Tuesday, December 18, 2012

slip slidin' away...

More blogposts cooked up during a semester's teaching...

Oh the complexities of physician-assisted suicide:  check out this from, of all places, the New York Times.  h/t Mirror of Justice blog

I'll have to admit, this is an excruciatingly difficult topic to tackle...but given medical advances I bet more and more of us will wind up confronting it.  My first real taste of how this issue can elicit strong emotions:  December 1990, Lawrence County, Missouri.  Nancy Cruzan's family had won court permission to have her feeding tubes removed.  Onto my little hometown, Mt. Vernon, Missouri, descended Operation Rescue.  In addition to some hyperbolic activism at the hospital steps (folks sobbing "I'm just trying to give a dying girl a drink of water" as they clutched paper Dixie cups in their hands), approximately 25 or so were arrested.  When brought to the county jail, they all gave their names as "Nancy Cruzan."  Home from college, I stood on the courthouse lawn across the street, watching in bewilderment as these self-appointed liberators played their act for the national media.  Those arrested blasted the Cruzan family and the Missouri locals, i.e., those of us who actually lived there, for our callous indifference to human life.  Talk about alienation.  The day after Christmas, Ms. Cruzan died and with her passing the media crush passed onto its next target/victim/recipient.

Not the first time nor the last when outsiders come to a small town, announce they're here to help, and then proceed to insult everyone.  When this happens in other parts of the world, it's called "colonialism."  When it happens in the Ozarks, it's called social progress. And they wonder where I got my cynicism from...

The ripple-effect of that event shaped my understanding of both euthanasia and the broader umbrella that is Catholic social teaching.  First, I admittedly confused Operation Rescue as representative of all Christian pro-life groups.  Now even OR distances itself from Randall Terry, one of the OR leaders who came to town in 1990.  Second, my thinking about abortion's legitimacy came about not through witnessing public activism but through reading--in this case some well reasoned arguments by, among others, Hadley Arkes at First Things.  That reading led me back to the Church's writings (I know, I know--I should've started there) and the reality of human life's intrinsic dignity.  Back in 1990 I supported both abortion and euthanasia.  Now, neither. I understand the pragmatic arguments given in support of both practices.  After all, I teach ethics classes to undergraduates, folks. However, the Church stresses that life questions are no place to fall back on the merely practical.  (If for no other reason, I stress to the students, this is where Kant had a good point: act in a way you'd allow to be universalized.  Permit violations of human dignity and eventually somebody will violate your dignity, i.e. KILL YOU.) 

In like fashion, the constant push--usually delivered in a morally superior tone that death-dealing practices like abortion and euthanasia are 'good for you'--for abortion and euthanasia appear as yet two more saccharine substitutes that offer only temporary satisfaction.  Following the death of somebody else (rarely do we fully consider the ramifications for our own lives) by abortion or euthanasia we tell ourselves we're all better off:  both the living and the dead.  (On this note, again, teaching undergraduates is quite revealing;  at least once a semester a wave of papers comes in stating, without a shred of irony or conscientiousness, that abortion is the best option "for both mother and child".)  Just like we don't like hear that "diet and exercise are good for you" but deep down we understand its truth, we also don't like hear--but deep down know the truth--that abortion and euthanasia end innocent, vulnerable lives and thus violate human dignity.  Those practices are like the fat-free chocolate cakes made popular in the mid-1990s;  we consumed even more than before because we wanted desperately to believe that we could gorge without consequence.

the best among us

Getting back to older posts left incomplete as the semester ended...

Four years ago last months (November 30) Bill Placher died suddenly in Minnesota.

In some ways it was surely just another tragic, unexpected death.  Bill was sixty and there was, apparently, some family history of heart problems.  Heart disease remains the nation's leading cause of death, killing more than half a million Americans each year. 

Every human death is a cause for sadness. Among those who knew Bill, though, his loss tore deeply into the fabric of their lives.  Nowhere was this more true than those of us who, like Bill, graduated from Wabash College.  A small (900 students), all-male liberal arts college in west-central Indiana, Wabash defies casual description.  God knows, though, how people have tried.  The students are "cavemen" or "Wallies."  Faculty there routinely bemoan either the all-male student body or the students' apparent lack of concern for diversity and difference of opinion or, most usually, both.  The all-male environment creates a myriad of unique situations:  single-sex classrooms, living units, and, more often than students want to admit, parties.  Wabash students and alumni are well-known for their pride in their school as well as their willingness to address--in quite specific and shocking details--its problems. 

Amid it all stood Bill Placher, class of 1970.  He returned to teach at Wabash after doctoral studies at Yale University with George Lindbeck, David Lindsey, and Hans Frei (who had taught at Wabash during the 1950s).  In a college known for its great teachers, Bill moved about in rarefied air.  He was, one "Rate My Professor.com" evaluation stated, "simply THE MAN."  Most Wabash men major in the real world disciplines like Biology, Chemistry, or Economics;  fields that can get you a lucrative career.  Those students often considered a Placher class just as required as Physical Chemistry II or Macroeconomics.  Others, though, basically majored in Placher classes.  His offering the course indicated it was required material:  Christian Theology, Augustine, Aquinas, Modern Philosophy, whatever.  Bill's teaching skills matched his writing, which made understandable the complex and initially confusing.  No matter the reading--Wittgenstein, Plato, Karl Barth, feminism (which he insisted we read--lots of funny stories of his leading a room full of 19 year boys/men through a detailed reading of The Color Purple or a passage by Mary Daly)--if you had questions entering the class, they'd be answered clearly when you left.

 Bill knew the College's history (starting with its origins in Presbyterian mission work) and appreciated its potential precisely as an all-male college in the small-town Midwest.  To me, at least, it seemed that Wabash embodied, in all its limits, fallibility and human-ness, the mustard seed parable in Mark's Gospel.  From small, humble origins great things could come.  Thus Bill not only inspired and supported the students but his faculty colleagues, too.  When he spoke, it was an *event* on campus.  E.g., see here.  His student and colleague, Steve Webb, offered this assessment of Bill's theological legacy just after Bill's death. 

At his funeral the congregation, at Bill's request, this hymn. Also at his request, it was sung briskly.  More than the words spoken, I've always treasured that last request.  The Christian life should a celebration, sung briskly and joyfully, of this life but always with an eye for the life that is to come.  Bill taught us this and lived it himself.  He was, humbly, a great man and he now rests, as Steve wrote, in the arms of God. 

out on a limb

After the semester's conclusion Spiritual Diabetes has returned.  Lots to discuss...

I'll tackle the Sandy Hill elementary school shootings first. There are several posts to follow, but first things first.

28 people dead and, as several folks have observed, it now seems so ordinary:  young male, loner, has legal access to firearms (in this case, including an assault rifle), unspeakable carnage, suicide-at-scene.

But this time:  20 children, ages 6 & 7, killed.  Not just shot, but each shot multiple times.  And, apparently, it could've been worse.  See the Neo-Neocon's assessment for this.

Truth be told, such scenes shouldn't "seem ordinary" -- multiple shooting deaths have become expected?  Still, the deaths of children shock even the most hardened.  Just off the cuff recall the 1995 image of the Oklahoma City firefighter cradling a dead infant after the federal building bombing or the several scenes of U.S. military men and women working with children in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

And now, the deluge.  There are so many blog posts asking why?:  here, here, here, and here are four good ones.  The expected call for greater gun control, though, has gone off the rails.  Thank God there's more reasoned discussion concerning the assessment of mental disability with regard to public safety.  Even the entertainment industry has, at least momentarily, pondered its own role in such tragedies.  One of the reasons why Spiritual Diabetes exists at all is, at times like this, to avoid  fueling the usual fires of, well, the super-sweet but un-nutritional intellectual and spiritual arguments we usually feed ourselves.

With that in mind, we're going rogue with this contribution:  zombie apocalypse.  Hear me out.  My students (mostly the usual undergraduate demographic, ages 18-24) love zombie jokes, movies, Facebook memes, and attire.  Mindless zombies running around with no goal other than DEATH.  (Just whose  death we'll get to shortly.)  You don't need two degrees in film studies to understand the genre's popularity. With movies ranging from Dawn of the Dead (which starts with the incomparable Johnny Cash singing "There's a Man going 'round") to Cloverfield (where unnamed space aliens become the zombies) to more realistic horrors like Contagion (wherein a lightning-fast epidemic utterly unravels the social fabric as its cure eludes the experts) we've become accustomed to, and perhaps even expect, death's sudden, faceless, single-minded presence in our midst. So the inevitable cry "WHY?" gets stifled because something's still out there, seeking only our death.

We entertain ourselves with a genre that celebrates random death and underlines Hobbes' "state of nature" that deep down we're really nothing but senseless, raging animals. In Dawn of the Dead the zombies win!  In  The Road the father and son wander across a post-apocalypse continent teeming with lawless cannibals.  In Contagion the disease is heroically cured but life doesn't go back to 'normal'; garbage lines the street, upscale neighborhoods have been ransacked, sports stadiums have become vaccination centers.

At some point somebody will argue, if they haven't already, that zombie movies are one more attempt to wrestle with the awareness of our own finitude.  We know we're all going to die, but that doesn't help when facing the fact of TWENTY dead first-graders.  A movie genre where senseless carnage wears the costume of mindless death helps elide the pain. 

Back to the students and the t-shirts:  humor about tripping our friends and zombies liking fast food help, too.  Or, the film genre tells us, we'd like to think so.

NOW I AM *NOT* saying the shooter Adam Lansa, any other shooter at similar mass-killings, or anybody with Asperger's or autism is a "zombie."  Not analogy, not a metaphor, zilch.  I am not making those associations.  REPEAT: I am not making that connection.

But I think that we, in our discussions in the aftermath of such tragedies, do just that. Notice the photos of Adam Lansa and attend to the descriptions of him as well as other mass-killing shooters:  inability to feel pain, vacant looks, difference...and the family members' pleas for understanding.  We have an entertainment genre--fueled by our own choices--that tells us that that's ultimately what we really are:  either the zombies that mindlessly feed on the living or the living who can't escape the inevitability of becoming zombie food.

It is telling that in all these science-fiction/zombie apocalypse films there's a "saving remnant" -- some little shred of humanity makes it out alive, at least for the time being.  We'd each like to think that we'll be in that remnant, the chosen few instead of the faceless millions who've fed the zombies or become zombies ourselves.    The Old Testament prophet Amos had something to say about that presumption.  So, once again, the faith's tradition runs afoul of our cultural framing.

Forget the movies---what about our experience?  Right now the nation, and especially the grieving in Newtown, are still in that despair captured by the end of Lamentations.  As Pope Benedict XVI and Elizabeth Scalia have noted (and I'm sure Scalia would herself yield the floor to the Pope!), God sides with the suffering and grants us the room to rant and rage about tragedies like Newtown.  But the Crucifixion ended not with more death but with the Resurrection.  Obviously Newtown isn't there yet;  it's up to the rest of us to help them through.  Because at some point we all face death's onslaught.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

oh for goodness' sake...

Secessionist petitions?

In a word: not helping.

When things get really hairy, after prayer and Scripture and the Tradition, I tend to fall back on whatever's going on at the Front Porch Republic, First Things, and occasionally The American Conservative.  Now don't fret; I also like John Allen, Jr., America, and Commonweal. 

Anyway, last month Jeffrey Polet made a wonderful analysis at FPR.  Way down in the article Polet writes:
All of this, as I say, means restating what human beings are, how we account for their lives, what they are responsible for, and the limits of a freedom so articulated. But Americans don’t like to hear about limits, and for that reason alone the conservative voice will remain one crying in the wilderness.

Until the city becomes the wilderness, as inevitably it must. We are on the way of Nineveh, and those who live on its margins will be those who survive the collapse and can reconstruct something humanly meaningful. I’ve committed myself to the idea that this culture and our politics can be saved, and that things aren’t so bad as all that. I’ve resisted the strategy of withdrawal as irresponsible and impractical. (emphasis mine)

 This sort of sanity is exactly what we need at this time and it's what I'm afraid is being lost in the post-election fray.  Yes, the election was a brutal one, atrocities committed on both sides.  Obama won and Romney lost, so that means the sort of humor and public-debate-tone-setting falls to the Democrats first.  Therein lies part of the problem.  Charity, and the lack thereof, is the entire problem.  Yes, to the victor go the spoils.  Yes, Romney lost.  And YES, if Romney won there'd be a mirror opposite problem with humor and debate-tones.

And the same problem would exist, but that doesn't mean the lack of charity now is any less of an issue because Obama won.  Because Obama won, we now face the situation we're facing.  Responding "well, it'd be worse if Romney won" is pointless.  He didn't, and we aren't. 

Charity, the Catechism reminds us, is "superior to all the virtues" (#1826).  Charity provides the form for the other virtues, thus enabling us to exercise prudence, justice, temperance, and courage to higher degrees than if we lacked charity.  The Catechism concludes at #1829:

The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.

What does this have to do with secessionist petitions?  Easy--such actions are not charitable.  Nor are videos making light of opposition to same-sex marriage.  In an earlier day, I was warned when winning a game "not to rub the other guy's face in it."  Nothing wrong with winning and nothing wrong with celebrating it, but don't be uncharitable, basically.  And don't be a sore loser when you lose...which you will do. 

But both of these options--triumphal gloating and bitter denial of loss--have grasped our national culture.  It's this lack of charity that concerns me and, quite frankly, should concern others. Polet's "post-mortem" gets this and thus refuses to separate from the culture and our governing structure.  (Yes, I realize George Weigel's proposal to separate from the state regarding SSM represents a different tack.) On the victor's side, a little less heavy-handed rhetoric about coming together as one nation would be a welcome sign.  Charity is a great medicine to cure our nation's multi-faceted spiritual diabetes, but how many are willing to engage such a "diet and exercise" cure?

radical = back to roots

Not your usual George Weigel column at First Things.

First, to whet your appetite, Weigel considers the HHS mandate and the reality of Obamacare.  The lawsuits to protect religious freedom might win.  Or they might not.  Either way the Church faces an uphill battle:

But with Obamacare now seemingly set in concrete, the Church will face a host of such implementing “mandates” and it will be imperative to contest those that are morally unacceptable, time and time again.

Then there's gay marriage.  There's a lot to consider here.  As I told some students yesterday, excepting a miniscule minority even opponents of SSM don't desire some intrusive anti-gay witch hunt.  Traditional marriage should be defended and, if we remember the Catechism's view, our gay friends and family members need our prayers and solidarity.  Weigel's not concerned about that, though. 

Thus it seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not preemptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law.

Well, that ought to grab some attention!  Forget about withdrawing from the healthcare industry, let's get out of the state's relationship regarding marriage!!  Granted, this is the first I've seen this measure advanced and nothing happens without the bishops (and Rome) deciding to do so.  But still, it's a refreshing, if idealistic, consideration.

Weigel then brings up a more familiar topic:  the relationship of the Church with Catholic politicians who don't conform--and apparently don't care if called out for not conforming--to Catholic social teachings.  This is where an array of voices ranging from Mark Shea to Vince Miller might agree if the concommitant recognition of economic injustice receives the same sort of support.  I.e., if pro-choice Catholic officials need to toe the line, then for this to really work the same will be required of Catholic officials (others?  the same pro-choice ones?) who bracket their faith regarding the death penalty, euthanasia, and, you guessed it, economic and environmental justice.

Either way, Weigel harbors no illusions about the future:
Radically converted Christian disciples, not one-hour-a-week Catholics whipsawed by an ever more toxic culture, are what this hour of crisis, in both senses of the term, demands. 
The same clarion call hasn't come from the bishops....yet.  As blogged earlier, the guidance there takes a quieter but no less committed approach.  Still, Weigel shows some refreshing willingness to consider what might be needed.


From Matthew Schmitz at First Things:

As a Christian, I do not think ceaseless talk about homosexuality is the best way to spread the Gospel of Christian love. As a citizen, I view a culture of divorce as a greater problem for the common good. If I had my bones, I would have socially conservative candidates act like Robert McDonnell in his race for Virginia’s governorship: Hold the line, but do not rhetorically escalate. Quietly move forward a culture of life.

Absolutely right.  This should _always_ be the angle of attack, so to speak.  Fallout from the 2012 election has produced waves of "the Catholic bishops overplayed their hand" comments. Already, though, Cardinal Dolan has laid out an agenda which is neither post-election concession nor defeat.  (And even that's not good enough, apparently.)  So much work to do, no time for crying over the election, especially when the smart money indicated that Romney victory would've brought a different set of challenges instead of merely deliverance from (presumably) an unjust rule.  The Church's work continues apace, willing to work with all people of good will.  Including, presumably, the nation's Catholic academic establishment.

One of the issues at stake, quite frankly, seems resonant with middle-school level socialization, i.e., teaching young individuals to stand up to peer pressure.  When possessed by an opinion or view unpopular among one's peers, we tell young people to stick up for their beliefs.  Furthermore, with the rush to combat bullying, we encourage teenagers to stand in solidarity (notice the lurking Catholic social justice terminology behind all this?) with those who suffer social ostracism. 

All good--but notice that is precisely THE OPPOSITE of what the bishops' critics argue.  The bishops overplayed their hand in the 2012 presidential election, thuggishly implying that a vote for Obama was a vote against religious freedom and the culture of life.  But shouldn't the bishops--precisely because they're bishops!--and the rest of Catholic America maintain its particular vision of Catholic social justice despite (momentary) evidence that their vision lacks popular support?  If our young people should learn to stand by their beliefs despite backlash, shouldn't we expect religious communities to do the same?  What are faith and ethics if they change according the prevailing winds?

Hence the need for quiet but nonetheless steadfast work to advance the culture of life.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hegelian mind games

Of course, some would say everything Hegelian is a mind game, but we'll deal with those folks later.

First, the thesis:  the Catholic bishops overplayed their hand and Obama's administration won't be that bad.  Courtesy of Vince Miller, author and lead signature on "On All Our Shoulders"

Antithesis:  others instead conclude that the Catholic bishops didn't do enough to counteract Obama's malevolent snookering of American Catholics.

Hegel would say that we're now supposed to arrive a synthesis...which in turn means a new thesis.

heads explode in 5...4...3...

This blog is far too young--and this blogger far too inexperienced--to jump into the election postmortems. There are others who have done that already and quite well

Referring to an earlier blogpost, though, the Obama administration's willingness to play fast and loose with its implementation of the healthcare mandate remains far from a concluded battle.  The administration still seems unwilling to admit that there's really any problem.  Ditto that for Obama's Catholic supporters like those in the academy.  Either these folks thirsted so greatly for Obama's reelection that they were willing to overlook a clear infringement on religious freedom OR they want to join some others in forcing the Church's hand to change some teachings. 

That decision, despite the short-term gains enjoyed by Obama's victory Tuesday, strikes me as unfortunate.  Miller and his fellow "Shoulders" signers know the depth and breadth of, and the profound spiritual and social treasures found within, the Catholic social thought tradition.  Part of that tradition, it's made quite clear, is that the Church's magisterium runs the show.  Ultimately Rome, and thus the bishops, are in control.  There's substantial leeway granted, but ultimately when Benedict XVI links social progress to Paul VI's Humanae Vitae and when John Paul II defines "the culture of life" then that's the framework in which we work. (For those keeping score at home, that references Caritas in Veritate #15 [at least!] and Evangelium Vitae #29 [at least!], respectively.)  Claiming that Obamacare betters fits the Catholic social thought tradition than Paul Ryan's supposed Ayn Rand-influenced budget settles nothing and, I think, actually worsens the situation.  Obamacare requires Catholic institutions to violate their own principles.  A Romney administration would've caused several headaches, but would have alleviated that particular one.  Nevertheless, Obama won, so that means what the Church (and the nation!) need now is a greater, cohesive defense of the Church's social thought tradition AND its constitutional rights.  Here's at least one attempt, but there should be others, and even then I think the pro-Obama Catholic academy has already conceded the high ground.  That's where Rod Dreher (no longer himself Catholic but certainly still sympathetic) has the right idea:  retrench to focus on religious liberty.  How many of the "Shoulders" signers would agree to that?

I know, I know....heads explode (again) in 5...4...3...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Remember thou art dust...

and to dust we shall return.

Two stories discovered while trolling on Election Day:

Michael Anthony Novak at America magazine discussing a recent cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries
Deanna Thompson on her own blog discussing a recent cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries.

Full disclosure:  Deanna and I crossed paths twenty-odd years ago at Vanderbilt; she an ascending doctoral student in Theology and I a maladjusted master's student.  Then she became, among other things, one of emerging leaders of young scholars in the AAR.  News of her cancer diagnosis shocked me, so what it must've done to her family and friends eclipses my comprehension.

I don't know Mr. Novak, but his story--which I read just hours after discovering Deanna's blog--is equally gripping.

And here's the point:  in both cases there's a sense of the unflinching, unconquerable human spirit--the one who is sick still struggling with the diagnosis and not yet ready to give up--as well as a sure notion of grace both immanent and transcendent.  Both Anthony and Deanna attest to this in their stories.  The temptation to verbosity should be resisted here.  Better to read their stories and contemplate our own lives and the God who sustains us all.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Comedy porn

David French offers us this little nugget from Bill Maher.

Uh, what?  Not that my opinion matters, but whenever anybody wants to complain about the lack of civility in our nation, Maher ought to be example number ONE.  To keep things balanced, I hold a similarly dim view of right-wingers who consistently hammer Obama's supposed Muslim roots.  Ditto for the viral pics of Michelle Bachmann eating a corndog or the photoshopped comparisons of Michelle Obama to Chewbacca.

This sort of snark comes from two places:  1) the very same technology by which I compose and you read this blog;  2) strands of 1980s-era college humor that combine savage satire with an utter lack of social conscience.  True confession:  I know more about the latter than I do the former.  Still working on this whole "blog" thing...

But ripping apart my enemies without any concern for their reputation, especially if it gives me a rhetorical advantage?  SURE.  Hey, Leo Durocher said he'd run over his mom at third if it meant winning the game.  THIS, though, is the acid corroding our ability to perceive each other's instrinsic dignity as humans...and of course act accordingly.

Maher, of course, doesn't give a damn about religion (see this dressing-down from the Weekly Standard). And it's obvious from the clip that he means to ridicule the supposed racism of Romney voters.  (let's leave aside for a second the presumption there:  vote for Romney = racism)  Still, the virtue of prudence suggests that joking about voting and race wars is simply wrong.  Not just a bad idea, it is harmful.  (See the Catechism #1807, 1810-1.)

Just as some have written about food porn or weather porn, maybe one of the unspoken hungers we Americans suffer from is comedy porn.  We already have the word schadenfreude to describe this:  getting our jollies watching others suffer.  Comedy porn might recall the Greek original word: pornography means something like "anger writing," so "comedy porn" would mean something like "funny anger."  Thus, it's OK to ridicule Republican voters or our first African-American First Lady because, well, they made us angry and our ridicule of them is, well, funny.

Nothing like a little seventh-grade logic to make your day, eh?

Originally when I drummed this whole "Spiritual Diabetes" vision I had planned to lampoon a variety of popular spirituality expressions I'd seen from the mid-1990s up through 2004 or so.  Then John Kerry lost the 2004 election and the next day the JESUSLAND cartoon began circulating.  That's when I realized that maybe I had missed an angle.  The Left thirsts for comedy porn just as much as the Right...and they're both wrong.

That's one of the reasons why, more and more, the Christian tradition's insistence on God's sovereignty and the Church's counter-cultural social justice tradition seem the only, well, prudent responses.

long-awaited endorsement *cough cough*

As a wise bard once said, "Don't call it a comeback!"

_Spiritual Diabetes_ has not closed.  Rather, your intrepid blogger ran off on pilgrimage to Rome for the recent canonization of seven blesseds including upstate New York native St. Kateri Tekakwitha.  More on that in a later blog post.  Suffice to say, it was quite a trip.  Nothing like going to church with a couple hundred THOUSAND of your fellow believers.  Along with that, an object lesson about the use of Latin.  But all that later...

More immediately, the election tomorrow.  Perhaps you've heard of it and the candidates running for office.  I suppose the truly observant blogger would've posted daily with insights about the races, the candidates' positions and perspectives, and the rhetoric with which the races have been conducted.  If I'd done that, then maybe some of what follows wouldn't be necessary.  Obviously I didn't, so now it's time to place a little catch-up.

SPIRITUAL DIABETES endorsement:  Mitt Romney.

Voting for Romney might very well cause several problems for those of us committed to the Catholic Church's vision of social justice.  I am especially concerned about energy production, quite frankly, living in upstate New York.  We just got the water clean, and now fracking might undo that.

Still, here's the one point:  voting Romney offers a chance to undo the HHS mandate.  Everything after that is negotiable, and I'd bet the US Catholic bishops would hold the Romney administration's feet to the fire regarding immigration, capital punishment, and health care just as they have with President Obama.

But the fact remains:  the HHS mandate is a direct assault on religious freedom and especially the Catholic Church.  This must be overturned.  Otherwise, all religious groups can expect a gradual infringement of their rights.  Yes, yes, yes, I know New York State already has laws similar to the HHS mandate.  There are, though, significance differences between a state deciding to do so and the federal government decreeing one state's actions should be the way for the other forty-nine.

Perhaps tipping my hat more than I should regarding other issues, ever since the HHS mandate was announced I could think only of... Karl Barth.  Yes, the old curmudgeon of Reformed theology, the guy who once equated the Thomistic "analogia entis" with the anti-Christ.  That being said, Barth was the one who saw the Nazi regime for what it was.  In an age when some scholars (even Jewish ones) simply could not recognize the Nazi threat, Barth said (famously) "NO!"

At some point the HHS mandate needs a similar NO!...and tomorrow is the day to deliver it.

Announcing this will probably scare away this blogger's already-scant readership.  But the whole point of this medium is some degree of public honesty and integrity, right?  The Catholic voices weighing in on the presidential race are legion--and many, like the demonic crowd in Mark 5, appear similarly unruly. Catholic bloggers like Mark Shea and Vox Nova have made it clear that a vote for EITHER Obama OR Romney does not square fully with Catholic social teaching.  Quite frankly, those bloggers make a very prescient point.  Voters, especially Catholics, fool themselves if a vote for a particular candidate inaugurates a social-economic-political vision completely resonant with their faith (secular or religious).

It's this self-congratulatory thirst for spiritual fulfillment and recognition that sparked the idea for Spiritual Diabetes

That brings me to the "Catholics for Obama" crowd. Talk about thirsting after something that ultimately isn't good for you... There are those whose support for President Obama leads them to make, in my mind, some very unwise statements regarding the unsuitability of Romney and Ryan.  I know of, and in some cases have worked very closely with, many signers of "On All Our Shoulders."  Quite frankly, the combination of logic and vitriol employed seems quite out of character.  I.e., it doesn't read like the arguments those people normally make.  Whatever--they made them....and, ultimately, they're wrong. A vote for Obama certainly supports some of what the Church's Magisterium teaches on social justice.  In fact, the Church's social justice tradition enthusiastically endorses the values that promote universal health care.

But not one that 1) violates religious freedom and 2) does so precisely on the 'life' issues. 

And in that regard Catholic support for Obama fails. This break between life and social ethics is precisely what Benedict XVI warns against in Caritas in veritate, esp. sections 15, 44, and 51.  It's this thirst for Obama's perceived suitability for Catholic social justice that, in this election, must be seen for what it is:  a left-leaning symptom of spiritual diabetes.

Friday, October 12, 2012

new media scholars take note

All that razz-ma-tazz about religious devotion being outdated and worthless?


h/t Mark Shea

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I've just about had it...

with my fellow Catholic academics, especially theologians, writing columns regarding next month's election that combine rhetorical exclusivism (there's no room for disagreement, apparently) and occasional snark. This is the sort of thing that leads to theologians sending elected officials copies of the  Compendium on Social Doctrine of the Church.

Oh wait, that's already been done.

I don't know Dr. Finn. He's free to write such columns and charity requires that they be read, well, charitably, i.e., fairly.  In fact, I actually like some of the argument.  Discussions of prudence and intrinsic evil?  Sure! 

However, there will be people liking the article on Facebook...and then turning around to damn George Weigel who, let's just say, has a different view.  Folks, you can't play it that way.  BOTH Finn and Weigel are free to make their cases with recourse to Catholic teaching.  Free country, free people, free minds, keep on rockin' in the free world...

But, and this clinches it for me, separating ourselves from the Church where we want is not an option.  In that regard--on this issue as well as overall--I think Weigel has the stronger position.  I'm also not thrilled about the implication that Finn's position is stronger than Archbishop Chaput's.  (Criticism of the hierarchy--another blog post for another day...)  But I say that not because I'm enamored with Weigel and hate Dr. Finn.  No, it's because I, too, have read what Benedict XVI thinks.

Sports and Religion: the beginning

You better believe it:  sports and religion are a hot topic.

But really, why shouldn't they be?  The scholarly types will remember that Catherine Albanese laid some foundations for this sort of interdisciplinary work years ago with her textbook America: Religion and Religions.  Sports are the ordinary form of community, creed, code, and cult while actual "religions" supply the extraordinary side, that spiritual connection that transcends immediate circumstances.

And it seems Catholic voices are in the middle of it all.  Major League Baseball draws comments from John Allen Jr and Elizabeth Scalia, two Catholic bloggers who usually viewed as opposites on the ideological spectrum.

Heck, even Catholic moral theologians have joined this topic, weighing in on the morality of football.

Somewhere in Heaven the Notre Dame alumni are aghast.  I really wonder how many theologians who write on sports issues actually take seriously their own arguments.  On the one hand, it's quite legitimate to question football's stranglehold on American life.  It might be that one thing that's too big to fail, at least economically speaking.  But its effects on those who play the sport--dementia, increased health maladies including diabetes--and those who watch it--again, diabetes and inactivity--undermine that.  Folks in the academy duly recognize all this...and then make off-mike comments about how they can't stand the Chicago Bears or whoever plays Notre Dame. This is at least problematic, if not outright contradictory.

I've written--and am writing, s-l-o-w-l-y--about these topics, too.  The baseball-Catholic-football connection has deep roots in American Catholicism's 20th century experiences.  We haven't yet plumbed the depths of how the Catholic faith--held deeply or not so much--operates for someone who made his or her living off competition.  After all, it was Leo Durocher who said "Nice guys finish last" and Vince Lombardi said "Winning isn't everything. It is the only thing."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rootedness and its discontents

The short version of a very long blog post is that there's a lot of really good stuff already out there:
*  The Front Porch Republic, for example.  This piece by David Walbert hits home for this blog; the notion that food has become such a divisive topic--too much like religion now?--alludes to that opening theme of "thirst" I mentioned.  Without trying to hammer Walbert, there's a problem with so much blogosphere hand-wringing over ethical practice.  Concerns about food porn are real and legitimately voice, but the problem is that almost everybody who makes and heeds such arguments has blind spots:  the academic conference where we prattle over elite menus and choose snobby microbrews just like everybody else in our group.  The inverse food porn parallel holds, too, I think:  almost every academic fretting over organic food will, at times, tackle the cheap pizza and canned beer just like anybody else.  I.e., what used to be called "slumming" -- except in food now. 

Another favorite FPR topic:  sense of place as in this by Patrick Deneen.  I figured among the many applauding Deneen's departure of Georgetown for South Bend.  The blog link also hammers the faux elitism of so many academics drawn to eastern urban centers like Washington DC. So so true. He's not really a FPR-er but Rob Dreher has written eloquently about his wanderings leading him (and his family) back to his Louisiana home. All very good and good antidote to so much modernist

And yet I must admit some dissatisfaction with the "local space" argument.  Part of the Christian message is a dis-ease (perhaps ala Walker Percy or Dorothy Day) with one's place in the world....since our true home is in Heaven.  There's always "something else" that the Christian tradition celebrates which pulls out of our local particularities.  So it's important to celebrate South Bend, Louisiana, and even Albany, but none of these locations can be viewed as ultimate.  Being only part of creation they can't be synonymous with the Creator. 

*  First Things consistently provides all sorts of wonderful posts, too.  This brilliant deconstruction of historian Eric Hobsbawm names--yet once again--the western world's refusal to see Marxism for what it was and is:  violent oppression of humanity and the human spirit.  This willingness to forget Marxism's horrors is the other side of spiritual diabetes:  that thirst for "real" and authentic experience--true reform!  real spiritual experience!  great sex!  good food!--creates a crazed search for practices and peoples to satisfy our thirsts.  The problem--the "diabetic" one I've labeled--is that we've lost the ability to convert that which we've already consumed...and the side effects include spiritual flabbiness and thirst.  So our secular friends suffer as much as the religious folks we know.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Still need to drum up those aforementioned "position statements" regarding my views on faith, academic culture, sports, etc.  Patience humbly requested...

This blog will, on occasion, pursue topics further afield than "merely" religious ones.

That being said, OCTOBER 3, people!  What a day.  Nineteen years ago this was the "Battle of Mogadishu"--the basis for the book and movie Black Hawk Down.  The effects of this one day battle still reverberate in the American military and American culture's interpretations thereof.  It was the single largest loss of lives in combat between the Vietnam War  and the post-9/11 Global War on Terror.  The day featured puzzling tactical decisions and singularly heroic actions.

And I, like many Americans, dozed right through it.

It took a while for me to understand and appreciate fully what happened that day.  References to avoiding "another Black Hawk Down" cropped up continually in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. An entire culture of "COINistas" (counterinsurgency strategists) have emerged here with wide-ranging discussions of warfare tactics, military ethics, and service branch cultural differences.  Whenever any of my Catholic theological colleagues get either misty-eyed or indignant over America's military hegemony, I keep thinking they might change their tune if they swam in SWJ waters for a while or read Rob Schultheis' great book about early post-invasion Iraq.

At some point, consequently, there will be an extended blogofied discussion of just war theory.  Just sayin'

Meanwhile, it's the last day of the baseball season.  Baseball--and its differences with the other great American sport, football--will appear frequently on this blog, hopefully with enough of a unique take to make it worth everybody's while.  The baseball faithful remember this day for one great at-bat by Bobby Thomson.  The Giants win the pennant, indeed, and yes, reality did indeed strangle invention.

Of course, we learned in 2001 that Leo Durocher, the Giants manager, had rigged the Polo Grounds with a simple cheating system to steal pitching signs.  So maybe invention still had something to do with it.

Two events on the same day, each exerting its own influence on American life.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Slapping labels

Why does this blog have this name?  It dawned on me that this blog's name/label is intrinsically negative.  Several great Catholic blogs emphasize the positive:  Mark Shea, Elizabeth Scalia, Fran Szpylczyn, etc.  But not Spiritual Diabetes.  Oh no, this one has debut saying there's a problem:  "Look, over there!  People who suffer from a problem I don't have..."  

Hopefully, this blog will avoid such hypocrisy.  It will, though, examine popular American spirituality through the lens of dietary fads and prescriptions.  For several years scholarly and popular health publications have assailed the emergence of a diabetes epidemic.  Type II, or “adult onset”, diabetes is a disease you give yourself.  Overeating combined with the pervasive sedentary tendencies of American life makes a deadly combination.   As with diet, so with spiritual practice.  These discussions provide an analogical foundation for assessing a similarly “diabetic” disease crippling America's religious cultures.

Just as Type II diabetes results from overeating and a sedentary life, spiritual diabetes debilitates the soul by engulfing with spiritualities.  Saccharine spiritualities are not under the blade here, since whatever's saccharine is ultimately fake and a noticeably poor substitute.  Ultimately impractical and indigestible, several recent spiritual fads only exacerbate an already critical situation wherein the patient literally “believes” her/himself to death.  Examples range across the nation’s ideological divide and consume popular culture. The jokes describing “Jesusland” after the 2004 presidential election indicated the onset of spiritual diabetes as much as evangelical Protestantism’s unquestioning embrace of the Republican party and “prosperity theology”. Popular books like The Da Vinci Code, The Prayer of Jabaz, the Left Behind series, Girzone’s humanized Jesus of the Joshua books, and even Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz likewise represent the problem. 
Spoilt for choice, Americans consume spirituality in copious amounts but still lead sedentary religious lives.  Consequently we do not burn the “calories”—intellectually, liturgically, or simply living the Christian life.  This caloric deluge creates a diabetic condition wherein the spiritual diabetic suffers a great thirst for all things spiritual but never enjoys any lasting satisfaction.  With physical diabetes obesity prevents production of insulin, and the problem spirals out of control.  Something similar appears in spiritual diabetes.  Just as the diabetic’s blood courses with rotting sugar that cannot be converted, spiritual diabetics find themselves “awash in a sea of faith” (to paraphrase Jon Butler’s 1990 history of early American religions) but lacking any awareness of what causes their thirst.  They simply keep “eating”.
          The cure, it would seem, does not require spiritual starvation, but rather a new (and admittedly somewhat sobering) spiritual diet to correct the damage.  Just as starvation does not cure diabetes but kills the diabetic, spiritual diabetes cannot be eliminated through secularism or spiritual veganism. (Something for a future post...)  The Catholic intellectual tradition provides the best such spiritual dietary foundation.  The question is "Who can handle that sort of diet and exercise plan?"  The answer:  "Well, we all should..."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Position statements -- Introduction

After several years of him-hawing, Spiritual Diabetes the blog is now a reality. 

Great--now what?

First there will be a set of position statements regarding:
*  defining "Spiritual Diabetes" and my thoughts thereon--why the name, quo vadis, etc.
*  what this blog will and will not do, post, etc.

Second the fun begins.  Or at least that's what they tell me.  We'll see.

Hopefully this will become a space for regular, if not frequent, reflection on religious, theological, spiritual, and cultural themes in American life generally and Roman Catholicism specifically.

You have been warned.

first post

First post so we'll see how this goes.