Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prayer request

So, I took a new job back in July, moved across three states to do it.  I wasn't sure that I'd like it a lot, but it was a good career move.  The guy who interviewed me warned me that the hours would be long, which gave me some pause, but assured me that dedication and hard work were well rewarded.  So, I took the chance.

Things were okay at first.  I hadn't quite been trained on enough of my new responsibilities to fill the 60-72 hour work week by the end of my second month, but that didn't matter because they thrust me into a supervisory position.  My boss wasn't thrilled with losing me, and he was sympathetic because in every way except the most abstract I had no qualifications for the job or for the department I was now on loan to ("they figure," my boss said, "you're smart enough, you can figure it out"), but neither of us really had a say in the matter.

I don't want to go into details now about the corporate climate; suffice it to say our management was accurately described in an online review of the company as having "comic-book villain personalities."

So here's my concern.  I left my last job for a lot of the reasons I don't like my current job.  I know it's not like this everywhere, but this seems to be endemic to the industry, if not to American business in general.  It's making me think that engineering isn't what I'm supposed to do for the rest of my life, if I can't go somewhere that isn't going to make me sick.

I ask, then, for your prayers:  that for now I continue to get by, and that I may discern what the rest of my career should be, and succeed in whatever that is.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Never pass up an opportunity to float some propaganda

I haven't been following the tragedy in Newtown, CT very closely; I can't quite bring myself to stare it in the face and I'm reluctant to desensitize myself with another media frenzy.  Instead I want to talk briefly about the media.

As you've noticed, the events of last Friday have provided a great opportunity to bring a long neglected national debate back to the forefront:  gun control.  I tend to see the debate from one side of the argument that you will probably be able to guess easily if you don't already know, but I don't want to talk about gun control itself right now.

I read part of an article this morning that focused on how the gun debate has awakened in the wake of the Newtown shooting.  It attempted to sum up the debate in a few sentences that, for lack of an eidetic memory, I will paraphrase:

Advocates of less restrictive gun laws point to states that have more widespread gun ownership and claim that there is a lower incidence of violent crime.  Gun control advocates disagree, however, and say that jurisdictions with tight gun laws have records of lower gun violence.

Both sides of the debate could be right, because they're talking about two different things.  Through either sloppy or dishonest reporting, the reader is left to wonder which side is going to massage the data better.

Read the paraphrased paragraph over again.  Advocates of gun ownership say violent crime is lower where law-abiding citizens are not prevented from defending themselves with guns.  Advocates of gun control say gun violence is lower where there are fewer guns on the books.

Violent crime ≠ gun violence.  A crime could be committed violently with guns, knives, baseball bats, binder twine, a roll of quarters, or bare fists.  Gun control only attempts to take one class of tools out of the hands of criminals.

Today I'm not going to argue about whether gun control would be fruitful or not.  I only want to draw attention to the fact that honest and informed dialog is not going to be possible if we're not going to hold our sources of information up to better scrutiny.  This instance happened to be obvious to me because I've had practice looking for cases where my political opponents try to have a debate on their grounds under their terms and treat any sign of skepticism as an act of bad faith or ill will.  There have been other instances when I've been let down by sources I thought were more trustworthy (I know, trust not in princes and all that...), and I'm sure yet others that I haven't become aware of.

I strive to be more perceptive.  I don't know if I'm any better at it than anyone else, but I'm better than I used to be.  I encourage everyone to do the same, to challenge their own suppositions from time to time.

A coworker of mine mentioned a few weeks ago, "I don't like FOX News.  They lie."

Honey, lying news outlets are the only game in town, including the networks and publications that tell you FOX is not to be trusted.  Best get used to checking your own facts.

Monday, December 03, 2012

"If marriage is opened to anyone who wants what?"

A chilling exchange crossed the forums at ISCA recently.  A user posited the question "If we opened marriage up to everyone, so what?  What are the things that would go bad in society if this happened?"

These are not unreasonable questions.  Too often the most common argument made is the "appeal to squick," the notion that if something seems gross, there's something wrong with it.  True or not, it's a subjective and emotional standard that can't stand on its own.  It was the discussion that followed that was bothersome.  Paraphrased nuggets of wisdom from the "discussion:"

"Who cares?"  "Are we supposed to clutch our pearls and say 'land sakes, God a'mighty' while all these terrible things happen?"  "If there's some species-ending occurrence like not enough people preferring to couple with adult humans, instead preferring animals or machines or children, so what?"  "Only adults have legal standing and the ability to sign contracts, so the line is drawn at polygamy and gay marriage; anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot."

It's these last two that bother me.  I don't know what kind of idiot it would take to realize that people are already pushing beyond plural and gay marriage, beyond the line Mark Shea describes as "consent as the sole criterion of the good."  Sure, statues and children and dolphins can't sign contracts legally, but children at least have the ability to do so, and machines could be programmed to do so, as long as we're maintaining the facade of mutual consent.

If you want to blur the line between what's accepted now and what you want accepted, start on the fuzzy cases:  machines programmed to do what you already want, children who might be precocious enough to be emancipated or who might just be brought before a judge more sympathetic to the head of the local chapter of NAMBLA than to the well-being of children.  If you can throw the matter of consent into question, you really don't have to stop there.

"Oh, but plural marriage isn't illegal--bigamy as an instance of fraud and adultery/cohabitation laws being excepted--it's just not legally recognized," it was said.  Um, no.  Legally recognizing these arrangements is the whole point.  There are already people who do these things and it is decreasingly held in check by the forces of shame and law.  If it weren't unhealthful we'd already have more than the alleged hundreds or thousands of people practicing these things successfully.

And if "species-ending occurrence" doesn't strike you as a bad thing, how can, or why should, anyone else explain that any of the problems that are less dire than suigenocide are both problems and real possibilities?  If you want to have a thorough discussion, more power to you, but do you honestly think the burden of proof is not on the people saying "What could it hurt?"  If you really want to be honest, you should be calling to heel your allies who are making bad arguments that you already understand well enough to counter on behalf of your rhetorical opponents.

"Well, even two-person marriages don't always last forever, so what's it matter if larger ones don't, either?"

The fact that polygamous arrangements are not more successful than normal marriages is beside the point.  The point is that they are less successful.  Between nuclear families and plural marriage you have millions of people who cheat in secret; or who start seeing someone new before breaking it off with the current significant other, because they know it's not going to last long if they're open and honest with everybody about it; or who do so with the knowledge and toleration of the other party because they have some other compelling reason to keep up appearances.

Again I am compelled to remind my reader of boiling a frog in a pot of water.  If all it takes for evil to succeed is good men doing nothing, then all it takes to get good men to do nothing is trick them to make a thousand trivial compromises while evil hides in plain sight.  We see it on TV, we see it in our communities, we see it at work:  something unpleasant happens, people shrug and say "Well, it's just the times we live in; who can mount a crusade against a swarm of gnats, let alone this?" and everyone gets used to things being worse than they should be, without quite being able to explain what's wrong.

ISCA seems, more than most places I've been on the Internet, intolerant of the slippery slope argument. I think it is because back in the heyday of BBSes, it was not uncommon to find debaters who committed the classical slippery slope fallacy.  Whether it is a fallacy, or a bad argument, in contemporary usage depends on the circumstances, much as the appeal to authority does:  while an appeal to authority is valid if one can accurately cite the position of a legitimate expert, the slippery slope is valid if one can demonstrate the progression from making the first trivial compromise to reaching the state that the debater warns against.  While one can still sometimes have interesting discussions there, this propensity for assuming that arguments they don't like are badly framed arguments really makes me question the value of coming there to mine for post fodder.  Maybe it's a good intellectual barometer for the state of society, but there's not much room these days for new or unpopular ideas.

I wonder if there's a good theology on tap that runs during the winter around here somewhere.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The wasted vote

I don't recall if I posted on this topic before, but if so, it's worth revisiting, especially this time of the year.

Many people talk about how they would like to vote third party because they dislike the major party candidates, or how they would like to vote for one of the two main party candidates; but they won't, because they feel they would be wasting their votes.  Others just decide to vote for the one they think will win, rather than the one they want to win.

I ask:  What would make their vote well spent, instead?

I say there is no such thing as a wasted vote; or, they're all wasted.

The vast majority of time, elections aren't close enough that any individual's vote is going to make a difference.  How is your one vote for a candidate who loses by a hundred thousand any more wasted than the one vote cast for a candidate who wins by a hundred thousand?

What would your vote accomplish either way?

What return do you get for casting your vote one way or another?  A clear conscience for throwing in with the lesser of two evils instead of with an actual good?  Is someone at least paying you?

Not that I have anything against people who vote tactically, but even in that sense, the sense of voting to increase the probability of successfully electing someone who isn't as bad as the alternative in any particular election, there's still the fact that you're making an unnecessary contribution to the polling statistics, at the expense of sending a message about the kind of person you really think should be in charge.  That may be more of a waste than anything, if you do nothing else for the next four years.

The best thing to do, really, is to try to stay current on political happenings, vote in primaries when you can, and do your homework so you can vote meaningfully in local and state elections, because that's where national-level politicians get started.  Maybe someday you'll find, say, pro-life Democrats who don't capitulate on abortion when they go to Washington because they finally see how much support they have inside their party.  Maybe someday you'll find activists and journalists hoisted by their own petards as they try harder and harder to paint the Tea Party as racists and imperialists every time one gets elected on a sane and traditional platform.

Or maybe that's not your thing, but whatever you believe, if you don't help the right people get started in politics, you'll always only be choosing between a candidate you don't like and a candidate you don't want.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Conservatives have spent the last 40 years trying to convince people that the mainstream media is somewhere left of center...and it's paid off."

Well yeah, of course it has, with all the help the conservatives' political opponents have provided.

You want examples?  Look at the last presidential campaign.  In the preceding eight years, W hardly got away with anything without being denied the benefit of the doubt.  The Iraq war was just over its first hump when people started complaining about the lack of an exit strategy (not that it's bad to have one, but it's weird to focus on that while skipping right over things like, say, a victory strategy; maybe the armchair generals thought a successful first wave was just how wars work in the post-Vietnam era).  Then a freshman congressman from Chicago, with hardly anything to his voting record, shows up; and not only is treated like the Second Coming, almost no one is heard saying "Um, that's a little beyond enthusiastic, isn't it?  Can we talk about what he plans on doing instead of how he's going to usher in the Age of Aquarius?  Who is lucid or sane enough for us to be quoting seriously, who goes around talking about Obama like he's the ├╝bermensch?"

And I know it's not exactly the same thing, but it's related, so while we're discussing bias, we should also talk about slant.  Things where articles give equal time but one side enjoys the application of euphemisms or more favorable adjectives.  Things where articles are objective in content but give more air or screen time or column space to one side than to another.  Things where articles are pretty well balanced but giving one side an apparently decisive but premature last word.  Things where biased experts are brought in to analyze a situation and fall short of reasonable efforts to keep his preferences out of the discussion.

But let's also talk about media magnates who visit journalism schools and tell students that not only is true objectivity impossible, leftist bias is preferable--even an obligation.  Let's talk about the folks in the media who apparently missed those lectures and insist that they and theirs are capable of rising above it all.  Let's talk about industry language standards that clearly favor one side, to the tune of using "pro-choice" for the side that favors abortion while using "anti-choice" for the side that considers it to be the worst of murders.  Let's talk about how Fox news doesn't just seem conservative, but seems predominantly conservative against the bulk of the rest of the media.

I can only conclude that they have some radically different definition of "bias" from the rest of us.  I wonder what they have in mind when they use the word.  I wonder what they think we're talking about, when we use it.

But biased or not, I don't put a lot of stock in the mass media as a stand-alone source of predigested news.  They're ignorant or sloppy enough at reporting on the topics that I understand well, that I'm inclined to think they perform about as well in reporting on other topics I'm less equipped to judge.  That doesn't leave much worth watching except the weather and traffic.  Oh, and sports, I guess.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Charismatic...Catholic...New Age?

My mom once mentioned a faith healer she had wanted to go see at the annual state Catholic charismatic conference he was supposed to be attending somewhere near her home this past summer.  I told her I was also interested in going; I've been trying to be more open to different kinds of prayer, since my prayer life tends to be more rote and...I don't know, insensate?  Less seasoned with personally significant or just personal phenomena.  Anyway, that and I hoped to provide some grounding for my mom whose interest in a visibly fruitful prayer life after having grown up on the cusp of Vatican II sometimes leaves her open to gauging activity of the Holy Spirit by emotional impact.  So we've got things to learn from each other.

Well, she encouraged me to look this healer up online, so I did.  The first Google hit I got was a discussion about whether he was on the level or not, so it seemed as good a place to start as any.  I looked at a few more, some which were enthusiastically supportive, others which were cautious because some of his language and healing techniques (he had been a physician but now does full-time prayer healing and some unorthodox/experimental medical practices I don't want to get sidetracked on) bear similarities to Eastern philosophy and contain occasional references to Eastern religious figures, still others which were pretty well against this man's work because of its Eastern appearances.   

What was funny was that this first web site was cautiously skeptical, based largely on conversations with a Catholic acquaintance of the author of the web site, but all the criticisms were against Catholic doctrine and culture.

Repeated denials that the man with the alleged gift of healing had anything to do with the healing of the Catholic acquaintance, that Jesus did not need him and could have healed him from the prayers of anyone else, such as the site's author (who may or may not have offered any).  Reminders that we don't need healers, we need Jesus (do we even need doctors, then?  Are we to despise certain tools Jesus may deign to use other than a grace of spontaneous recovery of health?).  "Alarm bells" going off at this healer's admission to using the rosary and chaplet of Divine Mercy frequently during his healing services.  Frequent "corrections" to the healed man talking about the work of his priest, and dismay at the man's cancer coming back, as if no sola fideist ever died.  Sorrow over his alleged misconception that he would have to go to purgatory, with the author's own misconceptions being clear in claiming that the doctrine of purgatory was proof in the lack of faith in the completeness of Christ's suffering (or rather, in the owner's thorough ignorance of Colossians 1:24) "that the RCC invented in the 800 years after Christ's death"--not sure how the RCC differed from the Eastern or Oriental or other Occidental rites back then, or if it wasn't until the ninth century that questions of purgatory presumably first arose.  Saying it is a lie that Rome is the one Church and [the pope, anyway] the successor of Peter, even though most ecclesial communities find it more fruitful to attempt to trivialize these claims than to attempt to show the claims are simply, willfully, false.  Regretting that this person, being Catholic, isn't even aware of his savior (a claim I find odd every time I hear it; we don't use "personal relationship with Jesus" language as much, although talk and writing about the Eucharist is pretty clearly that, and if he wasn't up for correcting the simple factual errors about purgatory and the role of the priest or the Church then he probably wouldn't have been well-equipped to cut through the Evangelical jargon either, but I hear this "you don't know Him" stuff so much it makes me wonder how stupid they must think we are for praying to some blue-robed Mother while the Son to whom she is a mother we never think about--who's the guy on the cross supposed to be, anyway, if not Jesus?).  Regretting that, in their zeal to show him the truly-true Gospel before Time Ran Out and he finally succumbed to cancer, they may have been blunt to the point of alienating; this is another curious feature I sometimes observe, one that smacks to me of a belief in the inadequacy and narrowness of the Cross, that if someone can't be pressed into reciting a trite formula before the buzzer on his life goes off, then there's no hope.  But maybe being overzealous and then recognizing the share in culpability for the harm done by belligerent proselytizing is better than saying "Well, we logistically haven't been able to evangelize to absolutely everybody in the world, so God must be okay with sending all those pagans to hell, and so who am I to have a problem with what God wants?" which I have also seen.

What was perhaps funnier was a comment left by a reader who laments that we Catholics never do discernment of the supernatural, that it's all the same and must all come from God, and so we never know if we're being deceived by satanic healings.

You know what?  Satan might heal (maybe wouldn't, but for the sake of the argument), but he couldn't if God didn't allow it.  Satan couldn't act, or exist, if God didn't allow it.  God allows things because in the end they will glorify Him.  I don't find a sorting logic of "Direct from God is good, anything that appears to be mediated by the saints or angels is from the devil" to be particularly discerning.  It attributes too much native power to hell and too little shared power to current and would-be saints.  You know what?  Okay, God did the healing, but you had the charity to ask God to heal.  God gave you the charity too, but He also gave you the free will to exercise it--the opportunity to let Him act through you.  Scrupling to deny that crosses the line from humility into denial of facts, and woe to he who calls good evil.  You've got a problem with free will?  Then you've got a lot of non-Calvinists to preach to than just the Catholics (which makes me wonder, on a tangent, what or when doctrinal differences qualify as fundamental and gross, or just negligible differences of interpretation betwixt brethren).

But I'm getting off track.  All these criticisms of Catholics' various apparently inferior charisms, but nothing about what should alarm them:

No qualms about mentioning Buddha alongside Jesus and the saints who worked through the power of love.  No fears about the similarities between Eastern pantheistic-medical practices and this healer's allegedly unorthodox medical practices.  No alarm raised at the descriptions of God as an Energy or a field like for one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

Here is a guy with cancer putting himself in the care of a guy potentially attempting to harness the powers of Eastern mysticism, and you're worried that he lacks some familiarity with Christ gained by reciting a rote verse?  Christ hasn't been present in this world the way you and I are for two thousand years; I would venture that none of us is really adequately familiarized with Him.  Worry first about whether the doctor has a predilection for conflating God and The Force.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I read a few other silly-creepy articles from this mailing list that will beat the Church and modern culture with any stick they can find, and I'm leaning again more in the direction of unsubscribing from their list and ignoring them.  On the one hand, they still make some correct criticisms of certain movements that are popular because they're comforting, such as the prosperity gospel, but judging from my moderate exposure to Joel Osteen, it may be fruitful for a discerning soul to take some of his "the Lord will reward you for behaving rightly" lessons in a metaphorical mode rather than in a materialistic one, and I think the outfit running this mailing list tends to err a little too scrupulously on the side of cutting out things that could be good because they might also be bad.

I don't want to encourage anyone to sin, nor to put them in the near occasion of sin, but sometimes there should be room for prudential judgment and a consideration for the individual's disposition and temperament.

Anyway, on the other hand, they pull some stuff that is so...inbred...that I can't even bring myself to make fun of it.  I can hardly say to myself with a straight face "Well, maybe someone should answer those charges, for the benefit of the anonymous reader who might read them and fail to find the sane rebuttal."

I mentioned a few days ago a few examples, the most egregious I think being the usual smack about the Vatican trying to establish a one-world government (which I have never seen an argument against, except on the grounds that the Antichrist also seems to want such a thing--certainly not a reason to embrace it, but not compelling on its face to the sober minded, either) after that silly article by an obscure department in Rome about global banking.

Somewhat more recently than the message where they criticized that occurrence, they had another article on the proper way to pray.  This sounds like it should be good, but keep in mind this is also coming from some folks who said we shouldn't pray to the Holy Spirit, because it's not Biblical; that we should only pray to the Father, through the Son.  I'm surprised they're Trinitarian at all, after the theological reasoning I saw there.

Anyway, they started by listing a bunch of spiritual practices known around the world, including the Divine Office, Zen mediation, reiki, centering prayer, and a few other things I can't remember at the moment.  The rosary was probably on there, too, and I think those crop labyrinths that show up outside of harmless harvest festival milieux.  Pretty disparate collection, but they then asserted that what all these practices have in common is that they're forms of contemplative prayer, and that they're unbiblical.

Huh?  Not at all.

Of course eastern mystical practices are unbiblical, even if you don't want to go as far as saying they're fundamentally incompatible with Christianity.  But none of these things in itself is contemplative prayer.  Contemplation is a form of prayer that is only a gift from God, perhaps best understood as a special kind of mediation that might occur during one of these other forms of prayer, but it's not something someone can simply sit down and do, like praying rote or praying extemporaneously.  Granted, grasping natural contemplation is an expected fruit of lectio divina, but infused contemplation is not something we can achieve, and thus not something we can resist, except by refusal to cooperate with grace--and that, being the definition of sin, no honest Christian would endorse).

Naturally I can't say God would never bestow the gift of contemplation on a pagan, I've seen too many pagans act in what I would have called Christian charity  to believe that God would refuse to work in their lives, so maybe there is a common thread after all, but honestly, all the things they mentioned are otherwise unrelated.  The rosary?  Mediation on the life of Christ, through the eyes of Mary.  The Divine Office?  Largely psalms of praise.  Reiki?  Some kind of pagan healing technology, of sorts.  Eastern meditation?  Perhaps the closest thing to Christian mediation on the surface, but geared more towards detachment and emptiness than towards calming the self and trying to listen to God, to just spend time with Him.

No, how they say we should pray is to say our praises and petitions, and then search the Scriptures for an answer.

This is not a bad thing, but it puzzles me that anyone would think this is a well rounded way to live.  I would lament if I were of the majority of Christians in history who could not read to study the Bible, or could not afford a Bible to read or the time to read it.

I wonder how they would react if, in poring over Lamentations or Revelation, they received a gift of a moment of spiritual communion in the very sense they said we should not pursue.  It is not seemly to pursue glories, but God is well known for giving us what we don't want because it's good for us.

Above and beyond, our Lord did give us instructions on how to pray, and it was not "praise and beseech, then search the Scriptures."  It was "Pray like this:  Our Father, Who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy Name.  They kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

You can follow that exactly or use it as a guide or template for all your prayer, but it far from supports the position of folks like I'm talking about who try too hard to be pure and correct.  Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, guys.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I don't often like visiting web sites that feature philosophies I strongly disagree with

Usually they're so rich with content I disagree with, I'd burn up the remainder of my soul trying to beat the host and his supporters with arguments about the truth of the Church and what all.  I don't want to do that, and don't like it when I feel myself so inclined, because what I should be doing is trying to convert them and win them over with love, instead of turning it into a fight.  Sometimes I'll visit a few, but I try not to comment or anything so I don't get too caught up in it.

I do get one mass e-mailing from some outfit that warns about some conspiracy between Rome and the UN creating a world government (a refreshing change from both being part of the same Jesuit plot although sometimes they go there, too), but they have a mix of silly stuff that doesn't bother me too much yet (I may get my fill after a few more missives like what I've received lately, though) and criticisms of the culture I actually agree with, so I can stomach the few nuggets of bigotry and misplaced paranoia, turn them into post fodder.  Although recently they attempted to Biblically deconstruct the "Catholics Come Home" ad campaign; they did such a grade school job on that "maybe a world bank wouldn't be a bad idea, eh?" article from whichever Vatican dicastery that it would have killed any faith I might have still had in their ability to exegete weightier subjects like the Bible itself.  You've probably seen the type; they talk about being among the mere tens of thousands of true Christians, write off all ecumenism as false ecumenism and put out articles and DVDs about how the "Bible Church" cannot "merge" with Rome, get it right on isolated topics like prosperity theology (I wish a few of them had the historical memory to attack residual liberation theology, but maybe the Jesus-Marxists are too far out there to show up on their radar), and then spend a great deal of effort going around debunking the messages of specific Protestant celebrities along side Masonry and Rome and other bogeymen.

I read an editorial by Richard Dawkins from last fall, though, that really made me want to add my drop to the bucket of challengers to his comfortable misconceptions.  I won't go into all of it, because I'm lazy and because his caricatures are only convincing to people who want to have an exotic, bureaucratic boogeyman to rage against.  The supporters in his combox, however, were perhaps more alarming.

Dawkins was talking about how the Church--the Latin Rite, at least--was a viable contender for the title of greatest evil force in the world, something like that.  Gave "examples" by referring to the teachings on chastity as lies about condoms that kill Africans with AIDS.  I wanted to go all Robert Louis Stevenson and point out that, even though federal monies sometimes make their way to Catholic hospitals in the US, the Church (and other religious groups) actually have boots on the ground trying to help the people who have AIDS now and are starving and in poverty now, instead of issuing shrill criticisms from his comfortably distant laptop computer.  But I doubt I have the charism to prick his conscience, if no other opponent of his has managed to do so, either.  Time to pray for him and for patience and humility for myself along the way.

Naturally the defenders of the Faith made their various and sundry contributions and efforts, and Dawkins' fan club chimed in with insults, compliments to his clarity of thought I found oddly uniform, and eerily disconnected as well as brazen affronts to all things Catholic, such as suspicion about Benedict's sexuality, the tenacious delusion that Benedict really was a Nazi sympathizer, and my personal favorite, an assertion that Rome had active agents involved in African genocide, supported only by a link to, to the page listing nothing but the bishops of Rwanda.

That was all.  Merely pointing out that there are bishops in a country that currently experiences genocide and expecting others to assume there's a deliberate connection.  You know what's also in Rwanda, buddy?  Trees and water.  Maybe they're also contributing factors.  You know who else had a genocide?  Germany in World War Two.  You know what else Germany had?  Sauerkraut and beer.  Maybe they're also contributing factors.  You know what else?  Rome has bishops for every square inch of land; most of them occupy their territories but some only have virtual or potential jurisdiction, like Timothy P. Broglio for the American military or whoever indirectly responsible for Antarctica whom my Google-fu is failing to identify.  Do you really think any attempt to assign contributing factors to these fellows would in any way be fruitful or meaningful?

I mean, this is what we're up against.  I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

“I don’t think a college student in Colorado Springs should have to choose between textbooks or the preventive care she needs.”

This from our president, to which and to whom I respond:

If this college student were spending so much on "preventive care" that she can't afford her books, she's having way too much sex to have time to study, let alone make it to class or do homework and take exams.  She'd be expelled for academic failure and have no further need of her books by spring break.

“We worked with Catholic hospitals and universities to find a solution that protects both religious liberty and a woman’s health,” he went on, but apparently this work did not come to fruition: “We’ve made sure churches and other houses of worship don’t have to provide or pay for it.”

Too bad for Americans with traditional religious values and beliefs that you couldn't find a solution that protects religious institutions other than churches, such as the aforementioned Catholic hospitals and universities.  

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Need proof that the MSM has a liberal bias?

I submit that the following evidence is representative, if perhaps a bit inflammatory; abortion is the example I give, and I recognize that the lines between Life and Choice are not drawn perfectly down the middle aisle.

The Bad Catholic has two posts with videos from the March for Life.

Mark Shea has more posts than I could hope to write, but in his defense, it's kind of his job.

Shameless Popery...well, you get the idea.

If you don't care to follow the links, each shows how the March for Life, attended by hundreds of thousands of pro-life demonstrators, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade was anything but news, but the relatively scant counter-protesters got disproportionate coverage, with interviews focusing on asking Planned Parenthood executives questions that suggest the underrealized utopia that consequence-free sex was supposed to usher in was mainly due to logistical difficulties.

And yes, I realize that I'm just rolling a few Catholic blogs.  But hey, the hard work's already been done, and sometimes being fair and balanced, so to speak, means presenting something with bias opposite to the usual so a lucid mind can consider the merits of both sides; and like I said, I consider this to be a representative, if dramatic, example.

You know, just to mix it up a bit, I'm going to link a couple gems from the Zombietime blog (which may not be suitable for those with delicate sensibilities):

There are some other articles there that go into more detail.  For those not in the know, Zombie is a photographer in the San Francisco area who, despite not being particularly conservative, finds much blog fodder in the incoherence of the fringe Left and the intellectual bankruptcy of its alleged elites.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.'
He said in reply, 'I will not, '
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, 'but did not go.
Which of the two did his father's will?"
They answered, "The first."
Jesus said to them, "Amen."

This gospel passage, where the vintner hires workers in the morning and at midday and in the evening and pays them all the same, tells us amongst other things that whether we come early or late to the party, there is no partial reward upon admission to heaven.
I think this makes a reasonable contribution to the argument that we don't gain heaven through our own efforts; if God is not fair, then at least He is generous, and whenever you accept His invitation to the vineyard, at the end of the day you'll receive the day's wages.
Then, though, we are presented with the question Jesus posed to the chief priests and elders in another passage (which are actually mass readings a week apart for year A, I think).  Here's another vintner, one with two sons he tells to go work in his vineyard.  One says he won't do the work, but relents; the other makes an obeisant sign and then reneges.  Which one did his father's will?  In terms of the analogy, which one would enter the kingdom of heaven? The one who did his father's will.  Not the one who said he would.
I would hope that this episode would serve as a counterpoint to certain schools of thought that look at the parable as a proof text (one of several, I should say) for easy and irrevocable salvation bought by the recitation of a verbal formula.  When asked to explain someone who invites Jesus into his heart and at some subsequent point in his life seems to succumb to temptation and embraces malice and hedonism until the end of his life, the only possible answer given is "He must never have gotten saved in the first place."
It's very easy for the next thought to be "but that would never happen to me; I meant it in my heart when I asked Jesus to become my personal Lord and Savior."  
Savvy:  Christians are offered every same temptation as pagans and other unbelievers.  Committing sin remains a very real possibility for the duration of every person's mortal life.  An adulterer may reasonably expect his life to be destroyed by vices other than alcoholism or rage, but if he says "I'm turning over a new leaf, so help me God!" and then completely doesn't, then maybe he never meant it...or maybe it's just not that simple.
After all, not all who cry "Lord, Lord!" will be saved.  God will do everything to bring you to paradise except force you to go.  If you make a habit of making promises you don't keep (which is what the disobedient son did), your promises will come to naught; they won't fool God, and they won't fool you.  If you make a habit of breaking promises to do the will of God, you won't find yourself inclined to do or submit to His will for long.
In the first parable, even the people hired at the end of the day worked that last hour.  The vintner did not pay them in advance.
Okay, okay; some will say "He's saved despite the evils he commits" and others even "Christ's blood has it covered so those aren't really sins."  To the former I say one who endeavors to reject the graces of living a good life will not be disposed to accept the grace of salvation, no matter when either is offered; and to the latter I say a pardoned debt extinguishes deficit expenditures without defining them away.  To the former I say thus does presumption endanger the soul of the lazy believer, and to the latter I say you have no dog in this fight from the very beginning of it.
But again, while we are not expected or required or able to achieve the sanctity of heaven by our own efforts, we are expected to make hay during whatever sunshine still remains in the day.  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said we are called to be faithful, not to be successful.  We are not called to earn justification and righteousness, we are only called to do the work.
Just as Paul said "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her," it is to husbands given the responsibility of dying for their wives; it does not then follow that no man who fails to consummate martyrdom for his wife has failed as a husband.  He is called to that duty, not required to execute it in the extreme in every case.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Prayer after communion

Lord, I praise You and thank You for coming to us in this sacrament You have given to us, by which we may approach You.  I pray that I receive You to my salvation and sanctification, and not to my condemnation; and that You suffer me never to be farther from You than I am at this moment.

Since it is sometimes said that the Father can resist no request made to Him at the time of communion, I sometimes make petitions in the following form (I try not to dwell on them too much; focus should be more on communion during communion, so to speak, and there are other times to offer petitions):

Heavenly Father, for the breaking of Your Son's Body and the shedding of His Blood, I pray for X.

If I receive under both species, I split it up and pray through the Body and through the Blood when I receive each, respectively.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Recent disinformation about so-called gay marriage in the early Church

Recently, some hokum has been making the rounds of the Intertubes suggesting that, in the early days of the Church, gay marriage was not just recognized, but sanctioned and blessed.

The evidence ranges from circumstantial to falsified.

I won't add too much to the discussion here; the heavy lifting has already been done by Jimmy Akin and Mark Shea, who in turn cite more detailed articles that debunked the source of the "ancient gay marriage" myth when it came out almost twenty years ago:  a book written by John Boswell, late professor of history at Yale, which (except in that it claimed to be honest history instead of claiming to be a novel full of historical facts) is The DaVinci Code of gay marriage--something appealing only to those whose itching ears can only be satisfied by the hope that such scandalous ideas are true.

One of the articles--I won't link it, but you can get there from Mark's and Jimmy's sites if you really want--that has resurrected this notion attempts to describe the ritual as a wedding mass:  hands joined, vows and blessings made, followed by the Eucharist and a celebratory feast.

Um, hello?  It's a religious ceremony; of course there will be blessings.  Vows?  Could be marriage, could be joining a religious order or the priesthood, could even be one of the other sacraments, or something else completely.  They're Catholics/Orthodox; of course there will be the Eucharist during and a celebratory feast after.  If it were a wedding in an eastern church, there also would have been a crowning, but instead of that we only have this reference to holding hands.  

Well, that and bald assertions, like "While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place."  I guess Paul's allusions to Sodom don't count, since he technically wrote in Judea for the most part rather than Western Europe, but "gay marriage kept going on under the radar" is assuming the conclusion.

Maybe Boswell would have done well to consider the "current events" side of history before finding a publisher, see what modern trends and activities linger that are descended from practices of the time period of interest.  Maybe he would have been surprised to learn that this adelphopoiesis still goes on, or maybe he only would have been disappointed, instead, to learn that it is a blessing of friendships, not of romantic relationships.

It's sad in many ways.  The word used to describe a fraternal relationship between men is adelphopoiesis, which anyone familiar with the largest city in Pennsylvania would be literate enough to recognize as something other than eros, despite Boswell's insistence on translating it as "Office of the Same Sex Union."  Ah, but is it maybe a euphemism, or a misunderstanding arising from blind homophobia?  Okay, then where's the talk about gay sons pooling their inheritances?  Where's the talk of them adopting successors to continue the family name or business?  Where are the references to mundane relationships based on brotherly love?  How are we to know the difference?  Surely not so much time has passed that I am the last person to remember friendships between members of the same sex being understandably described without the use of terms like "man-crush" and "bromance," without even needing to be qualified with the word "platonic"--after all, I'm only middle aged.

But maybe, if a "bromance" is just "the kind of gay relationship that nominally straight men are comfortable having," then there is no meaningful difference between a friendship and a "relationship," and if these two things are distinguished despite having no differences, then one might argue that gay marriage is also distinct from traditional marriage for no good contemporary reason, for no real difference.

Maybe that's just what they want.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Obedience, faithfulness

Father Denis at Life WIth A German Shepherd wrote a nice reflection on the Pope's Chrism Mass homily.  I just want to quote one small bit:

The idea often is out there that obedience to the Church means turning your brain off, becoming passive, relapsing into a kind of ‘pay, pray, and obey’ mode where all the power and initiative of the Church lies with the clergy, while the laity are supine and essentially inert.

This is simply not the case. ... There is nothing passive about it.

He goes on to give some examples of how the difficulties of being faithful to the Church are commensurate with the fruits that result from persevering, but I want to focus briefly on this misconception of obedience.  

I can muster some sympathy for people on the outside.  They look at dogmas, hear something about the necessity of assent of the intellect and will to something, then look at all the contingent notions in their own lives, and somewhat understandably completely miss the fact that, guided by the Holy Spirit or not, the Church has spent the last two thousand years studying the human condition, and so might just have a pretty good idea of what factors that distinguish modern life from that in medieval Europe or ancient Palestine just really aren't game-changers, after all.  

At the very least, it would behoove more of us to look at the prudential teachings found in Tradition, and thereby save ourselves the trouble of repeating all of the mistakes in human history firsthand.  But maybe that's more about the intellect than the libido, so I'm getting ahead of myself.

Some people joke, sometimes nervously, about how they'd hate to be married because then they'd be spending their whole lives with just one person, instead of living it up with whomever and then moving on when they'd had enough.  People in healthy marriages understand, and single people who have a well formed understanding of what marriage and chastity are, recognize, that such concerns completely miss the point, and are often flatly wrong.  They understand that by submitting their will and libido to a monogamous covenant, they make themselves fertile soil for graces that will bear fruit in this life and in the life to come.  So it is with obedience to the Church:  in submitting--not abandoning--their wills and intellects to the expertise and guidance of the Church, they make room for renewal and growth, in ways expected and unexpected.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's not too late to stand up to the White House! (edited)

Please, go there and sign the petition, if you haven't signed one already.  It's morally bad for disregarding conscientious objection, it's legally bad for presuming that "to regulate commerce...among the several States" means "to mandate commerce between as well as wholly within each of the States," and it's ethically bad for perpetuating the myth that "Christian values" are best served by appointing Caesar the power to care for the poor and feed the lambs on our behalf.

I received a response from the White House on Friday, which I will be quoting liberally here.
Thank you for using We the People to make your voice heard about the Obama Administration's decision to ensure that women have access to free preventive care with no co-pays
"Free" and "no co-pays" are two different things.  This distinction is not consistently preserved, either throughout the rest of this form letter or in the debate at large.
[T]he Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to  cover preventive services, including preventive care for women, without charging a co-pay, starting on August 1, 2012
This part was interesting.  Until now, legal entities that objected were given a one year grace period in which to discover some sophistry for accepting what was still going to be inevitable.  Now that's off the table.

This part is important.  Jimmy Akin goes into a little more detail on this point.  In some ways it appears we lost ground by the USCCB using accommodating diplomatic language, but I don't think so.  Evil will do this when it is threatened in order to intimidate and distract you from casting it out.
As the President said: "Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives"
I'm highly skeptical.  Until last week, I used to hear numbers that were much lower, and the claims were merely that Catholics contracepted at the same rates (over half, but no supermajority) as other Americans.  Suddenly it's all but a handful?  It's not impossible, but I'd be looking askance at such reports even if they weren't sourced by the Gutmacher Institute.
Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health
And every free citizen should be in control of the decisions that affect his or her own soul.  Let's not conflate "some people struggle to afford medical care" with "you must agree that fertility is a disease," let alone the other moral problems with arguments framed in terms of self-determination.
And I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could
I appreciate your...appreciation...but so what?  A screwdriver is great for driving screws, but you can't port that over to driving nails just because there's a compelling need for hammers.  There are reasons it just doesn't work like that.
If a woman's employer is a religious non-profit organization, such as a charity hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, her insurance company -- not the hospital or charity -- will be required to reach out and provide her contraceptive care free of charge if she chooses to use it.
Here's where we're supposed to remember that "free of charge" is, well, impossible in this world.  Who's paying the insurance company?  You and I. Why do people even think that the government can impose fines or fees on some corporate entity without said entity passing it straight along to the customer?  They don't even pretend to pass "you may not raise your prices to cover these costs" legislation to make any punitive damages more painful than the administrative hassle it would be to maintain profit levels.
There are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception. Contraception is a safe and effective way of ....
No, it's not.  It can reduce the risk of some types of cancers, which is good, but prescription and OTC hormones range from "too weak to work on more fecund women" to "you'll literally bleed for the rest of your life."  I'm being dramatic, granted, but when the mere side effects are as bad as hemorrhaging and stroke, is prescribing it for something as prosaic as acne really the best way to go?  They prescribe the pill to alleviate irregular periods because it's easier than recommending an endocrinologist to actually cure irregular periods; does the side effect of good skin rise to the level of a "tremendous health benefit" that is proportional to the disregard of our consciences that make clear that certain things, while convenient, are still evil?  Because they still haven't established the point that pregnancy is itself is a disease which should be prevented (which is odd, since they're so happy about treating other "reproductive complications" and unrelated conditions with the pill).

I think I need to make that point clearer.  We hear things like "pregnancy would kill me," but it's a possibility of death for the mother versus, when it comes to the point of abortion, certain death for the child.  I don't want to get sidetracked, but the choice between "possible tragedy" and "definite evil" should not be a hard one.

Importantly, we also usually hear that pregnancy can cause things like peripartum cardiomyopathy, but the way it's usually billed is that pregnancy is the disease and PC is a symptom.  I sympathize that many of these complications are difficult to predict and only get discovered during pregnancy when only symptoms can be treated, but the problem with PC isn't the pregnancy, the problem is the heart.

I'm all for prevention, but let's not fall into "we wouldn't have these problems if we didn't know about them" thinking.
This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been grappling to find a solution that works for everyone, and the policy announced today has done that.
The first half is right, unless it means "the policy announced today will further our ends, and will give you an opportunity to embrace white martyrdom," in which case I agree.
The right to religious liberty will be fully protected
If it were, there wouldn't be such an uproar.  I'm glad you're not my lawyer or neighborhood cop.
Here are a few statements from groups involved in the issue
Never mind.  Quotes from Catholics United, Catholic Health Association, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL.  They all make the reasonable point that this is supposed to help them help people who really need it, but PP and NARAL don't even throw a bone to folks who don't think that working evil is a safe and reliable way to achieve good.  Thanks, but no thanks for that dose of alleged perspective.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My belated two cents plus interest on Missal 3.0

My church hadn't done much to prepare for the new liturgy, so I expected things to be rocky, but I found myself on the first Sunday of Advent out of town.  I thought to post this sooner but most of my traveling during the year happens around the holidays, so it seemed worthwhile to wait and watch how things were going at five different churches in four dioceses.  Also, I forgot to finish writing this up until now.

It was the middle of January before the changes seemed to feel more or less natural to everyone.  A few people still say "and also with you"--at random times I also forget--and I still have to refer to that tri-fold handbill for parts of the Creed, the Gloria, and the Holy Holy Holy.  I think "consubstantial" stuck out enough that everyone learned that first.

I like the changes, overall.  I'd been looking forward to them for a while, since Jimmy Akin started posting excerpts back whenever it was.  Some I wasn't too fond of for aesthetic reasons; "seen and unseen" seems to roll off the tongue a little more smoothly than "visible and invisible," and to my ears it understates the idea with a little poetic flair that I always thought served well as emphasis.  What's the opposite of hyperbole?  Hypobole?  Parabole?  Anyway, the meaning of "seen and unseen" was never unclear to me, it just sounded like an archaic yet compact way of saying "everything there is to see and everything not permitted to mortal eyes," but on the other hand, it's less precise in modern language.  "Unseen" could mean "visible but out of sight."  "Invisible" means "unseeable."  One might say it's a more technical term, like "consubstantial;" it forces a more accurate depiction of the concept, and I'm all for precision and accuracy, at least short of becoming pedantic.  Plus, I'm a child of Vatican II so I have no memory of the Tridentine mass.

As well as being more precise, it helps to elevate the language; there's poetic language, but there's crappy verse and then there's elegant verse, and I can't really argue that the places in the old translation that sounded nicer than the new translation were really worth the risk of misinterpretation, like "for all" at the consecration of the Precious Blood being taken as conclusive proof of universal salvation.

I think it's just going to take a little getting used to.  The old translation was only fifty years old but it was defended for its antiquity and pedigree like one might have thought more appropriate for the Liturgy of Saint James.  The new translation has its own rhythms and we'll get used to them, the new music written to fit the new words will become familiar, although it seems like a majority of the sung responses I've experienced so far have been in minor keys or obscure modes that don't flow with the rest of the mass.  It's almost like some of the composers trying to bring the hymnody up to speed occasionally forgot the difference between solemn and somber.  Personally I'm going to miss the Gloria from mass setting 3 the most; it was elegant and I think comes from a place where familiarity made it easy to compose something beautiful.  Even though liturgists have been working on the new translation longer than we've been seeing it, it's still chafes in a few places, like a new pair of shoes might, and like new shoes will have to endure a breaking-in period.  Or maybe we're the shoes, really.

I haven't heard a lot of complaints, myself.  One other person commenting on how the changes don't flow as well as the old translation.  A secondhand or thirdhand reference to someone claiming oppression at the sixty-year-old novel translation that was more easily abused and less carefully protected (indeed, I sometimes wonder if part of the motivation to promulgate this new translation is to cut off hangers-on of liturgical abuses cleanly, instead of letting them think this is one more thing they can corrupt according to their own preference) being replaced by this one.  An admitted cynic wondering if the publisher of the missals managed to bend an ear of the secretariat of the Congregation for Divine Worship and hatch a very profitable conspiracy.  Another wondering why Rome is bothering with all this when there's a sex abuse scandal to deal with.  Another from a priest saying "stick with 'and also with you'--I'm more than just a spirit!"  One occurrence of not liking how the centurion's prayer now goes "my soul shall be healed" instead of "I shall be healed."  Another thinking "consubstantial" is pretentious.  Another feeling that the communal feel of saying "We believe" in the Creed is more important than whatever is achieved by saying "I believe."

All these criticisms are interesting, if not altogether valid.  I try not to criticize the liturgy too much, because it's just too easy for me to start seeing all the things done badly (and so many of them would be so easy to do correctly) and too easy to compound the ways I'm not paying attention to what I should, but perhaps this is the least bad time to make an exception, if not actually a good time to do so.  I will say a few things and then comment on the criticism I have heard, and that will be all for, I hope, a good long time.  It's not altogether relevant, but as long as we're changing the mass, I may as well point out a few bothersome things, some of which I have mentioned before, and then I shall hold my tongue until and unless I witness some flagrant abuses that need to be brought to the attention of the local ordinary and the CDW; rest assured, you'll hear about it too.

To liturgical ministers or whomever, whose decision it was to have people in the back of the church come forth for communion first, drop the attempt to shoehorn in some "last shall be first" symbolism.  The best symbolic acts arise naturally, with meaning ascribed to them after they manifest, rather than being deliberately constructed by man; or they have already been put in place hundreds or thousands of years ago.  The people sitting in the front do so not because they're proud, nor those in the back because they're humble.  It's like insisting, contrary to the allowances of canon law, that we all "stand together" during communion in some long standing local tradition that may not go back even as far as my childhood, as if uniformity of posture could somehow contribute to or surpass the communion we all share in those moments through the Eucharist; or worse yet, in some look-at-me-not-God moment, suggesting that we should have married priestesses because when they're pregnant "this is my body given for you" takes on added dimensions.  No; all starting communion from the back of the church does is divert everyone's attention away from the sanctuary and the Sacrament and toward the row behind them so they know when they can exit the pew.  Those ushers who try to do the crowd control thing, tell us when to go and when to wait?  Useless.  They sneak up, effectively if not deliberately, through the cloud of people who missed their cue to get in line in the aisle, maybe make a gesture supposed to indicate it's your turn to go but you can't see it if you're not already watching closely enough to pick them out of the crowd, and blow past you if you're not on top of things.  I doubt it's just me because as I said it's a cloud more than a stream of people and I see it in every church that has this practice.  Maybe if there were some way of identifying them as ushers we could tell they weren't just confused and trying to get to communion themselves--except, no, that hasn't been working.  If they started with people from the front, the congregation could start filing out as soon as the Eucharistic ministers came down from the altar, and we only need to keep a small fraction of our awareness on the people around us so we know when to go, instead of turning around to watch the pews behind us empty out.

To the music ministers, please abandon attempts to inject music, in whole or in part, to the petitions; it always ends up as "We pray, to the, Lord hear our prayer."  It's weird, it's a run-on sentence.  Make it stop.

To whomever who came up with the idea of turning everyone into a minister of hospitality, can we dispense with the de facto sign of peace before mass?  We have one in the middle of mass already, and that one's in the rubrics.  If I want to socialize, I'll meet you in the narthex after mass; I'm not going to respond effectively to "Rise and greet those around you!" or "Get to know each other a little bit" five seconds before the processional.  Either I already know those around me or I've no hope of instantly befriending them simply by your command.  Want me to feel welcome?  Do something that may actually make me feel welcome.  If you have to tell people to welcome me, it's already failed.

To the fans of mutating a mutable and recent liturgy, I say you brought it on yourselves and should not be shocked that a decades-old rite can be replaced despite any familiarity, habituation, or preference after a centuries-old rite has been replaced.  I'm sorry, but of all the arguments, that isn't a good one.  You'll just have to get used to it, like you did e-mail and DVDs.

To the cynic, I say even if there is a conspiracy to sell more books, those books would have to be replaced someday anyway and all the reasons given to justify the changes, such as weeding out some of the loopier "hymns," are legitimate anyway.

To the jaded person with different priorities, I say there's no reason why Rome can't address the Scandal in the news papers and liturgical scandal at the same time.  It would be like complaining that malfeasance on the part of the public defender in Asheville should be tolerated until the animal control unit in Bismarck can get that coyote problem under control.  Most of the sizzle these days in the Scandal is the media breaking twenty year old cases--not all, God help us, but most--and it's too late to try rechanneling efforts (I'm also no fan of the "your first priority should be your only priority or you welcome judgment upon your apathy" school of thought, either, if it hadn't already become obvious).  There's always going to be a scandal of some sort, anyway; comes with the territory of a Church and a world populated by sinners.

To whoever thinks "consubstantial" is pretentious or a sign of overthinking things, I say you'll get used to it; it's an appropriate formal term, and one that shouldn't continue to bother you if you can tolerate occasional long Greek expressions like Eucharist and Kyrie Eleison; and "overthinking things" is what enables us to ask intelligent questions about complicated matters instead of just picking the tidiest answer and sticking with it despite new information; it's what makes available answers to questions pondered for centuries, so you don't have to rely on your own research skills or the flaky memory of a local pastor (see also G.K. Chesteron's "never mind nutrition and medicine; why can't we just all enjoy Health?" bit).  Don't like it?  Don't worry about it.  We have highly sophisticated and nuanced canon law, too, but that's more something for canon lawyers to worry about than we rank and file.

To the priest who insists he's not just a spirit, I say it's not about him at all, but about the Spirit working within him that effects the sacraments at his hands, and we're not there to glorify a man in the cloth.

To the one preferring to hear about all healing over only spiritual healing, I sympathize, but please remember that we're all going to ail and die from this life and ultimately our spiritual health is all that will matter.

But I have to say, although "born of the Father before all ages" doesn't bring the same connotation to my ears as "eternally begotten of the Father," sounding more like a temporal kind of event that just happened to take place outside of time, I do like the ring of it.  "Eternity" means something closer to "equally present to all points of time at once" and is usually mistaken to mean "time progressing infinitely into the future," but "born before all ages," never mind how someone can be born of a father in the first place, better communicates that the Second Person of the Trinity really is "older" than time; "eternally begotten" is such a peculiar phrase it's easy to forget it has any particular meaning, but "born" is still a common word, so that "born of a father" really conveys a mysterious idea, and "before all ages" may do better to indicate that the Son is not just outside of common time but predates all Creation.

And I have to add, I'm glad the last item in the handbill they published that summarizes the changes is headed "Concluding Rites" and "Dismissal."  So often I hear the recessional announced as "our sending-forth song,"  and I get that it's supposed to emphasize us being sent out into the world rather than saying "Okay, you don't have to be here after this song's done, or sneak out before we get to the refrain if you can't wait;" a reminder of the Great Commission, but it just sounds flat, almost Newspeakwise; like the other changes and abused I griped about, it's like a human attempt to pump emphasis into something that ultimately was given to us by God.  "Sending-forth" would work in German, and corresponds somewhat better than badly with the "Gathering hymn" at the beginning of mass, but in English...well, if "Ite, missa est,"  whence may come "sent" (the root for "mission") as much as "dismissed," is good enough to get the word "mass" from, then "recessional" is as good a way to end the mass and bookend the "processional" as anything.

I still hear "sending-forth" sometimes, but hopefully we're at the dawn of an era of liturgy more careful in meaning as well as in construction. I've already rambled and griped about things I've been seeing at church but I've witnessed similar phenomena in technical writing, where inexperienced or unskilled authors feel the key to writing in a professional style involves not just heavy use of jargon but stilted, dry sentence construction, as if it will sound appropriately high-level because it sounds so unnatural.  Perhaps I am a good example of that phenomenon.  Either way, this may be a good opportunity to correct such misconceptions.

And hopefully clear out some of the other liturgical detritus.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

I haven't written yet about the Wall Street occupation...

...and I hope to make just a few comments and let it drop, since the movement seems to be in low gear for the winter, at least, or having gone into semipermanent or worse hibernation after devolving into another Zombietime photoessay opportunity.

If you take nothing else away, if I make no other comprehensible or worthwhile point, I want you to remember one thing that may have been the bane and doom of the Occupy movement since its conception:

Envy is not the answer to greed.

They talk about the 1% and the 99%, about the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer--cliches that have not been true since before modern times.

It may be true that the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase, but what isn't talked about much is the fact that on average the rich and the poor are both getting more wealthy, but the rich merely at a higher rate.  This is a sign that the problem is not what people say it is.

Certainly, the abjectly destitute continue to have next to nothing, as they always have--or only so much as nearby charitable organizations have been able to supply--but they are also not the ones turning out in droves to heckle the white collar desk slaves in major cities all across the country.

The tycoons who really make up the 1% do not waste their time working mundane jobs like the middle class does.  I'm not saying they do or don't work hard, but let's not get distracted and harass the guys who also need to show up every day to support their families, okay?

From the National Taxpayer Union, and the Tax Foundation, some tax statistics:

  • The top 1% of earners by adjusted gross income, about $343k or higher, paid almost 37% of all taxes in 2009, but made 17% of all income.
  • The top 5% made 32% of all income and paid 59% of all federal taxes.
  • The top 50% (AGI about $32k) paid almost 98% of income taxes in 2009.
  • the bottom 50% paid a little over 2% in 2009, and that rate has been dropping steadily since at least 1999.
You can look these stats up or go digging through the data at if you need to disprove the usual cliches for yourself.

The tax proportions do change with income level, because dividends and capital gains are taxed at different rates from regular income, but richer people tend to have investments and other income sources that are taxable as dividends and capital gains more than the less wealthy, so they're still shouldering the burden.

If you're getting irate now, allow me to remind you that I have said nothing about sticking it to the poor, who have very little left to glean, anyway.  My point is that the people who still have decent jobs these days are not the real enemy, and for the most part the richest didn't get that way by substantial theft of the poorest.

The forgotten crux of the economic argument is the middle class.  As a rough gauge, we can put the ceiling on upper middle class at the $250k/year mark (also, I was able to find numbers for this income level).  About 3% of Americans make more than that.  A tenth of a percent make over a million dollars. The poorer half of all American income earners, who pay 2%, are made up of 70 million people.

In case anyone's getting lost in the numbers, it's a median-mean thing; don't worry about it.

3% of Americans, assuming we've got 350 million people, comes to 10.5 million people.  350 million total, minus 10.5 million upper class, minus 70 million lower class, yields a middle class of approximately 269,500,000 people who pay about 40% of all income tax (neglecting the difference between this 3% and the 5% listed above--I'm not trying to teach a math lesson here).

Tax debates usually hit the middle class the hardest because there are just so damn many of us that small changes in tax rates yield large variations in the budgets.  Under a progressive tax schedule like we have in this country, maybe the rates in the top brackets are also important variable.

Look:  maybe Warren Buffet's right and he needs to pay higher taxes, on top of the charitable giving he does, in quantities surpassing what most of us will ever see in our lives, to organizations benificent and shady alike; and certainly we need to take care of the poor, even if there is some truth behind the presumption that we need the government's help to do it and not just our own personal and willing contributions of time and material resources to places like St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill or the efforts of religious orders.  But a worker is worth his wages.  He is not a villain for achieving some success in providing for his own family--and it does us all well to remember that we do not know how much the average Wall Street drone is socking away for his kids, nor how many kids he is trying to support, nor what other expenses he may have like a home in disrepair or massive student loan debt or medical costs, nor how much he already gives to charity.

If you're poor, you have the right to demand help.  If you're not, you can provide help and try to attract the help of others.  If you need a job and you want a new car and your student loans forgiven too, well, that's silly but I applaud your honesty.  If you have made money on the backs of de facto slave labor, shame on you.  But if you need help, it is not just to paint a worker who is guilty of nothing but having received his just wages with the same brush as the shameful exploiter.

In your rush to fight poverty, whether your own or a stranger's, do not be eager to embrace jealousy, for it too is a vice.

Well, so much for "just a few comments," but I think I'm done with the situation for now.