December 10, 2007

Let's Play....'Why's My Book Bag So Heavy?'

Bad weather is the avid reader's dream, and so Sunday I hunkered down for a good gollop of (& gallop through) multiple books which is a very good thing indeed since it turns out I was in the latter stages of a syndrome called FRB - "Fatal Reading Backup".

Read a Ohio History article on the conflicted nature of Ohioan William Dean Howells, who called himself a "theoretical socialist" and "practical aristocrat". He was a literary baron during the robber baron age who felt this enormous guilt all his life over his wealth and repented of it by becoming a socialist. He and Mark Twain were the John Edwards's of their day - but without the Edwards's apparently guiltlessness. I suppose that in our mania for good mental health we no longer allow ourselves to be conflicted as Twain and Howells did, or, alternatively, perhaps politicians can't allow themselves the luxury of conscience that others can.

I finished Leon Podles' The Church Impotent. It's a well-researched and thought-proving book. I can't do justice to it in this short a space but I've been instinctively drawn to the image of Jesus as brother, but rarely (only once that I can recall, in Confession) heard that image in the Church. Podles says that males are more individualistic and less communal by nature, and I agree but I don't see how you can easily square that tendency with the gospel. The gospel is extremely communal so it's not as though one can make the Church more individualistic in order to appeal to more men. (Not that Podles is saying that; he admits that the only answer is that God raise up a modern saint who shows us how to combine holiness with masculinity since, he claims, that you can't currently be both holy and masculine.) Universalism and Purgatory are seen by Podles as feminine doctrines, presumably because women are said to have more sympathy for the Hell-bound out of their more communal feelings.

One quibble is that I was surprised that he mentioned Luther but didn't mention the root cause of his leaving the Church was not, as was somewhat implied, of the Church's femininity, but because of Luther's scrupulousness and fear of hell. I doubt he would leave the Church today simply because he wouldn't feel scrupulous nor a feel of Hell simply because the Church has so de-emphasized those teachings.

Podles points to Luther's emphasis on struggle, of the cosmic battle between Satan and God, a thing Podles sees as attractive to the masculine - but since Luther didn't believe in free will, how is there a struggle on a personal level? I suppose it's like watching pro-football. We guys like to watch the contest while not wanting to go out there and play (at least not against those guys, given their unimaginable combination of size and quickness). On the other hand there's no question of Luther's bravery and/or willingness to struggle given his break with the Pope.

In the book Podles defends those like Job or Jacob who would struggle with God, even get angry at Him, rather than be be meek (despite the Beatitude?). It reminded me of what Scott Hahn said on a recent episode of Franciscan University Presents, how complaining to God is okay and that the problem with those complainers in the desert (Exodus 16) was that they were "backstabbers who didn't confront God directly". Podles says that brothers fight and many a good male friendship starts with a fight.

I suppose in this context it would be good to quote ol' Tom of Disputations wrote in Mark Shea's comboxes a while back:
Personally, though, I don't think excessive feminization is a problem. I think it's a symptom. Men aren't staying home because church is girly; church is girly because men are staying home. And they're staying home, says I, not because they're manly, but because they're adolescent.
Read great globs of Europe Central, William Vollmann's novel (though blended with faction in the form of actual historical figures) , which has been growing on me. It's interesting to see Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's attempt to keep his art amid Stalin's artistic purges; in fact it's amazing he didn't get killed. I wanted to read more about Shostakovich's music from an E. Michael Jones' Dionysos Rising. I believe Jones blames Shostakovich for some of the cultural ills of modernity but leider (pronounced 'lye-der', the German word for "unfortunately", which is leider one of the few words from my high school German class that still resonate) I'd given the book to Hambone to read, who has it at the bottom of his reading list. I read a bit of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind because I thought he'd also had things to say, specifically against rock music but perhaps about atonal music too but I didn't readily find anything.

Then read some of the just-arrived January issue of First Things, including Jason Byassee's article on porn titled "Why it's not your father's pornography". Then on to the 1975 Vatican document on sexuality titled Persona Humana.

Later read much of the Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar which is a surprisingly enjoyable read given the grim subject matter. It's not in my bookbag, but watched the Polish film Faustina, rented from the library. It was nicely done, and helped painlessly fill in some of the details about her life.

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