Friday, July 29, 2005

MH - Stemming the Tide for Frist

Yawn. So Frist comes out in favor of embryonic stem cell research. You know, I don't really want to write about this. I'd much rather be watching tonight's CFL game of the week. Some people treat this as a big deal - Arlen Specter thinks it's a monumental pronouncement. Rick Santorum doesn't think so, but that's the same Santorum that supported Specter in his reelection bid (and did he vote in support of making Frist majority leader?). Bush vows to veto increased federal funding, but that's the same Bush that supported Specter in his reelection bid (and uses Frist to carry his legislative agenda).

As I said, I don't really want to be writing about this, but since this is a topical blog dedicated in large part to political and spiritual questions, I suppose I have to say something. However, there are very good writers out there who have a lot more to say: ChezJoel has an excellent post (HT: Dawn Eden), with one of the best lines - the "hypocritical oath." Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O'Beirne have some terrific points at The Corner. James Dobson doesn't pull any punches in his statement. Ah, I could go on and on. Sure, there are those who think Frist's done a good job on this, who agree with his position (Charles Krauthammer did so on Brit Hume's show tonight), but I'm not really interested in giving them much publicity. But I suppose I have to throw in something of my own, so here goes:

I don't understand why anyone should be surprised by this. After all, Frist was in favor of this to begin with. Maybe he's been flip-flopping around, trying first to prove his pro-life credentials, then moderating in order to show his "growth" as a Senator. I've never trusted the man as Senator. The only thing that surprises me is that there are still people out there who consider him a credible presidential candidate.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's a lovely evening - mid 70s and sunny, low humidity, and we' ve got tickets for the Minnesota Orchestra performance tonight (Romeo and Juliet by both Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, A Midsummer Night's Dream by Felix (the Cat) Mendelssohn). Some of my favorite music, and it's a great night for a walk over to Orchestra Hall. So if you here from us again tonight, it will be on much more pleasant topics that Bill Frist pandering for votes.

MH - Blogging in Corporate America, Continued

People ask me if I don't get tired of ripping Corporate America. Well, yes, I do. For one thing, it's not much of a challenge. All you have to do is log in and read the day's headlines, and you usually find something to raise your ire.

It's not that I have anything against them, per se. If they'd behave in a morally responsible way, consistent with the dignity of the individual, I'd just as soon leave them alone and write about something else.

On the other hand, if you're ever worried about meeting a writing deadline, you always know they're around to give you material.

Today's case in point is this article on NRO by the delightful Myrna Blyth on yet another blogger who's fallen victim to the corporate mentality. Nadine Haobsh, who worked at Ladies’ Home Journal, and on the side maintained a gossipy blog called “Jolie in NYC” that told "insider tales about the beauty industry."
When her identity was revealed, Nadine was dressed down by her employer for
“lack of professionalism” and being “disloyal.” Thinking she had another job, she resigned and gave two-weeks notice, but was told to leave that day. “When I told the person at Seventeen who offered me the new job about the blog and what had happened she said, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’” Hearst, Seventeen’s parent company, did not feel the same way. Hearst’s H. R. department rescinded the offer.

This seems to raise more questions than it answers. Don't worry about Nadine; the publicity from all this is more than enough to provide her with new opportunities. And it also gives us a new opportunity to look at this issue, and to see once again how the dehumanization of the worker and the dignity of work itself are being trampled upon.

One puzzling thing about the corporate mentality: bloggers who get fired usually wind up with much more publicity, and more opportunity to spread the dirt about their former employers, than they would have had the company simply left them alone. But perhaps it isn't about the publicity; it's really about the ability of the company to control the behavior of their employees. Now they feel that control slipping away, and they revert to increasingly ridiculous lengths in an attempt to reassert it.

This isn't to say that bloggers don't have some responsibility in the whole affair: don't release corporate secrets, for example, or anything else that's generally prohibited by good sense. Take your co-workers into consideration when you're tempted to blog gossipy details about what goes on in the office: are you guilty of the sin of detraction or of offending charity? Do you consider how you would feel if you read the same information about yourself posted on the Internet?

Keeping secrets in an office has always been problematic at best; it becomes even more difficult in the age of mass communication. The point is that this is not a new problem, simply one that has become magnified by the chance to feed the ego, to spread the dirty laundry around for all to see. It has nothing to do with Internet etiquette, but it has everything to do with modesty and humility, with keeping one's word and another's confidence. If you've always been a faithful friend and loyal employee, chances are you aren't going to change if you've entered the world of blogging.

So we know that bloggers have a responsiblity, and a heavy one. People read what we write; perhaps not many, at least at first; but even the most modest blogger can count on 20 or 30 people a day reading the blog, many of them unknown to the writer. Blogging makes you, in a sense, a published writer, and thus you do have to be responsible for the content and accuracy of what you write, as well as the impact it has on others.

Ah, but what do we have to say about the employer? Well, as I alluded to earlier, the employer does have the right to protect corporate secrets, confidential or proprietary material. But this has always been covered under the basic employee handbook; devising a new policy to cover bloggers seems to me a little like the false canard of "hate crimes." If it's a crime, it's a crime regardless of the context or motivation of the perpetrator. The Internet may have made this kind of behavior easier, but it's not more wrong today to spread it for all to read than it was yesterday to start spreading rumors by word of mouth on Main Street.

One of the words Blyth uses in her article is "humorless," and I think that's an apt description of so much of Corporate America. There's the forced humor that usually comes about from phony, staged "team building" events in which everyone takes tips from Up With People to learn how to smile for the boss and pretend you're having a good time. Doubtless in the New Age Spirituality that's sweeping HR departments nowadays, there's something about reaching the humor of the employee by touching their inner child. And of course Dilbert shows that there's a lot of humor in the workplace, albeit often unintentional.

But humor is an essential part of the human psyche (notice how similiar the words human and humor are; I'm no expert, but they must share some kind of root), and any environment that attempts to eliminate humor, or at least fails to recognize it, is also cutting off an essential part of what it means to be human.

There's no doubt that Corporate America has a problem with the First Amendment; I've written in the past about bloggers who've been punished for the political or religious content of their writing, because it's supposed to run contrary to established corporate policy, or because the stand of the employee could prove embarrassing to the company. This is absolute nonsense; corporations do a good enough job of embarrassing themselves just by their everyday actions. It's true that the employee should share the values of the company, but since so many companies have few if any values other than monetary ones, that can be a little challenging. And it's ironic to say the least that your political or religious beliefs can be offensive to the company, when companies pay corporate blackmail all the time to special interest groups on the left. (Jesse Jackson, the homosexual lobby, etc.) I guess it really is just a one-way street.

No, there seems to be no other answer than that the company is continuing, like any other tyrant, to exercise control over your freedom; your rights, your ability to speak out, your basic individuality and identity. Their philosophy is that when you're an employee of the company, you have no identity other than that of the company. As my friend Hadleyblogger Mike put it once, "Welcome to the company. Please check your values at the door."

Again, this isn't a rant against business per se, but against the dehumanization that runs contrary to the basic teachings of Catholic Social Thought. We are individuals, and there is dignity in the work that we perform. Any structure that attempts to remove that dignity, that strips the identity of the individual, that views workers as economic units rather than human beings and worships at no higher altar that the bottom line: that structure is the enemy of all men. It must be reformed - not by government fiat, but from within.

Not only from within the structure, but from within the most elemental and important part of that structure:

The human heart.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

MH - More on Role Models

As I'm writing this, there's a discussion on ESPN Radio on the topic "Are Athletes Appropriate Role Models?" We've been over this ground before, people. We're all role models! Get used to it! Maybe if we use the word "witnesses" rather than "role models," we can get a better understanding of this.

Imagine, if you will, a culture in which everyone acted as if their movements were under scrutiny by others. Not out of paranoia or a sense of "Big Brother," just the idea that the way you behaved might, for better or worse, have an effect on someone else. Now, not everyone will agree with me that this is a good thing, but if you accept the idea that we can offer up our sufferings in private, that our secret prayers can help others, that a small act of piety can have large and positive consequences - then perhaps the idea that our behavior does have consequence for others as well as ourselves might not be such a hard one to grasp.

We often read in the Bible of how we're not to wear our faith in a boastful manner, flaunting it for all to see. No, it's more subtle than that. We wear our faith by how it changes our lives, how it influences our actions, how it permeates our very being. When you separate your faith from your actions, you become the hardened ground that Our Lord warns us of, the ground where the seed fails to take root, where the Evil One plucks it up and takes it away. Remember that the next time you hear a politician talk about being "personally opposed, but..." or an athlete talk about how "I'm not a role model." You wear your faith by how that faith influences your life.

Did the Lord help you dress today?

MH - Origins of "The Dictatorship of Relativism"

Thanks to Roman Catholic Blog for picking up this piece from - an interview with Attilio Tamburrini, director of the Italian section of Aid To The Church in Need. Tamburrini cites John Paul II's quote: "The democratic system which loses sight of referenced values is transformed into a dictatorship" and shows how this forms the basis of Benedict XVI's condemnation of the "Dictatorship of Relativism." Tamburrini also provides stark examples of how this Dictatorship is put into effect: "It is a question of exaggerated attention to supposed values of the so-called minorities that are in detriment of the majority."

Remember this next time someone talks to you about "diversity" and the need for "inclusiveness" and "understanding" of "others." RCB says it's exhilarting to stumble on a quote that gives you a sharpened insight into something you already thought you understood pretty well, and I feel the same way when I find a post that does a superior job of describing thoughts I've had for some time.

MH - Why We Have the Leaders We Have

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I've been hard on John Derbyshire over at NRO, for good reason, but here's another example of why I keep reading him - this marvelous description in his obituary of former British Prime Minister Edward Heath (of whom it was once said that "when he walks into a crowded room, people look at each other and ask: ‘Who was that who just left?’”). If Derb's right, this explains a lot about why we so often seem to have to choose between mediocre candidates at election time (are you listening, Bob Dole?):
It says something about politics that such a person can rise to the top. You have to be clever and capable enough to make yourself indispensable to a succession of favor-granting power-holders, and dogged enough to plow on ahead through all the slights and embarrassments that come with having an unattractive personality. Perhaps the fact that a person as un-amiable as Heath could succeed, is an indication of how very small is the pool of energetic, capable people in government. Time and again, his superiors must have sighed and said: “Well, I suppose it’ll have to be Ted, then,” to groans and protests from those in earshot.

As I said, now it all makes sense.

MH - Don't Try This At Home, Part 2

Remember how I was ranting last week about sportswriters dabbling in politics? Well, here's another example from Pete McEntegart at
Canadian commentator Don Cherry will not be on tape delay when his Coach's Corner segment returns to CBC's Hockey Night in Canada telecasts this fall. The often-outrageous Cherry has operated on a seven-second delay since making some controversial on-air comments in January 2004. Picture a surlier Rush Limbaugh, only more entertaining.

Of course, Rush is still more entertaining than Pete McEntegart.

On the other hand, we have to give credit where credit is due, and McEntegart comes back later in the column with this one:
It's always tough to win on the road, but most visiting teams don't typically have to worry about a smart-mouthed PA announcer. That's not the case when rugby teams play Gladstone in New Zealand. As Paddy Rimene, a player for the predominately Catholic Marist club, lined up a penalty kick late in a semifinal game tied at 10 over the weekend, a voice over the loudspeaker declared that the Pope had died in a car accident. Once Rimene's kick bounced off the post, the announcer amended his "report" to say that it had just been a fender-bender and that the Pope was fine. Gladstone won 13-10 in extra time but will now be heading en masse to hell.

A nice comeback after a struggling start, McEntegart. We'll call this one a push.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

MH - Lancing Lance

Hadleyblogger Gary doesn't think much of Lance Armstrong. Hasn't for a while, in fact. I figured it must have something to do with the drug rumors that continue to swirl around him, or perhaps Armstrong's relationship with lefty Sheryl Crow.

Something like that, I thought. But no, it turned out to be something completely different.

"I can't stand Armstrong," Gary said. "He doesn't even believe in God. He only believes in himself."

"He doesn't?" I said, surprised.

"He said God had nothing to do with his getting over cancer. 'It was all my doctors and medical science. God didn't have anything to do with it.' "

Now, I've heard Gary pontificate on things like this in the past, and while his accuracy rate is pretty high, I've learned it's always best to check out what he has to say before buying into it. In the internet era, that's pretty easy to do. A few choice words in the search engine, and voila!

Now, there must be a web page on virtually any subject you like nowadays. Maybe you knew this, but I had no idea there was a site devoted to celebrity atheists. And sure enough, there's this entry on Lance Armstrong, putting him somewhere between atheist and agnostic.

They quote him in ET Magazine, for example, as saying, "If there was a god, I'd still have both nuts." In another place he's quoted thus: "You have to try and it won't always be easy but you try your best. I do not believe that because you are not prepared to submit yourself to a god or a higher being, that when you get to the end of the road, you will be sent down. I'm not prepared to believe that."

When noted by a Time Magazine interviewer (September 29, 2003) that he didn't seem to be very religious, Armstrong replied, "I don't have anything against organized religion per se. We all need something in our lives. I personally just have not accepted that belief. But I'm one of the few."

The authors of this site also note that Armstrong's ex-wife is a devout Catholic, and speculates that her growing faith may have contributed to their break-up.

Now, it's easy to take things out of context, to put two and two together and come up with five. Sometimes it's best to let the man's words speak for themselves, unfiltered by the interpretation of an interviewer. Therefore, let's look at what Lance Armstrong himself wrote on the subject:
The night before brain surgery, I thought about death. I searched out my larger values, and I asked myself, if I was going to die, did I want to do it fighting and clawing or in peaceful surrender? What sort of character did I hope to show? Was I content with myself and what I had done with my life so far? I decided that I was essentially a good person, although I could have been better--but at the same time I understood that the cancer didn't care.

I asked myself what I believed. I had never prayed a lot. I hoped hard, I wished hard, but I didn't pray. I had developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up, but I felt I had the capacity to be a spiritual person, and to hold some fervent beliefs. Quite simply, I believed I had a responsiblity to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn't a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whther I believed in a certain book, or whether I'd been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn't say, "But you were never a Christian, so you're going the other way from heaven." If so, I was going to reply, "You know what? You're right. Fine."

I believed, too, in the doctors and the medicine and the surgeries--I believed in that. I believed in them. A person like Dr. Einhorn [his oncologist], that's someone to believe in, I thought, a person with the mind to develop an experimental treatment 20 years ago that now could save my life. I believed in the hard currency of his intelligence and his research.

Beyond that, I had to idea where to draw the line between spiritual belief and science. But I knew this much: I believed in belief, for its own shining sake. To believe in the face of utter hopelessness, every article of evidence to the contrary, to ignore apparent catastrophe--what other choice was there? We do it every day, I realized. We are so much stronger than we imagine, and belief is one of the most valiant and long-lived human characteristics. To believe, when all along we humans know that nothing can cure the briefness of this life, that there is no remedy for our basic mortality, that is a form of bravery

From Lance Armstrong's book It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, published by G.P Putnam's Sons 2000. pp. 116-118

Well, it's kind of hard to argue with Gary when you read it right there in black and white. He believed in the doctors, the medicine, the surgeries. But not God. And while it's a good thing to believe in the doctors, the medicine, and the surgeries - especially if they're being used to try to save your life - how dangerous a path do we tread when we leave God out of the equation.

This doesn't make me angry; it makes me sad. Lance Armstrong has such an opportunity to witness to the faith; to show the power of offering our suffering, to show the enormous mercy of God, to show how He can bring good out of what seems to be even the bleakest situation. Most of all, to remind us once again of the miracle of human life - how sacred life is, how important the will to live is, how much the human body can achieve. Most of all, the truth that there is no such thing as a useless human being. It reminds me of Christopher Reeve, who impressed us with his courage, and would have impressed us even more if he had admitted that none of it would have been possible without God. The truth is that Armstrong and Reeve were both living examples of miracles, and their testimony could have made an even more dramatic impact on the lives of others if they had looked to the source of those miracles.

But of course, to them the only miracle was science, the only source was man.

As I said, what a waste.

I don't mean for a moment to disparage the incredible achievements of Armstrong. Perhaps it's not too much of a stretch to say that his life is a miracle. But someday Lance Armstrong will find out that there's more to life than athletic achievement, more to life than just living. In anticipation of that moment, we need to pray for people like him, because it's never too late. I think he does realize, deep down, that there may be something to this "God" thing, that it's dangerous to depend too much on the power of man and man-made knowledge. Maybe he's afraid to let go, to give up control. I can relate to that, since it's a problem I have as well. I do profess faith in God, even though my actions may often belie that declaration. Perhaps Lance Armstrong is more truthful than I, for he doesn't pretend to have that kind of faith. At least he's not a hypocrite.

But as long as I know what I'm supposed to believe, how that faith that I profess is supposed to translate into action, then there's still hope for me. There's still hope for Lance Armstrong too, and all the other secular humanists out there who have so much to offer, whose lives can provide us with so much inspiration and encouragement. It's up to them, but it's up to us as well. Not only must we include them in our prayers, we also must continue to pray for ourselves, that in serving as witnesses to our faith we may draw others closer to the truth, to the Light that illuminates all darkness, to the Life that has defeated death forever and asks us to join Him in a future where there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more sadness.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

No Name on the Bullet

Longtime readers of this blog know my affinity for the psychological Western, so I was intrigued by last night's offering on TCM, No Name on the Bullet, starring Audie Murphy in a very eerie performance as hired gun John Gant.

As the story opens, Gant's arrived in an average Western town to carry out a contract killing, but nobody knows who his target is. As the tension mounts, paranoia sets in. Gant quietly forces everyone to face their own pasts, the misdeeds in their own lives that may have caused someone to hire Gant to settle the score. One man cracks under the strain and kills himself. Another, emboldened by drink and the taunts of the woman he stole from another man, calls Gant out - only to be revealed as the coward he is. People start accusing each other of having been the one to hire Gant, and imagine themselves as the intended victim. Gant sits back as it unfolds, musing philosophically on the guilt that each one of us has to live with.

It's hard to imagine that Sergio Leone, director of the "Man With No Name" series of Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, wasn't influenced by this film. It's quite easy to imagine Eastwood in the John Gant role, the gunfighter who in reality might be an avenging angel (although, as Judie pointed out, Murphy had about three times the number of lines Eastwood would have had). The movie's biblical symbolism is apparent - the town doctor who tries to bring reason to all involved is a physician named Luke, and Judge Benson, the resident elder statesman, dons the robes of Caiaphas the high priest in suggesting that the townspeople find the man Gant's been sent to kill and offer him up to Gant - better that one man should die than the entire town. Even for the western, a genre known for its adaptability to moral allegory, the signs in this one were pronounced.

Above all is the performance of Audie Murphy as Gant, the man with ice water running through his veins, who views his trade through the eyes of a philosopher. The innocent have nothing to fear - as a hired gun, he only kills for the money (as he puts it, he doesn't like to waste his craft). And who among us are truly innocent, Gant asks. Have we not all something to hide? It's not only Gant's words, but the unsettling calm with which Murphy delivers them, that creates the power in the role. For Murphy, the most decorated soldier in World War II, winner of 33 awards and decorations including the Congressional Medal of Honor, the role fit him to a T. His acts of heroism, paraphrasing one observer, were not those committed in anger or fear, but were those of the calm, detached man who was able to clearly see what was happening and what needed to be done. Murphy's friends, according to TCM host Robert Osborne, saw Gant as the perfect Murphy role.

On its own merits No Name on the Bullet is worth watching - had it been slightly better acted it could have become a classic (much as its predecessor on TCM's schedule, Bad Day at Black Rock). As a precursor to Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, and with its biblical overtones of good and evil and universal guilt, it becomes fascinating.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

MH - God's Respect For Our Free Will

It was another stiflingly hot Sunday here in Minnesota, and for the second consecutive week Fr. Welzbacher kept the homily short. But although it was brief, as usual it packed a punch.

Fr. Welzbacher chose to concentrate on today's Epistle, Paul's letter to the Romans. Do Paul's words suggest, as Calvin believed, that we are all predestined to either salvation or damnation, with no control over our lives? Not at all - as Paul himself says. Notice his words - "For those he foreknew he also predestined" - in other words, God, Who knows all, Who knows what we will choose long before we make that choice, already knows the identities of those who will, freely, choose Him. Far from being left without a choice, His predestination in fact depends entirely upon the choice we make. What Paul is telling us is that God already knows the choice we will make, and for those who choose Him, He will "conform us to the image of his Son."

A lot of us have trouble with the idea of free will. For example, how can God, who created all, allow evil to exist? If the presence of evil is a direct contradiction to that which God stands for, why does He put up with it? Why does He allow us to make that choice?

To answer that, one has to understand how much God values that freedom which He gave us. I've had this discussion with several people over the years, and it always comes back to this central point - God, ever the perfect Gentleman, refuses to force Himself on us in what would amount to, as Fr. Welzbacher called it, a divine rape. He respects us too much to take away the free will He gave us. And it is that respect that is the key to understanding the rest.

For starters, there's reproduction. God could, with a snap of the divine Fingers, create a baby out of thin air, right? Why stop there, however - why not create each new life in a fully mature, fully grown state? Would solve a lot of problems: abortion, infant mortality, birth defects, childhood hunger. There's no doubt God could do this, should He choose.

And yet He involves us, His humble creations, as integral players in the act of human reproduction. We are involved as co-creators in the continuing of life on earth. Without men and women working together in concert, the human species ceases to exist. Now, that should give us something to think about - only a God with a mighty respect for humanity would give us such a role.

It continues, however. For when God came to earth as man, He again bypassed other means of creation and chose a human woman to give Him life. Immaculately conceived though she may have been, Mary was not a god, not a divine creature. She was a woman, a human being like us. Our God, Who created heaven and earth, chose the form of a humble human, born of a human, when He appeared to His creations.

And still it goes on. Did you happen to concentrate on the words of the priest at Mass today?

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.

Again, God involves us. Notice the words - the bread which "human hands have made," the wine which is the "work of human hands." He has entrusted to us the making of the very elements which He will change into His Body and Blood. It's not manna from heaven, created by God alone - it is the work of "human hands." I just stumbled on this angle this week myself, and it was profoundly humbling. The gentleness, the love which is implicit in this act of Our Lord, allowing us to play such an important role in His work. He didn't have to do that, you know, just as He doesn't have to continually dispense His mercy on us.

But he does.

There are many, many more examples, of course, of how He involves us in His work. After all, it was to mere men and women that He entrusted the spreading of His Divine message. But for a moment look at the three examples above, in conjunction with Paul's words today. Does it not speak of the dignity which God invested in man? Does it not address the respect which He shows for our free will?

When we find ourselves tempted to sin, against ourselves or against others, we should think for a moment about the lack of respect we show through such acts - not only the way we fail to respect ourselves or our fellow brothers and sisters, but the lack of respect it shows our Heavenly Father. Contrasted to the Divine Respect He has for us, it gives us pause indeed.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

MH - The Peter Pan-ing of Culture

My new issue of First Things arrived in the mail today. I usually like to scan through the magazine first before diving into the articles, but this issue's first piece (after the letters to the editor) was "Against Eternal Youth" by the always-interesting Frederica Mathewes-Green, and the minute I read the first paragraph I was hooked; I had to read it all the way through before doing anything else.

The story won't be up online until next month, and I don't ordinarily like to quote from things before they're available, but I urge you not to wait until then; go out and buy this issue. Better yet, subscribe. But I will give you a taste of this penetrating article, in which Mathewes-Green writes on why Americans today seem to have "forgotten how to act like grownups":
Maybe "forgotten" isn't the right word, for the Baby Boomers fought adulthood every step of the way. About the time we should have been taking on grownup responsibilities we made a fetish of resisting the Establishment. We turned blue jeans and t-shirts into the generational uniform. We stopped remembering the names of world political leaders and started remembering the names of movie stars' ex-boyfriends. We stopped participating in fraternal service organizations and started playing video games. We Boomers identified so strongly with being "the younger generation" that now, paunchy and gray, we're bewildered. We have no idea how to be the older generation. We'll just have to go on being a cranky, creaky appendix to the younger one."

Most remarkable about this article perhaps is the theory, which all of you may already have heard of but which was new to me, that the Greatest Generation had something of a Calvinist attitude toward life. Having lived through the Great War (in their parents' lifetime), followed by the Great Depression, and now World War II, they came to believe that "childhood was all gaiety, while adulthood was burdened with misery and toil." This led them to strive to protect their children from the hardships which they had encountered. The rest, as we all know, is history.

I find this all very interesting, just so rich in possibilities. What strikes me most is the idea that these people saw life as something to be endured, rather than lived; that their fondest wish was not to prepare their children for life, but to protect them from it. As we entered into the Cold War and the increasing threat of nuclear conflict, they even debated whether or not it was moral to bring children into such a world. That's not to say that their lives were devoid of hope, but that hope expressed itself in a strange way; they lived that hope through their children, and to the extent that they saw a reason for optimism in their lives, it rested in the hope that their children would not undergo the trials which had come to them. That attitude resulted in the abdication of parents' obligation to prepare their children on how to live an adult life in an adult world, and it was a new cultural wrinkle.

This seems to me a very pessimistic way to view life. For one thing, it disregards the power that suffering has to enhance the spiritual life. If suffering is merely something to be survived, rather than to be lived and shared with Christ on the Cross, then of course it's difficult to find any meaning to it. If life is viewed as a succession of miseries to be avoided, then one ceases to interact with the world in which he or she lives, in the way we were meant to live. It seems a dour way of looking at things - we can't change the world, we don't have much control over our lives. No wonder the cult of technology and progress grew, for it gave man the illusion of control in a time when he desperately craved some kind of certainty. It was a false certainty, of course, but when one has little else to believe it, what straws are above being grasped at?

Perhaps this helps us to understand the collapse of the Catholic Church (or at least her extreme difficulties) in the post-Vatican II period. Some place this blame squarely at the feet of the Council. But others, while acknowledging the incredible damage done "in the spirit of Vatican II," contend that there had to be something already rotten in the state of Denmark for the collapse to have come so quickly. Mathewes-Green gives us something to chew on here, for if she's correct, we were already seeing the increasing loss of faith described so well in Matthew Arnold's 1867 Dover Beach:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

That loss of faith became more pronounced in the hedonistic nihilism of the post-World War I era, the Jazz Age, the reckless investing that culminated in the Depression. Follow that with the devistation of a war that features an attempt to exterminate an entire race and culminates in the first use of nuclear weapons, and suddenly we have a generation which has seen nothing but human misery for as long as it can remember and is left only to wonder "why". This is the mindset of the Greatest Generation that Mathewes-Green describes, and it is this mindset with which we must deal when looking at Vatican II.

I'm not suggesting that the Greatest Generation and their progeny were without religious faith, though certainly that was the case for some of them. Neither do I claim that those who did profess belief were hypocrites. But I have to look back to the words of Our Lord when He speaks of the shallow faith of some:
The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. (Matthew 13:20-22)

Perhaps we were ripe for what the 60s and 70s brought. If so, then we shouldn't have been surprised. If so, then Vatican II, well-meaning though it might have been, might have been doomed to failure; for it was speaking a language that its listeners couldn't be expected to understand. It may have been a magnificant palace of theological riches, built on a foundation of sand. If this sounds harsh, it's meant to; as a convert, I never lived in the pre-councilar Church, but I've learned enough about it to see the damage that "false spirit" has done. And I also know that it couldn't possibly have had that rapid an effect if everything in the spiritual house of Catholicism had been in order to begin with.

John Paul II, who perhaps understood it better than anyone, knew the promise and potential Vatican II held, but knew also that it had to be taught to the faithful, and not simply presented to them. Benedict XVI, who was also there, now builds on the work of his predecessor; though he may lack the mystical properties of John Paul, I have great faith that he, perhaps better than John Paul, can deconstruct its teachings, separating true from the false interpretations, and lead his flock to a greater understanding of how it can shape our spirituality.

Mathewes-Green has much more to say in her article about the generations that refuse to grow up, but I'll leave the rest of that for you to discover. For now, I think we're invited to consider more deeply the faith of our fathers (and mothers), and the impact it had on us; and also ask ourselves how our decendants will consider our faith, and the way it impacted their lives. Did we prepare them for life and its responsibilities, or try to protect them from it?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

MH - Wish I'd Written That...

"The law works for the law. Rome works for the money. That makes him easy to trust."

- Spoken by Dan Blocker about detective Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra), Lady in Cement

MH - More on the Supremes

The day after.

Reaction to the nomination of John Roberts seems mostly positive on the conservative side. Read Southern Appeal and Powerline for good and interesting commentary, and don't forget Bench Memos at NRO. I don't know enough to have an opinion outside of what I read, but it is fun to see the liberals flailing around like fish out of water.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

MH - It's Mr. Roberts


But where's Ensign Pulver?

Sorry about that one. I'll go away now.

MH - Light and the Darkness

Tip of the hat to Chris at Veritas for linking to this provocative, evocative article by Maclin Horton. Entitled "Nothing at the Center," Maclin takes a long, hard look at the state of America today - how we got here, where we're headed. He draws contrasts between the dome of St. Peter's and that of the U.S. Capitol (Christ at the center of St. Peter's, Washington the focal point of the Capitol - “Not exactly," his son points out, "Washington’s a little off to the side. There’s nothing in the center.”), looks at one of the main problems in this country today, the Supreme Court ("Nine Popes Without a God"), and encounters "nice" people who just can't bring themselves to believe in the evil that stalks the country.

Despite the somewhat melancholy feeling that I had reading it, there was still cause for hope. As Maclin writes:
Something must fill the vacuum at the heart of the secular constitutional democracies. It might be said that the struggle for Christians at present is not so much to preserve the past as to shape the future, except, that as far as the faith is concerned it is precisely by preserving the past, ever giving it new life in our own hearts, that we shape the future.

It's been hard for me over the last few years to give myself wholeheartedly to America; the Founders achieved great things, and would surely be dismayed to see what we have done with them. And yet, neither are they without sin:
And that is the fundamental flaw in the constitutional democracies that have been erected since the 18th century. Those rational men, “wiser in their generation than the children of light,” thought they could avoid quarrels over heavenly matters by constructing a system which excluded such things. But what those rational men had done was to remove the only rational foundation of any social system: an agreement about what is important. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this world are good things, as those who are deprived of them will attest, but they are not the purpose of life, and those who try to make them so are possessed by that sad unfocussed hunger that now seems so characteristic of life in the West.

So are we really little more than products of our environment, doomed to follow the course which we have? I don't think that's what he's saying, for even if we were born in sin, woe be to those who take if further.
We cannot have, in the long run, a system of govern­ment which professes to be indifferent to the purpose of life. Even in the practical realm, the realm in which such a system is alleged to be supreme, disintegration will eventually come where there is no principle by which right action can be determined. We find ourselves now in a climate where the only accepted principles of such determination are narrowly utilitarian and frequently lead into a web of contradictions which can only be escaped by a purely arbitrary exercise of power.

This, then, is where we are today. Perhaps the principles of the Enlightenment were flawed, for they were missing key ingredients. But there can be no doubt that the formula has been contaminated, the recipe poisoned. The Founders were great men with great ideas who had the distinct honor of living to see those ideas become a reality. To a man, they thought of those ideas as a legacy to be handed down to their decendants in the form of an inheritance. For too long we have been the spoiled dilettantes who have wasted that inheritance. But the actions of the madcap heiress in the screwball comedies we love seldom cost people their lives along the way.

We are optimistic people in the long run; we know that we cannot fail when we link ourselves to the promises made by Our Lord, and while we struggle with the reality, we keep our eyes on the prize. We know that individuals can make a difference; that change ultimately comes from the conversion of hearts, not the passing of laws. As for the future of America, we are somewhat less optimistic. Our hope lies in combining the vision of our Founders with the truth of Our Lord:
It is not the place, and can never be within the power, of government to compel anyone to be saved, and the attempt to have it do so is productive of mischief. But it is not unreasonable to expect that government should refrain from placing obstacles upon the path to salvation, and from encouraging people to leave it, and that it should restrain its citizens from so endangering their neighbours. We will have to begin with the conviction that whatever structures we establish have as their ultimate purpose to nurture and protect that smile of simple delight.

MH - But You Can't Call a Woman "Father," Can You?

One of my favorite blogs, Veritatis Splendor, has a very good piece on one of the stories making the rounds in our beloved Minnesota - "Local Catholic Woman To Be 'Ordained'. " Have to give them credit for putting "ordained" in quotes, at least, but as Veritatis points out, "To assert that these women *are* priests/bishops/whatever is incredibly irresponsibile on the part of WCCO." When you look at the hostility, latent or overt, that the MSM has for the Catholic Church, and combine that with the ignorance that the media has for religion, and throw in the general sloppiness that reporters have anyway, we can only be surprised that the story wasn't even worse.

But back to the main question - why can't women be ordained? We all know the reasons, but Veritatis spells them out in a logical, concise order. Read it and be prepared when the topic comes up.

MH - Don't Try This At Home

I mentioned earlier that I was trying to catch up on things that have been piling up lately. Here's a story I meant to write about earlier, but I'm just getting to it now.

Seems that last week a sports columnist at, name of Dayn Perry, concluded his comments on the stupidity of the running of the bulls (that's in Pamplona, Spain, as opposed to the running of the b.s., which can be found in Washington D.C. or any state capital) with this cheery note: ""I'm on record as saying this: If you've been injured or killed by a bull at Pamplona, then I think it's funny. Now if only Mark Steyn would go and get himself killed." By later in the day the Steyn line had been pulled, but not before people had seen it. Including Hugh Hewitt, who demolished Perry on his program the next day. Hewitt does a great job; no need for me to add anything to it. Read and enjoy.

But it does amaze me how many sportswriters enjoy lapsing into political commentary. It happens on all the time, and I can't tell you how tired I am of having to read it. I don't know what it is that makes sportswriters think they're experts on politics when too many of them aren't even masters of their own specialty. Not only that, but invariably their comments tend toward the liberal, snarky side.

We've been over this ground before with the Hollywood left, and perhaps the same holds true for sportswriters. They need to find some way to justify what they do; sportswriting traditionally hasn't been taken very seriously despite the incredible skill of some of its practitioners (for example, I happen to think that Dan Jenkins is one of the most talented writers around anywhere, and Minnesota's own Joe Soucheray started out his career as a sportswriter). But for every Ring Lardner and Grantland Rice, there's a hundred Dayn Perrys, so desperate to prove their talent, so eager to break out of the ghetto they see themselves pigeonholed into.

Ah, you say, but you write about sports from time to time, along with politics and religion. That's true (thanks for noticing), but the difference, IMHO, is that i know what I'm talking about. Or at least I have a better idea than Dayn Perry - check out this illuminating exchange, if you have any doubts:

HH: Anyway, tell me why you think George Bush has contempt for gay people.

DP: Oh, I thought using the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage was just an insidious example of something the founders would never have wanted, the framers of the Constitution to use that for that sort of purpose. I thought that was ridiculous, and John McCain opposed it.

HH: Now every time that the issue of gay marriage comes before the American people for a vote, you know it passes...the objection to it passes.

DP: Yes.

HH: Overwhelmingly.

DP: Yes.

HH: So are those people bigots?

DP: Yes.

HH: So 80% of Missouri is bigoted?

DP: Yes. 80% of Missouri is bigoted, if they don't want to afford the same rights to gay people that they have, yes. It's tyranny of the majority. I think that's just a heinous viewpoint, yes.

HH: Okay. Heinous?

DP: Yup.

HH: Evil? It's evil to oppose same sex marriage?

DP: I would stop short of evil, but yet it's a fairly unlikable viewpoint, yes.

HH: So you can be for, you know, complete same sex benefits, and civil union, but just opposed to marriage. You're still acting heinously?

DP: No, that would not rise to the level of heinous. I find that opposition to gay marriage usually entails opposition to those sort of rights as well, like the bill that was in Tennessee, that was up to...not afford them anything, whatsoever. The think
in Virginia had veiled safeguards to prevent against, you know, visiting in intensive care waiting rooms, that sort of thing. Usually, it's just cover for those sort of viewpoints.

HH: So you think it's just mostly homophobia at work?

DP: Yeah, generally, yeah.

Pardon me. My brain hurts from all this intellectualism flying around.

So, should Perry be bounced from Fox Sports? Well, if he'd said the same thing about, oh, Dick Durbin, I'm sure he'd already be history. But he's entitled to his opinion, no matter how stupid he might be. The true test lies in his talent, in his knowledge of the subject area, and there I think we'll let his words speak for themselves. My bet: I know more about sports than Dayn Perry knows, or thinks he knows, about politics. If you feel the same way, let Fox Sports know about it, and tell them it's time to hire a real sportswriter, not someone who sees his column as a tryout for The Nation.

MH - Where's Pete Rose When You Need Him?

Here's the latest betting line on the Supreme Court nomination. Jones, Luttig and Roberts are the big movers.

The title of this post, by the way, comes from Judie, who may not have posted for awhile, but hasn't lost her sharpness of tongue...

MH - Potter's Field

Haven't read Harry Potter. Don't plan to. I don't think it's the timeless kind of writing that has equal merit for both adults and children.

But other than that I don't have much of an opinion. Did the Pope condemn it? Is it the work of the devil? Or is it a fanciful tale of good and evil, the secret to introducing the joys of reading to children? Don't know. Don't really care, either. But as a blogger, I probably owe it to you, dear readers, to say something about it. So I'll say this - read Amy for some good viewpoints, and links to other stories.

But here's an example of how the mind (well, mine at least - "You're telling us!" you reply) moves in odd ways: I knew I'd need a title for this post, preferably something clever. First thing to pop into my mind was the phrase I used above, "Potter's Field." As soon as that appeared, I immediately thought of another, much better piece of writting: one of my favorite poems, the moving "In Flanders Fields." That's where the idea of poppies on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day comes from, by the way. So I'll leave you with that, if for no other reason than I doubt any other blogger has been able to connect J.K. Rowling and John McCrae.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I wonder if the children dead from abortion ever feel this way. And, if they do, how many of us listen?

MH - The Supremes (Not Including Diana Ross)

Most of you out there are probably too young to remember when the vice-presidential nominee was named at the convention, rather than days or weeks beforehand. It was great fun speculating on who the nominee would be, since as late as the early 70s we weren't always sure even of who the presidential nominee might be until the convention started. Great fun, as I said; of course, as most anyone can tell you, fun things can also be extremely hazardous to your (political) health; for an example see George McGovern and Tom Eagleton.

So it's with a sense of deja-vu that I'm watching the news tonight and the rampant speculation as to who Bush is going to choose as the new Supreme. For much of the day the front-runner was Edith Clement, but now it looks as if she might be out. Then it might be Edith Jones, or Priscilla Owen, or John Roberts, or Michael Luttig (the current favorite), or Al Gonzales (let's hope not!), or Ted Olson (my bet for Chief Justice when that comes up), or Janice Brown, or - well, you get the idea.

Now, by the time most of you read this the nominee will already have been announced. Maybe I'll have more to say about him or her later, maybe not. But I'd noticed that it had been awhile since I'd had a purely topical post up here (those that are topical are also late; I swear I'll catch up one of these days!), so I thought I should say something. Besides, as most of the MSM are saying, the fact that the name hasn't yet leaked out is extraordinary.

That, and fun, too.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

MH - Giving Thanks

When I was a kid one of my favorite college basketball teams was St. Bonaventure. I don't know what appealed to me; perhaps it was the name, which to a nine-year-old Protestant would have seemed foreign and incomprehensible, or it might have been their Cinderella season, when Bob Lanier took them all the way to the Final Four (back when it really was a tournament, and not a month-long national gambling party).

Coincidentally, during those years of my childhood, the old Mass, the Tridentine, was being phased out; first changed from Latin to the vernacular, and then replaced all together by the Novus Ordo. I was oblivious to what was going on then, just as I had no clue as to who or what St. Bonaventure was.

Those two somewhat disparate strands of thought came together for me on Friday; made me smile, when I thought about it (also made me recall that when I was first considering converting, one of the first churches we checked out, on the recommendation of a friend, was St. Bonaventure in Bloomington). Friday was the feast of St. Bonaventure, and the Psalm for that Mass had as its response one of the most poetic images of the old Mass. "I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord." You know how the Psalm responses at daily Mass are - they can be long and difficult to remember if you don't have some kind of guide. But this one came naturally to me, and to many in the chapel.

The full text, as it appeared in the Tridentine, was referred to as the priest's Act of Thanksgiving, and it came just after he had consumed the Host and was about to consume the Blood. Silently, he would recite the verse: "What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has given me? I will take the Chalice of salvation and I will call upon the name of the Lord. Praising will I call upon the Lord and I shall be saved from my enemies." It's a wonderful image, one that often comes to me when I consider all that the Lord has done for me, and how I so often fail to show gratitude for those things.

If you're interested in a little more linkage, I can take you back to the Mass last Tuesday. I didn't have the opportunity to write about it at the time, but it came on the heels of my post about going to Confession, and seemed to be the perfect follow-up. As Fr. Baer put it, the message of the Gospel was this: when God does something good for you, repent. Now, that may seem like a strange way to celebrate; but Christianity is, if nothing else, a wealth of contradiction (the meek inherit the earth, we are strongest when we are weak, etc.), and one of the greatest gifts of thanks that we can give to Jesus is to meet Him in the confessional and repent of our sins. He wants only the best for us, wants us to reach the heights for which we were created, and we do that by turning away from our sins and being faithful to the Gospel (another line used in the liturgy, that of Ash Wednesday).

I understand this urge; when I was running for office and had a good day, either by getting offers of support or monetary contributions, I would frequently end the day by going to confession. I do that often on my birthday as well. I don't think I could articulate just why I felt it was a good idea; it just seemed like it was. But I think all these things taken together explain why. God doesn't want sacrifices of burnt offerings from us; the sacrifice He desires is a sacrifice of ourselves, a giving over to him. One of the best ways to do this is by changing, or reaffirming, our way of life by seeking out and finding Him in the Sacrament of Confession. In this act that demonstrates God's supreme love for us, we can truly accept his cup of salvation, the cup purchased at such a terrible price. In accepting that cup we praise Him, and in calling upon His name we shall be saved from our enemies.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

MH - All Creatures Great and Small

Hadleyblogger Mike forwarded this column by George Will entitled, "What We Owe What We Eat." The subject of Will's essay is Matthew Scully, conservative writer and author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, which caused quite a stir in conservative circles when it came out last year.

Scully's argument, in a nutshell, is that we owe something to the animals that we raise as food. "We cannot just take from these creatures, we must give them something in return. We owe them a merciful death, and we owe them a merciful life." Read the book or, if you don't have time, Scully's essay ''Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism—for Animals," in the May 23 issue of The American Conservative.

Now, I think I understand some of the problems involved here. There is a tendency, in the wake of wacko groups like PETA, to look at the issue of "animal rights" with a slightly jaundiced eye. One of the reasons conservatives are leery of such issues can be found in the very phrase "animal rights," for rights infer corresponding responsibilities, which animals, lacking the necessary abilities of higher reasoning and rationality, are incapable of reciprocating.

The problem these radical groups have is that they refuse to recognize any intrinsic difference in the worth of a human being and an animal. As far as they're concerned animals are, if anything, even more noble than humans. And this is not what Scully is talking about.

Scully does not put animals on an equal footing with humans, nor does he say that they have equal "rights." His argument is based on human morality and decency - the obligation, given to us by God, to be stewards over animal life. As Scully says, "If reason and morality are what set humans apart from animals, then reason and morality must always guide us in how we treat them."

A secondary concern, I'd imagine, is that of those involved in industrial farming, who may fear (probably with good reason) that government intervention could cost them their livelihood. It's not generally the kind of thing that small-government conservatives support. And there's little doubt that consumers would wind up paying more for their food. But are we aware of what goes on, what it is that enables prices to remain low? Should we be surprised that Corporate America, which so often sacrifices the rights of workers on the high altar of the bottom line, would find lowering costs compelling enough to justify such brutality? Perhaps we just don't want to know.

(As an aside, Rod Dreher's upcoming book on Crunchy Cons points out that it's not a contradiction for conservatives to be concerned about things such as the welfare of animals. Hey, most conservatives love country music - I hate it. Give me a Wagner opera any time, even if it means hanging out with wine-and-cheese liberals.)

Hadleyblogger Mike adds, "Driving up to Park Rapids we took a detour near Miltona and Urbank when wecame across several dozen large 'chicken farms'. It's a sad, depressing place that puts me on the side of what Will is talking about." I think most people would feel the same way, and it is in showing that kind of compassion that we show our humanity. As Will writes,
In defining them, some facts are pertinent, facts about animals' emotional capacities and their experience of pain and happiness. Such facts refute what conservatives deplore—moral relativism. They do because they demand a certain reaction and evoke it in good people, who are good because they consistently respect the objective value of fellow creatures.

It is that, ultimately, which most separates man from animals. It is our very superiority that compels us, in our humanity, to be humane, and this - the humanity of man - puts the lie to the arguments from the animal rights crowd. It is why humans and animals are not equal. It is why humanity toward animals is not negotiable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

MH - Want to Help Africa? Go to the Movies!

Lately, I’ve been hard on John Derbyshire over at NRO (for good reason, I’d add). But today he nails it with his piece on what Africa needs. The answer can be found in the movie Call Me Madam.

I’ll let Derb explain the plot (such as it is) of the movie, but I want to focus on the same lesson to which he’s calling our attention. Briefly, the American ambassador (Ethel Merman in a typically larger-than-life performance) and representatives of Congress are proposing a massive aid loan to the tiny country of Lichtenburg. However, General Cosmo Constantine (George Saunders), the foreign minister and prospective prime minister, stands against the Americans and members of his own parliament in opposing the loan:

“I am convinced,” he says, “that the people of Lichtenburg can and should help themselves without foreign aid.” . . If my country is on the verge of bankruptcy it is because very drastic reforms are needed. Now, with [sic] outside help, these reforms would be impossible. You must not lend my country one penny!"

When the loan goes through anyway (the Americans reward him for his honesty by doubling the amount), he angrily resigns as PM, with the memorable line, “Lichtenberg is not for sale!”

Now, It just so happens that we caught this movie ourselves on TV last week, so even before Derb’s column it was on my mind. Notwithstanding my affection for Holiday Inn, The Music Man and 1776, I’m not a big fan of musicals, so I wouldn’t rank this up in the pantheon of Hadley’s Top Ten, but I remember at the time remarking on its politics. Imagine a country refusing foreign aid because it would prevent that country from being self-sufficient. Imagine anyone, for that matter, refusing a grant or a loan or a handout of some type because it wouldn’t allow them to solve their own problems. Clearly, I remarked to Judie, Constantine was a political conservative. Had he remained prime minister, Lichtenberg might have been well-positioned to avoid the economic upheaval that accompanied the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War. Without that economic turmoil it might have bypassed the social turmoil of the 60s. Or maybe not - after all, we didn’t. But to paraphrase Franklin, Constantine would have been dead by then anyway, so what would it matter?

For a frothy musical, the story contains a potent political message, one that we’d be well-advised to consider today. (See, for example, the remarks by Kenyan economist James Shikwati I linked to yesterday.) Not only is truth stranger than fiction, truth can often be found in fiction - and in the most unlikely places. As Derb concludes,

Instead of broadcasting artistic atrocities like Live 8, try showing Call Me Madam to the folk down there. Who knows - you might inspire some patriot of the Cosmo Constantine stripe to step forward and lift you up out of the moral pit of dependency, corruption, and guilt-mongering that you have dug yourselves into.

It’s a superior solution in all respects - including the music

MH - Mass (Un)Appeal

A brief plug for a good post at Veritatis Splendor on her recent attendance at a Haugen-Haas Mass in an otherwise very traditional parish. I am so with her on where she's coming from - you wince at how a beautiful church is almost wasted by this kind of liturgical experience. You want to tell them to go to one of those auditorium-style churches out there - at least there the music fits in with the rest of the bleak atmosphere.

MH - Catholic Carnival Is Up!

Carnival XXXVIII, for your edification at Be Here Mondays. Be there any day of the week!

Monday, July 11, 2005

MH - On Humility

Clayton at The Weight of Glory has a very thoughtful post that I think says a lot about the responsibilities of being a blogger. It's about the role that humility plays when you're a blogger - and not just any blogger, but one who hopes to spread the word of Christ through your blogging:

It's true that having a blog is like having a platform on which to speak. As the youngest of ten kids -- one who didn't always get the microphone (for obvious reasons) -- this is a heady opportunity, and one not without its dangers. What use I will make of this platform? Will it simply become a place to assert myself? Will I slip into detraction? Will I be an instrument of communion or alienation? Will I help to make cyberspace a place that is more humane, or less so?

I'm most impressed by Clayton's attitude toward those hostile correspondents we all get:

Every so often, I get some angry e-mails and comments. I think this is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of having a blog: the opportunity for fraternal correction from my fellow bloggers. Day in and day out, my ideas are being exposed to an audience and are being challenged and (hopefully) refined by the process. I have this unrealistic fantasy that maybe I will shave off some time in purgatory because having a blog is a purification of sorts. I can dream, anyway.

I wish I could have such a mature outlook on things. For most of my life, I've been one of those types that always has to have the last word. There have been times when that hasn't necessarily been my most charming trait. When you're a writer, it can be downright dangerous. I look back on more than one occasion when I've made a real ass out of myself that way, and even though I'm horrified (and ashamed) at what I've done, and you might think I'd have learned something from the experience, it seems to be nothing more than a momentary reprieve. Maybe I don't make these mistakes as often or as egregiously as I once did, but at any given moment in time I'm still capable of being spectactularly stupid.

In a related post, David at The Seventh Age touches on another of my shortcomings, and if I didn't know better I'd think I was the one who had written it:
To put it more bluntly, I was not and am not a person who likes to admit I don't know something and will generally find some way of making it through a conversation without admitting I don't know at least as much if not more than the person I'm talking to. It's a dandy skill, but morally a killer.

Now, I don't want to suggest to any of you that that these are revelations, that I'm for the first time seeing some of my faults. ("You're telling us!" some of my friends are probably thinking.) But to a great extent these are what I think of as secret sins, ones that aren't readily apparent, and because they aren't always visible in day-to-day life they can tend to present to others a distorted picture of you, one that tends to be more flattering, and perhaps less truthful. When they do show themselves, it's almost always to your detriment, and oftentimes as well to those who depend on you in one way or another.

It's all part and parcel of that ego - the same ego that lets us think we know better than God, the ego that leads us away from Him toward an often disasterous self-reliance. Clayton reminds us of the words of Dietrich von Hildebrand, in Transformation in Christ:
A strong desire must fill us to become different beings, to mortify our old selves and rearise as new men in Christ. This desire, this readiness to decrease so that "He may grow in us," is the first elementary precondition for the transformation in Christ.

May this always be my prayer, that in the words of my patron St. John the Baptist, "He must increase and I must decrease." I ask for your prayers also, that I obtain the humility to decrease so that He may increase.

MH – Thoughts While Standing In Line Waiting For Confession

I don’t suppose standing in the confession line is usually thought of as the best place for people-watching, but on the other hand there is a collective nature to the act of waiting your turn, a sense that "we’re all in this together" (as, indeed, we are), and so it’s almost impossible to resist checking out who your fellow confessees (penitents?) are.

I recall one time seeing a young family standing in line. The woman went first, handing their baby off to the man standing behind her (her husband, I presume). When she emerged from the box, he handed the baby back to her before going in himself. I got a good feeling seeing that.

Another time a vision-impaired young woman went in. I use the PC term because I don’t know the extent of her impairment; she probably wasn’t totally blind, since she carried her white cane with her but didn’t appear to use it to find her way to the box. (On the other hand, perhaps that meant she was so familiar with the route she didn’t need to use her cane to get there. I doubt it would mean she was a horrendous sinner; more likely, she’s just more vigilant than some of us about frequent confession. That makes me feel good, too. And a little ashamed.)

This morning I was standing behind a fireman. As he went in I had the idle thought that he might be a frequent penitent, given the dangerous nature of his work. After all, a fireman faces the possibility of death every time he goes to the office, and how many of us can say we’re in the same position? My first reaction was a surge of admiration for the man, and for all firemen, putting their lives on the line for us.

Right after that, though, I had another thought: how important it is to make sure you’re not in a state of mortal sin. The end could, literally, come at any time for any of us, and sometimes good intentions alone aren’t enough. "I meant to go to confession" may or may not cut it. What is it Christ said about the virgins and the oil lamps?

And it was then that I realized, once again, that the confessional is not a torture chamber, as so many (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) may think. It is, instead, a place of love. The love that Christ has for us and the love that we reciprocate for Him as we humbly approach Him seeking mercy and reconciliation.

Now, perhaps it’s just that the confessional in the chapel at St. Olaf has a red sticker on the door with the words "Fire Extinguisher Inside," but this caused me to consider the Sacred Heart of Jesus that beats inside the confessional when it’s occupied by a priest. And in that moment it seemed to me that the confessional was literally radiating with His love for us. I didn’t experience anything supernatural - the door didn’t start glowing with an intense light as if it were out of a Spielberg movie. This was more of a mild revelation, perhaps a reminder, of what this sacrament is all about. Because I don’t think you can have forgiveness without love, just as you can’t have mercy without love; likewise, I believe true repentance has to be accompanied by love, just as true thanksgiving expresses that love.

What you have, therefore, is a supernatural exchange of love in that confessional. Indeed, God is a jealous lover. He demands love from us, even if we are only able to offer to Him a shadow of the love He has for us. He is a generous lover as well, however, since His love is given to us freely and without reservation. Look at the Cross hanging above the altar, and you realize He gave His life for us freely and without reservation as well. Throw Mary and the saints into the mix (looking at Mary you can almost feel her rooting for you) – well, there’s not much else you need. The chapel (or the church, wherever you happen to be standing) fairly pulses with love.

All this came and went in a few seconds; when you’re next in line, you don’t have that much time to do anything more than concentrate on your own situation. It did give me a relatively tranquil feeling, however. Ashamed as I am of my own sins, I realize that there’s nothing else to fear. True love, though it may sometimes seem harsh, is always beneficial in the long run; and God’s love is the truest and purest around.

In the confessional we come into God’s presence, gently and peacefully. Reflecting on how this sacrament represents His love can fill us with a sense of comfort and encouragement.

As, indeed, it was intended.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

MH - What Needs to be Done

From Rick Brookhiser at The Corner. I'm very partial to Brookhiser, having enjoyed his brilliant bio of George Washington, and his series on other Founders (Adams, Hamilton, Morris). Perhaps these aren't the right sentiments to have, but they strike very close to how I feel about the war on terror, even if I am a little uncomfortable admitting it:

But somewhere Marcus Aurelius says, Either an all-seeing Providence, or iron destiny, or an uncontrollable storm. Whichever it is, why should you do anything other than what is right?

I believe in the first, but whichever way the world is, our course is clear: Tear down these people. Tear down their killers, their witchdoctors and their patrons. Tear them down to the ground. It will take a long time, decades. Spend as long as it takes.

MH - "For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!"

Well, we're back again after another round of internet interruptions. I really hope they've corrected the problem this time. I already feel as if I'm so far behind I'll never catch up, so I'd better just dig in and get going.

First up, Hadleyblogger Peter sends us this provocative interview that the German magazine Der Spiegel conducted with Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati, in which Shikwati utters the sentence used in the title of this post. But how could this be? Anyone listening to the Live 8 concert last weekend knows that Africa's going to collapse without massive international aid. Right?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

But without massive aid, people will starve to death. Right?

Shikwati: I don't think so. In such a case, the Kenyans, for a change, would be forced to initiate trade relations with Uganda or Tanzania, and buy their food there. This type of trade is vital for Africa. It would force us to improve our own infrastructure, while making national borders -- drawn by the Europeans by the way -- more permeable. It would also force us to establish laws favoring market economy.

Well, let's change the subject. We all know the Catholic Church is to blame for the massive AIDS problem because of their refusal to sanction condom use. Right?

Shikwati: If one were to believe all the horrorifying reports, then all Kenyans should actually be dead by now. But now, tests are being carried out everywhere, and it turns out that the figures were vastly exaggerated. It's not three million Kenyans that are infected. All of the sudden, it's only about one million. Malaria is just as much of a problem, but people rarely talk about that. . . AIDS is big business, maybe Africa's biggest business. There's nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical.

Fortunately, the caring liberals in the West won't let Africa go without. All those clothing drives that churches and other organizations put on show how much we care. Those have to be doing some good. Right?

Shikwati: ... and they flood our markets with that stuff. We can buy these donated clothes cheaply at our so-called Mitumba markets. There are Germans who spend a few dollars to get used Bayern Munich or Werder Bremen jerseys, in other words, clothes that that some German kids sent to Africa for a good cause. After buying these jerseys, they auction them off at Ebay and send them back to Germany -- for three times the price. That's insanity . . . Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They're in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria's textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide.

And Shikwati has much, much more to say. Talk about revisionism. Now, if this is so obvious to those on the scene in Africa, how come we don't seem to get it over here? Shikwati doesn't offer an opinion in his interview, but I have a couple of ideas.

Part of this is traditional liberal-think. You recall Sir Bob Geldof himself saying, "Something must be done, even if it doesn't work." That's typical liberalism, especially at the legislative level, where their motto is, "Better any bill than no bill at all." (The conservative corollry being, "Better no bill at all than just any bill.")

On the other hand, one can't rule out the possibility of a guilty conscience. Entertainers in particular have long had a problem justifying to themselves the immense wealth they accumulate in return for fairly meager talent. That Protestant work ethic has deep roots, and something in the back of the mind suggests that some payment must be made in return for this undeserved wealth. Thus the need to latch on to some do-good project in order to achieve that justification which they so desperately seek.

I'm not questioning the good motives of Geldof and others involved in these fund- and awareness-raising projects (Geldof in particular has always struck me as very sincere, if naive, in his desire to change the world for the better), but you can't rule this possibility out. Sometimes it's easier to donate your time or money to a problem than to really sit down and try to figure out what's causing the problem and how it can be addressed. If you can sit down and say you were involved in a project that raised $1 billion in aid, you can feel pretty good about your efforts. You don't see the food rotting on the docks, the money being diverted by corrupt government officials, the truly poor continuing to starve and suffer because of incompetent central planning. You can just sit back and feel good and superior about the whole thing. In any event, didn't Christ say something about those involved in charity doing it in secret, so that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing?

I'll admit that last may have been a cheap shot; there are entertainers, such as Jerry Lewis, who have done incredible good over the years by using their celebrity status to raise funds and awareness for good causes, and deserve all kinds of praise. But when you read statements like those of James Shikwati, it forces you to take a good look at what you're doing and why. No matter how much money you throw at a problem, that money itself isn't going to make the problem go away. In no little way, Africa's problems are a result of despotic dictators, failed Socialist theory, the need for Christian evangelization, and misplaced Western sympathy. There's an old saying about the inevitable failure of applying a band-aid to a major problem, and it's particularly ironic considering that the original aid for Africa movement was started by an all-star group called Band Aid.

I remember Pat Buchanan twenty years ago, prior to the original Live Aid, saying that what Africa needed was not a benefit concert, but a continent-wide revolution. Sadly, the problems of twenty years ago still seem to be with us; sadly, the governments responsible for so much of the suffering seem to be with us as well.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

MH - London's Agony

If it is true that during His Crucifixion Christ assumed the sins of all the world for all time, then at some point He must have felt the agony of the pain generated by today's bombings in London. No doubt He will also have noted the response, whatever that may prove to be.

As I mentioned earlier this week, it's not always easy to pray for peace, whether it be peace in the world or peace in our own hearts. Clearly there are those in this world who are dedicated to making this an even more difficult task. It does not mean we should stop, although I believe this to be one of their goals; we need to redouble our efforts, to strengthen the faith which they so thoroughly despise. However, we need to do more.

There has been much discussion over the war in Iraq, and the war in terrorism in general. A lot of orthodox Catholic publications such as The Wanderer and the New Oxford Review have been skeptical, if not downright hostile, to the war. Speaking frankly, the time has come to ask whether or not it makes any difference now if the war was a just one.

Our enemies (and make no mistake, that is what they are) want to destroy us. Plain and simple. I don't particularly give them credit for trying to overthrow the West, to create a global Islamic dictatorship - I don't think their thoughts are that complex. They aren't trying to destabilize our economy, through our government into chaos, force us into a cocoon. They want to kill us. They'd probably like to force us out of the Middle East, but I'm not sure if even that would be sufficient for them. They want to kill us.

Look, maybe the war in Iraq was unjust, although this is not a position that comes naturally to me. From the first, I had my doubts; I thought Iran and Syria were more immediate concerns, and I felt our main focus ought to have been on tracking down Bin Laden before getting involved in anything else. I've somewhat grudgingly supported the war, because I think pulling out would be even more disasterous. It's clear that we need some kind of concrete strategy for setting a goal, accomplishing it, and disengaging.

But when you find yourself being shot at, it's probably a good idea to not waste too much time wondering just how you got in that position. The important thing is to protect yourself and others by removing the threat. Running is futile; the enemy wants you dead, and it's clear he'll go to long lengths to accomplish that deed. No, the best way to eliminate the threat is to disarm the enemy. How else to do it now except by eliminating him?

What I'm trying to say is this: I don't care right now whether or not our policy in the Middle East is right. I don't care if our grounds for invading Iraq were legitimate. We can and should debate the niceties of our future policy later. What I see right now is an enemy hell-bent (literally) on killing us, and there's only one way to respond to that: with a determination for total victory.

Bill Maher came under a great deal of criticism after September 11 for suggesting that the terrorists were not cowards because they were willing to put their money where their mouths were by giving up their lives for their cause. I suppose there's something to that, but they were cowards nonetheless. Any guerilla army is by definition cowardly, for refusing to meet their opponent in open battle where a clear victory by one side or the other can be accomplished. Some might argue that by that definition Washington and his army were cowards for using hit-and-run tactics to defeat the British. But there's a big difference: Washington and his men weren't indiscriminately murdering innocent British citizens while hiding behind the skirts of their own women and children. It may seem absurd to argue that war should have rules like this, but remember that Pope Urban II banned the use of the crossbow, which "many rightly saw. . . as morally suspect. It defied the chivalric code, which said you must face your enemy and make your intentions clear — that is, declare the equivalent of war."

Sometimes the guardians of peace must carry a sword to ensure the safety of those whom they are sworn to protect. In praying for peace we must not be blind to those obligations.

We should pray that our conduct in this war, a war which we did not seek, be in line with God's will. That means we do not seek the mindless, indiscriminate destruction of all in the Middle East. That means we do not persecute all who may be different from us simply because they are different. But it also means understanding that when evildoers use innocent men, women and children as shields, the moral burden of those innocent deaths is on them, not us.

Nor should we stop praying for the conversion of our enemies, that their hearts will no longer be hardened and their eyes no longer be blinded to the reality of what they are doing. We must realize that in fighting this war, we also act in charity, trying to correct the behavior of others by showing them a peaceful alternative, and by demonstrating the consequences of their continued violent acts.

And of our own role in this we should not be blind. By this I don't mean the question of just war; it goes deeper than that. We must look long and hard at our own country: a country that sanctions the murder of unborn children and elderly and infirm adults, a country that shows an increasing hostility to God and His followers; a country that continues to strip away the dignity of the individual by reducing him to a unit of economic currency. We cannot be blind to the likelihood that we are undergoing a chastisement by Our Lord, designed to make us consider our own behavior. Should we emerge victorious in this war, it will be meaningless if it does not prompt a change in our American culture. If we keep slipping into the moral abyss, it will soon be too late for us to see our way out - if it isn't already too late. Lincoln famously said that his concern was not that God was on our side, but that we were on His. We need to redouble our prayers that this may be so.

Running away will not keep others safe. Only standing and fighting will accomplish that. What we are seeing now is undiluted evil, dedicated to nothing other than spreading further evil through death and distruction. We must pray for the victims of that evil, and the consequences which it unleashes. But that enemy must be crushed, pure and simple, and in doing so we must also pray that our efforts be just and righteous ones.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

MH - Catholic Carnival XXXVII Is Up!

Check out this week's Carnival at Crusader of Justice.

MH - Into the Hands of the Wicked I Will Deliver Thee

It's no secret that bloggers aren't always the most popular people in the world. That's because a lot of the time they're saying things that some people don't want you to hear.

The Narrow has this interesting story of a former manager for Allstate who just might have been fired because he blogged comments that didn't agree with company policy:
A former manager with Allstate has sued the insurance giant, alleging the company, which financially supports homosexual advocacy groups, fired him solely because he wrote a column posted on several websites that was critical of same-sex marriage and espoused his Christian beliefs.
There's only one word for this: outrageous. It's obvious those "good hands" are doing things to you that we can't mention in polite company.

Now, I'm not defending everything that goes on in the blogosphere. Truth be told, there are a lot of obnoxious bloggers out there. I've run into a few of them myself, and no doubt some of you out there feel the same about me. Like so many other things in life, blogging carries with it certain responsibilities, like truth and accuracy. If you're slanderous enough or reckless enough to put things out there that don't tell the entire story, that needlessly hurt other people, or that are downright falsehoods, then you pretty much deserve whatever comes to you. If you divulge corporate secrets, leak confidential material (are you listening, Mark Felt?), or violate the law, then the company should fire you.

But there's something else at work out there, something that all bloggers should be able to agree on regardless of political, religious or cultural affiliation. I'd be just as outraged if I'd heard that someone had been fired for, on their own time and at their own blog, writing a piece supporting Michael Schiavo's right to kill his wife.

It's not enough that Corporate America thinks they own your life at work. They're now trying to extend that reach to your personal time. Recall a while back I wrote on the increasing trend for companies to fire employees who smoke, even if they're smoking on their own time, in their own home. They cite rising healthcare costs, of course, but I wonder if there isn't something else at work here.

This is all about control - about the company's attempt to control you, your life, your ability to speak freely. Now, why should the company be so concerned about this? I'm certainly open to suggestions, but there's only one thing that comes to mind: fear.

FDR told us we had nothing to fear but fear itself. (No surprise if big business didn't heed that advice; they never did care for FDR.) John Paul II reminded us to be not afraid. (Of course they wouldn't listen to him, either; a moral scold is bad for business, after all.) Nevertheless, we've heard it from both sides - fear is an alien quality that should appear sparingly in our lives.

Most of the time what we think of as fear - a healthy fear of the Lord, for example - is really respect. To be afraid of falling into a basin filled with man-eating sharks is a good thing - it says, among other things, that you have a strong respect for the shark's ability to use his jaws to rip your flesh clean off your bones.

What we see too often today, however, is the use of fear as a substitute for respect, and it's surprising how often you see these two words go hand-in-hand. I believe it was in Robert Graves' magnificant I, Claudius that the downfall of the corrupt Tiberius was attributed to such a change of heart. Where Tiberius once believed that if he couldn't be loved, he could at least be respected, he came to believe that if he couldn't be respected, he could at least be feared. It was precisely because of his refusal to respect his subjects that he had to resort to fear as a means of ruling over them.

Likewise, Corporate America. I've written at great length about the lack of respect that the individual often receives in Corporate America, so I'm not going to repeat myself (if you haven't already, read the archives for a taste of what I'm talking about).

However, I am going to add this dimension to our current discussion: one of the truly great fears in society today is fear of the truth.

Tyrants and despots have always feared the truth, and for good reason. After all, Our Lord told us that the truth would set us free, and that's the last thing a tyrant wants. The tyrant wants complete, absolute control over our lives, and anything which interferes with that control - the truth - is to be feared and combatted. One way this is done is to attack the truth through those that dare to speak it. Many of the prophets met bloody ends because they insisted on speaking the truth. John the Baptist suffered because a tyrant didn't like what he had to say about him. The tyrant feared John, didn't know what to make of him. But there was no secret in what John was doing.

He simply spoke the truth.

I'm not trying to equate bloggers with prophets and martyrs, but you can't deny there are people out there paying a price for speaking the truth. The panjandrums who run Corporate America are afraid someone's going to point out they aren't wearing any clothes. They're afraid the straw men they've worked so hard to create will collapse at the first sign of the breath of fresh air that comes with the truth. And when that truth is a moral truth, which dares to challenge the corporate truth that believes only in the bottom line - well, the handwriting is on the wall, then. A corporation, like an individual, is doomed to fall if it is not built on a strong moral foundation.

Perhaps this sounds like hype to some of you, and others may get tired of me returning time and again to this topic, but as corporations increase their reach into our culture, as they continue to dehumanize the individuals who come under their spell, it remains to free men and women to challenge them, to constantly hold them up to the light that comes from the One to whom we owe our true allegiance. As Jefferson said, we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; and these rights, given to us by God, cannot be taken away by man - neither government official or corporate executive.

Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. Don't be afraid to use that Light to reveal the truth, and to expose the evil. If we all keep to that, the tyrants will have good reason to be afraid, and we shall wear their fear as a badge of fidelity.

Update: Dawn Eden has another story of a blogger who ran afoul of those afraid of the light. It's called being "Dooced." Keep this courageous man in your prayers, and all who dare to defend the truth.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...