Monday, May 25, 2015

My Thirty-Seven Minute Struggle

My Thirty-Seven Minute Struggle with Interstellar.

I love sci-fi. One of my brothers' and my favorite memories is of our dad taking us to science-fiction movies. Those are the only ones he ever took us to. He knew all about them ever before he saw the movies because he read the books. That's how he raised us and the apple ne pas falls far away from the arbre.

I decided to watch, ahem, "Contact sans Jodi Foster" last night. I could only make it 37 minutes through before needing a break. It probably won't be a permanent break, but I needed a good 24 hour break from foolishness.

Why so foolish?

1) Contact sans Jodi Foster. Admirable sciencey father figure, talented sciencey daughter. Communicating with aliens somehow gives life meaning.

2) A blight progressively destroys all the food on earth, ending with corn. Because the earth has decided that it is no longer going to support human beings or some such foolishness. How many scientific problems with this? There are no blights that can destroy all vegetation. Even if there were, vegetation would adapt to be immune to this. Do you have any idea how hostile to life the planet was originally, 4-billion years ago, and yet somehow life dealt with that. A blight cannot end all vegetative species. Stupid.

3) Sci-fi ponders the meaning of life by definition. It does so by rearranging life as we know it, especially via technological advances, to see what implications that has for our presuppositions. But you cannot violate science per se in doing so. That would be the genre known as fantasy. As I've indicated above, the blight thing does that. Further, talk of the earth no longer wanting people on it, or whatever, is stupid new-age nonsense. The idea that aliens are trying to help human beings save themselves is fine, but the whole earth no longer wanting people thing is just dumb.

4) Six billion people have died and yet somehow human culture looks pretty much the same. Did I tell you that there are no longer any militaries anywhere? Yes, 80% of humanity dies and yet now people live without the need for armies. Strange that. Did I mention that those six billion people starved to death? And still no need for armies, eh?

5) Two solutions to the extinction problem are proposed: (i) find a new planet for people to go to, that is, the people who are actually living now, (ii) have a bunch of fertilized frozen eggs put on a space ship in case they can't get their big space ship going. (i) is a reasonable solution. (ii) is kind of dumb. Why? Transplanting fertilized eggs is not transporting human culture, the thing that makes us what we are, but merely our DNA. Even seen that other Jodi Foster movie, Nell? That's what you get when you don't bring along human culture. Would these babies even survive for 15 minutes, let alone found a new civilization? What I am objecting to here is the idea that it is in any way sufficient to merely prolong the existence of human DNA. That's no solution. If I was there I would have no interest in merely transplanting human DNA from one planet to the next. That's like transplanting crocodiles. Who cares!?

Anyway, the first 37 minutes is a weak start to a movie, the theme of which for some reason seems to greatly appeal to people today. The religion of man surviving forever. The religion of mother earth being a sentient being. The need to self-castigate about how we have abused the earth. I don't feel any guilt about how I treat the earth. Pagans do, I guess, because, not recognizing their identity as children of God whom they can offend, they need to feel guilty about something. The earth will do. And yet religion is all about second-chances. What better than a second-chance made possible by a hunky scientist with a gifted daughter? But why is it always Matthew McConaughey? Wasn't Contact enough?

The way I see it is, if you are ashamed of the way you live, stop living that way. You are going to die eventually. If human life is meaningless, which it is if there is no God, then just let man die. If man is meaningless, Mother Earth is meaningless. To hell with her then. I am sure the universe is full of life, the tragedy of the all-conquering blight strikes me as hardly a tragedy at all if there is no God, just Mother Earth and some aliens who can manipulate gravity. Matt, just enjoy your last few years on earth with your family and then let life end.

Anyway, we will see if I can endure another 37 minutes tonight or some day soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Objective Standards

It's rare to have young people held up to objective standards, to be held up to the actual laws of physics and biology, and to human custom and convention.

Last night my ten-year-old daughter earned her yellow belt in karate after a half-year of disciplined commitment to a difficult regime, that left her tired and thirsty week after week. And she did it with a smile and by following all the rules. The final step for earning the belt was running a kind of gauntlet where grown men repeatedly pummeled her with mats and other objects. Her teachers were class-A guys, and I told them as much afterward. I know teaching, and these were good teachers.

On the other hand - why do I do it? that is, read the news? It just infuriates me. A professor in the US saying publicly that she basically hates white men with no professional ramifications, another HR person in Britain saying that you can't be racist if you are a minority woman, and then a girl from a New Brunswick high school who was disciplined for dress code matter - you know her school is going to cave in to her. But should it? Is this good for humanity?

Certainly, if MacDonald's wanted to fire her for a dress code violation, she would have no recourse. And if she made a fuss, the chances of Burger King or Subway hiring her would be that much less likely. But public schools, like universities, are soulless, depraved institutions that perpetuate juvenile mindsets. Some people say things like "This is why China is beating us." That is correct, but that's not my concern. I don't care who's beating who. I care about virtue. If you had said, this is why China is happier, more virtuous than us, then that would matter to me.

So this girl will win. Once again, the system will find itself unable to live according to its own rules. But is it a win? No, it will be just one other proof that if you don't like something, act like a child and you will get your way. The girl herself said,

"I'm tired of the unjust standards that we as women are held up to. I'm tired of the discrimination against our bodies, and I'm absolutely fed up with comments that make us feel like we can't be comfortable without being provocative. It's time to change the worlds mindset. Now."

She doesn't understand it as getting out of stuff, but has convinced herself that she is standing up for girls, who should not have rules about what they can wear. So, thus, she is under the impression that there are no differences between the bodies of men and women. But, really, do men show that much of their backs at school? Not in my experience. And people respond with the typical secular litany of being a "strong" woman, "assertive," and all of that. But cannot a girl who is campaigning for a tighter dress code also be considered "strong" and "assertive"? Terrorists are "strong," "brave" and "assertive."

Or is she gaming the system? I don't know her, but kids are clever and they know how to manipulate things.

But the bottom line is this: are you able to deal with the world such as it is, or do you need the playing field changed to advantage you? I faced wicked prejudice going through a secular university as a conservative Catholic. It made me a better, stronger person. I did not "tell on" people who made life difficult for me. I learned to write better, research better and so win that way.

As a teacher I have seen both kinds of student. Those who tell on you and those who try and win with hard work. Which of them gain my respect?

I want my kids to be the kinds of people who persevere through hard things, not the kind that "tell" and insist that the rules change for them. I want my kid to get tired and thirsty. I want her to stand up to rough treatment and be proud of what God has accomplished through her at the end of the day.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Good Things about Dieting

Yes, dieting is hard. It is a First World problem that we all have to deal to some degree. But I have discovered that there is an 'up side' to it as well.

1. You save a lot of money.

2. The food you do eat tastes way better.

3. You waste less time in the bathroom.

4. Less indigestion.

5. You feel proud / happy of your accomplishment.

6. Clothes fit better.

7. You have more energy / zest for life.

8. You suddenly get to act like a health guru.

9. You get to tease your fat friends (who are actually still thinner than you, but that's quite beside the point).

Have I missed anything?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Generalizations about Gender

Blah, blah, blah, crisis, blah.

Like a good Marxist, I look to the material causes for our cultural features.

Like a good Christian, I ask whether these lead us closer to or further away from God.

Homosexuality and feminism are possible only because we do hunt and gather or live off subsistence agriculture, as homo-sapiens have for hundreds of thousands of years. We live in a much more artificial setting - a fragile one, mind you. We live in a world where brawny men can't simply do whatever they want to do. That's both good and bad.

But getting rid of Vikings does not make us godly. There are other equally pernicious threats to human virtue in the 'civilized' setting of modernity. If you don't believe me consider that now there is greater wealth disparity than there has ever been in human history. I'll just offer that one observation. I could come up with many others. (Genocide, maybe?) And if you tried-and-true capitalist ideologues (not many of you left, but unfortunately way too many socialists) respond to the wealth disparity thing by saying that capitalism still offers the greatest overall wealth - a point I grant - I still must insist that billionaires are against the will of God, especially when people are dying of preventable diseases, engaging in prostitution to feed themselves, etc.

Now we can be fat, blind, crippled, and lazy and yet not starve to death as we would in pre-modern times. Black people in Baltimore would simply die off if they simply refused to work as they do now. There are no lazy Africans, btw. And Aboriginals sitting around on the reservation getting drunk and fat, living off social assistance - that is not anything like how their ancestors lived. Had they, they would not make it through one year.

Those are some of the problems characteristic of urban black people and North American aboriginals. A problem that is characteristic of urban white people is homosexuality. It is a disease of decadence. It does not affect the Third World.

No, we can't really turn back the clock economically to return us to the more Christian-friendly times of subsistence agriculture. I know some Catholics who are attempting to do this, although preserving those parts of modernity they like, most especially their trendy Macs. (How come all, read all, Catholics who raise chickens, knit, abstain from any synthetic textiles and foods have Macs? Are Macs wholegrain, or even ancient grain?) Sure, they save three cents per dozen eggs they grow themselves, but don't seem to have a problem with the extra $700 they spend to buy a Mac rather than a PC.

We can't turn back the clock. I mean, God might, with that longed-for asteroid, solar storm, pandemic, rise of the machines, what have you. Why do Catholics secretly yearn for an event like this? I know I do.

Our decisions have no sway on the progress of the industrial revolution. So forget about that. But perhaps we should think hard about how our incorporation into modernity has harmed our spiritual lives. That's really the only point of relevance.

How do I mean? Consider laziness. What is laziness? When you think of a lazy person, you imagine the TV and a couch, no doubt. Consider someone like me. I read and write for hours a day. I am not Mme. Pompadour on her bed, but neither am I one of the peasants upon whose hard work Pompadour's cushy life was based.

The laziness that we think about has an inescapably modern character, doesn't it? Workaholism affects many of us in North American culture, because we have permitted ourselves to be treated by the system this way. This is not healthy or godly. On the other hand, obesity is endemic too. Some people are doing more than their share of the work, but they are not necessarily doing so for any good reason: ambition and luxury are not good motives. Some people are eating more than their share of the food. Do you see the link here between the obese and workaholics?

People like me incorporate something of both of these excesses. I weigh too much, because I eat too much. On the other hand, I am driven by ungodly desires to accomplish 'great things,' just like the day-trader is, although we operate in two very different realms.

There are people who work very hard because they have to. Loggers, construction workers, restaurant workers, are just a few that come to mind for me. These people are not wealthy and boy do they work a full week's work! On the other hand, people who work for the government, people who enjoy the full fruits of a strong union. Consider those who are in the military. You know, the military has health protocols. You can't be a fat soldier, and yet, have you seen those who work in offices in Ottawa? The rules are relaxed in their cases, and, yes, there are fat soldiers, at least in Ottawa there are.

But this is not a post about obesity, but about the sins we let in all too easily because of our culture. Something that hits a little closer to home and wrinkled a few feathers when I talked about it a few posts ago (with the subtle suggestion that I was a hypocrite!)

Do we take our religious formation seriously enough? In this age of leisure and readily available reading material, do we read enough good stuff? I know I do. But do I get my kids to? (That's where the hypocrite suggestion comes from.) No, I don't. Mea culpa. May God give me help here. We need to use for good the time we have. The medieval peasant could not read, but he gave much of his free time to attending mass, learning his prayers and teaching them to his children - in the time he had.

Hey, but wasn't this a post about gender?

Indeed it was/is.

This all began as I sadly looked at a picture of Bruce Jenner. Now, I have never watched that show, but I can well imagine that it exemplifies many of the things I have been saying. Why a sixty-year-old man (the father of how many?) would suddenly feel the need to say he is a woman is rather intuitive. This non-entity by-stander of his attractive daughters' shenanigans (mostly shopping, I think) could not stand to be irrelevant any longer. He might have chosen the metro-sexual route of Kanye West, but he's no longer good looking enough for that. So he is doing what many troubled men are doing today: becoming a woman. Like minorities and homosexuals, women can play the role of victims in our culture; men, on the other hand, have absolutely no philosophical value. There is nothing about whiteness and maleness that is valued by Hollywood. A white man only has values when he denies his whiteness and maleness: like by suddenly seeing the goodness of homosexuality, or by emasculating himself in some other way, like by being a goofy stay-at-home dad who tries to change a baby and the baby pees on him. Tee hee! So funny!

Our culture knows only a negation type of philosophy. We can't tell you what things should be, but we can tell you what they shouldn't be. Men shouldn't be assertive, shouldn't be sexist, racist, elitist, but what he should be is anybody's guess. He should be tolerant, but what he is supposed to care about in the first place such as to make tolerating something that is outside of his worldview heroic is anybody's guess. How can you be tolerant when you don't believe in anything in the first place? How can you tolerate homosexuality when you don't believe that marriage is a heterosexual thing? How can you tolerate things that don't challenge your value system because you don't have a value system to begin with?

So how can we reject the negative influences our contemporary culture has on our idea of masculinity? I cannot exhaustively treat of it here (or perhaps anywhere else) but here are a few thoughts:

1) Men should cultivate their physical, moral and psychological strength and independence. Correctly or incorrectly interpret this as you will. A good model? How about the Rules of St. Benedict and St. Basil?

2) Men should not encourage these weaknesses in other men, by accepting homosexuality, for instance. Homosexuality is a psychological disorder like many others, such as agoraphobia. We need to be encouraged to push ourselves a little bit.

3) Try and get yourself into a healthier setting. For instance, David Beresford said that men should work at home. That is one ideal to strive for. Don't stay at the office late; don't work on Saturdays. Take up a sport that will diversify the kinds of things you do: hunting puts you in nature for great long walks, for instance; weightlifting puts your body through things that you will never go through in the office.

4) Do things with other Christian men, NOT WOMEN! If you are married, you already spend a lot of time with a woman. You need to learn about masculinity by actually being around with other men. I have said it many times: do not let women (only) tell you how to be a man. A woman has a right to tell you how not to be obnoxious (another negation, what not to be), for instance, but not how to be a man.

5) Never apologize for being a man and not a woman. You have testosterone: it is not a pleasant thing. Go out and break something. And then rebuild it with your bare hands.

6) Pray for guidance to cultivate masculine virtues.

What an impoverished society we have that would allow a man to sink so low as to believe he is a woman. Poor Bruce Jenner.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Twenty Years a Bishop

My long-time friend, my spiritual father, my supporter and inspiration, Archbishop Prendergast, had his twentieth anniversary yesterday as a bishop. Since we were both attending the Summit on the New Evangelization, I got to see him on his anniversary and wish him well in person.

The summit was awesome, not only because I got to tell lots and lots of people about the Catholic Review of Books, and actually sell some copies, but because of the amazing talks.

When its creator, my friend, Michael Dopp of Mission of the Redeemer Ministries, talked about how he slowly decided to undertake his bold idea for the Summit, he mentioned going to Archbishop Prendergast and asking whether he should do it. The Archbishop responded, "You have to do it."

Anyone who knows His Grace's episcopal ministry knows that he has been extraordinarily supportive of NET, CCO, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, and countless other Catholic initiatives. He has also been extraordinarily supportive of this lost cause, Colin "the Theologian."

This is all you could ever want in a bishop.

The bishop is tireless. He embarrasses me all the time by his energy. He is 30 years older than me.

He is a gentleman, a scholar, he loves his family, he never stops visiting his parishes and attending events in his diocese and abroad, he is faithful to his friends, he is uncompromisingly faithful to the Lord, in and out of season. Most of all, he has merited my unending respect, and I don't like anyone or anything.

Second of all, he has a great sense of humor and is unflagging in his hope that things can build up and not just fall down.

So, please pray for him on the occasion of his twentieth. He's had a lot of important milestone lately, like fifty years a professed Jesuit in 2013 and forty years a priest in 2012.

I think he knows how much he is appreciated. But just in case, please let him know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Thoughts on Evangelization and Apologetics

As I am soon to head to a big evangelization conference in Ottawa, and as I continue on the work of the Catholic Review of Books (the next issue which focuses on books on this subject, due out soon), my thoughts understandably dwell on this.

When I was a new convert I had big plans on this. Not at very first, though. I didn't consider Catholicism as a religion or ideology or worldview, but as a philosophy, as the philosophy, to be discovered only after a pain-staking intellectual journey, like the one that I myself had been on. Then I began to think more in terms of converting 'commoners,' rather than intellectuals. I have to say now that I am beginning to be tempted back to my initial focus. And not so much on evangelization, but on cultivating Catholic culture as a gift to humanity, as a gift that allows one a glimpse of the truth of Christ.

Why? People have proven themselves altogether unworthy of truth and unresponsive to it. And I don't mean 'my truth.' I mean that people are altogether uninterested in deeper things, and unable to open their minds to the good in a way that can transcend their cultural assumptions, the 'culture' of that proceeds from the means of production.

Next to Jesus, Augustine, Paul, and some other great theologians, my great hero is Plato-Socrates. The hybrid name is for sake of historical accuracy, as we really don't know Socrates other than as he is interpreted by others. My hero is the Socrates of the Phaedo, Crito and Apology, etc. Really, this is Plato, is it not?

Plato or Socrates is my model for the sort of evangelization or culture-work to which my mind and heart are drawn.

I am very much the same person I was when I was twenty - for better or for worse. I feel like I have come full-circle, sans the optimism, sans the idealism.

Although I am now more than ever interested in 'high-culture' as they say, I am not interested in academia per se. I see it as a stumbling block toward evangelization, not an aid to it. This is the first significant admission I make here. Universities are hopeless institutions aimed at nothing more than consolidating the status quo. Not only have they failed to delay the secularization of the world and the death of the Socratic vision, they have positively facilitated its demise. Universities today - all of them - are incapable of anything else. They are institutions, not centers of culture. They are government institutions in the worst sense of the word. Thus, culture is opposed to academics, not to intellectualism, but to academics.

I have always believed that the more intellectually formed a Christian the better. I still believe this, but I once again have to insist that this not be identified with what goes on in a university.

I believe that I can do nothing better for my fellow-man, help him in no way more effectively to draw near to Christ, than with beauty, and not with an intellectual barrage of facts.

For a man, in its fullest flowering, beauty is the intellectual appreciation of the good. It is dwelling upon it and appreciating it and seeking to understand its significance. It is not about proving who is right, it is about seeing the higher thing.

How do we do evangelization this way? I will posit that Flannery O'Connor has done more for the evangelization of the American mind than any bishop has, than has even Cardinal Dulles or Fr. R. J. Neuhaus.

Can you love a poem?

This might strike you as a strange question, but it evokes the essential problem we face today as evangelists.

The greatest pleasures I have enjoyed in recent weeks have included reading Tennyson and Keats. I loved In Memoriam by the former, and Ode to a Nightengale and La Belle Dame Sans Merci by the latter. Also, I have loved some homilies by St. Basil - and it was not necessarily their intellectual content, but the manner in which this fine content was mixed with an unbelievably pleasing style that gave me such joy.

Can you love a poem?

A)Who reads poetry today?

B) Who takes Socrates seriously?

C) If you cannot and do not do these two things, can you love Christ?

If not (A) and (B), then not (C).

Why would I say such a thing? Poems are beautiful, Christ is beautiful. Socrates teaches the utter importance of right reason, Christ's is the life lived fully in accord with right reason. (Right reason is moral truth, life lived in accordance with the principles of nature; the practical intellect, in Kant's terms.)

All who have turned to Christ in the past have loved poems and Socrates. Western Civilization is based on the love of poems and Socrates. It cannot exist otherwise.

Now, there is a principle in evangelization, which roughly translates (after I have removed the offensive dangling preposition), you must take people where they are.

If people do not love poems and Socrates, you must simply accept that if you are to evangelize them.

False! There is something wrong with them if they do not love poems and Socrates. You cannot ask a color-blind man to look at this green thing if he cannot also look at that green thing.

Now, what are the implications of all of this? I will have to write again later.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

He is Risen and He Gives us Strength

Not much going on these days worth mentioning, other than the continual persecution of the true Faith by Muslims and homosexualists.

As to the latter, in light of all that has come out recently vis a vis the Indiana fracas, what can I say other than this is all good. As homosexualists begin to shed their false claim to victimization and become the persecutors, they cannot but loose their hold on fanciful thinking. Although I have little faith in modern man, the fact is, once they shed their image as a persecuted minority and begin to assert their absolutist designs, the lazy voter will change his view of them from harmless and vulnerable innocent to ideological extremist. This will be a switch like that which communism underwent as a movement in defense of the poor and exploited to those of revolutionary extremists. People were slow to catch on then, and they are now too. But the point remains: despite the case that, for instance, Nazis made for the 'proper Teutonic' interpretation of the Bible, it failed to convince everyone. And although I am sad to see otherwise smart Christians catch on to the nefarious character of the homosexualist movement, it will not convince all. In the 1930s and 40s it was pounded into German Christian heads that Nazism and Christianity were completely amenable to each other, and that Christianity really meant to teach the same things Hitler was teaching. Now we have a NYT editorial saying that Christianity's position on homosexuality is just the erroneous aggregation of scattered texts. Just the tactic the Nazis employed: what Christianity really meant to say is... you know that kind of thing.

I am most disappointed in people who still tend to think that the issue is about reaching out to marginalized homosexuals. Kind of like talking about marginalized Muslims. Yes, there are marginalized homosexuals and Muslims, but that is quite beside the point. Christians are being, killed, fine and jailed. Why don't you stop apologizing for the persecutors of your Christian brothers? It is because you think that peace is possible. It is not possible. Christ and the devil cannot agree. And you simply have to accept that homosexualists are dangerous extremists who would treat Christians just like the Nazis and the communists did if and when they have the chance. Don't let history make a fool out of you.

And you know what, Nazis needed jobs and love and so did Stalinists. But they would still kill you. People are free and they can make their choices. The moment they decide to make your religion illegal is the moment you should stop defending them and start fighting back. It doesn't matter that they had a hard life up to that point. They are now making a decision and they need to be dealt with when they chose to infringe on us.