Sex, Love and Lies.

Great essay here, by Anthony Esolen,  Professor of English at Providence College.

Topic under consideration: “Let us consider the one form of sexual behavior that almost nobody defended before the sexual revolution, and that almost nobody opposes now: fornication.”

Key point: “And yet what we are talking about is deeply destructive, because it is fundamentally mendacious. When we lie, we harm not only those we deceive. We harm ourselves. If we continue in this deception, we become hardened liars, in the end perhaps deceiving no one but ourselves.”

Longer quote, then go read the essay:

It will not do to say, “As long as people are honest with one another, fornication is all right.” The point is that they cannot be honest with one another in that situation. The supposed honesty of detachment, or deferral, or temporizing, or mutual hedonism, only embroils them in a deeper lie. The body in the act of generation says, whether we like it or not, “I am reaching out to the future, to a time when there will be no turning back.” The body, naked to behold in love, says, “There is nothing of mine that I do not offer as yours. We complete one another, man and woman.” Such affirmations transcend the division between the private and the public. They are therefore only made in honesty by people who are married—who have acknowledged publicly that they belong forever to one another and to the children they may conceive by the marital act.

Bottom line: the widespread acceptance of fornication has resulted in America (and most other 1st world countries) becoming a nation of liars. The foundational lie is the one we tell ourselves. Get in the habit of lying to yourselves, and you become effectively immune to the truth.

The next short step, as memorably stated by Pontius Pilate, is to ask: Truth? What is that? And so the entire world is deconstructed into sawdust, full of sound and furry but signifying nothing. Start with the lies you tell yourself and your prospective partners, end up swallowing lies that enable, but ultimately crush and consume, your life.

The readily identifiable lies are just the visible symptoms: Life isn’t so sacred; animals are people, too; justice is something you vote for and hand over to a government for execution (in the many senses of that word); the enemy isn’t really human, so we don’t have to bother about what we do to them; suffering is the worst thing that can ever happen to a person, therefore all is justified in ending it; the ends justify the means.

Related thoughts, expressed in a previous post, here.

How do we avoid concluding that one simply cannot trust an unrepentant fornicator? By noting that humility demands that we can only very cautiously trust ourselves?

Divorce & College: Two Cases of Fantasy Meeting Reality

This article about how divorce is losing its luster reminds me of this essay here on this blog, about how the percentage of people getting college degrees in America has not increased in 40 years, despite the incessant claim that a college degree is a meal ticket to a better life. In both cases, despite the received mythology and the stories they tell themselves, people come to see the truth, however dimly or haltingly.

In the case of college, it works like this: some careers are off limits to those without a college degree or 3, mostly for good reason – you want your doctor, lawyer and research biologists to be very well trained in their specialties, and that’s unlikely to happen without years of schooling. Many other jobs are largely restricted to college grads, despite there being little if any connection between the work and the degree. Do cops, airline pilots or managers of insurance adjuster really gain anything from college that couldn’t easily get elsewhere? Historically, people did these jobs without college degrees. Now, the college degree starts out used as a filter to keep down the number of applicants, then habit eventually enshrines it as law.

But for most ways of earning a living, having a college degree is pretty irrelevant to the job. (Note: I have a couple of nice college degrees, so this isn’t just sour grapes).  What your average guy sees: I can spend 4 years getting a college degree, going into debt or living in poverty or living at home, and – then what? I’ve always wanted to be a brick layer or auto mechanic or artist or – whatever. Maybe I should pursue a course that gets me where I’m going directly. Plus, I hear about all these people with English degrees not working, or doing jobs they could have gotten without a degree, and they’ve wasted years of their lives, years of earning potential, and possibly gone into debt – in order to sling coffee at Starbucks?

So, maybe 30% college grads is about all the economy can take. Maybe that reality is behind the stall in the number of people with college degrees after decades of increases.

Similarly, in the first story, people have been encouraged to think of divorce as this sort of random thing that can happen to anybody, without any really permanent or damaging effects. Sure, it hurts, but the core of your being – the unencumbered Will – remains untouched.

Anybody not willfully blind to the world knows this is not true – the human wreckage from divorce is all around us. The concomitant attempts to portray happy, faithful marriage as some sort of cultural Ivory-billed woodpecker also fails pretty regularly, as there are plenty of them out there. It helps the delusion that there is often a social divide between those who see marriage as a fundamental and permanent spiritual commitment and those who see it ‘for as long as you both shall love’. This article is interesting in that the women interviewed seemed to straddle those worlds.

While the stories are sad, the trend, if that’s what it is, is encouraging. Truth making a little bitty comeback – whoda thunk it?

M-Dowd: Not Having a Great Week…

I have written elsewhere that I find Mo Dowd simply incoherent, based on reading a bunch of her Op/Ed pieces a few years back. It’s not so much that her ideas are bad as that her ideas are hard to identify as ideas at all. What, exactly, is she getting at? Upon what does she base her assertions? These are unhappy and unrewarding questions to ask of Ms Dowd’s writing, so I did the sane thing: read other things. Life’s too short for that kind of crap.

However, others, no doubt made of sterner stuff, have continued to plow through her output (so to speak) and the results have been entertaining.

Ed Peters has this to say.

George Weigel says this. My favorite part:

 Ms. Dowd believes in the sexual revolution as fervently as Archbishop Dolan believes in the Creed in which he leads his congregation at St. Patrick’s every Sunday. The difference between them is that Archbishop Dolan can rationally defend the articles in the Creed, while Maureen Dowd is impervious to the massive empirical evidence that demonstrates that the sexual revolution has been a snare and a delusion for a) women, b) children, c) men, d) marriage, e) family stability, and f) the country’s political culture (cf. Clinton, William Jefferson [whom Dowd helped save in 1998]). Interestingly enough, and in this respect, Maureen Dowd is not the linear descendant of Nast and the rationalist anti-Catholics, who were more often than not the “progressives” of their day. Rather, she is the rhetorical great-great-granddaughter of Elder W. C. Benson and his 1928 anti-Catholic screed, the difference being that Benson’s fundamentalism involved notions of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, while Dowdian fundamentalism involves an irrational and empirically unsustainable belief in the sexual revolution.

It takes a particular kind of fundamentalism to believe, in the face of what we primitives call ‘facts’ and ‘reality’, that, for example, a 3rd trimester baby isn’t a baby, or that divorce doesn’t destroy children, or that casual sex doesn’t lead to emptiness and pain, that the sexual revolution isn’t, in fact, a body of lies founded on the ever-popular ‘la-la-la I can’t hear you’ argument.  That the mental tools used to deconstruct the western world into a male-dominated hell can just as easily be used to deconstruct feminism and multiculturalism into sawdust. (DISCLAIMER: not that there’s nothing to the claims of feminists and multiculturalists – it’s just that attempting to deconstruct the West in support of their grievances is a classic snake-eating-its-tail exercise. On the contrary, all real progress has been made by appealing to the ideas held most dear in the West: women didn’t get the vote by deconstructing, they got it by appealing to men’s sense of fairness. And so on.)

And now, with any luck, this will be the last I think of Maureen Dowd and her shrieking non-thought.

Hey, one can dream.

The Male/Female Imbalance: A Couple Predictions

So, the results of making amnio and ultrasound available for selecting which children we allow to be born based on their sex is now clear. When widely available, the result is that a lot more boys than girls are allowed to live, resulting in, today, about 163 million ‘excess’ men and boys.

This should be a head-slapping ‘duh!’ moment, at least in hindsight. So let’s do the more challenging thing and imagine what the future holds (I’ll do this before reading the whole article, just so I can have that little laugh we philosopher types have when we figure out by reason what the researchers try to figure out by data collection.  Petty, I know, but fun.)

– Supply and demand says the value of girls and women will go up – but that’s the dollar value, not the intrinsic value. What that means is that, far from being treated with more respect, women and girls are becoming, more than ever, tradable commodities: A girl is in no position to realize her enhanced value, but her dad or uncle or mom or brother sure is. They can arrange a marriage at a price, force her into prostitution or simply sell her into slavery. In fact, history shows that slavery flourishes whenever labor is scarce – and sexual labor is going to be very much in demand as those 163 million guys read the writing on the wall.

– People of child-bearing age will continue to not see the big picture. You might think that a Chinese or Indian dad or mom, looking around at all the boys who will one day almost certainly want a wife, might think: wow – the smart money is in having a daughter! She’ll be the bell of the ball, and have her pick of husbands. We’re holding the hammer – we could cut all kinds of deals with the parents of our future son-in-law, to mitigate the issues that arise out of not us having a son. You would be wrong. Aborting girls has been going on for about 2 generations now, and doesn’t show signs of letting up.

– You thought you were worried about the safety of your little princess now? How about in a world where girls are snatched off the street and sold to a pimp or slave broker half way around the world, never to be seen or heard from again? This is beginning to happen now, and will probably get a lot worse before it gets better.

– 163 million guys with nothing much to look forward to. That many people would be about the 4th or 5th largest country in the world. Traditionally, men have fought and killed each other for women about as much as they’ve fought and killed each other over anything. How this will shake out is anybody’s guess: everything from duels to the Rape of the Sabine Women to all-out wars are in play. Nations might start looking for wars as a way to keep internal unrest down, or action might be more local. The prediction is that there will be violence.

– Net outcome: the ubiquitous availability of abortion on demand has created a world where women and girls are less safe, less respected and less free, and far more likely than boys to get murdered in utero, sold into slavery or prostitution, and generally dehumanized into commodities. And the boys aren’t necessarily better off – they become a ‘problem’ to ‘manage’ – and states have a very bloody history of how they handle problems of that sort.

Footnote 1. Using ultra sound means you have to let the child develop first – none of this insensate amorphous blob mythology. That means these little girls not only get murdered, they get to die in agony. May God have mercy on our souls.

Footnote 2. How do Progressives understand all this? I have very impoliticly opined, without proper introduction or warning, that Progressivism is really stupid, and thereby damaged a valuable friendship – but, come on! There seems to be this belief that Progress is what happens when properly enlightened (read: socially liberal) people get their way. Well? You got your way, resulting in, among other things,  an uptick in slavery and a rapidly decreasing degree of  freedom enjoyed by women and girls around the world. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that none of the people who support the ‘rights’ and policies that have unceremoniously deposited us at this unhappy historical juncture are losing any sleep over it. But they should be.


Art, Animals and a Little Girl

Here is an essay at First Things regarding Aelita Andre, age 4, who produces art like this. We are supposed to use the occasion of Miss Andre’s opening in an art gallery to reflect on the bankruptcy and nihilism of the current art world. Into the argument are dragged, barking, mooing and so on, animals that have been trained to put brush to canvas – in an art culture that oohs and ahs over the ‘art’ of animals, a little girl’s paintings just make her – and by extension, each of us – another animal.

Except that doesn’t work for me. For one thing, her art is clearly the work of a human being. While there are plenty of artists whose work you could convince yourself is hard to tell from animal’s ‘art’, Miss Andre is not one of them, and it’s not close.  Second, her use of color is astounding – if she is picking out and matching those colors, she’s a genius. Finally, her sense of design is very advanced – she fills her canvases in satisfying and creative ways, every time (which, BTW, is how you can often dismiss the animal art – they don’t get design, it seems).

So, rather than causing me to moan about haw tragically bad modern art is – it is tragically bad (See: LA Cathedral) – instead, I’m thrilled to see a little girl display some aspects of real artistic genius.

Now, if she’s still painting like this when she’s 20 – or even 12 – we can revisit the issue.

Music at Mass Review: June 19, 2011

At Parish A this week. Two items stand out for comment:

We sang a Eucharistic Acclamation that included the word ‘Jesus’ held at the end of a phrase for a couple measures, with the completely predictable result: the congregation, not being musicians and not, at any rate, having the music in front of them (the words only were projected on the wall about 80 degrees and 20′ up from the altar) , came to the final ‘s’ at a variety of times, leading to sound not unlike a punctured tire loudly deflating – ‘Sssssssssssssssssssssssss’. This is what I mean by amateur composers just missing the obvious – what, do they expect the ‘song leader’ jump up and down waving her arms to get people to not voice the ‘s’ until just the right moment (like that’s gonna happen) or did they just not care or hear how it was inevitably going to sound? Sheesh.

The second, more serious issue is the song ‘God, Beyond All Dreams’:

God, beyond our dreams, you have stirred in us a memory,
you have placed your powerful spirit in the hearts of humankind.

(refrain) All around us, we have known you; all creation lives to hold you,
In our living and our dying we are bringing you to birth.

God, beyond all names, you have made us in your image,
we are like you, we reflect you, we are woman, we are man.

God, beyond all words, all creation tells your story,
you have shaken with our laughter, you have trembled with our tears.

God, beyond all time, you are laboring within us;
we are moving, we are changing, in your spirit ever new.

God of tender care, you have cradled us in goodness,
you have mothered us in wholeness, you have loved us into birth.

–Bernadette Farrell

The first two lines of the last verse present an evocative image, and would make a nice piece of devotional poetry.

And that’s it for nice things to say about this song.

All creation does not live to hold God. Holding God is precisely what Creation cannot do, unless you’re a pantheist. In fact, all creation doesn’t even live – living things are a tiny speck, a thin film on one of many billions of planets. It’s the smallness of life, its fragility, that is the striking thing – if you’re going to turn your eyes to capital ‘C’ Creation.

Creation, especially that tiny fraction represented by us, is the recipient and product of God’s Love, in whom we live and move and have our being. If you wanted to make a remarkable and humbling observation about receiving Christ in the Eucharist, and thereby having and holding God in His most humble Presence, OK, do it, great thought.

But there’s no humble in this song’s lyrics that I can find. We are bringing God to birth – um, huh? I guess this could be an example of the idea that we, as believers, body forth God as our share in the Incarnation – maybe. There’s nothing in this song to suggest an active part for God in all this – it’s all about we.

A powerful spirit has been placed in the heart of humankind. Sure. Not a capital ‘S’ Spirit of scripture, but rather a small ‘s’ spirit of Hegelian self-realization. In case you think I’m going to far, I plead the resat of the song: nowhere in it will you find any unambiguous reference to the idea that God is in the driver seat in any way besides having set in motion a creation.  The whole ‘you are laboring within us’ sounds like maybe God is in charge – but only in charge of our labor in giving Him birth – ambiguous, at best.

The music has this built in start-and-stop thing that is annoying, but it captures perfectly the ‘we don’t know exactly what we mean, here’ vibe.

Meta-comment: there’s this thing I run into once in while, where some people seem to think that parsing out what words are really saying is some kind of injustice – that all we’re supposed to get from a song is this wash of emotions. If the emotions are strong and feel appropriate, we shouldn’t quibble about what the words actually say. I’m sympathetic to this, because, as a kid listening to late 60’s early 70’s rock, I could rarely figure out what they were saying anyway, and so just laid back and enjoyed the sonic massage. Ya know?

The problem is that I also believe words are powerful. Mushy words create mushy minds (and visa-versa).  Poetry entails a certain amount of ambiguity, a certain amount of surprise, or it becomes prose. But within that world, it is possible – or should be possible – to figure out some message, some point. Lyrics to songs sung in church, at holy Mass, have, from that context alone, a great power. The poet abuses that power by accepting a vagueness not tied so much to the nature of poetry itself as to the lack of clarity or evasiveness of the poet.

Update: Seems I already examined God Beyond All Names here, and maybe did a better job of it.

Team Yard Sale: Litany of Saints

An ancient bit of the Church’s wisdom: you can fall all by yourself, but it’s only as part of a team – the Body of Christ – that you can be saved.

I sheepishly submit: Team Yard Sale. These are the angels and saints I appeal to pretty much daily. No, I didn’t get their permission – they were drafted, sort of like a fantasy sports league. They, plus of course my wife, family, parish and diocese, rolling up of course into the Mystical Body of Christ, are the people in whose company I hope to enter the Kingdom of God.

St. Jerome, St Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux. These are saints whose lives and writing have most made me think, who I feel are good people to call on for help with my theological and philosophical development. Continue reading “Team Yard Sale: Litany of Saints”

Healthcare: A Modest Proposal

We all want good quality healthcare available to everyone, right? One problem is that, as medical science advances, more and more expensive treatments become mainstream, so that we start to expect, for example, an MRI of every sprained ankle, even though your typical sprained ankle will heal all by itself in a couple weeks 99% of the time if you just stay off it for a bit.

No, I think what we all want, when we’ve calmed down and the Tylenol has kicked in (leave that ankle in the ice a little longer – trust me on this) is reasonable healthcare for everybody, not expensive procedures done in a panic or on a whim. I’ve got this idea that, while it won’t solve the whole healthcare problem, would make a nice symbolic start and make most of us fee better:

How about a 300% tax on all non-reconstructive cosmetic surgery?  Money goes straight into the kitty of a local clinic in the poorer part of town.

You want a 5 grand eyebrow job? OK, but be prepared to toss another $15k into the pot. One of those $100K jobs that look like they grab the back of your scalp, pull, pull, puuuuuull until they can tie a knot in it? That’s now a 400 grand exercise. Clinics in the poor corners of L.A. would be opening new Demi Moore wings right and left!

Crazy, you say? OK, how about a 500% tax? 1,000%?

Think about it: highly skilled medical professionals with years of expensive medical training tie up state-of-the-art medical facilities in order to make perfectly healthy people, sometimes even attractive people, look more like Barbi or Ken, except with way less personality. And that’s if it goes *well*. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

We could also make it a law that a doctor has to spend 1,000 hours doing real medicine for every hour spent nipping and tucking. I think they owe it to the rest of us on several levels.

Anyway, just a thought, to get the ball rolling.

Music at Mass Review: 06/05/2011

For something completely different, we attended mass at a local non-territorial parish run by the Society of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.  High Mass in Latin in the Ordinary Form. The Society has only run this parish for a few years, so things will undoubtedly change, but as of now:

– the Mass was well-attended, with the church about 70% full;

– only about 20% or so of the congregation were, as they say, cramming for the final exam (old). At least half the congregation were large, young families. Babies, toddlers, preteens, teenagers everywhere, usually in packs of at least 5 or 6 to the family.  Two babies were baptized;

– With the baptisms, High Mass, feast day (Ascension Thursday Sunday), Mass was 1:45 long. Nobody left early that I saw;

– there were at least a dozen acolytes, ranging in age from very young (8?) to teenagers. Lots of incense, candle-marching and general processing to keep ’em all busy;

– the *next* Mass was the Extraordinary Form Latin High Mass – I can only imagine the mix/crowd there, but I imagine the same sort of things as described above, only more so.

So, first observation: non-judgmental demographics dictates that this is the future. Statistically, vocations disproportionately come from large families – and there were plenty of those here, far more than I’d ever seen in a “normal” parish. So, assuming the kids pick up a devotion to this type of liturgy from their parents, this is going to get bigger fast over the next couple generations.

Now for the music:

Before I say anything else:  Hurray! Actual real music got sung, with actual non-heretical lyrics! WooHoo! And a real choir! Weee!

Now to nit-pick the actual music: it was OK. I am very grateful that I didn’t have to listen to insipid lyrics and sappy music, and the chant – there was plenty of chant – was nice, but, being a jerk here; what’s with the non-stop organ? Can’t we sing ‘Amen’ without ranks of organ to support us in the form of drowning us out? How about an a capella Pater Noster? Nope – it’s organ all the way down. I know this is the style, these are French priests after all, but – wish they wouldn’t.

The choir is young and competing, I suppose, with the Extraordinary Form Choir for members (unless the singers are the kind of commandos who would do both – 3+ hours of singing, 5 hours of hanging out at church. Could be.) but it was just OK. The Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus were from some rather goofy (to my ears) Mass that sounded like a simplified 19th century post-Romantic piece. How about we go with the real masters, and ditch the organ? Maybe eventually.

Here’s hoping that a few more years with which to recruit and train some more singers, the good fathers will really be able to rock the joint. To the greater glory of God, of course.