Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I may have to read Mein Kampf at some point....

I was scanning the radio on the way back from my sister's when I came across that rarest of species, a secular-progressive talk station.  I've occasionally caught snippets during past trips to and from my sister's house.  Sometimes I try to listen, get some perspective on how the other half lives, but usually:  no dice.  I'm not certain what it means that I can hear about the same stories and personalities (granted, from widely varying perspectives) when I turn on Rush, FOX News, CNN, or pick up a newspaper; but when I find a liberal talk radio station, it's like I'm hearing about a different country that has the same election schedule and officials with the same names.  Might be fun to speculate, but I don't feel like it right now; gonna try doing that "concise, focused" thing again.
Anyway, they were going on about how the Republicans kind of got power back in the midterm elections and how the House, I think it was they were specifying, was not a representative body but took most of its influence from relatively few big-number donors.  Okay, not an uncommon cynical view in any political camp.  They were talking about how Obama was kind of a political island, having been abandoned by his competent advisors and having found only unfit replacements, or something to that effect.  Again, not something hard to agree with.  I did find it a bit hard to swallow the implied conspiracy that everyone in Congress had fallen a bit under the sway of the same corporate interests; while that itself might not be false, it was too pat of a way to frame Obama as a lonely crusader and martyr.
Then one of radio personalities tried to circumvent Godwin's Law.  I wanted to be fair, especially when he tried to assuage his listeners that he was trying to make a valid comparison to the former German National Socialist party and not a cheap villifying one, and particularly because he was referring to something out of Mein Kampf, which I think he said he read, and which I have not read.  He said Hitler (actually I think he said "they," meaning the Nazis collectively) was very specific in his manifesto about his plan to rise to power.  Allegedly, the idea was to take four major components of the economy--the health care system, I think banking, and two other ones that are in the news in the US so much today I hardly notice anymore--say "The federal regulations on these industries are stifling our economic recovery," and then let them run about lassaiz-faire.
The guy on the radio kind of stopped there, which is part of what confused me.  I can see someone saying "Government restrictions make it harder for businesses to make money, which retards economic growth, and during a recession like the one we're in, the effect is to forestall recovery."  What I can't see is a national socialist, a fascist, making such a claim.  Someone who was interested in centralized control of an industry, or of all industries, would not be willing to relinquish what control he already had.
At least, not without following up any real or trumped-up disaster that resulted with a plea to reign in this out of control company or that one, put a federal leash on some business or other as a permanent solution to the particular sins that a fascist might want to stamp out.
But that's what's already happening.  That's the kind of thing he was saying he wants.  Was he honestly blind to the irony?  Because I was just a little creeped out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The War on Christmas is over. It's over, and we lost.

I was at the grocery store last night, and not only did I not see Christmas displays any longer that had been up since Halloween:

I saw displays for Easter stuff.

Not even Valentine's Day, the next notable and distinct holiday.  Easter.

I'm not even going to comment.  Anything I could say would only soften the impact.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Celibacy is not the problem

I read an online article several days ago, written by one of our archbishops whose name escapes me now, that argued that the Scandal in the Church was not caused and is not propagated by the rules of celibacy in the western Church.  I thought I'd already read it some time before, as many of you probably have actually done so, but it only seemed familiar in the broadest strokes, in the terms of things I would have known anyway.

The usual points were made:  celibacy's a choice willingly made in pursuit of a vocation, it's been practiced for far longer than the problems associated with the Scandal have been going on (not denying that "protect the reputation of the Church at all costs" hasn't happened at other times and for other reasons), and the rate of sexual abuse is about half what it is in the general population (according to his numbers--I'd heard they were about the same, but the point holds), so it doesn't make sense to cast sole or primary blame on something that doesn't make a net difference in the outcome.

Two responses, conveniently located on the first page of comments (actually, probably on every page), caught my attention this time.

One was the bizarre accusation that pedophiles gravitate towards the priesthood in particular (along with other child-centered professions like teaching) because of the "absolute power" priests have over children.  I won't argue the "access to children" point, but power?  No priest alive knows the power that was held, or at least imagined today to be held, by priests of the late Middle Ages, whenever clericalism was at its peak. Were they sometimes protected, given the benefit of the doubt, by laity as well as by their respective ordinaries?  Perhaps so; but that's a far cry from the pastor of every parish in Europe or the New World being a little ceasaro-pope.

The more tired comment was something like this:  "Humans are sexual animals.  Repression of the sexual instinct is only going to lead to these kinds of problems."  First, humans are sexual creatures, but we are not animals; healthy human adults have it within their power to restrain their appetites and to turn a rational eye to bodily urges and emotional states instead of unwillfully submitting to them.  Second, even animals do not exhibit psychotic behavior just for being denied the opportunity to mate frequently.  Competition for mates happens all the time and all over the place, and by and large, the Darwinian losers don't take it personally.  Third, choosing of one's own accord or willingly submitting to a lifestyle of abstinence is not "repression"--at least, not any more than my fear of getting charged with assault and battery if I didn't indulge my so called instinct of rage on the face of a hostile supervisor is "repression" of my anger.

This sophistry, to put it generously, has been overused and abused to justify a lifestyle that conveniently claims to distill meaning from it's-your-fault-if-I-feel-oppressed-by-imagining-you-mentally-judge-me pleasure seeking, that I no longer think that intellectually serious hedonists would even bother making such arguments--at least, not honestly; perhaps only to provide more chaff for casual leave-me-alone-with-my-endorphins hedonists to throw in the air and slow everybody else down.
Please, people:  find a new argument.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Fear not the devil (II)

The woman and I had another interesting conversation that tied to the first, but I felt I had gone on long enough on Harry Potter.  This time we were discussing yoga.  We've discussed it before and I may have posted about it once in the  past, but the idea annoys me so I feel it's worth revisiting.

She used to practice yoga, primarily as a low-impact exercise, until her Evangelical friends pointed out that the components of Eastern mysticism that are inherent to yoga had been downplayed, and therefore was inappropriate for serious practice by a Christian and contained some spiritual hazard for anyone.  This much I have no reason to debate--non-Christian mystical habits of Christians can easily scandalize others, and if you open yourself up to flatly heterodox influences, you risk being swallowed up by heterodoxy and, eventually, hell.  The physical components, as you may have deduced--the poses, the motions, the breath control--don't bother me a bit.

As I've said before, or intended to, there's wisdom in refraining from eating meat in front of vegetarians out of a desire to prevent scandal; but it would be wrong for me to lie to vegetarians and to myself by saying "Well, meat is evil after all" when I believe nothing of the sort.

But to me, see, it hinges on that "if" of opening yourself to heterodox influence--to malevolent forces.  I don't believe you can do so without willing it.  You can do so without fully recognizing the gravity of what you do, but not without your consent or fully contrary to your desire and intent.  People who worship money or power or just their jobs make conscious choices to put those things first in their lives, even if sometimes as a means to some other end, even if you showed them a church with dollar signs instead of crosses they wouldn't make the connection.

So when this woman tells that she was warned to stop doing yoga because some of the poses and movements are acts of worship to certain Hindu gods, I struggle to think of a diplomatic way to say "That is a psychotic and paranoid claim, based on an irrational definition of 'worship,' that hardly approaches the truth of what the worshipped or the worshipper do or are."  Maybe I should be blunt instead of gently suggesting that a principled willingness to discard the good and the harmless to escape evil ("If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out," not "pluck out your eye, for others have sinned with theirs") is not possibly, maybe, just a harmless metaphysical eccentricity.  But saying "I'm sorry, but that's stupid and I would be embarrassed if someone got the impression that I took such ideas seriously" just seems too...too "high school" dramatic to serve as a wake-up-call kind of shock.

No.  My contention is that it is not possible to worship something by accident.  You cannot, simply by raising your arms at a certain angle or standing with your feet with a certain spacing, offer the praise and adoration due to God alone to any other entity or object.

If it were that simple, we'd have to have someone go around cataloging all the angles to which it's morally safe to bend each joint and all the positions it's spiritually hazardous to keep our limbs in, just in case some pagan somewhere drew some arbitrary or symbolic inference between body alignment and some natural phenomenon, which convinced some terrified and ignorant Christian that such bodily alignments were inherently demonic, which I would say was so offensively stupid if I wasn't afraid that someone would look at my exasperation at such gullibility as protesting a bit too much.

It requires an act of the will.  I'm not saying it's necessarily safe to show up at a black mass and go through the motions just to make the point that it can't hurt you, because then you're deliberately initiating spiritual combat, but willfully interacting with preternatural forces, one way or the other, is not the same as doing things that to the best of your understanding may as well be nothing more than coincidence.

Honestly.  Giving the devil more power than he really has by seeing him beneath rocks he's not hiding under is closer to worship than doing isometric exercises.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Fear not the devil, especially when he's not there

A woman I know, raised Catholic but spending a lot of time (too much, in my opinion, but that's a story for another time) in an Evangelical prayer group, has been becoming sympathetic to some of their views on spiritual combat.  This is not all bad, since she just wasn't getting much of it at her home parish or in her own search for spiritual reading material, but it's also not all good, because in her pursuit for a more down to Earth (so to speak) Christianity, the line between orthodoxy and heresy is getting blurred.

I don't want to dwell on her condition much at the moment; suffice to say one needs to test all spirits and hold fast to what is good, not just take a sampling and swallow all of what has given a positive impression. I just need a stepping stone to make a few points because I apparently am a lazy writer, after all.

She's mentioned on a few occasions how she used to think the Harry Potter novels were harmless, but now she fears they can be a gateway to occult forces, since the fact of magic being portrayed in the book can open a door to demonic influence.

My philosophy is that the books themselves pose no threat.  They contain nothing essentially satanic, the magic that is described within is basically an obscure natural force that can be harnessed only by certain individuals, and if kids are interested in playing at Harry Potter, well, they've always been interested in playing at Hobbits, Superman, Voltron, the Lone Ranger, and every other [super]hero you can think of; nothing has changed, and nothing is going to stop it.  There's a disordered hunger for power and there's a desire to pretend at adventure, and these things do not perfectly overlap. Could a child, reading Harry Potter, look at the magic portrayed within and develop an unhealthy desire for special powers?  Sure, but the same could be said of anything.  Tarot decks are just archaic playing cards, and divination can be practiced with modern four-suit, 52-card decks.  Schoolkids who are warned not to play Pokemon on the playground will play Digimon instead.  The spiritual risk of any particular book, film, activity, or idea is a question of temperament, the availability of grist for temptation (a child from a home with no TV will not think much of troublesome cartoons), and the aesthetic preferences of the child.  Not a question of Harry Potter, inexplicably unlike any other, being some escapist fantasy about how a boy with a great destiny thrust upon him grows to be worthy of the challenges he faces book after book.

But this woman is still skeptical of the more radical caution her prayer group exercises in other areas.  Naturally they're opposed to practices of divination like ouija boards and tarot cards, but many of them also find magic tricks--as in illusionism, slight of hand card tricks and such--to be demonic.

As an aside, I think situations like this are where the cohesiveness and coherence of Catholicism can really shine.  The objective and subjective risks of the vast majority of these cases have already been sussed out, and we don't have (at least, we have far less often) people who disagree arguing indefinitely, because they come from or choose to follow different schools of thought on such things, or they move forward agreeing to disagree over an issue that has a healthy and balanced solution.  In this case, it's "fantasy fiction is not inherently evil because literature is not evil; divination is evil; things are not evil just for resembling other things that are evil; it may be prudent to avoid some of these things anyway in the interest of not confusing people, but it can also be a learning opportunity for the same confused people."  It's not rushing headlong into hell with the conviction that baptismal immunity buttressed by good intentions has no exceptions, and it's not calling a good thing bad and cutting it out of your life just in case someone somewhere fears or abuses it.

Remind me sometime to get back to the subject of schismatics--either the Protestant or the secular type--rejecting Catholic teaching, then revisiting old moral problems as if for the first time, and casting about everywhere except Rome for possible sources of help and wisdom in solving said problems.  I may have touched on it before but I haven't done the subject the modest amount of justice that I'm capable of.

Anyway, since this woman has come to respect these people in other ways, she's been more circumspect in her disbelief, but to my discredit I could hardly contain my incredulity when she told me.  I'm no stage magician but I know a couple card tricks.  They're entirely about directing attention away from the cards the mark thinks he is focusing on.  As best I can figure, misdirection is being equated with infernal magnitudes of confusion and deception, or the tongue in cheek showmanship that some modern magicians still like to employ, in the vein of old-school illusionists claiming to have studied mystical arts in obscure lands is being conflated with actual demonic augmentation to the natural senses.

Okay, you know what?  Pretending to be in league with mystical forces might not be the smartest thing, especially since the only ones likely to help with cheap parlor tricks are going to demand much greater sacrifices in exchange, but it's like blaming a doctor for causing a disease that he just couldn't cure.  It puts the emphasis on the wrong thing.  Messing with demons is evil; playing with cards is not, no matter how many people ruin their lives gambling and no matter how many people think it's something to do with the little paper rectangles with numbers and faces on them that can rub off on you however you use them.

It reminds me of the fear of some teetotalers that alcohol should be banned because everyone who is not a practicing or recovering alcoholic is simply a latent one.  Kind of like the old feminist (second wave?) saw about all men being latent rapists, now that I think about it.

Simply put, this is an attitude of superstition.  It's harboring an inordinate fear of normal objects because of the possibility of their abuse, because some such objects have been misused in the past for deliberate or inadvertent harm.  It's virtually giving demons power in your life that they don't, or shouldn't, have; and then just trying to flee from them.  If that's not a backhanded sort of glory being given to them, I don't know what is.

Do you have a personal problem with gambling?  Okay, stay away from cards for that reason.  Do you think it is imprudent to spend much time or attention on demonic activity?  Great, you're right, so try not to put any more interest into the subject than you need in order to be able to avoid it.

If we're going to go that far in avoiding the devil, then no activity is safe from abuse and everything should be avoided.  If people will kill others and themselves for the glory of God, there's no reason to think any lesser motivation will remain uncorrupted.