August 30, 2002

I look on the South Carolina beach...The exhilarating, ribald sun and sonic waves still jolt. The sense-memories linger; the canvas bigger than life, a Disneyfication...

Vacationers stand fixed, in mid-stride, now miles away sitting in mundane offices, assuming identities. Grey-flanned men swimming upstream like death-bound salmon.

But there for a minute, sat I. A beach philosopher, watching the waves. An older gentleman asks:
"Solving the problems of the world?"
"No, my own are enough!"

Taxidermed there on a cube wall, it hangs forlornly, ripped from context and ghostly pale. An 8' by 10' of the scene from our balcony, sky empty and hierarchical, ocean blue and bracing. All pale imitation.
Every day and every hour, every minute, walk round yourself and watch yourself, and see that your image is a seemly one. You pass by a little child, you pass by, spiteful, with ugly words, with wrathful heart; you may not have noticed the child, but he has seen you, and your image, unseemly and ignoble, may remain in his defenseless heart. You don’t know it, but you may have sown an evil seed in him and it may grow and all because you were not careful before the child, because you did not foster in yourself a careful, actively benevolent love.
- Dostoyevsky "The Brothers Karamazov" via Simon Russel's blog
Touchstone Article
The Thomas Merton article provided by error 503 touched a nerve.

Taking drugs is one of the most self-centered actions possible. A person can find detachment from the use of drugs only during the high, and during this time his ability to reason—the ability that separates him from the animal, that makes him in God’s image—is faded.

I thought what was bad about drugs is that they do harm to the human body, both in their addictive properties (enslaving us) and their physical damage. Is the high itself bad? I guess it depends on the extent the drug obscures reason. If it totally and completely occludes it, I could see that (because you can no longer be responsible for your actions). But if it is a partial eclipse, then...? As an aside, I'm not defending drug use. I simply think that if the thing about drugs that is wrong is that it impedes reason, well, other things than drugs do that.

For don't we partially eclipse reason all the time? Joggers/runners do it on long runs. (The old joke with much truth goes: after a fight with your wife, go out for a good run. After 2 miles, you'll forget why it was so imporant to you, after 5 miles you'll forget what you were arguing about, after 10 miles you'll forget you have a wife). Every night, for 7-8 hours, we shed rational-thinking for sleeping & dreams.

Eve's vast post acknowledges this in the context of rock music and the validity of the "ecstatic experience". Sexual activity is sans reason. The use of alcohol is nearly universal. What separates us from animals is reason, but nearly all of us intentionally flee from it (at least partially) at regular intervals.

Dappled Things quotes Thomas Merton (speak of the devil) saying this:
The salvation of man does not mean that he must divest himself of all that is human: that he must discard his reason, his love of beauty, his desire for friendship... A Christianity that despises these fundamental needs of man is not truly worthy of the name.

But is it not inhumane to divest oneself of all that produces detachment in other ways than via love: i.e. through travel, rock music, physical exercise, etc.? We are animals too. On Star Trek the most inhuman person is Spock, whose reason was always unclouded.

Aquinas, who believed bodily pleasures much inferior to intellectual ones, said:
"Bodily pleasures hinder the use of the mind by distracting it, occasionally conflicting with it, and sometimes (as in the pleasure of drinking intoxicants) by fettering it."

August 29, 2002

on Contraception and other Controversies
The Church tries to draw lines that allow her fisherman's net not to be too loose (i.e. to forsake its mission to save souls and protect the deposit of faith) and not too tight (thus that souls lose heart), and those lines are always controversial. The fishies in the net say, "draw the lines tighter! draw the lines tighter!" the fish outside the net say, "make the holes bigger! loosen the net!" Thus alas it has always been, we flit between being either prodigal sons or the resentful elder brothers. I think our present pope, as well as Pope John 23rd, were simply wonderful at being neither prodigal nor resentful - they guarded the faith while not unduly offending the fish outside the net.
Visits to this blog have slowly doubled over the past three months, from "nuclear family-size" numbers to "slightly extended family size". My still near-total obscurity allows honesty, since if I say something stupid I will lose like three readers, whereas a Mark Shea or an Amy Welborn might lose a hundred. For the Gen-X'rs out there who think that "authenticity = obscurity", then welcome to one of the most authentic places on the web.

Many visitors come this way by putting "Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor" in the search engine. Go figure.
Which way to the bathroom?
SR of Flos Carmeli fame says, Go to almost any protestant Church and you will be made warmly welcome--in most cases embarrassingly so."

Very true. At the evangelical church my wife goes to, they nearly jump on & hog tie any stranger they see. You feel self-conscious, like "red meat". A big fellow stands at the door like a bouncer, glad-handing as we arrive.

Now here's an amazing thing. My wife received a memo with detailed statistics saying that only 10% of new visitors actually join the church (something like that) and so the note says hospitality and initial greetings must be increased. It's not in the realm of possibility that the preaching wasn't what they were looking for, or the music, or the doctrine. The problem was the people - the congregation isn't friendly enough. It seems cult-like in its artificial friendliness.

The document for greeters was 3 pages long and left nothing to chance. It was on the order of this: "Shake their hand warmly and enthusiastically for at least 10 seconds. Introduce them to at least four other people. Invite them afterwards to lunch. Tell them you would be glad to do their grocery shopping & laundry for them if they come back." I exaggerate only on the last one. It was sort of eerie.

If your only goal is church membership, if that is how you define success, then I can understand their strategy:
a) get them in the door - have free car washes, etc...
b) when they get in, introduce them to as many people as possible, so that they will become fast friends with one of the members.
c) make sure they have as an emotionally satisfying experience as possible

I love the Mass. I love the "take it or leave it"-ness about it. I love the fact that it's all about God: hearing the word and then consuming the Word. And I love that it sort of goes on it's timeless way, with nothing to offer but Christ - little in the way of music or good preaching. (Obviously I wish the music and preaching were better, but I love that the Church doesn't define herself by those). There is a Don Quixote aspect to the Church. Her refusal to thoughtlessly modernize, or get rid of priestly celibacy, or let marketing representatives determine the liturgy, or to involve itself in cheap advertising ruses - all that makes me love the Church even more. It REALLY lives by faith.
Eve Tushnet has an intriguing vast post:
You can't ignore, suppress, or dissolve the passions. You can only guide them. Even catharsis doesn't really do the trick--first, because catharsis can sometimes be simple exhaustion, but second and more importantly, because catharsis must somehow appeal to the passions while drawing them toward reason. Thus the end-result of reason must be continually supported, either by an ebb-and-flow cycle of catharsis, or by a more constant attraction toward reason and self-government. In other words, we have to keep wanting self-government; if we reason our way there without any emotional forward thrust, the reasons alone simply won't motivate us enough.

This is one of the many ways rock music can operate: It can oppose one passion with another. The example that springs to mind is using pity to oppose lust.

How so?

Reason (ratiocination) isn't the only means of attaining wisdom. Ecstatic experience is one terrific way of gaining insight, even if one needs to return from the ecstasy in order to articulate the insight. Rock, like other art, is able to "take you places."

Interesting. (So those who took LSD were right after all - their vehemently telling us they learned something).

I don't view the emotions as opposed to reason such that stimulating one necessarily reduces the other. So perhaps much of my disagreement with Bloom should be traced to that disagreement.

And that is the key statement. I get a different feeling from Aquinas, who, although sees pleasure as a 'good', he doesn't like pleasures that fetter the rational mind, such as an excessive use of alcohol (or I guess an excessive use of rock music?)... “bodily pleasures are often more intense than intellectual pleasures, but they are not so great or so lasting.". - Aquinas

As I said before, there's also a lot of rock that's just fun. Some of that fun comes with an admixture of raunchy or critical or regretful or resentful elements; I don't ultimately think that matters too much. Rocking out is about pure physical joy. It's like running or eating chocolate...bawdiness without grossness is always fun. No pleasure is really "pure" in the sense of "unmixed."
I know you're all tired of this...but
If the Pope truly acted like a CEO, he would do exactly what you said. He would go to the victims, get some photo-ops, apologize, etc. Click off the checklist provided by the media to say, "I care" (ala Bill Clinton). The Pope does care, but he has a wider perspective than the spoiled American view. We are used to fast food, fast service, and get on this now! Personally, I'm glad that the war brewing in the Middle East and the plight of persecuted Christians in so many parts of the world get the lion's share of his attention. - quote Roger Cuomo on Amy's board
What is prayer? It is commonly held to be a conversation. In a conversation there are always an "I" and a "thou" or "you." In this case the "Thou" is with a capital T. If at first the "I" seems to be the most important element in prayer, prayer teaches that the situation is actually different...

Conversion requires convincing of sin... in this "convincing concerning sin" we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. The Spirit of truth is the Consoler. - Pope John Paul II

August 28, 2002

I've a bit of Don Quixote in me. I love a good windmill.

We seek to have a mission in life. It is bred into our DNA. He must be a hero or die, preferably at the same time. “To protect and serve” is the policeman’s motto but should be everyone's. Listening to Seamus Heany’s CD of “Beowulf” reminds me of it. We were born to slay Grendels. To grossly switch metaphors, we were born to stand at the blackjack table and at some point put the chips down and say, “this is it. This is where I make my stand”.

Marriage, these days and perhaps always, is an essentially heroic act. It takes a reliance on God’s grace that comes close to being imprudent. (Except with you honey!). Flannery O’Connor said something about how brave an act marriage is in her book “Habit of Being”. (got to find that quote).
I was dramatically underweight as a child and young adult. Rail-thin, I was good only for cross country when it came to sports. After college I bulked up, and for about ten minutes I was in fantastically good shape. Now I carry an extra 20lbs or more and have for years.

How easy, in the spiritual life, to be an unrepentant bastard for a good part of life, and then for 10 minutes be “good”, before becoming a self-righteous prig. From prodigal son to elder brother. Ahh, the challenge of the spiritual life.
Email Received
The following email represents millions of Catholics. What can one say? I have a very close relative with similar views, as I suppose many of you do. How can we reach out to our disaffected Catholic brothers and sisters?

[I'm upset at]..the rejoicing going on on Amy's page over the priest who refused to marry the Planned Parenthood worker. Michael, Amy's husband, has suggested that pro-choice Catholics be excommunicated. As someone who is pro-choice, this tells me I'm not welcome in the church. At all. And as someone who once wrote a check to Planned Parenthood, I guess I'm going straight to hell
I understand that Catholic hierarchy has decided a human soul is born at conception, but I'm not so sure. At any rate, I see it as a matter of faith, not fact (my Jewish friends are firmly in the choice camp, and their rabbis back them), and I really don't see what's wrong with a person making a distinction in their private lives between their own faith and that of others. I certainly don't buy every one of the church's teachings, and I'd bet most Catholics don't, either. Antonin Scalia doesn't; I wonder if his priest is leaning on him to get with the program. Bet he isn't.

Besides, Planned Parenthood helped me get birth control when I was a 17-year-old moving toward sex with my boyfriend. They sat me down and talked to me about what I wanted and how to make the best decision, then gave me a medical exam, blood tests and a prescription for birth-control pills. It's hard for me to see this as anything other than an act of kindness.

P.S. Partly because of what I learned at Planned Parenthood (and in my public school, which also taught birth control), I've never been pregnant accidentally and have never had an abortion. Amazing how that works.
Stop me before I blog again
Cranky Prof sez:
"I have been interested to read the pro and contra bloggages and comments about Josemaria Escriva - and that no one brought up any opposition to Padre Pio when I attended that canonization this summer. Believe me, there was opposition to Padre Pio inside his order up to the canonization (and it probably continues). There was plenty of secular hand-wringing about the inappropriateness of canonizing wonder-workers in the modern world and speculations that this pope only likes to canonize people who are anti-intellectual and do good works (I think I blogged something about Edith Stein/Theresa Benedicta of the Cross being a nice counter-example to that one)."

Okay, let's start off with this: who do the truly saintly admire most? Answer: perhaps their opposite. St. Therese of Lieseux wished she were like those other saints, those martyrs, those who had "big" gifts to bring Jesus (until she realized she could symbolically feed all the parts of body of Christ by being the 'heart' of the Body).

So isn't it natural for John Paul II, who is saintly and intellectual but not gifted with "wonder-working" or famous for corporal works of mercy (at least in the sense as a Mother Teresa) to lean towards canonizing saints with these attributes? Is not Mother Teresa the perfect complement to the Pope? One serving secular needs, one serving spiritual needs, one an intellectual and poet, the other not, etc...
Isn't it Ironic? think that a blog called Disputations would remind us of the dangers of a belligerent mindset? Oh but contraire, I can hear you thinking, to dispute is not to be belligerent. Chesterton was very good at that, Belloc not. Is it only special personality types (or those who grow up in large, boisterous families) who can agree to disagree without being disagreeable?
Random Thoughts & Commentary
Interesting discussion with my science-loving uncle, who loathes (too strong a term, but you get the drift) fundamentalist Christians. Here's a paraphrase of some of it:

Me: "I think they are wrong, but at least they are erroring on the right side of things. I would rather error on the side of attributing to God creating the earth in seven days and rapturing people up, ending the world tomorrow, than taking the other side, which is the danger of thinking God can't act, that He couldn't end the world tomorrow...In other words, the greater danger is the intellectual's contentment that supernatural forces don't exist."

uncle: "If Jesus came back today how many people would believe him? Probably not many of us. Just the poor, like back then."

Me: "Actually there were well-off people who believed in Jesus, like Nicodemus and many of the early martyrs.... Jesus, after all, backed up what he was saying with miracles.."

uncle: "He would have to do so in a different way today." (implying that miracles no longer 'cut it')

This last part reminds me of what Friend B (from below) thinks of miracles. Pure hogwash. He says that miracles are simply events that science can't yet explain. He said miracles in old times are mostly explainable today in naturalistic terms.

But if you don't believe in the NT miracles, what does your faith stand on?
What I'm thinking of Reading
* Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science By: Heisenberg
* Why Catholics Can't Sing: Day, Thomas
* Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. By: Severgnini, Beppe
* Paul VI: The First Modern Pope By: Hebblethwaite
* Conclave (I forget the author's name).

I would appreciate any feedback relative to these titles.

I'm also considering buying the following for my 7-yr old niece:
* The Loyola Kids Book of Saints By: Welborn, Amy
* ABC's of the Rosary By: O'Connor, Francine M.

....along with a glow-in-the-dark rosary, like the one my great aunt bought me twenty-some odd years ago as well as the out-of-print A Child's Book of Poems by Fujikawa, a book that gave this 9-yr old a love for words that has never stopped.
Bloggin' like it's 1999
Today appears to be a blogalicious day. You bloggers out there, and you know who you are, have provided a wealth of opportunity to reflect. I'm reeling from it. There's Dylan's link from Touchstone on Merton (a must read for moi), there's Flos Carmeli's hi-laire 'deliver me from' blogsessing ("blog" + "obsessing over it"), there is a riveting piece on how revelation proceeds from Mark Shea. There is the Cranky Professor's "I like talking to invisible friends" admission, there is the Ol' Oligarch's book recommendation on "Physics and Philosophy", there is Disputation's post on beauty...there is more...there is a surfeit. Please, no mo' blogging!

Okay, I'm over being vaklempt.

1. On the matter of Mark Shea and revelation. One of the comments said, (and I'm not surprised by this), that Mark risks flying without Reason, i.e. we fly on the two wings of revelation and reason, and Mark is dangerously close to committing the treason in discounting reason. But I think Mark is simply giving God His due, and understanding what Jesus said to St. Peter: "your thoughts are not God's are thinking as man thinks". And in Job, where God says "were you with Me at the creation of the world?".

2. Okay, the other thing was the post on "beauty" on Disputations. Beauty, in the physical and auditory sense (and in others too, of course) are recognized the world over, to the point of it being scientifically proven. For instance, it is a universal phenom of facial beauty that there be 'symmetry' with respect to our features. The more symmetrical, the more attractive. Researchers have also found that isolated tribes completely unsocialized by Western culture still pick women with the best hip-to-waist ratio as the most attractive. With respect to music, the movement away from and then back towards "home" or a specific note is pleasing to the ear, as is the tone system that we are all familiar with. Atonal music is a creation in modern times and is a flagrant disregard for what the human ear "naturally" finds good. So it seems beauty has a built-in component to it, hard-wired if you will.

August 27, 2002

Viktor Shklovsky wrote that "habit devours objects, clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war... art exists to help us recover the sensation of life." Defamiliarization is crucial; that's what he thought literature was all about.

So how does one 'defamiliarize' oneself with the gospel message, the Mass and sacraments in order to see them with fresh eyes? How does one prevent pure habit from devouring us? Only through prayer. Prayer serves to recover not only the sensation of life but its actuality.
A nearly impossible thing has just happened. I just read something on "the crisis" that actually breaks new ground (for me at least). From Tim Drake's blog:

"..the attitude of Pope John Paul II towards religious congregations, female as well as male, is somewhat Darwinian. He is content to let the healthy groups prosper - Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity are a prime example - while letting the unhealthy ones die out of their own accord, like sick caribou amid the permafrost."
- Paul Shaughnessy, S.J.

Tim Drake asks:..perhaps, like the religious congregations, the Holy Father has taken a similar approach with the bad bishops - allowing them to die on the vine or, in some cases, even allowing them to do themselves in, rather than to feed into the media frenzy even further by issuing an all-out call for the wholesale resignation of a handful of bishops?

This is a fascinating line of reasoning. If Paul Shaughnessy is right, and the Holy Father prefers that healthy religious groups prosper rather than nursing semi-heretical religious corpses, then why wouldn't he let the same thing happen to countries? Why shouldn't the pope focus on third-world nations like Mexico rather than cater to America, who, in the eyes of some members of the Italian curia, is simply reaping what we have sown? A sick society will produce sick leaders, so isn't it rational to assume that a wholescale lopping off of the bishops who caused the problem would only be replaced by bishops no better?

If we look through the world's eyes we would think America so important, given our financial and political clout. God needs us. (Reminds me of Belloc's wrong thought - that Europe is the faith.) If we look through the eyes of faith, we see just the opposite - the poor and defenseless are the most important. Our Holy Father perhaps is giving us the medicine we deserve. The local church needs to be accountable for its actions.
Emailed Nancy Nall this on her comments on her blog:
Very interesting piece on the newspaper bidness...You obviously know more about it than I'll ever know, but given how increasingly polarized the country is (red vs blue states) doesn't it mean that in order for a paper to have any "color" or interest, it needs to reflect either "red" thinking or "blue" thinking, thus alienating half the reading populace?

Perhaps the model here is the Washington Post and Washington Times, which both have their respective readerships and both have "color". Unfortunately most cities can't support two papers, so we are left with one drab, colorless one, which, in some ways, is worse than having a paper of the wrong ideological ilk.

Now you might say, rightly, people need to be open to other points of view. But is it right for a left-leaning person to support a newspaper (by subscribing to it) that continually espouses and promulgates issues like conceal and carry laws, corporate welfare, the death penalty and pro-war stances? Similarly for a right-leaning person & abortion.

Successful papers seem to come out of, and reflect, the community, but communities now are so multi-cultural with so many competing values that an urban newspaper is left holding the bag. Maybe this is part of the popularity of blogs, which reflect a "community" so well (i.e. Amy on Catholicism). You can say it is the 'echo chamber' effect, people love to hear their own opinions spewed back at them, but I think it's more subtle than that. I may not always agree with Amy, but I know where she's coming from and that makes all the difference.

August 26, 2002

Offending Everybody
My take on the Dreher piece and Cardinal Law situation is this:

First off, I am not a parent, and so I think I lack some of the absolutely burning-white rage that parents would more naturally feel since they can imagine their son or daughter being abused. No one but another parent can fully understand the love a parent feels for their child - it is a "non-transferable emotion", and is life-altering.

But the dirty little secret is that American society has become more feminized, and women value safety uber alles, sometimes at the expense of freedom. The fact that we are moving in this direction is shown, in a small way, by the fact that when I was a child none of us wore bike helmets. We also went on long car trips many states away while comfortably ensconced in the back car window for heaven's sake. Drinking and driving was relatively common and the penalties nearly non-existent. Car seats and bike helmets and M.A.D.D. are wonderful things, but it is true that parents nowadays have an increasingly smaller tolerance for risk and the bishops were blind-sided by this.

We can say, rightfully, how in the world did society allow serial drunken drivers to cause so many accidents without serious punishment? We say the same thing about the bishops now. They didn't get it - now they do.

So you had a collision of two completely different worlds - the prelates and other non-parental types who are more comfortable with risk, and parents who are tightening what "an acceptable risk" means. Bishops do not have children and have spend much of their adult lives in mostly all-male environments and thus have not caught on to the "safety uber alles" model. That is not excusing them at all; they acted atrociously. But maybe it was part of their thinking. They are not as "plugged in" to the culture. They don't watch Oprah much.

The overriding important matter is that the "priest-shuffle" stop, and I personally can't imagine that the bishops will ever try that again. So I consider where Cardinal Law is serving is irrelevant to whether or not "priest-shuffling" continues (since it won't continue either way). There may be a vengeance, a blood-thirst out there for Cardinal Law's throat, and I think that is God's job, not ours.
“Beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.” - poet Cyprian Norwid via John Paul II's "Letter to Artists"

St. Bernard explained it by saying that God loves us not because we are good and beautiful, but because his love makes us good and beautiful. A fundamental idea arises from the two meanings that fills the human heart with hope, that is, God is ready to receive you, to begin again with you, regardless of your history, your past, your experience of estrangement and infidelity.... A God who is prepared to start all over again with us. - Msgr. Bruno Forte via "Dappled Things"
It's like this you see...
I like Mark Shea's clarity of language and his willingness to address tough issues. Here he is at his best in his blog:
"Is it about oxen that God is concerned?" St. Paul asks this question and assumes that we know the answer: No.

Biblical revelation concerns itself solely with our salvation. It does not pretend to be a science book of Everything. For Paul, "death" refers to human death, not the death of oysters. He gives no hint that the sin of Adam results in the death of anybody but human beings. It is reading into, not out of, the text to assume that he has in mind the suffering of animals at the hands of carnivores.

Scripture simply does not commit us to the idea that no living thing died before the fall. It has in view only human death. My suggestion: Read C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain for an attempt to wrestle with that problem.

I would be interested in what he thinks Romans 8:19-23 is about though.

Quick Quote
An infallible definition is never new revelation. It is merely a clarified description of old revelation. Thus, infallibility is a negative charism, not a positive act of inspired prophecy.
I was amused by this article about filmmaker John Waters, who has 'marshalled his life into rigid routine' including drink:

He makes it a point to drink every Friday night, 'like a coal miner with a paycheck in his pocket', and arranges his home life to accommodate his compulsiveness.- John Leland NY Times News Service

Reminds me of what you get when you marry a German and an Irishman....a punctual drinker.

August 25, 2002

Riveting NY Times article titled In God They Trust, Sort Of.

Our very own crosses, Garry Wills & James Carrol appear and are considered "apologists" for the faith, which, I suppose is like calling Genghis Kahn an apologist for peace and tranquility.

The quote below does have the whiff of recognition about it and I'll have to think on it. More grist for my suspicion that writers are natural wretches, although Flannery O'Connor is the exception that proves the rule:'s hard to give an account of your religious beliefs without sounding mawkish. William James understood this. Though he claimed to admire the pious, in ''The Varieties of Religious Experience'' he distanced himself from them with an occasional twinkle of irony. The irony can be detected in the list of moods he says are indicative of true spirituality: solemnity, serenity, cheerful gladness, tenderness. Religious discourse ''favors gravity, not pertness,'' he wrote. ''It says 'hush' to all vain chatter and smart wit.''

In other words, religious sentiment can be deadly to the literary impulse, which must be as willing to traffic in vain chatter and smart wit as in solemnity and uplift.

Jesus certainly had a smart wit, though he was a religious leader (not to mention God), and not a follower or a writer.
"First, severity. That is to say, the severity of the ideal. Then, mercy."- Kierkegaard
This piece from Dave Armstrong looks interesting asking why Pope John Paul II doesn't more forcefully discipline dissenters. I haven't read it yet, but want to. Mainly I just didn't want that last post so prominently 'front & center'. The next few posts can be looked upon with a similar jaundiced eye...ha.
the Brain's Machinations
Even my subconscious (i.e. in the dream state) understands now that it must look away from sexually explicit material. So this has resulted in some rather elaborate ruses to get by the censor. You would think that it would be as simple as dreaming of someone holding a gun to your head saying, "You must look at this pictures!", but I guess that is too crude or unbelieveable. The latest one really took the cake.

The one magazine I trust implicity and read cover-to-cover is Crisis. So you can imagine my shock and dismay when the latest issue arrived chock-full of nubile females in the altogether. The mental-wrestling in this dream was fierce, but eventually I had to go through the whole magazine and 'look' at those pictures on the theory that something would eventually explain this mystery. When I woke up, I realized I'd been had of course. I think even my subsconscious now knows that Crisis isn't Playboy. But it is fascinating the lengths the brain (or devil?) will go to in order to get one to give in to lust.

August 24, 2002

I'm sick of cynicism. And I tire easily of contemporary arguments btwn Republicans and Damnocrats, and I'm a little tired of the bishops/scandal stuff, although I recognize its importance.

This is a prelude to saying how sad I am to have come to the end of McCullough's "John Adams". How refereshing it is to read something that, although not haiography, is at least respectful of the subject. I so long to read about heroes instead of our current crop of spineless leaders, from Cardinal Law to Bill Clinton. For some of the same reasons I loved James Robertson's bio of Stonewall Jackson.
A New England Bachelor
My death was arranged by special plans in Heaven
And only occasioned comment by ten persons in Adams, Mass.
The best thing ever said about me
Was that I was deft at specifying trump.

- Richard Eberhart

..and it gets much harsher.
Short Sketch of Fr. Hayes
A large man he is, with a full-belly laugh and a large beard to go with it. He speaks fluent Irish, not Gaelic, for Gaelic is only used by the uninitiated. His huge, Santa-like belly might give you pause to think him a glutton, but he isn't; he explained that gluttony was what the Romans did – eating as the end all and be all, such that you throw up in order to eat again. One can’t accuse anyone of gluttony merely by being fat; his calmness and huge appetite for study might point merely to a weak metabolic rate.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this jolly Dominican in the fiercely orthodox St. Patrick’s Church, where battles rage over whether the women should wear veils and the confession lines form to infinity.

I didn’t know that he had gotten his undergrad in biology and then went on to be a lawyer before finally becoming a priest. An odd, if interesting, turn of events. Born of an Italian father and Irish mother, his family was torn in two when someone died. The Irish half would have a wake, a jolly and exuberant celebration of his or her entry into heaven. The Italian half would stand like black-clad statues, somber in their desire to show respect for the loss, and resentful of the base Irish display.

August 23, 2002

I once read of a saint, or so it seemed to me. Accounts of his devotion to the Lord and doing his duty surpass my poor powers of imagination. I could offer a hundred anecdotes of his dedication, intelligence, or how admirable and worthy of respect he was. A man’s man.

Before I read a biography my prejuidice showed; I thought him a redneck, hilljack, dumb and reckless.

His name was Thomas, and a more devout soldier one could scarcely imagine. His solace was the solely in the Lord and he prayed nearly always. Even the deaths of his first wife and first child could not shake the beautiful and resolute faith in Christ.

He read Shakespeare or the scriptures to his wife every night when he was home, sitting in the parlor of their Virginian home. He wasn’t home often enough though, due to the war that raged.

He remains to me a source of fascination, for this man who I so admire was on the wrong side of the Civil War and the wrong side of truth. And it seems a scandal to imagine someone so close to God could, at the same time, be so wrong about slavery and about Catholicism. His name? Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

How discouraging that even the devout can be so mistaken, can so misread the will of God. And while we cannot judge hearts, we can see and understand sacrifice, and on that score Thomas J. Jackson was nearly without peer.

I visited his tomb in Richmond last year and stood a few paces from his remains. If I had lived at that time, I would surely not have rated an audience with him. But with the democracy of death, a hundred and forty years later this soft, lazy, Yankee Catholic - verything he wasn't - can stand a mere ten feet from his bones.
Reason to Rejoice
"The presence of Christ's sacred humanity in heaven is itself a perpetual pleading, our names are better written in his sacred wounds than the names of the twelve tribes on the gems of Aaron's pectoral, and his heart's desire for our salvation is before God always." - A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture

It nears poetry; breathtakingly beautiful in its message.
"Son of man, can these bones live? O Lord, thou knowest." Ezekiel 37
How to Have Fun With Nigerian Scammers Without Really Trying



One time I responded with Aeschylus in the original Greek, excerpted here for your enjoyment:

"Dear Sir:

Iô ouk oid' hopôs humin apistêsai me chrê, saphei de muthôi pan hoper proschrêizete peusesthe: kaitoi kai legous' theossuton cheimôna kai diaphthoran morphês, hothen schetliai proseptato. aiei gar opseis ennuchoi pôleumenai es parthenônas tous emous parêgoroun leioisi muthois "ô meg' eudaimon korê, ti partheneuei daron, exon soi gamou tuchein megistou; Zeus gar himerou belei pros tethalptai kai sunairesthai Kuprin thelei: su d', ô pai, mê 'polaktisêis lechos to Zênos, all' exelthe pros Lernês bathun leimôna, boustaseis te pros patros, hôs an to Dion omma lôphêsêi pothou."

I actually received an email back saying, "Sir I do not understand you!". I'm sure they thought I was totally on board, ready to send them a couple grand, but just had a couple nagging questions involving "Zeus".
Journal of a Soul
I've been keeping a journal since June of 1998 in a single Word document that now stretches for a mind-numbing 500+ pages. Prior to that, I have lots of poems that functioned as pseudo-journals, since they reflected what was on my mind (I've noticed that the typical entry is either a rant or a praise. The praises are about just three subjects: the beauty of nature, women, or God - and nowadays always the first or the last).

Flos Carmeli has an interesting post on keeping a journal. He's right that writing out your white-hot anger and letting it dissipate on the harmless skillet of a Word document works, at least for short-term annoyances. Humor really helps defuse, and I try to use humor and exaggeration. But it is the chronic situations, like a bad relationship with a co-worker, that writing about doesn't seem much to help because there is an aspect of "Groundhog Day" to it - the ventilation doesn't 'work' because the situation that lead to the flame-up simply reoccurs continuously.
Vat I
I've been meaning to do a little research for a few weeks now, although it is admittedly an indulgence of something close to superstition. (Along the lines of seeing some kind of portent in Thomas Merton's sudden end).

In 1870, while the fathers of Vatican I were voting for papal infallibility, a terriffic thunderstorm broke out causing a window in St. Peter's to come crashing down, the pope shielded from its fragments by the canopy of the papal chair.

I'd like to check out all references in the bible to 'thunderstorm' and see in what context it normally is used.

The Catholic Encyclopedia interprets it thusly:
On Monday, 18 July, 1870, one day before the outbreak of the Franco-German War, 435 fathers of the council assembled at St. Peter's under the presidency of Pope Pius IX. The last vote was now taken; 433 fathers voted placet, and only two, Bishop Aloisio Riccio of Cajazzo, Italy, and Bishop Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Arkansas, voted non placet. During the proceedings a thunderstorm broke over the Vatican, and amid thunder and lightning the pope promulgated the new dogma, like a Moses promulgating the law on Mount Sinai.

August 22, 2002

Ratzinger is awesome
The temptation to turn Christianity into a kind of moralism and to concentrate everything on man's moral action has always been great. For man sees himself above all. God remains invisible, untouchable and, therefore, man takes his support mainly from his own action. But if God does not act, if God is not a true agent in history who also enters into my personal life, then what does redemption mean? Of what value is our relationship with Christ, and thus, with the Trinitarian God? I think the temptation to reduce Christianity to the level of a type of moralism is very great even in our own day ... For we are all living in an atmosphere of deism. Our notion of natural laws does not facilitate us in believing in any action of God in our world. It seems that there is no room for God himself to act in human history and in my life. And so we have the idea of God who can no longer enter into this cosmos, made and closed against him. What is left? Our action. And we are the ones who must transform the world. We are the ones who must generate redemption. We are the ones who must create the better world, a new world. And if that is how one thinks, then Christianity is dead.
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, courtesy of Dylan's blog:
The Pope & Youth
A Catholic who wants the Church to become more liberal on its sexual policies said to me, "I don't understand how all those kids flock to the Pope so much when they don't agree with what he says!" (I assume she meant they use birth control and have sex outside of marriage).
Blogs to Come: Journal & Vatican I
Maybe tomorrow I'll blog about the mental health benefits of keeping a journal while exploring possible spiritual detriments of the same. This was prompted by a magazine article I read that suggested that venting in a journal or diary can make you feel better and be happier, but can result in you loving your partner less, perhaps because negative feelings about their behavior which are buried constantly come to light. This is can be a good thing, since resents deferred are resents that build up or implode, but it also can result in a morbid self-absorption on hurts, real or imagined. (Let's keep aside for the moment of what their definition of 'loving a partner less' is, since it suggests love as purely a feeling rather than action). If one uses a journal to vent or complain, perhaps that only serves to reinforce the sense of injustice that you feel in being wronged, rather than in forgiving that person and "moving on".

Also want to blog about the thunderstorm at Vatican I.
Dog Haikus
Dylan at 503 blog asked for bad haikus. Here are a few!

The cat is not all
Bad; she fills the litter box
With Tootsie Rolls.

You may call them fleas,
But they are far more; I call
Them a vocation.

I am your best friend,
Now, always, and especially
When you are eating.

"A well-trained dog will make no attempt to share your lunch. He will just make you feel so guilty that you cannot enjoy it." H. Thomson

"Won't be long means nothing to a dog. All he knows is that you are GONE." - Jane Swan
And now for something completely different
Baseball was the mysticism of my youth; the lore, the history was closely associated with the Communion of Saints in my mind. Babe Ruth was as real as Mike Schmidt; it was the sport where tradition mattered.

Over the past few decades baseball has proved (as if proof were needed) that any institution - be it law enforcement, a church, the Presidency of the United States - is only as good as society itself, the pool from which it can draw from to populate its human component. And while the past was no golden age, I resist notions that there are no moral differences between eras or that degeneration in society, as in individuals, is not possible. My father used to say that those things are cyclical, but just as the stock market can rebound and then go to "lower lows" so can a society. Look at ancient Rome. And I certainly recognize my part in that, given that I am not the person my forebears were.

So it should not be surprising that baseball has taken a hit too. The strikes are bad enough; the one in 1994 fundamentally changed the way I viewed the game. It changed from being an avocation to becoming "background music", a purely aesthetic experience beholding the green blades of astroturf beneath the sun. No longer did I care that much about statistics, or compulsively check boxscores. I quit collecting baseball cards. Inter-league play was another knife, because it showed the owners & players were on the same team on one score - anything for a dollar. That farce they call an All-Star game has been stripped of any meaning because the players no longer consider the other league that "great other". Mystery was shelved.

This coming strike is, therefore, much less painful. I was innoculated in '94 when the World Series was cancelled. They've so damaged the game that I now root for its destruction, so that something newer, cleaner and less expensive can take its place.

Bring on the wrecking balls!

August 21, 2002

Dappled Things has a good discussion going about TSM ("Traditional Sexual Morality"):

My correspondent hits on another problem with a lack of natural-law principles in our ethical debate. The Christian moral code begins to look like an arbitrary set of rules and taboos, more or less unrelated to each other, with no support beyond this or that biblical text (for the evangelical) or this or that remembered injunction from the catechism or grandma (for the Catholic). "The rules don't make sense because they're not supposed to makes sense: this is just what good Catholics do (or don't do)." The problem with this is that the best we can hope for is that people will do the right thing simply because they're told to. The "why" gets lost, and we're left with positivism and arguments from authority.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Pope Paul VI's committee on birth control recommend to the pontiff that proscriptions against artificial birth control be lifted, partly on the basis that natural law was a weak argument (recall these were Catholic theologians)? While I'm no expert on natural law, I think intellectual arguments in the face of hormones are usually a poor match. E. Michael Jones' book Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior nicely illustrates the hoops intellectuals will go through to justify sexual license. Certainly Garry Wills is unconvinced, and he presumably has an excellent grounding in natural law.

Personally, my re-conversion to traditional sexuality morality occurred in the context of seeking a closer relationship to God and realizing that I was out-of-step with my Christian (both Protestant and Catholic) concerning sexual morality. The final step, that of abandoning contraceptives, occurred only when I completely accepted the authority given to the Catholic Church.

Blind obedience is unsatisfactory, although some would say the merit received is higher ('blessed are those who don't see and still believe'). Surely during the Old Covenant there were laws which made no sense but which Jesus said must be obeyed (Matt.23:1-2 - "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you").

Ultimately I think the important thing is to show church teaching on sexual morality is not unreasonable, which is how natural law can help - not in proving to Protestants or anyone else that TSM is correct but just getting to the point that they can see it as a reasonable belief.
Saint Patrick, reformed Brit
All but Dissertations has an interesting link about the greatest Brits of all time. Despite my bardolatry, I have to go with St. Patrick, who was born in Britain, and who converted the Irish to Christianity without bloodshed, leading to the development of the Irish monasteries that saved civilization, as written by Thomas Cahill's book How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Besides, what is great art (Shakespeare) or great military leaders (Churchill) compared to the loss or gain of one's immortal soul?

August 20, 2002

Ground Control to Major Tom
Walker Percy, in his wonderful non-fiction book Lost in the Cosmos argues (much more persuasively than I can communicate here) that artists have trouble with "re-entry" to the real world after experiencing the other-worldly sphere of pure creativity. Thus they are prone to addictions, suicides and other evidences of maladjustment as they constantly re-adjust to the more prosaic world that the rest of us, more or less permanently, inhabit.

You can see this plainly in addictions, where the person begins to prefer to be permanently under the influence. But I would argue that you can also see this in the spiritual life, where we desire to be permanently under the drunkeness of spiritual highs or consolations. St. Therese is a wonderful tonic here. In Story of a Soul she writes:

I have been convinced for a long time that, though of course one must not despise anything that helps us to be more closely united to God, such inspirations, however sublime, are worth nothing without deeds.... [If these inspirations] make the latter self-satified, like the Pharisee, [they] would be like someone dying of hunger at a well-spread table.
more Google hits
"The Sexual Life of Catherine" + review
+isometrics +Christianity
video - riding bike through manhattan singing

Hope they're not too disappointed.
Some really beautiful religious art here. I love the expression of the woman in Alonso Cano's The Miracle at the Well.
Email response:
"What did St. John Vianney or one of the other great confessors-of-sinners have to say about our mixed motives? You might find some talking points there.

I myself worked for a pro-life 800 hotline for my last 5 years in grad school. I realized about 3 months after I started that at least part of why I volunteered was one of those bargains with God - you know, "God, I'll do this if you'll stop my friend the pro-life activist from dying from cancer."

She died anyway. I kept going for another 4 years, until I left town. I had other mixtures in my motives, but I also came to understand that the work was more important than me, but that parts of it might not happen without me. So, mixed motives and all, it was best to talk to those people on the phone."
- M. Tinkler
Want to be a spirtual child of St. (Padre) Pio?
Below is from the Padre Pio Foundation...I like the attitude of it, that you can't simply put your name on a list or donate and receive blessings like some sort of heavenly ATM machine:

Padre Pio once told a friend of the Foundation that if someone wants to be his spiritual child they must be a good Catholic and receive the sacraments often. Then you ask him in prayer to accept you as a spiritual child. He is the only one who can grant your request. No one else. Again, he said you must be a good practicing Catholic and you must not “embarrass” him before Jesus and Mary. Ask anyone who is a spiritual child of Padre Pio how they know they are a spiritual child and they will most likely tell you, “they just know” or “they feel it in their heart” and probably won’t be able to explain it any more than that. Some say that there are lists to be placed on but being placed on a list can’t be the way of knowing you’re accepted. It is Padre Pio who must accept you and no one else.
In a fit of nostalgia I woke this morning recalling one of my favorite poems as a child. As an American remnant of the Irish diaspora, would it be a stretch to suggest its appeal for me is the result of some sort of atavistic hangover? (I can hear the snickers from here).

I doubt kids today read it. Educators would probably consider it too nationalistic and/or mawkish.

The Long Voyage by Malcolm Cowley

Not that the pines were darker there,
Nor mid-May dogwood brighter there,
Nor swifts more swift in summer air;

It was my own country.

Having its thunderclap of spring,
Its long midsummer ripening,
Its corn hoar-stiff at harvesting,
Almost like any country.

Yet being mine; its face, its speech,
Its hills bent low within my reach,
Its river birch and upland beech
Were mine, of my own country.

Now the dark waves at the bow
Fold back, like earth against the plow;
Foam brightens like the dogwood now
At home, in my own country.

August 19, 2002

More on St. Therese
How great is the power of prayer. One could call it a queen who has at each instant free access to the king who is able to obtain whatever she asks....For me, prayer is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus. - St. Therese of Lisieux via Flos Carmeli site.

For Therese, Mary's way of life and faith is devoid of ecstasy, miracles, even words. The Virgin, Therese noted, 'marvelled at' the prophecies which the venerable Simeon uttered about the baby Jesus when he took him in his arms. For Therese, Mary's attitude showed 'a certain degree of surprise on her part.' For Mary, as Therese saw her, and almost certainly for Therese herself, simple faith was allied with a certain kind of ignorance, of perplexity overcome with a heroioc effot, and of battling on in a perpetual half-light....Perhaps she would have acknowledged the view of some mystics, that the reason why the risen Jesus did not appear to his mother was because she did not need this particular sign and because her faith remained totally pure." - Jean Guitton, "The Spiritual Genius of Saint Therese of Liseiux
Altruism & Authenticity
In order to protect identities, heretofore a close relative will be "Friend A" and my intelligent friend (hopefully that's not narrowing it down too much) will be "Friend B". Friend B is a Gen-X'r and values, like many of his generation, authenticity uber alles. He also questions whether there is such a thing as altruism in the truest sense. He says that good acts are motivated either by:

a) the high you get from helping someone (aka 'the joy of giving') - OR -
b) to avoid hell or to lay up greater treasure in heaven

So I'll have to ask him what, if possible, an "authentic" altruistic act is (surely the Cross, but I'm not sure he really believes it). Friend A, by the way, volunteers for "Meals on Wheels" and has done other charity work and is completely at loss at the concept of the "joy of giving", finding none there.

I guess I am most interested in how to reach out to the Gen-X'r. I'm thinking altruism, if in its proper context, should be a response to God. A recognition of the familial relationship we have with everybody and a desire to please Him rather than to avoid punishment. That in pleasing Him you should get a psychological 'pay-off' shouldn't make the charitable act 'unauthentic'.

August 18, 2002

See particulae for more particulars on assumptions concerning the Assumption.

How's that for alliteration?

Obligatory disclaimer (as if this needs to be said): obviously God can do anything, so that is decidedly not the issue. I've long puzzled, for instance, how the idea of the virgin birth can give people trouble while the Resurrection doesn't. Given belief in the Resurrection, it seems an absurdly small stretch to believe that the miracles of the loaves & the fishes, the Eucharist, and the virgin birth are true.
I've long struggled with how the theory of evolution has forced us to consider that death - for sure animal death and pain - existed before the fall and so we've been tempted to re-interpret St. Paul's words as meaning a spiritual death. I suppose science can correct our biblical theologies, but then at least since Galileo that has occurred and of course science and theology can, of course, in no way contradict.

When I emailed Amy Welborn about this about a year ago, she said the Church needs to really look at this issue because it never has addressed it in light of the new discoveries. She said Teilhard de' Chardin (I'm too lazy to check for spelling) tried, but she felt he was off the mark in his diminishing of the role of sin.

No less than Cardinal Ratzinger recognizes this need and has been begging the Pope to give him leave to retire so that he can personally study this issue....There is a book I've recently purchased, "The Joy of Being Wrong" that I haven't read yet but tries to snythesize antropological issues with the concept of original sin.

August 16, 2002

"I belong entirely to everyone. Everyone can say 'Padre Pio is mine.'" - Padre, now Saint, Pio

"If the morbid Renaissance intellectual is supposed to say, 'To be or not to be - that is the question," then the massive medieval doctor [Thomas Aquinas] does most certainly reply in a voice of thunder, 'To be - that is the answer.' Chesterton's "St. Thomas Aquinas"
"I am not deprecating your individual talent, Joseph," the Bishop continued, "but, when one thinks of it, a soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup." - Willia Cather "Death Comes For the Archbishop"
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice... cold beer
Speaking of Disputations, he says his posts on alcohol garner more comments than anything else....Hmm, I muse. What is the special connection between alcohol and Catholics, if any? I was reading Tom Hayden's "Irish on the Inside" recently and he goes on for pages blaming the Irish propensity to drink on 1690 (i.e. the Battle of the Boyne). Seriously he blames it on sexual repression and the English, the latter having caused an environment of hopelessness. Why must everything be about political or sexual repression? Can't one drink out of the sheer enjoyment of the thing? Or to loosen the strings of a tightly-strung violin?

Watched the "Biography" tv show on John Wayne the other night. And it was said he loved to drink, and was down in Mexico on a 2-week binge and couldn't be found when WWII started. Implied was: oh, how terrible! That's not the John Wayne we know and love! But I was sort of envious. It sounds like the man was merely on vacation. The dirty secret is that men drank, and drank heavily in the 40s, 50s & 60s. Much, much less now (although I'm sure college students do their part).

Consider Thomas Aquinas' tremendous output of theological writings. When I contemplate all the thinking and study that went into them and the tales that sound apocryphal (that he had the entire bible memorized) it makes my head swim. It makes one completely understand his affinity for the Songs of Solomon - it is the love poetry that must've driven his prose. One needs the yin to that sort of yang, all that thinking about God must be counter-balanced by resting in His love. Someone once said one should spend twice as much time in prayer as in apologetic discussions.

And the consumption of a fine microbrew ale is also like poetry: an anti-intellectual act that soothes the side of the brain responsible for logic and math, by exercising the left, full of fire and creativity and the Song of Solomon.
Concerning John of Disputations post on the needful connection btwn Mary's Assumption and her lack of original sin (i.e. sin as the cause of death):

1) It might be semantics, but can it be left that original sin is the cause of the physical corruption of the flesh, which, both parties can agree did not occur to Mary?
(Both parties meaning those who believe she did die and those who believe she didn't).
2) It is true that the Assumption can be unmoored from original sin by pointing to the examples of Enoch & Elijah. But what that does is show how the Assumption is not an unreasonable article of faith. Since we believe she was assumed to heaven either way, either while still alive or after death, it does not speak to the sin=death scenerio.
3) It is true that Christ died and was sinless and was without original sin, but wouldn't you say that His was a 'special case' in the sense that it was his divine mission to die?

I'm persuaded that Mary did die first, but I'm wondering how John reconciles that with his comments implying that theology requires that she not die?

August 15, 2002

the Assumption
"God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple." - Rev 11:19
"During the Second World War, while I was employed as a factory worker, I came to be attracted to Marian devotion. At first, it had seemed to me that I should distance myself a bit from the Marian devotion of my childhood, in order to focus more on Christ. Thanks to Saint Louis of Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.

And so, I rediscovered Marian piety, this time with a deeper understanding. This mature form of devotion to the Mother of God has stayed with me over the years, bearing fruit in the encyclicals Redemptoris Mater and Mulieris Dignitatem.

In regard to Marian devotion, each of us must understand that such devotion not only addresses a need of the heart, a sentimental inclination, but that it also corresponds to the objective truth about the Mother of God. ...The Mother of Christ the Redeemer is the Mother of the Church."

- John Paul II, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope"
Universal speculation via Mark Shea's blogspot.
No Doubt
I see the Foote comment has sparked some interesting commentary, which was its purpose. Disputations and Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli have weighed in. Fascinating.

The novel has been held in low regard by some Christians in the past - in John Adams' era it was considered the vice of the weak-minded, while poetry was held up as the standard.

I do agree that Foote is not the arbiter of what makes for good literature, but in fairness he is extremely well-read. On Brian Lamb's show he said he's read Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" nine times, which, given its length, is surreal. He's read basically everything (unlike Walker Percy, who had to be nagged constantly to read Dante past "Inferno" or any of Proust). He's also sits on the Modern Library board, which is a pretty elite group. That having been said, you are right, it's mere conjecture on his part since it is certainly subjective.

I think SR and John are dead right about how moderns look through lenses of doubt. But not only that, but those who author AND determine great art are almost always doubters simply because they are the elites, and the elite are no longer Christian. So, there is some self-selection going on. It's sort of like how journalists tend to be politically liberal because those who are interested in 'creative' things like writing, art, etc, tend to be more liberal.

John Updike has a quote about writers here.

One last thought: I'm not sure Shakespeare should be given a pass on doubt, his later works were very pessimistic, which I think is ultimately an unChristian attitude since we know how it all turns out. God wins.

August 14, 2002

At Disputations:
Beauty is that which, being seen, pleases; when someone encounters the beautiful, he desires to rest in it. A novel about resting in beauty is unlikely to be a great novel; it may be very poetic, but it probably won't be very interesting. Novels tell stories, and stories are about conflicts, and where there is no conflict -- and only the perverse are conflicted about resting in beauty -- there is no story.

So yes, the modern evidence is that great novelists are not greatly devout; even the great Catholic novelists have not, as a class, been marked by their sanctity. But I think it's wrong to interpret this evidence, as some do, as meaning that Catholicism is somehow opposed to great novels, much less to great art. Rather, I think that doubt strengthens a desire to novelize, while trust weakens it. (Provisionally, I'd say doubt and trust work the other way round on the desire to versify.)

Obivously a novel has to have conflict but that surely doesn't preclude non-doubters from writing beautifully of conflict, does it? The greatest conflict of all time is the spiritual one between good and evil and to describe that I'm not sure why being a doubter 'helps'. (As a unrelated aside, I'm interested in the connection between doubt and sanctity, in that there is more merit in 'not seeing and still believing'. When I read recently that Mother Teresa was racked by doubts at times.) Bernanos, in "Diary of a Country Priest" understands the great spiritual battles hidden in the ennui of our lives and and that is why some call it the most Catholic of novels. Ralph McInerney said recently that in this novel Bernanos, who was fiercely conservative (to the point of being a monarchist), goes where many other Catholic novelists (including Mauritain and Powers) fear to tread.
From National Review on Hebron, where Abraham is said to be buried:
"This city that feels like an entrance to hell is said to be the point where Earth is united with Heaven: the very portal to the Garden of Eden. The chibur alluded to in its name (Hebron meaning 'bridge') is also the eternal joining together of the four married couples buried here: the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac & Jacob) and their three wives, plus Adam and Eve, who lie in a cave perfectly preserved and surrounded by the scent of paradise....There is, finally, not much to see. Abraham's cenotaph is behind an iron grille. The cave itself, which has an outer and inner part, is inaccessible, which is just as well. Stories from medieval times tell of those who attempted to penetrate the underground halls hearing strange voices, feeling a wind of unknown origin coming from below, and sometimes dying suddenly or going mad or dumb. If this is the place where Heaven joins with Earth, then it is no place for mortals..."
Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli makes the point that definitionally beauty & goodness are inseparable, otherwise one is just a facade of one or the other. Works for me. Now wither nature is fallen is something I've struggled with... "The apparent amorality of nature, so wonderfully portrayed in Frost's "Design" is not suggestive of a lack of goodness, but perhaps a lack of understanding on our part." Probably so. These are muddy waters.

Cut & paste from previous emails on the subject, which is lengthy as a day is long...

That is precisely the heart of the matter. Aquinas claimed the physical world is NOT wounded - that only man is wounded in his alienation from God and nature. Can I look around and really see the physical world with its reliance on naked strength as the way to survive as good? That is the challenge. A physical world free from mishap would require miracles at every moment of every day - and miracles are a departure from the natural; they would then be, in fact, natural.

While the whole division between "natural" and "supernatural" is useful for common discussion, I'm inclined to say it's really a relative way of speaking about things. I'm inclined to say the "real" division that we can cite, in discussing that which exists, is between created and uncreated. I think this is a better way of looking at things, for it here that the difference is most profound. On one side of the divide you have God, on the other side, absolutely everything else. Angels, demons, different levels of existance, the earth, man, beasts, you name it. An angel may be of a more subtle substance, but it's still a creature that had a beginning.

God on the other hand, and His "energies", which refers to that of God which we experience, and can be known by the human being (typically refered to as "Grace", a reference to His benevolence towards mankind), are not created.

I think understanding God in "energetic" terms is important, because it has a bearing on how we view this world. The cosmos as we know them, while obviously still subject to the providence of God, lack the fullness of God's Presence, which confers immortality and incorruption. The vision of St.John in the Apocalypse, is of a "new creation", a renewed world where God will be "all in all" - we read about the "new Jerusalem", which will need no lamps, because they will be illuminated by God. What this is telling us is that there is another world coming, and that it will be a world glorified by God, for it will be His manifest abode.

So like I said before, making deductions about how we should act, based on bad data, from bad minds, makes no sense. Nor should we be surprised that the very things that the Christian tradition often labels as being sins, are in fact (in a worldly p.o.v.) precisely the things that will make you "get ahead". Stealing, oppression, pride, lust, gluttony, etc. Human nature transfigured by God, on the other hand, even if we only have the beginnings of such a renewal (the renewal of the mind), see's the situation differently.

This whole subject makes me think of the stories told by ancients (actually I think one such story was told about the first "Buddha" in India), of people who spent all of their time living in palaces, being sheltered from the outside world, so that when they first stepped out of their palaces (often without permission), they were shocked to find that the world was not a nice place at all, and were scandalized that people were going hungry, dying, etc.

I think something similar to that is going on in the case of most sceptics who approach Christianity, but it is happening in reverse. They're used a world that is consumed by death, and in fact are unaware that the Church, and the Apostles themselves, were so bold as to speak of the devil as being the "god of this world" or the demons as being the "rulers of this age" or the anti-christ as being the "prince of the air", etc.

The creation itself, is basically good, because God made it. However what most people encounter as being "Christianity", fails to properly explain our dilemma as creatures and as human beings. What is totally understated (perhaps out of pride, or because they think such a view of things is "childish" or "supersticious") is how comprimised this world is, how death exists as a poison wrapped up in it's fabric, and the real influence and literal existance of evil spirits, in particular their prince, satan. There is not enough emphasis that this "basically good creation", is ruled by these forces, for reasons that go back to mankind's beginnings. And everything, including the conclusions people reach solely through carnal reasoning, is poisoned by this. Indeed, so many things taken for granted seem so obvious in this scenario, that there could be any other meaning for things that exist in this physical world, just doesn't occur to them.

This whole matter reminds me of the stories of the 19th century Russian Saint, Seraphim of Sarov. There exist many sayings of his, stories about him from those who knew him, and so on. St.Seraphim lived in the woods for much of his life, the very forest becomming his church, and he would kneel motionless for incredible amounts of time, totally consumed in prayer. Saints are called such, because they are made "holy" by their communion with God, the root the word "holy" in Hebrew being "seperated" - just as God is totally seperate from all other things (they being created, He being the uncreated, the eternal.) A particular feature of people we honour with the title of "saint", is that they experience "glorification" even in this world. That means, they would enter into periods of particularly intense discourse with God, and when they did such, it was as if the very laws of nature we take for granted, did not apply to them anymore.

In the case of Saints like St.Seraphim, they would often remain in a state of prayer for incredible periods of time, days upon days, with neither food nor drink. They would manifest the glory of God at many points, inexplicable radiance coming forth from their bodies. Another famous example was the early Church Saint, St.Simeon Stylites. He was a profound ascetic, who had totally and utterly renounced the world, and stayed in prayer upon a pillar - a "stylite", an old pillar that once supported a building. He would sometimes not take food or water for weeks, and show a total indifference to the elements.

Other manifestations like this are common to Saints, even outside of these deep states of "theoria" - for example, the Saints often manifest a certain quality which cannot be explained, which brings consolation by their very presence, or can drive those totally dominated by evil to either repentence or revulsion. One interesting example in the case of St.Seraphim, was the fellowship he had with wild beasts. The animals did not fear him, nor acted with hostility towards him. He was even known to sit serenely, as a gigantic brown bear approached...but it had no malice, but was his friend, and St.Seraphim would smile and feed the wild animal as if it were a pet.

The Church is a place where healing takes place, a hospital for the sick. But it is not only men who are waiting for their final redemption, but also the creation itself. When you look at the example of Saints like St.Seraphim, or St.Anthony (considered by many to be the "father of monasticism" - an early Christian who fled worldliness by living in the desert as a solitary, who also was so sanctified that wild beasts were not adversarial towards him), you get an idea of how another world is possible. In fact, glimpses of it are seen, here and there, even now.

The author from Time magazine is obviously unaware of all of these things. But then again, so are many professing Christianity. Perhaps the hardest part of all of this, is that modern westerners are mentally shackeled by post-industrial ideas about technological progress, and more remotely, by the "renaisance", which really was a renewal, but a renewal of a fundamentally pagan (carnal) view of the world, in which the sick patient is called healthy, and from there on in to "attain health" is to make one's self all the more ill.

In the face of this pious materialism, with man sitting as the crown idol amongst all the others it has erected, there is very little room for shrugging your shoulders anymore, or being honest enough to admit that you "don't know". Thus you have everyone, whether it be people professing to be "Christians" or others professing atheism, sounding pretty sure of their respective explanations about everything... totally unaware of the fact that the last century has taught us how quickly today's certainty will become tommorow's quackery. It is pride which will always convince people that they are somehow special, exempt from the faults of their ancestors, even though they still indulge in the same games that they did.

I am content to say that I can tell you something about our past (only because it is preserved in the Tradition of the Church), but what I can say has more relevence to the "why" than the "how". If your primary concern in life is to live rightly, and sucessfully, you'll cherish this most necessary knowledge.

August 13, 2002

Still pondering this beauty & truth & goodness stuff. I want to see the connection as inseparable but...

As an adolescent I loved Thoreau's "Walden". I thought it the most magical piece of literature. Now I have misgivings about the somewhat misanthropic sentiments. Certainly the message to 'simplify' is a great one, but sometimes what most appeals to us is that thing in the literature or art that appeals to our special vice, our Achilles heel. If Thoreau appeals to slothfulness or lack of generosity, I might see it as a great 'truth' and revel in it. In other words, it can be very beautiful to have a worldview constructed that appears to fit what we consider it should be.

Let's take a look at nature herself - astonishingly beautiful, right? And good, indeed good - but good before the Fall, right? Nature can be pretty ruthless, amoral, in the whole sense of prey or be preyed upon. Natural selection isn't pretty. Can't art be beautiful but deadly, like some gorgeous but poisonous coral? Satan was the highest of angels before he fell and presumably could produce something beautiful in imitation. St. Paul writes in Romans 8 that all creation groans in anticipation, seemingly implying that this physical world is inadequate to what even it was intended to be. He seems to have come close to saying that nature was fundamentally altered by the Fall, although Aquinas would never accept that interpretation.
Interesting article on Seasonal Preferences

Summer's tide is high and soon will turn. That's how it always is. On July 4, the entire summer lies before us. A few short weeks later, we're on the homestretch to Labor Day. Among us, there are those who will cling by our fingernails to the last shred of summer right through September and others who are secretly already a little sick of sand, chlorine, endless days and bored kids. Which camp are you in?

Some scientists believe that a person's outlook may come down to neurotransmitters in the brain.

Craig H. Kinsley, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Virginia, said his friends accuse him of being "an evangelist for the brain.'' He believes that everything from whether you like chocolate or vanilla to whether you enjoy relaxing on a beach is related to the brain chemistry.

People who can't sit still, who crave new experiences, who desire new challenges and who are bored with summer relaxation may be driven by their brain's appetite for a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Kinsley said that dopamine is released during new experiences and enhances good feelings. Some of us have a greater need for dopamine than others. Those who are more content with a relaxed, low-key routine apparently have sufficient supplies of dopamine and don't need more, Kinsley said.

Dr. Michael Nuccitelli, a psychologist and executive director of SLS Health in Brewster, N.Y., said chemicals play a role in people's reactions to everything, but environmental factors play a role in how people feel about summer.

One of those factors is wealth. If you can afford beach houses, camps for your kids and summer toys such as boats or jet skis, you probably like summer better than someone who can't afford such luxuries. Nuccitelli considers himself a risk-taker, an adventuresome type, but he's not a big fan of summer because he can't stand the heat.

Dr. Nicholas DeMartinis, a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Conn., said that whether you mourn the demise of summer probably has a lot to do with whether you're an outdoorsy person.

"A lot of people find summer less stressful,'' said DeMartinis. "One of the best antidotes to stress is getting out and exercising. People may do less of that in the winter and it's easier for stress to build up.''

For those who are reactive to light, the days also grow shorter, which can lead to seasonal blues in the fall and winter.

Some people will find any transition rough-going. "These may be people with a more obsessive-compulsive personality, not a disorder,'' said DeMartinis. "They like to do things the same way, over and over and over. You start changing things and it's stressful.''

As for thrill-seekers, DeMartinis, they may be as likely to enjoy winter as summer if they are skiers or snowboarders.

In, general, Kinsley said, human beings weren't really made for a two-week beach vacation.

If you go back to early man, the competition for resources and for mates defined us, Kinsley said. We needed time for rest, but rest amounted to a good night's sleep. And then we were ready for more challenge.

"The animal, humans included, were not designed nor were we shaped by the crucible of natural selection, to just sit around,'' Kinsley wrote. "We crave stimulation, work, competition. Or most of us do.''

Perhaps that means that those of us who are able to look - without nausea - at the fall clothes already in department stores are more like our prehistoric relatives.

And those of us who long to sit on the beach till sunset in October have accepted change. You could even say we've evolved.
By Kathleen Megan The Hartford Courant

August 11, 2002

The Lady of Shalott & Flos Carmeli have had some interesting posts, especially Flos' comments on Keats. I have started, but not finished, "Dawn to Decadence" which makes the case that art has suffered greatly over the past 500 years due in part to modernism. I guess the stuff of art comes out of the muck and mire the culture has handy - since the Enlightenment we've had less to work with in terms of "healthy" (i.e. good) thinking and that must and is reflected in art.

Now I'll really butcher this concept, and I don't even hardly believe it but feel compelled to offer it. A year or two ago I read that art over the past 200 years have consciously intended to skew (i.e. like surrealism) creation because it is rejecting the Creator and also his creation. In other words, the fact that paintings no longer mirror nature was done in a way to devalue creation, devalue the earth, reject the line in Genesis where God says, "it is good". Now I don't know what to think about that because I certainly like Monet and Dali and others. But it was interesting, given how the increase in "non-real" art has followed the decrease in faith since the Enlightenment. Art glorified God for many centuries and there was a fierce resistance when the humanists came in and made man the central subject. And from there artists began to paint 'fractured" man (like Picasso), which was to symbolize the monster that he considered man to be (or especially women).

Shelby Foote to Walker Percy:

"One of the things I've most admired about the Catholic religion for is its unwillingness to compromise and its essentially realistic outlook. But the Catholic intellectuals seem to destroy all this. Here we've been better than 500 years (since the Divine Comedy - which, incidentally, is as much a spiteful paying-off of personal animosity as it is 'Catholic') without a single devoted Catholic writer producing one big lasting thing in the field of poetry or fiction; adn yet, mind you, these intellectuals insist that the advantage lies with writers with an orthodox background to fall back on; it gives them a scale of reference, they say. It ought to be true; it out to - but look at the result. Graham Greene, or a bare handful of minor poets like Hopkins.."
At the risk of pulling this out of context:"It is pretty generally recognized that woman is 'by nature' more sentimental, and man more sensual." - K. Wojtyla "Love & Responsbility"

By sensual, he means more along the lines of enjoying the senses rather than limited to the sexual. And by sentimental, he means of the feelings and emotions rather than simply nostalgia.

I wonder if the reason the church doesn't attract as many men (i.e. Podles thesis that the Church is feminized) is partly because the liturgy has been stripped of many of the 'sense' sensations if you will - the 'smells and bells'. The Eastern rite and Orthodox Judiasm both have strong male participation and both have liturgies that appeal to the senses.
I am back. Thursday and Friday were glorious self-appointed sea dog days, days spent under a glittering, unquenchable sun, days spent continuously outdoors from 10 am to 6 or 7 pm, days which landed me in the surf, on bike, btwn the pages of a book or quaffing Guinness or drinking Corona as the sun's corona faded. The other days were more or less pinched by responsibility, and tested my ever-weakening tolerance for chatter. Chatter this, chatter that. Lots of social bookings. "The Imitation of Christ", written for monks I think, has it that unnecessary talking is nearly sinful. Jeesh that sounds appealing sometimes. (And that is supposed to be a cross?). The actor Larry Hagman never speaks on Mondays - a whole day of complete silence. (I read it years ago in the Nat'l Enquirer so you know it's true). I thought it odd. Now.... But of course I am doing the equivalent of chattering here, never letting a thought slip by unpublished.

So a week later, 50 miles of bike rides and a 12-pack later here I am – inflight – carrying back a better man? Surely the break in routine was precious. What did I learn? Valuing hope over experience, I always imagine that from vacations will spring a well of good ideas that I can take back to 'the real world'.

It seems the problem with purity is that the greater the purity the more affected you are by impurities. So in trying to shield myself from nudity via R-rated movies and any other kind of soft-porn has apprently left me particularly vulnerable to 'beach shock'. The shielding seems to have resulted in more keen antennae, such that the merest whiff of viva le’ difference is detected. And so, returning to the beach this year was like laying before a drug addict this huge spread of the latest pharmaceuticals.

Fortunately I could behold the Cross and it is so catechetical – one finds many assurances. One is love, of course, and there is also the sense that he will accept our buffets and stings willingly (indicated by the posture of open arms). The vertical nature of it – the fact it leads from ground skyward – neatly incarnates the doctrine that Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth and there is no getting from here to there without Him.

My beach reading was Clive Clusser's “Inca Gold”, JP2’s “Love & Responsibility” and Dineson’s “Out of Africa”; a perfect admixture of good, bad and saintly writing. (You guess which).

And I noticed that after a week of relaxation, of white sand and white sun, of Guinnesses, after long bike rides to puffy sand beds with elliptical petals shading me, of hard runs down a hard-packed beach to any good tune I could find, that well, I liked it. One day I rode around a retirement community with conflicted emotions. On the one hand it was a retirement community, symbol of tragic things (i.e. loss of freedom, diminishing bodily powers, enforced artificial community, etc) and yet also at once attractive (i.e. no job, beautiful island, quiet, peaceful pathways and spacious balconies).

August 02, 2002

I must be off for vacation in South Carolina, blogging will resume on Aug. 12!

Will leave you with a quote, forgive me for not remembering which blog I got it from. It is from one of his letters:
J. R. R. Tolkien
"The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise: make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children -- from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn -- open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same as a Mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand -- after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come."

I went to Mass after reading this and...yes...there were many loud children behind me. I smiled.
of the Rosary
Some interesting posts on the Rosary going around on Disputations, Steven Riddle's & GoodForm among others. I have something of a scattershot approach with prayer, hoping the variety gives me maxim receptivity to what God wants to say. I consider the rosary a wonderful tool in the prayer toolbag even though often my concentration is terrible with it. There is great consolation in the asking Mary to pray for us at the time of our death and of its imminence in the grand scheme. It's also good to review the human events in the family life of Jesus & Mary, as all families remember their history and we are a part of that family.

The Joyful mysteries teach me that beneath the surface of the seemingly banal - a Jewish girl saying her prayers, a visit to her cousin, a baby born and presented - lay spectacularly universe-altering events. It serves to remind one that our lives, at times banal, are never really so.

Insights are infrequent, but they come. I always considered the Resurrection the greatest of the mysteries but then it occurred to me that it was the Crowning with thorns. For which is greater - power exercised or power restrained? ('Schindler's List' has a great pardon scene that illustrates this). That God would approve of Jesus' submission to the baptism of John, how much greater must be the Father's approbation when his son submitted to the crowning of thorns? In Japanese culture one would rather die than be humiliated, and so there is a sense in which this humiliation was greater even than His death.

The rosary also forces me to think about HIM instead of the petitionary prayer that seems to be the 'default' prayer of life and even the reading of Scripture can be about us, in the sense of reading it historically or apologetically or ....i.e. not spiritually.
What a difference a translation makes....Dostoyevsky's Karamazov can come off as either humbly seeking his sonship of Christ or presumptively making demands on God
Walker Percy, in a letter to Shelby Foote on the Catholic novels in this book:
What is it about? Screwing and God (which all Catholic novels since Augustine have been about) - to use "Catholic" somewhat loosely since you were right the other day about me not being a Catholic writer as Flannery [O'Connnor] was.
She [Flannery O'Connor] is a minor-minor writer, not because she lacked the talent to be a major one, but simply because she died before her development had time to evolve....That, and I think because she also didn't have time to turn her back on Christ, which is something every great Catholic writer (that I know of, I mean) has done. Joyce, Proust, and I think Dostoevsky, who was just about the least Christian man I ever encountered except maybe Hemingway. The Jesuitical strain, as Joyce said, can be injected the wrong way. Inject it the right way and you've killed the artist; he's guilty of idolatry and has comitted the greatest sin of all - putting something ahead of his art, avoiding the total commitment, keeping soft inside while pretending to be tough....Don't take personal offense at any of the above; I don't consider you a Catholic writer at all, except in your spare time out of hope of heaven."

More Foote:
"..The best novelists have all been doubters; their only firm conviction, the only one never shaken, is that absolute devotion and belief in the sanctity of art which results in further seeking, not a sense of having found. THe part of any writer's book which says, 'Look here I've found the answer' is always the weakest.'" It was Dostoevsky's doubt that made him great - Ivan is a portrait of his doubt, as Mitya is a portrait of his lust.."

Unfortunately we don't have WP's replies; he obviously disagreed.

August 01, 2002

That rarest of hothouse flowers, true peace of mind, found me yesterday amid the fields of Athenry, in the bowels of my sweet liberty, my library, where I found four hours of John Paul II’s “Love & Responsibility” and Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”. It was there I found repose and respite, there I found safety in my God, safety in the form of hope. My fruit so often sucks or lay stillborn, and I cannot help but notice it. How can I not, when Jesus tells of seeds that were choked by worries or cares or carried off by the evil one? How can one not stand, paralyzed, in the middle of the field, willing oneself to bear fruit, desperately wanting to see fruit so that we can know that weI love Him since His test is stark: "they love Me who love do My will."
Okay, this is going to be a real struggle of a post. Exceedingly politically incorrect to boot. But, as Bill O'Reilly says, 'tell me where I'm wrong'. I want to be wrong. It was provoked by Dissertations & her riveting post on the literature & orthodoxy, mentioning how T.S. Eliot's earlier works are generally considered better than his later, more Christianized works...

Point 1: The Feminization of Christianity
My reading lately has consisted of Leon Podles, "The Church Impotent" which tries to explain why Christianity, as opposed to say Islam or Orthodox Judiasm, struggles to attract men in terms of church attendance and other outward signs of commitment. Priests, for instance, tend to have lower testosterone levels than average. Podles argues that Christianity has been feminized soon after the heroic age of martyrs and the Church Fathers.

Point 2: Genius as Masculine
IQ tests have shown men to have a more extreme range of intelligence (or lack thereof) than women. The bell curve seems to include lots more points to the right side (i.e. geniuses) and more points to the left (dunces). And although women have not had nearly the opportunities men have in the arts, still the Joyces, Shakespeares, Dantes, Beethovens, Bachs are nearly universally male.

Point 3: Combine the two and ...?

Okay that was going nowhere. Let's move to a different solution. Walker Percy & Shelby Foote argued about this incessantly in their letters (published as "The Correspondence of W.P. & SF") and Foote argues that art requires that nothing be placed before it, which is what religion also requires. Hence the incompatibility. You cannot serve both art and God. I'll try to find exact quotes tomorrow.
Can barely keep up with all the quality blogging going on out there. All but Dissertations has a lengthy but riveting post on the literature & orthodoxy, mentioning how T.S. Eliot's earlier works are generally considered better than his later, more Christianized works. I wonder if Christianity as practiced emasculates us somehow (i.e. in Origen's case it was literal!). Thoreau was never enamored of religion because he wanted to grow wild 'according to his nature' and that wildness certainly can produce great art. Yeats, in one of his poems, says Christians are stone-faced and slumbering.
She writes:
As the editor of Mozart's letters says, "It was a paradox that the same person who wrote such sublime music used such language. But it was the case."
The awful produces the sublime.
The orthodox produces the sub-par.
What are we to do?

Of course, I would prefer to be called slumbering and produce horrible art than lose my soul, so the point is perhaps moot.

P.S.: Err 503 has a crucial post to read: here
(JP II's letter to artists).