Sunday, September 28, 2014

Some Unexpected Ways in which I've Changed from City to Country

I'm not the greatest human being in the world, but I am better than this guy, after all, I haven't been on an airplane since my father's death - 6 years ago yesterday.

I am not a good person because if I had been a part of the Holy Family, I would have shown up for the Dedication in the Temple, not eight days after His birth, but perhaps a year or so after that. I updated my driver's license and health card addresses on Friday with my new address. You know that I have been living here for over a year now. Whoops.

When doing the health card the government lackey asked me if I wanted to be an organ donor. I said no. Why no? Do I believe in hocus pocus body integrity resurrection stuff? No: God can make these stones sons of Abraham, if He chooses. He can reassemble my body too, without my actual body.

But don't people need my body parts, say, if I get in a car accident and my head is clean severed from my torso? Sure, they need them. But giving the government permission over my body, that's a big nyet. If my children need my liver, they can have half, or all of it, bone marrow, blood, whatever. If  a stranger does, and my family want to give part of my carcass to them, so be it.

A number of years ago I remember signing a consent card with my license in NS, I guess. Later when I heard people speak against it I couldn't understand their concerns - it's just a body. I am still fully of the mind that no beautifully lacquered wood must be hurt for my funeral. I am not into the cult of the dead. I pray for the quick and the dead, but I don't need to be tangibly connected to them, or have my dead body connected to anyone's memory. I will rely on God's mercy, not the memory of people stirred by sight of my gravestone for my salvation. It is a travesty of justice that people spent $10,000 on funerals in this country while little babies die of diarrhea in Chad. Not cool.

But I have changed my mind on organ donation cards because of what I have seen happens: doctors do not put the same care into organ-donors as they do for non-donors, and, relatedly, they declare death prematurely. But most of all, I hate the establishment and don't want to "go out" supporting it.

Why am I considering this a matter of country living? Well, in the country I have had to reconsider a few things: guns are good and should proliferate; global-warming might not be all it's cracked-up to be; in general: the government is better when it is less, smaller, and away, for that is when people can be people and not citizens. You can't see this when you live in a city because city life is carefully regulated, so much so that people automatically assume life needs to be like this. The poor people who live in the country make the best out of life, and don't want to be herded by the government. Government oversight makes less sense to them because they don't experience it constantly.

My brother has recently moved to the country after about fifteen years in Toronto. I wonder if his social views will become noticeably more conservative?

Trespassers will be regaled with anarchistic philosophizing.
And requests for McDonald's fries.
My views, though always conservative in most senses of the word, seem to be moving toward something resembling libertarianism, if not anarchism. Let me explain for one brief second. I find myself increasingly unable to answer the question, what benefit does modern technocracy bring for which we do not pay an exceedingly great price? Medical science, more than anything else, holds man captive to fear, the fear of suffering and premature death. This fear keeps him tethered to the state and inhibits him from truly experiencing the world as God intended.

You will perhaps be wise to expect future dissension from this here blog, that is, before I suddenly disappear off into the woods to start my new life in my uni-bomber shack, or at least, that's what the government will tell you.

But as a final footnote, I still hate littering and like windmills.

As another final footnote, my father would have approved of my life in a shack. He would have joined me, bringing with him his Thoreau.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Theologian Scale

Let me know what you think. It's not fool-proof, nor finished. I know I forgot some important figures - some are excluded simply because I am not competent to categorize them.

Most important thing to note is that this is not a chart about fidelity to Catholic doctrine only or primarily, it is about theologians' relationship to the thought of their time. You should note that the 'heresies' are tendencies, but only that. If you wonder why, for instance Gregory the Great and Ambrose are so close to that tendency (thought they do not fall within it) it is only because they were not 'radical' thinkers, but more like endorsers of the doctrine of their time, which is in their case a good thing. Times change and that is why solid theologians can end up pretty close to heretics, according to my chart.

The size of the font indicates my opinion of their historical importance.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Yah, but I got Science!

My father was a genius. A biologist by trade. He had a deep knowledge of history (especially the history of modern warfare) and was, to boot, a fair student of philosophy. More importantly, he was kind. He was wise despite his knowledge. His knowledge didn’t keep him from wisdom, but used the former for sake of the latter. He arrived at some fair conclusions; not all of them, but enough for his sons to be proud of him.

You don’t have to be on the internet long before you see people bragging about their commitment to science. Their boast is remarkably akin to the boast of traditionalists who know no Latin. Even worse, scientists who mistake techne for sapientia, know-how for wisdom.

People usually brag about ‘science’ because they want to vault themselves above religious people, as if there was an essential opposition between science people and religion people. If you are one you can’t be the other, they seem to suggest. Recently a family member referred to himself spending time with me as a scientist hanging out with a devout Catholic, or something like that. Logically, that is the equivalent of saying ‘a scientist and a man—or woman—walk into a bar.’ How many people were there: one or two? I am a man and a theologian. Aristotle and Newton were both hugely significant scientists as well as theists. Fr. Gregor Mendel - you know the guy who came up with genetics, was a priest. I follow Newton’s law of gravity when I paint the walls of my house, and the laws of Jesus when I relate to my neighbour, rarely confusing the two.

Another person said to me that we should follow science rather than religion when it comes to morality. I assured him that the Nazis did.

Why do people brag about being a follower of science? It’s a very common thing nowadays. You get people like Dawkins, you even get people like Family Guy creator, Seth McFarland, doing this. Oh, and how, Mr. Cartoonist, did you arrive by scientific means at the conclusion that homosexuality was natural, for instance?

My father used to lament his graduate students’—whom he loved like a grandpa—lack of perspective when it came to science. He said that they had no sense of the ‘bigger picture’ that a better knowledge of the history of science and philosophy could give them.

It’s a common vice to want to feel superior to others. But it’s not scientific. It’s not scientific to look down upon others—on anyone, especially upon those who are probably better than you. When you aren’t better than anyone else in any appreciable sense, when your life is pretty unremarkable, it natural to want to find something about you that makes you better than the rank and file. An all-too easy thing people do today is to say that they are scientific. No, they don’t necessarily say they are scientists—they may not even have a BA in science—but they are saying that they are logical and of an empirical mindset, unlike those superstitious religious people.

I don’t know everything about everything, but I can assure you that in my long study of religious people that:

1. Many of them have quite high IQs

2. Many of them are quite well educated

3. Many of them are very fond of science

4. Many All of them understand that science cannot teach them the meaning of life or what’s worth getting up for in the morning.

Of those who claim they follow science, you know, they watch Neil deGrasse Tyson on TV and have read The God Delusion, (a), (b), and (c) may be true, but many of them don’t get (d). (Consult the ‘fact-value distinction,’ boobs.)

All of this came out of my reading of Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. When you have read a book before, read it again backwards. So I began with the Appendix, “Illustrations of the Tao,” which contains a whole host of wisdom sayings from the past, like from Hindu, Jewish, Babylonian sources. Let me tell you, here is the good stuff. No knowledge of science can equal the greatness contained in those pages.

“For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.” (pp. 84-5)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beauty a Necessity

Ran into a friend at the park a few weeks ago. We got to talking about this and that. We talked about our lack of money. Interestingly, she confirmed and strengthened something I was saying: that there is having a beautiful home and then there is debilitating squalor. I said that I was quite prepared for not having the one - only old people and dual-incomers have beautiful homes, anyway - but I was not willing to accept the other. I was not willing to live in squalor.

My family and I are forced to live significantly below the level I enjoyed growing up. I don't mind too much - as long as there is enough to pay the bills, more or less, and that that Visa doesn't rise too high too quickly. I will have cheap flooring, but I will not have a stained carpet. I will lack nice fixtures, but a ripped couch is too much. My family has never gone on a vacation to brag about, you know like Florida or some place like that. And we have only been able to visit our families in Nova Scotia and PEI on average about every third year. No NHL games in Ottawa, not even on cable! No trendy clothes, no flashy car, none of that stuff. Another friend of mine liked to talk the car doors her dad used to have to tie shut with a rope. Embarrassing then, no doubt, rather humorous to recall now. There can be a certain charm in poverty.

I was just glancing at an article on the rising death rate in Russia. When I think of life there I think of those huge, ugly apartment building the Commies put up. Talk about demoralizing. Poverty equals demoralization. If we wonder why depression is a First World more than a Third World problem it has something to do with beauty, I am sure. Perhaps Third World people are closer to nature, on average?

CNN recently came out with an article on the houses of Archbishops. It was interesting to see their houses, but it was rather unfairly presented. I won't go into it here, better men than me could explain it. But one thing I found ironic was the praise lavished on Pope Francis for his humble lifestyle, and by way of proof they offer this picture of his bedroom:

Now, where I come from that's gorgeous. Would you like to see a picture of my bedroom? No, you wouldn't. Our fifteen-year-old mattress sucked when we bought it. By contrast, the Pope's bedroom is beautiful. It's small, but it's beautiful. I can't imagine how much the flooring and the furniture cost. But it's not my point to criticize the Pope - far from it.

Size isn't everything when it comes to wealth and beauty. The Mona Lisa is surprisingly small. Those endless tracks of Commie housing are large - large and ugly. When I lived in the cathedral rectory in Halifax, it was large, but nothing to write home about. Whatever you might think about the life of Pope Francis and his predecessors, they were surrounded by beauty, and that is no small thing.

I don't envy my friends in Ottawa, Toronto, etc., whether they have more money than me or not. Cities are uglier than Barry's Bay, and that is a kind of wealth I get to enjoy. My brother recently moved his family from Toronto to rural Nova Scotia. Beauty called him, whether he was conscious of it or not. The false beauty of cities is no substitute for the real thing. The popularity of i-this and i-that is due to the aesthetic superiority of those products over those of the other companies. That they are over-priced has proved no barrier to their popularity.

Leaves die with beauty. Trees then barren of their foliage on windswept winter plains, also beautiful.

Beauty is not relative, but it is sometimes unexpected. Beauty, will not save the world, but it can help to heal it, much like understanding, compassion, generosity, justice, and fun can help to heal it.

But beauty must be shared. I can share the beauty of my town with my hospitality to summer tourists. Sure, they make the lines in the grocery store a little longer,  but they are here for the same reason anyone goes to a hospital, for healing. Let me make beautiful things - beautiful words, if I can, to celebrate beautiful ideas, present pictures of beauty: that is what I want The Catholic Review of Books to do.

Christians must share beauty. Let us consider it among the spiritual works of mercy. If there is someone poorer than you perhaps buy them something they would never buy for themselves, an expensive bouquet of flowers, not the ones from the grocery store, the ones from the florist. Buy a poorer friend their favorite book, but in the Folio Society edition. Buy them a lovely lamp, not the ones you get at Walmart, but something from a store your friend would never have the gall to go in, perhaps from an antique dealer. A painting, a lovely print, a statue.

For me, there is something about beautiful words. I read a bit of Shakespeare, and I am amazed and delighted. My friend, Breann has written some beautiful poems. What a great gift to the world!

I have Barry's Bay, Maria's smile, Anne-Marie's charms, and the scratchings I produce I call writing. Beauty is as necessary as food and knowledge.

Thus revealing my hitherto undisclosed passion for lamps and flowers.
No, not my house. It costs way to much to look that 'simple' and 'charming'.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Messenger, not Message

The most irritating thing that I came across on the internet was a friend posting this t-shirt on Facebook.

My friend is a good guy and I am sure put the 'right spin' on what I would call an altogether unhelpful, misguided and objectively cowardly sentiment.

I don't want to analyze why it is wrong and the one possible right interpretation of it. I want to address my rather exaggerated reference to it as 'cowardly.' Aren't I going a bit too far there?

I want to talk about how we get in the way of God's work. We do this in a million ways. I might do it, for instance, through preferring profit to the cultural evangelization I try to do. I might do it by trying to appear as a good Catholic because it makes me feel good about myself, I want others to think well of me, and give me social or economic preferment. As an intellectual I may do it: to sell books, to get a good professorship, to gain distinctions, or simply because I want others to think of me as smart and as holy, someone important.

One particularly pernicious part of this today lies in wanting others to see how easy-going we are, open-minded, tolerant and all that. It's the whole 'who am to judge' stick. I don't mind who gets married type of thing. How big of you! You are so generous about something that doesn't effect your life in any immediate sense at all!

It's all about 'seeming' these days. Even good Catholics can fall into this. They might mention how many non-Catholic friends they have, how nice they are to those gay people, and all that. The fact that you have no negative feelings about people who's lives don't impact your own at all doesn't make you virtuous; the opposite would be insanity! It's not good enough to not be insane. The only thing tolerance of evil reveals is the you don't understand why it's bad. Tolerance of evil just means you aren't very smart, or at least very thoughtful. But extroverts can't help themselves. lol.

The old adage "preach the Gospel, use words if necessary" is overdone because it too easily fits into the soft touch evangelization that lets you off too easily, preserving your open-minded image.

So here's a thought: stop worrying about your self: you are not part of the Gospel message.

So if someone gets angry with me because of something I write, what do I care? Either they are ready for the Gospel or not. The only thing I have to worry about is how accurate I was. I don't want to hurt people - I never set out to do that - but it is equally important that I do not try to ingratiate myself. Priests and bishops are very susceptible to this. It's hard being a party-pooper bishop all the time, so it's understandable that they would feel tempted like this. Like smiley Cardinal-bishop of New York not 'having a problem with' the final demise of the Catholic St. Patrick's Day Parade. It's so important to look nice. Catholics are always saying win people over with kindness and a good image. I say no, don't do that. It's too hazardous for you. It's too hazardous to your salvation and your growth in holiness.

Here's a thought: when did it become a part of Christian discipleship for Christians to have policies of their own? "I don't have a problem with..." I don't recall the apostles speaking that way. Or the Fathers and Doctors. What you do or do not have a problem with is irrelevant. Christians are disciples of Christ, messengers, ambassadors. My life is Christ.

I have no idea what the context was, but I recently read that when Pope Benedict made his famous Regensburg Address, a certain cardinal said that the speech didn't reflect his personal view. Unless the context radically adjusts things, such a statement exemplifies everything I am talking about. First of all, a Cardinal is the pope's assistant, second, as a Christian, he is Christ's messenger - so who cares about his opinion as his opinion? - third, Ratzinger is the world greatest expert on Catholicism, so from a purely human perspective it was temerarious to say the least to call his interpretation into question.

So just come out and say stuff! So few people are willing to put themselves on the line for Christ. It's much easier to be quiet, isn't it? But you only get one life. Join the stream of those who have lost their jobs and their businesses for Christ - this is the glorious army of white-robbed martyrs today!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Plight of the Double-Dippers

We are all members of the two cities, for sure. Sure, there is something about more conservative Christians that - these days - make them stand apart more from the earthly city, but we all have 'commitments' to things that are not of God.

A small, small incident on Facebook the other day got me kind of flabbergasted and Anne-Marie couldn't quite sympathize with my ruffledness as I excitedly tried to explain my concern on our walk the other night.

A very smart young lady who styles herself a liberal Catholic - and seems to mean both words - brought up (and then quickly dropped) the matter of women in the workforce. One of her statements really bowled me over. I said something like men who have opinions on the matter are likely thinking about the fact that children need their moms at home. She said there were social programs for that. I kid you not.

I think that what riled me was how out of touch I am with the 'ways of the world.' None of my friends believes things like that. And, evidently, anyone who does believe things like this doesn't feel comfortable enough to voice them within my hearing. About a year-and-a-half ago a relative told me she was grateful for being able to take, I don't know, something like a year of maternity leave from her job. Now, let me contextualize for you. Both she and her husband work, and each one individually pulls in about three times what I earn a year. So as a family they earn about six times as much as us. But we have something they don't: Anne-Marie was at home for our children's entire childhood - at least so far!

Don't give me the tired responses of some women need to blah blah blah. Yes, I know that. I had another family member who's marriage fell apart, who was the mom of two young children. She is not in the category of the above.

So this is where I am starting from:

It is gravely sinful to leave children with 'social programs' if you do not absolutely have to.

That's my opinion, and if you don't like it, go to another blog.

I guess what astounded me with this young woman, a highly educated, so-called theology doctoral student, was that she had a very different read of natural law than I do. How can two people who are apparently drawing from the same fonts - Scripture, Tradition, and the anthropology associated with these - and with roughly the same IQ differ on such a fundamental thing?

Okay. One the one hand, I am a 39-year-old father of six. I have been married for 15 years. She is in her early 20s, no kids, just married. Aristotle would have said, "There, you nailed it, she's too young to possess wisdom."

But, of course, there are 39-year-olds out there who would agree with her. But age doesn't make you wise either.

Qualifications for wisdom, the absence of any of which deny you of it:

1) age
2) experience
3) knowledge
4) proper human formation, including a normal, aka natural upbringing.

This young lady perhaps only possessed number (3). I have no idea about number (4) - but that is becoming more and more of a problem today. Imagine trying to talk about natural law, for instance, in China with its mandated universal abortion rules is nonsense. Yes, there are cultures and contexts which remove from man the adequate knowledge of himself such as will annul any attempt to effectively reason morally.

Now, of course, to discountenance someone's argument because they are too young is an ad hominem error, but I am not doing so because of who said it but because of what she said.

The question for me is, how can someone with (3) arrives at such an odd conclusion, that in general children don't need to have a mother at home, but that social programs are satisfactory? Well, we would have to admit that there is also likely a problem in (3). How do I know what her fancy learning included and failed to include? I took two graduate theology degrees and didn't have single course in sacraments - not by choice, but the program failed to include any. So, it is quite possible that this girl has not or has not yet had a course that adequately presents Catholic teaching on anthropology, family, etc. More than possible. This young lady seems quite immersed in a worldly academic milieu, so that suggests a lot about her course choices, etc.

Okay, all of that aside, I want to get a little deeper here, and consider two things:

1) what kind of error is this?
2) do I adhere to any equivalent ones?

1) I will never forget a very wise priest once having said to me that an error about contraception is not a small one. We were talking about a High Anglican I know and remarking that the 'so Catholic' thing doesn't extend to our teaching on contraception. It is not a small error. Why? Because sexuality is a big deal. Sexuality is an intimate interpersonal human act. Sometimes when you don't know how to appraise how big a deal something is you have to ask yourself: why does someone view life this way: why do they think abortion, contraception, etc., the way they do? So, if we are talking about 'moms not raising their own kids' we can certainly figure out that the idea did not come from a Christian source. We can say a lot of things about it, like that Christianity is about living the quiet life and all that, one focused on prayer, doing good to others - especially family, the Word of God, the sacraments, etc. When we consider the 'woman having it all' model we just know it's not very Christian. In case someone thinks that I am unfairly targeting women here I am quite comfortable with putting male CEOs, politicians, pop singers, and many others in this category too. We can't say that all working women are living an unChristian life, nor all make politicians etc., but we can say that it is a very precarious type of existence.

But what about the woman who is deeply driven to a certain type of work but who wants a family too? Well, there is lots we can say. One obvious one is, take several years away from working 9 to 5 when you have young children at home. The response, but that will get her behind her (male) peers, might be true, but it doesn't change the fact that it is wrong to not raise your own kids in the best loving environment you can. A man who works 60 hours a week is also not living a very Christian kind of life and is sinning against his family, if he can at all do otherwise.

Of course, I am aware that so many people do this kind of thing, have this kind of idea. I am just surprised when it comes from someone who should know better. I am still haunted by someone I met in Ottawa who has a large family and says he works 70 hours a week, and doesn't seem to think that is something that a Catholic father should avoid at almost all cost. Money is a filthy preoccupation when it overrides family life. I can't pretend it's not. Fathers doing this to their families is a outrageous as the things we condemn in societies of the past - child labour in 19th Century England, slavery in Rome, etc. We just can't see it. Putting child in daycare at one year of age just so mom and dad can work of their careers is that bad.

Mothers doing this sort of thing is celebrated, but so was the ownership of vast numbers of slaves in Rome. Abortion, contraception, same.

2) This is worth a great deal of consideration. It's much easier to spot other people's unChristian commitments than your own, certainly. If I can be riled by one person 'apostasy,' am I guilty of the equivalent. Only a fool would fail to consider the possibility.

The first thing that appears to me is putting my kids in public Catholic school. Am I blind to the sort of things I condemned in another? For starters, we have never started any of the kids before 5, and am not all that crazy about that. I try to get to the school whenever I can to volunteer, keep on top of what the kids are up to, talk to them about what they do in school. I wouldn't refuse to home-school if I felt it necessary. Do I think five-year-olds being away from home for 6 hours a day is ideal? No. But I am open to reconsidering if a sufficiently strong argument is offered.

Should I feed my kids processed meat, like bologna? gluten? refined sugar? No one lives forever. Make them brush their teeth four times a day? Give them every kind of vitamin out there? Make them jog an hour a day? These things seem foolish, but if I was to learn that bologna was given my children some disease I would stop them from eating it.

What about their friends, internet, daily mass, team sports? Should I get rid of all the carpets in my house?

Should I send Anne-Marie to work because we don't make enough money? Should I send the kids out to work?

Get rid of my car because of CO2 exposure? Do I teach the kids enough catechism? Do I expose them to enough homosexuals, cripples, poor people, do they dress modestly enough...

I am really searching here for some things as blatant as leaving your kids to the state so that women can get ahead in the world.

We are so committed to worldly things that we cannot see so many things about ourselves that are unwholesome. I look back now and I think that having started a family the same time I started grad school in a very un-lucrative field like theology was a mistake. I doubt I would do the same thing again if I had it to do over. It was, in part, fueled by worldly desires - the desire to achieve, make money, gain respect, the respect of my father not least of all. Those are not wholesome desires, although these were at play too; the desire to know God better and the desire to spread the Gospel. No, I never left my kids with the state. I left them with their mom, and frankly, I was around a lot more with my kids than most to 9 to 5 dads get to be.

But, of course, it's not about the mistakes we have made. It's about the mistake we are making now.