Saturday, June 21, 2008
In How Long Do We Have Left, the introduction to this series, we looked at certain tell tale signs of a culture in a predictable stage of disequilibrium; namely, in mimetic theory terminology, a "crisis of distinctions." Rather than examine the taxonomy of the western culture's demise here and now, I proposed to look at faithful responses to this cultural meltdown, as it were, using T. S. Eliot's five-fold schema from his poem, The Four Quartets: prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
Let me begin by stating the obvious: no where in the Bible is there this "verse" - God helps those who help themselves. Isn't there. You won't find it. You never will. In point of fact, that little proverb of human device runs counter to the very premise of prayer: our human need for help from outside our world of melodrama, ineptitude, error, selfishness, and pride. Prayer, in short, presupposes a Helper from whom we can and may request - and occasionally, beg - for assistance because we cannot get out of our mess on our own without "help" that knows us better than we know ourselves. Even shorter: we can't help ourselves because we don't even understand ourselves.
A similar but not quite as wrong proverb is one that I, personally, like much more: Work like there is no praying, and pray like there is no working. This rings true to a truth stated by Saint Paul the Apostle, "...work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work" (Ph 2,12-13). It more than a little implies that we do not depend on what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace" (waiting around for God to do everything for us), but rather we actively participate, or better, cooperate, with grace in obedience to what has been revealed to us in the Church's Tradition and Scripture. But that is too specific just yet.
Prayer is generic, formless, so far. Prayer must simply of its nature for humans connote humility not hubris - it is a self recognition of neediness, a request for help, and a willingness to cooperate with such help as a man would cooperate by clinging to a rope thrown to him. Prayer may look to other humans, but after a certain amount of life experience, learns not to look for such mere mortals for the kind of help we need. "Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth; that day all their planning comes to nothing" (Ps 146,3-4). Good advice during a presidential campaign season.
Prayer rejects Feuerbach's notion that we merely "project" a God-image on an uncaring, random universe. Prayer presumes not only a Creator who Is, but One Who listens and cares for his creation and creatures; particularly for one made imago dei, in God's own image, as presumptuous as that sounds. We are not slaves to a judgmental deity (as the Scimitar gloomily preaches) but children whose Heavenly Father behaves in a shockingly uncoming manner, running to meet his wayward, penitent children (Lk 15,11-32).
Finally, prayer in the Judeo-Christian faith traditions says that this divine Helper keeps his Promises, even when we humans are faithless.
Next, we will look at a more specific venue of response to our growing cultural malaise: observance. In this, we will move from a generic set of premises to a very specifically Catholic set of practices. This is not out of a lock-step superstitious mentality, but because, to paraphrase Gilbert Chesterton, the Church's teachings are complex, like a key, because life is complex and calls for a complex solution. (Why on earth do intelligent adults who learn Law, Medicine, Accounting, and vast array of bodies of knowledge think something as wildly huge and miraculous as Salvation and Eternal Life must somehow be as simplistic as a 3rd-grader's "Four Spiritual Laws?" That makes no sense to me.)
Prayer addresses real human needs. Prayer asks for help from a God Who Is there. And He is not silent.
A friend recently asked: “How long do we have left as a society?” In answer to that question I informed her about an interesting and comprehensive study that a renowned British anthropologist, Joseph Unwin, PhD., presented to the British Psychological Society in 1935. Unwin sought to prove that the traditional monogamous model for marriage was not essential to the maintenance of a healthy society. After studying 86 different cultures, across time and continents –and much to his surprise — he came to the inescapable conclusion that the traditional male-female monogamous model for marriage was indeed the best foundation for a healthy and productive society.
Unwin found that societies that adopted this model typically took about three generations to reach their peak of productivity and progress. After that, frequently, a gradual development of complacency and licentiousness would take place and what he described as an ”outburst of homosexuality” would sometimes occur. When that happened, and the society started to move away from the traditional model of male-female monogamous marriage as its foundation, it would begin to unravel. It would then take another three generations of deterioration from that point for the society to collapse ...
From a mimetic theory point of view, the "crisis of distinctions" is indeed a clear marker of cultural dissolution, it being an indicator of a culture's religious center inability to command the social and psychological coherence of its people. The prohibitions instead of steering people safely clear of behavior that could lead to explosive and retaliatory violence become points of scandal, leading people to imitate destructiveness.
Need examples of such prohibitions? Okay. "Whatever you do, don't play with matches," to a five-year old. "Don't engage in unsafe sex, sex outside of lifelong, covenantal matrimony, sex with the same gender, different species, etc." to a _____ (fill in the blank).Mimetic theory posits that after a certain amount of spiraling downward in the "sacrificial preparation," prohibitions actually promote more destruction of cultural framework rather than less as more and more people engage in kicking them down. It is like the Trojans tearing stones from their own fortifications to throw at the Greeks outside their gates.
The best plan of action now is not engaging in a spitting contest in bipartisan conservatism or utopia-messianic pipe dreaming. VOTE for the Culture of Life and the smallest, most voiceless victims of the degenerate west - the unborn. But the best plan is the one given by T. S. Eliot in his Four Quartets:
Friday, June 20, 2008
David Brooks’ column today about the two Obamas, one genial, easy-going, but very much a man of the effete Left, and another Machiavellian, reminds me of this bit of commentary from John Adams:
Mirabeau said of La Fayette, ‘Il a affiche desinteressement’ and he added, ‘this never fails. You know the sense of the word ‘affiche’? It is as much to say, ‘he advertised’ his disinterestedness.” This is equivalent to saying that he employed a crier to proclaim through the streets ‘O Yes! O Yes! O Yes!’ All manner of persons may have the benefit of my services, gratis, provided always and only that they will yield me their unlimited and unsuspecting confidence and make me commander in chief., and after I shall have gained a few victories, make me a king or an emperor, when I shall take a fancy to be either. This has been the amount and the result of most of the disinterestedness that has been professed in the world. I say most, not all. There are exceptions, and our Washington ought to pass for one.As far as I can tell, the key question, regarding Obama, is what his true intensions are. Sometimes, it seems that he’s been talking Left in order to please certain constitutencies, even as he prepares to steer a more moderate course in practice. But sometimes, it seems that he really wants this expansive republic to have the kind of regime that is only suitable for a small one.
Recall here, Obama’s NAFTA kerfuffle, and the question of whether Obama means it when he says, "Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market." (Quoted here), or if he’s geniunely baffled by the Laffer Curve.One final point. There are several instances in the past few centuries of men who believed that they were free to be Machiavellians today in order to change the world into a place where such hijinks were no longer necessary. Others, like our friend John Adams, believing that the would could not be fundamentally remade, tried to burst such bubbles.
Vatican, Jun. 19, 2008 (CWNews.com) - During a June 19 meeting with the bishops of Pakistan, who were making their ad limina visit to Rome, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) emphasized the central importance of Eucharistic spirituality in the life of the Catholic Church.
The Eucharist "reorients the way Christians think, speak, and act in the world," the Pope told the Pakistani bishops.
The Pope said that the spiritual perspective nourished by the celebration and adoration of the Eucharist is particularly important in Pakistan, where the seeds of faith have grown despite "conditions that sometimes hinder their capacity to take root." For Christians who face the threat of violence, the Pope said, the Eucharist furnishes a constant reminder that "the absurdity of violence never has the last word, for Christ has conquered sin and death through His glorious resurrection."
Read all …
"Sen. Obama, I never thought I'd say this, but he almost makes Sen. (Hillary Clinton) look pro-life," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition.
Read all ....
Thursday, June 19, 2008
"May God grant my continued understanding of one thing: attachment to the Church's tradition, far from being a stumbling block, is the principle of all effective audacity.” - Henri de Lubac
"The first thing that must strike a non-Christian about a Christian's faith is that it is all too daring. It is too beautiful to be true: The mystery of being, unveiled as absolute love, coming down to wash the feet and the souls of its creatures; a love that assumes the whole burden of our guilt and hate, that accepts the accusations that shower down.. all the scorn and contempt that nails down his incomprehensible movement of self-abasement -- all this absolute love accepts in order to excuse his creature before himself ..." - Hans Urs von Balthasar
"Our culture's adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now almost complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane." - Neil Postman
"I had better inform my readers that the famous dogma of papal infallibility is by far the most modest profession of its kind in existence. Compared to our infallible democracies, our infallible medical councils, our infallible astronomers, our infallible parliaments, the Pope is on his knees in the dust confessing his ignorance before God." - George Bernard Shaw
[Quotes gleaned from the now-dormant Cornerstone Forum "Daily Quote."]
Vatican City, Jun 18, 2008 / 09:49 am (CNA).- Pope Benedict XVI greeted thousands of pilgrims gathered under a warm Roman sun in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. In his address, the Pope focused on how Christians must live out their faith by uniting contemplation with action.
Continuing his catechetical series on ancient figures in the Church, the Pope turned his attention to the St. Isidore of Seville, the brother of Saint Leander and a contemporary and friend of Saint Gregory the Great.
Isidore, under his brother's guidance, became disciplined and studious. Their house had a large library of pagan and Christian works, and hence Isidore's writings "reveal an encyclopedic knowledge of classical pagan culture as well as a profound understanding of Christian culture."
The Holy Father also noted that St. Isidore lived during the Visigothic invasions of Spain, devoted much energy to converting the barbarian tribes from heresy and preserving the best fruits of classical and Christian culture.
Despite the tendency to think of ancient writings as irrelevant to modern society, Pope Benedict said Saint Isidore’s reflections, which "gather and express the full Christian life,” are still valid today.
Isidore worked to bring the richness of pagan, Jewish and Christian learning to the rapidly changing political, social and religious situations in which he lived.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Isn't it beginning to look like the wise thing to be - in a state of watchful, prayerful "Islamophobia"?
Of course, for those more saintly and loving, one can also try to convert them. But till such grace allows, be vigilant, prayerful, and "innocent as doves and wise as serpents" as Our Lord recommends.
ROUND THE FOURTEENTH-CENTURY font in the parish church of Bradley, Lincolnshire, is carved an English inscription, which runsPater Noster, Ave Maria, Criede,
Leren the childe yt is nede.That injunction was directed to the godparents and was a formal part of the rite of baptism in late medieval England. Just before the blessing of the font at baptisms the priest was required to admonish the godparents to see that the child's parents kept it from fire, water, and other perils, and themselves to "lerne or se yt be lerned the Pater noster, Aue Maria and Credo after the law of all holy churche" The Lord's Pryaer, Hail Mary, and Apostles' Creed were in fact the irreducible core of a more elaborate catechetical programme for the laity which had been decisively formulated for the English Church at Archbishop Pecham's provincial Council of Lambeth in 1281. The Council drew up a schema of instruction for the laity, De informacione simplicium, better known by its opening words Ignorantia Sacerdotum, which was to be expounded in the vernacular to parishioners four times in the year.- Eamon Duffy, Stripping of the Altars (Yale)
Be that as it may be, Professor Duffy (Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge) has done a great service in presenting this major revisionist account of the pre-Reformation church in England. In the words of Jack Scarisbrick, "A mighty and momentous book ... which re-orders one's thinking about much of England's religious past."
David P. Lang's Why Matter Matters covers some of these matters (sorry) too, and shows how much most of us have been raised to be quasi-Gnostics. And Father Z's superb The Bones of Augustine is a must read.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
As friend and teacher Gil Bailie has noted and with whom I fully agree, there is nothing wrong with the idea of natural selection per se. It is only when we come to give it an overarching dominion for meaning that evolution is out of its depth. As with science itself, evolution does not begin nor claim to answer questions beyond what can be studied by the empirical method. Worse yet, casting out the world view of the biblical faiths unwittingly opens the door to ancient mythological world views: our human default pagan posture toward the world and ourselves.
So trying to apply Freud theory to the meaning of human beings and culture is like applying the mechanical applications of an automobile exhaust manifold to marriage, parenthood, or the Holy Eucharist. The paradigm buckles and folds because it is being called on to do what it never claimed it could do.
Yet this is precisely what has happened in the west, largely by pols and commissars and ministers riding the presuppositions of science, not realizing they are ushering in not only a diminished and fractured form of civilization but a more violent, brutal, and slavish mythology As Gil Bailie says,
... the thing about it [Freudian mythology] being another mythology, at the heart of which is Greek mythology, at the heart of which is violence , is something which Girard touches on in the same context, where he says, “Victimage mechanisms remain fundamental to any kind of mythology.” So there is always going to be some victim expelled, something expelled, in order to make this system have meaning. And what is expelled is the biblical revelation. That is why the theory ginned up by Freud and Jung and Eliade and Joseph Campbell, et al., were really a harkening back to systems of the primitive sacred as a refuge from the revelation that was overtaking them, which is coming right out of the biblical tradition.
The revelation about the sacrificial or scapegoating nature of conventional religion and culture, and the revelation about the mimetic structure of subjectivity. And so we can now see, or will pretty soon be able to see, that so many of these theories that presume to be a great improvement on the old, moribund Judeo-Christian tradition were in fact an attempt to hide from the revelation that was coming from that tradition and overtaking all the modern presumptions. And it’s still happening in our day.
So Freud’s move from the biblical tradition to Greek myth was a perfect replica of the defining maneuver of Western humanism. And it reproduced the familiar combination of initial enthusiasm and eventual despair [nihilism] that each of humanism’s endless revivals always repeat. Remember: Guy LaFort described [cited in the previous tape] the ‘successful’ psychoanalysis in these terms: “The patient and the analyst have reached the same point of mutual disillusionment when they call it quits. There is no longer any transcendence involved, and the best sign of a completed analysis is the patient’s lack of gratitude.”
Monday, June 16, 2008
Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580
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The slide to present-day mayhem in the west was, thus, inevitable without these milestones and markers of true transcendence. The scattering of Christendom brought us to the brink. The hope for the old west is the Catholic Church still.
Creative Minority Report tells of fact finding trip by EU researchers: America is filled with tiny people wearing diapers and speaking no discernible language!
“You know,” said one scientist from Germany. “I haven’t seen one of these very small people anywhere in the European Union in years but if history is correct then this could be a species known as infantus terriblus. We believed them to be extinct.”
Should he have argued with them from his Evangelical point of view?
How would one talk with them about the need for a Savior? Grace? Forgiveness? A Divinity who is perfect love and does not welcome the bloodshed of unbelievers? [h/t: New Advent]
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Ninety-nine out of a hundred monasteries could be burnt and the monks killed or driven out, and yet the whole tradition could be reconstituted from the one survivor, and the desolate sites could be repeopled by fresh supplies of monks who would take up again the broken tradition, following the same rule, singing the same liturgy, reading the same books and thinking the same thoughts as their predecessors. In this way monasticism and the monastic culture came back to England and Normandy in the age of Saint Dunstan from Fleury and Ghent after more than a century of utter destruction; with the result that a century later the Norman and English monasteries were again among the leaders of Western culture.
Corpus Christianum is an international Private Association of the Faithful, open both to men and women, dedicated to praying for a renewal of Christendom.
Guided by a Catholic chivalrous spirit and Marian in character, Corpus Christianum members daily pray for the following key points:
* The renewal, unity, and spread of Christendom
* The Supreme Pontiff and all priests/religious
* The protection of Christians around the world
* The restoration of the family
* The conversion of sinners and the sanctification of all people
We are looking for courageous souls who are willing to take up the standard of Christ the King! We invite you to review the association's Statutes for more information about the organization and its obligations.
An irrational and warm feeling of oneness with England won't bring Mary's Dowry back to one's imaginary, misty thoughts of chivalry, nobility, and Christendom. That only existed insofar as England was one with Christendom that was wholly one with the Catholic Church. It began breaking down with the Tudor revolution and we see its barren, ugly results today.
Question: When is a jacket that reads "Soldier of Islam" acceptable, but a jacket that reads "Crusader" unacceptable? Answer: When one wears either in a politically correct, multiculturalist western nation, of course. The day is coming when Chivalry will be a necessity among Christian men. [h/t: Pastorius @ IBA]
The first issue addressed by McCain was abortion. He said that the "noblest words ever written" were "the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." McCain believes that those words "apply to the unborn." He reminded the Philadelphia Catholics of his pro-life voting record, adding that he would "maintain that commitment" if elected president.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, Ofm. Cap. delivered the address at the Eucharistic Symposium and Congress in Quebec, June 11th – 13th, 2008.
... In a world of political correctness and “inclusivity” these ancient practices seem peregrine and even harsh. Yet the awareness of the sacredness of the Eucharist evoked an awe and reverence in the faithful even before they approached the Eucharist. Indeed many sinners have found motivation to overcome their vices because of their desire to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. Even before we are repulsed by sin and evil we are attracted by grace and beauty.[Read all ... ]
This attitude so beautifully expressed in Francois Mauriac’s book on Holy Thursday is dismissed by those who would encourage everyone to receive communion without examining themselves. It is what Bonhoeffer described as a cheap grace.
However, where believers are aware of their need to be spiritually prepared for the Eucharist, the call to conversion is part of the experience of the Eucharist. Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles in part to denote the cleansing and repentance that must be in preparation for participation in the Eucharist.
The practices of fasting from all food and drink from midnight and weekly confession as preparations for the Eucharist were still the custom in my youth. There was a great awareness that the way we lived before the Eucharist and how we prepared was very important. Eucharistic consistency was generally understood.
The call to conversion that opens the Gospel is complemented in the Mass by the Penitential Rite. We present ourselves before God and before the community acknowledging our need for forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus says clearly in the Gospel that before we offer our gifts on the altar, we must be reconciled with our brothers and sisters. We need to wear the wedding garment of grace and mercy.
The Gospel Life begins with a longing for the Holy, a hunger for God, and a sense of the transcendent. This is different from the modern culture’s addiction to entertainment and sense of entitlement. We must approach the Eucharist like Moses drawing near the burning bush, with a sense of wonder and awe. At the same time we have a sense of our own unworthiness in the presence of God’s boundless and gratuitous love, like Peter who throws himself at Jesus’ feet and says: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And the Eucharist is a greater miracle than the miraculous draught of fishes ...