Charlie's Blog: January 2015

1.29.2015

The Prosperity of the Wicked


Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence;
For I have been stricken all day long
And chastened every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
How they are destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.
When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.
PSALM 73 NASB

When I write these blog posts, I have one post in the back of my mind that I don't write because it isn't an essay. It is a list. This list is just a litany of the world's ills that I see today that trouble me. I hesitate on writing it because it seems like so much whining and complaining. If I could sum it all up, it would be this. The wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. But I am going to write this list to get it off my mind. Here it is.

1. College education is unaffordable.

College has always been expensive, but it has entered the realm of the ridiculous now that college grads get to spend a large portion of their adult lives trying to pay down student loan debts for an education that is substandard. Basically, college adminstrators get rich off the backs of their hapless students who get to become indentured servants courtesy of all that federal student loan money. If you are someone who wants to pay cash for college, they make the tuition high enough that you can't get your degree without that debt. Plus, the law says you can't discharge that debt in bankruptcy. Your options in life are reduced to becoming a doctor, becoming a debtor, or becoming a wage slave to the man.


2. Radical Islam is taking over the world one beheading at a time, and you are an Islamophobe if you point this out.

I think the Muslim religion is a religion of pure evil. They kill people. They mistreat women. They denigrate the Christian religion. Yet, the secularists want us to practice multiculturalism and diversity when it comes to Muslims. The same people who decry the lack of ordained women priests in the Catholic Church are the same ones who praised recently deceased Saudi King Abdullah as a "moderate" because he let women work as cashiers in stores. There are no good Muslims. There are only robust Muslims who adhere to Muhammad's teachings or those who are merely sympathetic to them. As for the atheists of the Western world, they are cowards when it comes to defying true fanaticism. I'm a bigot for opposing abortion and gay marriage, but we have to tolerate people that murder and practice female gential mutilation. It boggles the mind.


3. Central banking is destroying the world economy.

They call it "quantitative easing," but it amounts to printing dollars and euros or producing them electronically. This debases the currency for everyone holding paper money and drives down interest rates on savings. The rationale behind this is that it punishes the savers while rewarding the spenders and the borrowers. This "stimulates" the economy in much the same way that arson stimulates homebuilding. The wicked who benefit from this money printing are the fat cats on Wall Street who help create the bubbles with their cheap money, and the governments that monetize their debts. It also inflates house and car prices because the sellers want to soak up all that money. When credit expands, prices go up. The ones who suffer are the thrifty and the poor. It amounts to one gigantic scheme to get everyone on the usury nipple.


4. Lying politicians serve the rich instead of the masses.

The thing that amazes me is how similar Obama has been to George W. Bush. If you are looking to the elected leaders in government for answers, you will be disappointed. Politicians make all sorts of soundbites to win the votes of a foolish electorate that actually think these liars will do at least some of the things they promised. Yet, when elected, they are most active in bailing out their rich friends while ignoring the people that elected them. This is why abortion on demand continues when the GOP gains control and why the rich 1% get the same treatment under Democrats as well as Republicans. Nothing changes because of votes. The only votes that matter are the ones with dollars attached to them.



5. Corporations stick it to workers and customers.

Just yesterday, I heard a story on NPR about how companies are giving less toilet paper to their customers by making the sheets smaller and the cardboard tube bigger. Naturally, the paper still costs the same. As for employees of these outfits, they get similar shabby treatment as companies find ways to deny them benefits or make them work schemes like "flex time" where you work part of the day, are sent home, and then brought back to work again the same day to serve customers just in time. As for worker pay, it has been stagnant since the 1970's when companies broke the back of organized labor. Yet, earnings and stock prices get ever higher even in this lousy economy. How is this possible? It is easy when you cheat customers and employees. Plus, you can borrow cheap money from the Fed and buy back shares of your company which increases earnings per share and drives up stock prices. Who benefits from this deception? The rich, of course. And the watchers of Fox News still believe in free market capitalism. Undoubtedly, they don't use toilet paper.



6. Many Catholic bishops and priests aren't worth a damn.

This is the last item on my list, but it is the one that infuriates me the most. There are many faithful bishops and priests who are good shepherds. Yet, there is a pack of wolves in their midst. This is how you get the sex abuse scandal or Catholic charities that funnel money from the faithful to groups that support abortion or gay marriage. Many priests are closet practicing homosexuals who look out for each other in what Pope Francis admits is a "gay lobby." From the bottom to the top from the pews to the pulpits are scoundrels who give Catholicism a bad name and are all too eager to play nice with a world gone to hell. Much of the evil in the world is allowed because that same evil is in the Church. It is hard to believe that the same church that defied godless communism and won has lost its moral edge when it comes to the material excesses and sexual depravity of Europe and North America.


This list was generated by what I read in the news each day. I could add to the list, but those items are usually single events feeding into these larger issues. I have to reflect on the fact that these things have always been with us for ages. The world has always been in sorry shape. As for the Church, it needs to be worth its salt. It is really hard to be battling on the frontlines when you have those behind you putting bullets in your back. It would also help to not have to deal with whatever loose lipped scandal Pope Francis unleashes on the world everytime he speaks off the cuff to secular reporters on plane trips.

I am tired and grouchy, and I realize that all of this just another trial to offer up to the Almighty. I like reading Psalm 73 because it is a reminder to see the big picture and be patient. The wicked do not prosper forever, and the righteous will be vindicated. Life is more about endurance than enjoyment. I can pray, and I can work. That's about it. The rest I leave up to God.

1.25.2015

Cheap Forgiveness


Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.
MARTIN LUTHER

Martin Luther was a heretic. I should have figured that out two decades ago, but I didn't. I believed Martin Luther and even doubled down on the error by embracing the teachings of John Calvin who took Luther's madness even further. Their common error was the error of sola fide or faith alone. This teaching holds that our actions really don't matter. We love to sin, and Christ loves to forgive. We can be total sinners and just sweep all our bad actions under the blood of Jesus. The problem with this teaching is that it is not biblical. It is a perversion of what is in the Bible. It also poisons our relationships with what I call "cheap forgiveness."

When I used to read the Bible as a Protestant, I would stumble and trip over so many passages I couldn't understand. When I had a question, I would turn to my Protestant teachers who would confuse me even further and placate me. Eventually, this questioning and seeking would lead me to a Protestant seminary to try and get some real answers. It was one of the worst years of my life as I drank deeply from the poisoned well of Luther and Calvin. I would watch as a friend allowed those same teachings to push him to suicide, and I fell away from the faith to embrace atheism. Religion was a poison.

You know you are in the clutches of a heresy when the nihilism of atheism seems like a relief. As I reflect on my time and journey as a Protestant, I see it now for what it was. It was asking the right question and getting the wrong answer. The question dealt with how to deal with the fact that I was a sinner. How do I deal with my guilty conscience? The Lutheran answer which is basically the evangelical Christian answer today is to ignore one's conscience and presume upon God's forgiveness. We can see the fruit of those people in their practice of cheap forgiveness. The Protestant gospel does not teach salvation from God's just punishment so much as salvation from one's own conscience. Good works don't matter because they can't save you, and bad works don't matter because they can't damn you. Calvinism took this teaching even further by denying free will completely as the last vestigial trace of works salvation. Yet, I challenge anyone to read the New Testament and tell me that the Christian religion teaches any of this. The reality is that you have free will, a conscience, the duty to obey that conscience, and the expectation that you will be judged according to your actions. Does God forgive our sins? Yes, He does. If He didn't, Heaven would be empty. But this forgiveness is not a cheap forgiveness which is the primary difference in the Protestant and Catholic doctrines of salvation.

In the Protestant world, nothing you do counts for anything. In the Catholic world, everything counts. Protestantism is merely about erasing the past. They skip over the forgiving part and get straight to the forgetting part. The Catholic view is about the future and preparing for it. This is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 to lay up treasure in Heaven. If works didn't matter, wouldn't Jesus simply say that treasure was waiting up there in Heaven? Why be active about something that is already ours? The answer is obvious. It isn't ours. The treasures of Heaven belong to the saints. This means we are obligated to become saints. This is not the simple forensic declaration that Luther preached. This is the reality of changed hearts and lives. Or as James put it,

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;  and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
         JAMES 2:14-26 NASB
Needless to say, Martin Luther was not happy with the Epistle of James. He wanted it excluded from the canon of scripture and referred to it as "an epistle of straw." The reality is that the heretic could not abide the truth that salvation is not by faith alone.

I was always taught as a Protestant that Catholics believed in works for salvation. I know this is as a lie as well. The reality of Catholic teaching is that faith alone does not save and works alone do not save. The reality is that it is both faith and works that save. Salvation is not merely God letting us off the hook but also working through grace to make us into saints. The life of a Christian is not one of presumption. Presumption is what those who believe in works alone or faith alone believe. Either God owes us something, or we owe God nothing. Stop for a moment and reflect upon that. Let it sink in. Now, let me correct those presumptions. God owes us nothing. We owe God everything. That is the truth. That is the path of righteousness.

The life of the true Christian is marked by penance, remorse, the forgiveness of others, the patient enduring of suffering, and acts of mercy and charity done for others without expectation of reward. This is real forgiveness. It cost Christ everything He had. But here's the clincher. It also costs everything you have as well. Read the New Testament in the light of this truth, and it will make perfect sense to you. And it also bankrupts Martin Luther's proclamation to go and sin boldly. Christ did not die to make us into presumptuous sinners. He died to make us into saints.

I can go into a much larger and deeper discussion on the errors of the sola fide doctrine, and I will. But the focus of this essay is on that thing I call "cheap forgiveness." Cheap forgiveness is simply forgiveness given without remorse, repentance, or penance. It is a one sided affair with all of the effort on the side of the offended with no effort on the side of the offender. Protestants love cheap forgiveness. It literally means never having to say you're sorry.

I remember having a conversation with a serial adulterer, and I asked him what he thought his wife should do if she ever discovered his infidelity. His response was that she would have to forgive him. When I asked what he would do if he discovered that his wife was cheating on him, his face took on a dark tone. He muttered something about putting her ass in the street but admitted he would probably have to forgive her, too. The sad thing is that this man is a Christian who goes to church on the regular and his wife is an ordained minister in whatever sham Protestant denomination they belong to. This is cheap forgiveness. There is no sorrow, remorse, or repentance. There is only presumption and not so much as "I'm sorry" to help salve the hurt. Needless to say, this is an abomination to the Christian religion and to simple human decency.

Cheap forgiveness is not forgiveness. It is a counterfeit. Because God let them off the hook, Protestants have a vague idea that they should go around letting other people off the hook. But the reality is that it merely lets them off the hook while they simmer in quiet rage at all the people who have done them wrong. There is no forgiveness without repentance. As Christians, we should always be willing to forgive the offenses against us. The problem is that the transaction is incomplete until the offender seeks the forgiveness. This requires humility and contrition which people can't muster.

I used to practice cheap forgiveness as a Protestant. Basically, I put up with a lot of crap and just let it go. The result was that no one became better including me. When I lost my faith and became an atheist, I didn't forgive anyone anything. In fact, I would tell people the only thing keeping them alive was my desire to not go to jail. But if I ever got diagnosed with a terminal illness, they better run and hide because I had nothing to lose then. I can only attribute the grace of my baptism from keeping me from becoming a complete monster.

As a Catholic, I practice unilateral forgiveness. I do this everytime I pray the Our Father and ask God to forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me. I even pray and ask for God's forgiveness for those who have wronged me. Here is a nice Catholic prayer for this:

Jesus, Prince of Peace,
you have asked us to love our enemies 
and pray for those who persecute us.
We pray for our enemies and those who oppose us.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, 
may all people learn to work together 
for that justice which brings true and lasting peace.
To you be glory and honor for ever and ever.

AMEN

This prayer for enemies can be a hard thing at first, but it softens the heart the more you do it. Whenever I think of the wrongs done to me, I find relief in this prayer and in praying for those who have wronged me. I believe God allowed these things to happen to me, so I might better understand the many offenses I have committed against Him and against others. It produces a greater contrition in myself and a deeper sorrow for the things I have done.



I can only work on my side of forgiveness. The sad thing is that many of the people I encounter in life who are my enemies cannot even muster the words, "I am sorry." They want that cheap forgiveness, but I won't give it. This is because it doesn't do them any good. I know because the people who have received my cheap forgiveness have never been sorry for anything done to me or anyone else. So, I demand something in return for my forgiveness. I demand a deep and severe act of contrition and repentance on their part. What is this severe act? I demand that people look me in the eye and say, "I am sorry. Please forgive me."

This is all I ask. I don't ask for my sake because I have already forgiven these people. I ask it for their sake. Here is the most beautiful story of forgiveness that I know:

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” 
Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep." 
JOHN 21:17 NASB

Peter denied the Lord three times. This is why Jesus asks him three times if Peter loved him. And His command is the same. "Feed my sheep." In this, we see confrontation, contrition, and penance. This is what it is like in the confessional. You confess your sins. The priest talks with you to see if you are truly contrite and may even point out sins you might not realize or care to admit. Then, you leave with forgiveness and a penance to perform. For St. Peter, his penance was to be a faithful shepherd to the new church. He would go on to become a saint. This is real forgiveness.

Cheap forgiveness doesn't want change. It wants a fresh line of credit on the card. It says, "Forgive me, so I can stick it to you again." It is like closing up a wound without cleaning out the infection. It would be better to let it bleed out than allow the infection to turn it to gangrene. But this is why cheap forgiveness isn't forgiveness in much the same way that Protestant salvation isn't salvation.

The goal of the Christian religion is to stop being a black hearted sinner. Similarly, human relationships should be about love and support not seething resentments. The bad fruit of Luther's heresy is the belief that you don't have to change at all, and everything will be just fine. This is a lie from Hell itself. Anyone or anything who teaches you to ignore your conscience is evil. Your conscience is your guardian angel telling you to stop being bad and start being good. The problem with Protestants is that they spend all their theology on being let off the hook and none on becoming better people. The result is that there are no Protestant saints. To be a saint is to have acute self-awareness, and cheap forgiveness is about comfortable self-delusion.

True forgiveness requires remorse, repentance, and penance. The belief in the heart of the sinner is that these actions are degrading. They are assaults on personal dignity, but they are really assaults on pride. The sinner loses his dignity in his sin. He only regains it in his repentance. This is why no one can be satisfied with cheap forgiveness. It isn't love at all but letting people wallow in the mire of their own sin. True forgiveness brings that sinner out of that mire and puts his feet on a firmer foundation. We are brought to love God, to love others, and to hate sin. This is what true dignity is about.

Forgiveness waits for everyone. In the end, it is pride that keeps them imprisoned. No one wants to be forgiven. They want to hold on to that self-delusion that will pull them like an anchor into the abyss of Hell. But for those who humble themselves and sincerely seek forgiveness, they find themselves on the higher path to Heaven. This path is a hard path, but it is the right path. My prayer is that we would all seek this higher path of true forgiveness.

The Price of Cool


Trying to be anti-cool is just one exponent of trying to be cool -- it's the same beast.
DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

The Chuck Taylor sneakers from Converse have been in the news lately as Ralph Lauren had to give in to Converse for ripping off their shoe design. It is an odd thing because the fashion industry really doesn't have a concept of intellectual property except regarding trademarks. But the style of the shoe is so iconic that people automatically associate it with those Chuck Taylor Converse shoes. For the moment, those shoes are really cool. But there was a time when they were really uncool, and I remember those times. In fact, those shoes were anti-cool. Kids who couldn't afford Air Jordans wore the Chucks. Punk rockers wore Chucks. This is because Chucks were cheap and still are relative to the pricier sneakers. Then, anti-cool became cool. For me, cool is just plain stupid.

The problem with cool is that it tends to make products pricer beyond their actual value. This is why an Apple computer will cost three times what a PC will cost even though 90% of what you do will be done on the internet with the same functionality as a cheap Chrome computer. Apple consumers have to lay out all that extra dough for all that extra cool. I can say the same thing about a cup of java from Starbucks versus what you can get from Dunkin' Donuts. The typical Starbucks customer lays out $2 extra for each cup to pay for the cool. Is this really necessary?

Another brand that profited from the Cool Premium was Samuel Adams beer. For a long time, the cool drinkers quaffed on Sam Adams while the uncool kids had to drink Budweiser or Milwaukee's Best. Sam Adams was at forefront of the craft beer movement. Then, SOMETHING HAPPENED. Sam Adams began to lose its cool. You can have zero cool and gain cool, but you can almost never regain it. The Boston Beer Company is looking into the abyss of being uncool. Meanwhile, Pabst Blue Ribbon continues to gain cool because of its anticool cred among hipsters. Plus, it is cheap. Yes, it is weird stuff because it is basically just beer.

There is no way to measure coolness, but it can generate or cost you a lot of money both as a producer and as a consumer. Plus, there is no enduring competitive advantage in being cool as you can just as rapidly become uncool. Those who live by the cool die by the cool. There has to be a better way.

On the producer side, I would advise against trying to be cool. Being cool is a bargain with the devil. Producers should identify their core customers and always keep them happy by offering the highest quality at the lowest price. Then, ignore everyone else. This can be unbelievably hard to do. It helps to know the difference between quality and the ephemeral.

On the consumer side, I would advise people to try and be uncool. This will save you a ton of money. When I think of uncool, the image of nun's shoes spring to mind. Nothing is uncooler than footwear for nuns.


When you are not cool, you don't have to buy the latest thing such as a smartphone. You don't buy clothes to be trendy. You find the ones that last the longest. Cool takes a backseat to things like utility, durability, and modesty. The result is that you find more money in your pockets because you are no longer paying the Cool Premium.

Every so often, being uncool becomes really cool. But you can't predict things like that. You are always better off being uncool. You can't go wrong being uncool. Be boring. Be practical. Be thrifty. Be kind. Be humble. These are good things to be. I would take those things over cool anyday.

1.23.2015

You Only Live Twice


You only live twice:
Once when you're born
And once when you look death in the face.
IAN FLEMING

There is an acronym that has become popular and annoying. That acronym is YOLO which stands for "You Only Live Once." As short and as stupid as that acronym may be, it represents the tip of a large philosophical iceberg. It is nothing new since it is another rendition of the "Carpe Diem" phrase made popular in the the movie Dead Poet's Society. The gist of the philosophy is that nothing matters in this life except that you live it up. The converse is that you will only have regrets if you don't live it up. I cannot fathom how anyone could regret anything in the non-existence of atheistic death. It is only in the afterlife that you can have regrets about this life, and I doubt one of those regrets will be turning down depraved sex with those two nymphomaniacs at that crazy college party.

As a Christian, I believe that you only live twice. Everything you do in this life has some bearing on the next life. When I think of the phrase "you only live twice," I recall this as one of the titles that Ian Fleming used for one of his James Bond novels. I don't know if Fleming was a religious man at anytime in his life, but I can say that James Bond would have never turned down depraved sex with two nymphomaniacs. But what we can also say about James Bond is that he was a man possessed of a certain kind of honor. Granted, he is a man given to the vices of the flesh, but you have to admit that he also risked his life and defied death often for the sake of queen and country. When Fleming speaks of that second life when you look death in the face, it is to recall those times when you either lived or failed to live up to that sense of honor in yourself. In this purely worldly sense, we see that we will never regret vices forsaken but virtues unattained. If someone decidedly non-religious can see that we live twice, we can agree that YOLO is stupid.


The central issue here is the issue of regret. What are our regrets in life going to be? Many tales from deathbeds never include those nymphomaniacs in the list of regrets. The list is made up of the usual about being true to yourself, loving people more, spending less time at work, and on and on. If you wonder if you will have regrets on your deathbed, let me settle it for you. You will. No one has a perfect life.

There is only one way to not have regret about this life, and that is to believe that you will live twice. This is the Christian sense and not the Ian Fleming sense. I am fond of telling people that it doesn't matter where you start but where you finish. Life is messy, and it never turns out the way you planned it. But as long you arrive in Heaven, you have done well. That is the essence of the Gospel. Your past has not irrevocably damaged your future. God can take the worst you have done and turn it to His good. The only true regret is to not pursue what God offers you.

Both St. Peter and Judas Iscariot were guilty of the same sin. They both betrayed our Lord. Yet, we know that St. Peter finished in Heaven. I cannot say where Judas Iscariot ended without committing the sin of presumption. I will simply quote our Lord in Matthew 26;24 when He says, "The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." The difference between St. Peter and Judas is that Peter was not consumed by regret. Judas was consumed by regret and killed himself. If there is a tip to glean from this, it is to let the Lord have the last word on your life. He will be much fairer to you than you will be to yourself.

I believe you only live twice. This informs all my decisions. If I believed I only lived once, I might escape God's judgment, but I will never be able to escape my own judgment of myself. If I believed I lived many times like some Buddhist or Hindu, life would become nothing but an endless cycle of rebirth and death with no escape. But I will only live twice with the second life being the only one that matters. The only regret I can have in this life is to believe the folly that you only live once.

1.22.2015

The Pursuit of Happiness


Nobody is happy on earth until he decides not to be. This is the way the path goes: suffering -- in Christian terms -- the Cross; God's Will, Love; happiness here and, afterwards, eternally.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA

A few years ago, Will Smith appeared in a movie called The Pursuit of Happyness. Smith gave a fine performance as Chris Gardner, a down on his luck dad who struggles for a year with homelessness. Eventually, Gardner would find work as a stockbroker and go on to become rich. Initially, I loved the movie. This was because I was a libertarian at the time, and the movie hit on all the libertarian themes of raising yourself up by your own bootstraps. Now, that I am no longer libertarian and have read the Wikipedia article on the film explaining more of the reality of the true life story of Mr. Gardner, I like the film much less. As a libertarian, I saw Gardner as a sort of hero who decided to raise himself up by his own hard work and determination. Now, I see the guy as a degenerate broke loser who caught a lucky break at the beginning of the long 20 year bull market that began at the dawn of the 1980's. The reality is that success has mostly to do with luck and/or selling your soul to the financial services industry.

The libertarian mindset is pretty basic. There are many paths to happiness. Everyone finds their own way, but they all end at the same destination. Basically, happiness is a big house, a sweet ride, lots of guilt free sex with the partner(s) of your choosing, entertainment, and substances usually being drugs and alcohol. Libertarians will be at pains to explain that "libertarian" is not the same as "libertine," but there is a reason that libertarians are described as Republicans who smoke dope. This is because they love the money aspect of being Republican but not so much those traditional family values.



Becoming Catholic is what ended libertarian fantasies for me. There are many wrong paths, but there is only one right path to happiness which is found in the one true faith of the Catholic Church. I often wonder why God allowed me to go down so many wrong paths in my life, and I realize now that it was to remove their temptation from me. I see many cradle Catholics reared in the faith with good parents and the sort of upbringing that puts people on a firm foundation. Yet, so many of those cradle Catholics peel off to go down the same dead end paths I have already been down. You would think they would learn something from my experience, but they never do. It's like a guy who tosses out his garbage only to see people already rich picking through it for something to eat. Yes, they are fools for this. The fool has the unique ability to ignore reality and common sense to embrace that garbage. I call it "Herculean self-delusion" because it takes real effort to be that stupid.

As someone who used to be stupid, I can tell you that wisdom feels a whole lot better. Everyone wants to be happy. The problem is that no one is happy. As Oscar Wilde put it, "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it." I remember being 18, and I had this moment when I decided like Chris Gardner that I was going to become rich and successful in life. I call this my "Nietzschean Übermensch" mode. I was going to be a "go getter" in life. Then, God introduced me to a book in the Bible called Ecclessiastes which sucked the wind out of my sails on a permanent basis. The gist of that book is that you can have all that the world offers, but it will only leave you empty inside. The good life looks good on the outside, but it is hollow on the inside. The lesson was that I could become rich in life if I chose, but I was not going to be happy. I made the decision at that moment that I wanted to be happy, so I lost my taste for the world's riches and delights.

If I could sum up my life story so far, it would be like this. I am someone who endeavored mightily to do it the wrong way, but God kept me putting me back on the right track. On the outside, this looks like a series of curses and misfortunes, but I see now how fortunate I was. The thing that matters most is your soul. We all know the verse. It is Mark 8:36. "For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?" Your soul is the only thing that matters. The world can go to hell, and it will.


There is no happiness in this world because happiness is found only in Heaven. The ironic thing about this realization is that it will make you much happier in this world if you accept it. I have met a lot of different people in my journey so far, but none of them were happy. The only people I know who had anything resembling happiness in this world were the saints. Only saints are happy, and this happiness becomes complete in Heaven. In this world, they have the blessed hope of that eternal inheritance. They get a taste of the banquet that is to come.

Anything less than Heaven is Hell. The people who snatch their money and their pleasures in this life are merely people who scrambled to the top of the manure pile. I can honestly say that I have never envied a rich person in my life. But I did envy someone who had what I did not. She had faith. I felt like I owned the world, but I did not have faith. So, I traded the world for that faith. Life sucks so bad that I honestly don't believe it is worth living. I only keep living for the sake of that faith. That faith is what sustains me.

Who is happy in this life? Honestly, I would like to know. I used to tell people that I was the happiest person I knew because I thought I could trick myself into making it true. But I knew better. Everyone knew I was miserable except for me. Yet, who else was happy? Now that I have some real happiness, the cynicism comes out. I must be in some sort of blissful ignorance.


I know life is hard. I also know that when things are going well that life is still hard. It will always be hard, frustrating, and disappointing. This never ends. Life is not Heaven. I have no illusions about life. This is why I say that Catholicism is more real than real. Most Christians of the Protestant variety are faking it. You can't fake it as a Catholic. People thought my view of the world was dark as an atheist. It is much darker as a Catholic. The best thing I can say about this world is that it is a suburb of Hell. It would be enough to deal with diseases and natural disasters, but people have to make it worse by doing unspeakable atrocities to one another. The world is full of evil. I read the news each day. Then, I pray. I pray often. I have to cling to that faith and that hope. The world is so dark.

I don't care about what the world has to offer. The more I grow in my Catholic faith means the less I like the world. I think we are ready for Heaven the moment we sever the last attachment to this life. This is why the martyrs go straight in because you can't be more detached than that. This is the pursuit of happiness. It is to seek after God and lose attachment to this world. This is the only way to happiness and very few ever find it. I have been unfortunate in this world, but I see it for the good fortune it will bring me in the world to come. I know where I want to be, and it isn't here.

1.15.2015

The Discipline of Silence


It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.
MATTHEW 15:11 NASB

With the beginning of each new year come resolutions to exercise and go on a diet. I would like to commend such wishes for self-improvement, but I know they come from vanity instead of virtue. One of the blessings of getting older is that you focus less on your waistline and more on your character. This is because what makes a person really unattractive is not what goes into their mouth but what comes out of their mouth. A better resolution would be to guard our speech instead of our physiques.

I struggle with what I label collectively as "ill communication." The term comes from a Beastie Boys album title, but I find it to be a great shorthand for all the sins of the tongue. Ill communication is any sort of speech that is destructive in its nature. This is not to be confused with saying "negative" things which are usually true things that need saying. The cult of positive thinking has made it forbidden to acknowledge any unpleasant aspects of life as if they only exist when we talk about them. This is just stupidity. Destructive speech is when the things we say are assaults upon God or those made in His image.


1. Blasphemy

The first and worst form of ill communication is blasphemy. This is where people take the Lord's name in vain in violation of the commandment. If you believe God's last name is "Dammit" and say it as often as possible, you are guilty of a grievous sin. God's name is precious and should be held in the highest esteem. This extends to all His names especially the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the first thing I had to clean up in my journey from atheist to Catholic. I have said many things that pain me to recall now, and I will have to answer for those things on the Day of Judgment. I can only beg mercy and pardon from God Almighty for all the things I have said.

I also admit that it is impossible to go a single day without hearing God's name taken in vain. In the Muslim world, offenses like this are punished by death. But I believe that God is merciful, and I abhor such penalties. But when someone does take the name of the Lord in vain, I make the sign of the cross. I do this as my way of atoning for the offense and to ask God's mercy on the offender. I mentally ask God to forgive this person.

You can't love the Lord and treat His name so disrespectfully.

2. Vulgarity

Vulgarity is a cousin to blasphemy. This is because they go together like peanut butter and jelly in the world of ill communication. This would be the F-bombs and the scatological references and even a smack on "the horse you rode on." If blasphemy intends to offend God, vulgarity aims to offend everyone else. There was a time when saying the F-word in mixed company would result in being asked to step outside and take a man sized beating for the offense. Nowadays, the women's language is saltier than the men's.


Many fail to see the evil in vulgarities especially in our R-rated world, but this kind of offensive language is a sin. As St. Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:29, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." My conscience stings fiercely at this point because I am very guilty of using vulgarities.

3. Insults

Insults are a cousin to vulgarity, and their intention is to cause offense to others. Sometimes, no offense is meant, but it happens. Other times, it is meant. Being deliberately insulting to other people is a sin. This would include using racial epithets, sexist remarks, and the like. If you spend your life following the example of Don Rickles, you need to cut it out.

4. Calumny, Gossip, and Scandal

Calumny is when you tell lies about other people to ruin their reputations. Gossip is when you tell the truth about other people to ruin their reputations. Scandal is when you stick your nose in other people's business to dig up the dirt on them. These usually go together as a three pack, and they are evil. You don't have to worry about keeping them straight because they all aim for the same target which is the murder of one's reputation. We are all familiar with the character assassination that happens to people in politics. You don't have to actually kill someone to murder them. The slander of someone's good name has the effect of putting these people out of good company which is the aim of murder.

5. Complaining

Nobody likes a whiner. Life is tough enough without listening to the constant backbiting and complaining. Complaining is like pouring salt in an open wound such that the sting is only made worse instead of better. Complaining amplifies the negative instead of curing it. Show some fortitude and eliminate the whining.

6. Cynicism

We live in cynical times, so it is hard to recognize this sinful speech. But watch an old movie or television show, and it will feel refreshing compared to today's entertainment. This is because entertainment today is permeated and soaked in cynicism. Cynicism is simply the assumption that everyone is scum, and the world is out to get you. The aim of cynicism is to not be naive, but its dark cloud becomes oppressive over time. It has the same effect as complaining.

7. Lying

Lying is where we consciously aim to deceive people. It is when we say things we know not to be true. It can be an exaggeration, or it can be a full blown whopper. Or, it can be the selective memory I encounter when people conveniently forget things they would rather not acknowledge while remembering things that never actually happened. As far as we can help it, we should always get our facts straight.

Purity in speech is a difficult thing. Most of the temptations in this area come from people's abhorrence of silence. On talk radio, they have this thing called "dead air." This is when no one is talking. This is bad for radio because it makes people think the station is off the air, and people might skip over the station when they don't hear anything. So, talk radio hosts keep a constant chatter going. People do the same thing in life. They always have to keep talking.



We can learn something from the Trappist practice of silence. Contrary to popular ideas, Trappists do not actually take a vow of silence. They simply do not engage in idle chatter. Trappists speak only when necessary. This practice comes from the Rule of St. Benedict:

Of silence
Let us act in conformity with that saying of the Prophet: "I said I will guard my ways lest I sin with my tongue; I have put a bridle on my mouth; I was dumb and was humbled and kept silence from good things." Here the prophet shows that if we ought at times for the sake of silence to refrain even from good words, much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin. Therefore, on account of the importance of silence, let permission to speak be rarely given even to the perfect disciples, even though their words be good and holy and conducive to edification, because it is written: "In the multitude of words there shall not want sin." And elsewhere: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." For to speak and to teach are the province of the master; whereas that of the disciple is to be silent and to listen. Therefore, if anything is to be asked of the superior, let it be done with all humility and subjection of reverence, lest one seem to speak more than is expedient.  Buffoonery, however, or idle words or such as move to laughter we utterly condemn in every place, and forbid the disciple to open his mouth to any such discourse.  
Now, the Trappists practice silence with a great severity, but this is impractical for the layperson living in the world. Yet, we can learn something from this discipline of silence. A primary reason we sin so much with our tongues is because we always feel the need to keep running our mouths. This idle chatter demands material, and this is where the sin comes in. It is easier to lie, blaspheme, gossip, and insult than say good things. How many saints have a big mouth? Saintly people tend to be quiet people. When they speak, their words take on a weight and a value that no idle chatter can match. If you want to be a saint, practice thrift in your speech. The discipline of silence removes most temptation for ill communication.

I struggle so much with this because I have a gigantic big mouth. If I have a resolution for this new year, it is to speak less. Quiet people are seen as gentle, wise, and good listeners. The discipline of silence is what I like to think of as "minimalism of the mouth." Use fewer words but make those words count. I pray that I will get better at this practice.

1.10.2015

Charlie Hebdo Massacre


And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.
REVELATION 16:13-14 NASB

France got a wake up call this week when radical Muslims shot up the offices of the satire mag known as Charlie Hebdo. People are dying in Iraq and Syria in the thousands at the hands of these barbarians, so it is a bit mystifying why the death of 12 journalists should matter all of a sudden. We have already had 9/11, the Fort Hood shooting, and the beheading of hostages by ISIS. The reason this particular massacre means so much is it because it involves the media who report on it. Journalists don't really care until their own catch some bullets on the home turf. Then, it truly matters. So, it will be non-stop reporting and stupidity on this event until something else comes along to eclipse it. Here are my thoughts on it all.

The first thing I have to say on the matter is that Charlie Hebdo is a vile rag. Even if you leave out the offensive cartoons concerning Islam, much of the material in the magazine is on par with something you would find in the pages of Hustler magazine. The editors of that publication were deliberately provocative, so it was really stupid of them to tempt these Muslims in this way. We can argue all day about issues of justice and free speech, but there is something to say for being prudent. If you insult Islam, it is virtually guaranteed that some Muslim is going to try and kill you. Of course, that fact only puts you at the head of the line of people that Muslims want to kill which includes everyone who does not believe in Islam or even their particular flavor of Islam since Muslims love to kill other Muslims.

The second thing I have to say on the matter is that Islam is a religion of madness, rape, and murder. I can base this purely on the examples I see everyday of Muslims committing atrocities in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. But I will base it squarely on what is taught within the pages of the Q'uran and the example of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, who did exactly what Muslims do today which is kill and rape and pillage. The fact is that these extremists are actually good Muslims which makes them very bad human beings.

The third thing I have to say on the matter is that Europe is utterly foolish to allow these Muslims to emigrate to their countries. Multiculturalism is stupidity. They literally allow these Muslims to have their own areas governed by sharia law where the cops do not go. How can you have a harmonious society when people get to decide which laws apply to them and which don't? Multiculturalism is political correctness taken to its dead end.

Where does Europe go from here? The problem is that Europe is no longer Christian. When it was Christian, it knew how to respond to this sort of thing. It called it evil. Islam is a religion of evil. Yet, I watch secular pundits and politicians stutter and stammer trying to respond to this atrocity but without the language or the mindset needed to call evil what it is. Secularism is a moral vacuum, and Islam is rushing to fill that vacuum. The fact is that the secularists and the Muslims are playing for the same team because they are both joined in their hatred of the Christian religion. This is why Muslims can have entirely free reign in the practice of their religion while Catholics are castigated for not ordaining women as priests or sanctioning gay marriage. As long as it is anti-Christian, the secularists endorse it.

In the wings are the fascist thugs who are more than willing to commit violence against Muslims and anyone else who stands in their way. These thugs will be decidedly non-Christian. They will be inspired more by Nietzsche and Mein Kempf than anything else. The Nazis and the Muslims will be fighting it out in the streets, and the secularists can only sit back and wet their pants as the atrocities mount.


Christianity is the only sane answer to this challenge because it can respond to evil without becoming like the evil. Secularism is unable to call out evil. The neo-Nazi fascists can call out the evil, but it is indistinguishable from the evil.  My advice to France and the rest of Europe is to return to the Christian religion, pray for God's forgiveness and aid, and become the moral bastion against a barbaric world that it used to be. As it stands, western civilization teeters on the brink of destruction.

Secularism is the beast known as the antichrist. Islam is the false prophet. The dragon is the devil, and he is laughing as Europe is consumed by these twin forces of destruction. I hope I am wrong on this, but this is the way I see it. I just pray and hope that Europe wakes up to what is happening.

1.08.2015

The Apple Tree


It can sometimes happen that even well‑intentioned people create personal problems — really serious worries — which have no objective basis whatsoever. These problems arise in persons whose lack of self‑knowledge leads to pride and a desire to be the centre of attention, to be favoured by everyone. They want to appear always in a good light, to be personally secure. They are not content simply to do good and disappear. And so, many who could enjoy a wonderful peace of soul and great happiness become, through pride and presumption, unhappy and unfruitful.

Christ was humble of heart. Throughout his life he looked for no special consideration or privilege.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA

Why do you do these things? That was an interesting question put to a man one day. It is not unusual to hear this question when we have done something nasty and evil, but in this situation, the man had done something good. The funny thing is that the man was not really aware that he had done something good. That's the thing about becoming Catholic. You end up doing good things without thinking about them. Grace really does work. So, the man had this question put to him, and he had to think of an answer. So, he answered the question with another question. Why does an apple tree make apples?

The answer to the apple tree question is obvious. Apple trees make apples because that is their nature. Apple trees don't have ulterior motives. They don't think of how producing their fruit is going to make some money or get them a sweet job or even some tacky blue ribbon to stick on the fridge at home. Apple trees make those apples because that is what they were made to do. In a similar way, we are made for good works.

Doing good works is easy. The world abounds with people who give to charity or volunteer their time and talents for some good cause. But here's the thing. The reason why many of these people do these things, and you know about them is because they made sure that you knew about them. Their left hand knew exactly what their right hand was doing. But a good act done from impure motives ceases to be a good act. Even sinners will do a kind deed if they know it will get them something. This is why so many people will turn down a kind act because they suspect that at some point the quid pro quo will kick in, and they will end up owing somebody a favor in return.

The example of Christ is to do good to all with no expectation of reward or gratitude. Doing good may even get you mockery, derision, and abuse. But you still keep doing good just as Christ always did good. The lesson is simple. Be fruitful. Do good deeds and promptly forget them. Do them for the pure and simple joy of doing good. Do them as favors for Christ. Do good and disappear.

The sour apples come when we are not content to do good and disappear. We want to be noticed for our good deeds. We want to be rewarded. We want justice because we go from thinking of ourselves as dutiful servants to servants expecting a reward. This is how sweet fruit becomes bitter fruit. Often, people may have no inkling at all that we are becoming rotten on the inside even though we may appear to be saints on the outside. This is why it is so important to do a daily examination of conscience per the instructions of St. Ignatius of Loyola.



The first step on the road to holiness is to refrain from doing evil. This is the easy step. The second step is to start doing good. This takes a little more effort. But the real holiness comes from the third step which no one sees. It deals with the purification of the intentions of our hearts. A person can appear as an angel on the outside, but on the inside, he can be an absolute demon. It was pride that turned an angel into the Devil, and it is pride that can take down even a saint. As such, it behooves the saint to always be mindful of their own capacity for sin and evil and to remember the grace and forgiveness of God. No one can do good apart from God. Let that be the remedy for pride. Let us always remember how miserable we were without God and what we will become again without that Holy Love that burns in our hearts.

A saint is self-forgetful. That is the only term that I can use to describe it. The saint only sees the sin in his or her heart. We know people who are filled with pride or self-pity. But saints do not suffer from either affliction. They just do good things, and in the process, they forget. In confession and the Mass, we are forgiven. But it is in doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we are given the privilege of forgetting. Every act of mercy and penance erases from us all that is bad. The apple tree spends no time thinking about making apples or being an apple tree. It just is an apple tree. A saint is an apple tree producing sweet fruit and in abundance.