August 28, 2018

Trying to Make Sense of Absurdistan

I've been lately wandering lost in a haze of information overload, the scandal du jour that begets and begets and begets and just keeps on begetting. From the '16 election that lifted a reality TV star and insult champion to the presidency, to the now very non-rhetorical query: "Is the pope Catholic?" -- the last few years have been, uh, attention-getting.

So a few disjointed thoughts. (Are there any other kind?)

The sentimental view of religion is certainly taking a hit.  Oxymorons abound: "Catholic Ireland", "Holy Father", "pope resigns", "World Meeting of [Hetero?] Families", "hush money".  It's a world in which a cardinal tweets to his sister "Nighty-night baby, I love you."  It's a world where politicians object to bishops being called "politicians" since no politician could be so tone deaf.  It's a world in which the bishops talk about national boundaries but not the protection of the physical boundaries of seminarians. It's a world in which the flock is called upon to direct the shepherds (ala M. B. Doughtery: "I’m not looking for a perfect Church, I’d appreciate one in which bishops demonstrated anger at rapists and some determination to stop them before proceeding to try and guilt the the laity for being scandalized by it" and "Imagine the Apostle Andrew reacting to Judas’ betrayal, 'We should write up some bylaws against betraying our Lord unto death'”).

Weird sh-t is happening everywhere, like Catholic author Taylor Marshall inexplicably retweeting Alex Jones. Twice.

Well interesting times and all that jazz.

Baylor professor Alan Jacobs describes the parallels of Trump and Francis:
Like Donald Trump, Francis makes dramatic and apparently extreme pronouncements which send the world into interpretative tizzies. When he says things like “Who am I to judge?” Catholics who support him effectively say that he should be taken “seriously but not literally” — just as Trump supporters say about their man. Both men generate massive, thick fogs of uncertainty.

Like Donald Trump, Francis cuts through political complications by issuing executive orders and blunt power grabs, as when he dismissed the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta and is seeking to replace him with a “papal delegate” under his own personal control, a move of questionable legality.

Like Donald Trump, Francis is an authoritarian populist: he bypasses institutional structures and governs by executive order, but believes that there can be nothing tyrannical about this because he is acting in the name of the people and is committed to “draining the swamp” of his institution’s internal corruption.

Norms are created by institutions, and we live in an age of week and despised institutions. This is how populist leaders arise: when a great many people believe that institutions exist merely to serve themselves, they come to despise not just those institutions but also the norms associated with them, and applaud leaders who scorn and seek to tear down the whole edifice.

General contempt for our institutions, government and church alike, makes them too weak to enforce their norms, which first enables corruption — the kind of corruption American Catholic bishops and members of the Congress of the United States are guilty of — and then produces populist figures who appear to want to undo that corruption. But the institutions are too weak to control the leaders either, so those leaders are empowered to do more or less whatever they want to do. This is the case with Trump, who will surely last at least until the 2020 election, and also, I think, with Francis, who will probably last until he dies or chooses like his predecessor to resign.

Moreover, since neither Trump nor Francis is interested in doing the work needed to repair their corrupt institutions — they don’t even have any incentive to do so: the ongoing presence of ‘swamps’ is what lends them such legitimacy as they possess — all the products and enablers of corruption are safe. This is why the American bishops who spent decades enabling and hiding sexual abuse are probably feeling pretty good about their prospects right now.
This past Sunday the homilist said the problem is that many clergy live “soft lives” attentive to luxuries and this encourages others to become priests who want not only softness but outright infidelity. A slippery slope. The beach houses and grand homes of the hierarchy attract the wrong element.

It reminds me of how many say that Washington D.C. was ruined by air-conditioning. Once a/c came to the city, it became desirable. Once it became desirable it started attracting hacks who wanted to live there forever and thus made re-election their goal instead of improving the country, so they didn't have to go back to their godforsaken home districts that lacked the sizzle and glitter of the ever-growing capitol.

At least I have full closure on Pope Francis now. I unfollowed him on Twitter, lol as the kids say. The ViganĂ² memo without the backdrop of what we already know about Francis would've felt out of left field. As it was, for me, it seems right down 2nd base. Smoke, meet fire.

But some on Twitter reminded me that the proper response to the scandals is not primarily anger but repentance on behalf of those who need it.  Sobering. The Christian response is not to weep not out of a sense of betrayal, but for the victims and Pope Francis and the enablers of abuse.

One priest tweeted:
The effect of a what has been going on in the Church will be to make the Church effectively congregationalist in its polity. The laity will attend a parish of their choice, and network with other like-minded Catholics through organizations (both on- and offline) to which bishops are marginal. In the Church today, all of the exciting things are happening outside of the management of chanceries, and all of the things under the purview of chanceries (e.g. Catholic schools) are failed institutions, which in some cases actively undermine people's faith. Note: I am not saying that this is *desirable*, I'm just saying that it is the case.

Amy Welborn provides historical perspective:
There have always – always, people – been terrible problems in the Church. It’s unfortunate that general historical illiteracy, combined with contemporary experiences of faith that are mostly determined by which party you happen to fall into, work to hide this plain fact from most people...

What is consistent, it seems, is the overarching instinct to throw your lot in with the prevailing culture and its values – power, success, money, sex, a particular social system – and be formed by that instead of the Gospel, instead of the Cross of Jesus Christ.
I thought of that in how it juxtaposes with Jeff C's FB post*. One could say, with Amy, that history teaches over and over that corruption even at the highest levels has always been. But perhaps it’s like being robbed - you know the statistics, that there is a lot of crime, but until it happens to you personally it still feels distant. And for the current pope to be implicated feels “more real” than centuries ago.

Perhaps part of the surprise of some to the degeneracy of many of these leaders is due simply to what a priest sermonized recently about, how there seems to be an ignorance that the grace of the sacraments - including obviously Holy orders - cannot penetrate without the proper disposition. There’s no such thing as osmosis or magic, he said. Disposition is crucial and that’s standard Catholic teaching. A rock in a stream of water won't absorb much water. As George MacDonald wrote, "Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it."

* - “Tonight, many excellent Catholics are grieving due to Archbishop Vigano's devastating revelations about Pope Francis - the grief and tears of betrayal. Perhaps you and I grieved much earlier, for different reasons, and have now moved on to a cold cynicism, but that's no advantage. Remember what that grieving was like and grieve again.”

August 22, 2018

Shepherds as the '62 Mets

As a FB friend put it, it would be darkly comic if it wasn't so serious. I'm not sure what's preferable: silence from bishops or the insulting responses, the latter a sordid mix of blaming the victim and claiming an ignorance that conjures the spirit and morality of Sgt. Schultz.   Such as Cardinal Farrell, head of the Vatican office for laity and family, who said he was "shocked" when he heard the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick.

From a Catholic News Agency article:
"[Cardinal O'Malley] added that the U.S. bishops are all 'anxious to understand' how McCarrick became a bishop, archbishop, and cardinal if there were known allegations against him, given the vetting process that bishops have to go through before they are appointed to such positions."
A FB friend nails it:
"Really? I, for one, think we're getting to understand this pretty damn well. McCarrick was made a bishop because he a) had stellar fundraising and self promotion abilities, b) had the support of other powerful clerics whose favorite sport was sleeping with other clerics and c) benefited from the chosen blindness of other clerics who chose not to see even what was shoved under their noses as O'Malley did in this case.

And remember, O'Malley is 'one of the good ones' in terms of bothering to deal with clerical abuse. Many others are WORSE."

August 17, 2018

Cartoon Diversity

Well it's mighty nice to see political cartoons in the Dispatch and elsewhere taking a non-leftist point of view. Startling even.  May their tribe increase.

August 16, 2018

Irish Fest 2018

Irish festival in Dublin, Ohio was a few weekends back. Dublin Ohio, incidentally, is more Catholic and thus more Irish than Dublin, Ireland. Who could've known?

Started with the Hooligans band after long drive from work. The to “Jiggy”, direct from the olde sod, a various-influenced band. Not too bad - at least not overly familiar. Female singer like a lounge singer. Short gold dress that hugged, with lots of cleavage for those who aren’t leg men.

Moved by a song that spike of an Irish legend, how a man lost his dear wife and after her death she reappeared to him in the guise of a beautiful woman (a stranger to him) and he refused to make love to her as he was still in love with his wife. Poignant. And intriguing as it touches on the male’s weakest point, his concupiscent sex drive, which is precisely what makes the story go, the nature of sacrifice. It would’ve been less impressive by a half if the sexes in question were flipped. It’s precisely that God became man that gives the story of the Incarnation likewise it’s juice.

Then headed over to meet up with Mark and Sandy to catch Bridget’s Cross. Again it felt overly familiar and I was losing steam.

Irish mass Sunday morning with Fr Stephen Hayes. A rousing homily as usual. He said our relationship with Christ is like a marriage, it takes work and that Jesus is sometimes prickly, and “feral”., in Father’s interesting choice of word. You can’t put Jesus in a box.

He said he recalled an old Irish lady who offered Father tea before he was to hear her Confession. As she walked by a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus she gave a stare that “would’ve killed Christ again had he not already rose.” He asked what was the matter and she said she was mad at him for failing to answer a prayer of hers but, she added, it’s “just a lover’s tiff.” Father could tell by that she had a close relationship to Jesus and that He was real to her, in all His prickliness.

Bright white-hot day, swelteringly authentic August heat. Watched the battle of the pipe and drum bands and got chills hearing the bagpipes playing the Marine hymn.

Heard interesting Spoken Word character (re-enactors) giving tips on the unsavory practice of stealing bodies for medical research back in the 1800s. Surprisingly well done! Costumes were priceless and toothless savage dude perfect. They must have had stage acting experience.

Later hit a bit of Drowsy Lads with Mark and Sandy and then The Town Pants at Celtic rock. With a name like that they gotta be good.And yes, a nice quench of amplified Irish! I drank in the wall of sound to the tune of a Guinness. Resilience is a beautiful song.

August 14, 2018

Seven to Twelve Quick Takes

Went down the “distraction wormhole”. Started reading a Mark Helprin novel, which mentioned the old buildings of a university. That led me to download a free book on Miami U., full of historical photos, and a mention of 1953 missing student Ron Tammen, which led me to blog of a gal who was determined to crack that cold case (she thinks government involved and he was placed in witness protection), which led me to google what she’s up to now -- a professional dancer for the Chicago Bulls! Well now, putting her journalism degree to good use, I think snidely.

She mentions her favorite quote, by Samuel Beckett: “Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.” Which in context was meant by Beckett in a disparaging way, how humans do things impulsively and repent later.

But she took it literally, and I like it too in the sense that it reminds me of the quote from Samuel Johnson, approving of exercise’s impact on mental health, way back in the 1700s: “The necessity of action is not only demonstrable from the fabric of the body, but evident from ... how much happiness is gained, and how much misery escaped, by frequent and violent agitation of the body.”

So yes, run first and ask questions later.


So on this anniversary of my brother-in-law's untimely death (who was a Pelatonia participant), I rode a couple hours down to Plain City and back. Enjoyable romp that began in the sun and ended in clouds. The trail was nearly empty as I rode down that elegant tree-and-farm-lined lane into the quietest of quiet country near trail’s end. It made me think of the London house we almost bought and how loud I-70 was despite being almost a mile away. We should have thought of house-buying as something requiring the patience of years, not a couple months.


Last eve I drank in some baseball, which was surely tonic-ful. Got to hear Joe Morgan talk during an A’s game. Man technology is beautiful.


Read some of McCarrick’s book of columns. He mostly skates around the sexual issues; perhaps because he felt like he’s okay since he didn’t prey on children (too much), or, that he had been forgiven his sins and thus had a right to lead the anti-abuse parade. Happy the man for whom God has buried his sins.

Read some of Romans, chapter 4, and that’s just a goldmine of a chapter. Certainly I must keep uppermost in mind how God *forgives*, it’s what he does most of all. A saint said he wants to forgive us like a mother wants to save her child from a burning building.

The commentaries: “The Law remains in force, but the keeping of the Law does not sanctify us; rather, God’s grace enables us to go beyond the Law through a life of charity.”

The money quote from the Knox translation:

When a man’s faith is reckoned virtue in him, according to God’s gracious plan, it is not because of anything he does; it is because he has faith, faith in the God who makes a just man of the sinner.

I also thought of Fr Hayes calling Christ “feral”. It has a negative, or at best neutral, connotation, but part of what makes our dog Max “wild”, at least in his utter unpredictability, is he knows no boundaries in his affections. He’s scarcely trained at all - he peed in sunroom and barked till midnight (God calls for us incessantly, if extremely quietly), but there’s also a tenderness and gentleness that I’ve not seen in our other more well-behaved dogs. A feral God doesn't equate to a demanding God, those are unrelated non-sequitors. Wildness in God is simply that He's larger than life, especially tame life.


Simcha Fisher:
"You think you want to run away from the church. You think you will find a place where there is not so much hypocrisy, so much entrenched evil, a place that isn’t built from layer upon layer of guilt and shame and depravity. You may find such a place; I don’t know. But you will not find in it a God who weeps and bleeds and dies, who has taken sin into His bosom, swallowed it whole, let it burn in his belly until it finally burns out. You will only find this God in the Holy Roman Rotten Catholic Church, where the depraved teach young men how to confect God.

It is a rotten church. But it is not rotten to the heart because Jesus is the heart. There is more bloodshed there than I expected to see. But Jesus is there. He knew about Uncle Ted, and he knew about everything else we’re about to find out. That is why he came. Remember this, whatever else we do."
Decent rebuttal to the Rod Drehers of the world.


Interesting WSJ piece on favorite 100 novels on how people thirst for story over lyricism (me the opposite!):
Perhaps, for many readers, it does not make much difference whether a story is told in print or images on a screen. The narrative itself is what matters. In fact, the Great American Read list confirms that there is a great hunger in our culture for grand, mythic narratives. The adoration of the Harry Potter books, like the nearly scriptural status of the Star Wars movies, involves more than just fandom. These are comprehensive universes, complete with their own laws and histories, heroes and villains, morals and meanings. They serve the purpose that was once served by epic poems like “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey,” or even by biblical stories: They dramatize the spiritual truths and longings that shape our world.

Indeed, while there are some books on the top 100 list that could be categorized as strictly escapist entertainment, what’s striking is how many of them have a serious, didactic purpose. Americans are a moralistic people—that’s one reason why we argue so bitterly about politics—and our books reflect our love of sermons. “Atlas Shrugged” is a sermon on individualism and capitalism, just as “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a sermon on feminism and patriarchy. “The Catcher in the Rye” and “ Siddhartha ” are books that help young people, in particular, formulate a whole philosophy of life.

Then there are tales of good fighting against evil, whether they take the form of teen fantasies like “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” or use an explicitly Christian vocabulary, such as Frank E. Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” and the “Left Behind” series, which is set in a post-Rapture world. In a sense, you could say that the most influential book on the list is John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” from 1678, which helped to pioneer the combination of religious moralizing and fantastic adventure.

The need for such epic stories predates printed or even written literature and will survive even if books disappear, as many writers and readers now fear. In fact, the most interesting thing about the Great American Read list is the way it reminds us that stories are something separate from, and more fundamental than, what we call fiction, which is a fairly recent category, historically speaking. After all, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the novel became a dominant literary form, first in Europe and then around the world.


From Helprin novel: "It is possible to have eyes that are carelessly unobservant, that in failing their task they betray a listless soul." Well that’s a positive spin on lack of custody of the eyes.


This, from the sociologist author of Cheap Sex:
he end result [of porn] is spiritual passivity. And the empirical evidence supports this claim. Using two waves of survey data collected from the same people, University of Oklahoma sociologist Samuel Perry notes that pornography use predicted subsequent growth in religious doubts and declining personal importance of religion. Even being prompted to recall sexual experiences was found to diminish subsequent religious/spiritual aspirations in a series of controlled experiments conducted by researchers at a Belgium university.

Q & A from Peter Thiel on potential for lifespan to be 150 years:
Q: You don’t fear that at some point life is getting boring?
A: A couple of years ago, I was talking to a former math professor in his early 70s. He said “I don’t know if there is an afterlife, but I hope not because I don’t want to run into my exwife.” The mentality we should have instead: We want to treat the people around us, we want to be doing things, so that every day is such that you want it to go on forever. If you have a 5 year old kid around you who is bored, you don’t say: Hopefully you will die soon. You say: There are a lot of things to do. So there is no reason to be bored.