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.