Friday, January 15, 2016

You Can't be a Real Catholic Without...

Friends just came back from a week-long retreat and have mentioned the post-retreat weirdness. I understand what they mean. It's the change of spiritual perspective, the fact of having spent so much time analyzing all the presuppositions of your life...

That and lots of other things has contributed to this. As some of you know, I just finished writing a book on the Catholic Spiritual Tradition. (Currently shopping publishers.) In it I talk about the general components of the view of the spiritual life according to the Catholic tradition. The book was all about perhaps correcting people's general ideas of what our tradition is. I never said this in the book, but let me say this here:

You are not a real Catholic unless:

1. You have worked really close with the destitute (poor, mentally, psychologically ill, etc.)

2. You have not journeyed with the dying.

3. You have not gone on a long, perhaps silent, retreat.

It is the absence of these three things that has led to the crazy mixed-up picture of Christianity that we have today as a social justice thing, as a community outreach centre, as a political party, as a fact of ethnicity, etc.

* It is also fascinating to consider how 1-3 are a basic part of the lives of the clergy, and so when crazy people like Pope Francis talk about mercy, they are operating not from the false ideas of Catholicism listed above, but from their experience of 1-3. If there is one thing I learned about priests (and bishops) living with them and being friends with them, it is that their lives are full of 1-3, and if your's is not, then you cannot assume that their words are not reflective of a deeper Christian reality than might be apparent.

* It is also worth remarking that I did not list things like having children, being celibate, working in the pro-life cause above. These are all good and, indeed, hugely valuable things. But not, obviously, for everyone: you can't both raise children and be celibate (despite what all wives would like! lol) Further, I think people take those things for granted as a part of Christian life. I think we miss how essential a part of discipleship 1-3 are.

Israel has one or two years of military service for all of its citizens. I think that would help us here in Canada. As Catholics, I think half a year serving the destitute and half a year the dying should be required for something... confirmation? (then we'd have to make confirmation at 18 years of age.)

Or, just no one think they are real Catholics who have not gone through this kind of training.

Yes, I just saw The Force Awakens.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Stalin is Not Dead

You might have noticed that I haven't blogged anywhere for a while, neither here, the SCCB site, nor the CRB. Why? I don't know. Busy? I guess, but also not interested in politics. Quite disdainful of the whole business, really. People are very disappointingly depraved.

Just read an article by a fine contributor to First Things. It was written a few years back. I was linked to it via a new article of his. The article in question was called "The Last of Stalin's Foot Soldiers," and addresses the basic fact that left wing scholars have not yet come to grips with Stalin's crimes. I never realized the scope of this problem, and the fact that socialism still dominates our politics makes this a particularly regrettable fact. Now, you might insist that there is a distinction between socialism and Marxism, but there is not. Indeed, given the constants of human nature, there is no distinction between Marxism and Stalinism. Totalitarianism in economics is totalitarianism in everything. That is why the benign-looking socialism of Sanders, the NDP, all, must be opposed always. That is why gun rights must always be defended. That is why all free speech must be defended - even that of Charlie. I might have lost some of you there, but no one has yet convinced me how barring any one thing from criticism does not lead to barring a great deal of things from criticism. Christ will forgive or avenge the insults directed toward Him; I am sure He has thicker skin that me, and mine is pretty thick.

Looking back, none of my teachers said anything about Stalin. They said a great deal about Hitler. Certainly, his crimes were better hidden, but the fact is, Hitler has few living reputable defenders; Stalin has scads.

It's not about historical ignorance anymore. Stalin's archives have been well explored now. But where's the condemnation? People still wear Che Guevara t-shirts.

The left target Harper and ignore China (talk about 'straining a gnat'). Michael Moore praises Cuba because he is a socialist, not because he is an unbiased observer.

All socialism is creeping Stalinism. The deceptiveness of American left-wing politics as displayed by Obama and by Hillary Clinton's mentor, Alinsky, is a means-to-an-end strategy to bring about a socialist revolution in the US. First, disenfranchise Christians. Marginalize them as hateful extremists. Second take away guns. Third, get people dependent on government (with government jobs, with medical care, education, environmentalism, etc.) Fourth, bankrupt the economy with debt. (If you ever wondered how any politician can rationalize debt it is because the left wants debt! Realizing this was like the lights finally coming on for me.)

I don't feel like saying anything more. But if there is one take-away from all of this it is that all socialism is Marxism and must be opposed always.

This conversion of Russia nonsense. Does anyone understand that Russia was chosen by Our Lady because it was the heart of godless anti-Christianity? Was. Was. Now it is the left wing parties of the West.

So bear in mind: every government policy brings us one step closer to Marxism. Every 'free' this or that. None of it is good.

Thus, this rubric for interpreting the Church's social teaching: in themselves free this or that is good, but not in the context of actual creeping Marxism. The state must diminish. The Church should begin to teach this more clearly. The modern state is the enemy of Christ, because it is the enemy of free human choice.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Unforgiveness, etc.

I am reviewing a book for an ecclesial entity right now, you know, nihil obstat stuff. I have done it a few times now. It's always kind of fun.

Anyway, the book is on forgiveness. It's very good. I won't talk about it specifically, because that would not be fair to the author. But I am sitting here on Christmas eve and reading it is making me think of my approach to life in general.

The theme of unforgiveness is a popular one these days. I always find the forgiveness part of Christianity - as I have no doubt indicate here before - rather confusing. I just don't get what it is. Yes, I just wrote that. The author quotes a dictionary definition, and that helped me. One of the definitions the dictionary supplies is about cancelling money owed. That makes sense, so I can work outward from there. I owe someone a punch in the face for A, B and C. Okay, don't punch them; forget about what they did; work on willing good for them; do good for them. I get that.

But what I want to talk about here, rather briefly because I am supposed to be working on that book, is my attitude toward Christmas. I don't care for it. Yes, I wrote that. I only care about Christmas because my kids do. I feel like Dexter Morgan, title character of the show, Dexter, who, because he was a sociopath, went through life imitating the emotional reactions of others to things, because he didn't have them himself. I don't care about Christmas. I care about my kids and want them to have happy memories about it. Otherwise, I'd just go to mass and try and think about the manger and then go and drink eggnog by myself in a dark room.

I complained to Anne-Marie the other day that I have become a "glass half-empty person" and I hate it. My life has been hard, money-wise, as you know, and that effects a man on every level. But going through life only thinking about what is lacking is a horrible thing. I give my experience of Christmas as example. I don't celebrate it; I do it; I endure it; mostly, I can't wait until it is over so I can go back to existing and avoiding.

Why is this? Well, I refer you back to the unforgiveness book. Unforgiveness is one way we ruin our lives. Do I not like Christmas because I resent my parents? Because I had bad experiences with girls? Because I got the flu that one time? Or because... I don't like myself because I had asthma as a kid and thus did not do as well at sports as I would have liked?

How do you even begin to answer the question of why?

All I know is that I do not believe that one should go through life like I go through Christmas, and weekends, and parties, and vacations, and birthdays, and everything else. Why do some people get to enjoy life, to take it on its own, while I don't? I know a part of this is simply my depressive nature, and that is a chemical thing, but that's not all. I also know that we grew up with a sort of weird puritanism (Jansenism) under my father's influence, where we thought it was manly to not enjoy things and to spend money and to show affection and other effluent emotional displays.

Why was my dad like this? My mom says because his dad died when he was only 17. Maybe that is so; maybe it is only a partial explanation.

Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile.
I once met a young man from Sudan whose family was murdered and he had been tortured. He was as happy as anyone I had met. What the!?

The point is, I do not not like Christmas because there is something wrong with Christmas or being celebratory, or that it is too materialistic, etc. I don't enjoy it because there is something wrong with me.

Forgiveness? Well, why don't you pray for me that I will listen to God enough so that next year I will be as happy and gay as my children are on December 24/25.

Cynicism is not wisdom or temperance.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Drawing Inferences

One of the most important aspects of reason is how we go from the specific to the general. This is called inductive reasoning. It's essential to human life, but it's something that also leads to every error (there's an example of induction for ya).

Donald Trump says that there should be a moratorium on Islamic immigration into the US. He is not suggesting that all Muslims are terrorists, but he is suggesting that there is a strong link between Islamic immigrants and terrorist attacks in the US. His enemies say that this is racist (actually, it would not be racism but bigotry). They say that to judge a huge group by a small element is wrong.

But is it? And when is it?

SARS outbreaks means pay special attention to people arriving in Pearson from Hong Kong. Ebola, same, though with people from West Africa.

Liberals don't want Trump suggesting a link between terrorism and Islam nor drugs and unemployment benefits and Mexicans.

And yet, racism and the NRA, violence and the NRA is fine.

Bigotry and a lack of learning and Christianity is fine.

Political conservatism and selfishness is fine, although studies have shown that conservatives give more to charities than liberals.

Liberals are nice and funny and easy-going, while conservatives are stiff and humorless, at least this is what Hollywood would have us believe.

As I said, induction is essential. It keeps us alive. Although it is not true that all raw chicken is infected with salmonella, it makes sense to always wash your hands after you handle it.

It's not always logically sound, though, but that's not the point. It comes down to a cost-benefit calculation. Washing your hands costs you very little and the potential benefit is huge.

Apparently like 500 TSA agents have been arrested since 9/11 and no terrorists caught by them. None. How much did that cost? But the TSA is a deterrent too, so although it seems like a massive failure, that might be too simplistic a conclusion.

The pill is carcinogenic. Abortion is too. Smoking cigarettes is bad for you, but not all smokers die of lung cancer. Marijuana is bad for you too, but it's oh so cool, apparently.

Black people steal more than white people per capita. Women take more sick days than men and complain about getting paid less.

Politics, it seems to me, is all about the kinds of inductions you allow yourself to draw. I suppose it's about the ones that serve your a priori beliefs.

What if the California shooters had been white supremacists? It wouldn't make those 14 people any more or less dead. But it would have made liberals happy. Yes, happy.

White, black, brown and yellow people can kill and have killed. They have done it with guns, knives, peanut butter and wires (but probably not all in conjunction), but only specific scenarios serve the narrative we spin and believe in.

The fact is, I don't know what the optimal tax rate is for a healthy economy - but neither does anyone else. And yet, we are quick to point to stereotypes of the tax-dodging tycoon or the welfare-abuser when it serves our purpose, as if we know what the solution is to society's woes.

Stereotypes are powerful political metaphors. Politics is not about reason, but feeling.

Pope Francis seems quite unintelligible to thinking theologians in the West. Why? Because he is reacting to his own boogeymen. He sees the Church filled with hateful Pharisees. He couldn't be statistically more incorrect, as Pope Benedict's phrase, the "dictatorship of relativism" makes clear. So where did he get this idea from? From the peculiar case of South America, where the Church had been dominated by a wealthy elite, who was very often in collusion with the dictatorial regimes in those countries.

The pope's betes noire (did I pluralize that correctly?), he has to realize, do not control much of anything. Are the Catholic universities in the West controlled by Pharisees or by relativists? And how's Germany working for ya? A bastion of fidelity?

We are all fighting the manifestations that our a priori beliefs have foisted upon us. It seems to me that a reasonable thing to do is to see how far these actually, or do not actually, correspond to reality.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Going to Make Some Tents

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.

(Lk 9:62)

Words like this are haunting. But who among us has begun to plow? We can’t make ourselves into plowmen, can we, or are all of us called to the field?

Theoretical questions like this have made a mess of my life. Of course, God doesn’t mind a mess. He does, of course, mind irresponsibility. The awareness itself that I am now in a financial hole so deep that I cannot wait any longer is—it appears to me—the helicopter of the Lord, sent to save me. And so many people have been so generous to me, but these people have also aided in my confusion. Their support implies that my mission is from God, or so I have taken it. And, God doesn’t mind if we are confused. I think He has little time for those who would never allow themselves to think at all, to contemplate ‘the path less travelled,’ for His sake, to never fall into confusion.

And some have told me, “Don’t give up your dream. Just put it on pause until you can pursue it again.” That looks like what I’ll have to do.

God, make me so faithful to You that I will do anything You want, including what You can’t possibly want.

Sometimes God wants what He does not want for sake of what He wants. Illnesses are like this. Of course, even straight paths, regardless of how uncomfortable they are, objectively speaking, can become, because of their familiarity, more comfortable than they should be for sake of our moral improvement. This is the ‘devil you know.’ I am about to finish C. S. Lewis’ relatively neglected, The Pilgrim’s Regress. It’s a relatively long book – and that’s my point. The Eerdman’s edition I have is 243 pages long. It is the story of Lewis’ conversion, but told as an allegory. Certainly, I can—and have—told my conversion story much more succinctly. But have I told it well? My conversion, clearly, is still ongoing. My point is, why does God have to be succinct with us? He doesn’t and He isn’t.

Are you comfortable? A friend of mine said something quite profound recently (though he probably was unaware of the profundity of his words). He said, “We should leave some self-care until we get to heaven.” Between the view of the saints and that of most modern day secular gurus there is great disparity. Ultimately, comfort is an obstacle, say the former; to the latter it is the goal. This does not, I should emphasize, mean that we should be miserable. Another book that I have just finished—of which I cannot say enough good—St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent, spends an admirable amount of time differentiating between good suffering and bad suffering, for lack of a better word.

My point is this: I don’t want to do X, therefore I am called to do X.

I don’t want to get and do a job that I don’t really want, therefore, it seems at least conceivable, ceteris paribus, that I should.

People have been so good to me. On the one hand, I want to continue to fulfill their wish for me to continue on my work. On the other hand, they have to work at jobs they don’t want to work at, so why should I exempt myself from that?

Most of them do not have the degree of financial ruin I have, but then again, I bet they don’t enjoy their jobs as much as I enjoy writing.

I cannot make an idol of my schedule, my plan, my time-line. I am so close, I believe, to becoming a self-sufficient writer with my books and with the Catholic Review of Books that I feel it is a shame to get side-tracked. But that is my feeling, and my feeling is no more infallible than anyone else’s who strives to do the will of God.

But let me say two more things and then go away.

1)      I will still, no matter what, continue on with my writing. I have a friend editing the book I just finished. I hope a publisher will pick it up and it will make some money. I am working on other books. You know about my Job book. It is a big project so I have realized that I should do some smaller ones first for sake of financial considerations. Right now I am working on a book on Jesus. I realized I have so much knowledge of Christology (not to mention a relationship with the guy) that I can and should put to use. This books won’t take much more than another month to write, depending on how much time I get. I like to tell people these details so they can know what I am up to and what their financial assistance would produce. I know that it is God’s will that I continue to teach what He has taught me. How this happens is another—lesser—matter, and that was the main point of this blog post.

This is what I say about why I am writing this Christology book in the introduction. I think it will help to give you an idea of the good I feel called to do:

“In the second section you will see a guy who loves Jesus ‘responding’ to the intellectual horizon in which we dwell. He knows about this horizon better than many because he has made a study of it for a long time. I said there are lots of wonderful works of systematic Christology out there. There are also lots of ‘love poems’ about Jesus like the one I attempt in the first section. However, many of the love poems have been written by authors who might not necessarily have the intellectual background to make their insights timely and communicable to people living today. I don’t believe that what I write will be just what every possible reader needs, but I pray it will be of some use to many. The many I have in mind are the types of people I hear about everyday – the type of person I once was (still am?). I mean the twenty-something-year-olds parents tell me about who don’t have much use for God and the Church anymore.

To be honest, I don’t have much use for the God and Church that many people believe in. When I was about seventeen, I suppose, I realized that to make a difference as a Christian I would have to bring something more to the table. There is lots of faith out there – good faith and bad faith. It seemed to me though that what the world needed was not more unthinking faith, but faith—active loving faith—that “has reasons.” Intellectualized faith is not better necessarily. But strong faith intellectualized is. That is, understanding that does not compromise passionate attachment to Christ one bit…”

2)      We are in a very bad way financially. Faith, hope and credit cards have made this so. So, I need your assistance now almost more than ever. Even if I get a job tomorrow, full time at minimum wage that won’t solve the problem Please consider supporting me! If you are able to give to one last good cause this year, consider my work for the Gospel! Consider subscribing to the Review, for instance, and buy copies of my books as they come out! (Cheques can be sent to The Catholic Review of Books, Box 207, Barry’s Bay, ON, K0J 1B0 or use Pay Pal on the website.)

The Lord has given me a lot and I do not believe that I have squandered it. But He requires that my will is pliable to His and that I do not set up obstacles to Him. I firmly believe that most people are selfish when it comes to following the Lord. Our vocations crisis proves this. This whole ‘vocation to the single life’ business proves it. I have always said that the single life is often—more often than we think—a failure to answer the Lord’s call to follow a religious rule, where you do not get to call the shots! We are all selfish. I am selfish. But I cannot think that even my poverty is an end willed for itself. God doesn’t want me destitute, my family destitute—nor does He want us rich. But between the two, who know what God wants!

Thanks for listening and praying!

The tent thing in the title, by the way, as regular readers of my blogs know, refers to St. Paul who had to periodically support his ministry by making tents. If I do what Paul did, I will explain myself to Christ that way.

I was discussing these thoughts with friends the other day and they reminded me of the fact that St. Pio was suspended from his priestly ministry for many years because of his stigmata. It was his vocation, but he was not allowed to pursue it. All the saints had experiences like this. It didn’t mean that their lives were not right with God.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

One More Thing

I've not had the best week. I am sure everything will work out okay, but it's been one of those weeks. It's easy to see what you lack rather than what you have. So, that was the mind I had entering into mass today, thinking about what I lacked when a friend ruined my week still further by telling me that some very nice people in our town lost their 4-month-old baby last night to SIDs. My heart hurt for them, and it was one more thing to feel bad about. Great.

After a while I started to look around and see so many beautiful children around me. If losing them is so terrible, having them must be so great then, since evil is the absence of a good (privatio boni, said Augustine). Do we celebrate life, really? Communion time: you see new life everywhere, wonderful families, lovely young people, kind-hearted old people, wonderful families of all ages. I look at my children, all gifts; the beautiful Afelskie baby and kids in front of me, stacking up hymnals; the new-born held by her so-proud grandmother, Karen; my goofy teenage son meandering up the aisle; the Schingten boys being, well, boys; Scott carrying his wriggling young one to the bathroom; little Bethany slyly spying out my daughter...

We are all going to pray for and offer whatever comfort we can to the parents who lost their baby. We are a small town of people trying to be Christians. If we have anything it is Christ, whom we try to offer out as much as we can to those in need.

Life can look pretty empty sometimes. But the empty spots are not much more than the spaces between the atoms that make up the wonderful superstructure that we call life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Religion and Violence, A Few Thoughts

Just because my cousin was talking about it after I got mad at someone posting "no religions are violent, it's what you bring to them" nonsense.

1. Violence is not bad.

People use the word to mean bad. It's not. There is a great deal of difference from violently jerking your child back from on-rushing traffic and setting a bomb that kills children. The key modifier is violence for what? To protect the innocent and weak: violence is good. To cowardly hurt weak and innocent people to advance your wrathful cause is bad. There is no equivalency between the two, and that is why I have come to reject pacifism.

Therefore, when you ask, which religion is the most/least violent, you are not asking me which is the best. Catholic theology asks, violence for what? Augustine developed the Church's official war position in the early 5th century, which came to be called the Just War Theory. (Though I haven't read all of the article, Wikipedia's seems pretty accurate.)

2. What is religion X?

People have a lot of problems with this one. Not a day goes by when I don't see someone saying that Deuteronomy's laws are part of Christianity because it's in the Bible. People who say things like that don't understand that, beginning with Jesus (our founder) we interpret the OT, we do not literally follow it. If you think, well, that's dumb, you can't do that - well, that is what we do. Like it or not. So I would invite you to read Matthew 5:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Okay, so that's our religion.

But, again, we are not a book religion, we are a Jesus religion and a Church religion, which in regard to the latter means that we consider our history determinative to some extent. What our great teachers, like Augustine, Aquinas, Gregory the Great, etc., taught is how we interpret the Bible. I think the same can be said for the great Jewish rabbis and the interpretation of the OT. So, if you want to know a religion, you can't just ignore what that religion says are its authorities.

As for Islam, I am sure they have an interpretive tradition too. And I am positive that the terrorists do not embody it. How do I know that? Because they didn't have explosive vests in the 7th century. This is not to say that Islam is not bent on world domination. I believe it is. Whereas Jesus was not interested in having a "Kingdom in this world," Mohammed actively fought to make one. That's a significant difference.

3. What is the religion's history?

History is a messy thing. What Catholics have done, is not our history. We look to Augustine and Aquinas, not to Hitler and Frederick Barbarossa - although all four were baptized Catholics.

The fact is, the bishops and popes have always opposed the excesses of 'Christian' rulers. If you don't accept that, then you don't know history. St. Ambrose punished Emperor Theodosius for the Thesaalonika Massacre... so, who's the Christian - Ambrose or Theodosius?

Blessed John Henry Newman once made the cynical remark that Christianity only has a significance for the very few. I think it has some significance for many, but, yes, primary significance for the very few.

The fact is, I believe Christianity has had a positive impact on the world. Is it just a coincidence that the scientific revolution, universities and hospitals sprung up in Christian lands first? Is it a mere coincidence that slavery was abolished in Europe centuries before anywhere else, and that American abolitionists were always strong Christians? Its temerarious to deny this link.

4. Human freedom and the role of religious identity.

"Look at what these Christian did over there!" is meant to be a powerful indictment of our religion. It is not. It is an indictment of people who fail to follow Christian teaching. And, desperate times lead to desperate acts. I don't know what it's like to a Christian living in Africa of the Middle East under the threat of Islam. I don't know what I would do in those circumstances. But I would not blame Jesus for what I chose to do.

Christians know when they are being Christ-like and when they are not.

In the end, Christianity is a religion of love and Islam one of submission. I think how these two priorities have affected their natures and histories is fairly evident. Jesus spent His life trying to get people to love; Mohammed, trying to conquer territory for God.