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. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The pope's poverty of thought

Today, as we continue our week-long look at the papacy of Pope Francis, it's the pope's continuing preoccupation with poverty as a synonym for sanctity. Is Francis a Catholic or a Marxist?

A while back, returning from his papal trip to Mexico, Pope Francis took the opportunity to revisit his vision of the Church as a “Church of the poor.” Among other things, he declared that “poverty is the great teaching” of Jesus, and finished by saying, “How I wish that Christians could kneel in veneration when a poor person enters the church.” Setting aside for a moment the fact that Christians venerate no man save God, the pontiff’s words seem to me, for all the world, like a return to the quaint romantic notion of the “noble savage,” the primitive who achieves a kind of sanctity by virtue of his lack of contact with the outside world.

And if that is what he actually believes, then I think we have a problem.

I'm bothered by this automatic linking of poverty and piety. For all the injunctions which Christ made about taking care of the poor, he never promised that poverty alone would see someone into heaven. Likewise, does the pontiff really mean to suggest that any opportunity to improve oneself, to emerge from poverty and possibly become successful in business (thereby affording the opportunity to help others out of poverty) should be eschewed in favor of remaining poor? As Steve Moore, wrote in Forbes last year: “What is the theological case for telling those in the poorest villages of the planet where people still live at subsistence levels, that they have a moral obligation to save the planet by staying poor and using less fossil fuels, less energy and electricity?" Like Moore, I fail to see the connection.

When he used such glowing terms to speak of the poor, Francis said nothing new. One can go back centuries to the times of Peter Martyr, who wrote of those noble savages that “They seem to live in that golden world of which old writers speak so much, wherein men lived simply and innocently, without enforcement of laws, without quarreling, judges, or libels, content only to satisfy nature.” Montaigne, fueling the fires of such romantic rhetoric, proclaimed more than a half century later that “In my opinion, what we actually see in these nations not only surpasses all the pictures which the poets have drawn of the Golden Age, and all their inventions representing the then happy state of mankind, but also the conception and desire of philosophy itself.”

And yet we know that is wasn’t case, in Martyr’s time any more than it is our own, that the poor were living saints simply because of their poverty. The very Spanish who ran across the New World, upon discovering cannibals in the Caribbean, came to view these “noble savages” as “devils in the form of men” and, shocked, found it necessary to forcibly convert them. While there may be a certain spiritual strength to living without, particularly when doing so by choice rather than circumstance*, the vast majority of poor people see poverty as a burden to overcome, a state in life above which one should rise.

*It’s true, however, that “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” When poverty finds you, rather than the other way around, it can and does serve to focus the mind, often to great holy effect.

By elevating poverty to a kind of religious vocation, the pope threatens to deny the existence of Original Sin – in other words, he creates out of poverty a second Garden of Eden, linking not just prosperity but financial security itself with a type of corruption of the human soul. Keep in mind, however, that if evil arose out of the Garden of Eden, good likewise emerged, as Milton notes in the Areopagitica, saying “It was out of the rind of one apple tasted that good and evil leapt forth into the world, like two twins cleaving together.” Keep in mind, as one linguist pointed out, that Milton was fond of puns and wordplay, and that the word taste itself is a reference to the Latin word “Sapere,” which means both “to taste” and “to know.” Are we, therefore, to posit from this that the two words, taste and know, are fatefully intertwined, that the knowledge brought forth from the forbidden apple consisted of both good and evil?

Of course we know that Latin is not the pope’s strong suit; nevertheless to carry out this analogy to its logical conclusion – though I stress that this is merely one logical conclusion, not a definitive one – we have to view the poor, the residents of this second Garden, not as good untainted by evil, but as ciphers, neither good nor evil but blank canvases upon which both will be imprinted, as soon as knowledge of the world is experienced. Is this really the analogy which the pope wishes to create?

Perhaps it is. In lionizing the poor, the pope takes his cue from Rafael Tello, a fellow Argentine, one of the founders of “a theology of the people,” who in looking at their lives wrote of their culture as one which “is celebrated as a popular form of permanent resistance against the oppressive forces of modern development.”  When the pope declares that “poverty is the great teaching” of Jesus, he of necessity places them back in the Garden; as Catholic writer Maureen Mullarkey writes, “In this euphoric apparition, the pueblo—the indigenous poor—are a primal entity. Poverty retains a hint of Eden, and the poor are themselves agents of redemption for the developed world.”

The implications of this are manifest. Writes Mullarkey,

Bergoglio has internalized Tello’s ecstatic vision of the poor as the collective completion of the Passion of Christ. They are co-operators of salvation (Albado: “cooperadores de la salvación”) and, hence, a gift from God. Christianity provides a scaffold for sacralizing a mestizo variant of the Marxist proletariat. Theology of the people blends class struggle and mysticism in the time-honored language of gospel concern for the poor.

Mullarkey shrewdly sees problems with this. “What is new in this mystique of the pueblo is its other-worldly intoxication with poverty, as if material deprivation conferred holiness.” [Emphasis mine] Not only are the poor burdened with having to redeem the fallen world, “[they] are revered insofar as they play the role of the People, actors in a paternalistic drama directed by marxisant superiors inclined to interpret affluence as a signal of moral defect.”

I like the phrase that she uses, the idea that “material deprivation conferred holiness.” No, it does not. Faith and the acting out of faith through living a spiritual life, performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, as well as willingly uniting one’s life and suffering to that of Christ, confers holiness. To equate holiness with poverty, especially when that poverty is something into which they’re borne, gives them a status based on something over which they have no control. You might even think of it as some kind of “unearned privilege” since they did nothing to achieve it, other than continue to remain poor. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

I mentioned earlier this tricky bit about venerating people. This idea of playing favorites, as it were, is not just distasteful, it really runs contrary to God’s own character. The Old Testament provides an abundance of evidence to the contrary, particularly when it concerns the poor. Leviticus 19:15 teaches, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” Exodus 23:3 likewise commands, “Do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” In other words, justice should be blind, and both rich and poor should be treated equally before the law.

James says in 2:4 warns, “Aren’t you discriminating against people and using a corrupt standard to make judgments?” While his warning applies specifically to favoring the rich over the poor (and is often stressed by today’s socially relevant Church), the opposite must be true as well, for Paul tells the Romans in 2:11 that “God does not show favoritism,” and again in Ephesians 6:9 says that “There is no favoritism with him.” Finally, Colossians 3:25 teaches God’s fairness in judgment: “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.”

What are we to take from all this? While James in 2:5 continues, “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” this is, as one commentary points out, “likely an allusion to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount or Plain (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20). The poor are not inheriting the kingdom because they are better people than the rich, but because they put their trust in God. [Emphasis mine] Lacking the means to depend on themselves, or to curry favor with the rich, they have learned to depend on God.” And that’s it in a nutshell: what makes the poor the favored of God is not their poverty in and of itself, but their subsequent choice to put their trust not in the material goods of the world, but in God.

While the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, containing both good and evil, stained man irrevocably, but God did not fail to provide a solace. It is in the province of man, through free will, to use that knowledge, ill-gotten though it may have been, for the greater glory of God, by cooperation with Him in His grand design. From this divine partnership (if one can call it that) many great things have emerged. Someone, I don’t remember who, wrote once that we do not help the poor out of our own volition, but because Christ commands us to do it. James, in particular, demonstrates that good works are made possible by faith in Christ. It was part of His mission; therefore, it is part of ours as well. And it is that, as imitators of Christ – not by the mere fact of being born into the indigenous poor – which leads us to holiness and salvation.

Whittaker Chambers points out in his devastating review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that “if Man’s heroism (some will prefer to say: human dignity) no longer derives from God, or is not a function of that godless integrity which was a root of Nietzsche’s anguish, then Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity.” If capitalism lacks a moral foundation, it becomes just another –ism. And so it is with the poor as well. True poverty does not qualify one as a saint, although it may well make one a saint. Likewise, true wealth cannot be measured with the Sign of the Dollar, but the Sign of the Cross.

Is it too much to draw from all this that wealth and poverty are themselves merely measuring devices of the world, and that the total draining of self to God – in other words, the self-induced poverty of everything save God – is what leads to salvation? If so, then Pope Francis ought perhaps to examine his thoughts more carefully. Remember, God judges all equally – does that not extend to the thoughts of popes as well?

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Want to know more about the crisis 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. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Glorious Fourth

What is the pope trying to do?

Today we continue a special week-long look at Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. Is Francis a visionary needed for a new world, or a reckless ideologue trying to dismantle the teaching of Christ's own Church? In this piece, we look at the pope's words regarding Islamic terrorism.

From Rod Dreher. Read the whole thing, but the money quote asks the essential question:

What is Francis doing? Is this just the usual progressive Catholic see-no-evil dingbattery, or is there something else happening here? Again, how very odd for a world religious leader to deny the power of religion to mold the minds of men and to motivate their behavior. You would expect a vulgar Marxist to say all things are motivated by class and economic struggle and nothing but, but you wouldn’t expect a Roman pontiff to take that ridiculous and easily disproven line.

At a time when the world needs strong, realistic religious leadership to deal with the realities of Islamic terrorism (realities, I should say, that include the fact that most Muslims are not terrorists), Francis is offering jelly-brained liberal nonsense.

The picture above features a statue not only executing a facepalm, but beating the breast at the same time. I find this quite appropriate; as I've written before, I can't help but think of this pope as the pope of our chastisement - our "reward" for our lack of faith in action. Therefore, while we hide our eyes in horror at the latest pronouncement from the Vatican, we remember also to ask for forgiveness - because surely we must atone for our own role in the present state of the Church.

◊ ◊ ◊

Has this piece gotten your attention? 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.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Red Pope

Pope Pius XI famously said of socialism that it "is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

My novel The Collaborator features a pope who looks to shake up the Catholic Church by casting off tradition and encouraging the reinterpretation of doctrine. As it turns out, he also happens to have been a collaborator with a totalitarian regime back in his home country, indirectly responsible for the deaths of numerous people through the information he passes along to the authorities. Although it wasn't explicitly stated in the book, the regime in question was certainly one of those from the left - socialist, fascist, Marxist, or even - dare one say it? - Peronist. There were, I wrote, a number of reasons why the future pope had become a collaborator, but although he may have been a sympathizer, it never occurred to me to suggest that he was an outright Communist.

Is Pope Francis a Communist, or at least a socialist? If so, it would seem to be a direct contradiction of his predecessor Pius' statement. Of course, if there's one thing we know for sure about Francis, it's that he doesn't put a lot of stock in statements from previous popes.

What he does seem to put a great deal of stock in, however, is the political theory that has developed in Latin America over the past century or so - particularly what the author Tracey Rowland, in her book Catholic Theology, refers to as "People's Theology," which dates back to the nineteenth-century Argentinian dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas and are said to heavily influence the pope's own thinking and appear in several of his public writings. Those four principles are:

  1. Time is greater than space.
  2. Unity prevails over conflict.
  3. Reality is more important than ideas.
  4. The whole is greater than the parts.

This kind of Hegelian "cultural-historical" philosophy is a distinct break with Christian anthropology in that it fails to recognize that ideas shape reality, rather than the other way around. It also seems more than a little compatible with Marx's theory of "historic materialism," in which society is seen as "fundamentally determined at any given time by the material conditions—in other words, the relationships which people have with each other in order to fulfill basic needs such as feeding, clothing, and housing themselves and their families." No wonder the pope seems to favor the idea of tossing over traditional Catholic doctrine on things such as communion for the divorced and remarried, people living together without marriage, and other things that might simply be "too hard" for people to follow. There is no such thing as "truth," one could conclude from this - everything depends on time and circumstances. It's all relative, and if that idea sounds familiar, you might be thinking of the "Dictatorship of Relativism" that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger warned against on the eve of his election as Pope.

We recall other statements from this pope: in talking about economic inequality, he said that “if anything, it is the communists who think like Christians;” when taken to task by some American commentators for his criticisms of capitalism, he replied that "I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended;” that as a young man he “read books of the Communist Party that my boss in the laboratory gave me.” George Neumayr, author of The Political Pope, quotes the pope as writing that "Inequality is the root of all evil,” and goes on to add,

One can imagine Karl Marx blurting that out, but none of Francis’s predecessors would have made such an outrageous claim. According to traditional Catholic theology, the root of all evil came not from inequality but from Satan’s refusal to accept inequality. Out of envy of God’s superiority, Satan rebelled. He could not bear his lesser status.

Rowland notes that the pope "believes that poverty bestows upon people a moral superiority, and accordingly, that for Pope Francis, the ‘deposit of the faith’ is to be found preserved among the poor living in ‘inner city neighbourhoods,' [sic]" and concludes that "Such a reading situates Pope Francis squarely in the territory of Scannone’s ‘People’s Theology'."

And then there's the pope's apparent willingness to compromise with Communist China regarding government approval of potential bishops, in which the pope “would commit to recognize as bishops only those clerics who first win from the Patriotic Association’s bishops conference.” In case you're not up on your world history, that's the kind of authority that Henry VIII sought, which led to the martyrdom of Thomas More and John Fisher, and eventually the Protestant Reformation. It's sad to think that tens of thousands of Catholics shed their blood to preserve the kind of independence that the pope now seems willing to fritter away. No wonder some Chinese Catholics fear betrayal by this pope.

I don't pretend that The Collaborator represents any form of prophetic warning, although the can be no doubt that the Church has embarked on a downward trend ever since his election*, one that has rapidly escalated in the two years since I wrote the book. I do say, however, with no false modesty, that reading The Collaborator can add to an understanding of the conflict within the Church, and the role which a pope can play in such a conflict.

*Even as he remains immensely popular with those outside the Church and those on the left wing of the Church, each of which maintains an ingrained hostility to Catholic teaching.

Last week the Catholic Church celebrated the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul; the latter the great evangelist to the Gentiles, the former the man upon whom Christ Himself founded His Church. These two walk hand-in-hand: the faith does no good if, as Christ reminded us, the light is hidden under a bushel, while it does no good to share the faith if there is no truth, no substance, to it. For that reason we'll be devoting the rest of this week to looking back at some of our previous pieces on Pope Francis, the man who, for better or worse, sits at the center of the storm surrounding the Church.

The head of the Jesuits, the religious order to which the pope belongs, is often referred to as "The Black Pope" as contrasted to the white cassock worn by the pope. In Pope Francis, we now have the first Jesuit Pope; the question remains - do we truly have a Black Pope, or a Red one?

◊ ◊ ◊

Want to know more about the crisis 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. 
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