Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Borrowing a page from Mitchell's TV shows, we'll go to The Bell Telephone Hour for this week's Opera Wednesday: it's the incomparable Birgit Nilsson singing "In questa reggia" from Puccini's Turandot in a broadcast from April 11, 1963, with Donald Voorhees conducts the Bell Telephone Hour Opera Orchestra.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The new fascists and the end of America

As I've said many times in the past , I draw my inspiration from unusual places. Today, it comes from one of the classic TV blogs I frequent. At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan Shreve describes a time that was perhaps a bit too thrilling, a what-if scenario that supposes the British were defeated at Dunkirk, that the Germans invaded in July of 1940, and that World War II took a very different turn. It's all explored in the 1966 movie It Happened Here, and the title of Ivan's article is the thought for the day - really, the thought that everyone ought to keep in mind: "The appalling thing about fascism is that you've got to use fascist methods to get rid of it."

This, of course, would come as no surprise to the new fascists, the campus fanatics trying to destroy any kind of speech that doesn't align with their own belief system. To them, coining a phrase, "error has no rights"; in other words, some thoughts are so egregious, so clearly wrong, that there can be no protection for them, no allowance for letting people consider them and make up their own minds. To the new fascists (and, really, there's nothing new about them), these thoughts are by their very nature dangerous, so dangerous that they cannot even be allowed to see the light of day, and so must be squashed, often in the name of freedom or some such nonsense. In order to prevent people from being hurt, one must hurt; in order to allow people to be free, others must be made less free; in order for all to be equal, some must be superior. Truly, it would make the Fool Killer shake his head and walk away, overwhelmed by the magnitude of his opportunity.

And it proves the point of Ivan's quote: fascism, which is what these people purport to fight (although I doubt they really know what fascism is, because they're ignorant people and they refuse to acknowledge their own behavior), can only be defeated in two ways, and one of them is by resorting to the very same weapon. The other is by education, which is antithetical to the ways and means of the new fascists, for what they call "education" is what a civilized man knows as "brainwashing," or perhaps even torture.

All this is important because of what we see happening down south. As Dreher points out, when the Civil War statues are pulled down and the police do nothing to stop it, a line is crossed, and this is when it ceases to matter which ideological side one is on. It is then that we come to the true meaning behind the founding of the United States, and the importance of the Rule of Law. It is often said that we are a government of laws, not of men, but since the rise of Oprah and the dominance of feelings over logic, this time has been coming, and is now here. When we reach the point where the law can be nullified based on how we feel, then the law loses its moral authority; when the white supremacists begin to pull down the statues of Martin Luther King Jr. and desecrate the monuments to the heroes of the civil rights movements, the same fascists who destroyed defenestrated the names of Lee and Jackson will wail and gnash their teeth, begging the authorities to intervene on their behalf. And what will their rationale be? That Truth demands it? But, in the words of Pilate's eternal question, what is truth? When gender is what you say it to be, when marriage is what you say it to be, when there is no percentage to logic and words mean whatever the situation demands, then is not truth whatever you say it to be? I'll tell you, the police are going to find it pretty damn hard to enforce laws based on that kind of truth.

That, my friends, is why we live in a government of laws and not of men. It's because the law has to apply equally to all in all situations, and it's why the new fascists have just forfeited that protection with their actions this week. Over the decades we've gotten used to the idea that things will turn out all right in the end because they always have, and besides how else can they turn out? Dreher says there won't be a separation, because geography no longer is the determinant of the fissure lines. Maybe that's the case, but Dreher is always a great one for saying what isn't going to happen; he's not very good at saying what is going to happen. And my feeling is that if you can't say what is going to happen, then why should we believe you when you tell us what isn't going to happen?

Logic, and gut feeling, suggest that this madness can't continue much longer without something happening. Not every civil war is fought along geographical lines, but almost every one is bloody. While Google practices intellectual genocide, while the new fascists eviscerate any trace of law, the pressure inside the cooker builds, and builds. When it blows, as it must, it will not be a pretty site. And if the best we can do is keep pressing down on the bubble when it pops up, we know it will simply pop up again somewhere else.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Isn't this what we knew?

We have noted this for years, but the Parents Television Council released a report last week that proved the point I've made regarding the content of streaming services are on level with X-rated material that is "too hot for movies" or "too hot for television," since if those films were shown in the silver screen, they would be NC-17, and the Kyle Busch Rule would be in effect to prohibit anyone under 17 from attending any film being shown at the time or even working the concession stands.

The hardest point of the report, according to the statement, was that the clear majority, with one service clocking at a near two out of three original or exclusive programming being rated TV-MA, the equivalent of an NC-17 rating in the movies.  With no worries about censors or sponsors, they continue to send inappropriate programming and get critics to promote these shows over network television shows with regulations.  Once again, this idea of premium television is the only way to go is showing how they are promoting X-rated programming.  Here is the summary.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Kaepernick

This whole Colin Kaepernick thing is fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which being that there are so many sides to it all. Dreher points out a lot of them, and I'd actually been thinking along those lines myself. I mean, it's hard enough for me to have pride in a country that sanctions the murder of unborn children, encourages (in some cases) the murder of the elderly and infirm, demands that Christians kowtow to prevailing opinion on things like homosexual marriage, and the like. And that doesn't even begin to get into questions like sending young men and women into combat for reasons that don't clearly present themselves.

So make no mistake about it, I understand where someone could be coming from with this stand. And I do think Kaepernick has the right to do what he's doing; whether or not the First Amendment applies to private industry, there's still such a thing as freedom of political expression in this country - at least for now. Provided that one recognizes the possibility of blowback for their actions, there should be no question about having the right to take a political stand. For years blacks had what they thought of as their own national anthem, so this itself is nothing new.

I also don't go for the idea that his actions somehow "disrespect" the military. While the military may well be credited for winning American independence in the Revolution, the truth of the matter is that this army was led by a politician - George Washington - and was spurred to action by an entire Congress of politicians, the Founding Fathers. It is no lack of respect of America's armed forces to say that the National Anthem stands for more than just them. To say so might actually disrespect the rest of America. The Anthem belongs to all of us, after all. It does seem that in the last few years we've turned almost every major holiday in this country, with the exception of Christmas, Easter, and Valentine's Day, into some type of tribute to our soldiers. Let's honor them by all means, but leave us not turn everything into a cause célèbre. 

Things get murkier when it comes down to the case of Kaepernick specifically. This may blow my cover when it comes to how much I pay attention to the NFL, but until this I didn't even know that Kaepernick was partly black. I just saw a scruffy guy with a beard and a lot of tats, and when you put him in a football uniform there isn't much else showing. That's why I was confused when this first came to light, because I wondered what was in it for him. Now I understand that a little better, but it hardly answers my questions. Most of these questions have been raised by others, but that very fact means they're good questions:

  1. How much has Kaepernick himself done for the black community? Does he pledge money? Does he have a foundation or charity? Has he personally become involved with the families of any of the people he claims are laying dead in the streets?

  2. Does Kaepernick really believe we should be taking him seriously when he's making as much money as he is? Being a celebrity doesn't mean you sacrifice your right to have an opinion, of course, but when you've been as much of a success in America as Colin Kaepernick has, any complaints about inequality and lack of freedom tend to ring hollow. Has he done anything to overcome this?

  3. Speaking of which, how much discrimination has Kaepernick himself faced? To the extent he hasn't been singled out, could it be because he's lighter-skinned than many blacks? And from there, does this open up a larger discussion about attitudes toward light-skinned blacks in the greater black community? Do they have a hierarchy themselves?

  4. I have a hard time believing Kaepernick's sincerity considering he's become a borderline quarterback who stands a good chance of being cut by the 49ers before the start of the season. Why is it that I'm cynical enough to believe he's either (a) trying to deflect attention from his failures on the playing field by trying to curry favor with blacks and liberals; (b) trying to prevent the 49ers from releasing them by setting them up to appear racists and reactionaries if they do; (c) hoping another team will see positive PR coming from picking him up; or (d) a combination of the above? Note that I'm not accusing him of any of this - I'm merely saying that a cynic might think so. Not that there's any room for cynicism in professional sports. Not at all.

  5. Finally, how much does this reflect on Kaepernick's leadership? As the quarterback he is, as one wag put it, the CEO of the team (at least on the field). Does he show leadership by refusing to stand with his teammates as one on the sideline? Does he show leadership by calling attention to himself and his individual actions, rather than the team as a whole? Does he show leadership by creating such a distraction? You tell me.
Truth be told, I find the discussion about Kaepernick far more interesting than Kaepernick himself, which might be the cruelest cut of all if he is in fact just trolling for publicity. Dreher asks a couple of pertinent questions, and where I break severely with him is in the way I react to them:

We may see no contradiction between being a good Christian and a good American, but what happens when Americans as a whole look at dissenting Christians and call us un-American for the things we believe and do? Will we stand for the National Anthem then? If so, will we stand for the America we think is real, versus this politicized, debased America that the mainstream holds to? Or will it be more important for us not to stand, and to accept whatever consequences come with that?

[...]

What will it cost us if we lose the ability to stand together for the National Anthem? Is it worth what we stand to gain

Dreher typically reacts with horror to this thought, of America breaking up, but I don't; I've a hard time thinking of this as a unified country for some time. Dreher craves order, and freaks out when there's even a whiff of anarchy (and I don't mean the French Revolution kind); were it not for that, I wonder if he wouldn't be able to see that this ship sailed a long, long time ago. We're split, not just on ideological disagreements, but increasingly on fundamental questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When I ask the questions I did in my opening paragraph, I'm not just wondering about a hypothetical situation - it already exists. Dreher, for as pessimistic as he is, only intellectualizes that we might have passed the point of no return, when the only question is whether the split is peaceful or not. For many of us, thought, the upside of such a split continues to seem far greater than the downside of remaining one nation, even though it may not be under God (or so we think, anyway) and doesn't offer either liberty or justice for all. 

I think the time is coming, and in fact is already here. We just haven't felt the shockwaves yet.

Originally published August 30, 2016

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Besides being perhaps the first great British composer of opera since Purcell, Benjamin Britten was a superb composer of orchestral music. Here we see an example of both traits, in the four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes. They're often performed, as here, in an orchestral suite, and while they're very impressive, they're even more powerful when taken in the context of the opera.

This is Sakari Oramo, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms in 2013.

Monday, August 7, 2017

What's in a word?

While I was working out tonight, I noticed one of the gym television was tuned in to CNN (you don't think I'd have my own TV tuned to that, do you?), and their political shout show had the headline "Trump Can't Stop Tweeting."

Now, since I wasn't listening to the show or reading the captioning, I don't know if they meant he can't stop tweeting, or won't stop tweeting. One implies a psychological condition which, I'm sure, the network's political correspondents are eminently qualified to diagnose; the other, a determination (or at least stubbortnness) on the part of Trump to do whatever he wants to do, regardless of the consequences. I lean toward the second interpretation myself, but the phrasing certainly implies the first one. But CNN wouldn't intentionally want to imply that now, would they?

That would be kind of like - oh, I don't know - saying that CNN was obsessed with Donald Trump. Does it mean they have a clinical fixation on him, or that they're merely operating with a political agenda against him?

They report, we decide.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Classic TV Friday

There is a city about 20km from home in my county, off a short drive through United States Highway 178 and a quirky city name. Over a quarter century ago, it was the subject of a famous zing by Bill Cosby in his short-lived revival of Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life that still is too funny, especially since I drive through that area if I want to head to Atlanta. I've even stopped there for strawberries during the peak season. Enjoy this whimsical look back at the time Bill Cosby zinged about a city in our county just 20km from home!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ara Parseghian, R.I.P.

It was called "The Era of Ara," those eleven seasons when Ara Parseghian was the head coach at Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish have really been spending the better part of a half-century trying to recapture that era. Lou Holtz won the games, but the was also a snake-oil salesman, and Ara Parseghian was never that. Dan Devine succeeded Parseghian and won a national title of his own, but even though he was Devine, he was never a God like Ara was (at least according to the students, who even Ara could make it stop snowing). Charlie Weiss was a big mouth, and Brian Kelly a hothead, and in-between there have been any number of poseurs and fakirs and the university itself has tarnished the image that once made every Catholic boy in the United States want to play football on its fields of green with the sun reflecting its golden rays on crisp autumn afternoons. The lesson to be learned is that legends can't be replicated, even at Notre Dame; there was only on Rockne, one Lehey, one Ara Parseghian.

I think Parseghian was one of those coaches who transcended sports; my wife, who's anything but a sports fan, remembers hearing about him growing up. He was probably the first college football coach I ever remembered. I was only six years old when he coached Notre Dame in one of the most famous college football games ever played, the controversial 10-10 "Game of the Century" with Michigan State in 1966, and I do have a vague recollection of that game, though not as clear as the 1973 Sugar Bowl, when the Fighting Irish beat Alabama 24-23 to finish the season as undefeated national champions. (As I've mentioned before, I got so worked up watching that game I was sick the next day, which means I've had the privilege of knowing what it feels like to have a hangover on New Year's Day without ever having had a drink.) He was already seen as a savior* when he arrived at Notre Dame from Northwestern following the 1963 season. The Irish had fallen on hard times, having all but ceased to be a player on the national scene, and Ara's Wildcats had made a regular practice of throttling Notre Dame in their annual games. Upon arriving in South Bend, Parseghian was given one task, and one only: return the school to football glory.

*It is, in fact, almost impossible to talk about Notre Dame without lapsing into religious imagery, no matter how hard one might try.

Now, whether or not anyone thought it would happen as quickly as it did, I'm not sure. Parseghian took a last-string quarterback, John Huarte, a player who'd never really been given any kind of chance by anyone else, and coached him to a Heisman Trophy in 1964. The team, which had finished 2-7 the year before, entered the final game of the 1964 season undefeated and ranked #1 in the country; they led USC 17-0 at halftime in Los Angeles before seeing the Trojans come back in heartbreaking fashion with a last-minute touchdown to win 20-17. The team returned to South Bend in the middle of the night, disconsolate - inconsolable, really; nothwithstanding how bad they'd been the previous year, they could only think of how close they'd come to winning it all - and then they found out on the bus trip back to campus from the airport that the people of South Bend had left their porch lights on, welcoming them back, back home.

It's important to know that backstory to appreciate the 10-10 tie in 1966, and why Parseghian played the end the way he did. I've written about the game here, what a hellacious buildup it had and how nobody'd really ever seen anything like it. Once again the team came to the end of the season (the next-to-last-game) with a shot at the title; with no bowl game to look forward to - Notre Dame did not play in bowls back then - the Fighting Irish had to get it done in the regular season. Their starting quarterback, Terry Hanratty, was knocked out in the first quarter, his backup, Coley O'Brien, was young, inexperienced, and diabetic. Hanratty wasn't the only starter to be injured, Michigan State (undefeated and ranked #2 themselves) had a large home crowd cheering them on, and the Spartans jumped out to a 10-0 lead before Notre Dame tied it 10-10 in the second half.

As the game wore on, with neither team able to take the lead, Parseghian kept his mind focused on one goal: the national championship. A loss by Notre Dame would end any chance of winning it. However, a tie would keep their hopes alive - this was the end of the season for Michigan State (with the Big 10's no-repeat rule, they weren't going bowling either), so they had no opportunity to improve their lot. The Irish, however, had one game remaining, the following week with USC, a chance to revenge 1964 and clinch 1966 all in one. He didn't exactly play for a tie, he insisted later, but he refused to take any chances that could result in a loss. His decision was scorned by many in the press, but it proved prescient; State sat home the following week as Notre Dame obliterated USC 51-0; the following week the AP voted the Irish national champions. After all the years of losing, after the anguish of 1964, Notre Dame was back.

As I said, they'd win again in 1973, and then after defeating Alabama in a rematch the following season in the Orange Bowl, ruining the Crimson Tide's undefeated season and a chance at the championship, Ara retired; the stress of big-time competition was, he said, getting to be too much for his health. He went into broadcasting, which we see all the time nowadays by coaches waiting for the next plum job opportunity to open up, but Parseghian was true to his word; he never coached again.
He was a television analyst until 1988, then worked for a medical foundation he'd created to fund research for a cure for Niemann-Pick disease, from which his family had suffered.

Jim Dent's wonderful book Resurrection (there's that religious imagery again) gives a vivid picture of life at Notre Dame prior to Parseghian's arrival, and Mike Celizik's The Biggest Game of Them All takes readers through that game against Michigan State, and the 1966 season in general. Both books present an impressive portrait of Parseghian as a man of integrity, committed to winning, yes - but also to his players, as well as to Notre Dame. You can agree or disagree with his decision in that 1966 game, the decision that really defined his career as a head coach, but Celizik makes a compelling case that even Michigan State players, over the years, came to acknowledge that if winning the championship is the end game, the goal of the season, then unquestionably Parseghian made the right choice.

Ara Parseghian died yesterday at the age of 94; I'd had a feeling about this, having read a week or two back that he'd been in the hospital or was going there, something like that. I don't know if Parseghian was a complex man or not, because I think in the end he was very straightforward. His reasoning was simple; the name of the game was winning. He was, though, a very compelling figure - charismatic, impressive, larger than life, a powerhouse. It was the Era of Ara, and now that era has come to a close.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Over the years I think all of us here at In Other Words have at one time or another talked about how we should look to underperformed operas of the past before we start commissioning new operas (and, by the way, using precious dollars to do so). Obviously, that doesn't mean we should never commision new works, and in fact some of those new works can be pretty good. Unfortunately, too many of them go through a grand opening series, get performed in a few cities, and then disappear forever.

One of the operas that hasn't met that fate is Silent Night, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, which tells the story of the 1914 World War I Christmas cease-fire. It's early, but Silent Night does show every indication of becoming a regular part of the contemporary opera repetoirie, with performances at least more frequently than many other newly commissioned works.

This clip, the conclusion to Act I, is from a 2013 performance at the Minnesota Opera, where Silent Night had its world premiere. The soloist is Karin Wolverton.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A series of reflections

How Late Can You Go?  Sunday's Brantley Gilbert Big Machine 400 was the longest race ever at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in regards to time.  The last 145 miles (58 laps) of the 417.5 mile event took two hours to finish, and ended under the safety car that some believe was designed to finish the event when officials knew with less than ten minutes before official sunset this would be the final restart.  (Ironically, a 2015 Martinsville race ended just seconds from official sunset without lights, which led to that circuit adding lights for this season.)  For the record, the 2004 Indianapolis 500 ended just after 7:15 PM EDT.  The 1995 Brickyard 400 was the first IMS race to end after 8 PM (8:03 PM EDT).  Sunday's Brantley Gilbert Big Machine 400 ended at 8:57 PM EDT, easily the longest race in regard to time, which may never be broken as next year's Big Machine 400 will be run in September, with a 7:30 PM sunset.

Repealing Obamacare.  The betrayal of the Establishment is showing with this push to "modify" the onerous "Affordable" Care Act and not entirely repeal it, which is what required.  I have five examples of where Obamacare logic hurts us, and why the law must be repealed in its entirety.

  1. Pre-existing Conditions Ban.  This effectively prevents insurance companies from charging higher rates for people in higher-risk conditions.  People with past heart situations, cancers, obesity, and other conditions that continually require treatment cannot, under the current law, be docked higher rates for higher risk.  You cannot reward the healthy CrossFitter or marathon runner and punish the obese who eats junk food.  In school insurance, for example, there is a condition that specifically states "Play, Practice, or Travel related to varsity (United States or Canadian Codes of) Football in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades" will not be covered by school insurance.  In industry, certain higher-risk lines of work (electrical linemen, industrial workers, et al) have much higher insurance rates because of the higher risk of serious injury or death from these jobs.  In flood insurance, two equal homes may be built, one next to a body of water near a flood plain where the risk of flooding is much greater than one where the home is much higher and the risk is slim to none.  Using Obamacare logic, both houses must be insured at the same rate, instead of the much higher risk home being charged a higher rate.  This regulation believes there can be no penalty for higher risk people than lower risk.  Think about the logic with prize indemnity insurance.  If you are offering one million dollars for a Hole in One contest, if you assess it on a 500-yard Par 4 or 5 hole, it will be much cheaper to insure than a Par 3 of 250 yards or shorter, where the risk is much greater.  Why is this type of common sense prohibited in health insurance?
  2. Absurd Coverage Mandates.  Why does a man need to be covered for the gynecologist or maternity care?  Why does a woman need to be covered for prostate exams?  Under the current policies, this is mandatory, but logic is nothing and "equality" emotionalism means more than common sense, especially with San Francisco leadership that wrote the law pushing the values of that city.  Now see too the military's social engineering making taxpayers pay for the "gender transitioning" that Americans rejected.  How is it again that these few cities have power? 
  3. The IPAB, aka Death Panels.  We are seeing that in England with one child being sentenced to death by the state for his disease instead of being able to fly over for treatment.  Do we want the sanctity of human life or the convenience of death by mandate of the state?  This makes the state the warden for children, not parents.  Could we see a time where politics determine who lives and dies?
  4. Government in Charge of College Financing.  Higher education now requires students to be funded by the state, as the federal government now controls all education financing in order to pay for socialised medicine.  This is another major reason the law must be repealed in its entirety.  We saw it first with the state casinos creating the first chapter, and now regulations on banks in this act demand state-run student financing.  Eliminating this would save millions for students. 
  5. Prohibition of Doctors from Owning Medical Practices.  The law gives government-owned hospitals advantages over doctor-owned hospitals, which is why Obama officials demanded a ban on doctor-owned hospitals.  This creates a higher cost since they have used the law to ban competition.  If I wanted to help my brother (a pediatrician) and sister-in-law (a gynecologist) invest as a minority partner in a doctor-owned hospital, I would definitely be a partner as an investor.  But sadly, they are not allowed to own their own practice under this law.  

How Low Can You Go?  The dress code issue for women's golf has been a hot button issue in an attempt to demand more modesty in the sport.  Some fans are very unhappy with the domination by Korean women and what they called frumpy outfits.  But as I noted last month on the dress code in choral concerts, I attended last week a concert that Dr. LaRoche was singing, and she had a ballgown, while the mezzo had a sleeveless black dress that went past the knee.  The bass wore a suit and tie, and the tenor had dark slacks, a sport coat, and a white dress shirt and tie.  But the choir itself was a bit on the side that I wonder what has happened to standards.  No ties for men, and women were "Henry Ford Black".  Choral dresses and suit would be apropos, but what has happened?  Here's evidence.


Phelps vs the Shark?  The discussion over the "fake" race between Michael Phelps and a shark only had me reminding myself of a show NFL Films did nearly 30 years ago, the "Dream Season" where 20 all-time NFL teams were matched in simulations to determine which team was the best of all-time (the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the 1972 Miami Dolphins).  In a similar manner, producers decided to film actual movements of sharks over distance in natural habitat, and allow Mr. Phelps to don illegal swim gear (FINA banned aerodynamic wetsuits in 2010 from swimming) to see if he could beat a shark over a pattern.  These "dream" concepts allowed viewers to ask the question if a champion swimmer faced a shark who would win.  Ideas such as that reminded me of the 1970's Blockbusters with Bill Cullen, a game show where the question was if a single player was better than a family pair.  These questions have been there since the dawn of time, and while many complained about it being fake, we can always ask ourselves questions, so they are placed to a test.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The end of the world

As a little experiment, I'm going to reprint a quote. It's a little long, but read it. Afterward, I'll tell you more.  (H/T Dreher)

The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate themselves to any world which treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable. This notion would seem to have become accepted gradually, as a false inference from the subdivision of English Christianity into sects, and the happy results of universal toleration. The reason why members of different communions have been able to rub along together is that in the greater part of the ordinary business of life they have shared the same assumptions about behaviour. . . . The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma — and he is in the majority — he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. Anything like Christian traditions transmitted from generation to generation within the family must disappear, and the small body of Christians will consist entirely of adult recruits. . . .

What is often assumed, and it is a principle that I wish to oppose, is the principle of live-and-let-live. It is assumed that if the State leaves the Church alone, and to some extent protects it from molestation, then the Church has no right to interfere with the organization of society, or with the conduct of those who deny its beliefs. It is assumed that any such interference would be the oppression of the majority by a minority. Christians must take a very different view of their duty. But before suggesting how the Church should interfere with the World, we must try to answer the question, why should it interfere with the World?

The author of that quote was T.S. Eliot, which means that though it sounds as if it was written yesterday, it was actually quite a while ago.  Try almost 75 years ago.

In one way this is encouraging; it seems as if whatever time in which you lived was always pointing toward the end, which was always just around the corner.  At the same time there's something depressing about it as well; because he describes today's times so well, his pessimism is that much more so.  Either way, there's no doubt that his words are prophetic.

But there's more to Eliot than that, and ultimately - if you read the whole thing - you'll find that he also provides a call to action, a description of exactly what we're called to do. "To accept two ways of life in the same society, one for the Christian and another for the rest, would be for the Church to abandon its task of evangelising the world. For the more alien the non-Christian world become, the more difficult becomes its conversion."  That's the challenge; those are our marching orders.  It sounds vaguely like a call to martyrdom; I don't know.

But one thing that comes instantly to mind: has the Pope ever said anything this cogent?  In this sense, the money quote:

I do not mean that the Church exists primarily for the propagation of Christian morality: morality is a means and not an end. The Church exists for the glory of God and the sanctification of souls: Christian morality is part of the means by which these ends are to be attained. But because Christian morals are based on fixed beliefs which cannot change they also are essentially unchanging: while the beliefs and in consequence the morality of the secular world can change from individual to individual, or from generation to generation, or from nation to nation. 

He's not talking about the Catholic Church, though I have no doubt that if Eliot lived today, seeing what's become of his Anglican church, he would convert.  The message remains the same, though.  Unlike, perhaps, the Bishop of Rome, Eliot does not soft-sell the faith; he does not dumb down the message.  The Church does not exist in a state that renders insignificant what it really stands for.

No matter how confused today's message might be.

Originally published July 18, 2014

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Pierre Beaumarchais is one of the more interesting characters in classical music, or politics, or any other subject you might want to discuss.  From the always-reliable Wikipedia:  Beaumarchais "was a French playwright, watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, horticulturalist, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary (both French and American)."  He wrote a couple of plays that were later adapted into operas, which you might have heard of:  Le Barbier de Séville, which became Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Le Mariage de Figaro,  which Mozart made into The Marriage of Figaro.  

One of the more creative operas of recent years is John Corigliano's seldom-performed The Ghosts of Versailles, which is based on characters from the two operas, as well as Beaumarchais himself, who Corigliano and librettist William M. Hoffman inserted as a character in the story.  Here is the great Marilyn Horne as "Samira the Turkish Entertainer."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Wish I'd written that

On the upcoming Mayweather-McGregor event:

This is a festival for fools, a carnival of greed. Caligula would have been revolted by this fiasco, and so would his horse. The official hype is only one week old and I want to turn in my American citizenship, sail off to a distant isle and wait there until I and the rest of the human race devolve back to the primeval slime out of which we crawled because, believe me, if this fight comes off, that process may be well nigh irreversible. I would rather watch a raccoon fight an 18-wheeler on I-90 than this match. Anybody who pays to see it should not be allowed to cut his own meat, let alone handle his own money. You know what the difference is between this event and human sacrifice? Ring card women.

- Charles Pierce, writing at SI.com

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The prodigal and the pope

You may recall that some time back I compared the current state of the Catholic Church to that of a family without a father, or at least without one taking responsibility for keeping the family together. I was reminded of this reading through the Catholic blogosphere at the various sniping going back and forth between those who praise the pope and those who criticize him, and between traditionalists at odds with the pope and traditionalists who refuse to offer public criticism. Once again, as is so often the case, you can't follow these various disagreements without also appreciating that the future of your very soul seems to be at stake if you don't agree with someone who used to be your ally but now may be your enemy.  I'm tempted to think of the Church today as a group of teen-aged girls bickering back and forth, with each insult raising the stakes until the whole thing goes nuclear.

On the other hand, maybe it's more appropriate, in light of what I wrote last week, to compare it to one of those dysfunctional family dramas that every Lifetime program seems to contain, where everyone's sitting around the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas, pretending to get along, until someone recalls a long-ago insult, and before you know it everyone's at everyone else's throats.  That is the state of the Catholic Church today, and the problem is that there's no father sitting at the head of the table who finally stands up and tells everyone to shut the hell up.

Anyway, a friend of mine suggested that I should consider the parable of the Prodigal Son, and that those of us concerned about the future of the Church should not emulate the "other" son, the one who had remained loyal to the father, but instead turn away from bitterness toward both the pope and those, who haven't always (ever?) practiced perfect Catholicism, to whom he seeks to reach out.

Unfortunately, before I got to ponder this too closely I ran across today's Bleat by Lileks who, for a completely different reason, was also pondering this parable, one of the most famous in the Bible, and while he makes some very humorous points (as he is wont to do), he also, quite seriously, voices the same reservations toward that parable that I have, ones that ultimately make it impossible for me to apply it to the current situation.  It's long, but worth it.

I have to tell you: I get it. But I do not. Yes yes happiness at the return of the one who was thought DEAD, rejoicing at the return to the fold. But the other brother has a point. The pastor explained that the Other Brother did not understand that his father loved him entirely and gave to him everything without condition, at which point I wanted to raise my hand:

Excuse me, rewind that to the point where the son says he never even got a goat to cook when his friends came over, and now you’re giving him the fatted calf?

Because that seems to be a salient point, and suggests a backstory wherein the favored son was indulged, and the dutiful son was held to a higher standard because Dad off-loaded his manliness lessons on the one who wasn’t going anywhere, and needed to toughen up. Golden Boy gets his talents and heads off to the big city to dip his wick and play knuckle-bone gambling games, but the dull son has to stay behind and run the barn. Dull son has his father’s managerial instincts, but his father does not value them as much as he prizes Golden Boy, who represents high-cultural attributes. As the favored son succeeds, so is the father enobled.

So Golden Boy goes off, and time passes, and Dad hears nothing. Assumes the worst. Then one day the son returns, and says in his abject humiliation that he blew all his money on hookers and drink. Dad doesn’t care because he’s glad to see his son again. I get that. I do not get why the dutiful son is the bad guy in this story. He’s making a good point: forgiveness is a noble act, but absolution without consequences is an insult to ME, THE GUY WHO’S BEEN RUNNING THE BARNS. I know, I know, judge not lest ye be judged, but what the hey, judge me, pop. Did I vanish one day with a bag of talents and never write and squander it all? No? Let’s start with that, then. My brother goes to Babylon and gets hammered every night on your dime and we’re having calf for dinner, but I bust my butt every day to make sure the flax gets in the granary and off to market and I don’t get a goat when my friends drop in once a year.

It’s the day after the celebratory banquet I’d like to visit.

Golden Boy to Dutiful Son: I imagine you’re a bit . . . put out.

Dutiful son: Don’t. Even. Start.

Golden Boy: honest, I was fully prepared to work as a slave. I was positively famished.

Dutiful Son: hand me the scythe. No, not that, that. By the grinding stone.

Golden Boy: Father said we should talk.

DS: I think he said it all last night. I suppose you’ll be calling on Sarah once word gets around you’re back.

GB: Oh dear Sarah, I hadn’t thought. How is she? You were sweet on her. I’d have thought you’d have -

DS: She was taken with the fits when you left and would see no one. Her family had her married to Mordechai the money-changer.

GB: That old sot? Sink me. Well, she doesn’t lack for anything, I’m sure.

DS: Nay, nothing but the love of a good man, but what’s that when you’ve pails of myrrh? I’d advise you stay clear.

GB: Is she still comely?

DS: (gritting teeth) Aye.

GB: Perhaps I shall enjoy being home again. You know I do recommend a stint as a slave, it really does give one a new perspective. One gets positively morose.

DS: (whirls around, face aflame) And I imagine that all the rest of the men felt a great pity for you, being the son of a rich man like them, each of you wondering when you’d finally swallow your pride and go home, am I right? Or did they not have the possibility? I can’t imagine you hid your story under a basket. I imagine you left because you heard them discussing which one would have the honor of slitting your throat while you slept.

GB: (sniffs) I got along quite well. They wanted for amusement and I would like to think I provided it.

DS: Oh I am certain that you did, brother, I am certain that you did. So why have you come to the barn?

GB: Father says I am to count the cows. He says that is my duty from now on. Every morn.

DB: There are thirty-two cows. Would you like to know their names?

GB: You name our cows? That’s precious.

DB: Our cows, he says.

GB: I didn’t catch that, brother.

DB: I said they’re our cows, are they.

GB: Well, yes. Ten for you, ten for father, ten for me. Tell me, what do they fetch in the market?

DB: You won’t be -

GB: If they’re all our cows, brother, then some of them are my cows. Oh, don’t look like that. You’ll still have yours. (looks at the ground) (looks up grinning) Sarah had a sister, didn’t she? Young thing when I left but time doth ripen the fruit in its wondrous ways.

DB: Amaranth.

GB: Oh, yes. That was her name.

DB: No.

GB: I’m sorry?

DB: Amaranth is the cow in the far stall there. You might want to visit her and give thanks.

GB: A cow. And why would I wish to do that?

DB: Because you ate her child last night. For your feast. Because all were happy that you had returned. Save one.

GB: Dear brother. Don’t tell me you hold a grudge,

DB: I don’t. It’s not a thing that does a man well. (glares) But if you have an apology in you, tell it to the beast. They listen. They hear much. You’d be glad to know they tell naught.

And therein lies the crux of the matter, for if we're gong to apply the parable as my friend suggests, we have to accept that the joy shown to the Prodigal (the "Golden Boy," if you will) is still different from that enjoyed by the Dutiful Son over all these years.

But what if the Dutiful Son has always felt like the red-headed stepchild, taken for granted, unappreciated?  As Tommy Smothers would say to Dick, "mom always liked you best!"  Under those circumstances, it could almost seem as if the father had wished it was the Dutiful Son, and not the Golden Boy, who had left home early.

See how family dynamics like this play out?  It is a soap opera!  But families often are, and without a strong, fair, impartial patriarch at the head, things can get ugly.  To view the pope as the father looking for the prodigal, the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, one must imply that the Dutiful Son is being nothing more than jealous and petulant, resenting the attention suddenly lavished on the lost sheep return home.  And that, I would contend, is not the situation facing the Church today.

True, over the time of Pope Benedict there was a sense that those who had kept the tradition of the Faith alive over the years had finally gained the upper hand (the "Cafeteria is Closed" crowd), but even then there were complaints that things didn't go far enough, that Benedict hadn't fully integrated the traditionalists back into the Church mainstream.  And though the pontificate of John Paul II was an enormous improvement over that of the disastrous Paul, you still get this feeling that, if anything, it's the traditionalists in the role of the Prodigal, seeking to be welcomed back into a Church that has marginalized them for the better part of the last fifty years or so, excluding them from influence, ridiculing them for holding on to "old-fashioned" values, mocking their desire for Latin and sacred music in the liturgy.  In fact, from many quarters there's been a thinly-concealed (if that) hatred for these people and what they represent.

The only difference in this analogy is that the Prodigal receives no welcome, no fatted calf, nothing but the back of the father's hand.  He's said that he'd be willing even to serve as a slave, and he'll be lucky if the father gives them that much.

Is that how the parable of the Prodigal Son plays out in the Catholic Church today?  If not, it's up to this pope to demonstrate in his actions and in his words that he's not that kind of a father.  Because, frankly, in a situation like this foster fathers are hard to come by.

Originally published March 21, 2014

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Ive written in the past, both here at at It's About TV, about the Bell Telephone Hour, which was a perennial from the late '50s through the early 70s on NBC. This clip is from 1961 (although it's in black and white here, it was originally broadcast in color) and stars the great La Stupenda, Joan Sutherland - not in her famed mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, but as Ophelia in the less well-known (if no less impressive) mad scene from Thomas' Hamlet (which many of you may have seen in the theaters last season when the Met did it). I always say there's nothing like a good mad scene.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Classic television reflection strikes again!

A
recent note given to me announced the opening of a popular doughnut shop chain in a shopping area that is home to "comfort foods" of health in Whole Foods Market and a local fitness store a few close friends often attend (myself included). The 1970's NBC game show Knockout with Arte Johnson, made into a 1980's BBC game show, Odd One Out, fits the theme.

"Whole Foods Market."  "Jamie Scott Fitness."  "Duck Donuts."

It's obvious which one does not fit, and I am looking for healthy habits.

For the record, that doughnut has 36 grams of sugar in one piece, while a can of Monster Energy has 54 grams in one can (two servings), so one "serving" of the doughnut has 25% more sugar than a single eight-ounce "serving" of a motorsport cola.

DISCLAIMER:  Mr. Chang holds shares in Whole Foods Market, and has publicly announced his opposition to Mr. Bezos' plan to acquire it in a deal made after the New York City Shakedown designed to weaken them for opposing socialised medicine.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reclaiming the right thing

I
 was re-reading C.S. Lewis as I often do, and was struck by this line from Mere Christianity: “Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are.” 

Lewis advanced that assertion on the way to an argument about the existence of objective moral values, which he believes signifies the certainty of a creator. As do I. 

But regardless of whether you follow that reasoning to the same conclusion, the statement itself remains sound. One would think civilized people could agree on accepted definitions of right and wrong. But evidence from experience, current events and probably every debate you’ve had on Facebook suggests otherwise. 

That doesn’t make Lewis’s statement any less irrefutable – but it does call into question how actions and behavior that would have clearly been defined as “wrong” 50 years ago are now widely accepted as appropriate. I was born in 1964, and it feels as if I lived the first half of my life in one America, and the last 25+ years in a very different place. Somewhere along the way we lost that common foundation from which meaningful discussions can start. 

How did it happen? Certainly the roots can be traced to the 1960s counterculture, which has since become the established culture. But a much bigger setback is the casting of absolute terms like right and wrong into a morass of relativism. Declaring something to be right or wrong is to invite criticism of being too inflexible, or too judgmental. As a result, it’s fair to wonder whether such absolutes can ever again be used with certainty outside of a few especially egregious acts, such as… I started to write the murder of a child, but the Supreme Court took that off the ‘wrong’ list in 1973. 

In these times when conservative individuals and institutions grow increasingly reluctant to label any action or behavior as “wrong” lest they be branded as intolerant, the loudest voices at the other end of the spectrum have no such reservations. Led by the unholy triumvirate of mainstream media, academia and the entertainment industry, they have declared much of what used to be wrong to be right. 

Examples abound – do I even need to specify them? It’s easy to feel confused and discouraged in such times. It’s why the “Benedict Option” – the withdrawal from an American culture that is no longer recognizable – continues to gain traction. And why in my other blog I celebrate and prefer to watch the kinder television shows of a bygone era. 

What should you do when you know something is right from that internal sense that C.S. Lewis attributes to the law of human nature, whilst being surrounded by a culture that sends a contrary message? Is this a moment that calls for fight or flight?  

There is another Lewis quote that provides some direction: “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” 

How many people will it take to turn around a culture? Sounds like one of those old and no longer acceptable jokes about how many people of a certain type it takes to screw in a light bulb. We’re going to need a lot more than that. And in my heart of hearts I do not expect it will happen. But I know this: right will always be right, no matter how many people stand against it, because the eternal presence that put that impulse into your soul does not change and does not make mistakes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The value of a long memory

When I dislike someone for no reason, I always find it more enjoyable."

Fred Astaire, in Swing Time

Originally published on August 31, 2015

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Opera Wednesday

It's not my favorite opera, but Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) features an absolutely charming overture, one of Mozart's finest. It's just the thing to help you get through the middle-of-the-week blues; it's light and airy, a perfect antidote to the heaviness that seems to get in the way too many times.

Here's a delightful rendition from 2006, performed by the Wiener Symphoniker and conducted by Fabio Luisi.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When silence is deadly

Or. why sometimes it's just as futile to call yourself a conservative as it is a Republican.

I've long thought of myself that way - as a conservative, rather than belonging to the GOP - but, as many people have pointed out over the years, the political etymology of "conservative" has become as difficult to follow as listening to a GPS in a foreign language. And at the Wall Street Journal last week, David Gelertner points out why it's as futile to put your trust in conservatives as it is Republicans. He does this by pouring cold water on the so-called conservative "resistance" to President Trump:

Many intellectuals think Mr. Trump is vulgar. That includes conservatives. They think he’s a peasant and talks like one. Every time he opens his mouth, all they hear is a small-time Queens operator who struck it big but has never had a proper education, and embarrasses the country wherever he goes, whatever he says. It never dawns on them that the president can’t stand them any more than they can stand him. Yet they expect him to treat them with respectful courtesy if he ever runs into them—as he should, and on the whole does. Conceivably they should treat him the same way.

The entire article is behind a paywall, unfortunately (although you can read it here), but I'll close with the money quote.

Conservative thinkers should recall that they helped create President Trump. They never blasted President Obama as he deserved. Mr. Obama’s policies punished the economy and made the country and its international standing worse year by year; his patronizing arrogance drove people crazy. He was the perfect embodiment of a one-term president. The tea-party outbreak of 2009-10 made it clear where he was headed. History will record that the press saved him. Naturally the mainstream press loved him, but too many conservative commentators never felt equal to taking him on. They had every reason to point out repeatedly that Mr. Obama was the worst president since Jimmy Carter, surrounded by a left-wing cabinet and advisers, hostile to Israel, crazed regarding Iran, and even less competent to deal with the issues than Mr. Carter was—which is saying plenty.

But they didn’t say plenty. They didn’t say much at all. The rank and file noticed and got mad. Even their supposed champions didn’t grasp what life under Mr. Obama was like—a man who was wrecking the economy while preaching little sermons, whose subtext was always how smart he was, how dumb they were, and how America was full of racist clods, dangerous cops and infantile nuts who would go crazy if they even heard the words “Islamic terrorism.” So the rank and file was deeply angry and elected Mr. Trump.

Of course, as the Bible reminds us, one shouldn't put their trust in princes either, no matter which political party or group they belong to. Politics ain't gonna buy you salvation, my friend.

There is a role for it in the world, however, and that role can be an important one. Which is why it's all the more important for you to make your choices wisely, and with integrity.

And stick to them. Come to think of that, churches could take that advice as well.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The tragedy of Francis


We bring to a close this week's look at Pope Francis with a sobering assessment of his papacy, and what it holds in store for the future of the Catholic Church."

For someone who is 1) Catholic, 2) a frequentor of the blogosphere, and 3) a writer, it is hard to ignore the ongoing drama being played out in Rome, or to keep from succumbing to the temptation to say something about it.  Fortunately, since the readership of this blog is relatively small, I don't always have to have an opinion on everything, and for those times when I do, I can usually do so without having to play up to my audience - to give them raw meat, so to speak, that confirms their own opinions.

Having said that, for those of you who've read what I've written about the Catholic Church in the last year or so, your expectations regarding my opinions are likely to be confirmed over the next few paragraphs.  My feelings regarding the current Bishop of Rome are no secret, nor is my concern regarding the direction in which the Church is headed.  This week's explosive Synod on the Family merely reinforces those concerns - concerns, I would add, that I don't pretend to express as fact.  That's another thing that distinguishes me from other bloggers, I think; while I have a high regard for my own opinion, I don't pretend to have some secret well of knowledge that makes those opinions tantamount to fact.  It's what I think, and while I believe it's an educated opinion, that's all it is.

The one great accomplishment of the Pope is that he's been able to create even more division within the Church than had previously existed.  The Church, at least the orthodox (or "conservative," if you prefer) part of it, has now split into roughly two warring camps: those who think the sky is falling, and those who prefer to say, "nothing to see here, move along."  Each side has its faults; the doomsayers often have the personality of Eeyore, while those who wear the rose-colored glasses seem not only breathtakingly arrogant but utterly dismissive of those who don't see things their way.

Earlier this week I posted on my Facebook page this video, suggesting that it summarized in a nutshell my feelings about the Church:


Now, I know this isn't about the Church, or religion (it's apparently about environmentalism), but it's got a catchy tune and the lyrics ring true to my feelings right now, especially this part:

Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Where's it comin' from?
Where's it goin' to now?
It's just a ship of fools

Or perhaps, I suggested, it was this one instead:


Crazy on a ship of fools
Crazy on a ship of fools
Turn this boat around - back to my loving ground
Oh no, oh no - ship of fools --

Now, I don't mean to suggest here that the Pope is a fool, because that would not give him enough credit.  Rather, I think Damon Linker has it about right in this column, excerpted by Rod Dreher, in which he gets to the heart of what he thinks is up with the Pope:

Francis would like to liberalize church doctrine on marriage, the family, and homosexuality, but he knows that he lacks the support and institutional power to do it. So he’s decided on a course of stealth reform that involves sowing seeds of future doctrinal change by undermining the enforcement of doctrine today. The hope would be that a generation or two from now, the gap between official doctrine and the behavior that’s informally accepted in Catholic parishes across the world would grow so vast that a global grassroots movement in favor of liberalizing change would rise up at long last to sweep aside the old, musty, already-ignored rules.

If this is true, it's a serious problem, not only for the Church itself but for those outside the Church who nevertheless look to Catholicism as the keeper of some kind of moral foundation, and indeed there's some evidence that these people feel the Pope has thrown them under the bus.  Regardless, this Pope is having an incredibly destructive effect on people within the Church.

So what does one do in such a case?  One person I talked with, recalling Ronald Reagan's description of being deserted by the Democratic Party, said that she didn't feel as if she was leaving the Church as much as that the Church was leaving her.  I don't think this will be an uncommon opinion in the weeks and months to come.  Dreher wonders what will become of these disenchanted Catholics, and speculates that while few of them will actually leave the Church, many will cease their active involvement with it.  I would add that for many Catholics who adhere to a traditional view of the faith, the the option they will pursue is, in some respects, the nuclear one: aligning with the SSPX, the traditionalist movement that, while in communion with Rome (at least for the moment), has such reservations over the direction the Church has taken since Vatican II that a schism may be inevitable.

And should that happen?  One suspects that the future, in that case, would be a small but vibrant counter-Church, whose members adhere to the Church's teachings without being in formal communion with Rome; a core of conservatives choosing to remain in the Church, denying up until the end that there's any problem at all (and then being shocked, shocked to find out that there is); and a formal nucleus of the Church that is more liberal, less grounded in theology, and so bereft of substance that it, like other mainline denominations, will be even less consequential than it already is. Not a pretty sight, and not the best thing in the world for a Pope to hang his hat (or zucchetto, as it were) to as his greatest accomplishment.

According to the teaching of the Church, the Pope is the Church's captain, entrusted with sailing her to safe port, keeping her away from the hazards that populate the ocean.  For that reason, this Pope reminds me not so much of his predecessor Paul VI (who presided over the implementation of Vatican II) as he does of an actual captain of an actual ship: Edward Smith, the first and only captain of the Titanic, who took a supposedly unsinkable ship and rammed it into an iceberg, sinking it on its first voyage.  A ship of fools, indeed.

Make no mistake, the Church and her teachings will survive, in one form or another.  It may well be that groups such as the SSPX will provide the remnant that will keep the faith alive until a different skipper takes over a rebuilt ship.  After all, Christ Himself promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church.  He did not, however, guarantee that there wouldn't be some rocky times ahead.  Remember, the Holy Spirit does not choose the Pope, but merely acts as an adviser to those who do.  Sometimes, as in the case of the Borgias, they get it wrong.  In our confidence about the ultimate triumph of the Church, let us not blind ourselves to the likelihood that with this Pope, they got it wrong again.  Very wrong.

Christ sought out fishermen, who presumably knew how to sail boats, because they were to be fishers of men.  He did not intend for those boats to be sailed to the bottom of the sea.  And so if we are sailing on a Ship of Fools, we'd better start manning the pumps.

◊ ◊ ◊

Want to know more about the craziness in the Catholic Church? Why not read The Collaborator, the suspenseful "theater of the mind" involving a showdown between two powerful men, each of whom has a vision of what the Church is and what it believes in.  The Collaborator "helped me understand Pope Francis better," according to one critic - find out why this story is more important than ever.

Read more about The Collaborator, including reviews and an interview with me, at my author website. The book is also available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online sellers. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What is it with the pope, anyway?

Our week-long look at the disastrous papacy of Francis continues with this piece that asks a simple question: does he aim to lead the Church, or destroy it? For that matter, does he really know what the Church teaches?

The Pope is in town, in case you haven't heard. Not in Dallas, where I am, but out father East.  There will be a fair amount of fuss being made, much of it over how Good Pope Francis is ushering in the new progressive nirvana, and probably even more about how the evil conservative Catholics, not to mention the evil Republicans, are busy slamming him.

Of course, that's the typical MSM slant.  It is true that many Republicans disagree with the Pope on matters environmental and economic, and it's also true that a lot of conservative - more likely traditionalist - Catholics have been having kittens over his papacy.  If you're a regular reader, you know I haven't been too happy about this papacy either, having gone so far as to suggest that if I were considering converting today (instead of twenty years ago when I did convert) I probably wouldn't do it because I would be looking at a Church that might have truth on its side, but didn't appear to stand for anything.

Now, it's very easy to find political commentary picking a bone with the Pope.  For instance, George Will had this to say:

Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false and deeply reactionary. They would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak — if his policy prescriptions were not as implausible as his social diagnoses are shrill.

Meanwhile, at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last asks if we should see the Pope as "Menace or Farce" (h/t Fr. Z)

For instance, the Holy Father seems to have a habit of appearing to endorse all sorts of left-wing political causes. There was the time he posed with environmental activists holding an anti-fracking T-shirt. And the time he posed for pictures holding a crucifix made from a hammer and a sickle. And the time he held up a poster calling for the British to hand the Falkland Islands back to Argentina. In each instance, the official Vatican response has been to suggest that Francis didn’t mean to endorse anything because he’ll pretty much smile and pick up anything you hand him, like some sort of consecrated Ron Burgundy.

Now, it is true that there's a ideological dimension to this; there's no question that the Pope is interjecting himself into a political discussion, not merely pointing out the existence of a problem, but offering explicitly political solutions, rather than charging the various legislatures with finding a solution.

There is, however, a spiritual aspect to this as well, and one can make a compelling case that in this religious, as opposed to political, dimension, the Pope continues to fall short.  The website The Federalist had a very good piece on this Monday, with Joy Pullmann writing, among other things, this:

I’m not sure who Pope Francis’s religious advisors are, but it seems they’ve forgotten the Gospel isn’t directly aimed at helping the poor or averting supposed environmental disasters. The Gospel is centrally about saving our eternal souls, about addressing spiritual—not material—poverty. Yes, the material world is broken because of sin, and it will be restored after the Last Day, but that’s an effect, and not the focus of scripture. What’s primary is our souls, not our pocketbooks.

She goes on to write:

In the course of loving our neighbors, as the Bible commands, of course we should seek to meet their physical needs, both through and beyond seeking to meet their spiritual needs. Acknowledging the truth that the world will always contain hungry people is not an excuse for not feeding the people in your life whom you have a duty to feed.

Maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming.
But the human condition of sin has ensured that everyone cannot be rich, healthy, and a lover of God. It’s sad, but true. We will never achieve utopia in this world. That’s kind of the central story arc of the Bible: How humans screwed themselves and the whole world up, and how Jesus has and will ultimately put things to right. Getting all the way to a perfect eternity, however, requires first an apocalypse.

So maybe Pope Francis should welcome the environmental apocalypse he thinks is coming. That’s partly a joke and partly serious, because every time I see another Planned Parenthood butchering video I am ready for Jesus to take me and my kiddos right up to Paradise and end this sick, mad world. But at the very least, Francis could do a better job communicating what my Catholic friends keep insisting to me he really does mean.

I get weary reading all this; it grieves me to see the Church that means so much to me disintegrating like this.  I'll say it again: Pope Francis could not be doing a better job driving the Church apart if he'd been sent by the Soviet Union (or Satan, take your pick) to ruin everything accomplished by the last two popes.  And I get just as weary being reminded by henny-penny hand-wringers that you're not allowed to criticize the Pope.  As a matter of fact, that really ticks me off.

Look; one should always be careful talking about the Pope.  The papacy is a divinely-ordained institution, and that's all there is to it.  Not only do I accept that, I wholeheartedly embraced it at the time of my conversion.  I believe it today.  But it also has to be said that the College of Cardinals don't always choose the right man for the office; anyone who thinks that the Holy Spirit divinely chooses the pope not only denies the existence of man's free will, he overlooks such occupants of Peter's Chair as the Borgia Popes.  In other words, one must respect the office, but there is no reason not to look at the specific occupant with a cocked eye.

Let's take this a step further, though.  Not only the papacy, but the basic clerical structure of the Church - bishops, priests and deacons - exists in the Bible.  What goes for the pope goes for them as well; respect the office, if not the occupant.

However, when it gets to the Curia, the governing organization of the Church - well, that's a man-made institution.  No only is there nothing divine about it, even the popes themselves have had to keep a very close eye on it from time to time for their own benefit, not to mention well-being.  The Curia, and the upcoming Synod of Bishops, is fair game as far as I'm concerned - again, as long as you remain somewhat respectful in your words.  Just as I get turned off by old ladies taking me to task for criticizing the pope, I also get torqued by people who behave like rabid Pavlovian dogs whenever Francis' name is mentioned.

Therefore: I have great concerns that Pope Francis is doing dramatic damage to the Church.  He disrespects those who have fought long and hard to defend tradition; his recent decision on annulments is nothing short of indefensible; his off-the-cuff statements are tiring at best and alarming at worst.  We like to talk about the "brand" today, and Francis has weakened the Catholic "brand" to an almost crippling degree.  Those who are the most impressed are those least likely to come back to the Church, or to defend the Church's traditional teachings.  Those most disregarded, most dismissed by him, are the ones who have fought the hardest and believe most fervently in Christ's teachings.  I don't know about you, but buddying up to your enemies and dissing your friends is not my idea of a successful business plan.

Francis' papacy has been a disaster, and if the upcoming Synod weakens the family further, as many expect it to, going back on two millennia of Church teaching (as well as Christ's words), then we see a real possibility of schism, and if that happens then we're really going to have some questions to ask.  All we know is that at the Last Judgment, we'll all be called to account for my actions.  I will not fare well when that happens, but at least I'd like to think I've tried to defend the Church, in my words if not always my actions.  However, the man who calls himself a "loyal son of the Chuirch" will have to do the same, and all in all I think I'd rather be in my shoes than his.

There's bound to be more to come on this, both from the Pope's trip and from me.

◊ ◊ ◊

Do you wish someone would tell it like it really is? Why not read The Collaborator, the suspenseful "theater of the mind" involving a showdown between two powerful men, each of whom has a vision of what the Church is and what it believes in.  The Collaborator "helped me understand Pope Francis better," according to one critic - find out why this story is more important than ever.

Read more about The Collaborator, including reviews and an interview with me, at my author website. The book is also available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online sellers. 
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