Thursday, December 11, 2008
One of the things I was happen to learn, upon coming here to Geneseo, was that we had a Humanities curriculum. And generally, that term can connote some very different things. This, however, was a special case. The Humanities sequence at Geneseo was strongly focused on the "great books", the central canon of the Western tradition. Benedicamus Domino! This was the sort of class that interested me. I can remember remarking, however, that this seemed a bit too good to be true. As I learned more about the history of the course, my apprehension mounted somewhat. It has been around for decades now, and hasn't been tampered with to include the homage to the Zeitgeist? Ah, but Et in Arcadia ego....
Debate has flared up on campus several times about it. The emphasis on the Western tradition is problematic, it is said. Why must we teach students about only Western things? What about other traditions? Shouldn't we be teaching students how other cultures think? And what of the Humanities curriculum itself? Several times, complaints from students had been printed that X book was taught too quickly, or that Y topic had not been covered in sufficient depth.
Some of these are entirely valid and proper cultures. That a book was taught to quickly or that this topic wasn't covered enough is easily answered: the student is given, by the Humanities curriculum, the tools he or she needs to successfully find the primary sources in question, and read them in a critical and informed manner so as to gain a greater understanding of the text and its world. Simply, if you didn't get enough Virgil, you know where to find him- go to it. Additionally: Yes, students should learn about other cultures and traditions, by all means. This is a critical part of their education. But the myth persists that this can be done without proper training in one's own culture. This is an error that side makes, even from a practical standpoint. Multiculturalism is such an ingrained modern myth that it is hardly ever challenged. And I think it's a very common phenomenon that students either do not believe they really have a culture, or simply do not reflect on the question and its import. But how, then, are we to understand some tradition not our own when we do not even know the ground we are standing on? This contributes to a sort of intellectual dilettantism, a collection of bits of knowledge, impressions, and quotations from various sources within other cultures that cannot be organized into a meaningful whole because the hermeneutic for doing so is never taught or discussed. In fact, it is frequently assumed not to exist.
I am not unsympathetic to the desire to include "non-Western" components of the general education curriculum; I share it. I believe the mistake, however, lies in placing the burden on the Humanities sequence to make room for it. The simple truth is, however valuable it might be to our academic, economic, political, social, and moral futures to know how, for example, Muslims might think, or Chinese, or inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, the fact remains that those ways of life are not our own. Their philosophy, while bearing affinity to our own, is not ours. More to the point, and in a more practical vein, we are not (presumably) being educated to succeed in a Muslim society or a Chinese society or a society in the Pacific Islands. We live within a Western culture, and by all indications, immigrants into that culture assimilate more to it than it does to them.
I was dismayed, then, to learn of the recent developments in the Humanities curriculum. In the first place, the Task Force solution is highly problematic. Student input into the Task Force is minimal (though I will confess that this is not always a bad thing). What is more irksome is that the Task Force largely conducts its business outside of the mechanisms on campus already in place to provide the most open fora for discussion of such important topics. Efficiency being thicker than wisdom, it would seem, the solution has been adopted to make changes quickly rather than well.
An inclusion of a non-Western component would be a suitable compromise, it seems. 21 credits, however, is excessive. That's essentially a minor. One must also wonder what would happen to the other courses in the General Education curriculum. So that proposal seems like it will, or at least ought to, be DOA.
I will introduce the second proposal by stating that I have a great respect for Dr. Hon as a professor, and have enjoyed his class immensely. But I cannot help but see this as a seriously wrong-headed proposal. Voici les raisons:
1) The first semester: comparing agrarian river valley civilizations and the maritime civilization based on oceanic trade. From the very beginning, the course's overriding assumption does not seem like it would be familiar to students. The chronological method of presentation has much to be said for it in this regard. The problem is that in a few major cases, there were agrarian civilizations which were not particularly rooted in river valleys, and which were also major world players, sometimes linked into oceanic commerce. I speak, of course, of immortal Rome herself.
In fact, we usually hear of "Greco-Roman civilization". This would seem to merely be a composite of the agrarian Roman civilization with the commercial, sea-going Greek civilization. That's not quite the whole story. Greece, strongly commercial and mighty at sea, never quite lost her agrarian roots- this is particularly the case in Sparta. Even at Athens, the organization of the Athenian polity was focused strongly on land. Recall that the basis of their warfare was the hoplite, a distinctly land-based fellow. And even Carthage and the other former Punic colonies were notably more commercial than Greece.
Rome, too, breaks the mold. Thoroughly agrarian and earthy, the Romans nevertheless became masters of the sea, overcoming much more powerful navies and their own fears to make the Mediterranean "Mare Nostrum".
The course's focus, then, of comparing and contrasting agrarian and oceanic civilizations, then, is off-base. Societies did not necessarily progress from agrarian to oceanic, as would be suggested, and the two existed in such close harmony that they formed the most influential civilization to date. And this should also highlight the inherent mistake in classifying a civilization by its economic existence: it is making out the part to be the whole. Rome is more than an economic conglomeration, but a political, legal, artistic, and moral alliance. And so too for every other civilization. No, to begin on such a foot is to risk too much.
The second semester again risks far too much. Here it is not so much a conceptual problem, though, as an organizational and temporal one. It looks, essentially, to cover the Mediaeval and Renaissance periods in Christendom, as well as the contemporaneous events in other countries. This seems a bit too unwieldy. Compressing several centuries of Western history into a semester is bad enough; now we're to give that treatment to the whole world? How will anyone pull anything useful out of that? The Middle Ages alone is too important, vibrant, diverse, and long to be taught in a semester.
The final semester is, in simplest terms, a disaster. Really. This has Maria Lima's claw-marks all over it. A whole semester on "capitalism"? Bollocks. This falls into the same trap as classifying civilizations as if all that mattered was the economy. Only in a much more obvious and detrimental fashion. This blinds students to the obvious facts of the past few centuries. There was a lot more going on in the world than the development of capitalism. This sort of reductionist mindset is only going to hamstring students. It really smacks of forcing the events of history, the literary monuments, the political achievements, and the works of art of centuries into an ideological framework, and that is intellectually and historically unacceptable.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The First Reading of the Mass today is one of the more memorable, especially to those familiar with Händel's Messiah, in which it serves as the first accompagnato.
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God
Speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for her all sins.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: "Prepare ye the way of the LORD! Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Isaiah 40:1-5
It's fascinating to look at all the different threads the Prophet Isaiah is pulling together. From the first, he speaks of God's comfort to the besieged people of Zion. And while this is a season of penance, necessarily so, it is good to be reminded of the love and comfort of our Lord, the rock who saves us. That we are engaged in a battle is potent spiritual imagery: Satan has laid siege to God's city, to His people on Earth. This is the same Israel, mourning in lonely exile, that we hear of in the great Advent hymn "Veni, veni, Emmanuel". We are a people at war with Satan and his minions, and with sin. And how often we fall!
And in thinking of that, I can't help but think of the ride of the Rohirrim. If we were left to ourselves, we couldn't win. The foe is too strong, and we are too weak. Our strength is too far spent. But Isaiah gives his people Israel, both the historical Israelites and the spiritual people of Israel, the Church, the good news: the Lord Himself is coming to lift the siege! The night will be over, and day will come again. And here also is the reminder that the gift of God's mercy and grace is so much greater than our transgressions. And the voice announcing this all is to be John the Baptist, greater than whom none of those born of woman has arisen.
What is spoken of next is the evening out of the physical aspects of the world. Seeing this in a spiritual sense is a valuable exercise. When Isaiah says that the mountains and hills will be made low, could he not be speaking of the mountains and hills of our pride, our imagined self-sufficiency, all the human constructs we have built up against God. The low places are our sins and failings, which the Lord not only forgives, but in response to which He gives us grace to resist them and overcome them in the future. The straightening of the paths can refer to placing us back on the path of righteousness.
And finally, we are told of the coming glory of the Lord and reminded that this is God's promise- it is the word He has spoken. We may take comfort in that the God gave both His word and His Word- indeed, the Word of God is His promise.
Just some reflections. Enjoy the day!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
And herein lies one of the highly useful functions of a mixed constitution, in this case, a constitutional monarchy. The nastier tendencies and foibles of the demos can be checked by a royal veto. Now, it hasn't said anywhere in these articles that the Grand Duke is opposing from a specifically Catholic stance (I believe he is Catholic, but wikipedia doesn't confirm that), but I don't think that it would be a stretch to say that His Royal Highness does so from moral and religious conviction. Too often, politicians and people in general are willing to roll over and die because "the people" don't agree with them. There's a pretty sick mythology which has the lives of nations in a stranglehold, and that is that whatever the people "want" is right and cannot be questioned. This is foolish.
Luxembourg's PM, Juncker, in the meantime, is holding true to his ominous name. Feeding off of that damn fool mythology I just mentioned, he's now pushing to have the country's constitution changed. It seems more than a little bit antithetical to the very nature of a constitution to alter it on such a whim. Time was, if the executive didn't want to sign something, you griped about it and called him nasty names, and waited for a more amenable fellow to land in office, but you didn't screw around with the system to get your way. There was an understanding between the present and the future, with the folks in the present being wise enough to understand that if they could tinker with the very fabric of their government and tradition on a whim, some people in the future could also do so, and not to good effect.
Bah. They were more civilized in the Middle Ages. With all our wonderful modern science, we haven't learned a thing. We're cleverer savages with much more refined tools.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Blessing and honour, and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." Rev. 5:13
I apologize in advance, I am writing this post at a few different intervals, and my brain is all over the place. So this is unsystematic and will probably come out quite rambling and nonsensical.
This is certainly one area in which our history plays against us. We instinctively react against a king, much as our fathers the Romans did before us, for all that we enjoy the royal gossip and pageantry of other countries. The man who would be king is a man to be feared, not loved or admired. The idea of one man ruling seems to us to be perverse, unjust, wicked. The ideas of popular sovereignty are so ingrained in us that the government of a sovereign, a monarch, is something we decry. Sadly so. Yet nevertheless, Christ reigns eternally as our High King, through whom all thrones on Earth stand, and before whom all thrones will fall in worship and adoration.
Yup, it's a nice time of the year for a triumphalist Catholic with strongly monarchist tendencies. The Servant of the Servants of God, Pope Pius XI, reminded us beautifully of the imagery and fact of the sovereign kingship of Christ in his encyclical Quas Primas:This same doctrine of the Kingship of Christ which we have found in the Old Testament is even more clearly taught and confirmed in the New. The Archangel, announcing to the Virgin that she should bear a Son, says that "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." In fact, we confess this every feast and Sunday when we state He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end
How is such a thing important to us today? I mean, certainly the liturgical regalia and ceremonial is all great fun, and spiritually nourishing. It's been a part of Christian thought and imagery since time immemorial. In fact, the Easter sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes is a subtle reference to just such a doctrine. Aside from its literal meaning "praises", the Latin 'laudes' is also the direct term for a royal ceremony, the praises of the king, especially the Carolingian Emperor. I would be content to leave the issue there, but why not go further in this instance? Why is it important that Christ be seen as King?
For one thing, He is. God has granted Him the primacy in all things; He is the firstborn of all creation. The rule is His by right. And God has promised that this is so; at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend, as they would to a king. And so in the completed Heaven, that is Christ's role. What does this mean for us? The thinking here is old, but significant. Earthly governments do not simply exist in a vacuum- every king, every ruler, has his rule and his kingdom from God. This means also that every institution which governs men must in some respect be infused with that spirit. But for a king, a government, to claim that it has a right to exist of its own, that its dignity is its own, is guilty of the same sin as Lucifer, who would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.
Sounds like a theocracy? Not quite. While I would find it vastly preferable if every human being were safe and secure within Holy Mother Church, that has never been the case in human history. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, any institution rooted in some transcendent moral principle will last longer than one that does not, so there's that to consider. Our earthly hierarchy is not an atom- God is not dead, but very much alive, and still concerned with the doings of His people. The caelestial hierarchy is the basis of the mundane. This is one area, interestingly enough, in which traditional Chinese thought is quite salient (at least of the Confucian variety) to our own. But the loss of this sense of the rootedness of all just government in the decrees of God is probably one of the reasons we see it abused so much. We spend so much time storing up treasures on Earth; it's no longer about easing the lot of the poor or bettering ourselves morally, mentally, or spiritually. More and more our society chugs along dreaming of the earthly paradise we could only create if
I wonder in what respects this ties into the shrinking of the imagination. It's a faculty we might hardly exercise in a given day. That's probably why literature, music, and the visual arts have suffered so. It's the here-and-now that concerns us, and with the ratcheting of entertainment, that's ever more the case. I mean, look at what we call what we watch on TV: reality television. TV's not a bad thing in and of itself, and can be quite engrossing and educational. Some shows are possessed of excellent writing or other such characteristics. But when we start considering what happens in that cathode ray tube "real", we're already in a world of problems. Our very outlook starts to become two-dimensional.
Like I said, disjointed and horribly unsystematic post today. Tired, and my mind's racing. Oh well. At least there are purdy pictures to look at?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Well, now that I've started off being oh-so-cheerful today, on to the meat and potatoes! Whatever happened to the concept of the people of God, Israel? What prompted this thought was the lyrics of the Advent hymn "Veni, veni, Emmanuel". The lyrics are as follows:
Veni, O sapientia
Quae hic disponis omnia
Veni, viam prudentiae
Ut doceas et gloriae
R: Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel
Veni, veni Adonai
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice
In maiestate gloriae
Veni, o Iesse virgula
Ex hostis tuos ungula
De spectu tuos tartari
Educ et antro barathri
Veni, Clavis Davidica
Regna reclude caelica
Fac iter tutum superum
Et claude vias inferum
Veni, veni, O Oriens
Solare nos adveniens
Noctis depelle nebulas
Dirasque noctis tenebras
Veni, veni, Rex Gentium
Veni, Redemptor omnium
Ut salvas tuos famulos
Peccati sibi conscios
Veni, veni, Emmanuel
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exsilio,
Privatus Dei filio!
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
While I will concede that it is possibly that I simply haven't heard it, I ask: Why don't we talk like this any more? There's a wealth of symbolism in the Church we have simply done away with. The Church as Israel is a theme that really is worth so much exploration, but it seems that references to that are few and far between. Maybe I just haven't been paying attention.
At the same time, we've lost the practice of seeing ourselves as Roman. Not that we are in any geographical or political sense. I can recall that, after the death of John Paul the Great, in one prayer a cardinal (it might have been then-Cardinal Ratzinger, I can't recall now) implored Mary, the protector of the Roman People. St. Patrick once remarked "If you be Christians, then you are Romans."
I'm jus' askin'.
Monday, November 17, 2008
No one likes someone who nags. And it's with good reason that the person whose favorite activity is wagging their fingers at others finds himself with very few friends, and a veritable horde of enemies. So as far as that goes, I am with today's culture in agreeing that Negative Nancies are no fun.
What seems different, though, is this peculiar horror of "judgment". I also note that spell-check argues against the medial "e" in that word, which, if substandard, was the way I had learned years ago. Why do they change these things on me? I digress. Back to the subject at hand. Some clarification of terms is relevant here. People are never judged in a positive fashion, to the modern mind. I cannot judge Jack Robinson to be a good and upright man, or Abigail Fiddleswick to be a paragon among mothers. It is perhaps peculiar to our pessimistic outlook (an unduly pessimistic one, I think) that any and every judge must not find in the favor of the accused. It isn't that we find it impossible to label someone good or praiseworthy, but that the peculiar faculty of judgment precludes finding a positive result. That might seem like a semantic quibble, but it is instructive.
What are the roots of this phenomenon? My favorite canard, relativism, of course. But it'd be boring if I just harped on that yet again. And besides, in this case, there's another major contributing factor worth investigating, and that's the modern emphasis on feelings rather than facts. We really can't take criticism any more. And I should know, as I'm one to gripe mightily about any criticism of what I do. But in most cases, I do not demand that my critic cease what they are doing, or that they are in the wrong for doing so. Counsel can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow, but what medicine isn't? We can no longer believe that a prof gave us such a poor grade on a paper. Don't they know how hard we worked? And don't they know what a top-notch student we are? We've been told all our lives that we're special, and we believe it. So when we do fail, there must be some explanation than doesn't consist in "ourselves". We don't want to hear negative things because they conflict with the ways we are taught to think of ourselves. Everyone is wonderful, and the best part of life is getting together and singing about how wonderful we are.
On the face of it, this perspective is rather disturbing. We are cautioned not to judge any people, as, it is solemnly asserted, such is the province of a judgmental person, that is, a knave. Who, then, would be good? Presumably, the person who forms no judgments, the person who holds no particular opinion. I think this is a view held with some fervor, if by a majority. In some respects, it might explain the pathological need to move to the "center" or the "middle" on a given issue or concept. This is not the same as an Aristotelian golden mean or anything like that. More and more, this manifests itself in a categorical rejection of any proposed solution which would stray to either side in a debate. Politics, of course, furnishes us with the most obvious examples of this, but in other fields too, any action which tends towards one side is viewed as "partisan" and "divisive" by some. At the heart of this, I think, is a retreat from a serious engagement with life's issues.
Even those who adhere to the philosophy of the middle at all costs do so inconsistently, though. I daresay they would never tell a battered woman "Well, try and see his side of things." At least I hope they would not. It is ultimately a philosophy of convenience rather than total conviction. So there is evidently some moderation yet in moderation. That is hopeful.
It is much the same with the no-judgment folks. In many cases, what they want is not a wholesale removal of the discriminating faculty, but a highly selective application thereof. They do not want to be judged themselves, and/or they do not want a given group to be judged in a certain way not consonant with their worldview. We are not permitted to say that homosexual marriage is wrong; the other side, however, is free to call the former whatever mean names they please, and disrupt their church services, and harass them on the streets, and rip crosses from their hands and stomp on them. In such cases, the faculty of judgment is not only quite obviously present, but also hyper-stimulated.
In the sphere of exegesis, this gets really tiresome when it comes to the axiom "Judge not lest ye be judged." We are sternly cautioned by the no-judge-um crowd that we cannot call a given act or proposition wrong; to do so would be to judge, which Christ has warned us not to do. Yet this cannot possibly work. For He also warns us sternly to admonish a sinner of his sin. If we do this not, we are held accountable for that person's soul. So using the modern solution to being faced with two seemingly contradictory injunctions, we choose the one that makes us feel better, right? Heh. Or we could try and read it as a consistent whole, without being cherry-pickers. If we are to admonish the sinner, we must be given permission to know whether or not something is sinful. What we are not permitted to do, however, is to pronounce God's judgment on a soul, the final judgment. We can say that it is a sin to steal, or to break any other commandment, and we would be right. We exceed our mandate, however, when we say that a person who has stolen will undoubtedly go to Hell. So the way the entire passage is understood in the modern world is totally off-base.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
This was written in response to an editorial in the Lamron, the school newspaper. It will probably go through two more iterations before I decide whether or not to send it out. While the results of the election were roundly disappointing, it's Prop. 8 that looks like it's generating the most controversy. 15 Nov 2008
The article “Prop 8: One giant leap backward” bears an accurate title; what is conspicuous, however, is the absence of any commentary as to who has done the leaping. I will not here argue with what the author has to say regarding gay marriage; this is more a matter of truth in journalism. The claim being made is, essentially, that opponents of the initiative have been victimized, and have suffered a fundamental injustice. Their rights, it is asserted, are being infringed. This might well be so; however, are the tactics which the opponents of Prop 8 are using consonant with that message?
Time Magazine, on an online article (located at: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1859323,00.html?xid=rss-topstories, retrieved 15 Nov 08) notes that groups who voted against the measure have been targeted by activists. African-Americans, who voted in large part against the measure, have also been singled out, with racial epithets being used by many of the frustrated parties on the opposing side of Proposition 8. This is quite ironic, given the lament in the Lamron article that the willingness to embrace “change” in voting for Senator Obama is not shared by those who opposed gay marriage. And yet by such words, the opponents of Prop. 8 show that they themselves do not hold to that distinction. The issue, then, is already much wider than the article considers.
Further more, as the Time piece points out, the trend of publishing lists of donors and agencies supportive of Proposition 8 is unsettling, to say the least. The sublime irony comes in the website AntiGayBlacklist.com, a site which publishes the names of individuals who contributed to the support of the proposition, advising people not patronize their business. Blacklisting historically refers to the actions of Senator McCarthy in the House Un-American Activities Committee. And the tactics are much the same; both sought to force people to back into line for deviating from what one group believes is unacceptable. Is it desirable that the supposed advocates of freedom and liberty are themselves pushing a new McCarthyism?
Although it may come as a cliché, the point made in the movie Batman Begins is a valid one to remember here. It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you. One cannot claim to be for tolerance and liberty and yet act in ways which are contrary to those lofty principles.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
We lost. Badly. Not as bad as we could've, and certainly not as much as the crazies expected, but this one stings. Which is surprising, as this was Obama's election to lose to begin with. McCain put in a lot of long, hard work at the end, and right up to 11 o'clock he stayed in the fight. That's par for the course with the man. And though I don't agree with the man on much of what he's said and done, he's earned a lot of respect during all of this from me. I think he learned a lot, too; particularly in regards to what fair-weather friends the media can be.
So where do we go from here?
First, let's consider some of the hopeful signs and positive outcomes from this election.
1. If he screws up, Obama has no one to blame but himself. With a handy majority in the House and Senate, if something he tries doesn't go right, it's on him. The absence of any real Republican power in Congress means that there's not even enough of them to scapegoat. The scrutiny, then, will be appropriately harsh. This is useful.
2. Big evidence against the old grievance arguments that abound in politics today. "America is a racist nation"- oh, really? That's odd. Because, for all that minorities can't get ahead in this country.... why, look! One did. What goal is there left to people who believe that race and the crimes of the past entitle them to positions of public trust and political power? And maybe, hopefully, this will convince some of the more sane folks on the left side of the line that the radicals really don't have a case any more, and are harping on it simply to rub resentments raw and exploit anger for the purpose of political motivation.
3. No more W. Poor George. For everything that's gone wrong, I still believe he is a good man, but his policies have gone badly awry for so long now, it's difficult to remember a time when they went right. And not everything he did went bad, either; far from it. But what he was up against is the largest collection of some of the most single-minded, underhanded, devious and preternaturally furious people we've seen. They hated the man, and did everything they could to make him look like an idiot, or a tyrant, or both. Well, no more of this now. Obama's talked a big game about America being able to do better than the past eight years. Will he? When so much of the campaign promise was to right the wrongs of the last eight years, how much will he actually deliver? It's something of which to remind people, and often.
4. An end to overwrought "YES. WE. CAN." videos, I hope. Shudder.
5. William F. Buckley (God rest his soul) purged the conservative movement of its kooks. This election could very well purge the movement of its wimps. What we've found is that given a choice between a Democrat and a Republican who walks like a Democrat, talks like a Democrat, and votes like a Democrat, people will choose the real Democrat. Moderate Republicans do not win elections. So from now on, if there's to be a Republican Party with any shot at capturing votes, it's got to be conservative. We've been letting our enemies dictate the ground we fight on. Let's pick our own turf this time, and make sure we can defend it well. And when Obama messes up, people will be looking for the alternative. We have a case to make in this country, and we haven't been making it, either out of our own lack of engagement and poor choices, or because we've let the people across the aisle dictate who we are as a Party and what we stand for. Enough's enough.
6. Most importantly: The bishops are back. Catholics didn't quite impress me in this election. Most went for Obama. Well, okay, fellows. Now we know where you stand- when your shepherds are telling you to get back into the flock, you'd rather go run with the wolves. So be it.
One of the problems we'd been facing is parallel to that in 5- too many times, the bishops and prominent Catholics were cowed by their own opponents bodily removing them from the public sphere. In recent memory, we've seen the Ten Commandments taken out of court houses, prayer in schools all but forbidden, and religion used as a cynical political tool to gain "street cred" rather than a means through which to draw moral nourishment and courage. Religion looked like it was being slowly edged out of the public sphere, to loud applause from folks on the left who get incredibly antsy every time religious conviction comes up. But quite a few American bishops came out swinging, and wouldn't be silenced, speaking out against Obama and denouncing his policies, and doing so from the POV of Catholic teaching. For the moment, it looks like they've reengaged. For too many years now, Catholicism has been a "Sunday thing"- you believe it when you're sitting in that pew, and you do what's expected of you, kneel here, stand here, repeat this, walk up here, get your Communion, don't get a speeding ticket tearing out of the parking lot. What we have from the bishops, then, is a clear signal that that's no longer going to be acceptable. One's religious convictions bring with them certain moral imperatives which cannot be ignored, and which must be proposed in the body politic.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
A civilian national security force.
I'll save my apocalyptic rantings for a little later. Now the analysis.
This demonstrates one of two things: 1) Barack Hussein Obama is a complete, total, utter imbecile or 2) He is an unabashed fascist.
A "civilian national security force" equal in power, funding, etc. to our military. Well, one of the defining concepts of our military, of any national military, is operating within a clear chain of command, accountable to the government of our country. What does it mean, though, for a government to create a civilian national security force? This seems rather a contradiction in terms- if the government makes it, then it's a government show. Now it does not seem like Barry Obama is simply telling people to buy a rifle, line up, and take their posts; indeed, given his liberal background and the attendant views on gun control (not entirely without merit in Chicago, perhaps) this seems, well, right out. This civilian national security force would be equipped, outfitted, and maintained by the government of the United States. Now, our economy is immense, and our military is the best the world has ever seen, but I don't think we could handle two of them, unless Obama plans to cut our real military down to a size that would make Canada look like a credible threat. What I'm hoping is that Obama realizes this also, and simply made this statement without thinking. Very likely the teleprompter cut out on him, and in the heat of the moment, he came up with an idea that sounded quite nice to his mode of thinking, without ever intending to act on it, knowing that it would be constitutionally and financially impossible to do so. If so, then he's simply an idiot. This is the ticket with Joe Biden, remember, and maybe his penchant for going off half-cocked has rubbed off on the normally suave Obama. This would be by far the more pleasant alternative.
What if that's not the case, though? What if Obama really means to go through with this thing? I think it's clear that the Democrats will take Congress, with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and a desire to make real nice with the new Boss, to whom many Congressional Democrats have already offered unfettered adulation. McCain's political career would essentially be over, and as for other bright stars in the Republican field, their effectiveness will likely be severely curtailed. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Fairness Doctrine brandished menacingly, and implemented if they're feeling lucky. Talk radio and conservative media have been in these people's sights for years, and judging by how desperate they've sounded after being out of the Oval Office for eight years, they'd be out for some serious blood. That stifles a big part of the movement, and cuts off a major conduit of news and information to the American people. Not that we couldn't do with some pruning in that area; a Michael Savage, for all the fun he can be, has done little more, seemingly, than tell us for hours on end how much he loathes George W. Bush in the recent past, and while I'm not pleased with the direction this Administration has gone, I can remember the days when Savage was quite fulsome in his praise of the President. Moderation of that enthusiasm I could understand and sympathize with; the sudden shift to an almost monomaniacal diatribe is a too jarring for me to consider him of much continued use to conservatism. Perhaps I do Mr. Savage an injustice, but this is how it seems to me. And William F. Buckley, God rest His soul, left us at a bad time. Oh well, at least he's in a place where none of this matters. I expect he's making good use of the archival material available to him there.
At any rate, my elegy for conservatism has distracted me. His Obamaness will be in a position to get done what he wants without having to ask too nicely. Suppose, then, that this civilian national security force is something he wants, and the cost be damned. What would this mean? Under whose authority would they be; to whom would they be accountable? Would their officials be appointed by the President, and, owing to their status as civilian, would they need to be vetted at all by any sort of oversight acting in the interests of the people? How would their officers be selected? Shadow academies, run on the model of our military academies, but owing loyalty to whom or what? Would there even be such a command structure? Given that it would be a civilian outfit, how would their operations and jurisdiction differ? What national security policy and practices would they be implementing? Why should a civilian force need to be as heavily equipped as the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the respective reserve branches? What threat within the boundaries of this country does Obama think would require that sort of use of force? Is he anticipating a rebellion? Is he creating one? What the Hell is going on?
What precisely has our military done wrong that it should no longer be considered up to its task? Why would such a buildup and restructuring be considered if there are no such conventional threats on our borders? Wouldn't it make more sense to call for expansion in existing fast-response outfits within police units, given that conventional warfare is not a viable means to preventing terrorist attacks within the United States? What is Barry Hussein getting at?
"So this is how liberty dies- to thundrous applause."
Saturday, October 4, 2008
The change of seasons is an important event, not only in all that it involves with respect to agriculture and the harvest (a phenomenon of which the modern mind is curiously, and almost totally ignorant), but for the soul of man as well. The cycle is important to the way we live and think. But the variation is important, too. The autumn cools summer's heat, and gives a freshness to the languorous monotony of late summer. The colors shift from deep and bright greens to gold and red and orange: from growth, youth, and strength, to regality, season, and dignity. And even this in time changes. That royal splendor of the autumn fades, as all things must. Age grants it a hoary wisdom, a grey quality which we too often associate with sadness and moroseness. This is an error. For there is a stark, timeless beauty to even the naked trees, shorn of their raiment but still robed in dignity and made wiser by silence. And after this has passed, all is robed in white. This is seen as a time of slumber and hibernation, of great dormancy and repose. And this is true; but the additional symbolism of deep white need not be discussed. And the deep winter is possessed of its own pleasures: warm, rich food and hot, merry fires; hot mulled cider and hot chocolate; and the promise of Christmas. And even if we are to consider the season as one merely of cold and stone, this only highlights the importance of that great feast. "In the deep midwinter..." as the song goes, when Earth stood iron-hard and colder than stone, the promise of our God began to be fulfilled. While His creatures and creation slept, our Redeemer began his work. And in this we have the image of the cave at Bethlehem: that one simple place, in the mightiest Empire the world has ever seen, a place of light and happiness in the night, the place of the first pilgrimage to which both shepherds and kings were called to do Him homage. In winter is the promise of light.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Upon taking my leave from my Traditional China course this afternoon, I happened to walk by the College Green, and saw two people holding aloft large placards, bearing a message regarding the need of homosexuals to be saved by Jesus Christ. Some sort of website was included which would, evidently further this goal. Now I was unaware that Jesus Christ had a website, but I suppose I shouldn't underestimate the considerable talents of St. Isidore of Seville, the (proposed) Patron Saint of the Internet, and also the implied patron of all things awesome, interesting, really cool (read: nerdy). That's him on the left.
I didn't stay to see what the fellow's platform would entail (I was eager to pick up my package at the post office, containing Dom Alcuin Reid's The Organic Development of the Liturgy and Neuner and Dupuis' The Christian Faith in the Documents of the Catholic Church). Needless to say, I agree with his position, so far as it goes. We are, after all, sinners in need of God's grace, and should He mark our guilt, none could stand. The Church has very good, very wise teachings on this point. Singling out one group for chastisement isn't something we should be condoning, though. It also is the sort of thing that necessitates a rapid departure, followed by an unruly crowd of people possibly intending to do you grievous bodily harm. Moreover, the point is that, if this is to be seen as an evangelistic attempt, it was a poor one.
The distressing thing, though, is the talk that surrounded the episode afterward. Evidently, the fellow came off much the worse for wear after a failed debate with a science major and a philosophy major. It is something he should've prepared for, even if it wasn't particularly sporting of those gentlemen to engage him so. It also harms any sort of reasonable case that a Christian can make in the public sphere. It becomes that much harder for a Christian to speak about what is written in Holy Scripture, and what the Church or churches teach, and be listened to.
And then every grievance is pulled out from its closet with respect to Christianity (of which one man is now apparently an acceptably large sample): the usual gauntlet of "They actually believe this stuff [the Bible]?" and "They're just afraid of Hell." and "It's a lot smarter to believe we evolved from monkeys than that some Jewish guy rose from the dead two thousand years ago." and things of that nature. Tolerance, of course, is a very empty word these days. And I think such statements are the unguarded speech of a group of people who clearly feel secure in numbers, and have gotten careless about keeping up the façade.
As of this afternoon, an e-mail was sent out regarding the incident, strongly condemning it and reiterating the campus' philosophy of tolerance, &c. Not entirely unpredictable; but is it necessary? I think it was reasonably clear that this wasn't a campus-sanctioned event, and that the admins and faculty had no particular interest in the fellow. Why try to diffuse something like this? And while I think such an e-mail is largely unnecessary, if it is felt that it should be sent out, why isn't there a reminder that not everyone thinks like this man, and that there can be legitimate disagreement over such an issue? Or is the campus indeed endorsing the notion that to call homosexual acts a sin is 'hateful'? That sort of token tolerance is something that needs to be curtailed, as it is generally only monodirectionally tolerant.
Monday, September 29, 2008
This is an important feast to me, as I took Michael for my confirmation name. The angels and archangels are our protectors and defenders, as well as the messengers of God to us. Indeed, it was the Archangel Gabriel who announced to Mary the greatest news ever told to man, who cried unto Zion "that her warfare was accomplished". I'll focus here on the Archangels Gabriel and Michael, as they are the best known and most widely revered archangels.
Angelology is an interesting, if somewhat obscure branch of Christian (and Jewish) tradition and thought, with some particularly important figures contributing to it. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite is said to have been the author of De Coelesti Hierarcheia, which divided the angels into 3 choirs, of spheres, the First corresponding to the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, the Second to the Authorities, Lordships, and Powers, and the Third to Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. St. Thomas Aquinas preserves this system, but replaces Authorities with Dominions, and Lordships with Virtues. St. Gregory the Great and St. Isidore of Seville in his Etymologiae also maintain such an organization, with a few of the members being switched.
St. Gabriel, as has been mentioned, was the Herald of God. He announced the birth of Christ to Mary, and is also held in traditional piety to be the unnamed angel in Revelation who sounds the final trumpet, ushering in the Last Judgment. The Annunciation is a favorite subject in iconography, and particularly Marian iconography.
St. Michael is almost always depicted in martial regalia, and is the Protector of Israel, and so the Defender of the Church. Because of this, he was revered greatly by military orders during the Middle Ages, and is always associated with knights, chivalry, feats of arms, and deeds of honor. He is held by tradition, drawing mainly from Talmudic sources, to have been the angel who cast Satan out of Heaven, in some tellings even wounding him in single combat. While I'm usually not one for modern art or architecture, the representation of this story on the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral isn't half bad:
This is the story Milton relates in Paradise Lost, as Michael hurls Satan into the abyss, with a sword frequently depicted as being made of fire. A good example of this is found in Kiev:
Pretty cool, huh? The Russians are particularly fond of Michael as regards iconography. There was a fascinating piece I saw in an exhibit about the Hermitage Museum, I think it was, in which St. Michael was genuflecting before Christ crucified, with one hand raised up towards Him. Really spectacular. The Muscovite princes after Daniel were particularly devoted to St. Michael, and so there was a royal aspect to his patronage as well.
Evidently, one of the debates surrounding St. Michael is where he falls in the celestial hierarchy. This is sort of an unimportant point, and tends towards speculation, but I'm always happy to go off on an antiquarian and obscure-knowledge bent, and perhaps a little eager that the Defender of the Church (and my patron, :D) be pretty high up in the pecking order. We, the Church, perhaps, and I, assuredly, need all the help we can get. St. Thomas in the Summa Theologica places him as the prince of the choir of angels, the ones closest to man. This works out well, as St. Michael's actions with respect to man are pretty direct, second only perhaps to St. Gabriel's. St. Bonaventure places him as the Prince of the Seraphim, the highest choir of angels, who attend and guard God's sacred throne. This also has a case, as Satan is said to have been the brightest in the sky before his fall (hence, Lucifer), and this would seem to indicate that he was a seraph. His supreme enemy, St. Michael, would likely have come from the same choir. The Greek Fathers were fond of placing him over all the angels, taking the title of "the Archangel" to be just that: The Archangel, the one placed over all. That works, too. It's something we won't ever know on this side of the veil, and it wouldn't make much of a difference if we did, but it's an interesting thing to think about. And his name is, in a sense, the battle cry of Heaven- Quis ut Deus? Who is like God? Both adoration and challenge.
But why, then, this fuss about angels? It all seems kinda sci-fi, doesn't it? I mean, it's almost like a Star Wars-ish sort of story that's being told here. Well, that's quite true, and to many degrees a story like Star Wars can succeed because it feeds into common cultural motifs, elements, what-have-you that such legends and stories regarding the angels and their deeds have both maintained and expanded. I think that as we've developed, our capacity for stories is gradually circumscribed. Maybe we've started to feel a little embarrassed by that sort of thing. If I were to recount such a tale as the above to a cynical friend, I'm sure they'd guffaw and snort "You actually believe that??!" And I might sniffle a little bit and cry myself to sleep. But as far as the story goes, I doubt the cynic could come up with so good a tale. That should be observed first: if, indeed, the whole Bible was a series of tall tales, it must be said that they're awfully good ones. Second, it should be pointed out that we do, in fact, believe some of it, like Gabriel's role in the Annunciation or Michael's protectorship of Israel and the Church. Much of the rest has been piously believed, but not formally sanctioned. Much of what has arisen is in large part, explicative: it represents an attempt to understand something via a creative process.
And what's so wrong with that? This is an example of one of the ways in which we differ from other creatures: in our capacity for art. It's also an acknowledgment of the ways in which people approach salvation history. Sound theology and accurate disputation are critical to the faith; but what we seem to have gotten away from is seeing theology and theological questions as being based in Holy Scripture. At the time of Ss. Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, the study of Holy Writ and theology meant one and the same thing. The 'story' of mankind's creation, temptation, fall, and redemption was already a painted canvas, whose details they were keen to resolve. And as I always do, I feel it wise to bring up something Chesterton observed: such stories are rarely understood well by one who claims to be on the outside of them, or somehow "beyond" them. We have to have some anchor in all that we discuss, or we're just spinning our wheels using a rational methodology ad infinitum. There must be grist for the natural wheel. And at the same time, there must be art, which lifts the human soul, the will and the intellect, up to a different level.
Contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto præsidium.
Imperat illi Deus; supplices deprecamur:
Tuque, Princeps Militiæ Cœlestis,
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
Qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
Divina virtute in infernum detrude.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Papyri and scrolls are wonderful and elegant, but they're not meant to be read in the way we read. To have a papyrus of our modern book length would make the scroll far too unwieldy and large to be used effectively. And this is likely why they fell out of use to begin with. The codex is a much easier thing to operate. The preservation of the book is also much simpler in codex form, with the rolling of the papyrus being frequently quite deleterious to the text and the writing surface. For official proclamations, a scroll retains its character, but on the whole, I am not unhappy that it is confined to a few ceremonial functions.
Paperbacks are an improvement on this. They follow the codex form, and so can be read with any amount of necessary or desired pauses over a long period of time while still enabling one to find one's place relatively easily. They rest easily next to each on shelves, and can be stored better. One way in which I prefer them to hardcovers is that they are significantly more expendable. I feel no qualms about taking a paperback novel to the beach and risking its ruin, as the cost is generally less onerous. Furthermore, they can take a lot more punishment without losing their character. A paperback is still pretty much the same thing when folded in half and creased mightily; but a hardcover does not have this luxury.
But the hardcover stands alone today as the 'true book'. In form, it is ancient and venerable, taking its fabrication from the earliest days of the Middle Ages. Indeed, the techniques used in its assembly have changed little, even if the materials and technology has. Their board covers grants them both a respectability and seriousness which more flashy paper covers lack; it also establishes a greater permanence and better chance of longer preservation. This also individuates books much more. The texture and feel of one paperback is much the same as every other; usually a glossy cover, regular, predictable, unchanging. You know instantly that there are millions of other editions exactly like it in every detail, and you are saddened. This is not the end product of a human endeavor, but the output of a mechanical process. Not so with a hard cover. You know instantly that some man made this, as much as a smith works iron or a carpenter makes furniture. Each volume is seemingly unique, its texture subtly different than any others. The woven board covers take on different hues and characters as they age, so that no two editions would look quite the same after a number of years. And if leather, ah! From the very beginning they are unique. The cover could be smooth, or rough, or porous, or hard, and the colors could vary even within the cover itself.
I have also noted a marked difference in the paper used in hardcover books. Perhaps this is not quite so pronounced as the difference in covers. It is also a greater factor when dealing with books printed at different times. But it can still run the gamut from an almost glossy, thin sheet to a heavy, spongy, almost leathery one. And this also gives them a unique odor, so welcoming and timeless. A library or bookseller really is a sensory experience (excepting perhaps taste).
This being said, I shall now return to my hardcover for the rest of the afternoon.
Friday, September 26, 2008
One of the amusing things I observed, however, was in walking about campus having my pipe this evening. A dangerous idea; a Friday night, after a Presidential debate in Geneseo. Not only is the place swarming with liberals, but whatever inhibitions they might have had regarding airing their political views have been removed. The canard that Palin is anti-woman was trotted out in front of me; upon asking whether or not it could be truly said that a woman is anti-woman, and whether or not the category 'woman' was wide enough to permit a conservative point of view, I was told I was really arrogant and needed to wake up and, oh Christ, I dunno, go to a Womyn's Action Coalition meeting or some such tripe. Kill me. Please.
The observation that I made in all of this, though, is this: It really seems that the liberally minded don't know when to stop. On this campus, it's not as if they're a minority. They're not being repressed in any way around here. Insofar as much of what they say is the Obama party line, none of it is particularly thought-provoking or original. And yet they can't help themselves. I can count on one hand the number of times I have self-identified as a conservative here on campus. I don't bring up politics myself; music, literature, philosophy, religion, soccer, pre-contemporary art, architecture, history, these things are the topics I discuss when I get to call the shots. But it seems that from my opposite numbers on the Left, there is a never-ending stream of political commentary constantly ebulliating from a seemingly bottomless abyss of 'social/class consciousness'. It would never occur to me to begin a conversation at random with "Oh my God, can you believe what Obama did?" in a situation in which this would not be a logical matter of business or concern.
Oi. Rant off. I've had enough of this. I need a retreat.
Post scriptum: I do notice the irony that my recent posts have been preoccupied with politics.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
In all seriousness, though, this whole "economic crisis" thing is trying; for one, trying to get information about the entire mess is almost completely futile. You're provided with several different personal analyses of what went wrong and who went and done wronged it, habitually followed by a political platitude ("If only those Republicans/Democrats hadn't gone and X, &c. ad infinitum).
I say, "If only the whole bloody lot of you stopped messing with things which are far more complex than you had the brains or patience for! Don't go fiddling with the economy based on abstractions, however lovely they might look on paper! Govern best by governing least." This is not to argue that principle should not be taken into account when assessing issues of legality and proper economic activity, but rather to cry out against the work of theorists, con-men, and witch doctors who promise economic miracles, "if only you accept this completely absurd and outrageously reductionist idea."
There. Enough on that.
Evidently, the Archbishop of Canterbury has gone and gotten himself into hot water again. Poor fellow, and this time I actually agreed with him! It seems to be just his luck that the one time he does something right, 2/3 of his bishops round and beat him about the head and shoulders. Evidently, going to Lourdes and preaching there did not quite sit well with the Protestant elements in the flailing Church of England.
What I really didn't get was the one statement by a Jeremy Brooks, who claimed that the whole sermon was a denial of Protestant orthodoxy. 1) I didn't know the CoE even had such a thing. 2) He mentioned in this context the untenability of referring to Mary as 'the Mother of God'. Now, I'm not as up on Protestant theology as I ought to be, but when the heck did they outright deny the Theotokos? I mean, what else can we call her? Have they gone Nestorian or something, and I missed the memo? I mean, yes, it is a Cath-o-lick sort of thing to say, but what does Protestant orthodoxy consist of, that it evidently accepts wholesale the tenets of a thousand year old heresy? Very confusing.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
It was a well-spent afternoon; I walked around the Arboretum for a bit, and then out into the country some more, said a Rosary, walked some more, and came back to get ready for Mass in the evening.