Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Five Quick Takes


In Camille Paglia's interview late last month at, she displayed a great deal of what makes her one of my favorite people in the world. Her incisive intellect, boldness, detachment, and honesty should be hallmarks of everyone who wants to be a thinking person. I've rarely found it anywhere else, except from Andrew Sullivan when he wrote for The Dish. Some samples of her brilliance, e.g. on religion:
I'm speaking here as an atheist. I don't believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves eternal principles of life and death. ... The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives. ... Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art -- and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. ... [M]y generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction ... So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared! ... Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they're clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.
And on politics and the media:
Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology ... They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers. It's so simplistic! ... When the first secret Planned Parenthood video was released in mid-July, anyone who looks only at liberal media was kept completely in the dark about it, even after the second video was released. But the videos were being run nonstop all over conservative talk shows ... It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media. That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional. [They] were trying to bury the story by ignoring it. Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights. But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials. But here's my point: it is everyone's obligation, whatever your political views, to look at both liberal and conservative news sources every single day. You need a full range of viewpoints to understand what is going on in the world.
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I've been fumbling my way toward some outline of economics for ... well, about fifteen years now, I guess. It's hard work -- I have no head for it -- but, in the hundred years and some stretching from Rerum Novarum in 1891 to Laudato Si' this year, the Church has been grappling with the human consequences of the industrial and technological revolutions of the last three centuries.

The main thing that I feel both the capitalist and the socialist trends have lost touch with is that economics, in addition to being a science (sort of), is also a humanity: its subject matter is precisely human choice and well-being, and to isolate it from our nature and our needs -- making it all a matter of mathematics, of outlay versus intake and tax versus public spending -- is to subjugate mankind to his own machines. That is the real robot uprising (get out of here, Terminator) of which novels and movies are a pale, unconscious, yet terrifyingly true reflection; and it will probably not be able to actually destroy mankind, but it has certainly crushed the spirits of many men by robbing them of worthwhile work.

No, no one asked for you, Elysium. You sucked, and are irrelevant.

For man needs work. Work, not wages used to be a slogan of the Left, and it fits right into the creation pattern: man was made to till the garden and keep it, and to be deprived of the meaningful, creative work that that phrase symbolizes is to be condemned to perpetual boredom. Work became frustrated in its effects by the Fall, but it did not essentially change its nature, just as man became corrupted by sin but did not cease to be man. To say that man needs worthwhile work is saying that man needs purpose, and economics, isolated from the idea of purpose as it is from human nature -- relying almost entirely on his resources and his wants for its material -- is just the OS for the Matrix.

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Anna Magdalena of The Catholic Transgender has posted a link to this excellent article on Public Discourse (the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute, which was heavily, and it seems justly, criticized for its publication of the Regnerus study on same-sex parenting), dealing with trans issues from a scientific angle, and coming out with an uncharacteristically generous stance for a conservative body to publish. Jennifer Gruenke, the author, writes:
... [W]e know that there are multiple pathways of sexual development and that they are not all regulated together. One pathway is the development of the gonads into either ovaries or testes; another is the development of external genitalia, and another is the development of the brain to be predisposed toward one gender. We know that the gonads and external genitals can differ from each other, and that both can differ from chromosomal sex. So we ought to expect to find people whose brain pathway differs from the other pathways. ... And I would predict that people with such a mutation would look just like cases of transgendered people. ... [C]hromosomal reductionism is an unacceptable account of sex.
This is only one step forward; where it leaves trans and intersex people theologically, I don't know (though Melinda Selmys, some time ago, posted a thought-provoking piece on the subject). I'm hopeful that the Church's grasp of this subject (and my own!) will continue to develop.

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Counterclockwise from bottom left: the dormition, assumption, and coronation of the Mother of God.
Illumination from the Ramsey Psalter, an English psalter of the late tenth century.

I always get excited as Assumption draws close (reminder to my papist readers: it isn't a holy day of obligation this year because it falls on a Saturday, but it's a good idea to go to Mass on the 15th anyway). It's long been one of my favorite feasts in the Church's year; I'm not sure why, except that it's just so cool. The idea of a person being taken into heaven bodily, like Enoch and Elijah (and just maybe St John), has always exercised an immense fascination for me. Traditional tales like the cave of the Seven Sleepers, though bearing all the hallmarks of fiction, are addressed to the same interest in a purely literary way.

The importance of the feast is not simply about the Blessed Virgin Mary, still less about assumption as either a literary or a historical phenomenon. Mary is an exemplar of the whole Church, both the Daughter of Zion and the Jerusalem above, which is the mother of us all. What has been given first and most vividly to her is, in the end, the reward of every Christian; that is, of everyone who consents to be reconciled to God. Indeed, to a Catholic, she is a prototype of humanity: where Christ is both Man to God and God to Man, Mary is more particularly Man to Christ, the Eve to His Adam and the Queen to His King -- for these are the gifts that God has always had to give to mankind. We are archetypally involved in the Assumption.

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Lately, I've been thinking regularly of (and giggling at) the wonderful line that C. S. Lewis gave to Trumpkin the Dwarf in Prince Caspian: "I haven't much use for lions that are Talking Lions and don't talk, and friendly lions though they don't do us any good, and whopping big lions though nobody can see them."

I hope that God isn't offended by my giggles. Given that He is a whopping big lion, I'm sure He can handle Himself (though of course the thing to be worried about is that He can also handle me). Faith is hard; making the best of doubt seems, sometimes, to be the only thing to do. And who knows -- one day, perhaps I'll be able to laugh at the fact that, once upon a time, I needed to bother to laugh at doubt.

1 comment:

  1. Just a lurker here, enjoying reading through the archives. You may not even see this, but I was struck by #2; have you read "Redeeming Economics" by John Mueller? It's a fairly recent book that describes what you seem to be talking about: how economics lost the ability to accurately account for human behavior (as opposed to the behavior of a bunch of interchangeable, uniformly selfish production-and-exchange machines). Might be worth a look.