Americanism: the Heresy, and Accidental Research

Anybody remember the Connections TV show? Somehow, by no conscious plan, I may be becoming the James Burke of American Catholic education history – not in any chest-pounding I’m the Man! way, just in the impulsive, accidental research ‘method’ I employ results, sometimes, in finding wild connections. To wit: Americanism: the Heresy.

The Jade Emperor, the Drunken Immortal and the Monkey King watch Jason Tripidikas go home through the Gate of No Gate, which is exactly how I get home through the Research Method of No Method. Well, sorta.

Followed a link to a Mike Flynn post from some years ago discussing the Hillbilly Thomists, wherein, in a jocular manner, he mentions that Americanism is a heresy. I follow that link, and read the Wikipedia article, which mention Isaac Thomas Hecker, founder of the Paulists. Hecker was acquainted, somehow, with his contemporary and fellow convert Orestes Brownson, and evidently shared with him ardent American patriotism and a faith that America was more than a nation among other nations, but was the work of the Almighty intended to draw men to God and His Church. Brownson, as mentioned here, believed that the future of the Church was American, insofar as the good parts of freedom and self government could only be supported upon a Catholic foundation. He expected America to convert, and then welcome into the Union the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Monroe Doctrine + Manifest Destiny squared = Divine Providence.

Brownson soft-pedals the criticism of European Catholicism inherent in this hyper-American view, but others did not. In particular, certain French priest, watching the Church lose influence in France while the hierarchy took the general Counter-Reformation tact of doubling down on tradition, discipline, and dogma, saw in their take on Hecker a mandate to engage with the modern world on its terms. In both Europe and America, this new approach triggered a backlash.

‘Americanism’ the heresy (as opposed to a simple name for those largely neutral or positive attributes characteristic of Americans) is a twist on Modernism that suggests the Church has to change into a version more compatible with American liberty and government. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII wrote an Apostolic Letter Testem benevolentiae nostrae to James Gibbons, Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore, expressing concerns. Wikipedia sums up the heretical aspects of Americanism as follows:

  1. undue insistence on interior initiative in the spiritual life, as leading to disobedience
  2. attacks on religious vows, and disparagement of the value of religious orders in the modern world
  3. minimizing Catholic doctrine
  4. minimizing the importance of spiritual direction

Pope Leo XIII did not accuse the American Church of these errors, exactly, but wrote to have them acknowledged as errors and get assurances that they would not be tolerated. He says about Americanism as used to promote the above positions:

“But if it is to be used not only to signify, but even to commend the above doctrines, there can be no doubt that our venerable brethren, the bishops of America, would be the first to repudiate and condemn it, as being especially unjust to them and to the entire nation as well. For it raises the suspicion that there are some among you who conceive and desire a Church in America different from that which is in the rest of the world.”

Here’s where it gets interesting: The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 edition, concludes their article thus:

This Letter put an end to a bitter controversy which had been agitated for nearly ten years, particularly in the Catholic press. In expressing their adhesion to the Holy See and their unqualified acceptance of the teachings set forth in the Letter, the bishops of the United States made it clear that whatever departures from the same might have occurred in this country they had not been either widespread or systematic as they had been made to appear by the interpretation put upon the “Life of Father Hecker” in the preface to the French translation.

So, in their view, this whole Americanism thing was nothing but a tempest in a teapot – maybe a few crackpots in the Catholic press had stirred things up, but the Church as a whole embraced the authority and discipline of the Church. Nothing to see here, move along. This view, that ‘Americanism’ is a pseudo heresy that nobody much ever fell into but is rather evidence of European or even papal paranoia and jealousy, seems to have become the accepted wisdom. “Many historians of American Catholicism describe this as a “phantom heresy” that had few or no supporters in the United States.” (source).

Except for a couple things: First, we have the case of Archbishop John Ireland, discussed here on this blog. As Wikipedia puts it:

John Ireland, archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota and a foremost modernizer, had to walk on eggshells to avoid condemnation for his views. Ireland sought to adapt the social and religious values of the Catholic Church to American political and cultural, especially religious liberty, separation of church and state, cooperation with non-Catholics, and lay participation in ecclesiastical decision-making. Many of his ideas were implicitly condemned by Pope Leo XIII’s Testem benevolentiae (1899) as a heresy and Americanism. Nevertheless, Ireland continued to promote his views. When similar European views were condemned by Pope Saint Pius X’s ‘Pascendi Dominici Gregis’ (1907), Ireland actively campaigned against what the pope declared the heresy of modernism. This apparently inconsistent behavior stemmed from Ireland’s concept of a “golden mean” between “ultraconservatism”, rendering the Church irrelevant, and “ultraliberalism,” discarding the Church’s message.

This is the same Ireland who caused an uproar among many of the American bishops by suggesting the American public schools should be embraced. But if the public schools were OK for Catholics, all that sacrifice and work by largely impoverished immigrants to build them was for nothing! But Leo XIII, this same pope, in the Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae just 9 years earlier (1890) said the following:

This is a suitable moment for us to exhort especially heads of families to govern their households according to these precepts, and to be solicitous without failing for the right training of their children. The family may be regarded as the cradle of civil society, and it is in great measure within the circle of family life that the destiny of the States is fostered. Whence it is that they who would break away from Christian discipline are working to corrupt family life, and to destroy it utterly, root and branch. From such an unholy purpose they allow not themselves to be turned aside by the reflection that it cannot, even in any degree, be carried out without inflicting cruel outrage on the parents. These hold from nature their right of training the children to whom they have given birth, with the obligation super-added of shaping and directing the education of their little ones to the end for which God vouchsafed the privilege of transmitting the gift of life. It is, then, incumbent on parents to strain every nerve to ward off such an outrage, and to strive manfully to have and to hold exclusive authority to direct the education of their offspring, as is fitting, in a Christian manner, and first and foremost to keep them away from schools where there is risk of their drinking in the poison of impiety. Where the right education of youth is concerned, no amount of trouble or labor can be undertaken, how greatsoever, but that even greater still may not be called for. In this regard,indeed, there are to be found in many countries Catholics worthy of general admiration, who incur considerable outlay and bestow much zeal in founding schools for the education of youth. It is highly desirable that such noble example may be generously followed, where time and circumstances demand, yet all should be intimately persuaded that the minds of children are most influenced by the training they receive at home. If in their early years they find within the walls of their homes the rule of an upright life and the discipline of Christian virtues, the future welfare of society willin great measure be guaranteed.

Sapientiae Christianae(1890), article 42

In a number of places, Pope Leo XIII makes clear his affection and approval of the work of the religious orders in America, specifically all the religious who made great sacrifices to found the parochial schools; here he praise the parents who make great sacrifices to see that their children are NOT educated in schools bent on the destruction of the family and Church.

So, yes, eggshells.

But even more interesting for the purposes of this blog are who, exactly, were the editors of the 1912 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. One of them was Edward A. Pace, Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He, along with his star student Thomas Shields, founded the Catholic Educational Review,  and championed the professionalization and modernization (insofar as those two things are different) of Catholic education. They wanted science, in the form of the nascent pseudo-science of Psychology of which Pace was the founding professor at CUA, to inform Catholic education, not ignorant and ill-trained sisters from the old country. Shields, putting his views into practice by working around the bishops, was the main publisher of textbooks used in Catholic schools for decades.

Might Pace have had an interest in having the Americanism heresy just go away? He seems to have largely succeeded, if that were his desire, except, in of all places, Wikipedia! Utterly fascinating that John Ireland – lionized by sophisticated, liberal Catholics – spent the rest of his life on eggshells, alternately promoting his modernism and making elaborate shows of orthodoxy, all in pursuit of a middle way.

So today, it’s clear Pace and Hecker (as interpreted by the French, at least) have won. On the education front, parochial schools are nothing better than kinder, gentler public schools, producing kids with no more knowledge of Catholicism than of, oh, science, say. This is not hearsay – I’ve spent hours and days with dozens of the prime products of out elite local Catholic high schools, who don’t know the words to the Our Father, rarely see the inside of Catholic Church, and couldn’t give a coherent explanation of a single point of Catholic teaching to save their lives. I hear similar stories from others all the time.

This is the real-world result of John Ireland’s triumph, of Americanism and Modernism being embraced by and then consuming the Church. That it isn’t likely exactly what he meant to achieve is irrelevant. Logic has its own gravity and inertia. This is where his ideas end up, temporarily, on their way to what hell we can only imagine.

Anyway, like everything else on this blog, these are more or less first impressions that need more work. But it makes a fellah think….


Book Review: The School of Darkness, by Bella Dodd

I began reading The School of Darkness, published in 1954, simply as background material for understanding the tactics and spread of Communism in America. It does provide that, but also gives great details on the Communist takeover of the Teacher’s Union in New York and elsewhere, and tactics used to get and gain control of education. So double reason to read this book.

Brief summary: Bella Dodd was a first generation American born to Italian parents, who grew up in and around New York shortly after the turn of the last century. She was intelligent and ambitious, and so advanced through school, getting a college degree and becoming a lawyer. She taught school and then college, helped found the Teacher’s Union in New York, and fell in with the Communists just as the Great depression was taking hold.

She was attracted by the personal austerity and sacrifices she saw among the Communists she knew, and their dedication, as she saw it, to improving the lot of the poor and victims of the economic collapse. The traditional churches and societies did little or nothing, as she saw it.

She gradually moved up the ranks, serving as a labor liaison, legislative contact, and political organizer, until she was asked to be a member of the American politburo. She was deeply involved for many years with what the Communists were up to, both at the highest levels and feet on the ground activities.

Exposure to the ambition, pettiness, lives of luxury, and power plays of the upper levels of the party, and their inherent dishonesty, manipulation and utter lack of concern for the wellbeing of even their own party members, eventually drove her to speak out. Not playing ball got her purged from the party, defamed, and shunned by people she had thought her friends.

The last chapter and a half deal with her conversion, or reversion, to her Catholic faith. Alone, rejected, exhausted and sick in body and soul, she eventually reconnects with some Catholics she had known, who steer her back to the Church. She was conditionally baptised, shriven and given first communion by Bishop Sheen. She spent the rest of her life exposing the Communists.

How does it happen that the better education schools make Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, an obvious work of Communist propaganda, required reading? To balance all the paens to the free market in the rest of the curriculum? What works would those be? How does it happen that pragmatic moral relativism, embodied in the Trolly Car problem and as championed by the Communist apologist Dewey, gets taught in our schools? How come the vast majority of our teachers, K-grad school, lean hard left?

It’s as if it were some sort of plan was in place. Just as I am fond of pointing out that the Mob has never been purged from Chicago politics, the Communists were never purged from education. Dodd mentions in this book that, when the Rapp-Coudert Committee came after the Communist professors and teachers, they were only able to expose and remove about 40-50 out of the 1,000 or so that Dodd knew of through her work with the Teacher’s Union. So 95% of the Communists influencing education in New York were still there after the Rapp-Coudert, and were largely free to continue their work of shaping education. They appear to have done quite the job of it.

Freire’s entire point is that proper education radicalizes the student. (1) Educating them in the sense of teaching them stuff like reading, writing, arithmetic and job training was not only not the goal, but was to be positively avoided, as happiness and success don’t lead to revolution. No matter how often the Marxists say that the revolution is the goal, we still don’t get it, and imagine all the faux-sympathy shown to the poor and downtrodden mean they actually want to improve life for the suffering. No, they want a revolution, and, where improving working conditions and life in general conflict with moving the revolution forward (and they always do!), they oppose such improvements.

Dodd could be writing today. The ‘we’ in the following are teachers and professors in general:

As I look back over the conferences I attended on educational policies and methods and progress, I realize that we never discussed or thought about what kind of man or woman we expected to develop by our educational system. What were the goals of education? How were we to achieve them? These questions few asked. Are we asking them today in the higher echelons of the public schools, and what are our conclusions?

Only recently I heard the chief of the New York public schools speak on television on juvenile delinquency. It was soon after the wrecking of a school by young vandals. He said that what was needed was more buildings, more teachers, better playgrounds. Those devoted to progressive education and to preparing youth to live in the “new socialist world” are abstractly sure of what they want, but they seem not to know that they work with human beings. Aside from teaching that children must learn to get along with other children, no moral or natural law standards are set. There is no word about how our children are to find the right order of harmonious living.

I, too, had to learn by hard experience that you cannot cure a sick soul with more buildings or more playgrounds. These are important, but they are not enough. Abraham Lincoln, schooled in a one-room log cabin, received from education what all the athletic fields and laboratories cannot give. All his speeches reflected his love for his Creator. He knew that God is the cure for godlessness.

The School of Darkness, Dodd, Ch. 10

Dodd found herself and other idealistic Communists working themselves to death for the Cause. This consumption of the worker bees did not seem to concern the Communist leadership:

I should have known, however, had I reflected on the implications of Lenin’s speech delivered at the Third All-Russian Congress of the Russian Young Communist League on October 2, 1920: “ . . . all our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat.”

Or, as Dewey said in defense of Trotsky,

Since Mr. Trotsky also indicates that the only alternative position to the idea that the end justifies the means is some form of absolutistic ethics based on the alleged deliverances of conscience, or a moral sense, or some brand of eternal truths, I wish to say that I write from a standpoint that rejects all such doctrines as definitely as does Mr. Trotsky himself, and that I hold that the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for means employed.

Their Morals and Ours
Published: New International, 1938

Dodd gets a job that entails keeping records for the Communists, and has it explained to her:

As I began to prepare for the work I was assigned to do I was amazed at the lack of files of material on social questions such as housing and welfare. When I complained about this, Gil said: “Bella, we are a revolutionary party, not a reform group. We aren’t trying to patch up this bourgeois structure.”

Ch 12

By even considering such things, she committed thoughtcrime and became double plus ungood. After a few more years and escalating incidents of failing to get in line, the party purges her. She discovers she can’t just leave, that’s not how it works, but must be condemned, smeared, and shunned. She finds herself friendless and alone, with nowhere to turn.

Finally, she meets some old Catholic friends.

In his office I met Mary Riley, his assistant. Since Dr. Greenberg could not see me at once, Miss Riley and I began to talk.

She had been a high-school teacher for years. Loved and respected by all, she represented a type of teacher becoming increasingly rare, as though they were being systematically eliminated from our schools. She was a woman of poise and dignity whose love of God permeated all her relations.

Ch 17

“Systematically eliminated.” But Miss Riley and her moral moorings are what is needed.

Now I saw in true perspective the contribution that the teachers and the schools of America have made to its progress, just as I was sadly aware of the darker picture some of the educators and the educated among us have presented. Justice Jackson has said that it is the paradox of our times that we in modern society need to fear only the educated man. It is very true that what a man does with his knowledge is that which, in one sense, justifies or indicts that education. A glance at the brilliant scientists who served the Hitler regime, and the Soviet scholars who serve the Kremlin, a look at the men indicted for subversion in our own country – all lead us to re-estimate the role of education. We are told that all problems will be solved by more education. But the time has come to ask: “What kind of education?” “Education for what?” One thing has become transparently clear to me: rounded education includes training of the will as much as training of the mind; and mere accumulation of information, without a sound philosophy, is not education.

Ch 17

Essential book. Available online for free. Read it.

American History: Two Threads

Trying to work through something here that will no doubt be obvious to all of you (I am remarkably slow on the uptake sometimes): there appears to me to be two attitudes or emotions – I don’t know what to call them – that, while universal, pop up especially strongly in American history. They can be seen, one or the other, or in conflict, in just about all political and social efforts here. The temptation, after Get Smart, is to call them Control and Kaos, but that’s not getting it right. I think the more traditional way to think of them is perhaps as revealed in the fight over just how strong the central government should be, with the manifestation of the one stream being ‘as weak as possible’ and the other ‘as strong as possible’.

But what I’m really after here is how the compromises, such as embodied in our own Constitution, work out over time: the attitude that leads to desiring being left alone also leads naturally to inaction, while the attitude that seeks control leads naturally to action. This tendency to act or not has consequences. Over time, Control increases.

Nothing deep here, it needs not be pointed out. What I’m getting at is the fundamental attitudes, the deeper assumptions, that show up in any number of ways, often with little to do with how they are described.

Let’s reign this ramble in a bit with some examples. On the interwebs, one will sometimes come across people (like me) who propose simply defunding public schools entirely and eliminating truancy laws. The instant reaction of one group is the claim that eliminating schools will unleash a crime wave, as all these kids will use their newfound freedom to unleash their inner thug. The assumption is that, without control, kids are animals.

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Been years since I read this, but I thought the point was rather the dehumanization that took place when boys who should have been raised as home by mom and dad were instead sent off to boarding schools at a young age, so that, without external control, the boys had no idea – or a very bad idea – how to behave

Years ago, I adopted a general rule someone proposed: you can’t honestly generalize about people unless you can say it about yourself and your friends. Thus, in this case: given lots of free time, my friends and I would reveal ourselves to be criminals.

Well? If I had not been required to attend school, I would have done more of what I was doing with my free time anyway: hanging out at the library, playing basketball and learning music. I see no reason to assume other kids would not likewise do more of whatever they’re currently doing with their free time. Those who are criminals would, I would suppose, do more crime, which seems to me rather a separate issue from whether or not compulsory public schools are good thing. Getting rid of schools will not create criminals, or, if so, that’s another argument, one that has not yet been made.

But we don’t mean *us*! We mean those *other* people! And here we find revealed what I’m talking about: one persistent thread in American history is the fundamental belief by some portion of the people that the other people need to be controlled, and need to be controlled by *our* group.

Meanwhile, many of those other people really don’t want to be managed. They really, really don’t like the incessant attempts by busybodies to manage them. Control takes action, while being left alone requires inaction. Habits will form: one group will habitually be attracted to steps that extend control, the other will enjoy being left alone, and only *react* when pestered. To go back to the Constitution: one side will assume it guarantees they will be left alone except for those few and specified cases where they won’t. They see it as a partial guarantee of inaction. The other group immediately starts to work on finding other ways to exert control, and, ultimately, ways to get around legal limits.

Two points; Of course this is a generalization, and perhaps most people have a good dose of both attitudes. Perhaps civilization is just trying to work out how these attitudes are best balanced. One can see, for example, in the history of Athens and Florence in their heydays, these forces working themselves out over and over again, with more or less success. A Pericles comes along, and can play the classic Greek passion for individual excellence off against the pride in being an Athenian. Crudely put, you need a city to recognize your excellence, and the better the city the greater the glory. The Medici played a similar game. The near constant threat that your city would be crushed by enemies also fires a willingness to be managed to fight for the city’s survival. The battle for individual glory versus corporate control was negotiated in a crucible, with death of one sort or another the price of getting it wrong.

America presents a very different case, a huge rich nation not faced with any immediate existential threats. We also make rights not something earned by duty and glory, but the preexisting bedrock that just *is*. We could not entertain this idea of rights without duties and risks, this radical individualism, for long if Spartans were at the gates every spring, or if Sienna, Venice, Naples and Rome were plotting our demise their every waking minute. Indeed, Teddy Roosevelt thought we needed a good war every generation or we’d just go soft – an unpopular idea that, well, seems kind of true.

Here, in America, we can screw up on massive, generational levels without promptly ending up sold into slavery to North Africans or killed or suffering some other equally unappealing fate. (1) Our betters can scheme to control us, and we can sleepwalk through the illusion that we’re being left alone, for decades on end. With the predictable and predicted result that control continues to grow.

Thought of this way, there’s a particular sense in which the Puritans were really not so different than the Southern slave owners. The slave owners avowed that there were inferior peoples that slave owners, by dint of their obvious superiority, had the right, nay, duty, to control. Puritans, likewise superior to the benighted many – pagan Indians, of course, but also those under the established Church in England, other Protestants, and most especially Catholics – had the holy duty to control everybody else. That some Puritans were constrained somewhat by their belief in the Christian duty of love is no more relevant here than that some slave owners were kind.

I think history shows that the impulse for control underlying the Puritans is much more resilient than their (other?) particular religious beliefs. The historical Puritans devolved into Universalist Unitarians around 1800, and from there further devolved into the Progressives and Communists we have now. However their surface-level religious beliefs may have mutated, the passion for control has persisted unabated.

The slave owner was at least forthright about his control; the Puritans and their heirs want to take away our liqueur, or church, or, currently, guns – for our own good. They don’t like wars of the kind that end and might even be won, but prefer eternal wars of control: the war on drugs, the war on poverty, or the war on ignorance which is the compulsory schools. Such wars are simply beyond question, so that, to question state-controlled education is clear and sufficient evidence to convict the questioner of favoring ignorance and being impenetrably ignorant himself.

Divine fate – repackaged as predestination or History or class consciousness or Progress, as needed – is a great comfort to the controllers. Instead of recognizing you or me as a real person with perhaps sympathetic reasons for opposing their programs, we, we poor dears, are fated – predestined, in thrall to our class consciousness, on the Wrong Side of History, take your pick – and must not be heard, but instead must be herded.

The point insofar as I have one, is that since the impetus to control leads to action, while the desire to be left alone does not, we will end up being controlled unless, contrary to the nature of our desires, we take action not to be controlled. Then, we’d have to keep it up. In other nations, with histories of aristocracy and empire, control is taken for granted. Their problem is more along the lines of having the tradition of noblesse oblige replaced with some revenge fantasy or other, whereby their new leaders are going to fix all sorts of historical injustices by means of a suicide pact. Telling the guilty parties from the innocent, if any, may not be possible, and would slow down things unacceptably. Therefore, reform can only take the form of punishing everybody, even unto death. (2)

  1. Europeans. OTOH, seem to be taking steps…
  2. Europeans do have a long history of rebellion, but it’s always about deciding who takes the place of the now out of favor aristocracy. The end results are always a replacement of one set of controllers with another set. Lancaster or York? Louis XVI or the Committee for Public Safety? How about Napoleon? And so on.

Update: The Education History Reading List

Image result for mountains of books
Random licensed for reuse pic off the interwebs. I take better care of my books than that. Usually.

For at least 4 or 5 years, I’ve been thinking about/taking feeble stabs at putting together what I would call a real education history reading list. I have started putting this list together as a project for 2019. Such a list would be heavy on contemporary source documents (contemporary with the events being discussed, not contemporary with the reader) and light on latter-day analyses framing the past as merely the inevitable, and inevitably inferior, precursor to our current modern state of affairs. As C. S. Lewis put it in another context, don’t read about Plato, read Plato. As much as possible and practical, that’s the goal.

Nonetheless, I will include some overviews and summaries, such as Marrou’s A History of Education in Antiquity, because, in this case, I can’t touch his level of scholarship, and the reality is that, even if translations of all his sources were available in English (unlikely), I simply won’t live long enough to track them all down – a snippet here, an engraving there, sometimes a paragraph or two elsewhere, in 2000+ year old Greek or Latin, that only a true scholar such as Marrou could have tracked down over the course of a decade or two. And Walch’s Parish Schools, because he provides the overview and references without which it would be very difficult to even know where to look for source materials. Similarly, the late great John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education, which pointed me to Fichte, among many other sources. Perhaps a couple more.

Back to original sources. Many works leap out for inclusion: The Republic, Rousseau’s Emile and Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education, and so on, well known works of reasonable length with multiple translations and editions readily available. Others, such as Fichte’s Addresses to the German People or any of Pestalozzi’s inscrutable works, which are not as accessible, and are hardly intelligible without some historical context. Or Martin Luther’s letters, of which two (it seems – I won’t live long enough to read them all) address education specifically. A half hour of internet research suggests that Luther often touched on the topic of education, but mostly more or less in passing, in the many letters he wrote. (1)

Which brings me to providing some context. This is a tall order, as I acutely feel my own lack of proper historical education. Nonetheless, I’ve read a lot of books, and seem to have a minor intellectual gift for making connections (the plus side of having a brain that runs nonstop like hamsters on speed, I suppose). So I’ll take a stab, such as any regular reader of this blog has seen in many posts here. Seeing the amazing lack of context displayed in what passes for public discourse emboldens me to imagine even my feeble efforts might help a little. My experiences with Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed revealed to me something shocking that, I suppose, should not have been: that modern students at education schools will not understand what they read, even when, as is the case with Freire, it is patent communist propaganda. He says sympathetic sounding things about the plight of the poor and proposes education as the way to help them – and that’s about the limit of a modern ed school victim’s reading comprehension. They will miss all the commie buzzwords, and have no chance of grokking that the critical step to achieving Freire’s little utopia is dividing the people into sheep and goats based on the shibboleth of Marxist enlightenment, and, basically, robbing and killing the goats. He says as much, toward the end of the book, long after the eager ed student’s eyes have glazed over, but one would need to be familiar with the way Marxists talk to see it.

(It’s fascinating to see that the new president of Brazil has stated flatly that the indispensable first step in reforming Brazil’s schools is to purge them of Marxism and Marxists. Freire taught a generation of Brazilian ‘educators’ that the goal of education is to radicalize the students, that all that reading, writing and arithmetic stuff was merely a distraction when it wasn’t an out and out tool of oppression. Now imagine trying to unite your fellow citizens to build a first world country, when the schools have been cranking out practically illiterate and innumerate ‘radicals’ for the last 3-4 generations – and are proud of it! Or rather, don’t imagine it – just watch our own country over the next generation or two. We already have created a class of college grads who think pleasing an employer in order to get paid and thus pay back the money they borrowed to get that studies degree is to be a traitor to their class and ideals. There are only so many grievance professional and barista jobs out there…)

So the list may contain works that are there merely to provide context. This will be a tough call, and I’ll try not to bloat it too much. And the holes will be bigger by an order of magnitude or two than the areas covered no matter what I include. Better than nothing, I hope.

I’ll make the list a page on the blog. It will include some brief summaries and links back to blog posts that discuss the work. I’ll throw up a post when anything changes much. And as always, I’m open to suggestions and criticisms. Just play nice.

  1. It also suggests that Lutherans are very proud of the economic superiority of nations where Protestantism dominates, and of Luther’s role in promoting universal literacy so that people could read the Bible, the source of their beliefs. Here I am, wondering when economic achievement became a measure of Christian success, and when the Bible supplanted Jesus as the source of Christian beliefs. But hey, I’m one of those dense, irrational papists, so what do you expect? Oops, was supposed to play nice, sorry.


Reaching too far? Anyone under 60 get the reference?

Let’s kick off the new year with a list of lies and the truths that contradict the lies. Then, in the comments, you, my beloved readers who by now number well into double digits (like 12 or maybe even 13!) can add ‘favorite’ lies of your own. Needless to say, this or any such list is seriously incomplete by nature.

Since that process would be too straightforward for the standards of this blog, here is a framing note before we start:

Like all human beings, I lie. All lying begins with lying to yourself, otherwise known as pride. The ancient command to know thyself, or, in religious terms, to fear God, are calls to humility, which is nothing but recognizing reality: I’m just not all that. So, going in, I’m a liar on the wagon. I will fall off. I hope to get back on when I do.

The religious aspect of truth-telling is subtle, often unknown to the truth-teller, and often denied. Loyalty to the truth is a metaphysical commitment, structurally on a par with religious beliefs.(1) It has long been understood by Christians that there is great honor and grace in seeking the truth, because in the end (and ‘In the beginning’) the Truth is a Person. What this doesn’t mean is that arriving at any particular moral or metaphysical or any other kind of truths is necessarily dependent on accepting the revealed truths of Christian dogma. In the case of this list, the list maker – me – became convinced of the truth in many of today’s contrived controversies quite apart from any religious beliefs I hold, and should hope I’d hang onto those convictions if I were to tragically lose my particular religious beliefs. For example, that a new human being comes into being at the moment of conception is so blindingly, obviously true that I’d hold that position regardless of my belief in, say, the Incarnation. (What it means that a new human being is created at conception is another question. It truly is a religious belief as moderns use the term that human life matters at all.)

This is the sense in which I assert that seeing the truth denied in the following lies is not a result of religious belief. A logical man would hold to these truths regardless of his religious convictions, if any.

Finally, there are better and worse lies, in the sense of how well the liar can fend off the truth. Good lies in this sense are *almost* true, only some last minute twist makes them lies. Good liars in this sense lay out many points no one would argue against, (2) save the twist for the end, and then accuse you of hating, oh, peace, love, and understanding if you dare challenge their lie. Needless to say, therefore, good lies come in attractive packages full of convincing truths. Good lies are constructed to make any who oppose them seem as mean-spirited (Nazi!) and dense (stupid!) as possible. Thus, if you mention, for example, all the exceptions carved out of Obamacare for the politically favored, you are not smelling a rat, but rather hate poor people. And so on and so forth.


A: Lie: History is moving forward. History has a right and wrong side.

Truth: History is a description, not an actor. It is rank superstition to think history does things, such as progressing, let alone has a right and wrong side.

A.1: Lie: The world is progressing toward some (undefined) better future. Good and bad actions can only be judged by whether they help or hinder this progress.

Truth: Progress is not the same as change. When the Mongols invaded the lands of the Slavs and sold tens of thousands into slavery, or Islam crushed the 1,000 year old Greco-Roman civilization of North Africa, these were great historical moments, and great changes – but were not in any sense progress, let alone Progress. (3) Neither is every change in the last 250 years progress. Progress is a judgement and a description. Belief in ‘Progress’ is built upon the same lie as the belief that History is an actor.

B: People’s actions result from their class consciousness. People are guilty of whatever acts their class commits, and suffer whatever oppression their class experiences, regardless of what actions they personally take or oppression they personally suffer.

Truth: In a similar way, classes, however defined, do not act or have consciousness or suffer. They are simply people grouped for convenience. Some of the people in class may act or understand well, some may not. When members of a class act, they act as people, not as members of a class. This remains true regardless of how much money, power, or status a man may have – those things will affect the nature of the opportunities for good and bad action a man may have, but the action is and remains his own. Classes do not act. (4)

C: Lie: People are defined by the class or classes they belong to. Classically put: the individual is nothing, the collective is everything. You cannot escape your class.

Truth: In the modern West, class barriers are very permeable, and have been for centuries now. That’s how, for example, a German Jew can move to London, sponge off rich friends and write pseudo-Hegelian nonsense about class consciousness. If real class barriers existed, such a man would be a shopkeeper or worse. In fact, if classes really existed as determinate actors, Marx would never have been able to ‘transcend’ his class and write his BS. Unless of course History was making Progress through him, in which case, he’s the chosen prophet of his god, sent to preach that the day of judgement is at hand. Considered as a philosopher, he’s a self-refuting charlatan.

D: Lie: Gender is a social construct.

Truth: Sex is a biological fact in all sexually reproducing higher life forms. Male or female are the only categories for mammals. The existence of a tiny, tiny sliver of twilight (genetic mutations and errors) does not disprove the night and day of man and woman. On the other hand, ‘gender’ is a term of the philologist’s art. As anyone who has ever tried to learn a language knows, it does not have much to do with biological sex. A table is neither female or male, but it does have a gender in many languages. Pretending the concept of gender applies to members of the human race, a sexually dimorphous, sexually reproducing species, is a risible exercise of raw power. (5)

Oh, heck, that’s enough for now. If my honored readers like this enough to add to the list, maybe we can make a series out of it. In any case, have a happy New Year!

  1. Think of Augustine’s ‘Believe so that you may understand.’ Or think of Pilate’s ‘Truth? What is that?’ You have to want to understand, you must value the truth, before you can accept religious teachings. Then, one subjects them to Aquinas’s test: that they are not unreasonable, and to Chesterton’s: does the key unlock the lock? Wanting to understand and loving the truth are not logical, in the sense that they are not the result, but rather the basis, of any logical thinking.
  2. Tom Lehrer’s Folk Song Army intro: “It takes a certain amount of courage to get up in a coffeehouse or college auditorium and come out in favor of things everybody else in the audience is against, like peace and justice and brotherhood and so on.”
  3. OK, if Progress, a term as wildly undefined in practice as fairness and oppression, is taken to mean ‘destruction of the west and a return to barbarity,’ then, right, the Mongol and Islamic invasions were Progress.
  4. The truths in which this particular lie is wrapped: people tend to look out for their own interests, and people, being tribal or, even more fundamentally, pack animals, will tend to favor the course of actions they perceive as favored by their tribe. Calling this tendency, shared with rats and tuna, ‘class consciousness’ is putting an entire Mary Kay sales professional’s inventory on a pig.
  5. Not getting into privilege here, except to point out that, if the children of the very rich are the most privileged people in the world, the children of academics – both natural and adopted – are the second most privileged. These assume the power to simply change the definitions of words and outlaw language by fiat, and to condemn any who fail to go along with it to the outer darkness. These are also the people who fail to see that Brave New World and, indeed, 1984 are meant to be distopias. As long as they are the ones in charge, what possible objections could right-thinking people have?

2018: Let Me ‘Splain…

Image result for inigo montoya let me sum up

Life is good. Having breakfast (Huevos Rancheros with both red and green New Mexico chile sauces – the only way to fly) with our kids and their grandmother on a cold, crisp Sunday morning after attending a lovely Mass together – what more is there to life in this world? I am indeed blessed.

Elder daughter is off being courted at the moment. Nice young man. Elder son is studying. He had a meeting yesterday with his thesis advisor – at our home! Seems he and his wife were up in the area to visit a brand-new grandchild, and so came over to visit. Charming an intelligent conversation ensued.

Younger daughter is having that experience I’ve warned them about: the reward for competence is getting more work. We are for the most part a competent family, and end up organizing, executing and cleaning up after a lot of things. It’s worth it, but can get exasperating at times. Beats the alternative. She (both daughters, actually) is an excellent seamstress. A young lady who teaches at our school and has been staying with us for the last 2 years is getting married, and younger daughter volunteered to make her wedding dress. She loves doing this sort of thing, but it’s a big job.

Wedding dresses tend strongly toward the ‘more involved’ end of the dressmaking spectrum. So, this being our daughter’s only real break between now and the wedding, as she will be writing her senior thesis during the 2nd semester of her senior year, she is trying to get it done this week. So, since she should be doing her seminar readings now, my beloved wife is reading aloud to her while she sews.

Younger son, the Caboose, is indulging in some video games. I need to take him Christmas shopping, since he’s the only one who can’t drive himself and we will be having our gift-giving on January 1. We had it on Epiphany for many years, but recently the kids have been drawn away to jobs and school, so we tend to have it on the last day everybody is here – New Years Day this year.

On Thursday, we met up with a young family visiting San Francisco. College friends of elder daughter. After lunch, we had only a couple hours to show them around, and chose the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. This is a 140 year old large wooden greenhouse stocked with rare tropical plants and flowers, the oldest public collection of its kind in America. They have dozens of different carnivorous plants, including some pitcher plants whose traps could hold a good size bird or rat. Funky looking.

I took a few pictures. They aren’t very good. If you want to see good pictures of flowers, check out Zoopraxiscope.

Wacky-looking yellow spirally flowers on a typically weird tropical plant. You know, I suppose I could have taken a picture of the little placard, and thus told you what this here thing is. I’ll try to remember that in the future…
Tiny yellow orchids. And plenty of ’em. They have lots of orchids, too, in the less sweaty/drippy rooms.

2018 was an interesting year:

  • Our middle two kids completed the first half of their senior years at Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More. Have two graduation to look forward to in 2019 – on opposite coasts one week apart. Of course. I’m a happy daddy.
  • Singing in a Sunday choir for the first time in over a decade. The relentless poor quality of the music and the lack of any aspirations to sing anything better drove me off. But a friend got a twice a month job doing the Saturday anticipatory mass, and she’s doing chant and Watershed stuff, so I’m now in. Didn’t realize how much I missed it.
  • Youngest son progresses with violin. He can fiddle up a storm. He also decided on his own to join Boy Scouts. The particular group he joined seems good, and has not yet completely fallen to PC nonsense. He needs 3-4 years to make Eagle, so if the troop can hold out that long… He loves the outdoor activities and getting to hang with some relatively sane kids his own age.
  • Home Improvement projects proceeded at a crawl. Got a few thousand more bricks to lay out front, and some wrought iron-style fencing and some rails and steps to put in. Did make the carcass for a king-size bed platform out of oak veneer plywood. Unfortunately, had to press it into service before I had time (and decent weather – have to work on projects this large outside) to finish it. Therefore added another threshold to overcome before finishing it: taking it back out of the bedroom. In my mind’s eye it’s very nice, sort of reminiscent of Mission style. As it is, it’s a big plywood box.
  • Didn’t read nearly as many books this year as the last couple. Plan to remedy that.
Collected in one pile the reading materials I’ve pulled off the shelves over the last few months to read or reread. Now located next to a comfy chair by a window. That helps.
  • Did get almost done (what is with me and getting near the end of books and not finishing? I’ve not always been this way…) with Polanyi – what a load! – and a couple education books (dreary for the most part). Did read – and even finished! – a half dozen SciFi books this year. But, man, gotta pick up the pace. I spend an unproductive amount of time reading materials on the internet. Some are critical, such as source materials on education. Others – not so much. Must remedy this as well.
  • Continuing with an hour or two of piano just about every day. Got Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique to the point where I can hack my way through it. Only took me about 12 months. Now, if I’d just put in another 6 months, I might get it to the point where I’d not be embarrassed to play it for somebody. Also worked up some rag time and a couple fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier. Tried a little Chopin, but – looks like a lot of work. So, maybe. Or maybe some more Beethoven or some Shubert. It’s fun
  • Over the last 6 months, made a miserable effort to get disciplined about writing. I could blame a series of minor injuries/illnesses, and there would be some truth to it, but many people have written through as bad or worse, so – no escaping it. I tried and failed.
  • On the other hand, did finish at least rough drafts of 3 stories, wrote several thousand words on the Eternal Novel of Infinite Enertia, and did a ton of blogging. There is that. But it’s not enough, not by a mile.
  • Lost my job June 30. I’m 60, 4-5 more years and I could have retired. Now? Got to come up with some way to get us through the next decade financially. No call for sympathy here, we’re doing way better that most people, it’s just I thought I had it licked, and – not so much.
  • Medically interesting year, which one does not want. Gone are the decades during which I never missed work and rarely had so much as a cold. Again, nothing worthy of sympathy – I’m just getting old and paying the price of letting myself go. I suspect regular exercise, eating like I’m sitting around all day instead of like I’m heading out to plow the south forty, and the related loss of, oh, 100 lbs, and I’d be a lot better off.

All in all, life is good. Good marriage, family I’m very happy to be a part of, no more than the usual amount of issues and problems. Can’t complain.

For 2019: We’ll see about writing some more. I could use a spiritual director. A job or some other income would be very good. Some discipline around food and exercise is required (hmmm – this sounds strangely familiar…) Reengaging a systematic prayer life would no doubt help. Pray, hope, and don’t worry, as St. Padre Pio put it. Yea, like that’s gonna happen. But nothing is impossible with God.

We wrap up 2018 tomorrow by finding an Adoration chapel to spend the last moments of the old year and the first of the new, then Mass, presents, breakfast and teary goodbyes to the older 2 kids. *sniff*.

Then we run it back for 2019! Interesting times. Good, but interesting.

2018 Simbang Gabi & Update: Happy, Holy & Blessed Christmas

(Yes, It’s still 5 whole hours until 1st Vespers/Vigil Mass, but it will be less than that by the time you read this, and possibly even already Christmas proper, so I don’t care. After getting up at 5:00 a.m. to attend the closing of Simbang Gabi at the local parish, Advent has been right properly celebrated here at Casa de Yardsaleofthemind.)

We were discussing this morning with a lovely couple at our table how many years we’ve been doing the 5:30 a.m. Masses of the Simbang Gabi advent novena, and we came up with 6? 7? 9? Somewhere in there. I have never made all 9 mornings myself in any of those years, caught 5 this year, I think 7 or 8 is my best effort, but Mrs Yardsale and one or two of the offspring have attended all 9 once or twice. Straight to Heaven go such folks.

Brief recap: stories differ, but the one I like goes like this: centuries ago in the Philippines, land owners would not make time for their field workers to attend mass, even in Advent. The only chance to attend mass before spending the day in the fields was to have it before dawn. Locals asked their priest if he’d be willing to say a pre-dawn novena of Advent masses for them, he of course said yes. Everybody brought gifts of food for the priest (all they likely would have had to give) and he turned right around and invited them to breakfast. So now the tradition is for a predawn Mass followed by a traditional Filipino breakfast:

Certain aspects, such as plastic plates and processed cheese seem to be part of more recent tradition. The roll is split, and cheese and meat put on it (pineapple-fried ham this morning – yum!):

Completely lacking this year in pretty pictures of the more religious aspect of this lovely tradition. It will have to suffice to say that the Sacrament works by working, and its efficacy is aided by Mass said at an awkward time with many devoted people present.

Onward, update wise: Did some caroling Saturday at a local nursing home followed by a potluck. It was fun, kids all got to come. Eldest daughter and I try to throw in a harmony part or two – funny, for as long as I’ve sung these carols, I’m still real sketchy on the harmonies, partly because there are lots of different settings, but mostly because of my very meager musical talents.

Speaking of which, for the first time in over a decade, I will be singing at a Christmas morning Mass. A wonderful lady and excellent musician has taken on the task of reintroducing some good music at a local parish, in the quiet, humble way such things are required to be approached. She’s been after me to sing with them, in a very gentle way. My meager musical talents do extent – barely – to being able to learn and carry a hymn part in a couple passes. A little chant, a little Latin, some hymns and an occasional honest to goodness choir piece. No risk of heresy or musical stupidity. Cool.

I didn’t know how much I missed singing in a choir. It had come down to having to either sing insufferable ‘contemporary’ music of dubious orthodoxy or drive for a half-hour or more to a real choir. Inertia won. But this church is 5 minutes away. So here goes nothing.

Next up: Listening to music made by a family in Napa. Beautiful stuff. CD was given to eldest daughter on a first date with a young man whose family has been in Napa for five generations. That sort of permanence and roots is rare these days, and to be admired.

Lingering cold moved on to maybe a sinus infection, which seems on its way out. I’d really like to feel well for a few months at a time, just to mix things up.

Have no idea why anyone would be reading this on this day, or any of the next few, but if you are, God bless you and yours, and have a Happy, Holy and Blessed Christmas – all 12 days of it!