Friday, July 29, 2011

The Prison: an atheist fable

Well, I never got back to the blog last night; I apologize! I appreciate the continued discussion below the atheist post, though, and want to expand on that topic a little.

To start with, I think I need to be a bit more specific about a couple of points:

Point One: My questions in the earlier blog post are aimed primarily at atheists (not agnostics who come from a different place philosophically) and specifically at those atheists who would hold the following (in some form or other; my wording may not be perfect) as a kind of first principle: Nothing which cannot be empirically verified can be said to have actual existence. For the sake of this blog post, let's call it the Principle of Empirical Verifiability (PEV) for short.

Point Two: The question to me is not whether atheists, even those who adhere to the PEV, are able to be good or can choose to be good (or altruistic, or to find meaning, joy, and value in life, etc.). The question is whether this is a rational extension of the ideas of PEV atheism, an irrational departure from the ideas of PEV atheism, or something else altogether.

Point Three: What follows is an extended metaphor by which I hope to illustrate more clearly what I mean. As all metaphors/analogies, it is not perfect--but I think employing it will better able to make my overall meaning clear:

The Prison: a fable for atheists

Suppose that you awaken one day to find yourself in a completely unfamiliar place, surrounded by mostly unfamiliar people: the handful closest to you seem slightly, if oddly, familiar, but you can't explain why. In fact, you can't explain anything at all, because it takes you five years or so to grasp the spoken language of the people amongst whom you find yourself; it takes another ten to fifteen years to add the written language, knowledge of the basic principles of the place you live, and an understanding of your responsibilities as a fully-fledged member of this mysterious community.

But one of the things you have clearly learned by the time you have been a resident for fifteen or twenty years is this: you are in a prison, a huge, highly-advanced prison which has created many illusions of freedom for its residents, but a prison nonetheless. And there are three pretty terrible things about this prison: no one is ever released; no one ever escapes; and everyone, sooner or later, is led away by prison guards and executed, at which point they no longer exist in any form, in any reality, at all.

The truly frightening thing about the death sentences is that they are carried out seemingly at random; new residents who can't even speak the language yet are carted, screaming, away; residents who have barely begun to get their bearings are dragged off as routinely as those who have lived in the prison a long time; and residents who have grown old and feeble wait helplessly for their turn, which they know is coming closer and closer--because no one lives in the prison for more than 122 years, and the vast majority are sentenced to die sometime before they have been there a century. Some residents, regardless of age, go calmly with the cadre of prison guards when they are summoned; others fight and go limp and otherwise try to impede their impending deaths--but no difference is made either way. They die; they disappear; they cease to be.

Other than that, though, it's not a bad place to live. You can, if you are lucky enough to have the means, go to interesting schools, get advanced degrees, fill your head with knowledge; you can work at interesting jobs and earn prison credit which can be used to buy houses, transportation, an affluent and comfortable lifestyle; you can marry and have children--who will be subject to the same eventual death sentence and eternal oblivion as you, but if you are lucky, not for a long time, not until after you, yourself, have been executed. The operative phrase, though, is "if you are lucky," because many in the prison toil at manual labor, barely receive any education, drift from homelessness to hovel-living, walk everywhere or take the inadequate prison transportation (dirty, risky, inconvenient) to get to work or school, watch their own children taken away to be killed, suffer from illness and disease, and otherwise endure misery and hardship. While some people end up in this gritty, bare-bones existence by their own poor choices, most seem to be there as randomly as most of the affluent people seem to be where they are.

But in the end, it doesn't really matter if you have lived an interesting, successful life or a drudge-filled existence of toil and suffering: those guards show up one day, and nothing you were or did will mean much to your fellow prisoners, most of whom will simply be glad they're not you--yet--when you get dragged away.

Now suppose that you are living in this place and trying to make sense of it all. Here I have to simplify, because the point of this exercise of the imagination is to look at all of this as if you are a PEV atheist; bear with me if you are not. But you are a PEV atheist. You believe in the prison because its existence is empirically verifiable; you do not believe in any world outside the prison, any freedom, or any life after one is dragged away and put to death because those things are not empirically verifiable. Sure, there are people, called "believers" who think that the prison was never meant to be a prison, that human beings made it a prison, that the builder has been trying to show people the way out for centuries to the extent of sending his son to tell people about the world outside the prison, freedom, and the eternal life available beyond it; but they are clearly illogical dreamers whose visions don't belong to science, and you pride yourself on placing science at the head of all prison knowledge.

So you have to decide how you can best order your very finite, extremely limited existence when you know that your death and total annihilation will come at any moment. You have a choice: will you live as though your knowledge of this place, your awareness of the relative shortness of your lifespan and uncertainty of its ending date, and your rejection of non-empirical beliefs actually matters, or will you allow yourself to buy into the kind of fairy-tales that other atheists seem to be comfortable with, to wit: that you will probably live at least the average 78 years or so and thus not need to pay attention to your impending obliteration, that work, study, etc. contain some sort of transcendent meaning that makes them valuable pursuits, that joy, happiness, etc. are not just tricks of the mind engineered by the prison itself to keep one docile and content, that altruism and a pattern of good actions is noble and worthwhile, and a dozen other equally absurd things?

If you reject all non-empirical beliefs as the absurdities they are, then you face the reality: life is solitary, nasty, brutish, and short, and then you simply stop being. Following all the rules like a good little prisoner might get you a decent job, a decent relationship, perhaps a relatively non-unhappy family, etc.--but that's not much of an exchange for existential angst and the certainty of destruction, is it? It would be more logically consistent with your beliefs to look out for number one, to lie, cheat, and steal if necessary in order to make your own life as comfortable and pleasure-filled as possible, and to treat other people like the insignificant insects they are (since they can never be you, and since you yourself obviously aren't worth much in this prison, anyway). Within the prison, you see people--politicians, celebrities, sports stars, the famous and the infamous--living lives of excess, and if virtue is somehow its own reward and wealth and consumption a sort of poison, there is, at least, no empirical evidence that this is the case.

At this point, you wonder: do some PEV atheists accept the non-empirical beliefs they seem to live by because this is easier than dealing with the reality? Do they accept them because they are too weak-minded to recognize the inherent absurdity of holding the PEV while still believing in non-empirical things? Do they accept them because they lack the strength, the courage, or the intelligence to lie, cheat and steal and get away with it all successfully? Do they retain the vestiges of religious upbringing such that they fail to notice that platitudes about altruism and the goodness of (prison) life are really rather silly and incoherent? Or is there something else going on?

And you, as a true PEV atheist, shrug, plagiarize your thesis, lie on your resume, cheat on your taxes and your partner, and taunt the "believers" until the group of prison guards appear to take you away forever. But at least, you mutter as you are dragged away, at least I was consistent.


Now, I know that some will object that life *is* good and meaningful, that one doesn't need religion to believe that, that being good to people is better than being bad, etc. My point, though is: can you prove it? Or are these simply comfortable fictions some tell themselves to avoid ever dealing with the logical ramifications of what they believe?

I see a lot of assertions going on about the goodness and meaning of life, etc., in the comment box below the first post. What I don't see is any attempt to prove empirically that those assertions aren't as airy-fairy as any religion's belief system. And, frankly, if the choice is: be a pretty awful person but a consistent atheist, be a good person but an inconsistent atheist, or try to be a good person in accord with one's religious faith, religion still seems like the best deal to me--even aside from my inevitable reflections concerning my own Catholic faith and what that means to me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Late blogging

I'll (hopefully) be blogging a little later this evening; we had an unscheduled vet visit with a kitty who was under the weather (and is now fine, aside from giving us heartbreaking looks that clearly say, "Traitor!" and "I don't care if the vet said to wait till later to feed me: it's dinner time now!)

But I didn't want my tardy schedule to impact your chance to read my friend Leroy Huizenga's amazing piece over at First Things, if you haven't already seen it today:

At Wheaton College I taught “Biblical Interpretation and Hermeneutics” to exceptionally bright, motivated and faithful students. I approached the course from the perspective of the history of interpretation, for, with Peter of Blois, I was convinced that we stand like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, that premodern interpreters had much to say to us moderns who struggle to approach the Bible as Scripture instead of a random collection of textual artifacts. Desiring to rescue the works of the ancients from time’s oblivion and man’s neglect, each semester we sojourned through twenty-five hundred years of interpretation.

In the class we wrestled with premodern interpreters whose approach was supposedly different from our own. The radical ways New Testament writers appropriate Old Testament material proved especially challenging; the nervous joke was that Paul, or Matthew, or even Jesus himself would fail our class. For instance, St. Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”) right after the Holy Family’s escape from Israel to Egypt to portray a reverse exodus inverting Egypt, now the promised land of refuge, and Israel, now the house of bondage.

St. Luke tells of two disciples encountering the Risen Christ on Emmaus Road to show that the Old Testament is rightly read through the lens of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, who “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:27). Further, St. Luke then illustrates that the Risen Christ is known precisely in the Eucharist, a datum thus deemed necessary for sound interpretation: “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.” The Christ who is the key to the Scriptures is ever present in the bread and wine.

The textbook example of hermeneutical jujitsu, however, is Paul’s brazen tour de force in Galatians 4:21-31, in which he states that the Hagar and Sarah are allegories (allegoroumena), the former pointing to the slavery of the Judaizers of the earthly Jerusalem and the latter pointing to the freedom of the heavenly Jerusalem. Perhaps that might fly in homiletics, but not in serious exegesis. If one were to hand out grades, it would be F’s all around.

Read the whole thing here!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Atheist hissy fits

I sort of saw this coming, as I imagine most people did:

An atheist organisation has filed a lawsuit to prevent the World Trade Center cross from going on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.

American Atheists filed the lawsuit this week in the state court of New York and posted a copy on its website. [...]

Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, said: 'The WTC cross has become a Christian icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn't be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross. It's a truly ridiculous assertion.'

Two things: I am surprised American Atheists isn't suing the builder of the Twin Towers for using perpendicular lines in their construction such that this sort of cross shape was more or less inevitable; and does it occur to anyone else that the subtitle of every New Atheist rant ought to be: God is not fair?

Here's more:

The cross, which was moved on Saturday to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, underwent a ceremonial blessing in a service led by Father Brian Jordan, a Franciscan monk who ministered to workers involved in the 9/11 clean-up.

Joe Daniels, 9/11 Memorial president, said the cross is 'an important part of our commitment to bring back the authentic physical reminders that tell the history of 9/11 in a way nothing else could'.

Mr. Daniels is right. The cross, whether seen as a religious symbol or not, whether ceremonially blessed or not, is a piece of the WTC wreckage and thus a piece of history. That Christians were inevitably going to see this particular shape and identify it with one of the (if not the) most recognizable symbols of our faith does not change the history of that particular bit of wreckage, and the way it became an iconic symbol of 9/11 and the days following when people clung for hours to the hope that somehow their missing loved ones had survived, when people clutched each other and prayed and wept without caring about sectarian issues, when blurry photos and reports of last phone messages filled our news media with somber reflection and our listening ears and hearts with sadness and pain.

But the New Atheists are all about freedom from religion; they seem to think that if random chance happened to choose such an unfortunate configuration as a cross-shaped set of girders around which people might--and did--rally and pray, it is up to them to lead a crusade to rewrite that particular bit of history by banning that particular shape from any government-funded museum, because otherwise people who hate God might feel oppressed by its presence there.

It is, of course, not that surprising that today's atheists prefer to throw loud hissy fits whenever religion is mentioned; they tend to be rather zealous and fundamentalist in their desperate need to wipe all mention of God from the public square, so much so that some of them seem to have nothing better to do than to criticize a Catholic blogging mom who used to be an atheist herself, and knows what that is like. But thankfully, the blogger in question is Jen Fulwiler, who takes such things in stride:

On Monday, professor PZ Myers wrote a nuanced treatise titled “Jennifer Fulwiler: vacant-eyed, mindless cluelessness personified.” Oh, man, he doesn’t even know the half of it. I’m no genius on my best days, but I’m so sleep deprived right now that I’m shuffling around vacant-eyed and mindless, acting like the poster child for cluelessness. I’m drooling on myself as I type this.

After the accurate title, however, the piece kind of goes off the rails. I don’t recommend that you read it due to offensive content, so I’ll summarize it: Professor Myers was flustered about my post called 5 Catholic Teachings that Make Sense to Atheists, and in response to most of the points he basically said “BUT WE DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD!” He missed the point, but that may have been my fault: I evidently did not make it clear enough that all of my examples were meant only to illustrate the intellectual consistency within Catholicism, and therefore assumed that you would be in a discussion with an atheist who would stipulate belief in God for the sake of argument. E.g. In the case of Purgatory, when I was an atheist I would have said, “All belief in the supernatural is crazy. But if you must believe in all that God and heaven mumbo jumbo, then, yeah, you need Purgatory in order not to contradict your own bizarre little belief system.”

What follows are almost 180 comments in which the atheists, to prove their superior reasoning capacity and love of strictly empirical evidence in rational debate, say things like "Nah, nah, nanny-nanny sky god sky daddy easter bunny fairy stories superstitious mumbo-jumbo phbtbtphbtbtphbt..." And, to be honest, I'm probably bumping up the level of discourse a bit.

I wrote a comment to be posted over there; in the unlikely event any actual atheist reads this post and would like to respond, here's what I would have posted:
This is an interesting discussion (assuming that my existence is real and not the result of an extremely detailed hallucination, that other people are real and are not products of that hallucination or a separate hallucination, that technology is not an illusion that is either part of that hallucination or a separate hallucination, and that the various comments appearing as if by magic on this website are being generated by actual real people sitting in front of actual real computers and not an additional aspect of any one or several of the hallucinations I've already mentioned, none of which can be empirically proved or disproved, of course).

My questions for atheists (all assumptions above still operative) are as follows:

1. Is it accurate to describe human beings as "self-aware organic pain collectors headed swiftly toward oblivion?" Why or why not?

2. If the description in (1) is accurate, is it also accurate to say that human existence is an exercise in futility and that the vast majority of human beings will be completely forgotten within 50-100 years of their deaths (the famous and infamous are, naturally, the outliers)?

3. If (1) and (2) are both accurate, ought not selfishness, excessive consumption, and the pursuit of extreme hedonistic pleasures be the highest and best human goals? Is it not, in fact, an absolutely worthless waste of one's extremely short time to spend years in study, to work hard, to be a parent, or to do anything else that is not ultimately ordered toward obtaining for one's own self a life of comfortable ease?

3.(a) In fact, isn't the act of bringing a new human being into the world to exist for perhaps 80 meaningless and futile years full of suffering only to cease to be altogether at the end the least rational and most unkind thing a person can do?

4. If you reject (3) and say that some noble ideals such as making the world a better place for future generations, or saving the planet from human excess, or some similar thing are indeed worthy pursuits--why is this not an irrational belief that should be given no more weight than any religion, given that it can never be empirically proved that future generations actually will benefit, one will not personally benefit from any improvements made, and one is further likely to be thwarted in the pursuit of pleasure during one's depressingly finite existence?

4. (a) And if you really believe that the world's worst problem is overpopulation and that saving the planet requires fewer people, would you be willing to kill yourself or enact a campaign of mass murder (scientifically, perhaps, through tainted medicines or weapons of war) in order to solve that problem? If not, why not? (And don't simply say "Because it's wrong to kill people," because that is not an argument based on reason.)

That will do to start with.
I have found, in my experience of debating atheists, that they don't much like these sorts of questions. Oh, sure, they'll be dismissive of them, and try the "sky-daddy spaghetti-monster" taunting a little longer, but few of them are actually willing, in my experience, to deal honestly with the philosophical ramifications of atheism. Once, in college, I did meet an honest, engaged sort of atheist. He expected me (as this was a Catholic school) to try to convert him in the hour or so we were conversing, but instead, I led him (gently, I swear!) through all of the implications of his atheistic, zero-population-growth, save the planet, environmental extremism. By the end of the conversation he fully admitted that if he were face to face with a timber wolf the only just thing he could do was use his hypothetical gun to shoot himself, not the wolf--and, by extension of that, given his admitted promiscuity, the failure rates of various forms of birth control, the fact that keeping any unintended offspring would be his paramour of the moment's decision rather than his, and the devastating environmental impact in a couple hundred years of one child's being born today the only truly moral course of action for him, given his belief system, was suicide before he could commit the crime and folly of reproduction, accidental or otherwise.

Luckily for me, at this point he also admitted to being a total hypocrite, such that he wished his own temporary existence to continue, and would rather snuff out the lives of worthless third world hyper-breeder-type families via contraception, abortion, and so forth. I say "luckily" because otherwise I might have ended up guilty of being an accessory to suicide via rational suggestion. But I saw him around the campus one or two more times that semester, enjoying tricking a certain sort of sensitive, sentimental girl (which he probably--ha!--had mistaken me for) into engaging in "sky-daddy" debates about which he could feel smugly superior; but he never made the mistake of asking me to discuss religion again, and I have a feeling he might have been just slightly unsettled by our conversation.

When atheists fly into hissy fits over crosses, or engage in juvenile taunting over a thoughtful person like Jen Fulwiler's serious, rational discussion about how she used to think when she was one of them, I have a feeling that what they'd like to avoid at all costs is a debate about whether they can really prove that atheism is the best, most rational response to questions that have nothing to do with empiricism, or why, indeed, any sort of morality or virtue--even the most weak, tepid civil kind--makes any sense at all. At least the Randian atheists are logically consistent: if this world is all there is, and there is no hope or possibility of doing anything that will bring lasting good, lasting peace, or lasting joy to this world (leaving aside the question of a future world), then why would anybody waste any sort of time at all in pursuits that are not completely self-centered and hedonistic?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The people they ought to ban

Are parents with children becoming the new second-class citizens? Have a look:
"Brat bans could well be the next frontier in destination and leisure-product marketing," writes Robert Klara in an article on the child-free trend in AdWeek. [...]

Traveling is one thing, but what about in kids' own hometowns? Should kids been banned from local movie theaters, like they were at a recent adults-only Harry Potter screening? In Texas, one cinema chain has even flipped the model, banning kids under six altogether, except on specified "baby days".

Even running errands with toddlers may be off limits. This summer Whole Foods stores in Missouri are offering child-free shopping hours and in Florida, a controversy brews over whether kids can be banned from a condominium's outdoor area. That's right, some people don't even want kids outdoors.

When did kids become the equivalent of second-hand smoke? Blame a wave of childless adults with money to spare. "Empty nesters continue to wield a huge swath of discretionary spending dollars, and population dips in first-world countries mean more childless couples than ever," writes AdWeek's Klara. [...]

Most parents with young children have self-imposed limits on spending and leisure. This new movement imposes limits set by the public. And the public isn't as child-friendly as it used to be. As businesses respond to their new breed of 'first-class' clientele, are parents in danger of becoming second-class citizens? [All links in original: E.M.]
I'd like to preface my remarks with three points: first, there are places parents should generally not take small children (the opera comes to mind, as do restaurants where meals cost more than $85 per person, nude beaches, avant-garde theater productions, and across picket lines, but that sort of decision requires the rare quality called common sense, which is no more prevalent among parents than among any other sort of human being). Second, if parents actually practiced the art of disciplining children instead of folding up like cheap beach umbrellas every time their children threaten to act out in public, fewer children would cause the kinds of ill-mannered and distressing scenes that cause non-parents to become increasingly intolerant of the presence of people under age twenty or so. And third, only a narcissistic whiner--which I am not--would try to force private businesses to allow children on their premises using the strong arm of the law, or at least the threat of civil lawsuits.

All of that said, though, I think that most businesses which issue a blanket "No children allowed" policy or severely restrict or limit the hours or places where children are permitted to be present are being colossally short-sighted and even, if I may say so as charitably as possible, monumentally stupid. It is one thing if the businesses that decide such a policy will enhance their adult customers' experiences without causing them to lose family business are actually businesses about which this is true: five-star restaurants, perhaps, or the snobby art museum in my town which has such a bad reputation for being family-unfriendly that the only time I ever visited it was before our family actually moved here (we were visiting relatives)--and that experience was unnerving enough to convince me that I wasn't missing out on anything by not becoming a regular patron, nor, in fact, ever setting foot inside their doors again. It's another thing altogether if businesses which reap a fair share of their profits selling their goods or services to families with children suddenly decide to have child-free hours or place draconian restrictions on when and where children may be served. Busy moms and dads of young children find it hard enough to run errands or travel or otherwise conduct normal business without having to remember that their children aren't welcome at this store on these days or that restaurant during those hours; it's much more likely that such businesses will simply earn the label, like the art museum in my town, "family-unfriendly," and will lose the business of families with young children altogether.

They will also lose the business of people like me, because even though my children are now old enough to be welcome in most places, I myself am ordinarily extremely uncomfortable in establishments where no children are allowed. I dislike being among crowds of selfish, spoiled, egocentric adults who think that having successfully avoided the presence of children they are now free to be as ill-mannered, exacting, demanding, arrogant, rude, and cheap with "the help" as they like; and "the help" includes restaurant servers, theater attendants, flight attendants, hotel staff, and several dozen other groups of employees who get stuck dealing with the toxic levels of entitlement on display among the "No children, please!" crowd.

I can, after all, make excuses for a tired baby fussing, or a momentary toddler meltdown, or an unscheduled bit of six-year-old angst or illness--especially when loving, caring parents are clearly doing their absolute best to deal promptly and efficiently with the situation, whatever it might be. It is harder to make excuses for parents who apparently aren't interested in parenting, and don't seem to care that their children are egregiously misbehaving. But it is hardest of all to excuse the unmitigated boorishness of a loudmouthed and pompous diner reducing a young server to tears for having had the carelessness to bring him the meal he actually ordered, instead of the meal he had, perhaps, considered ordering but had not; or the unbelievable gall of the narcissist who can't resist checking his text messages in the middle of La Boheme, by which he is clearly patently bored.

But, of course, businesses can't ban the people they ought to ban: smug, selfish, badly-behaved, self-centered, spoiled, arrogant, entitled adults. Because if they could, none of us would have anyplace at which to transact any of our business ever again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Religion is not a mere hobby

Charlotte, who writes the blog Cheeky Pink Girl, has written one of the most brilliant and well-thought-out posts on the topic of gay "marriage's" infringement with religious freedom I've ever read. I'm putting a largish excerpt here, but go and read the whole thing:
So what about that small minority known as the Catholic business owner? I ask every Catholic reading this blog post to take in hand their Sunday bulletin picked up at yesterday's mass and look at the back cover. There you will see, for the most part, advertising from Catholic-owned and operated businesses. [...]

Next, let's say that word gets out on the local level that Catholic Business X did a gay wedding. What would your reaction be? I know mine, and it's automatically imbued with sin. I'm going to mention it to fellow Catholic friends: "Did you hear that Catholic Business X catered a big gay wedding and reception?" And then they tell a friend, who tells someone they see at some business meeting, and they tell another, and then someone tells the priest, and on down the line it goes.

And then for next year's parish festival, Catholic Business X doesn't get a bid opportunity to rent out beer tents from the festival planning committee. Or maybe the owner of Catholic Business X notices that some parishioners at mass just aren't as friendly to him as they used to be.

See where I'm going with this?

I believe that a business is entitled to not have their reputation tarnished by laws demanding that services be provided which violate their religious beliefs. I believe that Catholics, whether corporately or privately, have a reasonable right to maintain reputation as a Catholic in good standing, which ultimately means that they should be able to exercise judgments and actions that are in line with the teachings of the Catholic faith.

With reference to the Catholic inn keepers in Vermont, it is being said that they have a free-standing Catholic chapel on their property, as well as a history of renting out their facilities to various Catholic groups. Knowing this, if they voluntarily agreed to host every gay wedding that walked through the door, what effect might that have on the stream of Catholic-based business that they already have? Likely, it would have a very negative effect simply because word gets around.

Worse, what if they were forced - by law - to accept every gay wedding that was requested? Some might answer, "Well, it wouldn't matter because we'd all understand that they had to do it. I wouldn't discriminate against that business/owner because they're just complying with the law."

Oh really? What if you booked a Catholic seminar at that inn one weekend, and once you and all the other Catholic attendees arrived, discovered that out on the grounds of the inn there was a gay wedding taking place? And what if the gay couple from the wedding were having professional photographs taken inside the little Catholic chapel on the premises? What if there were drag queens as guests at that wedding and some older folks attending the Catholic seminar were very uncomfortable with what they were seeing? For that matter, what if you had a teenager with you at that Catholic seminar, and during a break, your son or daughter caught sight of gay couples kissing each other?

You'd never book another event at that inn, ever. Period. [...]

So I ask this: WHY should these inn owners - or any Catholic-owned business - have to risk ruining their good business and/or Catholic reputation because the gay community insists that whatever they ask for must be provided?
As Charlotte then points out, it is insane to think that one's Catholic identity must legally be confined to one's place of worship on Sunday mornings. Faith is meant to be lived, and if the living of that faith means that some Jewish deli owners don't sell ham or bacon and that some Muslim taxi drivers refuse to drive inebriated passengers and some Catholic business owners refuse to host fake gay "weddings," then our historic national appreciation of religious freedom should allow all of those things to be possible for people of faith.

Why do I say "some" religious believers will refuse to do certain things? Because, let's face it: there will always be plenty of unobservant or functionally irreligious people of various faiths who will take a childlike delight in turning against the actual practitioners. There may well be some Jewish people who argue in favor of selling ham, some Muslim people who argue in favor of giving rides to drunks, some Catholic people who think gay "weddings" are terrific, even some Buddhist people who would have no moral qualms about owning and running a slaughterhouse. But such people rarely speak for their faiths; in fact, they seem to enjoy speaking against them.

The truth is, such people are not usually the ones advertising in church bulletins (or the like, for other faiths) and trying to attract business among their fellow worshipers. So Charlotte's question still stands: why should Catholic business owners lose all of their Catholic business just because homosexuals insist that Catholics must accept and celebrate homosexual behavior to the point of participating in a "wedding" that the Catholics know fully well is a complete lie according to the Church?

I would like to see some answers to Charlotte's question. Do religious business owners have any right at all to act according to the dictates of their faith and consciences in the business sphere--or must everyone be forced to live as though secularism were our only faith, and religion a mere hobby to take part in on weekends, which is how militant atheistic secularism sees it?

Missing part of Mass

Somebody found my blog on Sunday by searching for the phrase, "missing part of Sunday Mass." The search engine brought up this old post of mine (along with some others about missing Mass generally on various sites).

I know what it is like to be scrupulous about such things; in fact, I told the mother of a young child just the other day that my own mother used to say, jokingly, that she felt like an atheist until each child was about two, because of all the time she spent in the vestibule with the baby and not really able to participate fully at Mass. Of course, those caring for small children have a good reason why they may not be able to attend Mass at all, so I think "vestibule duty" is setting a terrific example of heroic suffering and participating as much as one is able, anyway.

I can't, of course, assume that the person asking the question is actually being scrupulous, though. In fact, I can't assume anything at all about his or her motives in writing this query; but since the query existed, I figure it can't hurt to put out an answer of sorts--as always, subject to correction by the Church if I misstate anything.

So: is it a sin to miss part of a Sunday Mass?

The old answer used to seem to be that so long as you came in either by the Gospel (in some versions) or by the Offertory (in others) you were fine. As Jimmy Akin points out in this post of his from about four years ago, though, the liturgical law does not at present draw a clear line at which point a person has missed so much of a Mass that he must go again in order to fulfill the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday--and, of course, all Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation unless prohibited for a serious reason (and the Catechism lists such things as illness and the care of children as examples of some serious reasons one may legitimately miss Mass on a Sunday). So, today, the questions about whether one has satisfied the obligation to assist at Mass if one has arrived late will have varying answers depending on many circumstances, some of which I'll discuss here.

The first question is: Have I arrived late to Mass or missed some part of the Mass through my fault and for no good reason? A late arrival, for instance, because one is attending Mass at an unknown church in an unfamiliar town and one gets lost in traffic on the way is probably not one's fault; a late arrival to the last Mass of the day because one was drinking heavily the night before and slept through one's alarm clock might be. Or, for another example, missing part of Mass because one's toddler suddenly needs an urgent diaper change or because one is beset by a coughing fit that is distracting to others (and that sends one in search of the water fountain in the parish hall) is clearly not a fault, but missing part of Mass because one is bored and decides to go surf the Internet on one's phone out in the parking lot clearly is. And then there is the question of early leaving: if one has to leave Mass before the end of Mass because, for instance, one is a nurse and must be at work by 10:00 a.m. and the visiting missionary priest gave a thirty minute homily at the 8:00 a.m. Mass instead of the usual five minute one, one is fine; so is someone taken ill during Mass, someone who must leave with a screaming child, and so forth. But the person who leaves after receiving Communion just to be first in line at a popular brunch spot probably needs a bit of soul-searching.

The second question is: if I have missed a significant portion of the Mass, must I attend another? Here, I can share an experience: long ago, we went for the first time to a church an hour away from home with three children under age 3 on Palm Sunday. We got lost on the way there, and arrived either as the Passion reading was concluding or the homily was beginning (at this space of time, I can't recall exactly). The church was packed, and we stood in the back with the girls. The Mass was a noon Mass (we had thought that would give us plenty of time to arrive in the distant city and find the church, but we were wrong). There was no 5 p.m. Mass closer than another city three hours away from the city we were in, and no Mass later than that noon one that was even remotely possible for us to attend, even if three young toddlers could have made it through a late afternoon or evening Mass--there simply wasn't another Mass available. So although it wasn't ideal for us to have missed so much of the Mass, we realized that this was the only Mass we were going to be able to attend that day, and we made the best of it.

Sometimes, of course, arriving late or missing a significant part of Mass doesn't mean you can't go later to another Mass, and each person has to decide what is prudent and what is necessary. I have known young moms who sneak off to an evening Mass just because the morning Mass complete with young children was such a distracted and interrupted experience that they crave another encounter with our Eucharistic Lord, and while it may not be strictly necessary, it's never a bad thing, provided it can reasonably be done.

The bottom line, to me, is this: if you did not intend to miss part of the Sunday Mass, and you ended up missing a part for no fault of your own, you are fine. If you miss a significant part (even through no fault of your own) and can attend another Mass you are always free to do so, but whether you are obligated to do so will depend on individual circumstances to such a degree that you may have to consult with your pastor to be sure. Certainly if you miss part of Mass for a serious reason, such as needing to rush out of Mass with a child displaying signs of illness, and the child remains ill for the rest of the Sunday, you have the ordinary sort of serious reason which removes the obligation to attend Mass. If the reason is less serious and you can easily attend another Mass, certainly you may choose to do so. But if you missed a significant part of the Mass through laziness, indifference, or something else that is definitely your fault, the situation is somewhat different; if the fault is habitual, you may find it prudent to address it in the sacrament of Penance.

Friday, July 22, 2011

21 days...

of 100 degree plus weather where I live. It's not a record yet. Only the fifth longest recorded stretch.

But it probably explains the monster migraine that kept me from blogging today. :)

Back Monday!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The assualt against religious freedom

Sorry for the late blogging--it's been a slightly unusual day around here.

The American government has declared war on female fertility, and the bishops of the Catholic Church don't like that at all:

.- The U.S. bishops “strongly oppose” a proposal to mandate coverage of surgical sterilization and all FDA-approved birth control in private health insurance plans nationwide. The mandate would undermine the good of women and children and the consciences of heath care providers, one leading bishop said.

“Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. [...]

The committee recommended “the full range” of federally approved contraceptives and sterilization procedures.

Cardinal DiNardo noted that the Institute of Medicine committee said it would have good reason to recommend mandatory coverage for surgical abortions, if such a mandate were not prevented by law.

“I can only conclude that there is an ideology at work in these recommendations that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children,” he said in a July 19 statement.

Considering that many private health insurance companies already fund such evils as contraception and IVF, why should Catholics be concerned about this? Because abortion coverage may be included:

Americans United for Life also opposed the proposal, saying it would fund the abortion-inducing drug Ella.

Anna Franzonello, staff counsel for Americans United for Life, on July 20 said that her organization had warned about the possibility of funding abortion and abortion-causing drugs through the health care legislation’s mandate before its passage. [...]

Americans United for Life called on the Department of Health and Human Services to “respect the conscience rights of Americans” and honor Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md.) promise that the mandate would be used to prevent diseases.

As we've seen in the discussion about Catholic innkeepers being sued for not hosting a fake lesbian "wedding" today (and I would really like to thank Charlotte for doing such a great job of showing what a threat to religious freedom that really is), society is moving toward requiring Catholics to participate in grave evil, making a mockery of the idea of religious freedom. Soon that will take the form of coercing Catholics to participate in abortion in ways that should be obnoxious to a truly free people, but I think the illusion that we are any such thing in this nation is rapidly decaying. A mandate like this one may be primarily about enforced funding of abortion, but it's a short step from that to requiring Catholic doctors, hospitals, health care workers, etc. to give out the pills or hold the scalpels or turn on the suction machines or otherwise participate in the murder of unborn humans against their consciences and religious freedom--or lose their jobs for refusing. I have already heard some people say, with a shrug, "Why should anyone who doesn't believe in abortion be allowed to work in health care, anyway?"

The answer, that killing people isn't health care, that Catholics have made their disapproval of killing unborn humans well known, and so on will be brushed aside just as easily as the Catholic innkeepers' disapproval of fake lesbian "weddings" has been. The idea that Catholic women have the right to go to obstetricians who do not kill at least as many babies as the deliver will also be sneered at. In our culture, standing on principle is only allowed when the principles coincide with what our secular nation has deemed acceptable.

Like I said before: religious freedom is the one thing that stands in the way of changing our government from one that is of, by, and for the people into one that is of the wealthy, by the powerful, and for the connected. The assault against religious freedom in the public square has only just begun.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Much more important

I post a lot about culture war topics. That's as it should be--our culture is sick, some would say dying--and sitting around passively as if none of it matters isn't really an option for a serious Christian.

However, there are more important things, sometimes, to talk about. Much more important.

This is one of them:

An estimated 10 million people have been affected in East Africa by the worst drought in more than half a century. More than 166,000 desperate Somalis are estimated to have fled their country to neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia.

The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said $300m (£186m) was needed to address the famine in the next two months.

The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, said the response by many European and developed countries to the crisis in the Horn of Africa had been "derisory and dangerously inadequate".

"The fact that a famine has been declared shows just how grave the situation has become. It is time for the world to help," he said.

If you have the courage, read this story too--and learn, among other things, how a mother abandoned her sick child in the desert to die in a desperate attempt to get her other children somewhere where they would not perish of starvation.

Our beloved pope has called on the world to come to Somalia's aid. Thus far, I've seen information about making donations to the suffering in Somalia on British Catholic charity CAFOD's website (but CAFOD can't take US credit card information online--you have to call). I would be happy to post similar alerts and links to United States charities, particularly Catholic ones, as those become available, and will update this post appropriately.

The politically correct approval of perversion

In an example of the sort of clash we can expect to see more frequently now that New York has joined the gay "marriage" brigade, a Catholic innkeeper in Vermont is being sued for refusing to host a lesbian pair's "wedding" reception:

Kate Baker and Ming Linsley filed the suit on Tuesday in Vermont Superior Court, accusing the Wildflower Inn of Lyndonville of abruptly turning them away after learning they are lesbians.

They claim the inn violated Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which prohibits inns, hotels, motels and other establishments with five or more rooms from turning away patrons based on sexual orientation. The law makes an exemption for religious organizations.

But the Catholic owners don't violate the law, they say:

The inn's owners, Jim and Mary O'Reilly, issued a statement saying they are devout Catholics who believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.

"We have never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays or lesbians," they wrote. "Many of our guests have been same-sex couples. We welcome and treat all people with respect and dignity. We do not however, feel that we can offer our personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in."

In other words, the lesbians wouldn't have been refused ordinary accommodation. They wanted something special--a "wedding" reception. The Catholic inn owners do not appear to believe that a wedding can consist of anything other than a bride and a groom. They do not appear to believe that two women pledging to live together and perform various sex acts on each other is a marriage; as a Catholic, I agree, by the way. And they should not be forced by any court to have to pretend that they do.

But, as Mark Shea usually puts it, tolerance is not enough--you must approve. The innkeepers are being sued, essentially, for not approving of homosexual perversion and not being willing to celebrate it at their family-friendly inn.

As I've said before: we can have religious freedom in this country, or we can have state-sanctioned sexual perversion. We can't have both, and it's clear that what the state wishes to make disappear is religious freedom, which stands as too great a check against totalitarianism to be tolerated in a nation which is rapidly becoming a kakistocracy. Religious believers may have been useful in building a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but they are very much an obstacle to the next level, a government of the wealthy for the powerful by the connected. Branding religious believers as "bigots" and punishing them legally and financially for refusing to applaud and cheer for the "celebration" of two lesbians committing themselves to a life of mutual grave sin is only the first step in achieving this goal.

It will soon be illegal to act as though you actually believe that same-sex pairs are not the moral equivalent of a heterosexual couple raising their own biological children, even if our free speech laws make it impossible to outlaw saying so--for now, anyway. Remember that the next time a gay rights advocate starts asking vehement questions about how his gay "marriage" will hurt you. If you are a religious believer who does not believe that homosexual perversion and real, heterosexual marriage are the same thing in the eyes of God or of decent people, it will probably hurt you very much when the courts force the politically correct approval of perversion on the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A day off

No, I did not need a day off from my normal activities because I stayed up really late last night getting the writing blog up and running (it's here, if you haven't seen it yet). I had a lovely day off from my normal activities because my husband Thad took a vacation day today, a little bit of compensation for all the weekend hours he (like so many people) has had to work lately.

We spent the whole day--Thad, the girls, and I--together, running a handful of errands in the crazy Texas heat and enjoying each other's company tremendously. We needed this day, a day stolen away from our usual routines, a day just to relax and unwind and be--really, be--together.

Thad took us out for brunch at a terrific restaurant (part of a smallish chain) where he sometimes has lunch during a busy work week. The plate-sized pancakes were wonderful, as was all of the food (my special favorite were the home fries which were truly delicious). It was quiet and calm, though I hear that on weekend mornings they have quite a crowd. I can understand why!

After that, we did a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing--no urgent errands to deal with, no particular agenda, just a few fun stops and a chance to spend some time in places in our area where we don't usually go. I found myself treasuring it, because I know that days like this will come to an end before I'm ready for them to--days when we're all free to do this sort of everything and nothing, days without agendas and plans and "to-do" lists full of boxes to check, days when our whole family can just enjoy each other's company, when I can listen to my girls complimenting each other sincerely on their various talents and joining in conversations from the serious to the jovial with Mom and Dad, when we can simply enjoy being a family.

Because the girls are growing up, and soon (though not immediately, thank goodness) they will be heading out into the world, to work and go to college and pursue their dreams and find their vocations. And I want them to do all of those things, and I don't expect them to stop complimenting each other or joining conversations or enjoying family time--but I know that schedules will get much more complicated, and available free time will shrink even more than it already has, and that days like today will become even more precious than they already are, because they will become more rare.

And that's okay, really. Because today I had a day off--a day off from the realization that we're getting closer and closer to those joyful and yet bittersweet changes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's not quite midnight here..., technically, it is still Monday, and I'm still keeping my promise to put my fiction writing blog up and out there.

But I don't have time for anything else, today.

So: here it is. First, the blog:

Tales of Telmaja

Second: the posts, so far:


Adventures in self-publishing, part one

Adventures in self-publishing, part two

And now: a confession. I'm finding this rather terrifying. You'd think that being a loudmouthed opinionated redhead publishing on all sorts of topics would inure me to the idea of making my fiction available for sale in the near future, but you'd be wrong about that. It's funny, isn't it?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Any convenient shillelagh

First, an apology: I promised last Friday that I would link to my new fiction writing blog on Monday. It's now Friday again, and I still don't have the new blog set up and ready to be made public. While it has been a crazy week, I think that the lesson I've learned here is: make sure there's a feasible amount of work left to be done on something before you say that you'll link to it in a few days.

I will do my absolute best to finish what needs to be finished over the weekend so I can link to the blog this coming Monday, for those who are still interested. If I don't finish everything...I'll link to it anyway. "Under construction" is okay, right?

Now: today's issue.

Patrick Archbold has done a good job discussing the Irish proposal to force Catholic priests to violate the seal of the confessional and reveal the sins of penitents--if those penitents are confessing to child abuse of any kind. Patrick writes:

Here in the US, governmental antipathy toward religion and particular the Catholic Church is a growing threat. Catholic organizations are already being prevented from providing adoption services and you can bet your favorite pair of skinny jeans that gay marriage laws will eventually culminate in discrimination charges for any religious organization that refuses to go along.

All these things erode our religious liberty. But the governmental death blow aimed at the heart of the Church is to destroy the seal of confession. If you think this could never happen, think again. It may be happening right now in Ireland.

The Irish government, including the person no less than the Prime Minister, the Minister for Justice, and the Minister for Children are all backing legislation that would require priests to break the seal of confession to report pedophiles.

This is, of course, not only a monstrous attack the Church and religious liberty, it is also completely useless. Do these Irish geniuses think that all pedophiles are complete morons? If a pedophile knows that the priest will/must rat him out to the coppers, how many pedophiles will be confessing? Yeah, about the same number of Mensa members in the Irish government. [Link in original--E.M.]

This is, of course, an attack against the Church, but it is a supremely stupid one. Not only will it be impossible to enforce a law which would require a priest to violate Church law and the confidence placed in him by those seeking the sacrament of penance, but it is also the case that confessions quite often take place under circumstances which offer the penitent anonymity. Even if the Church did permit priests to violate the seal of confession, which she doesn't, the law would likely be dubious about reports of confessions of child abuse in which the suspect disclosed the information behind a screen which obscured his face, and in a low monotone of the sort adopted by most Catholics in the confessional (because, after all, the next person in line might otherwise accidentally overhear). And there is no evidence, none whatsoever, that forcing priests to reveal the confessions of self-accused pedophiles or other child abusers would in any way help law enforcement deal with the problem of child abuse; in fact, considering that law enforcement sometimes has trouble prosecuting cases when multiple child-victims are willing to come forward and testify, how could the testimony of a priest concerning the shaky identification and mumbled self-accusation of a possible suspect even begin to be helpful?

The answer: it won't be. But this isn't about helping the children, or prosecuting abusers. This is about finding any convenient shillelagh (and you know I've got some Irish blood, because I spelled "shillelagh" correctly on the first try with no dictionary's help) with which to beat the Church.

Granted, given the terrible nature of the Scandal and the fear and frustration of lay people as they watch the slow and sometimes ineffective measures the Church has taken to try to protect children from abusers within the clergy, it is not hard to understand the anger that causes such reactions. But the problem with attempting to go after the sacrament of penance and violate the sacred trust between priests and penitents as the latter approach in sorrow to be absolved of their sins is that breaking that bond of trust will ultimately do much more harm than good. The right of every Catholic to approach his or her priest in total confidence that nothing which is said during sacramental confession will ever be revealed on earth to any other human being is sacrosanct, and is not something any real Catholic would permit to be violated by any government body, for any reason. Even in the secular world some bonds, such as those between doctors and patients, or lawyers and clients, or husbands and wives, are treated with the same respect--but if the Church is a target of the state's overreaching hands, you can expect that the rest of these bonds will be disrespected and done away with at some point, too.

UPDATE: This article says priests will be jailed over this:

.- A senior canon lawyer has told CNA he is alarmed by Irish government plans to imprison priests for keeping the seal of confession in sexual abuse cases.

“It will end up with priests being put in jail,” said Father Paul Hayward, editor of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland’s journal Abstracts.

“We have to get greater clarity as to what exactly is being proposed but, certainly, no priest who values their priesthood would ever break the seal of confession. This could make martyrs of a lot of Irish priests.”

And that's what the government of Ireland apparently wants.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Follow Him

A terrific post from Father Longenecker today that I want to share (Hat tip: New Advent):
It takes other forms as well. There is a tendency amongst some Catholics to turn their religion into an intellectual quest for 'true orthodoxy' or 'solid theology' or 'a message that is relevant for people today.' Others turn it into a search for 'a spirituality that really suits them'. I heard another priest going on the other day about "modern man's search for meaning and how each person must search the depth of their heart to find their heart's true desire and then at that point they will have the Christ encounter." Whaat? Sound like Jean Paul Sartre meets Dorothy Gale from Kansas.

I'm exaggerating, but you get my point.

What I'm realizing more and more is how very far the twenty first century church is from the simple preaching of the gospel and the core of the Catholic faith. What we don't hear is the old time religion. What has gone right over our heads is how influenced we are by modernism and the thought of Rudolph Bultmann who insisted that Christianity was old fashioned and needed to be 'de-mythologized'. He said modern man couldn't deal with the old, out dated cosmology of heaven and hell and sin and repentance and all that stuff. [...]

The gospel message is simple: You don't have to turn it into a quest for the perfect liturgy or a campaign for justice or peace or the creation of the perfect self help group. You don't have to turn it into an intellectual or existential quest to discover your true self or the source of your heart's desire.

You are unhappy and searching for something because you are imperfect. You have fallen short of the glory of God. This condition is called sin. You are a sinner. You are selfish, ego centric, lustful, unforgiving, angry, manipulative, self seeking and proud. You love pleasure rather than God and you will believe any lie as long as it allows you to continue in your sin. If you continue in this condition you will end up becoming more and more unhappy and eventually you will be separated from God, light, love, goodness, truth and beauty forever because that is what you chose.

The New Testament, and the message of the church down the ages is straightforward: "Repent and believe the gospel and be baptized". In other words, "Admit you are a sinner, turn to God for forgiveness. Accept the strange, but compelling truth that Christ died on the cross to forgive your sins. Receive his gift of new life with an open heart with nothing held back. Change your ways. Begin to live the Catholic faith in simplicity and honesty. Empowered by God's grace, live in the church, learn to pray, live with the sacraments, love others. This is the way you follow Christ."
Do, do go and read the whole thing.

Father Longenecker isn't saying that liturgy doesn't matter, or that orthodoxy doesn't matter, or that we can blithely disregard Church teachings so long as we embrace the simple message of the Gospel. Not at all. What he is saying, it seems to me, is that too often we get caught up in these other matters to the extent of not merely missing the simple message of the Gospel, but of making the unfortunate and devastating mistake of thinking that our pursuit of orthodoxy or liturgical correctness or, to be fair, of heterodoxy and liturgical permissiveness is somehow a fair substitution for trying to live our lives according to the message of the Gospel.

In other words, if we get caught up too much in, say, liturgical battles, to the point where we enter every Mass wearing our "Liturgy Police" hats and our best Roman scowls as we prepare to take extensive mental notes to add to our growing letter to the Papal Nuncio as to what everyone from Father to the smallest server is doing wrong today on the one hand, or wearing our Sunday shorts and tie-dye and our best icy smiles as we prepare to pounce on the least hint of Latin or reverence or formality with our special passive-aggressive vestibule chat after Mass on the other, the chances are good that we have lost sight of the simple message of the Gospel, which is that the person who is the polar opposite of ourselves in these liturgical battles might actually be closer to God by virtue of a humble habit of frequent Confession, a devotion to prayer, and an active life of service to the poor than we ourselves are.

And if we get too caught up in thinking that our specific way of living out our vocation (e.g. stay-at-home-mom! plus Catholic schooling! plus homeschooling! plus daily family prayers! plus godly blogging for the heathen! etc.) is the One Truly Right Way of Righteous Rightness, we might forget that the family whose public-schooled kids behave like little angels at Mass on Sunday could conceivably be doing a better job of loving their neighbor and their enemy and everybody else than we are--and that we should seriously not take it for granted based merely on externals that we're doing all that great of a job in the first place.

And if we decide that our particular family's economic status is the perfect one for Christians, with just enough money for all those important things that families ought to provide for their members with a decent amount left over for truly important charities, we might risk sneering at those people who have to do more for more family members with much less than we ourselves think of as "civilized" on the one hand, or snub everybody who has the money to buy more than necessities on the other as being too rich to be worth saving.

And if we spend all of our time fretting about the way other Christians dress, or the four-letter words other Christians use, or the bad movies or books or TV shows or music other Christian families seem to think it's okay to watch or read or listen to (as opposed to a more general concern about a culture which produces some rather sick things, say) we may find that these specks in other's eyes concern us more than the planks of spiritual coldness or lack of empathy or selfishness or greed or gluttony in our own--because it's lots easier to be self-righteous about the sins we're not tempted to commit than humbly honest about the ones we are.

The whole of the Law amounts to two things, Jesus told us: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The more we try to follow those two commands, the more we will find that humble, loving, honest spirit that is the best thing about Christianity as it can be lived in the world. And if we want to follow these commands, we have to take up our own cross, and follow Him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Women really do deserve better

Blogger Cheeky Pink Girl has the most amazing story on her blog today--a guest post written by one of her readers about her abortion experiences, and the healing that finally came to her after she attended a Rachel's Vineyard retreat:
I went on that retreat in May, 2003. There were many things being thrown in my path to prevent me from going and I was grateful for the facilitators from the retreat being in communication with me. They warned me that things will pop up right before the retreat and that I was to examine these happenings closely before making the decision of whether to still attend or not.

The retreat itself was uplifting and I met so many wonderful women. At the same time, I was able to finally grieve openly. One of the greatest pains for post-abortive women is that no one allows us to grieve, no one admits that there's anything to grieve about. What other sufferer is despised for suffering, is commanded to rejoice at her pain, or more accurately, is asked to pretend that the pain is a joy? None. None at all. For the first time in 8 years, I was finally able to fully understand my pain, and I could see how my first abortion was the catalyst for all the pain and destruction I had caused.

For years I tried to compensate, I tried to rationalize; I tried to make the most despicable event in my life into something I could live with. And for the first time in 8 years, I was finally able to openly admit that I wasn’t the one that wanted the abortion and I was able to express my anger at the lack of support I had received back then. I could finally stop pretending that everything was alright. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
The writer's faith and courage shine through the whole post. Women really do deserve better than abortion. They really do.

But does he keep a little plastic meatball on his dashboard?

In a bit of silly foot-stamping characteristic of New Atheism, an Austrian man has won the right to be pictured in his driver's license photo with a pasta strainer on his head:

An Austrian atheist has won the right to be shown on his driving-licence photo wearing a pasta strainer as "religious headgear".

Niko Alm first applied for the licence three years ago after reading that headgear was allowed in official pictures only for confessional reasons.

Mr Alm said the sieve was a requirement of his religion, pastafarianism.

The Austrian authorities required him to obtain a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive. [...]

In the same spirit, Mr Alm's pastafarian-style application for a driving licence was a response to the Austrian recognition of confessional headgear in official photographs.

You see, by Mr. Alm's atheistic spirit, it's unfair for Catholic nuns or Muslim women or others to wear headgear in photos unless he is allowed to wear the pasta strainer, showing his disdain for all religion by his pretend-worship in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Truth be told, I have no problem with Mr. Alm's pursuit. If atheists want to adopt the practice of wearing pasta strainers on their heads to showcase their deep devotion to nothing, I will support their right to do so, not only because their doing so harms no one, but also because I'm in favor of being able to recognize the village idiot whenever possible.

The funny thing is that it's so hard to illustrate that one worships nothing. Atheists find themselves compelled to create cute little dodges like the Spaghetti Monster in an attempt to be clever about what they really, really don't believe. Never has non-belief had such a zealous and evangelical spirit, has it?

We live in strange times.

For those waiting for further literary postings, as I promised Monday--I've fallen a bit behind this week what with one thing and another. I'll try to get cracking, and get that new blog up and running as soon as possible.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Some other Pride Masses

First of all, thanks to all who offered kind words (and dinner recipes!) yesterday. I am doing much better today, and am grateful to be able to resume my normal activities.

Second, I had time to think about how to blog about this, and I've decided that humor would be the best approach. We've had plenty of serious stuff about this issue lately, and I think that the absurdity of what was done this weekend at St. Cecilia’s is best illustrated by highlighting it in a humorous way.

So, since I seldom do this, and since I want to make sure that easily-offended people know that the following news article is totally fake and that its resemblance to current events is completely coincidental, I would like to emphasize that this is merely humor, and not worth getting riled about:


In wake of successful Gay Pride Mass, pastor plans to celebrate "pride" in other sins

BOSTON--The phone keeps ringing in Father Sububi's office.

"No, no," the pastor of St. Cici's says with a frown. "The Fornicator's Pride Mass is next month, the Sunday after the Cohabitator's Pride Mass. Yes, I do realize that some people will want to come to both. That's fine. That's fine. See you then!"

In the wake of the recent and overwhelmingly successful Gay Pride Mass held at his parish, Father Sububi had a revelation.

"Seven hundred people," he says reflectively. "Do you know what a crowd of seven hundred can do for your collection basket? Especially when they're happy because you're affirming them, accepting them, and not bothering them with any petty reminders of, you know, the fact that their chosen lifestyle involves mortal sins and that they're possibly risking their souls?"

Father Sububi is not willing to go on the record as saying that sin doesn't exist, that Hell doesn't exist, or that the Church is wrong to say that both are very real. But his actions these days may be speaking louder than his words.

"We're doing the rest of the sexual sin pride Masses first," he says. "It seems logical. And straight people want to be affirmed in their fornication, in their adultery, in their porn habits, just as much as gays and lesbians do."

He admits that the Adultery Pride Mass posed a problem--not with his archbishop, who has made it clear that he won't interfere with the themed Masses at St. Cici's, but with the possibility of divorce attorneys or private investigators showing up to see who is there to admit to cheating on their marriages. "But we've solved that problem by making it a Masquerade Mass," Father Sububi says with a smile. "Our parish's chief liturgist suggested it, and everybody seems to like the idea of showing up in costume for that one."

Other "pride-in-our-sins" Masses will soon follow the sexual sin pride Masses, though some of them may be scheduled later than others.

"We really want to do a Dishonoring Our Parents Pride Mass, because we think it will be very popular with the youth of our parish," Father Sububi says. "But I want to schedule it for the next time we have the Prodigal Son reading on the liturgical calendar. The homily would work so well, as I teach the kids that they, too, can hate, diss, and rob their parents and their parents still have to take them back anyway, which is what the story of the Prodigal Son is all about."

In the meantime, Father Sububi has already contacted a local group to see about scheduling a Gluttony Pride Mass. "The story that week is about Lazarus and the rich man, and if I ignore the ending I can focus on all the great banqueting imagery," he says. "I'm really looking forward to the Gluttony Pride Mass, because if there's one thing gluttons know how to do, it's cook--so the potluck supper afterward should be amazing."

The phone rings again, and Father Sububi answers. "That date won't work for you either? Well, I'll have to get back to you," he says. "Sloth Pride," he comments, hanging up the phone. "It's hard to find an open Sunday evening that doesn't have a major sports event scheduled. Getting the slothful to take pride in their sloth isn't hard, but getting them to show up for anything is."

The Sloth Pride Mass isn't Father Sububi's biggest problem; nor, surprisingly enough, is the Anger Pride Mass--though Father Sububi admits that they will hire extra parking lot attendants and church ushers for that one. It's the Blasphemy Pride Mass that is causing the most trouble--mainly because the prideful blasphemers refuse to attend a Mass in an actual church building, and the archdiocese has yet to approve that the Blasphemy Pride Mass be held at the group's preferred location, the roof of an abandoned waste treatment facility. Again, Father Sububi refuses to go on record as saying that the archdiocese's stonewalling about the location is petty, but it is clear what he thinks.

"We have to do this," he says, tapping his fingers on his desk. "The Church used to be all about sin and salvation. They really pushed the notion that we could offend God by our actions. Now, of course, we know better. We have to learn to love ourselves in all our brokenness, and that means embracing our sins and being as proud of them as we are of our talents and our stock portfolios and everything else that's good about us. We don't offend God by our sins, and it's time we stopped being ashamed of them."

Does anything offend God?

"Maybe," Father Sububi admits. "I think He's pretty mad when we don't recycle. I mean, I'm not going to schedule a Trashing the Environment Pride Mass anytime soon. I have my limits."


Monday, July 11, 2011

Blogging will resume...

...when I get the better of this stupid migraine that has been beating me up all weekend.

Anybody know a good dinner recipe that doesn't involve, you know, standing up?

Kidding...the girls are helping. I'm very blessed.

And I'm offering up the pain and frustration of this stupid thing for all those spiritually harmed by this scandalous event...but more about that when I can actually blog again.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A looming battle

Okay, it's Saturday, and you're busy and all, and so am I--but do NOT miss the comment section beneath Jeffrey Tucker's recent bombshell post about the music at Mass. Mr. Tucker points out a new translation of the GIRM that makes it clear that chant is favored, and that hymns and songs are definitely not:
Some of the most advanced thinkers in the world of music and liturgy have long identified the critical problem in Catholic music today. They have pointed out that the Mass itself provides for the texts and the music for the Mass, but in the General Instruction on on the Roman Missal, there appears a loophole. Musicians can sing what is appointed, or (“option 4”) they can sing something else, and that something else is limited only by what the musicians themselves deem as “appropriate.” What this has meant, in effect, is: anything goes. This is why it often seems that when it comes to music at Mass that, well, anything goes.

I’m happy to report that the legislative ground has just shifted, and dramatically so. The new translation of the General Instruction removes the discretion from the music team to sing pretty much whatever it wants. The new text, which pertains to the new translation of the Missal that comes into effect on Advent this year, makes it clear beyond any doubt: the music of the Mass is the chanted propers of the Mass. There are options but these options all exist within the universe of the primary normative chant. There can be no more making up some random text, setting it to music, and singing it as the entrance, offertory, or communion.

I have no doubt that the practice of singing non-liturgical texts will continue but it will now continue only under a cloud. If I’m reading this correctly, any text other than an appointed text for the Mass will now fall outside the boundaries provided for by the authoritative document that regulates the manner in which Mass is to proceed.
Read the whole thing. And, like I said, do NOT miss the comment section.

Why not? Because David Haas (yes, as far as I know, that David Haas) weighs in, with comments like this one:
Dear Transitional Deacon.. there is so much to respond to here, I do not even know where to begin. Perhaps (although all scholars do not agree on this), some of the cantillation patterns go back to the "time of Our Lord." But this still does not prove or imply that these are "embedded in the Roman Rite." In terms of "songs" in today's hymnals being more or not so, keeping with the continuity of the early Church - well, certainly not in terms of genre/style, but YES, in terms of it being music that the community SINGS. I am not sure what your snicker is in terms of my remark about Greek, but the liturgy was in Greek for sometime. Also, it is rather insulting to our Protestant brothers and sisters to refer to their music as "easier, quicker to compose, quicker to teach." Unbelievable. Your claim that the GIRM is undeniably sturdy in stating what is "desirable" in the options. Even if GIRM was so undeniably firm in its wanting "propers only," - then, why did/do they allow for other options? There is no loophole here.. there are options, and there is no rubric or directive admonishing the reader to have a "hierarchical" approach to clarify these documents. Focus on "objectively" what is more "edifying and helpful to the soul?' Where do ANY of us come off telling the People of God, who by the way, have their own spiritual stories and journeys, that one style of music is "objectively more edifying and helpful to the soul?" Are we that arrogant, and that disrespectful of our people - thinking that we know what edifies their soul, and what does not? Geez.....
Respectfully, Mr. Haas--if that is, indeed, Mr. Haas--what if my spiritual story and journey is such that if I ever have to sing or listen to "Song of the Body of Christ" again I will probably start bleeding from my ears? The problem with having an "anything goes" style of liturgical music is that the People of God end up being held hostage to musical pablum and happy-clappy would-be pop tunes of no relevance whatsoever to people's lives or journeys for 40 plus years. I'd much rather believe that the Church has spent centuries developing a style of music especially suited to the Mass than believe that syrupy showtunes and "Look at us, now, aren't we special," lyrics are the best we can offer to God each Sunday.

Readers: I have a feeling these kinds of comment box exchanges are the precursors to a looming battle over liturgical music that will yet be waged, probably in the wake of the new translation of the Mass. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Parent's guide to evaluating YA fiction

Now that we've spent some time discussing YA fiction, a question remains: what should parents do about it all?

Some parents take the same route with YA fiction that they do with the "Juniors'" clothing department at a department store: they skip it. They figure that the handful of decent books (like the handful of relatively "normal" clothes in what some moms call the "teen skank section" of the store) are so few and far between as to make hunting for them a waste of time, money, and effort. Instead, they supply their mature readers with great classic literature of the past, including titles which may have been considered "dark" or "edgy" for their time, but secure in the overall merit of these works.

Other parents take a completely opposite approach, figuring that by the time their children are in their teens they should be able to judge for themselves whether a book is worth reading or not; they do not limit their teens' purchases in the bookstore or selections in the library, but encourage critical reading and conversation about what they are reading with their parents and others. By this, they hope to diminish teen-age interest in books of little merit, salacious writing, or other hack work.

Let me say for the record: either of these may be perfectly valid approaches for some families. Every family and every child is different, and I have great faith in the desire of most engaged parents--the sort who would even be interested in reading blog posts like this one--to steer their children in the right direction when it comes to books.

But I think that the vast majority of parents are going to fall somewhere in between these "all or nothing" extremes; they are going to want to permit their children some lighter reading that includes some YA fiction, but they are not going to want their children to be exposed too early to books which are completely contrary to the family's morals and values. In point of fact, I think this describes most religious parents' desires for their children's media consumption generally, and would be how many feel about movies, video games, music, and other offerings which it is normal for teens to want to explore.

So: how do we do this?

The first, and most obvious suggestion, is to read the books your child is interested in yourself. I still think this is the best approach for a book your child really wants to read but which you aren't sure about--provided you are able to read it critically and with sound reasons for your decision either to allow the book, to forbid it, or to postpone it until your child is older--but more about that in a moment.

The second suggestion I have is a realistic one: frankly, few of us parents have the time to read every single book our older children and teens want to read. But because we live in a media-saturated culture, the chances are excellent that it will be possible to spend a shorter amount of time researching the book in question, reading reviews from the professional to the amateur (and sometimes an amateur review by a concerned parent is worth dozens of professional book reviews, in my opinion), and otherwise learning about its plot elements, characters, and any controversial matter associated with the title. This is often enough information to be able to make a sound decision, especially if you are simply asking your teen to wait a while before reading the book. One important caveat: if there is a lot of controversy and disagreement about whether the book is valuable, meritorious, sound, etc. or whether it is not (e.g., the Harry Potter books), you may be back to option one, and be reading the book yourself.

The third suggestion is to seek recommendations from friends, family members, fellow religious believers, and others who you have good reason to trust. Some of the books my children have most enjoyed have come highly recommended by others. Here again, though, you have to be careful to be specific about what elements in a book or series are problematic for you or for your children, because even two orthodox Catholic homeschooling families may disagree quite strongly about whether teens can read books containing explicit sex scenes, for one instance, or graphic and gory violent passages, for another. The danger here is taking for granted that because some other families similar to yours have liked a book, it must be okay; my oldest daughter was disappointed that a series author decided to imply strongly a non-marital sexual relationship between some characters in the second book of a series she was quite prepared to like, and she decided on her own that the series wasn't worth finishing (because it wasn't that well-written or compelling, in the long run, to make such things worth ignoring).

To be honest, I think most parents will do a combination of these things as they evaluate books for their children and young teens. But to get back to a point I raised earlier: just how should parents critically evaluate YA books, anyway?

Here are a few questions that we can ask about books our kids are interested in, whether we're reading them ourselves, researching them, or getting recommendations from friends:

1. What is the author's central message, or theme? Is it a message or theme I (the parent) find compelling or valid in some way? Why or why not? Is it a positive, hopeful message, ultimately?

2. What is the protagonist like? Is he or she a hero, an anti-hero, a deeply flawed hero? If he/she makes immoral choices, are these validated by the author, shrugged at as "situational ethics," or seen as the result of character flaws which the character is slowly overcoming?

3. What are the other main characters like? What is the relationship between the protagonist and the other main characters? If any character is openly religious or moral, is that seen as a positive or negative thing? Does the author openly mock religion or religious leanings in his or her characters?

4. Are there any adult characters in the book? What is the author's view of adults, generally? Are some of them helpful and kind while others are unhelpful and unkind (which is realistic)? Or are all adults, or all save a select one or two who are presented as "cool" in some way, seen as hindrances to the teen characters and what they wish to accomplish?

5. How well is the book written? Does the author rely on cheap, hack writing tricks like an excessive amount of foul language, poor grammar and slang which is supposed to replicate actual teen conversation, and similar devices? Does he or she construct the book's plot well, and draw compelling, interesting characters, or does the plot drift and do the characters seem like cardboard cut-outs of teen angst? Is there anything at all memorable about the author's prose? Do descriptive passages capture the imagination? Are literary devices well-employed, and so on? Is the book a poor derivative of better works?

6. To the extent that dark elements or risky elements (graphic sex and violence, mainly) exist, are they called for by the plot, essential to the development of the story and of the author's overall theme, and constructed with care and sensitivity? Or are they gratuitous, unnecessary, distasteful, exploitative, and constructed for the maximum shock value?

7. How popular is the book, and how much of its popularity comes from a marketing campaign designed to create a great deal of hype around what may, after all, be a rather mediocre work? Is the book deliberately being marketed to children too young to handle many of its plot elements?

8. Is there any overwhelming reason why, even if the book is somewhat well-written, not exploitative, etc. that it really doesn't fit with my family's values?

Asking these, and similar, questions may help parents figure out which books are indeed worth their children's or young teens' time and effort.

There is one more thing a parent can do to help his or her children find books that will appeal to their imaginations, satisfy their desire for adventure, convey positive messages and characters whose actions take place in a universe where the notions of good and evil are still prevalent, and which end on a hopeful, uplifting note: he--or she--can attempt to write such books himself or herself. And if a parent--let's call her a "she," for the sake of argument--does such a thing, she can then share the book not only with her own children, but with her nieces and nephews, and then maybe with some friends. And then, if she's sufficiently happy with the book, she can start working on a sequel, while preparing the first book for self-publication (having decided not to bother with traditional publishing companies on the grounds that these days that might not be the best idea, especially for a niche-market book). And she might even start a blog to talk about all of that, and hopefully as a place from which to launch the book once it's ready so that like-minded parents might be able to find it for their children...

...but more about that on Monday.