Charlie's Blog: April 2015

4.25.2015

Cultural Chauvinism


Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
PHILIPPIANS 4:8 NASB

I have been listening to classical music lately. I read that listenership to this genre of music is at an all time low, so it automatically made me want to go against the herd listening to rock, rap, and country. So, I've been listening to symphonies, requiems, opera music, sonatas, concertos, choral music, and chant. The weird thing about this change in listening is that my brain has rebelled by calling to mind every stupid song I have heard over the years. Some rap or country song will pop into my brain, and I will sing it. Singing it or rapping it seems to get rid of it, and I liken this process to a sort of cultural exorcism. The good is driving out the bad. This leads to a conclusion that people don't want to admit, but we know to be true. Not all culture is created equal.

Cultural egalitarianism is a product of the multicultural mindset that is the bastard child of the Protestant Revolution. If religious belief is an individual matter, it stands to reason that cultural sensibilities are also individual matters. This is where we get that notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Aesthetic judgments are purely personal matters, and we can't say that Brahms is better than some hip hop anthem. One form of music or art is as good as another. Then, some common person will appear on a television talent show filled with pop music performers and animal tricks and blow away the world not with hip hop or country but opera music that is so sublime that the audience is left speechless. Part of the surprise comes from the hidden talent, but I think the greater part of it comes from actually experiencing beautiful music again.



Cultural chauvinism is the belief that certain cultural products are superior to others. This is a radical notion in our day. Let me say it more explicitly. Rap music is the product of a debased culture. To make this statement is to invite charges of racism, but I can also say that heavy metal is also the product of a debased culture. Country music songs about banging out chicks in your four wheel drive pickup truck are also debased. What is pure, honorable, and lovely about any of this music?


Classical music was born in Christian Europe which is why it is so beautiful. It is not beautiful in some subjective sense as if this was just some mere taste. This music transcends culture, and it is beautiful wherever it is heard. The reason this music is beautiful is because it was born in the Church, and it is music befitting our Savior. The influence of this worship music permeated beyond the walls of the church to affect non-church music like the music of the opera and the waltz.

Beauty is not confined to the high brow but is also found among the folk forms of music. This music is not as polished as that of classically trained musicians, but it shares the same creative compass and direction as that more refined music. Whether it is the concert violinist or the troubador playing his lute, the belief is that beauty exists. Whether we achieve it is another matter. But this belief is essential.


The cultural egalitarian does not believe in beauty. The true, the good, and the beautiful are subjective things. The individual becomes the measure of all things instead of God. As I have written elsewhere, when God is no longer the cornerstone, things go awry. Disposing of God would be like an ancient sailor tossing his compass and astrolabe overboard and taking his chances on chaos.

So much popular culture today is intent not on celebrating beauty but desecrating what is beautiful. This is where you see the slow slide over the last two centuries from the classical forms to jazz to rock to Norwegian death metal. Each step has been to something more visceral, debased, silly, or violent. The aim is to shock, but then the shock is replaced by numbness as the soul becomes deadened to the pure and the lovely. This requires a stronger shock to achieve the same effect.


The irony today is that the greater shock comes when beauty intrudes upon this world of ugliness. People deadened in their hearts and souls are surprised when they feel a flicker of emotion when listening to beautiful music again. Try as they might, they cannot extinguish the truth that they are still made in the image of God, and their souls yearn for the true, the good, and the beautiful.

The most moving thing I have seen lately has been the efforts of the very poor in Asuncion, Paraguay, to find beauty. The Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura literally play instruments made from garbage, yet the music is beautiful informed by the cultural sensibilities of Christian Europe. There is irony here. The rich and the decadent turn their music into garbage while these poor and humble people in Paraguay turn their garbage into music. Do I believe that the music played on garbage is superior to hip hop? Absolutely. Yet, this somehow makes me an elitist and a snob. If it does, then so be it. To believe in the true, the good, and the beautiful is to exist on an elevated plane, and I want to get there and remain there. I am not a cultural egalitarian. I am a cultural chauvinist.

4.19.2015

The Rigged Game


A winner is a cheater that never got caught.
ME

Lance Armstrong is the number one reason why I do not watch sports. I knew Armstrong was dirty before his confession to Oprah Winfrey, and I came to accept the fact that cycling and virtually all professional sports are tainted by performance enhancing drugs. I also accepted the fact that you had to cheat in order to win. You can lose clean or win dirty, but you will never win clean. The really sad thing is that I don't consider this to be confined to the world of sports. I think the entire world is a rigged game.

I don't think it is possible to become wealthy, successful, or powerful without doing something illegal or immoral. I base this on the ubiquity of the illegality and immorality among the rich and powerful. Even the best and the cleanest are compromised in at least looking the other way while dirty things go down. The consequence of this is that good people have no chance in these worlds. This is why the next presidential election will give us two candidates that we know are corrupt, and who will break their promises upon election.


The world of business is no better than the world of politics. Virtually every business pays off the politicians in one form or another in order to operate. This could be campaign contributions, cash, or favors. They also take advantage of their workers to force their wages down, or they outsource their operation to a country that uses virtual slavery and destroys their environment all while paying no taxes. If it is illegal here, you can always find a place where it is legal. As for Wall Street, most market beaters are either manipulating the market or trading on inside information. The best an honest man can do is open a modest hot dog stand and hope the big restaurants in town don't go and lobby the city council with money in hand to shut that little guy down.


These facts are depressing. Life offers you two basic choices. You can be an honest loser, or you can be a dirty winner. You can't be a clean winner. This is why Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and virtually all the saints were a bunch of nobodies during their lives. To be a somebody in this life is almost always going to come at the price of your soul. This is essentially the temptation Satan put before our Lord in the desert. The devil will give you everything in this world if you will just bow down and worship him.

If there is a bright side to any of this, it is this. If you aren't successful in life, it isn't because you did something wrong. It is more likely because you wouldn't do something wrong. Lance Armstrong candidly admitted that he would do it the same way all over again. This is because he knows what I know which is that you can't win clean. In order to win, you have to cheat and hope you don't get caught. For Lance, he was a winner until he got caught. Now, he is a loser and a disgrace. One can only hope that he finds redemption in his life.



So, where does that leave us? What do you tell your kids? That life isn't fair? Yes. You tell them that. You tell them that it is a rigged game, and they are born losers. Don't tell them the fairytale that if they live clean and play by the rules that things will turn out well for them. They won't. The best you can hope for in this life is a good name and a modest living. To wish for more is to call on the Devil and sell your soul.

People want to feed their pride. This is why they want to become rich, powerful, and successful. They want glory just like some hero from myth and legend. They will claim they want security, but these people are never secure. They live every day with the fear of being exposed for what they really are. Where is Lance Armstrong's glory now? Was it worth it? At this point, the man will be fortunate to avoid being penniless and incarcerated.

The interesting thing is how the players in the game all abandon you when your digrace comes. The UCI abandoned Lance and keep him at arm's length now. Lance's sponsors loved him but dropped him like a tainted sack of manure. Lance can't complain because this is basically what he did to Floyd Landis when Landis was disgraced. To live in this dirty world is to surround yourself with false friends and betrayers. Yet, they are all in on the conspiracy. Everybody loves a winner until they get caught.

These are the lessons you teach to your kids. It is better to be good than to be successful. It is better to be humble than to be proud. It is better to make an honest living than a dishonest living. It is better to be a saint than a false hero. This is why it is important to venerate the saints and tell their stories. The world offers its various heroes, but I find nothing to admire in them now. They are merely so many cheaters waiting to get caught.

4.16.2015

The Beginning of Wisdom


The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
PROVERBS 9:10 NASB

I like to think I am a smart guy because I read more than the average person, but I have learned over the years that there is a huge difference between being wise and merely being clever. One famous billionaire is clever at getting money, so people flock annually to hear his "wisdom" on every subject under the sun. Most of the time, his wisdom is foolishness except on those occasions when he displays humility and admits that he doesn't know. This usually involves technology. As for morality, he is a large and vocal supporter of Planned Parenthood. I cite this man as illustration because our society today accords wisdom to anyone clever enough to become rich and famous. Yet, why is it that so many of these rich and famous celebrities end up being so stupid? This is because cleverness is not wisdom.

As an atheist, I spent a decade being clever, but I have to admit that I fell under a concept known as the "noetic effects of sin" which is the way that sin erodes the mind and the intellect. Now, I have read many books, and I have learned a great deal on many subjects. But when I first encountered my Catholic wife who has not read as many books as I have, I was struck by how much wiser than she was than me. This is because reading the right books beats the reading of many books. My background at the time was hanging out with a group of atheists who prided themselves on being very clever and "rational." They were a messed up bunch to say the least, so I was struck by my wife's complete common sense in relation to the madness of the people that made it up as they went along. My wife believed in God, and this belief was informed by the Catholic religion which I consider to be the ark of wisdom and truth in this world flooded with darkness and ignorance. This is why I was struck by her wisdom in contrast to my feeling like an imbecile.


I watched a video recently by Father Robert Barron concerning the Garden of Eden where he explained the meaning of the story. Basically, Adam and Eve were given to eat of all the trees in the garden. These trees represent all the fields of human endeavor from the arts to the sciences to engineering to what have you. They were forbidden to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which basically is the tree of your own religion. The results of the Fall are obvious. Humanity is clever at so many things except being decent to one another. We develop the internet to look at porn. We develop nuclear technology to obliterate one another. We develop chemicals to enhance life and then pour them out in the polluted water we drink. The story of humanity is one of cleverness in the many realms of human endeavor but stupidity in the realm of religion, ethics, politics, and morality.

The ironic thing about the Fall is that we are now losing our cleverness. My wife made the remark that she noticed that atheism and mental illness seemed to go hand in hand. You would think that religious people would be the most nutty because they believe in things they can't see, but Christians seem very stable and well adjusted in contrast to the atheists I know. While listening to a well known paranoiac and conspiracy theorist on Coast to Coast AM, I was not surprised when he declared himself an avowed atheist. This guy believes that 9/11 was a government conspiracy, and the same government is slowly poisoning us with chemtrails in the air. But believing in God is for nuts! Now, there are undoubtedly theists who believe the same things about these conspiracies but even they don't sound as loony as the atheist. What we can say firmly is that atheism does not automatically lead to rational thought processes. In fact, I think it is the reverse.

Whenever God is eliminated, madness and chaos and decline are the inevitable results. We see this in all the fields of human endeavor. For instance, there was a time when the practice of the law was informed by the natural law which has its basis in religion, God, and Thomas Aquinas. Basically, there is a law that supersedes all manmade laws, and this law is the law of God. It was on this basis that Nazi war criminals were tried at Nuremberg even though their actions were not actually illegal by German law since these men were the law. In a purely atheist court, these criminals would be exonerated. Similarly, people like Gandhi and MLK are actually criminals since they broke the law. Yet, they were obedient to the natural law and showed the injustice of human laws. Today, atheism and secularism hold sway which is why so many students and practitioners of the law are jaded nihilists admitting that the laws are twisted to suit whatever purpose or agenda exists. The law now subverts justice instead of upholding justice.


There can be no justice without a belief in God. Without God, justice is determined by whoever is in a position of power at that moment. We see this when a rich person skates on crimes that put the rest of us in prison. This perversion of the law also reaches down into personal morality where people routinely break their promises especially in regard to the marriage contract and terms of employment. People want right done to them, but no one wants to do right. This is how you get an adulterer who becomes incensed at discovering his wife's affair, or companies that expect employee loyalty while firing on a whim. We live in a debased culture, and this debasement is a direct consequence of the erosion of religion in private and public spheres.

If the good has been sacrificed, it should be no surprise that beauty has been slaughtered with it. Catholic Europe gave us the most beautiful works of art fashoned by human hands. Those fools and simpletons with their belief in God and hope for things unseen turned out works like this:


But we live in a modern and enlightened age that shuns belief in those medieval fairy tales. Our secular world has moved beyond all that foolish religion and gives us works of art like this:


Guys like Micheangelo were rubes in comparison to the genius of Marcel Duchamps who turned a urinal over and called it art. Art today is no longer about creating works of beauty but works of ugliness and shock where even excrement can be used in the creation of these monstrosities. Since it doesn't take much cleverness to smear feces on a canvas, the cleverness comes in the descriptions and understanding of the subtexts of these works of art. What you are looking at is not the digested remains of last night's dinner but a statement about the power and domination of the patriarchal world system over the feminine and the seething resentment but submission this creates. To put it more simply, the excrement is the non-Christian world flinging hatred at God. This is the real meaning of all this perversion of what is beautiful.

Why does the art world hate beauty now? This is because beauty is Christian. To believe in beauty is to believe in a God who makes beautiful things. So, the modern culture embraces the ugly, the noisy, and the shocking to slap God in the face. In the popular culture, we hear this in the music that is either vapid at its best or pure noise at its worst. Bach has given over to Justin Bieber and Marilyn Manson.


The culture produces from its storehouse of beliefs, so it should be no surprise that the culture becomes more debased as the memory of God becomes more distant in the mind of this secular society. I predict that more and deeper depravity is still to come when even child pornography and the snuff film will become accepted modes of expression. Those who express shock and disbelief at this only have to look how far the culture has declined in the last 20 years. The snuff films are already available courtesy of the Islamic State and the Mexican drug cartels who upload regularly to the internet. Child pornography is one Supreme Court ruling away from legalization, and the ACLU is fighting for this on the grounds that the distribution of the materials should be legal even if their production is illegal. I remember when gay marriage was unthinkable, and it is now on the verge of becoming the law of the land.

If you oppose any of this madness and depravity, what terms do they use to describe you? Those would include homophobe, bigot, Nazi, backwards, simpleton, rube, and fool. As the society becomes ever dumber, those who signal the warnings are called idiots. Wisdom is now folly, and folly is now wisdom. Right is now wrong, and wrong is now right.

I remember taking an English class back in college on deconstructionism, and it was the most baffling class I had ever taken. It was the only English class I made a C in, and I was glad to take the C and exit. I had to read stuff by Derrida, Kristeva, Heidegger, Lucan, and others. The gist of deconstructionism is this. Words cannot convey meaning. Naturally, they used a lot of words to tell me this. And to prove it, none of those words made any sense. This was my first deep taste of postmodernism, and I learned then and there that it was a load of crap. Yet, much of academia is devoted to the production of this garbage. It is the literary/philosophical equivalent of Duchamp's urinal. You don't actually have to know what you are writing or saying to become published and recognized by this gang of fools. In 1996, a physics professor named Alan Sokal contributed an essay to a postmodern journal which they published without question. The problem is that Sokal made it up. It was just postmodern sounding gibberish. This became known as the Sokal affair, and you can read about it here. This hoax has become so risible that it lead to the Postmodern Essay Generator. This would have been very handy for me to have for that English class I took.


The Sokal affair was the little kid telling everyone that the emperor was naked as he strutted down the street in his new outfit. What was considered brilliance was shown to be stupidity. Yet, this factory of postmodernism still churns out this nonsense. When it is not completely stupid, it is either shocking or depressing. I quote at random:

The basic metaphor is the naming of relations in nature after social relations. It can be found “at work” in the theory of causality, the centerpiece of any worldview. Authoritarian causality had its uses: it allowed the ordering of experience, and reinforced authoritarian cooperation in production. Worldviews that assume authoritarian causes when none were observed usually invoke invisible spirit authorities as causes. Horatio obeys Hamlet; Hamlet obeys his father’s ghost. Matter is subordinated to spirit. Thus the slave model of social relations became a whole ontology of what is and ever could be.

Here is another random quotation from that English professor who taught me garbage:

This might just seem like a word-game, peculiar to English, an accident of the language. But a quick review of a few modern languages (such as French, German, Spanish, and Hebrew) shows that the connection between the semiotic and the judgmental senses of the word "meaning" in the phrase "the meaning of life" is not restricted to English. It may be that the phrase belongs to modern times. Among ancient writers, Ecclesiastes, a likely one to consult to see if the question was thus phrased in antiquity, does not seem to ask, "What is the meaning of life?"—he asks, in a variety of Hebrew phrases, "What good is it?" "What does it profit?" "What does it do?" Still, even if this question is a modern one, it is one with which we live. I suspect that the ambiguity in the word "meaning" in the phrase "the meaning of life" reflects a very widespread, if not universal, quality about our thinking.

Now, your first response to this is that it is not understandable. You can only come to two conclusions when faced with this. Either this stuff is brilliant and you are the imbecile, or the person who wrote it is an imbecile writing academic sounding nonsense. I will clear things up for you. The writers of this nonsense are the imbeciles.

In today's atheistic academy, the possessor of common sense is at a competitive disadvantage. This is why I stopped at the bachelor's degree because I was one of those common sense people. Fortunately for me, I had other professors possessing common sense, and I learned something other than the idea that words cannot convey meaning. I learned that the words of these pseudo-intellectuals do not convey meaning, and this academic world is little more than a mutual festival of intellectual fellatio.

You might be led to believe that this madness is a right brain phenomenon infecting the arts and humanities, but science also has its share of naked emperors. The most potent example would be the multiverse theory. Physics is the most basic of the sciences, and physics along with astronomy have confirmed the assertion of Aquinas that the universe had a beginning. We know this today as the Big Bang, and it is universally accepted in the science community. The problem is for the atheists who see this as proof of the arguments of Aquinas for the existence of God. Prior to the acceptance of the Big Bang, atheists like David Hume argued for an uncaused universe. Famous atheist Betrand Russell said, "I should say that the universe is just there, and that's all...." We now know that Russell was wrong. So, the atheists now imagine a bigger universe than the one we inhabit, so they can kick the intellectual can into the universe of make believe. This is not science but mythmaking. Unfortunately for them, Christians already believe in a multiverse since this world is not the only we believe to be real.

I can go on and on showing this paradigm in the various fields of endeavor from psychology to economics to politics to history to whatever. When God is eliminated from the thinking, the thinking skews in directions of chaos and disorder. When I lost my faith as a Protestant and a Calvinist, I was flung into this world of madness to try and make sense of things apart from God. It was not pleasant, and I failed. Floundering and not wanting to descend into the madness that atheism creates, my encounter with my wife and her simple yet profound faith was like an oasis for me after crawling through a desert of nihilism. This oasis is the Catholic Church. I discovered what others like G.K. Chesterton discovered before me. This madness of the Catholic religion was actually sanity. Maybe you have to choke on sand for a decade to appreciate the taste of clean water.

4.09.2015

Minimalism Versus Voluntary Poverty


And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise."
LUKE 3:11 NASB

Some years ago, I became interested in lifestyle minimalism. I was not Catholic at the time, and my interest in a minimalist lifestyle grew from the candid observation of a co-worker that most of the people that own Harley-Davidson motorcycles don't actually ride them. They make the payments on them and store them, but they never use them for daily or even weekly transportation. They were just so many unused and expensive toys. I noticed the same phenomenon when it came to personal watercraft, bass boats, and exercise equipment. I made a resolution then and there to not be one of those people, so I pared down my wish list to only essential items that I needed and expunged some items from my life that were not needed. I went to the internet to see if I was the only one who thought this way, and I was surprised to discover that I was not alone. This is how I got into minimalism.

I read and still read many websites about decluttering, voluntary simplicity, and minimalism. I agree with the basic thrust of all these bloggers that your life should be simpler, and you should eschew acquiring as many material possessions as possible. On that, we are on common ground. Where I started to have problems was answering the question of why. Why should we pursue a simpler life?

The biggest reason for much of this minimalism is to have less stress and worries in life. I can agree with this. Peace and tranquility are laudable goals in life. Unfortunately, I think much of this tranquility comes from not working. When you need less, you can work less. This makes the minimalist one degree removed from the shiftless bum. This creates the dichotomy between the maximalist who overworks to meet the payments on possessions he doesn't have time to use and the minimalist who has nothing and all day to enjoy it. The common element between them is their selfishness. Minimalist or maximalist, the end is always me me me.

Voluntary poverty is not the same as minimalism. In fact, the term "voluntary poverty" is scandalous to many ears. This is because voluntary poverty embraces the lifestyle of the minimalist and the work ethic of the maximalist. Voluntary poverty is pursued for the sake of God and fellow man. The goal is to have a surplus of wealth. If you work hard and live simply, you will have little trouble with money. You will end up amassing a nice little chunk of cash. Then, you have to decide if you want to be miserly like Ebenezer Scrooge or to be generous like St. Francis of Assisi who gave away his possessions to help the poor. St. Francis showed by his example that you only find your life when you give it away. Your life should not be hoarded but poured out like an offering to Almighty God.

When I explain the concept of voluntary poverty to people, I know the image that springs into people's minds. Some fool spends his entire week earning a fat paycheck, cashes it, and then flings the money all over the street for lazy bums to snatch and run off to the liquor store to get their bottles. This extreme picture comes from people's desire to remain selfish, so they paint the selfless option in the most foolish light possible. But charity demands that we practice the same due diligence we would on any investment. Find worthy causes to support. Volunteer your time and labor to help others.

How much should I give? This varies and depends on the individual's circumstances. A widow might only have the mite to give while the billionaire can give much more. I can't decide for people, but I can tell you that the right amount is somewhere between everything and nothing. Start small and work up from there.

How much should I keep for myself? This also varies because the answer is that you should keep what you need. I don't know what you need in your life, but it is almost always less than what you have now. I've always been frugal, so I've learned to buy fewer items with greater durability, to eschew the fancy brands, and to not pursue expensive hobbies like golf or hunting. I can say that your austerity should hurt a little. This could mean going down to cattle class from first class on an airplane. It could mean eating at a local mom and pop place instead of the fancy place and giving the difference to the poor. It could mean driving a Ford instead of a Mercedes. This is where many minimalists will depart because they insist that their few things be the best things which is why they are willing to spend so much money on Apple products and designer T-shirts that cost over $100.

When it comes to voluntary poverty, I think the best rule of thumb would be to adopt the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi as a guiding light in all things material. For instance, I don't think St. Francis would go to the mall to buy clothes but would go with me to the thrift store. He would buy his food from the scratch and dent store. It doesn't take much for me to imagine these things because I see religious from various orders who take vows of poverty and live that spirit of St. Francis. I can also look to Pope Francis as an example of voluntary poverty.

Finally, there are those things that I call the "small luxuries" in life. A life of perpetual austerity is not Catholic but Puritan. The small luxuries I enjoy in life are listening to the radio, having a beer, drinking coffee, or reading a used book from the Friends of the Library sale. A small luxury is something that is not expensive but still enjoyable. When I look at and reflect upon the poor around the world, I am always amazed at how they can snatch some joy in even the most miserable of circumstances.  So many of our pleasures today are derived from those small luxuries. Music springs readily to mind as the most potent example. Whether it is jazz, the blues, blue grass, or some choral melody, music overwhemingly finds its birth among the poor. The same can be said for food and drink as most ethnic food is merely the homecooking of poor people from foreign countries.

To pursue voluntary poverty is to be poor in material things but to be rich towards God. The thing that you will discover is that you become more alive when you give of yourself. As it says in the St. Francis prayer, ". . .it is in giving that we receive." I can honestly say that I have received back way more than I have given in this path of voluntary poverty. This receiving is not monetary like the prosperity evangelists preach but in joy and comfort and goodwill from those I have helped and from the smile I know that I put on God's face when I did something good for someone. There is joy in almsgiving and works of mercy. It is way more fun than being a really bad golfer or allowing a motorcycle to rust in a garage as you drink yourself to sleep watching a ball game each weekend.

4.05.2015

Resurrection Day


On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark, 
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter 
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, 
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, 
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter 
and arrived at the tomb first; 
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him, 
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, 
and the cloth that had covered his head, 
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in, 
the one who had arrived at the tomb first, 
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture 
that he had to rise from the dead.
JOHN 20:1-9 NASB

Today is Easter Sunday, and I think it is the happiest Easter Sunday since my acceptance into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I took an entire week off of work just for Holy Week, and I like to joke that I am probably the first guy there who took a week off just to spend with God. This day is the most important day to Christians because it is the Day of Resurrection. It is the day of our hope. This day is what changed Jesus from just another victim of the Roman Empire, and it is the power of this hope combined with the Holy Spirit that would lead to the conquest of that empire.

This post is not for Christians since they already believe. This post is for the skeptics and the atheists who doubt that this event ever happened. There is one brute fact of life. When people become dead, they stay dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ goes against this brute fact of life. It is understandable why people would doubt. People just don't come back to life. But Jesus was not an ordinary person. I like these words from U2 frontman Bono:
It’s a defining question for a Christian. Who was Christ? I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying he was a great thinker or great philosopher. Because, actually, he went around saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified. He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God. So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God or he was nuts. Forget rock-and-roll messianic complexes. I mean Charlie Manson-type delirium. And I find it hard to accept that all the millions and millions of lives, half the Earth, for 2,000 years have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter. I don’t believe it.
When Jesus died on the cross, the apostles knew then and there that they had been deceived by a liar. They had deluded themselves into believing in a wannabe Messiah who had gotten Himself killed. Now that it was done, they had to fear the same fate as those who had killed Jesus would most certainly mop up the rest of this foolish conspiracy by crucifying the rest of them. Yet, those same cowards would go on and boldly declare that their leader was the Son of God risen from the dead. Now, I know fanaticism can be powerful and delusional, but I don't see such a thing taking hold and persevering to the present day. Philosophies can sweep the world as well as scientific discoveries. But I don't see how a liar and His lies could ever do what they did. Yet, those cowards went to their respective tortures and deaths without a single one recanting. I can see people dying for their country or for an abstract principle like liberty. But who lives and dies for a lie?

When I read the Gospels and the letters from these saints, I am struck by their earnestness. St. Peter wrote, "For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (2 Peter 1:16 NASB)" In the verses quoted above, the account mentions the burial cloths and the cloth that covered His head. The cloth that covered His head is known as the Sudarium. Here is what it looks like:


The burial cloth of Christ is the famous Shroud of Turin. Here it is:


People doubt the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin because of radiocarbon dating done back in 1989. I was one of those doubters considering the shroud to be just a medieval relic that those stupid Catholics believed in. Since then, I have learned and discovered facts that have changed my opinion of the shroud. I now believe it to be authentic. One of those facts is that the Sudarium matches the Shroud of Turin, and the dating of the Sudarium is not in question.


If the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, it is the most clever forgery in history with the forgers anticipating blood typing, photography, and knowing facts about Roman history that only modern archaeologists would discover later. Whoever pulled off this trick was undoubtedly the most brilliant charlatan the world has ever known. But I believe that the radiocarbon dating was done on a bad sample incorporating a repair job on the shroud using cloth from medieval times. You can go here to learn more about this relic.

My faith does not depend upon the shroud's authenticity, but it does spur my faith on to know that the apostles saved and preserved these two items testifying to the crucifixion and the resurrection of their Lord and Savior. The confirmed doubt of St. Thomas also makes me believe more because that guy was committed to not being suckered again. Yet, he believed when he saw the Lord with his own eyes. Or take this passage from the Book of Wisdom:

 Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing. He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. We see him as a reproof to our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirits down; for his kind of life is not like other people's, and his ways are quite different. In his opinion we are counterfeit; he avoids our ways as he would filth; he proclaims the final end of the upright as blessed and boasts of having God for his father. Let us see if what he says is true, and test him to see what sort of end he will have. For if the upright man is God's son, God will help him and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies. Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his patience to the test. Let us condemn him to a shameful death since God will rescue him -- or so he claims.' This is the way they reason, but they are misled, since their malice makes them blind. They do not know the hidden things of God, they do not hope for the reward of holiness, they do not believe in a reward for blameless souls. For God created human beings to be immortal, he made them as an image of his own nature; Death came into the world only through the Devil's envy, as those who belong to him find to their cost. WISDOM 2:12-24

I don't know of anyone who reads this passage and doesn't recognize that it is talking about Jesus Christ. But this passage was written at least a century before Jesus was ever born. The first time I read the passage, it gave me the goosebumps.

I was an atheist before I became Catholic. I had lost my faith while a Protestant and became an atheist which lasted for an entire decade. I was an arch-atheist going beyond other doubters in my skepticism. It is one thing to be an atheist from the cradle. It is another thing to have had faith and lost it completely. Yet, when I converted to Catholicism, atheists said that I was never really an atheist. It amazed me that people committed to truth and reason would lie so boldly about me. But I can tell you that I was not a closet Christian masquerading as an atheist. I went through many rough patches and not one time did I ever turn to God for assistance. I did not think He was there at all. Then, when I was confirmed completely in my atheism, God surprised me by being especially good to me. I never asked for this favor from Him. When I believed in Him least, that was when He loved me most. My eyes were opened, and I hardly believe that I could have been so deluded and lost for so many years. But God has a strange way of surprising us.

The resurrection was one of those surprises. Those disciples never saw that coming. St. Paul never saw that blinding vision on the road to Damascus coming either. Every encounter with the Risen Christ is like that. I am convinced that God loves to blindside those who will later live and die praising His name to their last gasp. He delights in our defeat. When you surrender, it is the sweetest loss you will ever have.

But do facts make someone a believer? I don't think so anymore than facts or the lack of facts makes someone a disbeliever. If you told me tomorrow that the Sun went around the earth, it would not make any real or practical difference in my life. This is because not all facts are equal. It is one thing to be told that a woman was killed in a traffic accident. It is quite another to discover that the woman was your wife, your mother, or your daughter. The facts about Jesus Christ are personal in that way. I learn all the time strange and interesting facts about figures from history, but my life goes on unchanged. But the facts about Jesus change your life in an entirely different way.

People have to come to grips and make a decision about this man called Jesus Christ. They have to weigh the facts for themselves and come to some sort of conclusion. The problem is that many people do not want to deal with the aftermath of what this conclusion will bring. But I can tell you what the conclusions will bring. If Jesus is dead, you are dead. Your life and everything in it amounts to a big fat existential zero. But if Jesus is alive and in Heaven, then there is hope for you, me, and everyone else in this messed up world. I have hope. I was in the darkness, but I cling to this hope now. It is really all I have. The strength of this hope comes from the fact that I have despaired of all other paths I have been down. I think this is why Jesus lets us go astray for awhile. We find out how awful it really is being the prodigal, and we come back without reservations or second thoughts.

I put my hope in Jesus Christ. He is the only answer to this world of doom. He is the only reason that life doesn't terminate in the dead end of the grave or the tomb. When Buddha or Mohammed or Nietzsche pull off the same trick, I might give them a listen. But all I hear from those guys is silence.

4.04.2015

The Church of Nasty


The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
2 TIMOTHY 2:24-26 NASB

The "Church of Nice" is a popular term among certain personalities within the Catholic blogosphere to denigrate people who agree with them on the issues but do not share their obnoxiousness in the style in which they push those issues. It is not enough to be orthodox and faithful, but you have to be obnoxiously orthodox and faithful. This mindset I can only describe as the "Church of Nasty." This begs a question. Does it matter how you say it?

Like it or not, the truth is always controversial. When Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, she took the opportunity to decry the evil of abortion. I am willing to bet a lot of the people who voted for her to get the prize wished they could have yanked it back at that moment. No one thought of Teresa as anything less than a saint, yet she made people uncomfortable with both her words and her example. The woman spoke her mind. But she was not nasty. She neither abused others and was saintly when she was abused. Was she the Church of Nice? Was Mother Angelica the Church of Nice? Or Archbishop Sheen? Or Pope St John Paul II?

How do we pin down this Church of Nice? What exactly is it? Critics of the Church of Nice will give a laundry list of attributes of this Church of Nice, but this list will vary from one critic to the next. So, I will cut through the clutter and give it to you straight. If your parish does not celebrate the Latin Mass and preach exclusively on the culture war issues of abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and other issues below the waist, you belong to the Church of Nice. If your parish follows this program of Latin Mass and culture war, it will not hear a single peep from these critics. But if the priest takes time to decry some Wall Street excess or discuss the plight of Mexican immigrants, that parish is automatically the Church of Nice. This may seem cartoonish and ridiculous, but it helps to understand the source of this divide between Nice and Nasty.

Those who advocate for the Church of Nasty are overwhelmingly right wing, Republican, and consumers of Fox News and conservative talk radio. This is why they can ride so hard on culture war issues, but they don't care for social justice issues that are also part of the Magisterium. This is because social justice issues are the province of the left wing and Democrats. Traditionalists in the Catholic Church push their conservative political views while modernists push their progressive political views. Both are right when they agree with the Magisterium, but they are wrong when they favor one part exclusively over another. Those faithful Catholics that hold to all of the teachings are decried as the Church of Nice. These are the Catholics that hate abortion but also feed the needy and decry greed. This would be someone like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Pope Francis. If all of this conflict reminds you of the Pharisees and the Sadducees from the New Testament, I think the same way. Both groups tried to use Jesus to push their political agendas, and Jesus stayed out of it. The result is that both groups hated Him. When everybody hates you, you are doing something right.

The Church of Nasty takes it style direction from the obnoxious hosts of Fox News and talk radio. Now, I am old enough to remember true conservatives like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and the always civil William F. Buckley, Jr. Those conservatives had something that many of today's conservatives do not have. They had class. They relied on intelligence, wit, decorum, and civility to push their agenda. They practiced discourse at an elevated level that is virtually absent from conservative media today. They did this because decorum and civility were conservative virtues. While left wing radicals were doing sit ins and burning bras and draft cards, these old school conservatives came across as clear eyed, rational, and reasonable. The new school conservatives have abandoned this civility in favor of the incendiary soundbite and demagoguery. I don't recall ever hearing shouting on Buckley's Firing Line, but shouting is all I hear from Fox News and talk radio even when the host is alone on the air.

BUCKLEY: A man with class and manners.
Regardless of your views on the issues, you have to appreciate the style of these old school conservatives. Intelligent people engage in intelligent discourse and leave the shouting and deliberate controversy to the fools. In regards to the Catholic Church, the Church of Nice is simply Christian people practicing patience and restraint in order to avoid the sins of calumny and scandal. They take their doctrine from the teachings of the Church and avoid the false dichotomies present in left/right politics. They care more about standing for truth than scoring points.

The reason the conservative talkosphere relies on obnoxious and incendiary techniques is because controversy and scandal generate ratings. I know these techniques very well because I used them in the original incarnation of this blog. It is a constant battle for the attention of readers and listeners, so controversy gains an audience. This is why the rhetoric of the internet is so debased currently as trolls smash on each other and flame wars light up messageboards, comboxes, and social media. But as they say, there is a big difference between heat and light.

It is enough to be the light. This is the harder path but the better path. The discourse was heated in Buckley's day, but he took the high road. The irony was that people hated him for his civility. They decried him as some kind of snob, but his only real snobbery was that he would not descend to the level of his critics. What people don't realize is that Buckley was also a Catholic. For the Church of Nasty, William Buckley was the perfect embodiment of what they believe except the guy was not an obnoxious jerk. As such, today the man would be considered to be in the Church of Nice by those in the Church of Nasty.

I listen to those who belong to the Church of Nasty. I take into consideration what they have to say. But I also do this with the modernists who take positions that are anathema. My open ear is not an endorsement of anyone or anything. I just know that you cannot make a sound judgment before all the facts are in, and you have heard both sides of an argument. This strategy assumes that there is such a thing as reason, and the truth is able to be known and grasped by everyone even if they are momentarily deluded. The Nasty strategy assumes that truth belongs to the one with the loudest megaphone.

I don't have a problem speaking the truth. I just don't think you have to be a jerk to do it. I realize that decorum is easily drowned out by obnoxiousness. But I also know something else. The obnoxious ones usually defeat themselves. They either say the wrong thing that offends their base in a permanent way, or they are found guilty of the very sins they decry in others. They are revealed to be fools and hypocrites in the long run. My advice to the Church of Nasty is to heed these three proverbs:

A fool does not delight in understanding but only in revealing his own mind.
PROVERBS 18:2

A fool always loses his temper but a wise man holds it back.
PROVERBS 29:11

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him.
PROVERBS 26:4

There are many proverbs in the Bible like these, and they commend wisdom. What the Church of Nasty condemns as "nice" is really just wisdom. Wisdom exercises patience and restraint. Wisdom takes the long view. It is hard to be wise in a world of fools, but this is what makes virtue as valuable as gold. Virtue is rare in these times, but it is always precious when you find it. Do not mistake silence for cowardice when it is actually wisdom practicing restraint. Be nice because it is wise to be nice. And always speak the truth with charity.