Charlie's Blog: June 2015


The Scapegoat

But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.

In ancient Greece, they had a practice where a victim was chosen. This may have been a slave or a criminal or a crippled person. This person was known as the pharmakos (φαρμακός). They would beat this person severely and drive him away into the wilderness and into exile. This person would bear the guilt of the community, and the hope was that his mistreatment and being driven away would appease the anger of the gods and end the crisis. The Israelites were more humane as they chose an animal for this purpose. This goat would later be known by English translators of the Bible as the "scapegoat" derived from the fact that this was the "escaping goat." The term has become a permanent part of the English language to denote anyone who takes the blame for the sins of others.

This scapegoat phenomenon is present in virtually every society and in many contexts from politics to workplaces to families. The philosopher René Girard has much to say on the subject of the scapegoat and the scapegoating mechanism. Here is a quotation from Wikipedia on Girard's scapegoat thesis:
If two individuals desire the same thing, there will soon be a third, then a fourth. This process quickly snowballs. Since from the beginning the desire is aroused by the other (and not by the object) the object is soon forgotten and the mimetic conflict transforms into a general antagonism. At this stage of the crisis the antagonists will no longer imitate each other's desires for an object, but each other's antagonism. They wanted to share the same object, but now they want to destroy the same enemy. So, a paroxysm of violence would tend to focus on an arbitrary victim and a unanimous antipathy would, mimetically, grow against him. The brutal elimination of the victim would reduce the appetite for violence that possessed everyone a moment before, and leaves the group suddenly appeased and calm. The victim lies before the group, appearing simultaneously as the origin of the crisis and as the one responsible for this miracle of renewed peace. He becomes sacred, that is to say the bearer of the prodigious power of defusing the crisis and bringing peace back. Girard believes this to be the genesis of archaic religion, of ritual sacrifice as the repetition of the original event, of myth as an account of this event, of the taboos that forbid access to all the objects at the origin of the rivalries that degenerated into this absolutely traumatizing crisis. This religious elaboration takes place gradually over the course of the repetition of the mimetic crises whose resolution brings only a temporary peace. The elaboration of the rites and of the taboos constitutes a kind of empirical knowledge about violence.
Basically, the scapegoat brings about a reconciliation and a peace in people. I know of a person who worked at a place that experienced an intense crisis. Though he was not the cause of the crisis and actually worked to help resolve the crisis, this company fired this individual in an act that still boggles the mind almost a decade later. Why did they fire this guy? What would it change? How would it fix anything? It didn't except to make the ones guilty feel a measure of peace and control in laying a lick on the innocent and driving him out. In light of the scapegoat mechanism, their actions make peculiar sense.

This same fellow is also the black sheep of his family. He did not want to be the black sheep of his family as he appeared to be the least likely candidate for the position. He resisted it, but this family willed it. So, he accepted it and went into the wilderness never to return. His brother was mystified by it all, yet he was the one given the wise words from God to say to the scapegoat. "I don't know why you left and why you don't talk to us anymore, but I have to admit that it feels more peaceful with you gone." And that is why the scapegoat must go never to return. He took away the sins of the family. They are his to bear now. He makes the atonement they could not make.

If all of this sounds like the story of Christ, you would be correct. Christ was spotless and without blemish, yet "He paid a debt that He did not owe for those who owed a debt they could not pay." In suffering on the cross, Jesus became the scapegoat and reconciled humanity with God. He bore the sins of His people. Now, there is a path of peace back to God.

The scapegoat mechanism still exists to this day. The Germans blamed the Jews for their troubles and gave us the Holocaust. The whites blamed the blacks in America and gave us Jim Crow. Today, people blame immigrants for the demise of America. Somewhere, someone must take the blame. And when someone does take the blame, that scapegoat suffers the injustice, and this leaves the guilty parties with nowhere to go. This brings a moment of peace and reflection and the self-knowledge that we are the sinners. It allows us to hate ourselves for what we are and still live. In that moment of peace, we can choose to repent and move toward the good and the true. Or, we can double down and strike the other cheek and be lost forever.

It is important for Christians to understand the scapegoat mechanism because this is the role that we play as living sacrifices in this valley of tears. By enduring injustice with patience, we give the world a moment to come to its senses. The moment that Jesus gave us is the Christian era, and it is our last chance before Judgment Day. When Jesus comes again, the books will be settled forever, and people will answer for what they have done. This is why everyone needs to repent while there is still time. The heart of Jesus overflows with mercy for repentant sinners. He just asks for them to repent. If the tale of the scapegoat moves you to sadness and grief, take that sadness and grief and offer it up. You have come to your senses and can be set free.


The United States of Sodom and Gomorrah

True law necessarily is rooted in ethical assumptions or norms; and those ethical principles are derived, in the beginning at least, from religious convictions. When the religious understanding, from which a concept of law arose in a culture, has been discarded or denied, the laws may endure for some time, through what sociologists call "cultural lag"; but in the long run, the laws also will be discarded or denied.

With this hard truth in mind, I venture to suggest that the corpus of English and American laws--for the two arise for the most part from a common root of belief and experience--cannot endure forever unless it is animated by the spirit that moved it in the beginning: that is, by religion, and specifically by the Christian people. Certain moral postulates of Christian teaching have been taken for granted, in the past, as the ground of justice. When courts of law ignore those postulates, we grope in judicial darkness. . . .

We suffer from a strong movement to exclude such religious beliefs from the operation of courts of law, and to discriminate against those unenlightened who cling fondly to the superstitions of the childhood of the race.

Many moral beliefs, however, though sustained by religious convictions, may not be readily susceptible of "scientific" demonstration. After all, our abhorrence of murder, rape, and other crimes may be traced back to the Decalogue and other religious injunctions. If it can be shown that our opposition to such offenses is rooted in religion, then are restraints upon murder and rape unconstitutional?

We arrive at such absurdities if we attempt to erect a wall of separation between the operation of the laws and those Christian moral convictions that move most Americans. If we are to try to sustain some connection between Christian teaching and the laws of this land of ours, we must understand the character of that link. We must claim neither too much nor too little for the influence of Christian belief upon our structure of law. . . .

I am suggesting that Christian faith and reason have been underestimated in an age bestridden, successively, by the vulgarized notions of the rationalists, the Darwinians, and the Freudians. Yet I am not contending that the laws ever have been the Christian word made flesh nor that they can ever be. . . .

What Christianity (or any other religion) confers is not a code of positive laws, but instead some general understanding of justice, the human condition being what it is. . . .

In short, judges cannot well be metaphysicians--not in the execution of their duties upon the bench, at any rate, even though the majority upon the Supreme Court of this land, and judges in inferior courts, seem often to have mistaken themselves for original moral philosophers during the past quarter century. The law that judges mete out is the product of statute, convention, and precedent. Yet behind statute, convention, and precedent may be discerned, if mistily, the forms of Christian doctrines, by which statute and convention and precedent are much influenced--or once were so influenced. And the more judges ignore Christian assumptions about human nature and justice, the more they are thrown back upon their private resources as abstract metaphysicians--and the more the laws of the land fall into confusion and inconsistency.

Prophets and theologians and ministers and priests are not legislators, ordinarily; yet their pronouncements may be incorporated, if sometimes almost unrecognizably, in statute and convention and precedent. The Christian doctrine of natural law cannot be made to do duty for "the law of the land"; were this tried, positive justice would be delayed to the end of time. Nevertheless, if the Christian doctrine of natural law is cast aside utterly by magistrates, flouted and mocked, then positive law becomes patternless and arbitrary.

While the White House was bathed in the rainbow that has come to represent the LGBT movement, President Obama spoke at a service commemorating Rev. Clementa Pickney who died at the hands of Dylann Roof, a racist and a hater who gunned down nine people in a church in a savage act that has shook the state of South Carolina. Roof could have gunned down any nine black people and been just another nut. But his deliberate choice of a church and a Bible study gave his act a particularly anti-Christian tone that has generated a deep sympathy for Roof's victims and their families. Then, those same families expressed forgiveness for this disturbed man in a way that has stunned the world in being utterly Christlike. The irony of Obama giving the eulogy at this service was that he was giving it to an audience who largely oppose that day's Supreme Court ruling mandating that all 50 states recognize same sex marriage. The same Christian ethic that motivated these people to forgive Dylann Roof in an act of love is the same Christian ethic that makes them oppose the sham of gay marriage. The irony is that these people who have suffered under the hands of bigots are now rendered the new bigots in the dawn of this new "right" Justice Anthony Kennedy and four other justices managed to find hidden in the fourteenth amendment of the US Constitution. The irony is that this amendment was written for the protection of people like Reverend Pickney but will now be used to harass them into compliance with recognition of immoral acts. This irony is what happens when the Christian ethic is expunged from our judicial process.

The United States is not a Christian country. It used to be a Christian country, but I think this ended around the time Bill Clinton was elected president. This was when the boomers finally grasped the reins of power, and they had ceased to be a Christian generation in the 1960's. Regardless of the date, this country is certainly not Christian now, and the rainbow bath of the White House will be remembered as a watershed moment when the United States declared its allegiance to the ancient paganism and depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah. Will there come a judgment and a consequence for this? Absolutely.

The United States is rife with many sins, so there is no reason to single out just the sin of sodomy. This is merely the capstone to a pyramid of sins from greed to hatred to lust to violence that demonstrated how utterly depraved this country has become. The same sex marriage debate is one championed by the majority on behalf of the minority of a minority. Why has so much effort been expended on such an insignificant issue? The answer is because it isn't about gay rights but the deeper philosophy behind it all. By championing gay marriage, this gives those who oppose the Christian ethic the opportunity to shove a finger in God's eye. When you want to beat a dog, any stick will do, and gay marriage is the stick that will be used to beat the Christians. The ultimate target is the Roman Catholic Church which is the only institution on earth remaining that recognizes the sacramental and true nature of marriage. Every other church including the Orthodox have walked all over marriage. Let no Baptist decry this Supreme Court ruling without recognizing that many Baptists are divorced and remarried multiple times. This injustice is merely a fresh stain on a dirty shirt that the Protestants soiled long ago.

The Roman Catholic Church will remain true to our Lord's teaching on marriage even if renegade priests perform scandalous acts by marrying these perverts or giving communion to those in the grave and manifest public sin of a same sex marriage. There will be laicizations and excommunications in the wake of this global push to recognize same sex marriage. As for the faithful Catholics who weather this latest storm, I urge them to look to St. Thomas More who was essentially a martyr for marriage because he told his king that he could not divorce and marry another. Be prepared because the persecution is coming. To be a faithful Catholic in this post-Christian era will be to endure being labelled a bigot, losing a job or business, and facing fines and imprisonment for failure to recognize this sacrilege.

What will become of America? Either America will repent, or it will splinter apart as it continues down this road of rejecting the Christian ethic. There is one thing I know will not happen. This country will not mock God and remain prosperous and free. This is because the Christian ethic is the basis of true prosperity and freedom. When Christianity is rejected, you are left with confusion, chaos, and barbarism. The Jeremiahs who make these warnings are mocked and derided, yet when have they ever been wrong? The collapse will not be swift, but it will be certain. The cracks are already in the foundation.


How To Be Happy

Happiness is only found in heaven.

Arthur Schopenhauer was a miserable human being. His pessimism on all things is depressing to the extreme. Yet, we find consolation in his brutally honest assessment of life. Why? This consolation comes from the confirmation of our sneaking suspicions that this world and this life are utterly messed up and that happiness will always elude us. This is what Schopenhauer had to say about the happiness project,
What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.
Schopenhauer was an atheist, yet people of faith can find much to agree with in his bleak assessment of life. This is because Schopenhauer tells us what we already know. This world is not Heaven and never will be.

Everyone wants to be happy. You, Gentle Reader, want to be happy. This is why you came to this location attracted by the title of how to be happy. If you were already happy, you would not need to bother reading this essay. The desire for happiness is universal and so is the frustration. No matter how much we desire happiness, this life fails to deliver. Some people try to make a heaven of this world by striving for utopia. Others seek relief through hedonism. Still, others try to quench the desire for happiness through some Stoic/Buddhist trick of the mind. What remains? No one is happy, but they still desire what they cannot have.

Happiness is only found in heaven. These are the words of St. Padre Pio. This is because happiness is found only in the beatific vision as we see God and enjoy Him forever. The Baltimore Catechism puts it this way,
Why did God make us?
God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.
Some people may find this depressing since to find happiness is to die. Yet, this is exactly what is required which explains all of those words of Jesus about taking up your cross and following Him. Happiness eludes us in life which is why the yoke of this world is so heavy. You can see the poor and suffering of this world and understand their misery. The real depressing thing is when you see some rich and famous celebrity who has everything this world offers and is still miserable even to the point of committing suicide. A life without God is a life of emptiness. This emptiness of soul is the source of misery. Happiness cannot be found anywhere except in God. This is why so many have chosen to be paupers in service to God rather than rich in this world. The yoke of Jesus is an easy one because it is satisfying.

Though perfect happiness can never be found in this life because it is not Heaven, you can still move towards a more blessed state. Aquinas called perfect happiness in this blessed state beatitudo which is a state of perfection. In this life, we can move towards this state in what Aquinas called felicitas which is imperfect happiness. This is done by acquiring the virtues and becoming a saint. This is essentially the purpose of life. We were made to become saints. This is the great project of our lives.

Life is hard. Trying to become a saint makes it even harder. But no difficulty in this life can ever come between us and God. It is God's desire that we become saints, and it should be our desire as well. What other way is there? What other path can satisfy one's heart and soul? As someone who has been down all of them, the only path I have found to be satisfying is this path towards God. Happiness is found only in God.

Life is hard, but God gives us refreshment along the way. There are the small pleasures of life. There are the comforts of friends and family. There is the Bible and the Church. There are the eucharist and the sacraments. No one can say they are orphans because God cares for everyone and provides for them. God points the way and provides the means. You need to get on with it instead of wasting your life on dead ends that lead to misery.

Many will read this and leave disappointed. They come looking for happiness and get a dose of religion instead. But I tell you now, you are a fool if you seek some other path. There is no happiness in this world or the next apart from God. You will never find it. The most you will ever find is some momentary pleasure or vanity. Hell is the profound emptiness of never knowing God or even having the hope of knowing Him. It is to be closed off forever from God's love. It mystifies me, but people choose Hell. They want Hell, and you can see this misery beginning in this life. It is despair leading to death.

The difference between this life and Hell is that there is hope in this life. You can choose in this life. God wants you to choose Him. Happiness really is a choice. Choose God. Follow Christ. Become a saint. And as St. Pio of Pietrelcina put it, "Pray, hope, and don't worry." God wants you in Heaven with Him. He will pull it off. God can make a saint out of anyone including you. Go and seek this happiness.


The Cult of Youth

Youth is wasted on the young.

I was young when I defected from the cult of youth. When I was in my twenties, none of my heroes were in their twenties. I'm not sure why I changed in that regard, but I began to realize that no one under the age of 40 was really all that great. This isn't to say that young people have nothing to say or contribute. Flannery O'Connor died before she even hit 40, yet I think she is the best writer of fiction I have ever read. But the fact is that such greatness is exceptional in the young where it is commonplace in the old. Even with O'Connor, you wonder what she would have done had she lived.

The problem with youth is that few young people have the wisdom to appreciate their vitality. With Flannery O'Connor, she was never actually young because she had lupus, and her Roman Catholic faith gave her a perspective on things that is ancient. The vitality of youth has been prized primarily because of two things--rock and roll and technology. The raw energy of rock music came primarily from youth and the stupidity of not knowing that good music comes from years of practice and mastery. Similarly, technology is all about the new. Yet, both rock and computers have been around long enough to yield geezers who have lived and died with nothing more profound to tell the world except to "think different."

There is no wisdom in youth. We know this because of our fondness for gray hairs in high offices. Of course, wisdom is extremely rare even among the old timers. This country produced the worst generation ever in the Baby Boomers who spit in the faces of their parents and now loot their children and grandchildren as they go into a self-indulgent retirement subsequent generations will never know. The Boomers were the first generation to put youth at the center of things and now try desperately to maintain it as it inevitably fades away. The greatest visual sign of this is the popularity of plastic surgery, steroids, fake breasts, and hair replacement.

Cosmetic surgery is based on the belief that it is better to look like the Joker from Batman than to look your age. This is sad and pathetic. I can't look at anyone who has gone under the knife without some pity for that person and their vanity. But I admire those who decide that dignity is better than vanity and eschew plastic surgery.

Everyone gets older but not everyone gets better. Wise people embrace their years believing that the best is in front of them and not behind them. Foolish people live in a perpetual adolescence. They are self-absorbed and selfish. Like children. It is tragic that the people who most need to grow up are in their sixties and seventies now. They prove that it is possible to live a long life and not learn a damn thing.

Ultimately, the cult of youth believes that the body is more important than the soul. The material matters more than the spiritual. The new is to be preferred over the timeless. And you should "think different" instead of thinking better. The result is vanity, self-indulgence, and a bunch of loud music and shiny toys. The Baby Boomers will be remembered as the generation that never grew up. It will be a blessing to this nation when they clear off.

Somewhere between there and I’m sorry to say, my generation, we got here, we started smoking dope, tune in and turn out, make love not war. The bottom line is we have really screwed this thing up.