The Difference Between Simplicity and Minimalism


There is a popular question among minimalist and simplicity bloggers. What is the difference between simplicity and minimalism? Despite the popularity of the question, it has no easy answer. This is because it is a deeply philosophical question. So, I will answer it.

The first thing that we can say is that simplicity and minimalism are not the same thing. They seem like the same thing, but they aren't. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, this imprecision of the terminology leads to a lot of cognitive dissonance for people. What we can say is that simplicity and minimalism are not maximalist. Maximalism is the belief that more is more. I think it will help us to define maximalism in a better way.

Maximalism's belief in more being more comes down to a quantitative measure. If one room is good, two rooms must be better. If one house is good, two houses must be better. The error of maximalism is that it does not account for diminishing returns. A second house is not nearly as valuable or as useful as a primary house. Since that second house also demands maintenance and costs such as insurance and taxes, its marginal utility is less than the first house. At some point, the marginal utility of subsequent houses will exceed the marginal costs making it a foolish endeavor. This is why when people downsize and simplify they feel as if they are becoming richer in the process. This is because fewer units require fewer costs to resources. This concept is very important, and you need to keep it handy in your brain for later.

Minimalism is the belief that less is more. By paring down to the essentials, you eliminate the waste. But there is a fundamental flaw in that thought process. If maximalism is an increase in the marginal cost with a simultaneous loss in marginal utility, minimalism is the exact same thing. To achieve a minimalist lifestyle, you have to spend more to achieve less. Less really isn't more. Less is less.

This concept is best illustrated by the fact that most minimalist homes and structures are unworkable and unlivable. Whenever someone sees the interior of one of these minimalist abodes, they usually exclaim, "How can anyone live in that?!"


The reality is that no one can live in a space like that because the act of living will change it from being minimalist to something else. While a minimalist space may be aesthetically pleasing, it is functionally deficient. It is also insanely expensive.

Simplicity is different from minimalism in the same way that it is different from maximalism. Simplicity aims for optimal utility at a minimal cost. This would be a couch from the thrift store and a book shelf with books in it. Simplicity is form following function. When this functionality is diminished or lost, it becomes minimalism.

Minimalists have a hard time with functionality. One well known example was the infamous episode with the iPhone when it would reportedly lose reception when held in a certain way. The response from Steve Jobs was to not hold it that way. Similarly, Edith Farnsworth was not so pleased with the Farnsworth House that Mies van der Rohe built because it did not include laundry facilities. What we learn from these episodes is that what is beautiful may not always be useful.

Maximalism and minimalism are fundamentally the same in the increase of costs and the decrease of utility. The difference is that maximalism focuses on the quantitative while minimalism focuses on the qualitative. Neither has any true concept of "enough." This is where simplicity gets it right.

Simplicity is about having enough. It means having the correct number and quality of an item. The other thing is that simplicity is easily achieved and sustained. Once you have enough, you don't need anymore. This does not mean restriction to the purely utilitarian. No one needs to hang a painting on the wall, but it does give everyone something pleasant to look at.

Most people who call themselves minimalists are actually practicing simplicity. Where they get into trouble is that they sometimes get them confused leading to things that are not simple. For instance, minimalists have a nasty habit of buying Apple products especially the iPhone. But what if there is an Android phone that is more functional and costs less than the iPhone? This is that cognitive dissonance I was mentioning earlier. If you can gain greater utility at a lower cost, this is the wisest choice. But the minimalist will buy that iPhone because it is "minimalist."

These sorts of choices vex the minimalist at every turn. Instead of spending all their money buying everything, they spend all their time trying to buy the right thing. Naturally, that right thing comes in white and costs three times what a normal item would cost. Or, they will spend the bulk of their time coming up with ways to save time, but they would save more time if they didn't spend so much time trying to save time. It sounds like a Seinfeld episode.

Being simple is simple. The difference between simplicity and minimalism is that simplicity is human. It is real. It is natural. Minimalism is not real. It is not natural. Plus, it is boring. This is because the minimalist aesthetic is an abstraction. It does not serve human means and ends but serves an idea. It is like reducing all human wisdom to math.

Minimalism and simplicity have become hopelessly mixed together being one part Thoreau and two parts Dieter Rams. I think people would be better served by looking to Thoreau. If you have ever disposed of a perfectly good product or appliance just to buy one that was more "minimalist," you are going down the wrong path. But if you have chairs from the thrift store that don't quite match, you are doing it right. This is simplicity.

I think it is an unfortunate accident that voluntary simple living got linked with the minimalist aesthetic in art and design. As such, people will call themselves "minimalists" even though the term does not mean what they think it means. Perhaps that confusion will be cleared up in the future. Or maybe we just need a new word for people who choose to live simply.




[SOC] The Death of Noir, Simplified Online Presence

Where do I begin? I'm not sure today. My brain is a blank.

I feel more confident in writing fiction now. I was struggling with where I want to go with those projects or whether or not I should even do them. The first issue I had was what sort of voice or style to write in, and I have decided to continue in my Charles Noir minimalist "movie in your brain" style of narrative. I have experimented in other styles, but I am just not able to pull it off.

The other thing I have decided to do is retire the Charles Noir pseudonym and universe. I wrote those stories as an atheist which is why they come across as horrific and bleak. If I could give a label to that genre of writing, it would be "nihilistic horror." It was not my intention to write such stuff since I had no greater ambition than to be a complete hack writing pulp fiction. But as they say, themes emerge.

Becoming Catholic has made me come to grips with my past. I have a blog with numerous pieces written from a secular individualist viewpoint. I will retain those pieces for no other reason than as an archive of where I was then. But I am in a different place now. It is a better place.

My intention with fiction is to write from a moral point of view. This may not seem like much of a difference, but it is a huge difference for me. My wife tells me that my Noir stories highlighted a moral dimension by the absence of morality in those stories. The horror comes from a world without God.

My new stories will not be pleasant. They will be unpleasant like a crucifix. My hope is that they will make people think. I want the stories to linger in the brain and the conscience. I want my readers to be put in a better place at the end even if the journey to that end is traumatic.

I have toyed with inventing a new pseudonym, but I like my simplified online presence. I don't do Twitter or Facebook. I only have my single blog. I am taking down my other blog and archiving those stories for future reference. This simplifying has had a marvelous effect on me. All you really need is a blog. I have had numerous ideas for other blogs, but I resist them now. This blog is the only outlet that I need. It is the one thing I have done consistently for years, and it has brought me great joy and pleasure. It also is how I met my wife.

Simplifying is fun. There is something very appealing about taking something and reducing it to its essential elements. But I think there is a difference between minimalism and simplicity. I will have to explore that in a future blog post.

The Angel of Death Comes to the Candy Kitchen


1.

The edge of the metal separates black rubber from the rim. A hammer strikes. Tools work the tire and pull it from the rim.

“It ain’t as fun as killing Japs, is it?”

A man puffs a cigar. The smoke rolls from his mouth.

“No, it ain’t,” the tire changer says with a grin. “But at least tires don’t shoot back.”

His body is lean. A rolled sleeve reveals a Marine anchor on his arm. His hair is short. His face unlined with youth.

“Did you really celebrate your birthday at Guadal Canal?” the man with the cigar asks.

“My sweet sixteen,” the tire changer replies.

The cigar man laughs and shakes his head.

“You got some balls, kid. How many of them Japs did you kill?”

The tire changer’s smile disappears.

“What’s wrong, kid? You look like I slapped you.”

The tire changer pauses for a moment. Then, he speaks.

“There’s no real pleasure in killing a man. I did what I had to do, and I didn’t keep count.”

The cigar man takes another puff.

“I understand, kid. We’ve all done things we would like to forget.”

2.

The bar is dimly lit. There is a sign above the door. It says, “The Candy Kitchen.”

The tire changer is at the bar. There are jars of peppermint sticks and licorice. Men drink from mugs of beer. Others take shots of whiskey. One man laughs and drinks from a Mason Jar of moonshine.

“Why do they call this place the Candy Kitchen?” a man asks.

“You ain’t from around here, is you?” the bartender says. “If you was, you would know that, wouldn’t you?”

“You’re right, chief. I ain’t from around here. But I ain’t no Yankee or G-man. Just stopped in for a beer. Just wondering why you got this candy in here.”

“It is from Prohibition,” the bartender says. “We started selling candy when the teetotallers got their way. But we still had shine and beer in the basement.”

“So, what goes on in the basement now?” the stranger asks with a grin.

“That ain’t none of your damn business,” the bartender says.

The basement is lit with a single bulb hanging by a wire from the ceiling. Seven men sit on old chairs, crates, and buckets. One of the men is the tire changer.

“Gentlemen, I have called the klavern together to speak about the grave times we live in.”

The man in the center of the room speaks. He is older with thinning hair. His face is fierce. His eyes are wide with passion and anger. Spit flies from his mouth as he speaks.

“We fought a war overseas, but now, we have us a war right here at home. It is brewing, and we can all feel it. It is going to tear apart the fabric of our society.”

There are some amens and nods of agreement.

“The niggers in our midst are getting uppity. They are getting notions of ‘equality’ and ‘civil rights.’ Before you know it, they will be in our schools with our white children. They will be drinking from our fountains and pissing in our bathrooms. They will be voting for their nigger candidates, and we just might see us a damn nigger president before it is over with.”

A wave of disgust and grumbling fills the room.

“When that happens, it will be over with for our white women. They won’t know a day without nigger rape. It will be the white man in the fields picking the cotton while the black man runs the plantation. It is coming, gentlemen. Those days are coming.”

The man speaking pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his forehead. He continues.

“We see this already with the Jenkins widow. Her husband gets killed in the war, and she takes up with the nigger help. It is shameful. It is an abomination. There are all these good whitefolk willing to lend her a hand. There are good white Christian men that wouldn’t hesitate to marry her and farm that land of hers. But she shacks up with that damn nigger, Tuck Collins. This cannot stand.”

The speaker drinks a swig from a beer bottle.

“This town needs some Klan. This town needs this wrong set right. This town needs good Christian men to do what needs to be done.”

The tire changer looks down at his boots.

“What’s wrong, Billy? You ain’t becoming a nigger lover on us, are you?”

Billy looks up. His eyes are fierce.

“Hell, no. I hate a nigger. I just don’t want any killing, Leroy. I done enough killing.”

Leroy shakes his head.

“There ain’t going to be any killing, Billy. We just want to scare them. We just want to run that nigger out of there. That’s all, Billy.”

The rest of the room nods in agreement.

“We’re just going to set right a wrong. For the memory of Bobby Jenkins. May God rest his soul.”

The men hold up their drinks in a salute. Billy holds up his beer as well. They all drink.

3.

The white house is visible in the dark. It is two stories. Porches wrap around the house. Rocking chairs sit still. The wind blows, and the chimes emit their tones. A small light shines in an upstairs window.

Cars and trucks pull up outside. Men dressed in white robes exit the vehicles. They light their torches, and the flames illuminate the front of the house. There are shotguns and rifles. Holsters on belts hold revolvers.

“Get ‘em out here,” one of the masked men says.

Four of the seven go to the door and kick it in. They enter the house. A woman screams. They come out of the house dragging a black man in his underwear.

“String him up,” the man says.

Sally Jenkins fights with the men, but they subdue her. The others tie Tuck’s hands and put a noose over a tree limb. Tuck struggles, and the men beat him. The noose goes around his neck. Tuck stands on a bucket as the noose is pulled tight.

“Let him go!! He ain’t done nothing to you!! Let him down!”

The Jenkins widow screams. The men slap her to calm her down. It is no use.

“You are a nigger loving whore, Mrs. Jenkins,” Leroy says as he takes his hood off. “Your husband is still fresh in his grave, and you took up with this nigger. I bet he was in your bed before your husband ever got killed by the Germans.”

“It ain’t none of your business,” Sally says.

“But it is, lady. We are our brother’s keeper, and we are going to set right this wrong. You are a whore, and whores get what’s coming to them. Strip her!”

The men strip the clothes from Sally Jenkins. They toss her to the ground and take turns raping her. She screams and cries in agony.

Billy looks away.

“What’s wrong, Billy?” Leroy asks. “This ain’t as fun as killing Japs?”

“This ain’t right,” Billy says.

“Right? This woman has disgraced her dead husband and this town with her whoring with that nigger. Why does it matter?”

Billy shakes his head.

“I can’t do this anymore.”

A flash of anger crosses Leroy’s face.

“Hey, everybody. We got a nigger lover with us. Billy’s getting soft.”

The others look at Billy.

“I ain’t no nigger lover, Leroy.”

“The hell you ain’t. You ain’t no different than this whore. Maybe we should get you a nigger girlfriend, and you can get married and have some half-breed nigger babies.”

“Fuck you, Leroy!”

A revolver is put to Billy’s head.

“It’s OK,” Leroy says. “Billy ain’t no Benedict Arnold. He’s just gotten soft from killing Japs. Some men get hard from war, but Billy feels bad. That’s all.”

Leroy leads Billy over to Tuck hanging from the tree limb. Tuck looks into Billy’s eyes.

“Kick that bucket, Billy.”

Billy looks down at his feet. He looks up into Tuck’s eyes.

“Have mercy on me. . .” Tuck says.

A drop of blood spills from Tuck’s mouth as he speaks. It lands on Billy’s face. Crimson stains his white cheek. Billy looks down again.

He kicks the bucket.

The rope pulls taut around Tuck’s neck. He gurgles blood as he strangles in the noose. His death is slow and agonizing. The men stop their raping to witness the death. Sally Jenkins screams and runs to Tuck.

“No, please no! Don’t let this happen!”

Tuck dies. The men leave him to hang. Sally Jenkins lies naked, crumpled, and crying on the ground beneath his body.

“You did a good thing, Billy,” Leroy says. “It needed doing. Let’s go.”

The men get in their cars and trucks and leave.

4.

They unlock the door to the Candy Kitchen and go inside. They lock the door behind them. The bartender serves the beers.

“That got a little messy,” Leroy says. “But I think we sent the message.”

Billy looks sad. The blood is still on his cheek.

“You did good, Billy. I’m sorry for calling you a nigger lover.”
One of the men snicker.

“Billy sure ain’t no nigger lover. Old Tuck is deader than hell.”

They all give Billy a slap on the back.

“Go clean yourself up, Billy,” Leroy says. “We got a beer waiting for you.”

Billy steps into the washroom. He looks at himself in the mirror. He sees the blood on his cheek. He looks away from the mirror.

The men in the bar are talking when there is a knock on the door. The room goes silent.

“Who the hell is that?” Leroy asks.

Leroy walks to the door, unlocks it, and opens it. There is a blast, and Leroy flies backwards. A figure walks into the bar holding a smoking shotgun. It is Sally Jenkins.

Billy rushes from the washroom to see men falling in a hail of fire and buckshot. They scream in agony from their wounds while others simply die. Sally Jenkins shoots and shoots again. Billy runs but takes buckshot to his back. He falls down the stairs to the basement below.

Billy is in a pile at the foot of the stairs. Blood stains the floor around him. He drags himself to the small window to try and escape. He hears a revolver upstairs shooting each man one by one.

Billy limps to one leg and gets on an overturned bucket to reach the window. He gets his body halfway out when he feels the hand pull him back in. He falls to the floor and looks up into the face of Sally Jenkins. She is holding a revolver.

Her face is contorted in agony and sadness. Her face is bruised and cut from the beating. Tears stream from her eyes and mix with blood. She cocks the hammer back on the revolver.

“Have mercy on me. . .” Billy says.

Sally’s hands tremble with the gun in it.

“Have mercy on me. . .”

Sally sees the blood on Billy’s cheek. She cocks the hammer back into place. She turns from him and walks up the stairs. Billy hears her footsteps as she passes over him and leaves the way she came.

THE END

[SOC] Second Dose, the Purpose of Fiction

I have another day off from work, so this necessitates a second dose of freewriting. Doing this is sort of therapeutic for me because writers have to get it out there. The words build up in you, and they have to come out.

I spent yesterday and last night bugging the hell out of Molly over my creative struggles. You can read some of this from yesterday's SOC post. Writers can be a whiny bunch, but I have been able to sleep on it a bit. I usually have the answers when I awake. Here is what I have.

What is the purpose of fiction? That is a very important question because in our nihilistic times fiction and stories seem to have no purpose or meaning. This is why novels are so bad. Angst ridden writers try to answer the question but draw a blank.

My own answer as an atheist was that fiction was pure entertainment. We read stories or watch movies to forget our own miserable lives for a bit and to enjoy the misery of other lives even if those lives are fake. As such, as long as the story allowed you to escape for a bit, it had served its purpose. Whether or not the story was good was really person relative. The worth of fiction was purely in the mind of the reader.

I have rejected atheism, and this rejection brings with it a reconsideration of fiction. I believe fiction does have a purpose, and this purpose is a moral education. It is no coincidence that Holy Scripture takes the form of narrative. Stories allow us to forget ourselves momentarily, and this is important. It is in self-forgetting that we can consider and contemplate the divine. As pure entertainment, fiction serves the same end as it would as moral education. It helps you to forget yourself. The difference between mere entertainment and moral education is that moral education returns you to the world better than when you left it.

Old stories like Shakespeare and medieval literature have this quality of moral education. Likewise, children's stories of today also have this same quality. This is why these stories are so good. They are not mere entertainment. They teach us morality and empathy. No sermon or essay can do this like a story can.

Most adult fiction these days is bereft of this moral education. This is primarily a result of the rise of a secular worldview. Stories about virtue are replaced with stories of decadence and despair. Cynicism trashes morality. The result is that a children's book like Harry Potter ends up being a bestseller while adult novelists like Jonathan Franzen ponder the death of the novel.

Novels are dead because they serve no moral purpose. Pure entertainment is not enough to sustain you for 500 pages. The reason I despise my own fiction is because it has served no moral purpose whatsoever. If all fiction accomplishes is to help make your wasted life a little less unpleasant, I don't care to do it. And the fact is that bad writing makes people worse not better.

The world abounds with books, but there are precious few books that are actually any good. I want to write good stuff, and I regret writing bad stuff. I don't know if I can succeed at writing the good stuff, but that is the goal. We will see what it brings.

[SOC] Inauguration, MLK, LGBT rights, Media Clutter, Values and Minimalism, Music, Novels

It is not often that I begin one of these things with absolutely no place to start. I usually have some ideas percolating in my brain when I step to the keyboard, but I am drawing a blank today. When this happens, I glance over the Google News page to spark my brain a bit. Today, the buzz is about the inauguration and MLK day. Every year on MLK day, I take the time to comment on race relations in the USA, but I think I said it all with that statement. A black president was re-elected.

Now, there are a lot of people who don't like Obama, and I live in a red state. I get to hear the grumblings from people who are Republican and southern. Since I am the white guy, I get to hear the unfiltered white take on things, and the negative opinions about Obama that I hear never mention his race. There was a time in this country when a black president would have been taken as a sign of the apocalypse, but most people that I know don't care a bit that he's black. They are more pissed at the fact that the man wants to take their guns.

I don't think people care about race anymore in America. That's a good thing. There will always be pockets of racism, but it seems more against Mexican immigrants than against anyone else. Xenophobia is the biggest problem these days. But you won't hear that from the Left.

The big issue these days deals with gay rights especially gay marriage. Gay marriage is an abomination. I will lose some readers on that, but I don't care. I have embraced my church's teachings on this matter because I find them evenhanded but solid. People with same sex attraction are probably born that way and deserve a measure of sympathy. But they are not allowed to act on the attraction, and they certainly can't marry a person of the same gender. The Catholic Church will never change on this matter, and it shouldn't.

I see persecution coming on this issue, but that is the way it is when you stand up for what is right. As a friend of mine put it, "You find homosexuality in nature, but you also find cannibalism there, too. It doesn't make it right." Gay and lesbian relationships are wrong. Gay marriage attempts to make a human right out of a sin.

Obama and the Democratic Party has fully embraced the :LGBT cause. The irony is that many of the black voters that voted for Obama part company with him on this issue. I doubt even MLK would be a supporter. There is debate on the internet about where King stood on gay rights, but those who knew him think he was primarily a Christian. His religion like that of many other black pastors would have been incongruous with any stance for LGBT rights.

The reality is that marriage is tied to reproduction. Homosexuals and lesbians do not reproduce except with help from a third party. Every person born has a mother and a father. As such, the children of that mother and father are entitled to have a mother and a father. The way it stands today, kids are just pets for self-absorbed people. There is something perverse in that.

In other news, it has been a couple of weeks since leaving Facebook. My addiction to it has ended, so I no longer feel the urge to post or look at cat pictures. It has also afforded me the first real progress in taming my media cluttered world. My recent series on trash culture has also helped as well. I notice that I now watch almost no movies preferring to read the books instead. The quality of what I watch and read has gone way up, and I find that less of my time feels wasted. I also have more time to write.

I give a lot of credit to Leo Babauta, but I must also give credit to becoming Catholic as well. The reason for this is because you can't minimize or declutter without making decisions, and you can't make those decisions without having values. Minimalists strike me as people simplifying for its own sake while I simplify for the sake of doing other things. I will give you an example.

I used to be a sports junkie. I wasn't as bad as other people I know, but I used to watch a lot of football, basketball, and NASCAR. I also liked sports such as Olympics and cycling when Lance Armstrong was winning his victories. But at some point, I reached the conclusion that Lance was a doper. The rest of the world has caught up to me on that one, but I had to think long and hard about the issue of sports. Was sports a worthy endeavor or mere entertainment? Were these men pursuing an honorable thing, or was it simply human chicken fighting? I think the point is clear now. Sports is just entertainment. Once that was settled in my mind, I dropped the sports habit immediately. My values had dictated the decision.

Becoming Catholic has made me question the other areas as well. For instance, I don't watch trash television anymore. There is nothing good, true, or beautiful in any of it. So, if I watch anything, it tends to be news, a program on EWTN, or a documentary.

I am a total news junkie, and the only thing that seems to have tempered that addiction is the fact that I rapidly run out of free reading on the New York Times website. I am not ever paying for their content. So, I have tons of stuff rolling into my news folder on Google Reader. I don't know how to edit that down to something manageable.

The area where I can definitely let my values make decisions for me is the realm of music. I never made a deliberate decision in this regard, but I find myself listening to more classical music, the good jazz from the bebop era, and choral music. There was a time when I would have enjoyed this garbage:


Now, I like this stuff:


Why does Guaraldi beat Voivod? That is a very good question. This is because no one can answer it without appealing to some idea of beauty. Voivod is essentially nihilistic noise. Guaraldi is melody. Guaraldi is beautiful. Voivod is ugly.

Popular music can be beautiful. But most of the time, it isn't. I always wonder what makes the music have that beautiful quality, and I want to say that it is the melody. But Barry Manilow was the king of melodies, but his music is so saccharine that it is now the butt of jokes. So, there are no easy answers there. Rhythm is also essential, but rap is almost pure rhythm. And it sucks. Good music is the balance between NutraSweet and noise.

This song gets it right:



The Verve never made another good song like this one. If they did, they would have been Coldplay which borders dangerously close to Barry Manilow territory. The only group that I know that got it consistently right was U2.

What I am finding in all of this is an idea that crosses many fields. Something becomes ugly when it takes an essentially good element and distorts it. This was something I discovered about heresy in Catholicism. A heresy is a truth distorted into a lie. Likewise, ugliness is a beautiful thing distorted and disfigured. People try to capture some element and make it become the whole of a thing. This leads to disorder.

The Verve song could have been ruined in many ways. They could have gotten rid of the drumbeat and made it saccharine. The singer could have rapped the lyrics. Or, they could have turned it into a techno song or something heavy metal. Beauty comes from balance and harmony.

The problem with minimalism is that it elevates simplicity into an end in itself which is why so much minimalist architecture and design seems sterile and alien. My wife has taken me to task many times for this post. Needless to say, I don't find minimalism to be as appealing anymore as an aesthetic. Being inside beautiful churches will change you in that regard.

Minimalism is dull and lifeless. Musically, I think Brian Eno comes closest to minimalism:



I used to listen to this stuff, but it is the equivalent of a musical quaalude. It wants to be beautiful, but it can't make it. This is experimental stuff, and it sucks. For maximum suckitude, here is some Philip Glass:



Where Eno pursued simplicity, Glass explored monotony. So, why does any of this matter? The answer is obvious to me. People go out and try new things. They experiment. They think they will discover something that has never been before. The results are hideous. To the credit of Glass and Eno, they would go on to make much better stuff.

There really is nothing new. This does not mean that there can be no variety. But there are certain rules and principles that govern the world of the true, the good, and the beautiful. I pick music because it has a more immediate impact, and I can make my point quicker. But art and architecture also seem to follow these same principles. When I compare a Mies van der Rohe to the Cathedral at Notre Dame, I must admit that the cathedral is a much better building. And don't get me started on Frank Gehry.

When something aesthetic gets it right, it is moving and satisfying. When it is wrong, it feels empty and nauseating. Now, I don't want to mindlessly champion classicism. If all art simply reproduced the Renaissance, that would not be a good thing. But we can and must look to those classical periods for clues to what is true, good, and beautiful.

Here is what I am talking about:


We have a tendency to be dismissive of those things from a classic era because they are old. For some reason, we think virtue and value is found in the new. But it is not the old or the new that does it. It is the timeless. The timeless things do not change, but they always satisfy.

I know I am beating a dead horse with this stuff, but it pertains to a lifelong struggle that I have had in trying to determine what is good and what is crap as a writer. I am able to see it much more clearly in other realms of endeavor but not so much in my own. I have written various bits of fiction over the years, and all of those bits have truly sucked. So, the question is put to me. Who were the great writers? Shakespeare is obviously on the list, but he was primarily a playwright. When I try to think of a good fiction writer, the only ones I really like are Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and one novel from Alexander Dumas, The Count of  Monte Cristo. I could give a damn about anything from Hemingway, Twain, or Melville. Tolkien also deserves a mention, but I have not spent so much time reading him.

I look over the list of great novels compiled by different people, but I find that most of them suck especially those written in the 20th century. I am someone who has read and studied literature since high school, and the only author I really enjoyed reading over the years has been Flannery. I don't think she is the greatest writer of all time, but she is certainly the greatest of the 20th century. Naturally, people will debate this assertion, but no writer of fiction has had as much impact or lasting influence on me than that woman.

Fiction like music must be moving and satisfying. The problem with most fiction of the last century is that it has been moving but not satisfying. Here's what I mean. Basically, you take a character, put them through some obscene trials and tribulations, and then, let them wallow in some kind of existential angst. This is Hemingway, Camus, Sartre, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and on and on. Then, you have a lady like Ayn Rand that writes a novel totally not like this, and it becomes the bestseller of the century. But it sucks. It is pop philosophy, but it at least leaves you feeling better at the end than the beginning.

O'Connor is shocking in her writing, and shes goes to dark places. But her Catholic sensibility comes through. She is writing for these angst filled existentialists, but she is tweaking their noses it seems. Her stories are moving but also satisfying. They stir you up, but they make you better in the process.

I feel this struggle acutely and wonder where I am going with all of this. My greatest frustration in life is this writing thing. I have always felt that I should do something with it, but I have never known what that is. I just know that it has to be good, and so far, it has all been bad.

One of the most fundamental problems in the spiritual order is that we sense within ourselves the hunger for God, but we attempt to satisfy it with some created good that is less than God. Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes for God are wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. Sensing the void within, we attempt to fill it up with some combination of these four things, but only by emptying out the self in love can we make the space for God to fill us. The classical tradition referred to this errant desire as "concupiscence," but I believe that we could neatly express the same idea with the more contemporary term "addiction." When we try to satisfy the hunger for God with something less than God, we will naturally be frustrated, and then in our frustration, we will convince ourselves that we need more of that finite good, so we will struggle to achieve it, only to find ourselves again, necessarily, dissatisfied. At this point, a sort of spiritual panic sets in, and we can find ourselves turning obsessively around this creaturely good that can never in principle make us happy.
FATHER ROBERT BARRON

Father Robert Barron on Agora

In one of the most visually arresting scenes in the film, Amenabar brings his camera up to a very high point of vantage overlooking the Alexandria library while it is being ransacked by the Christian mob.  From this perspective, the Christians look for all the world like scurrying cockroaches.  In another memorable scene, the director shows a group of Christian thugs carting away the mangled corpses of Jews whom they have just put to death, and he composes the shot in such a way that the piled bodies vividly call to mind the bodies of the dead in photographs of Dachau and Auschwitz.  The not so subtle implication of all of this is that Christians are dangerous types, threats to civilization, and that they should, like pests, be eliminated.  I wonder if it ever occurred to Amenabar that his movie might incite violence against religious people, especially Christians, and that precisely his manner of critique was used by some of the most vicious persecutors of Christianity in the last century.  My very real fear is that the meanness, half-truths, and outright slanders in such books as Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great and Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion have begun to work their way into the popular culture.

Atheists claim to be people dedicated to facts and reason. Truth is supreme. It is amusing to see just how untruthful these atheists can be. I can personally attest to the fact that many atheists will blatantly lie to support their worldview. Agora is an atheist propaganda film. Goebbels would be proud.
Keep close to the Catholic Church at all times, for the Church alone can give you true peace, since she alone possesses Jesus, the true Prince of Peace, in the Blessed Sacrament.
ST. PADRE PIO

Random Thoughts on Various Subjects

1. LANCE CONFESSES

Watching Lance Armstrong confess to Oprah this week was a bit surreal. This is the guy who I have watched deny the very things he confessed to with as much vigor as any man could. Lance not only lied, but he lied with a vigor that was without restraint or remorse. This is the guy who would sue you if you dared question his lies. I watched the confession and saw a man not really contrite. Instead, I saw a prick sorry that he had been caught.

Greg LeMond got it right when he said that Lance was either the greatest comeback or the greatest fraud in sports history. Now, we see the truth. Lance Armstrong is a fraud and the biggest fraud that has ever existed in the world of sports. He is a disgrace.

Now, I want to make one thing clear. I have always said this in the past, and I will say it now that the truth is fully revealed. Cycling is a dirty sport. It has always been a dirty sport, but it is especially dirty now. And, it will never be clean. In doping, Lance Armstrong merely participated in a practice that literally everyone else was doing in the sport. Is this cheating? Is it cheating if everyone else is doing it, too? The answer is no. Lance could either win dirty or lose clean, but he could never win clean. No one can win clean in the TDF. You can't even compete clean.

In a completely clean race, Lance Armstrong would have still won seven times. I have no doubt about that. To strip this man of his titles is utterly foolish. He deserves them because he won them. It is the responsibility of the organizers of the sport to provide a clean and level playing field for competition. But since this can never happen with doping, those organizers need to throw in the towel and let them dope.

The disgrace for Lance Armstrong was not what he did with his body but what he did with his actions towards others. Lance was evil. He hurt a lot of people. A lot of people looked up to that guy as a hero, and he milked their admiration knowing the entire time that he was a fraud. And he went after anyone who threatened to uncover his lies with such vehemence that it now staggers the imagination. Lance Armstrong is a grade A prick.

I don't think Lance is beyond redemption. Unfortunately, by going on Oprah instead of something harder like 60 Minutes, Lance has shown that he merely wants cheap forgiveness. Cheap forgiveness is a topic that I will discuss about it in a future post, but I can say that Lance has a great deal of penance to perform. He needs to go the people he has explicitly wronged and apologize both privately and publicly. He must return money, confess to criminal activities, and do some jail. Then, he needs to write a book about his disgrace and donate all the profits to a real cancer charity and not that crappy Livestrong foundation he started. In short, Lance should pursue his redemption with as much zeal and vigor as he did in winning the Tour de France. The ironic thing is that I would admire him if he did this. But I doubt it will happen.

2. GUNS

There is a lot of debate and stupidity over guns going on these days as most politicians do exactly what is wrong. It boggles the mind. As William Burroughs put it, "After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it."

The answer to this issue is obvious. The public needs a non-lethal means of self-defense. This would and should satisfy everyone's concerns. This non-lethal device would have stopped Adam Lanza while letting everyone feel relieved that they are in the same room with this device. The ubiquity of this device would make guns a moot point.

Police already have non-lethal devices such as tasers and pepper spray. The general public needs this as well. Granted, idiots may abuse it, but it is rare to have a funeral for someone who got tazed. But a crazy gunman would and could be neutralized. It would not be perfect since gun deaths will always be a fact of life. But it would certainly tip the scales back in favor of the victims.

Some budding entrepreneur needs to create this device. This is the answer. It would allow people to defend themselves without also making people feel threatened at the same time. It would work. The only flaw is that such a device would probably be outlawed by people concerned with abuse or the gun lobby wanting protectionist policies for their industry.

3. MARK SANFORD

Disgrace former SC governor Mark Sanford is running for Congress. Is this a dumb idea? Looking at all the other cheaters out there, it isn't. Bill Clinton went to bat for Obama at the DNC, and that guy received oral sex in the White House. The reality is that being an adulterer is becoming an acceptable sin in American life. This is sad and sick, but there it is.

If you were to fire all adulterers from every position in American life, boardrooms, government agencies, and the halls of Congress would be ghost towns. That is simple reality. The vast majority of people cheat. This is why a guy like Mark Sanford can make a comeback. If Mark Sanford got the vote of every cheater, he would win in a landslide. The bottom line? Adultery is the sin most people are guilty of committing. At some point, people will simply stop feeling guilty about it, and that will be a sad day.

4. ODDS AND ENDS

--I am not shocked that Ray Nagin took bribes. New Orleans, folks. Only Chicago is more crooked.

--Nobody wants Windows 8.

--Late night television is a complete wasteland now.

--The secret to aging well is a relentless commitment to physical fitness and continual learning.
Share the gospel at all times, and, if necessary, use words.
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI

The Pleasures of Pornography

If it is the dirty element that gives pleasure to the act of lust, then the dirtier it is, the more pleasurable it is bound to be.
MARQUIS DE SADE

Growing up, the conventional wisdom among my young peers was that pornography was for those unable to find a sex partner. If you couldn't find a woman, you had to rely upon Playboy or Penthouse for relief. But make no mistake about it. The real thing was always preferable to the pages of a dirty magazine. So, it was with some curiosity to learn that many men especially married men still turn to porn which is ubiquitous thanks to the internet. Not only do these men supplement their sex lives with pornography, but they actually substitute them with pornography preferring the fantasy to the real thing. This just blows my mind.

This addiction to pornography is a serious matter. Many admit and confess to it. I suspect that it also explains the popularity of smartphones especially the ones with larger screens because it makes the porn portable. (I also recommend not ever touching another man's smartphone because you never know where it has been.) Now, if you have access to real sex, why would anyone want to watch others doing it?

The pleasure of pornography is very simple. It isn't sexual. Granted, there is sex involved, and there may be some hot chicks and all that. But that is not what makes porn pleasurable. What makes porn pleasurable is the utter depravity of it all. Pornography is the degradation of another human being for the sake of personal pleasure. It is fundamentally an evil thing. The Marquis de Sade knew this which is why he went to ever increasing levels of depravity in his imagination and his writings. In the end, it wasn't even sexual but just horror and butchery.


The Saw franchise represents Sade's final descent into depravity. No one sees such splattering horror as being the same as pornography, but that is what it is. Pornography and slasher style horror films both do violence and degradation to the imago Dei or the image of God in human beings. This is the pleasure of depravity. This is why many married men prefer the filth of their fantasies to the pleasures of a loving relationship with their spouses. It also explains why pornography must descend into ever lower levels of sickness.

No one ever considers this spiritual dimension to the issue. If they did, they would no longer find pornography to be so pleasurable. This sickness also extends into real life as people try and turn the fantasy into reality. This would be the wives that dress up like porn stars or couples who engage in open relationships. This does all sorts of damage to what should be a loving relationship. People literally trade happiness for misery when they do this.

Pornography is not harmless. It turns people into monsters. The only difference is the size of those monsters. Men either see the utter emptiness of pornography and turn from it. Or, they pursue it ever more strongly seeking more and more pleasure which requires greater and greater depravity. Pornography is a sickness of the mind and damnation of the soul. Men would do well to turn from it.

[SOC] 4am, Lance, Comments, Democracy and Monarchy

I feel awful. I am an early riser as a consequence of my job, but getting up early always feels terrible just like it always has even as a kid. The difference now is that I will drink a gallon of strong black coffee before 8 am. It is now 4 am as I write this.

The big news for me is that Lance Armstrong finally confesses to being a doper. Maybe at this point, all the Lance worshipers will finally admit that their hero is not a hero. For me, the real crime was not the doping, but the ten year cover up as Lance vilified, sued, threatened, and intimidated anyone who didn't go along with his lying. Now, he slinks onto Oprah's comfy couch with a pathetic apology and all will suddenly be forgiven. This is not contrition. This is someone that is sorry that he got caught.

I marvel at the level of self-delusion that allows someone to go for a decade holding together a lie such as this. Lance deserves kudos for being so unlike his other partners in crime--Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis--who unburdened themselves some time ago. Lance held on hard where others with greater consciences couldn't go on with it.

Conscience is a strange thing. People try so hard to blunt conscience, but it persists. I try to not be so harsh on people like Lance because I am mindful of my own sins. I don't like being in any judgment seat on anyone because I am not worthy. I divide the world into unrepentant sinners and repentant sinners. Right now, I am a repentant sinner, and I hope to stay that way.

Turning off comments on my blog has had an effect on me similar to turning off Facebook. I got more response from Facebookers to the things I wrote mainly because it was status updates and pictures which take very little in the reading commitment department. Commenters on the blog tended to be more thoughtful  when they bothered reading what I wrote, but most of the time, they would rather write stupid stuff. I have been trying to remember the last time a commenter actually left something I valued on my blog, and I am drawing a blank. The only thing that has changed for me these days is that I no longer deal with the disappointment of some idiot blathering on a rented soapbox when I check the comments.

I am questioning the value of democracy as well. Seeing the massive deficit, the ballooning national debt, and that sorry election between Romney and Obama, I don't see where citizen participation in government makes any difference whatsoever except to turn the government into a trough of looted cash for a nation of swine. Monarchy cannot be worse than this. Within a generation, the United States already had higher taxes than anything King George ever put on them. And our president is nothing more than an elected king beholden to the people that elected him.

Monarchies are bad, but they end any illusions of Utopia. A good king is better than a bad democracy, and all democracies go bad. This is because people want to be on welfare and not work. This includes many rich people who lobby for subsidies. Ultimately, Utopia is getting something for nothing, and this is impossible. But it doesn't stop people from trying. The virtue of a monarch is that the king has the option to say no. No elected official has that option. Saying no gets you unelected.

The Sign of Contradiction

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed. . ."
LUKE 2:34 NAS

When I turned 35, something very unusual happened to me. I became popular. What made this unusual was that I had been a relatively unpopular person up to that point in my life. Some people liked me who knew me, but the large mass of people I knew were utterly indifferent to me. I was quite fine with this since I always considered it a normal part of human existence. But then, I became very popular for some strange reason that I could not explain. This did concern me because I could not understand why this was happening to me. It is only now that I understand that phenomena and why it was a bad thing.

I tried to explain it by some change in my personality or something, but I haven't changed that much over the years. But what did change in my 35th year of existence was that I developed and went public with my personal belief system that I called "secular individualism." Basically, I was a libertarian atheist, and this worldview was very appealing to a lot of people including those who didn't necessarily agree with it.

Secular individualism is a radical philosophy of personal freedom. There is no God to tell you what is right or wrong. The government is wrong for telling you what is right or wrong. Things like truth and beauty were relative. And you could do whatever you wanted in life as long as you didn't hurt other people in the process. And I practiced this by being extremely tolerant of everything short of theft, assault, and murder. The irony is that people considered me to be a very moral person. I don't see how that could be the case since that worldview strikes me as being very immoral. But people like someone who defends their freedom even if they refuse to extend that same kindness back. This would be the secular progressive who appreciated me being tolerant of gay lifestyles, but it would do nothing to keep them from forcing hate crime laws on churches for not sharing the same viewpoint. So much for tolerance.

The reason I know this worldview of secular individualism was responsible for my popularity is because that popularity has evaporated now that I have abandoned it. In fact, I am now subjected to the most irrational and senseless hatred I have ever known in my life since turning Catholic. Being on both sides of this has opened my eyes to a lot of things. But this is not unusual. This is simply the sign of contradiction. It has a long history in the Catholic Church.

Now, everyone experiences contrary opinions. No one is universally loved. Every person has a critic, and each one considers himself a martyr. But the sign of contradiction is not like that. This isn't a case of simple hatred and a difference of opinion. With Christ, the sign of contradiction results in the destruction of Christ's enemies and the triumph of His people. This is the double movement of the sign of contradiction.

The history of the Church is replete with this sign of contradiction. The Jews opposed Jesus and ended up scattered across the globe. The Roman Empire despised Christ, but they were eventually conquered from within by His followers. The Protestants despise the Vicar of Christ and end up as a mass of factions fighting amongst themselves over the silliest things but united only in hatred of the Roman Catholic Church.

I have had differences of opinion over the years with many people over a wide array of subjects. Most of the time, the differences were civil, but they could also get heated as well. But in the sign of contradiction, the people become like rabid wild animals and act in ways that disgrace them. This would be the atheists on Facebook who perform acts of instantaneous historical revisionism and deny that I was ever an atheist. This is not rational behavior which shows that atheists are not the reasonable people they claim to be.

As everyone around me lose their minds over my conversion, my own feelings on the matter grow more resolute and stronger. I care less and less what people think about me. I don't want to sound elitist or holier than thou or any of that. But I feel an elevation in my thinking while the people around me strike me as debased in some way. It isn't a hatred or dislike for these people so much as realizing that what they think doesn't really matter. I just don't care, and I am someone who thought he really didn't care before. Now, I know I don't care.

The world is stupid. Only God is wise. The wisdom we have is merely borrowed from the Almighty. As such, I find the worldly wisdom to be utterly worthless. If you hate Christ and His church, there isn't anything wrong with God. There is something wrong with you. As this hatred persists and grows, you will either break and convert. Or, you will destroy yourself. And if you believe, the sign of contradiction will only make you stronger and hold faster and tighter to the things you have been taught. At some point, even the threat of torture and death will not make you release your grasp on the things you believe. You will have a rod of iron in your spine, and the disgrace the world tries to heap upon you will be heaped upon them. And you will be glorious as Christ and all the saints and martyrs that came before you.

There are certain things you should not do as relating to this sign of contradiction. The first thing you shouldn't do is be a whiner or a complainer. In my readings on anti-Catholicism, I have often wondered why I didn't hear or know more about these things especially the blatant lies and slander against the Church. But the reason is because the Catholic Church doesn't whine about it. They just take the hits. Similarly, people who follow Christ should take the hits and even rejoice as the apostles did that they should be honored enough to suffer for Christ.

The second thing you should not do is blatantly stir up trouble and controversy. This is like something the Westboro Baptist Church does or what you will hear from people like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter. Being a deliberate provocateur is contrary to being a peacemaker. I confess to being a provocateur especially in many of my previous writings here on the C-blog. In blogging, it is better to be hated than ignored. But this is contrary to being a Christian. It is enough to be hated for being right. Being hated for being a jerk is an entirely different matter.

As an atheist, I was hateful, and people loved me for it. Now, as a Catholic, I strive to be loving and kind, and people hate me for it. The reason this happens is because the world is madness. To be a sign of contradiction is to be the sane person in a world full of crazy people. The darkness abhors the light. I hear that in my head everyday. The world hates you because it hates Christ.
The acceptance of the fullness of Truth will have the unfortunate quality of making you hated by the world. Forget for a moment the history of Christianity, and the fact that Christ existed. Suppose there appeared in this world today a man who claimed to be Divine Truth; and who did not say, 'I will teach you Truth,' but 'I am the Truth.' Suppose he gave evidence by his works of the truth of his statement. Knowing ourselves as we do, with our tendency to relativism, to indifference, and to the fusing of right and wrong, how do you suppose we would react to that Divine Truth? With hatred, with obloquy, with defiance; with charges of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and crucifixion. That is what happened to Christ. That is what our Lord said would happen to those who accept His Truth.
FULTON SHEEN

---
NOTES 


The End of Comments

I am done with comments on the C-blog. This is something Leo Babauta did along with getting off Facebook. I never understood why Leo did this, and I used to be very critical of it. But I understand now. I used to allow Wild West commenting with the idea that I didn't really care what people thought or wrote. Yet, the feed for comments is the first thing I check every time I go online. So, I really do care because the bottom line is that I want the attention even if it is to be hated. But now, I don't care.

Becoming Catholic has instilled in me something very solid and unshakable. I just don't care what other people think anymore. In my libertarian/atheist ethos, I thought all opinions had validity and value. But I know better. They don't. This includes my opinions. Ultimately, turning on comments is about as smart as putting a bucket in the middle of your living room, calling it a restroom, and pretending the ensuing stench is not so bad.

For some of you, the end of comments, voting, and the like will be a terrible thing. But I don't care. I really don't. The added bonus of this move is that I don't have to spend my time cleaning off the spam anymore.

The Broad Path of Destruction

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
MATTHEW 7:13 NAS

One of the things you learn as a Catholic is to not be presumptuous about anyone going to Hell. The Church will tell you about saints who are the ones they know made it to Heaven. As for Hell, they never say, and this includes Judas Iscariot who the Lord explicitly said it would have been better if he had never been born. Those are strong words and give very clear indication about his final destination. But it is not for anyone to judge except for the Lord. So, we should never say who will be in Hell. Judge not lest ye be judged.

As a corollary to this rule to not be presumptuous is a debate that goes around in Catholic circles and on internet forums. Will there be more people in Heaven or Hell? It is not for anyone to judge who will be in Hell specifically, but we can contemplate it in a general way. There are some people who are universalists who claim Hell will be empty, but this makes no sense in light of the Scriptures and does indignity to God's justice. But I can understand why people would want to hold out this hope, so I will not condemn the motivation behind it. I want everyone to go to Heaven.

There are those who believe Heaven will have a greater population than Hell. These are people who believe it would be scandalous that the Devil should have some kind of triumph in this regard. But there is no football game between the Lord and the Devil to see who has the most points. Maybe the Devil plays this game, but it offends the conscience to think that God is in such a competition. People have free will. They make their choices and live with the consequences.

Finally, there are those who believe Hell will have a greater population than Heaven. The Scriptures suggest this, and most of the saints in church history believe this including St. Thomas Aquinas. I believe it as well. This is not to suggest that Heaven will be virtually empty. There will be a multitude there. As Revelation 7:9 says, "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands." So, Heaven will not be empty. But I believe Hell will have the greater number of souls.

The cash value of this belief is obvious. If you are a universalist, you are probably going to be lax in a lot of things. If you are a believer that more or most people go to Heaven, you will be anxious as you seek to evangelize at all costs and suffer dismay to see so many not care. But if you believe that the path to destruction is broad, it makes you not as anxious. You understand why there is so much evil in the world, but it does not surprise or dismay you. It also makes you more patient in enduring the sign of contradiction and persecution.

I see this quality in the Catholic Church. The Church just keeps going like the Energizer bunny. The Church perseveres. It doesn't get upset. It doesn't lose its cool. It never loses faith in its mission or destiny. I think this comes from this knowledge that things have always been this way and will always be this way until the end of time.

When you see things like abortion go without even a speed bump along the way, it can cause you to feel discouraged. When you see that even a majority of people claiming to be Catholics support abortion on demand, it can be dismaying. But you have to remember the saying about the broad path of destruction. That is a sobering outlook on things. It strengthens your faith while also making you repent and aim for the narrow path. Even many who claim to be Christian will not make it.

I tell everyone that you can't go wrong by doing what is right. This means that no matter what your hopes and doubts may be, you should strive to be a saint. Even an atheist like Camus would agree. Do the right thing and leave the rest to God. I don't see how being moral and upright has ever been a detriment to anyone. And if you are afraid of going to Hell, this is a good thing. I don't think the people going to Hell even care. If you care, then you are making the first step down the narrow path. Stay on that path.

Susan Jacoby on The Blessings of Atheism

Today’s secularists must do more than mount defensive campaigns proclaiming that we can be “good without God.” Atheists must stand up instead of calling themselves freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists or “spiritual, but not religious.” The last phrase, translated from the psychobabble, can mean just about anything — that the speaker is an atheist who fears social disapproval or a fence-sitter who wants the theoretical benefits of faith, including hope of eternal life, without the obligations of actually practicing a religion. Atheists may also be secular humanists and freethinkers — I answer to all three — but avoidance of identification with atheism confines us to a closet that encourages us to fade or be pushed into the background when tragedy strikes.

We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for — including violence in our streets and schools. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. And although atheism is not a religion, we need community-based outreach programs so that our activists will be as recognizable to their neighbors as the clergy.
The Blessings of Atheism

Susan Jacoby has written what is surely one of the most pathetic articles in defense of atheism. Basically, when a tragedy strikes, atheists have to make themselves scarce. This is because the last thing you want to hear after an elementary school class gets mowed down in a senseless tragedy is how God is just a fairytale to make you feel better in a world of chaos and futility. Jacoby spends much of her article tearing down God and religion and says that secularism is a better way. But she does not demonstrate in any way how that is the case. It's like saying that your diet program works by pointing out the flaws in the other diets while your diet just tells people nothing.

The problem with atheism is very simple. It is a negative. It is against something. It isn't for something. As such, the only thing an atheist can say in a tragedy is NOTHING. This is because atheism is the belief in nothing. Now, some atheists may proffer secular humanism or Objectivism or some other philosophy as an alternative to faith. But in the end, there is no comfort in telling the parent of a dead child that they will never see their child again. Only a fool would think there is.

My advice to Susan Jacoby and other atheists in times of tragedy is very simple. You need to shut up. Just shut your mouth. This is the only thing a freethinker can say about any tragedy. There is no comfort in atheism. Pretending that there is is just stupid.

[SOC] Facebook Withdrawal, The End of Debating, The Essential Miracle, Pascal's Wager Reconsidered, the Living Dead

I am having Facebook withdrawal right now. It has surprised me how much that site affected my life and thought patterns. I couldn't read anything without thinking about sharing it. I spent my day thinking up witty status updates. Now, those things cross my mind, but I remember that I quit using Facebook. It is annoying, but I am getting used to it.

The upside to quitting Facebook is that I have so much more time now. My wife doesn't see my backside in front of a monitor anymore reposting Grumpy Cat pictures. I've also been getting way more reading done. Plus, I think the C-blog will find new life as I actually spend time writing blog posts once again. It feels really good. I also feel my IQ slipping up a notch. I have to thank Leo Babauta for the kick in the pants.

I write a lot about simplicity here. The irony is that becoming Catholic has actually made this more important in my life, but it also brings balance. I started embracing a minimalist lifestyle a couple of years ago after being a bit stressed trying to manage my life. I started reading Zen Habits and The Power of Less and implemented some of the changes. The only area I didn't simplify was my online activities. Nuking Facebook was the first thing I have ever done in this regard, and it has paid immediate dividends. So, now, I want to simplify more stuff in my cyberspace life.

The problem with minimalism is that it seems done almost purely for the sake of being minimalist. This is where the Catholic perspective shatters that notion. Monastic life is all about simplicity. People who take a priestly or religious vocation pare down radically. The material aspect of their lives is reduced to the bare essentials. This doesn't mean sleeping on cardboard with a trashbag for a blanket like a homeless person. But it does mean not owning a Cadillac Escalade like some prosperity gospel televangelist. The simplicity serves as spiritual mortification but also as a means of freeing up time and resources. Those same lessons can apply to the laity as well.

My wife produced an epiphany in me as well the other day. She said that being Catholic settled a lot of things for her. She doesn't spend endless hours on Facebook debating atheists or trying to learn all the finer points of Austrian economics. These are things I do, but the epiphany came to me as I realized that much of my time was spent trying to think correctly about issues. The purpose of all my readings and debate were spent trying to refine my worldview. The irony was that I was piecing together a wheel that looked a lot like the Catholic wheel. For instance, I had come to the conclusion that an acquisitive lifestyle devoted to material possessions seemed like a genuine waste of life. That is Catholicism. I was coming to the conclusion that monopolies really do emerge in free markets and end up exploiting the workers in a way that diminished their lives. Once again, that comes from the Distributists who are Catholic.

The Catholic Church is important even for people of a secular bent because 2000 years of history and tradition has produced a body of thinking that has stood the test of time. In the areas of ethics, politics, economics, and philosophy, Catholics have a lot to say, and they are right. The ultimate area where the Church has absolute authority is the area of morality and ethics. Once you know right from wrong, everything else flows from that.

The other aspect of this has to do with the utter futility of debates. I am a fierce debater despite my unconventional tactics. Most of those tactics are now verboten since becoming Catholic because they are simply wrong. But my recent debates with atheists and Protestants shows to me that their unbelief is not sincere. Just as people can be insincere in their beliefs, people can also be insincere in their disbelief. For instance, I was a sincere atheist because I had come to distrust my own thinking on things following my friend's suicide. If he could be deluded, can't I also be just as deluded? So, my atheism was primarily a suspension of belief. It isn't that I didn't want to believe. I just came to the conclusion that the things I believed in were in error. I was right. I had embraced a destructive heresy. Subsequent heretics from various Protestant traditions from modernism to fundamentalism tried to sway me down some other wrong path. Then, I found the right path, and I responded to that.

I am naive because I think people are just like me. I think the reason they don't believe is because they simply don't know any better. I realize now that they don't want to know any better. They will lie to themselves in an effort to not see the truth. I don't know why, but I don't have that same resistance. I always listen to people I disagree with which is probably a saving grace because this is why I am on this Catholic path now. I listen. I hear what people say, and I consider what they have said. I may end up rejecting it, but I always hear it out.

I am at the point now where I don't really care to debate these things anymore. Seeing my Calvinist friend look me square in the eye with his jaw clenched and saying, "I will never be a Roman Catholic. Never." has made me throw in the towel on those things. I have made statements like that in the past with the most notable one being that I would never marry. But I don't think I ever said anything with such force, ferocity, or conviction as my Calvinist friend did regarding the Vicar of Christ. I was under no illusion that he would embrace what I had to say, but I figured he would be intrigued but doubtful as I was at the beginning. But what I figured would be an academic thing between believers was really not that at all. It was a personal thing between two people, and I was not one of those two people. It is up to each person what they will do with Christ and His church. I feel like a mailman delivering letters.

My Facebook melee with the atheists has primarily served to sever once and for all my connection to the freethought community. I am the Judas Iscariot of atheists. I have turned my back on those people, and I have betrayed them utterly. And it feels good to have done this. I didn't see it at the time, but my turn from atheism demanded some sort of public statement and a repudiation of my atheism. The irony is that it was highly contentious for a brief period, and that storm faded as quickly as it had begun. I was back to posting cat pictures when I happened upon the advice from Leo Babauta suggesting that I quit Facebook. It pricked my conscience, and I am learning these days to always follow my conscience. Debating atheists is about as valuable as posting pictures of Grumpy Cat.

I think the reason we do apologetics is to affirm ourselves more than to reach other people. It lets us know that we are not deluded, and that our faith is real. One of the Facebook atheists asked me if I had any proof for my faith, and I told him I did. It was the Resurrection of Christ. I could go on and on about various other miracles performed by saints in modern times, but the reality is that many miracles turn out to be hype and garbage. This would be the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast. But St. Paul is clear that the Resurrection is the central miracle of Christianity:
. . .if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. --1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NAS
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the Christian faith is null and void. It is a waste of time and a damnable lie. Naturally, this begs the question. How do we know it happened? We only have the words of those witnesses. And how do we know they did not lie? They were all imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and martyred for this faith and not a single one of them ever recanted. Trust me, if one of them had recanted, that would have ended Christianity then and there.

The recent disgrace of Lance Armstrong has only served to strengthen in me the belief that no conspiracy can last. Even Lance himself is considering coming clean. It boggles the mind to think you could get together 12 liars and countless others to stick to such a conspiracy and suffer so much for it. Lance's friends sold him out, and Lance was still alive. Or, they could have simply reduced Jesus to a martyred prophet and kept on with their new faith. But they testified to a lie they knew to be a lie. This is just stupid. It really happened. It takes more effort to not believe it than to believe it.

I have come across things in the Bible and in life that have troubled me. I did not understand it, and it caused me to doubt. But then, I would find out later that my doubt was mistaken. I didn't have all the information, or I was seeing it completely wrong. This has happened to me so many times that I simply resort to a patient dismissal now. What I don't understand now I will understand later. My faith has reached the turning point.

In the story of Abraham, Abraham at the beginning had a weak faith. He found it hard to believe that God would give him and Sarah a son. He disbelieved it so much that he hooked up with Hagar, Sarah's handmaid and knocked her up with Ishmael. But later on, the couple would have Isaac, and God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. By this point, Abraham didn't question it anymore. He had the knife ready to do the deed when his hand was stayed. He believed. He really believed.

I feel like that now. I have been through so much in my life that I simply know these things to be true. I lost my faith, and it was restored to me in the most amazing way. Everything I had lost was restored to me and better than it was before. I turned my back on God, but He did not turn His back on me. I didn't know but now I do.

Most people don't want to debate because they feel like their faith may be crushed by some sophisticated person slick with words and twisted logic. I am not one of those people. I know them all. I don't want to debate anymore because I see it as a waste of time. The only thing I have ever done in these debates is establish that you have no good reason not to believe. But this has never created faith in anyone. I remember telling people that I thought Lance Armstrong was a doper, and it amazed me how they would delude themselves to believe otherwise. People want heroes that badly. I face similar stupidity when atheists claim that I was never really an atheist. It only goes to show how unreasonable the Church of Reason really is.

The other side of this issue is what I call "Pascal's Wager Reconsidered." I never really liked Pascal's Wager argument because it reduced faith to a mere bet that you couldn't lose. As atheists point out, you could still lose it if the Muslims are right, and Allah punishes Christians for believing in the divinity of Christ. But in my reconsideration of the wager, I see it not as nothing to lose for believing but as nothing to gain by not believing. Atheism does not make for a happier life. As Camus put it, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy." I can honestly say that a life without God really isn't worth living. If reality is reduced to sense experience, happiness is merely hedonism since it is only a delight in sense experience that makes any difference. Yet, no hedonistic pleasure in this world compares to what I feel at Mass or being at home with my wife. Those two things have brought me more happiness than anything else in my life. I have God to thank.

I think this is what St. Paul was getting at. Either Christ rose from the dead, or life is not worth living. Those are the two fundamental paths you can choose in life. You can choose life, or you can choose death. As someone who was dead, I can tell you it was not pleasant. Most of my effort in life was spent trying to distract myself from the nihilistic gloom. I had created a functional hedonism. This is all that atheism can offer you. You can have a few laughs, a few beers, and maybe gonorrhea. But this is to live as the living dead. Being a Christian means missing out on a life I didn't like living anyway.

Imagine you are watching Trash TV at home when a storm knocks out the power. In the darkness, you light a candle and find a book you had forgotten you had. You begin reading that book, and it is the best book you ever read. Even when the power comes back on, you forsake the TV to finish that book. That is my life. I lost something that was worthless and gained something that was worthwhile. Now, people think I am an idiot for missing the garbage on the TV. And I am realizing that no one is ever going to read the book I found. And so it goes. . .