jeans and a shirt, or even a floor-length skirt and long-sleeved blouse that wouldn't be modest doesn't mean that long dresses, jeans, shirts, floor-length skirts or long-sleeved blouses are always immodest (naturally).

Which is why I come back to the statement with which I started the post: I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of Catholic women in America do not intend to dress immodestly or offensively, especially at Mass. Maybe, if it seems that their clothing could be a touch more modest, they are actually careless or thoughtless, not intending to be "sexy." Maybe they have worked hard on eradicating vanity, and thus refuse to spend too much time or attention on their dress (which in itself may be a laudable thing). Maybe they are "making do," in a rough economy, with a combination of older clothing items which don't fit as well as they used to, new items purchased on sale, and thrift-store finds. Maybe they still have clothing from their high-school days in their closets, and fail to realize that twenty or thirty years later, even if they still fit that size, things may have shifted about a bit, so to speak, or the youthful clothing styles reveal just a tad too much of a middle-aged body. Maybe the tops they bought and wore for a while seemed to fit perfectly fine whenever they looked in the mirror, but their husbands sitting behind them in choir noticed that when they actually moved, to pick up a hymn book, say, the tops failed to maintain total coverage and occasionally provided the tenor section with a bit of a view. Not that I know anybody that's ever happened to, of course. ;)

So how, without turning into fashion-obsessed or vain women, can we achieve modesty in dress, while avoiding rash judgment toward others?

We can avoid the second by simply refusing to judge women whose clothing doesn't meet our standards. We don't know what's going on in their lives, most of the time. We don't know if she grabbed a six-year-old dress from the back of the closet after the baby spit up on the last three clean shirts she had that Sunday morning. We don't know if she ran to Mass in ripped jeans after spending the whole night with her mother-in-law in the hospital emergency room. We have a duty to believe the best about others when we don't know otherwise, and we--and I mean me--should remember that.

But as for the first, I think there are a few things that might be helpful, especially when we're trying to dress not only modestly, but appropriately for Mass as well:

1. Plan what you're going to wear. Sunday mornings can be busy and rushed, especially for Mom. The old jokes about the mother of a growing family arriving at church and discovering that along with her careful hairdo, nicely-done makeup, lovely blouse, attractive earrings, and new shoes she was wearing her best black slip--and nothing else--come from somewhere real. Taking five or ten minutes on Saturday night to check the closet, see what's clean, and put together an outfit will save not only time, but a lot of trouble, on Sunday morning.

2. Try it on. This goes for clothes in stores you're considering purchasing as well as items in your closet you haven't worn for a considerable time (or since before a new baby). Look in the best mirror you have, if you're at home. Does it still fit? Does it still look nice? Is it missing any important buttons?

3. Test it out. Again, this is for shopping or for an item you already own but aren't sure about: continue looking in the mirror, and bend over, raise your arms, move a little. Look at yourself front and back, and from the side. Plenty of blouses seem to fit fine, until you turn sideways and realize the person seated next to you will have an excellent view of a certain undergarment.

4. Know your size, and wear what fits. This is frustrating for women, because we may fit a different size depending on the type of garment, the manufacturer, the prevailing styles, the pre- or post-pregnancy state of the body, etc. But not knowing your proper size can make it easy to buy and wear clothes that don't really fit. It may be hard to buy a size "14" if we used to be a size "10." But it's infinitely worse to squeeze into clothes that are a size or two too small. So don't pay that much attention to the size of the garment--pay attention to how it fits, as in points 2 and 3. It's better to wear a size that's much bigger than your "normal" size--or much smaller--if it fits properly, because after all you aren't wearing a number.

5. Learn your body type. Women's body types are usually classed as these four: banana (rectangle), apple (inverted triangle), pear (regular triangle) and hourglass. It all has to do with your general shape and the difference in measurement involving bust, waist, and hips--especially where you usually carry any excess weight. Learning your body type isn't essential for modesty, but it is extremely helpful in learning what kinds of clothing are going to be too revealing of things you want to conceal, or too fitted for your shape, etc.

6. Dress with your age in mind. Does this mean we should be frumpy past a certain milestone? Not at all. But there's nothing more aging than a women of forty or fifty trying to dress like a twenty-year-old. And when modesty mistakes are made, sometimes (though not always) they involve a more mature woman trying to wear something trendy or youthful that reveals much more on her than it would on a teenager.

I don't think there are very many Catholic women in America who dress immodestly on purpose. I do think there are a lot of women--maybe all of us--who sometimes get a little sloppy. I know I've been there. And while there are times and seasons when a little carelessness in dress may be perfectly understandable and even excusable, sometimes a little reminder or some helpful tips may be a better aid to our goal of modesty than a lot of finger-wagging and judgment may be.

UPDATE: Larry D reminds me of his recent rant, in which he takes guys to task for showing up at Mass in shorts. I'd have to agree. There are perhaps a few thousand men in America who actually look good in shorts (and no, I don't know how many of them naturally gravitate toward UPS jobs), but they'd be violating modesty to show up in shorts at Mass (because yes, we ladies would notice). The rest of the men aren't necessarily violating modesty per say--just good taste, common sense, maturity, and any degree of fashion sense.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

We can't have that

Whatever else you do today, go read this at Creative Minority Report:

So let me get this straight. Many parents can't be home with children when they come home at 2:30 and that's bad so instead of giving parents tax breaks or incentives to stay home with their children they decide to spend more taxpayer money to keep schools open 12 months a year and 12 hours a day making it harder for parents to be able to afford to stay home because they have to pay for all these programs.

And didn't you pick up the derisive tone to the whole "Mom there with a peanut butter sandwich" thing? To this administration Mom at home with the peanut butter sandwich is a mockable relic of a bygone era. Do they not realize that still happens in millions of homes across the country every single day. Actually, they do. They just don't like it.

Here's the thing - If you believe Duncan's stated problem is that parents aren't home with kids his solution actually makes no sense as it makes it harder for parents to stay home. So one must figure that the stated problem is not the actual problem. One can only surmise that the government wants less Mom and peanut butter and more government.

And they're willing to use their power to get it.

Yes, that's our Ruling Class at work. That's why parents who pay someone else to look after their children can deduct money from their taxes to offset child care costs, but a married family with a mom at home can't deduct any of the value of mom's full-time care from their taxes.

Because they don't trust us to raise our own children. Anything which doesn't require government intervention, programs, policies, revenues, and the opportunity for increasing power is bad, and ought to be eradicated--even Mom at home with her children.

Remember, it "takes a village to raise a child." More accurately, it takes a policy wonk, a committee, a mandatory after-school program, year-round schooling, politicians and sycophants by the bucket-load, and "child experts" who will explain to dim-witted parents that their deeply-held values and morals are really quite bad for children, and have to be counteracted at every stage of the child's education.

Otherwise, people might grow up to be free, and to expect freedom. And we can't have that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Multiple-click frustration

I've been in the dreaded "order the school books for this school year" mode most of the afternoon. I decided to start with our current math book provider, who will not be named in this blog post.

Suffice it to say that after a dozen different fruitless attempts, I am giving up for now. Apparently the brilliant math geniuses who wrote these books lack any understanding whatsoever of website design, password-reset functionality, or availability of real-time help. And they're the ones requiring that I reset my password--it was working fine the last time I used it, but apparently they're requiring all users to do a reset.

And here I thought that the total lack of response to a question I sent last week was a mere oversight. Apparently, though, they lack the ability to use my email address--because my attempts to login were supposed to trigger an email sent to that address, and have thus far utterly failed to do so--even though, again, I've checked, double-checked, and triple-checked to make sure that I'm using the right email address for this account.

Why not simply create a new account? Well, aside from the inconvenience of needing to place the order over again instead of having it saved in my cart, I apparently need to purge my browser of cookies, because the website keeps remembering me as an "existing customer" and won't even display the option to create a new account. Because, of course, I'm an "existing customer." I just can't place an order--because why would an existing customer want to do a silly thing like that?

And that's not even as annoying as the pop-up message I keep getting on one page chiding me for failing to create a display name and erasing everything I have done--this, though the only fields on the page are fields in which to enter an email address, a password, and a password confirmation.

Every year, I dread ordering textbooks and school materials. It's not just the money, which gets pretty considerable in some areas. It's not just the time spent online. It's not just the agonizing questions about which program or book to try here or there.

It's the foray into the vast and scary world of customer-proof websites, the sites dreamed up by people who have, apparently, never visited a working Internet store and would shudder at the very thought of "one-click shopping." It's the world of multiple-click frustration, incomplete or bizarre order confirmations--or absent ones--and "customer service" that is neither customer-oriented nor service-oriented, but oriented in some way toward achieving a kind of Zen-perfection of unhelpful silence, puzzling enigma, and inconvenience.

And I have a whole list of books yet to purchase, and the math books remain in the limbo of an online shopping cart. Maybe. If the "Display Name Pop-up Gremlin" hasn't erased them.

Maybe the science books will be easier to buy...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sending freedom down the drain

One of the dangers of having read Angelo Codevilla's "ruling class" essay is that I'm starting to think of things a little differently than I used to.

Take, for instance, this Wall Street Journal piece on--of all things--shower heads:
Gene Goforth sells showerheads—big ones, like the Raindance Imperial 600 AIR. Selling for as much as $5,457, it has a 24-inch spray face, 358 no-clog channels and a triple-massage option. "You can just stand under it, and it helps your psyche," says Mr. Goforth, who has one in his home.

Now, Mr. Goforth is in a lather over the federal government's tough new line on water-hogging showerheads, part of a new effort to enforce energy- and water-use regulations. "Leave my shower alone," Mr. Goforth recently wrote in a letter to the Department of Energy.

Regulators are going after some of the luxury shower fixtures that took off in the housing boom. Many have multiple nozzles, cost thousands of dollars and emit as many as 12 gallons of water a minute. In May, the DOE stunned the plumbing-products industry when it said it would adopt a strict definition of the term "showerhead" in enforcing standards that have been on the books—but largely unenforced—for nearly 20 years.

Industry response has been fast and furious. "It was not the legislative intent of Congress to authorize DOE to regulate the bathing habits of Americans," wrote Frederick Desborough, vice president of California Faucets, a Huntington Beach, Calif., manufacturer, in a letter to the DOE in June.

The showdown is a challenge to President Barack Obama and his energy secretary, Steven Chu, as they try to cajole—or compel—Americans to use water and energy more efficiently. Mr. Chu, a self-described "zealot" for energy efficiency, says he crawls around in his attic in his spare time installing extra insulation.

A 1992 federal law says a showerhead can deliver no more than 2.5 gallons per minute at a flowing water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch. For years, the term "showerhead" in federal regulations was understood by many manufacturers to mean a device that directs water onto a bather. Each nozzle in a shower was considered separate and in compliance if it delivered no more than the 2.5-gallon maximum. But in May, the DOE said a "showerhead" may incorporate "one or more sprays, nozzles or openings." Under the new interpretation, all nozzles would count as a single showerhead and be deemed noncompliant if, taken together, they exceed the 2.5 gallons-a-minute maximum.

Before reading the "ruling class" essay, I probably would have paid little attention to this article--except to wince at it. Like many women who don't always wear their hair extremely short, I find that the "energy efficient" showers just make it harder to rinse shampoo out of the hair--which means I take longer showers than I used to. How much energy is really being saved, if lots of people are doing the same thing?

I had similar thoughts when we purchased this house, and received all of the "owner's manuals" on every part of it. The house had "energy efficient" toilets, the plumbing brochures proudly proclaimed. But in order to use these "water saving" toilets, the manufacturer warned, it was necessary to flush more often during normal use--not "flush more often" as in after each use, which civilized people do anyway (but which, apparently, has become the kind of wasteful habit enlightened people look down on), but "flush more often" as in, if you're still a Neanderthal-type who actually uses toilet paper, you might need to flush two or three times during each use.

But these kinds of things do make sense, if we remember these ruling class rules:
  1. Average Americans can't be trusted to run their own lives.
  2. Left to their own devices, average Americans are wasteful drains on the planet.
  3. Only the ruling class knows how people must live.
  4. The ruling class grows in size and power by creating more policies governing the way everyone else lives, and by increasing the size and power of the regulatory agencies who create, study, and enforce these policies.
  5. The point of outlawing certain shower heads, or regulating toilets, is as much to increase the power of the lawgivers and regulators as it is to save energy. Even if the energy savings are minimal, or are erased by energy use by big corporations or other groups which use energy much more than the average consumer does, it does not matter, so long as the point is to tell Americans how to live and to increase the power of the people who do that.
Now, are some common-sense conservation matters good to take? Sure, if people do so by choice. There are plenty of good, Christian-stewardship-minded reasons not to install the shower head equivalent of a SuperSoaker in one's home. But voluntary energy-savings measures aren't going to meet the ruling class's main goal, of increasing their own power. Government mandates, complete with fines for non-compliance and other coercive measures, are the way to go to achieve that goal.

Frederick Desborough wrote to the Department of Energy, ""It was not the legislative intent of Congress to authorize DOE to regulate the bathing habits of Americans." But Mr. Desborough might be wrong about that. A people free enough to make consumer choices without extensive government regulation in place isn't a people easily controlled by mandates, committees, councils, policies, and Cabinet-office rules.

It's not that wasting gallons of water is a great idea--but letting Congress regulate American's bathing habits--or light bulb options--or a million other tiny petty day-to-day consumer decisions--is slowly sending freedom down the drain.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is the middle class being destroyed?

More weekend reading: is the US middle class being destroyed?

From the article:

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer at a staggering rate. Once upon a time, the United States had the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, but now that is changing at a blinding pace.

So why are we witnessing such fundamental changes? Well, the globalism and "free trade" that our politicians and business leaders insisted would be so good for us have had some rather nasty side effects. It turns out that they didn't tell us that the "global economy" would mean that middle class American workers would eventually have to directly compete for jobs with people on the other side of the world where there is no minimum wage and very few regulations. The big global corporations have greatly benefited by exploiting third world labor pools over the last several decades, but middle class American workers have increasingly found things to be very tough.

Don't miss the scary statistics in the piece. And feel free to comment, as always--do you think the American middle class is being destroyed?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Light bulbs, common sense, and our ruling class

Yesterday's post recommended that people read this piece. If you haven't already read it, you might consider doing so over the weekend; it's long, but it's worth the time.

In it, Angelo M. Codevilla lays out in clear, forthright language what it is that is so very frustrating about life in twenty-first century America, and how we got here. There's no way to summarize such a lengthy and detailed piece, but essentially Codevilla is talking about the growing disparity between two groups of people, America's "ruling class" and its "country class."

About the ruling class, Codevilla says:

Never has there been so little diversity within America's upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America's upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and "bureaucrat" was a dirty word for all. So was "social engineering." Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday's upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century's Northerners and Southerners -- nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, "prayed to the same God." By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God "who created and doth sustain us," our ruling class prays to itself as "saviors of the planet" and improvers of humanity. Our classes' clash is over "whose country" America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark's Gospel: "if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand."

I think this is important, because the tendency when reading such a piece is to shrug and say, "Well, there have always been wealthy elite leaders in America, as in every place." But the point that's being made here is that we've never had so unified a group of elite leaders, all willing to pour their money and talents into a vision of America in which they, the wise and powerful, gradually take away from us, the simple and insignificant, such freedoms as they don't think we ought to have. Consider the tax changes that will take effect in January of next year unless something is done before then: once again marriage, saving, inheritance, and the like will be penalized, and parents who raise their own children at home will receive less tax help than parents who pay for day care.

When you contemplate the notion that what our ruling class really cares about is power for itself and its friends, and what it dislikes are ways of living and modes of earning income which do not depend on, rely on, or increase their power or that of their friends, a whole lot of things start to make sense that were only illogical before. Consider the upcoming ban on incandescent light bulbs. Does it really make environmental sense to ban a "carbon consuming" light bulb which is still often made in America and which can be disposed of in ordinary trash or recycling with one which, though using less energy, is manufactured and imported from overseas and must be disposed of via hazardous waste guidelines in special facilities (and heaven help you if you break one in your home)? Does the potential of dangerous accumulations of mercury in our landfills (assuming people won't bother to drive their used light bulbs to special disposal facilities) really get offset by the energy savings?

But suddenly the whole thing makes sense, if the point was never about what light bulbs Americans used at all. Consider the number of government jobs, the amount of government money, and the potential increase of government power at stake if we
  • commission studies of light bulbs and energy use
  • send government employees on "fact-finding" trips to the European nations which have already begun phasing out incandescents
  • work with foreign trade partners to increase their production of CFL bulbs to meet our proposed new "demand"
  • "educate" consumers as to the new rules for light bulb purchase, and produce educational materials on the correct way to clean up a broken CFL bulb including the need to open windows and turn off heating/air conditioning the next several times you vacuum an area where a bulb broke
  • simultaneously work with incandescent bulb manufacturers to set new standards for energy usage which might make incandescents still available for sale--at a much higher price
  • create regulatory commissions with various levels of power to oversee the incandescent light bulb production industry, to keep them apprised of ever-changing energy standards
I could go on and on, but you see the point--and that's without even considering the "friends of the ruling class" who start "green energy consulting" companies which then receive government grants as they sell their services to the private sector. And let's not forget the federal "green energy czar" position, duplicated in the private sector at many companies, and the various other environmental initiatives all of which can create just as many jobs/as much power as the light bulb "problem."

The people Codevilla describes as "country class" simply don't share the values of the ruling class. Out here in common-sense-land, questions do get asked, like "How much carbon does shipping all our light bulbs from China use?" and "Do we really want mercury-vapor bulbs in our homes, let alone in our landfills and water supply?" But understanding what the ruling class is all about makes it crystal clear why government programs, initiatives, rulings, bans etc. so often make no common sense at all. They don't have to make sense--they just have to increase the power of petty bureaucrats, and make sure the next generation of Ivy-league grads has something sufficiently trendy and "in-crowd" pleasing to put on their resumes, as they vie for power for themselves.

From huge, centralized education initiatives which treat local school districts and individual students as preformed cogs in a vastly inefficient machine, to wacky environmental rules that smother small businesses and stifle innovation, to ill-managed welfare programs which seem designed to increase the number of people dependent on the government for food and other goods or services, to a 2,000 plus-page health care leviathan that will likely make care less available, less affordable, and less quality than it is now, the policies and practices of a government of the ruling class, by the ruling class, and for the ruling class is understandable only to those who share their ambitions, their lust for power, and their contemptuous distrust of the rest of the American people. As for the rest of us, well, we're the sort of silly Americans who think that light bulbs are for illumination, not for creating a whole host of parasitic government jobs and power for the ruling class, so why should our opinions matter about this, or about anything at all?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reading assignment

When I was chatting with my mom on the phone yesterday, she mentioned this article to me. It's lengthy,

Today, Mark Shea has a big post up urging people to read it and connecting some of the dots.

I'm pressed for time today, and won't be able to get back here to comment on it. But this article, laying out as it does just why we're in the mess we're in, just how we come to have a "ruling class" of Americans who are not the best nor the brightest, but simply the most committed to an ideology that protects their interests at the expense of the rest of America, is probably the most important thing I've read this year.

Do go read it. And if you want to start the discussion below, please feel free. I'm going to try to write about it tomorrow.

UPDATE: To give you an example of what's in this article, consider these passages:
While our ruling class teaches that relationships among men, women, and children are contingent, it also insists that the relationship between each of them and the state is fundamental. That is why such as Hillary Clinton have written law review articles and books advocating a direct relationship between the government and children, effectively abolishing the presumption of parental authority. Hence whereas within living memory school nurses could not administer an aspirin to a child without the parents' consent, the people who run America's schools nowadays administer pregnancy tests and ship girls off to abortion clinics without the parents' knowledge. Parents are not allowed to object to what their children are taught. But the government may and often does object to how parents raise children. The ruling class's assumption is that what it mandates for children is correct ipso facto, while what parents do is potentially abusive. It only takes an anonymous accusation of abuse for parents to be taken away in handcuffs until they prove their innocence. Only sheer political weight (and in California, just barely) has preserved parents' right to homeschool their children against the ruling class's desire to accomplish what Woodrow Wilson so yearned: "to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible." [...]

By identifying science and reason with themselves, our rulers delegitimize opposition. Though they cannot prevent Americans from worshiping God, they can make it as socially disabling as smoking -- to be done furtively and with a bad social conscience. Though they cannot make Americans wish they were Europeans, they continue to press upon this nation of refugees from the rest of the world the notion that Americans ought to live by "world standards." Each day, the ruling class produces new "studies" that show that one or another of Americans' habits is in need of reform, and that those Americans most resistant to reform are pitiably, perhaps criminally, wrong. Thus does it go about disaggregating and dispiriting the ruled.

Seriously--do read it, if you can.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Forty years of meaningless banners

The UK Telegraph's Damien Thompson is not pleased at all with the parish banner design for outdoor events during the pope's upcoming visit:
This is the visual equivalent of the groovy fake-Celtic elevator music that Magic Circle bureaucrats very nearly succeeded in forcing on the Papal Masses. I swear, the Catholic Church in this country is incapable of designing anything that doesn’t feature Pentecostal flames that look as if they’ve been copied from a 30-year-old album cover. I’m sure the Holy Father will be too polite to wince visibly when he sees those banners – but, seriously, you don’t have to be infallible to work out that the Bishops of England and Wales (and Scotland, too, alas) have no aesthetic judgment whatsoever.[...]
Read the whole (brief) post here; and here is the banner Thompson is discussing:
Pardon me while I finish chuckling about the "...incapable of designing anything that doesn’t feature Pentecostal flames that look as if they’ve been copied from a 30-year-old album cover..." line. Man, I wish I'd written that.

Seriously, is there anything even remotely Catholic about that banner? Sure, tongues of flame = Holy Spirit--but usually such images include, you know, people--the Apostles, perhaps, in a Pentecost scene. The flames by themselves could be the Holy Spirit, or they could be the fires of Hell, or a pagan fire-ritual, or a barbecue gone awry or a campfire run amok--or any such thing. There's nothing particularly holy or sacred about the image of stylized flames all by themselves, nothing to show what the artist intends the picture to represent.

Of course, there's also nothing with which to offend the irreligious or anti-religious, and maybe in a post-Christian secularist mediocre nation-state like the United Kingdom (or like America, since we're not much better) that's really the whole point.

Meaningless banners can only offend the faithful, after all--and the faithful, weary after forty years of meaningless banners and ugly churches and pathetic music and unfortunate art, don't really have the energy left to fight over hideous papal banners to be displayed during a visit that has already been spoiled by all the fighting and controversy and general rottenness that's already been displayed, and will only get worse before things are over.

UPDATE: In the comment box, Deirdre Mundy points out that more than ugly fire can be seen in this image. Um, ewww.....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Deeply unsettling

There's a troubling post at the Faith and Family Live blog, where a Legion of Christ priest, Fr. John Bartunek, grapples with the question of Catholics attending gay "weddings," and comes up, I think, a bit short:

Let’s take another case – the parallel isn’t perfect, but it may be helpful. If your Methodist friend asked you to be godparent to her first child, you wouldn’t be able to accept. You couldn’t commit yourself to insuring that the child be raised Methodist without implicitly, at least, admitting the validity of the Methodist religion. But as a Catholic, you can’t do that without renouncing your own Catholic faith. So, you would try to explain this to your friend. And in order to show that you still care about her as a friend, you might very well agree to come to the post-baptism party.

Attending the wedding reception of an openly gay friend or relative is similar. By doing so, you can support the person while making it clear that you don’t support that person’s every decision – in this case, the decision to stay Methodist, or to actively live a homosexual lifestyle. Because of the context created by your conversation with your friend, your attendance at the reception would not be a celebration of their Methodism or Lesbianism, but an expression of your care for them as a human being and a friend.

First of all, in all the human the history of unfortunate comparisons, this has to make the top ten. Lesbianism/homosexuality is just like being a Methodist? That's rather insulting to our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, don't you think?

Secondly, a Catholic may, in fact, ordinarily attend a Methodist baptism, especially if the friends in question are lifelong Methodists (e.g., they are not former Catholics who left the Church and became Methodists). While the Catholic may not act as a godparent or take any active role, he or she is perfectly able in the spirit of ecumenism to attend a baptism that is putatively a valid Christian baptism (since ordinarily Methodists do use a valid form of baptism). There is no question of "only" attending the party afterward, since the party afterward is to celebrate the baptism and the baptism is something a Catholic may, under ordinary circumstances, attend!

The only time the questions of prudence Fr. Bartunek mentions might come in is in a situation where a Catholic who has married a Methodist outside of the Church is having his child baptized in the Methodist church. In such a circumstance, the close Catholic family members of this person might have to weigh whether or not their attendance at either the baptism itself or the party afterward will be helpful in drawing the lapsed Catholic back toward the Church, or if their attendance at either might be a barrier to that return (for instance, if the Catholic family member thinks their attendance is a proof of religious indifferentism on their parts). But that knotty, complex situation isn't even close to what Fr. Bartunek describes--he is talking about a Catholic person and his or her Methodist friends, and in that circumstance there would be no particular reason for the Catholics to avoid either the baptism or the celebration of that putatively valid baptism afterward--for, indeed, the child has been baptized, and while we may mourn our sad divisions in Christianity, who can help but rejoice when a baby becomes a child of God, and an heir to the Kingdom?

But, thirdly, and this is the critical point--in no way is this situation even remotely analogous to the difficult and painful question of how Catholics must act when invited to celebrate a gay union, "marriage" or not. Catholic apologist Michelle Arnold has said, "Since the Church has spoken so strongly against "same-sex marriage," I cannot recommend attending or celebrating "same-sex weddings" under any circumstances." (Link in her original quote.) Arnold's opinion is shared by many others, and I know I've heard or read other priests give a similar opinion (and if any Catholic priests are reading this blog, and would like to weigh in on this issue, I'd be very appreciative!).

Why shouldn't Catholics attend gay "wedding" ceremonies, or show up for the reception afterward? Because Catholics do not believe that same-sex couples can "marry" in any real sense of the word. Showing up for the celebration afterward would, in effect, be showing up to celebrate a lie, from the Catholic perspective; it would be showing up to celebrate the couple's commitment to continuing their practice of engaging in gravely sinful sexual behavior, behavior which, objectively speaking, may be endangering their immortal souls, cutting them off from the life of grace, and wreaking spiritual ruin within the depths of their beings.

Clearly, this isn't something Catholics can celebrate. Equally clearly, it is of an order far different than the question of whether Catholics can celebrate a valid, if Protestant, baptism when the parents of the child are Protestants! It is much more like the question of whether a Catholic may ever attend or celebrate any other sort of invalid wedding, with this one great difference: the marriage of a man and a woman might be putatively valid in many cases, but the "marriage" of two men or two women is never putatively valid--it is invalid by definition, as far as the Church is concerned.

I find it deeply unsettling that a Catholic priest would not appear to see any significant difference between these two hypothetical situations, when in fact the difference is astoundingly clear. Perhaps Father Bartunek merely wrote carelessly, without greatly considering the implications of what he was writing. Still, once again I find myself wondering just what, exactly, the Legion's formation of priests consists of, and how it is that a lay Catholic apologist like Michelle Arnold seems to have a much clearer grasp of what is at stake for Catholics in regard to giving any sort of approval or condoning of gay "marriage" than a Legion priest, apparently, does.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Far too many Padgetts

My first temptation, when I encountered this whinefest by Tim Padgett on Time's website, was to fisk it. On second thought, however, there's not enough of substance in the piece for an actual fisking. Any Catholic with half a brain can see for himself (and yes, I think that "himself" includes "herself,") what's wrong with passages like these:
Rome's misogynous declaration, tossed into its new guidelines on reporting clerical sexual abuse, did more than just highlight the church's hoary horror at the idea of female priests — or its penchant of late for sticking its papal slippers in its mouth every chance it gets. It also pointed up an increasingly spiteful rhetoric of bigotry. When Argentina in mid-July legalized gay marriage, the country's Catholic bishops weren't content to simply denounce the legislation; they used the occasion to argue for the subhumanity of homosexual men and lesbians, the way many white Southern preachers weren't ashamed to degrade African Americans during the civil rights movement. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio not only called the new law "a scheme to destroy God's plan"; he termed it "a real and dire anthropological throwback," as if homosexuality were evolutionarily inferior to heterosexuality. [...]

How did it come to this? The answer lies in why the Vatican felt compelled to throw its antifemale jab into the sexual-abuse directives. When any institution is as convinced of its own moral infallibility as the Catholic Church is, it tends to lash out at criticism — especially charges as serious as the priestly rape of children — with Dostoyevskian paranoia. And the church then fortifies its less popular stances, like an all-male priesthood or the condemnation of gays, in the process becoming even more uncompromising. Most Catholics, according to polls in the U.S. and abroad, support women's ordination, but the church peevishly views that trend as an insidious subagenda of its sexual-abuse accusers. Hence last week's astonishing aside from Rome that both the ordination of female priests and pedophilia are graviora delicta, or grave crimes.

The real offense is the church's theological sophistry. Its argument for keeping women out of the priesthood — Jesus had no female apostles — is as shamefully bogus as it is unjust. The hierarchy, threatened by claims of Mary Magdalene's ministerial status, has long tried to identify her with the unnamed "woman caught in adultery" in the Gospel of St. John. When that woman was dragged before Jesus for judgment — death by stoning, the men demanded — Christ famously said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." The church wants us to embrace that compassionate teaching when it comes to pedophile priests, and yet it is deaf enough to cast stones at the "crime" of female priests.

What's at stake is the Catholic Church's ability to salvage any moral authority from the sexual-abuse tragedy. The fact is, it can still do that without ordaining women. But it can't do it while digging itself a deeper hole like a defendant hurling insults at a judge. It can't do it by excommunicating a hospital nun, as an Arizona bishop recently did, because she signed off on an abortion that saved a mother's life. It can't do it by losing sight of the difference between dogged traditionalism and mean-spirited obscurantism, as it so often does these days.

In keeping with the approximately sixth-grade level of this writing (no offense to intelligent sixth-graders), Padgett goes on to call bishops "...a bunch of homophobes wearing miters..." and to threaten that if the Church keeps on insisting on, you know, truth and all that instead of accepting its role as a "...a helpful, contemplative guide in matters spiritual and social..." the really relevant Catholic youth like his altar-girl daughter will just quit paying attention to the Church altogether.

Of course, with every word he writes, Padgett reveals the truth: he stopped paying attention to the Church a long time ago.

If he hadn't, he'd be able to understand both the historical and theological roots of the Church's tradition of having only male priests. He'd also realize that to God Himself (since Jesus is really the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity) no mere considerations of present cultural reality would act as a barrier to any action. Jesus spent time in the company of tax collectors and prostitutes; He didn't avoid ordaining women simply because He thought the people of His day would reject female priests. The fact that He didn't do so does, indeed, mean something, whether we lack the humility to recognize that or not.

Of course, Padgett isn't paying attention to Church teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual acts, either. Like so many who misunderstand the Church on this point, he sees Church teaching as essentially a declaration of the subhumanity of same-sex attracted people, instead of recognizing that it is Church teaching which insists that a person's sexual orientation cannot be the basis of his whole reality. The Church wants the same thing for same-sex attracted people as she wants for the rest of us: salvation, and eternal life. No matter how hard people like Padgett try to reinvent morality, the simple truth is that sexual sins do not lead us to eternal life, but to eternal death. Gay marriage is, for Catholics, as much a road to eternal death as the remarriage of divorced Catholics in situations in which no annulment is possible, cohabitation, or any other state of living which simply makes a habit of soul-killing sin easier and easier to perpetuate.

But when you buy into the secular world's view of the Church, stop paying attention to her teachings, and start thinking of her as an embarrassment, it's quite easy to get to the point where Padgett obviously is. There are far to many Padgetts in the Church today, men who hate the Church for what she is, create for themselves an image of her as a sort of trendy social worker who encourages her clients to do a spot of navel-gazing now and again but isn't pushy about it, and proceed to tear down the real Church in favor of the false image of her they pretend is real. The biggest lie they swallow is the lie that somehow Christ would be frowning at His Church's insistence that women priests are still a ridiculous notion and that homosexual sex is gravely morally evil. Christ is, to them, just another cool social worker who affirms people in their okayness while never insisting on, you know, rules, or anything.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bad seeds?

Since our discussion of Attachment Parenting in this blog the other day, I stumbled across this rather interesting piece in the New York Times, in which professor of psychiatry Dr. Richard A. Friedman admits to a little psychiatric heresy: sometimes good parents may have a bad child for no particular reason:

My answer may sound heretical, coming from a psychiatrist. After all, our bent is to see misbehavior as psychopathology that needs treatment; there is no such thing as a bad person, just a sick one.

But maybe this young man was just not a nice person.

For years, mental health professionals were trained to see children as mere products of their environment who were intrinsically good until influenced otherwise; where there is chronic bad behavior, there must be a bad parent behind it.

But while I do not mean to let bad parents off the hook — sadly, there are all too many of them, from malignant to merely apathetic — the fact remains that perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children.

When I say “toxic,” I don’t mean psychopathic — those children who blossom into petty criminals, killers and everything in between. Much has been written about psychopaths in the scientific literature, including their frequent histories of childhood abuse, their early penchant for violating rules and their cruelty toward peers and animals. There are even some interesting studies suggesting that such antisocial behavior can be modified with parental coaching.

But there is little, if anything, in peer-reviewed journals about the paradox of good parents with toxic children. [...]

It goes against the grain not just because it seems like such a grim and pessimistic judgment, but because it violates a prevailing social belief that people have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement. After all, we are the culture of Baby Einstein, the video product that promised — and spectacularly failed — to make geniuses of all our infants.

Not everyone is going to turn out to be brilliant — any more than everyone will turn out nice and loving. And that is not necessarily because of parental failure or an impoverished environment. It is because everyday character traits, like all human behavior, have hard-wired and genetic components that cannot be molded entirely by the best environment, let alone the best psychotherapists.

Read the whole thing here, if you're interested.

I do think that this is something most parents know, on one level. Many of us have seen or known a family in which most of the children are nice, well-adjusted people and the parents are good and attentive--yet there's that one child, the troublemaker who grew up to be an adult who has some problems or is estranged from his family, or some similar thing. Some of us may have had extended family like this; others only heard stories of the son or daughter a few generations back who was the "black sheep" or the "bad seed" (to use two terms in use in the old days).

For a while now, it seems, as Dr. Friedman says, that to hold to a notion of a "bad seed," a child who was just bad for no particularly good reason, was not politically correct. The child had to have some inward, undiagnosed mental problem, or he was emotionally stunted for some reason, or his parents had somehow failed to recognize that he was so very different from his siblings that he needed love and attention from them of a wholly different order from the more "garden variety" sort of love and attention that did just fine for his brothers and sisters.

In popular fiction of a certain era, you can find some writers (Agatha Christie comes to mind) poking gentle and not-so-gentle fun at the idea. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts etc. would say of the troubled character (usually a young man) that he was highly-strung, that his father was not around or was too stern with him, that he was nervous or sensitive, that he was a scoundrel, to be sure, but such a charming one, and so attentive to his dear old Auntie! And if the writer (especially Christie) later revealed that this character was, indeed, the bad seed who had actually sponged off Auntie and gotten Auntie to make a will in his favor before carefully crafting an alibi and then bashing in Auntie's head--well, her contemporary readers probably nodded, not yet having much use for all the psychiatry and psychology explanations for bad behavior.

Of course, true psychopathy often does have these kind of underlying causes and explanations. The kind of bad seed Dr. Friedman is describing seems to be more the sort of child who is simply ill-mannered, rude, distant, or both disobedient and ungrateful toward his or her parents--and who grows up to be the sort of adult who continues to be most of these things. Psychiatry may not be able to explain all of it. Genetics may not really, either, when all is said and done.

What does explain it? As Catholics we know that human beings have a fallen nature. While we do everything we can for our children, we can't control their inward processes or the choices they make. And each and every day, they are making little choices that will make them (as ours do us), as C.S. Lewis put it, closer to being a heavenly creature or a hellish one.

So long as we live, we are not bound to end up in the direction we are going. We can backtrack, pray, seek God's forgiveness in Confession, work a little harder, smile a little more often, be a little more patient, love others a little more and ourselves less. This is as true for bad seeds as it is for all of us, and in that a Christian parent can find hope.

St. Monica, after all, didn't give up on her "bad seed" child, St. Augustine. The workings of grace, her constant prayers, her unfailing love did what mere parenting could never do.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

He-wolves and she-wolves

The Vatican announced some new rules for dealing with clerical sexual abuse cases. John Allen gives details here:

For the most part, Vatican sources said, the revisions consolidate existing practice rather than marking a dramatic new approach. Unveiled on July 15, the changes include:

  • Speeding up the process of "laicization," or formal removal from the priesthood;
  • Allowing laity to serve as judges and lawyers on church tribunals in sex abuse cases, and waiving the requirement of a doctorate in canon law;
  • Extending the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases from ten to twenty years, with the possibility still in force to waive it altogether on a case-by-case basis;
  • Adding the acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography as a "grave crime" under church law;
  • Specifying that the same penalties for the sexual abuse of minors also apply to developmentally disabled adults;
  • Clarifying that even "cardinals, patriarchs, legates of the Apostolic See and bishops" are subject to the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's doctrinal office, on matters related to sexual abuse.
    All of these things are good news, and helpful. But predictably, the focus has been on a different part of the announcement: the rules governing those who attempt the ordination of women.

    From Allen, again:

    Unrelated to the sexual abuse crisis, the revisions also add several other offenses to the list of "grave crimes" subject to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (and thus to the expedited penalties the congregation can hand out). They include crimes against the faith, such as heresy, apostasy and schism; recording or broadcast of the sacrament of confession; and the attempted ordination of women.

    The last point ratifies a December 2007 decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which stipulated that anyone attempting to ordain a woman, as well as women who claim ordination, are subject to excommunication. That decree appeared in the wake of several events around the world in which organizers claimed to ordain women priests in defiance of church authorities.

    Notice that the addition of attempted female ordination to those things which can be judged by the CDF and which incur automatic excommunication is merely a ratification of the previous decree which said much the same thing. This is not some new, uncharted territory.

    That didn't stop the news media from seizing on the female ordination thing and send forth the usual headlines, screaming things like:

    --Vatican declares that ordaining women is just like pedophilia

    --Amid scandal, Vatican shows its true priority is the oppression of women

    --Secret Vatican document punishes women priests while going easy on child abusers

    or similar nonsense (note: no real headlines were copied above, but hey--these are close enough to the ones actually out there).

    Truth is, the secular media, with all its zeal to punish clerical abusers (which is admirable in principle if not always in practice), doesn't really care if some bishops disobey the legitimate Church authority in order to attempt to ordain women. The secular media approves of women priests; it's something that seems modern and enlightened and full of equality and all those things. The idea of punishing attempted female ordination as you would clerical sexual abuse is abhorrent to them.

    But Catholics can see in both acts a grave betrayal. There is, arguably, no greater betrayal than that of clerical sexual abuse; but the bishops who moved abuser-priests around from diocese to diocese were betraying their flock in much the same way that the bishops who try to ordain women are doing.

    In both cases, bishops, who should be shepherds of their people, knowingly sent wolves among the sheep. The wolf who is a priest-predator attacks the souls of innocent children, their parents, and others caught up in the truly ghoulish nightmare he creates; but a woman insisting she is really a "Catholic priest" and pretending to say Mass, hear confessions, celebrate marriages etc. is also a predator--she leaves her followers on the brink of spiritual starvation as she commits her acts of fraud.

    We can argue that the he-wolves are much, much worse than the she-wolves, in terms of the harm they have done, and that would be a fair argument, I think. But we can't really argue that the she-wolves aren't wolves at all, but shepherds themselves, except for their lack of obedience to the Church Christ founded; such an argument won't hold water. And unless we're really going to insist that one kind of wolf is all right to be sent among the sheep, I think we're going to have to agree that the Vatican is correct to attempt to root out both from among the hapless flock.

    UPDATE: Yes, I know that the proper Catholic thing is to bash the Vatican PR department for releasing both of these announcements together. I'm not going to go there, but not out of some misguided "clericalism" that would have me defend Vatican PR--we know how clunky it can be.

    But according to the summary attached to Allen's article at the National Catholic Reporter (not a bastion of Catholic orthodoxy), the fact that this bit concerning women's ordination was going to be part of this announcement was known by the media for some time. In other words, no surprise--but look at how the media is acting shocked, shocked! that this announcement was included with the other. The rush to spin this story as, "Well, okay, good news, but how incredibly ham-handed of Vatican PR," is merely evidence that the secular media is way too good at making Catholic writers jump through hoops to put some kind of "approved" spin on what is, after all, good news.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    I don't practice the religion of secularism

    The talented blogger Magister Christianus has a post up on St. Augustine and sex education, in which he comments on Montana's new guidelines:

    Then there is the sheery hypocrisy of teaching sixth graders that no one has the right to impose values on another, despite that this very curriculum does so by normalizing homosexual behavior and the use of contraceptives.

    I have said time and time again that homeschooling or enrolling children in Christian schools is not about avoiding evil, for that is impossible. It is about attempting to educate our children with the full story. However even-handed and non-biased this curriculum may sound to some, it is blatantly anti-Christian and carries with it the bullet-proof vest of being "tolerant" and "enlightened," for what parent monster would not want his or her child to know the truth? The problem is with the assumption that this curriculum is presenting the truth. It assumes that the we live in a completely physical, causally-closed universe. In other words, it assumes that there is no such thing as mind, consciousness, soul, or spirit. I have no doubt that many involved with this curriculum would stand up and say, "No such thing!" Yet to deny the flawed assumptions foundational to this curriculum is to reveal the degree to which one is blind to what one one has accepted. If the universe is purely physical and causally closed, then there can be no non-physical agent capable of acting on anything, let alone having authority. And if there is no supervening authority, i.e. God, then humans can say and do as they please with impunity. Of course, we may say and do as we please even with God on His throne, but we cannot do so with impunity if He reigns. [Links in original--E.M.]

    Read the whole thing--but be warned; the Montana guidelines for sex education are horrific, and, ironically considering they will be taught to young children, probably not safe for work.

    Magister's point, that Christians may not be able to cooperate much longer with secular schools--is a good one. We've gone far, far past our public schools being religiously neutral, and much, much closer to them being actively hostile to religion, to religious beliefs and to the students formed by them. This is because our schools are now teaching what is, if not a bona fide religion, at least a philosophy; and in that philosophy there is no room for God, for transcendent meaning, or for morality that is anything other than utilitarianism.

    If Christian parents complain, for instance, that they don't wish their children to be instructed in the methods of homosexual sex, they will be told (patronizingly) that this information is vital to their children's health. The presumption that a healthy child must know the proper methods of engaging "safely" in various homosexual sex acts in order to remain healthy is not a neutral idea; it is a religious one, and the religion is secularism. But because that religion has become our national source of religious and philosophical ideas, all of its conclusions are held to as a kind of gospel-truth by those who teach them.

    Objectively speaking, there is no need whatsoever to indoctrinate 100% of all school children into how to commit sodomy or other homosexual sex acts. Even if we eschew traditional morality and virtue altogether as the secularists do, we still are left with the fact that only approximately 4% of the students may ever need this information, since the homosexual population of our nation has been consistently measured at approximately 4%. It is clearly a waste of time to spend classroom time and resources (including the extra condoms and dental dams necessary when instructing all students in the notion of "safe homosexual sex" acts) for information that, at best, 4% of them will ever need; it is especially a waste of time to do so in an age of Internet communication, when the same-sex attracted student will find it easier and more individualized to seek the information anonymously on the Internet. Then, too, there is the problem that scientifically speaking it is a misnomer to consider condom-clad sex acts to be "safe," since even in heterosexual acts the condom may fail, and condom failure is known to be greater when the sex acts involve sodomy or other same-sex maneuvers.

    So the secularists' insistence that all children must be instructed in the proper, "safe" way to engage in homosexual sex acts is actually a waste of time and money for the vast majority of them--for the 96% who will never need this information, and for the 4% who do use it but who are still not necessarily "safe" in their activities. But the secularists still do insist: it's so terribly vital for all school children to be indoctrinated in the proper methods of donning prophylactics in the course of homosexual sex acts that even the children of devout Christians may not be excused from these lessons, lest their health suffer.

    I don't practice the religion of secularism. I don't share their absurd, anti-scientific beliefs or their fanaticism. That's one of the reasons I choose to avoid their schools altogether.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Twilight and adolescent wish-fulfillment

    I almost missed this: a great article from Carolyn Moynihan at Mercatornet about the phenomenon of the Twilight mom:

    Of course, there could be a large dollop of media hype, not to mention clever marketing, in the Twi-Moms story. But it kind of fits with the blurring of the category “adult” in these days when many women leave school in their early twenties, marry or resign themselves to cohabitation at 30-plus and have an increasing chance of never bearing children. "Does the warm blood of a teenager still flow beneath your icy grown-up flesh?" asks Slate's movie critic. "Yes!" is supposed to be the right answer here.

    It is understandable that women still waiting for their romantic destiny to materialise, or perhaps discontented with the reality of marriage and family life, should indulge in a little escapism. There is nothing new in that; from the appearance of the first novels (Pamela, falling in love with her abductor…) through morning radio serials and afternoon television soaps, to the long reign of the ever more sultry Mills and Boon tales, it has ever been thus. [...]

    But identify with a modern teenager who is in love with a vampire and courted simultaneously by a werewolf, high-school hunks both of them? No thanks. I have nothing against fantasy as such, although it took a master like Tolkien to really get me hooked, but from all that I have read about Stephanie Meyer’s oeuvre her fantasy is formulaic and the books depend heavily for their effect on the sensuality evoked in descriptions of the teenage lovers. (The much-touted “chastity” of their relationship seems more like a plot device to keep the story going than a virtue being celebrated.)

    So, if Twilight boils down to Mills and Boon with fangs -- or rather, sharp teeth -- but without sexual intercourse before marriage, what exactly is the attraction for women who might otherwise be watching Sex and The City?

    One answer seems to be the modern obsession with youth, its freedom from responsibility, its options, sexiness and style. Of course, the popular models must be wealthy or lucky enough to be fashionably dressed and accoutred at all times, but it is the sexiness that counts most. And this has a dark side: a woman has to be not only forever desirable but forever on the brink of being bloodthirstily, savagely desired. This darkness takes a particularly nasty turn in the crime stories of Stieg Larrson.

    Well, not that I'd ever recommend "Sins against the Sixth Commandment and the City" as adult entertainment, either, but I think Moynihan is on to something, here.

    When I read the Harry Potter books (the first six, anyway), I did so mainly to see for myself if they were dangerously occult, or not. I decided they weren't, and said so to someone who'd asked for my opinion. But that was that--I didn't think Harry was wonderful, or see myself in any of his female counterparts, etc.; the whole idea is pretty silly for a grown woman. I did note some aspects of Rowling's writing that I disliked, viewing the work as an adult, however.

    One element of the Potter books I did notice was some definite adolescent wish-fulfillment. There is a scene in one in which the brainy, ordinarily somewhat grungy Hermione is suddenly transformed at a school dance into a beautiful young woman whom the boys can't take their eyes off of; there is the whole pairing off of Harry and Ginny, the younger sister of his great friend who has secretly been madly in love with him for years; there are similar situations involving other characters, all of which work out entirely too well (from an adult critic's perspective) given how these things usually go in real life.

    From what I've read, this kind of wish-fulfillment is even more palpable in the Twilight books--though I must insert my standard disclaimer: I have not read the books, nor do I have any intention of doing so. Still, I've heard the gist of the story: Bella, a shy girl from a broken home, practically (and sometimes literally) has to fight off the boys who are interested in her. Among them are not one, but two totally cool bad-boy untamed dudes, who turn out to be a vampire and a werewolf respectively (and which would explain a lot about the politics in Washington State, but that's another blog post). The whole series of books then traces Bella's angsty love: her angst over Edward, Edward's angst over her, the werewolf's assorted angsts--angstes? Can angst be plural? There certainly is a multitude of it in the Twilight series, by all reports. Amid the angst, at one point Bella discovers that if she starts doing dangerous, bad-chick kind of things herself she can hear the absent Edward's voice, presumably telling her what he's been up to, what sort of job he's trying to get--oh, wait. He's a really old vampire dude who doesn't have to work, and who can essentially stay a teenager forever, and so can she if--oh, who's kidding whom, when they decide on a marriage/merger of the angst, which, followed by a rapid honeymoon and an even rapider reproductive cycle just about ends things, except for the obligatory new-parent angst one experiences because werewolves and vampires are trying to kill your baby (and what real parent can't relate to that?).

    Of course, in fairness, I haven't actually read the book. So maybe it's possible that these novels really are breathtakingly well-crafted and well-written, and that the whole Edward/Bella setup is not really, in effect, the sort of thing that will cause real-life girls, craving Edward, to fall left and right for antisocial or psychopathic men, who are a different kind of vampire altogether. Maybe.

    But even if they were, these books are still packed with adolescent wish-fulfillment: shy girl getting noticed, getting tons of attention from the most "interesting" boys, etc. Which makes it easy to understand why teenage girls like them--but other women? Women in their thirties? Forties? Moms with children, even teens, of their own?

    I know that plenty of moms will read books to preview them for their own children. I know other moms who enjoy the occasional young-adult novel as a kind of guilty pleasure, a return to time when plot lines were simpler, characters less complex, and the whole thing could be devoured in an afternoon. For similar reasons other moms enjoy murder mysteries or other light reading.

    But that kind of thing doesn't describe the "Twilight Moms" Moynihan's article refers to--the grown women who line up at bookstores and at movie theaters, who compete with their daughters for "Edward" paraphernalia, who participate in online fan groups or even (shudder) write their own Twilight-inspired fan fiction. I'm not sure what does--is it the fear of growing old, or a reaction to the waning romance of middle age, or something else entirely? What makes women twice or even three times Bella's age want so desperately to revisit their high school years for a do-over, even vicariously through a fictional character who couldn't actually be real in any universe?

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    Anatomy of a shunning

    Deirdre Mundy is a smart, thoughtful writer whose posts are always interesting. This is especially true when she writes about the Legion of Christ. Consider today's post about the Legion/Regnum Christi habit of "shunning" anyone who leaves:
    Many women have reported that when they leave the movement, they are shunned. Their children are shunned. The women who have been their friends for years, sometimes decades, suddenly treat them like garbage.

    They feel like they’re going crazy. They’re lonely and depressed. They wonder if it was really worth it to leave in the first place.

    If you left RC and are being shunned, You are not the crazy one. Your former “friends” are not the ones suffering, like Christ, from betrayal. You are the one suffering betrayal.

    For those of us on the outside, the shunning seems like madness. Catholics don’t shun. Even if someone leaves the Church, we’re supposed to love them as Christ loves them. And the women who’ve left RC haven’t left anything close to the Church. They’ve basically left a club. The Knights of Columbus doesn’t shun inactive members. Why does Regnum Christi?
    Do read the whole thing.

    This post really got me thinking, especially that bit which says that Catholics don't shun. We don't--the Church doesn't, that is. Some may think that excommunication is a kind of shunning, but it really isn't--it is an act of mercy designed to bring a person who has moved too far away from the Church in some way back to his or her senses.

    No, Catholics as a group don't shun. But individual Catholics sometimes do. And while in the LC/RC example both men and women have experienced shunning when they decide to leave a Legion seminary or a Regnum Christi chapter, let's face it: out here in the ordinary world, it's women who do the lion's share of shunning.

    But what do I mean by that? Am I talking about the natural tendency we have to accumulate people in our lives who fit different categories (e.g., casual acquaintance, acquaintance, casual friend, friend, close friend, best friend, etc.)? Am I talking about the ordinary forging and weakening of these bonds over time?

    Not at all. What shunning is, when practiced by people on their own as opposed to people in a group which uses shunning as a disciplinary practice--Deirdre mentions some in her post--is something entirely different. It might be helpful to take a look at what "shunning" is, in that context--if only to guard ourselves against the temptation of indulging in it.

    1. Shunning is something that can only be directed against a friend. Just as in group situations, only a group member can really be shunned, so in friendship situations is it only possible to shun people with whom we've already formed a fairly close bond. So choosing not to pursue a friendship further on the grounds that you don't have much in common isn't shunning--but suddenly cutting off contact with someone you've been close to might be.

    2. Shunning is always unilateral. Friends can move apart, both physically and spiritually. A change in circumstances might make two people decide that they need to spend less time together; often this is quite amicable, as when the marriage of one friend limits her time to spend with an unmarried friend. But shunning involves cutting someone off without that person being on the same page--or, sometimes, even knowing about it.

    3. Shunning is always communal. Thus far I've mentioned things that one person could do: decide, with no just reason, to cut off a friend, without warning or explanation. Except in very unusual circumstances (e.g., the friend has been threatening, abusive, or otherwise harmful), this tends to be an unjust and un-Christian act--but it isn't shunning. Shunning requires that the person who is doing the cutting off draw others into her actions. She may do this in a variety of ways: a whispering campaign against the "former" friend, false accusations, misleading information, or even the sins of calumny or detraction. But the person who wishes to shun a former friend is always a person who can't be content with merely ending the friendship on her own; she has to have the support of others around her.

    4. Shunning is often a test of loyalty. The person who uses shunning as a way to get rid of friends she no longer wants will frequently use the situation to test the loyalty of her other friends. If Vera is cutting off her friend Agnes, for instance, she may act hurt and upset if their mutual friend Sylvia doesn't follow suit--and heaven help Sylvia if she mentions, in Vera's presence, that she and Agnes still meet and chat frequently!

    5. Shunning is an act of passive aggression. The victim of a shunning has little she can do. If Agnes notices, for instance, that not only is Vera suddenly aloof and unavailable, but so are their mutual friends, she may suspect what is going on. But if she calls Vera on this behavior--or anyone else among the group of former friends--she will be met with incredulity and denial, most of the time. She may not even have a clue what she's done to deserve this kind of treatment (because the answer, all of the time, is nothing).

    6. Shunning is at heart an act of great immaturity. Adult friends work out their differences, or mutually agree, often if not most of the time without saying a word about it, that the friendship isn't really working at its former level. Children on the playground who get upset by a playmate will turn their backs, refuse to play anymore, and convince a few others to storm off in indignation with them--but adults aren't supposed to do that. The adult woman who makes a practice of regularly shunning her former friends, badmouthing them to others, and, as far as possible, playing the part of an innocent victim is really modeling childish behavior, refusing to do the work necessary to deal with disagreements and slights (real or perceived) as an adult would.

    7. Shunning is contagious. If you have ever been friends with a person who routinely shuns many of her former friends, telling bad stories about them and urging others to have little or nothing to do with them, you should not be asking yourself IF your friend will ever decide that it's your turn to be shunned. The question you should be asking yourself is...WHEN.

    Many of these things could also be applied to the kind of "group shunnings" Deirdre is talking about. Only someone in the group can be shunned, for instance, the shunning often happens with little warning and for little reason, it is unilateral and communal, it is immature, and it is quite likely to come back to haunt people who participate in it--whey they do something that the group dislikes, however whimsical the group's decision may seem. But in any case, a temptation to shun another person--not only to cut off friendship unilaterally, but to get others on board and turn them against your friend as well--should be seen as what it is: a temptation to something really wicked, something no Catholic should participate in regardless of group affiliation or friendship difficulties.

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    Sing a new song...PLEASE!

    Mark Shea has a couple of terrific posts up about liturgical music. From the first link:
    One of the things I've noted in the past is that my friend Sherry Weddell has remarked that wherever she goes, she hears roughly the same twelve or so OCP hymns at every liturgy. Conspiratorial minds may discern a sinister pattern of indoctrination here. I think the answer is much simpler: your average suburban parish works on the Warm Body principle. The nearest Warm Body is asked to do whatever needs done. So the guy who can play four chords winds up leading the music and doing the four or five songs he knows. The repertoire expands to the other songs that other music leaders in the area know. Lather, rinse, repeat. Most people aren't giving the crappy lyrics a thought ("Something something God. Something something new. Something something life. Something something Spirit. Something or other Jesus and joy!") Those of us who care what lyrics say put the best construction we can on them and, where the lyrics are obviously revolutionary tracts disguised as hymnody, just don't sing them.

    I do think Bender had a point in the thread of discussion that followed the Anchoress' remarks on the subject. Namely, that people who express nothing but contempt for the music used in Mass risk treating the musicians who offer it with contempt, when they are often giving (like the widow with the mite) the best they have. I'll take lousy music offered with a good heart over great music offered in cold Pharisaic pride any day. I often wonder how folks who try to help out with music at Mass feel when they read the boulders of sheer contempt that rain down on their heads in combox threads like those over at First Things. Can't be rewarding to offer the best you know how and then find a battalion of critics, reeking with disgust, contempt and mockery, spitting on your offering to God. So while I empathize with the critics of the bad music and heretical lyrics, I tend to want to say "Remember that as you rain down artillery on that position, there are civilians, women and children in there." [Link in original--E.M.]
    As I've mentioned here before, my whole family sings with our parish choir. Being on the "inside" of the liturgical music situation has clarified many things about what Mark's post title calls "our wretched hymnody" that I didn't realize before. Here are a few of them:

    1. Choir directors come from all sorts of backgrounds and experience levels, and some of them volunteer their time This may limit the music selection at your parish. Our director grew up as an Eastern Rite Catholic, for instance, and changed to the Roman Rite when she married--and the Eastern Catholics have a different (and beautiful) music tradition. She's more familiar, in terms of what's actually in our hymnals, with relatively modern music than with the older stuff; but we do a fair mix of both, anyway.

    2. Congregations generally like the more "modern" music, even if it's deficient from a sacred music perspective. This is especially true in parts of the country where there are large numbers of converts who have no experience whatsoever of liturgical music before Vatican II. I have heard a few positive comments when our choir has sung a Latin hymn, for instance--but I've also heard someone complain for a good bit of time about all the "old" music we're singing, and how the young people were going to be driven away from the Church if we didn't try to make the music more hip and upbeat.

    3. Few priests are both well-versed in sacred music and either able or willing to provide the proper leadership in regards to music at the parish level. I've had three pastors in the last ten years, and only one of them was (and still is) really knowledgeable about music and willing to set standards, nixing some hymns altogether on the grounds of theological deficiency while encouraging the frequent singing of some others--one of his favorites is "Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All." Interestingly enough this priest is himself a convert from the Episcopal church. But I do understand why some priests have not thrown themselves into the hymn battle; some, especially, it seems, some of those who are around forty to fifty years old, may not have been taught much about sacred music, while others have enough fights between factions at the parish without declaring themselves to be champions of traditional music.

    4. The availability of traditional music may be limited by the hymnals the parish has, subscribes to, etc. We get paper hymnals from OCP, like many parishes. Our pastor actually wanted to order permanent books this year--until our choir director reminded him that all the Mass parts will be changing by about Advent of 2011 (506 days and counting!!). We're waiting until then to buy the permanent books, as it would be a waste of money to buy books now and then have to do so again when the new Mass translations are implemented.

    In the meantime, though, those OCP hymnals only contain so many hymns. And the more traditional music is rather limited. While we have considered getting the Adoremus hymnals for our parish, I think we may end up with a version of the Gather hymnal. Though the Gather gets a lot of negative criticism (much of it deserved), it really does have a greater availability of traditional hymns than the OCP books I've seen--yet our congregation wouldn't be completely lost.

    5. Not all old music is good. Not all new music is bad. There's a tendency to put anything composed before Vatican II in one music "basket," and anything composed after in another, and then to see the former as good and the latter as bad. That's not really true--there are old hymns the retirement of which was a mercy. (I'm personally not terribly fond of this one, for example; I sang it once with a college choir, and the line, "By the light of burning martyrs/Jesus' bleeding feet we track..." just seemed, anyway.) While it's quite natural to make a list of all the modern hymns which are earworms and which we hate and won't sing, etc., it's easy to forget that there were some awful clunkers in the past, too. Why didn't it seem to matter? Probably because the Mass was sung, not just hymns. Hymns didn't have the importance they seem to have now. On the other hand, the choir did the singing, from what I've heard.

    I could probably think of half a dozen or so more things I've learned, but the one thing I've learned most of all is this: restoring our musical heritage is something that's going to come very, very slowly at the level of most parishes. Yet it needs to happen; it must happen.

    Music is part of how we pray at Mass--and that's why, if we really want to sing a new song that's more like those older ones, we have to fix the Mass settings first. This past Lent, our choir sang the Latin Chant Mass settings for the whole season--and you know what? We could sort of hear which hymns sounded good with the solemnity of those settings, and which ones were off.

    Our director then chose one of the modern, skippy, "upbeat" settings for Easter--and suddenly the solemn and majestic hymns clashed with the rather banal Mass setting. The hymns won't get better until the Mass music itself does--and we've lived for forty-plus years with the dreadful, the silly, the boring, the hideous and the ugly, in terms of the music we sing from the Gloria to the Agnus Dei; if we don't fix those, then the problem of which hymns to sing will persist. The musical foundations of the liturgy are cracked, crumbling, and in need of immediate repair, and we're spending much of our energy quibbling over the mismatched stained glass windows, some of which were built in the old traditional style while others resemble geometric gelatin. While we're busy arguing over the glass, the support pillars are decaying inside.

    The new Mass translation is coming, and that will mean new musical settings for the music of the Mass. We need to get this right--because no matter how majestic and ineffable the new translation is, if we set the glorious prayers to music that sounds like it was inspired by Godspell then we won't be singing a new song at all, but the same tired old campfire song.