Theology: Developed versus Evolved

Image result for famous fossilsI’m part of a team at our local parish doing RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults – the 6-9 month process an adult who wants to become Catholic goes through prior to 1st Communion, Confession, Confirmation and, if needed, Baptism).  I’m sort of the philosophy/history person, although the director and a couple of the other people on the team are perfectly capable of covering it. I talk too much.

We use a variety of materials from a couple of sources, of varying depth and quality. One, addressing what exact topic I’m not recalling the moment, used the word ‘evolve’ regarding Catholic dogma.

I probably don’t need to point out to many of the readers of this blog that ‘evolve’ is exactly the wrong term to use when discussing Catholic theology and dogma. ‘Develop’ is the right word to use.

First, evolve is used in (at least) 2 senses: the technical, biological sense, meaning changes to characteristics of a population over generations; and, more commonly, to mean ‘changing in a direction I like’.

The second sense is fundamentally dishonest, although I hasten to add that most people who use the word this way are most likely completely unaware of the dishonesty. They just picked it up from the way college-educated (“smart”) people talk, and would no doubt be baffled to discover educated people who object to that usage. What is dishonest is the replacing of ‘what I like’ with ‘what is obviously true’. Changes I don’t like are never said to be examples of evolution, but are instead given a pejorative label like ‘regressive’. This substitution takes place below the level of conscious thought almost all the time, I will generously believe for as long as I can.

Starting in the mid 19th century, Hegelians and their idiot children the Marxists met up with Darwin and his less clear-thinking offspring, the Darwinists, and discovered a happy (to them) marriage: the inevitable forward march of the Spirit/History was exactly like, nay, was perfectly embodied in, Darwinian evolution. Just look at how modern, more recent creatures are superior to ancient, outdated creatures! Why, it’s *just like* how modern, progressive ideas replace old, counter-revolutionary ideas by weight of their sheer luminous awesome superiority! It’s not a matter for argument, it’s a simple observation: just as dogs and elephants and canaries are obviously superior to velociraptors, diplodocuses and pterodactyls, democratic, scientific economics is superior to the primitive, competitive ‘free’ market.(1)

One remarkable thing in the history of ideas is how much effort, sometimes, the father or champion of a particular idea puts in to saying exactly what he does and does not mean, while later champions steamroll any subtilty in their hurry to use what they see as the gist of the idea for their pet projects. Thus, Hegel is careful to say that the forward march of the Spirit as revealed in History does not by its very nature admit of its use as a crystal ball – that the whole point of this gradual revelation is that we *don’t* know the future. We require Revelation, which doesn’t depend on and is not subject to human reason. Marx, finding Hegel’s disposal of logic useful but having no use for the divine revelation in History that take its place, immediately claims to know the future by virtue of his understanding of the Dialectic. It’s turtles all the way down, sure, but Marx has thrown out the top few layers of turtles and stands in midair. Charles Sanders Peirce, the father of Pragmatism, goes to great lengths to say Pragmatism is not merely the idea that the ends justify the means, only to have his great pragmatic successor, John Dewey, say exactly that.

Darwin himself does not use the word ‘evolution’ once in the 1st edition of the Origin of Species, and uses ‘evolve’ exactly once, as the last word in the last sentence of the work. (2) In the 12 years after publication of the Origin of Species before publication of the Descent of Man, followers of Darwin got labeled ‘Evolutionists’, so evolution does show 30 times in the later volume. Darwin claims that the ideas he presents in Descent will no doubt result in establishment of a scientific footing for psychology, since it’s clear (!) that consciousness and all other human mental characteristics and capabilities evolved from more primitive precursors in the lower animals from which man evolved.  Somewhere in there, evolution, which is at its roots akin to a simple observation, just one small inferential step removed from looking at related living species and the bones of what might be their ancestors, became the fundamental characteristic of EVERYTHING.(3)

And Darwin was more restrained than his followers. We end up with the second meaning of evolution as describing ‘change I like’ as little more than a Hegel-light or Marxist/materialist clarification of what Descent is talking about.

Image result for valley oakDevelopment is something much more organic and even ancient, having philosophical roots in Aristotle’s idea of Nature. A natural thing has within its nature principles of motion distinct from the accidental causes that might move it or, more generally, change it. An oak tree grows from an acorn. The principles of growth from acorn to oak tree are contained in – are the nature of – the acorn. The acorn might grow to be a majestic valley oak or a stunted oak among rocks or, indeed, get eaten by a squirrel. Those outcomes are at least partly the result of accidents. Growth from acorn to oak are by nature.

That gigantic digression out of the way, we now get back to theology. To understand that theology and church teaching in general might develop from what is already there should cause no one any heartburn. Any new understanding must point back to and be consistent with older understandings. An eternal God is impossible for us limited humans to fully understand, but as He is unchanging and internally consistent, so too must be our theology. People who want to contradict previous teachings must hope theology can evolve, meaning, as explained above, change in a direction they like, never mind logic or consistency. They hope, however unclear they are about it, for Hegelian revelations in history that are not subject to human reason and have no need to be consistent with what came before.

God is a God of Being – “I AM” – not a god of becoming.

  1. Unless we’re social Darwinists, in which case the same argument is made to support the opposite outcome of Übermenschen perhaps wiping a tear of passing weakness from their superior eyes as they witness the inevitable suffering and death of the less fit, before returning to their world-conquering ways. Beware theories that can be easily used to explain contradictory outcomes.
  2. “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
  3. In writing this, it occured to me that my love of The Origin of Species has blinded me to the mess that is much of Descent: the overly-cautious Darwin of Origin, fresh, no doubt, from lying in a field watching bees pollinate clover, is always willing to acknowledge criticisms and admit of lacuna. The more mature Darwin of Descent will talk about consciousness as being of the same species, as it were, as a bird’s colorful feathers. Both exist in the natural world (he assumes) and thus are subject to the same set of evolutionary explanations. It’s like I turn to the baby pictures of a beloved child who is now doing hard time, and pretend my baby is still innocent.
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The State of the News

Not anything in particular except by way of illustration.

When did the news become The News? I don’t know and don’t have time at the moment to research it, but it’s good to remember that, somehow, for centuries, people made do with gossip and hearsay about almost everything we consider news today, delivered by word of mouth. So things haven’t really changed much, except at some point the gossip mongers and rumor mills got professionalized. The also added some research capabilities, and have greatly taken advantage of technological advances. However, based on personal experience, on what a look at the news has revealed over the past 5 decades during which I’ve looked at it, the content only marginally and occasionally reflects supposed improvements in research (“investigative reporting”) – it’s still mostly of the quality of what I’d imagine the women discussed around the fountain in the village square.

Image result for dirty laundryInstead, professional and technological improvements have mostly merely expanded the scope of what is to be gossiped about, without much improving the quality. Our poor benighted ancestors would only gossip about the foibles of the people they knew, maybe encompassing a few neighboring villages. Maybe the local aristocracy might come come in for a few whispers. Now, we can hear gossip about ‘celebrities’ and politicians  (insofar as those differ) round the clock and around the world. Based on what’s in the news and who and how many are paying attention to it, the research from the Moscow Bureau or whatever serves a tiny audience – at least, until the “investigative reporting” by “senior correspondants” is reduced to gossip, in cases where such a reduction is necessary. Thus, what exactly is going on in, say, Venezuela or Palestine is unlikely to see the light of day in the Press, and will be simplified beyond legitimate meaning before it sticks in anybody’s brain. The facts as revealed in conversations with just about anybody in almost any media sadly seem to bear this out.

We did go through a period in my lifetime where certain news anchors were canonized if not deified. Walter Cronkite springs to mind. They were trusted dispensers of the Truth. So was, I suppose, Walter Duranty a few generations earlier. But a harder look shows that such news anchors and senior correspondents had only augmented their rumor mongering with a bit of propaganda. The assumption that they were any smarter or better informed, let alone more moral and truthful, than your average garage mechanic or numbers racketeer is hard to maintain in the light of objective evidence.

But we trusted them. And, frankly, adored them. Modern reporters are now faced with an increasingly hostile environment in which only the Home Team even listens to them, and only if they say what the fans want to hear (not that there seems to be much of a risk of anything else happening). It has got to be hard when your idols are attacked, and even harder when what you, the cub reporter, had aspired to goes up in smoke: if you do a great job and get a few breaks, you still won’t be respected and loved like Uncle Walter. People will probably do worse than hate you – they will dismiss you without a thought.

Maybe. Some reporters still seem to think News Media are the secular clergy, and that those who oppose them are thus heretics in need of a good burning at the stake.

I wish I were kidding.

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog post which included a discussion of one Zach Carter, a “Senior political economy reporter” at the Huffington Post. Over the course of an interview with a wizened political economist, Mr. Carter, it seems, was revealed to be both utterly uniformed on the topic of his supposed expertise – political economy – and, more worrisome, utterly unconcerned with his ignorance. In his defence, I’ll point out that the problem is really the Huffington Post’s, who gave him the job and title, and the University of Virginia, which gave him a degree supposedly in evidence he knew some stuff. Also, he can’t be much older than 35, and his pictures on his bios would make Zuckerberg appear an ancient sage by comparison. He’s still getting carded, I’d bet.

I take this as evidence of a general trend, that of inflating titles far beyond the demonstrable qualifications of the position-holder, merely because a) the company needs that position filled, and b) the person filling it must appear to have a certain gravitas that it is hoped a ponderous title might give him. Moreover, as prestige and money in the news media continues to evaporate, papers are forced to recruit among people who will take reduced compensation in exchange for perceived prestige – that’s how you get Senior Vice Presidents and Senior Associate Directors.

Next, I’ve lost track of some item I thought I’d saved somewhere, wherein it was claimed that journalism is more and more becoming a profession for those who don’t need a job. Googled around, and what I could find: journalism in general pays a solid middle-class wage, in the neighborhood of $50k a year on average. Put another way, your average journalist makes around $25/hr, which is a bit more than an auto union member makes, and indeed, considerably less than what your plumber likely makes.

Yet another source (not going to provide links here – these items were on the 1st page of a Google search on journalist salaries, if you’re interested) mentions that journalist tend to be highly educated, and that the name publications, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, have high representation of people with degrees from elite schools, like 40-50% among editors and reporters.

Now, putting two and two together: if I get a degree from Harvard or Yale, I’m not looking at taking a few years to work up to a $50k salary. We can safely assume the NYT and WSJ, prestigious and located in New York, pay way more. But even twice the average – $100K – is not providing the kind of life a Manhattan sophisticate is expected to live.  I’m not paying off any of the couple hundred grand of school debt I may have incurred by going Ivy League on $100k/yr if I’m also paying Manhattan level living expenses. Further, if this is true, that cub reporter in Des Moines is going to be lucky to make $25K, or about $12.50 an hour, if the averages are going to work out.

So, the allegation that people who don’t need the money are overrepresented among journalists is at least not contradicted by the tiny amount of data I was willing to dig up for a blog post. Speculating a little more broadly, it would not be surprising if the wanna be Zach Carters of the world, with sterling degrees, no significant school debt, and delusions or at least aspirations of relevancy, might end up in journalism, while people with school debt to repay and objectively valuable knowledge and skills would have less of that tendency. Who knows? But in the immortal words of Don Henley:

You don’t really need to find out what’s going on
You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry

Finally, year before last, when the Oroville Dam was having some serious issues due to a rainy season with near 200% of average precipitation, I wanted to keep up on the goings-on. Evacuations, the risks, if any, to the dam itself, mitigation and repair steps taken, that sort of thing. If you consume any mainstream news, you will not be surprised to learn that I found the information on offer from these sources sorely lacking.

So I surfed around. I discovered a YouTube channel run by Juan Brown, a gentleman who lives in the general area of the dam, flies his own airplane, and likes to make videos. Turns out that a number of people put together videos on the failure of the main and emergency spillways and on the California DWR’s efforts to manage the situation. (The CA-DWR is the manager of our reservoir system). The DWR P.R. department even hired some people with drones to put out dramatic videos every week or so of the damage and, later, the repair efforts. Very pretty stuff. But Mr. Brown was the only source that stayed on top of it and, most importantly, seemed to actually understand what was going on. When something crazy was said on the news – and, shocking, I know, but any scary-sounding thing got immediately picked up by all the news ‘sources’ – Juan would address it in his videos. No, he would patiently explain, cracks or leaks in the underlying roller compacted concrete are not an issue, as Phase II entails installation of drainage and placing of a hardened concrete cap on top, for example. Cost overruns were not due (this one time, at least) to bureaucratic incompetence, but to the inability to get a good estimate due to the need to do a lot of work to understand the underlying geology before being able to size the project. And so on.

He attended the DWR news briefings, and seemed to be the only guy there asking intelligent questions or, indeed, understanding the answers. As you can imagine, the PR people with the DWR and Kiewit, the project management firm, started to get to know and appreciate Brown. Last week, he published part II of a guided tour of the site, not something the general public is getting, lead by a DWR and a Kiewit P.R. person.

At one point, off-camera, the lady from the DWR asked him a question: why are you doing this? Why are you so interested in this project? He gave the obvious answers: it’s in his backyard, it’s the biggest engineering project going on at the moment in the entire US, and he finds it fascinating.

Now, I have no way to independently verify the accuracy of Brown’s understanding and analysis of the Oroville Dam spillway projects, but I have a lot more confidence in him than I do any of the young, pretty people I’ve seen report on this in the ‘real’ media. Why? He asks the questions I would ask, and explains the answers in a way that makes sense.

Juan Brown is in some sense exactly the reporter who doesn’t need the money. He just doesn’t work for the media.

The appearance that needs to be saved here is the readily-observable ignorance and clear lack of worry over such ignorance by just about any news reporter or writer. The theory on the table is that careers in journalism appeal to a certain type of person: one who doesn’t need to make a lot of money, and who is attracted to an inner circle of sorts. The sort who can be paid in prestige, and who is not worried by, or perhaps fails to notice, their own manifest incompetence in the face of confusing facts.

In other words, the reason journalists are in general not any more reliable or informative than the women gossiping while drawing water in the village square is that, for many people involved, it’s not a passion for accuracy or truth that drives them, but in fact something much more akin to that feeling a gossip gets when she has something particularly juicy to share.

Maybe? Hey, it’s a theory, I’m sure there are others.

Perhaps next I should think about what news even is, really, and how much, if at all, we need it. I suspect not very much.

Voting is Like Taking Out the Garbage

Yes, over-the-top clickbait style title. Just thinking out loud here…

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In order to have civilization, you have to take out the garbage.  When people are few and far between, you can dispose of your refuse any way you want, partly because you’ll likely produce little refuse, and that refuse will be biodegradable or at least ‘natural’, partly because you don’t have many neighbors to complain about it.

But once you get civilized, the root meaning of which is ‘living in cities’, garbage disposal becomes an active concern. Your neighbors very likely will care where you dump your garbage. Your own home will become a dump by default if you don’t make the effort to get rid of that stuff.

No one mistakes taking out the garbage as the purpose of civilized life, even though proper waste disposal is essential to it. Instead, if we think about it at all, we think proper waste disposal is something we all do in order to make and keep space for doing what is more important to us. A comfortable, non-smelly home with places for meals, conversations, sleeping and so forth is the goal on a personal level; on a community level, we want similar standards applied to public places for similar reasons. Therefore, we take steps both for our personal garbage disposal and for methods and places to deal with our collected garbage.

Thus, every city, town and village has its garbage men and dumps. Public piles of trash outside of dumps are a sign that civilization is slipping away or has never completely arrived. Privately, Hoarders, cat ladies and people who never seem to clean up their own messes are a tolerable nuisance, usually, but could become a public issue if their personal garbage gets too far out of hand.

Image result for plastic straws
Oh, the huge manatee!!

Few imagine that their success or excellence in dealing with garbage is a defining characteristic of their personhood. True, out here in California, you will meet the Prius-driving composters who would never use a plastic straw nor fail to recycle a soda can and who thinks anyone who fails at these steps is Destroying the Planet and therefore probably irredeemably eeeeeevil. But even out here, people tend to be more sane than that, and take into consideration other personal factors, such as friends, family, hobbies, and achievements before marking a person for future culling once the right-thinking people achieve their peaceful, righteous totalitarian paradise.

Not so with voting! In two different senses, voting seems to be popularly considered an indispensable sign of full personhood. First, not having the right to vote makes one less than fully human in the minds of many. Second, to some, voting *wrong* makes one an unperson, as evil, stupid and suitable for extermination as people who consciously put plastic straws in the San Francisco Bay.

I contend, rather, that voting is much more like our duty to take out the garbage than it is a defining aspect of full personhood. Voting is something we do for the sake of other, much more important things. It is those important things – family, friends, possessions and the freedom to enjoy them – that give voting its meaning.

Historically, in America, we had a revolution to a large extent over the colonists chafing at the very idea that a government an entire ocean away could make and enforce rules and taxes without so much as a how do you do to the people to be ruled and taxed. Coming from Britain, the colonists had inherited a belief in a commonwealth reflected in common law – the idea that certain rights and duties had been established by centuries of precedent, and that the day to day laws were to reflect and reinforce those precedents. More simply, the English in Britain had one commonwealth, which included peculiarly English laws and traditions, royalty, parliament and so forth, while the English colonists in America had developed, over the centuries prior to the Revolution, a different commonwealth, which included, among other things, the practice of self-government. That the Crown would attempt to unilaterally impose its will with no regard to the colonists’ long-established practices shined a stark light on the fact that America was not the same naturally-constituted Nation as England.

In such an environment, the simple act of voting, of having a say in your own government, took on the sacramental quality of religious dogma. “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” – this is a religious dogma in its very formulation. Compare this to the early English practice of having local votes on local issues, such as each man who bore arms got to vote on (local) issues of war: because it was my life I was putting on the line, I get a say. In medieval practice, a woman, or a teenager we might consider a child, might get a vote in local decisions if they were the ranking representative of their family. Voting was more or less tightly bound to personal duties and obligations the voter would be expected to be personally responsible for.

Having a farmer or miller vote on ‘national’ issues or ‘candidates’ made no sense, not the least because the modern idea of a nation or candidate are complete anachronisms when applied to the Middle Ages. Instead, I, the local farmer, owed allegiance to a local lord, who in turn vowed to protect me and mine and to honor our rights. That lord owed allegiance to a greater lord in a similar way. Such allegiances might or might not roll up to a king or emperor someplace, but even such nested loyalties were built upon local, often face to face, loyalties, duties and rights.

The English systems grew out of these medieval roots, and, at the time of the Revolution, weren’t all that far from them. Indeed, the new Republic’s voting ideas reflected those English roots to some extent: State governments selected Senators and Electoral College members however they saw fit; the President therefore worked for the States and only indirectly for the people. The federal judiciary was yet one step further removed from popular vote. Only the House of Representatives was the direct result of state-wide elections.

But this removal of most of the Federal Government from direct election by the People contradicted the dogma that government gains its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and, even more important, the inescapable corollary that the individual is the sole sacred locus of all legitimate political power. It is clear from the Federalist Papers that insulating the bulk of the government from the whims of voters was an active goal, reflecting the republican idea that we share an inherited commonwealth that is not open to revision by vote. Such a commonwealth included the notion of individual rights, and government of, by and for the People.

The idea of the sovereign individual who reigns supreme via his consent given at the ballot box conflicts not only with the idea of an inherited commonwealth that his vote cannot overrule, but with reality in general. It seems the Founders assumed voters would be like them – men for the most part thoroughly invested in family, children and usually land. Those families, especially those children (“our posterity”) are the direct embodiment of the commonwealth. A voter could only legitimately exercise his franchise to support the commonwealth! A voter votes as a son, father, and husband, or his vote is not legitimate. Those of us who are sons, fathers and husbands get this instinctually.

This conflict between the sovereign individual and the family man produced by and protecting a commonwealth can go one of two ways:  either individual sovereignty becomes THE measure of worth in society such that not having it is being relegated to non-person standing, or voting a secondary or tertiary thing that only has value insofar as it promotes and protects the commonwealth that is the place where individual rights reside.

Further, if we go the sovereign individual route, the commonwealth itself cannot be off limits. We must be able to vote away our rights, for example, or we are not truly sovereign individuals – something completely contrary to what the Founders stated, but an inevitable result of the logic’s gravity.

In the hoary American tradition, we’ve mostly whistled past this issue for 200+ years while sliding with greater alacrity toward sovereign individualism. In a final twist, a large number of the latter-day recipients of the franchise – women, blacks, 18 year olds – choose to vote for various flavors of the idea that the individual is nothing, the masses everything. Inheritances such as free speech and due process are attacked daily – by popularly-elected officials. The gravitational pull of sovereign individualism toward destruction of the commonwealth is not just a theory.

Under a republican understanding, where a Republic consists of a common wealth held by all to the benefit of all, a citizen does not need to be defined as a voter. Citizens are all those who share fully in the benefits of the commonwealth. Voting becomes the means to an end: the protection and promotion of the commonwealth for the sake of family, and, particularly, our posterity. It would be absurd from this view to pit the right to vote against duty to family and Republic, since voting exists for the sake of those things. Under this view, voters should be those who are best situated to defend the Republic. The idea that voting could be allowed to drive a wedge between members of the same family would be a horror, or at least wildly counterproductive.

Rather than the ultimate expression of our full adult personhood, voting is more like taking out the trash. It needs to be done in order to have a civilization, but it is not that which defines us a full adults.

Finally, sovereign individualism flies in the face of reality in another sense: we Americans with few exception spend tiny amounts of time and effort on voting. If we really believed voting is the highest expression of our human dignity, maybe we’d hold votes more often that once every year or two? Maybe get the week before election day off to allow proper study of the issues and candidates? Perhaps have quarterly or monthly holidays on which to hold local meetings to discuss politics and try to understand our neighbors? In other words, shouldn’t we ACT a little more like voting is all-important if we claim to believe it is?

(Just realized I almost went full Starship Troopers here…)

 

 

Home Improvement Projects as of 10/1

Thinking back, this whole brick insanity began maybe 5-6 years ago when I asked Cindy, our neighbor on the south, is she’d mind if I put in a little brick wall down the property line between our houses. She said sure, go for it. So, initially, I was thinking maybe a 40′ long, three brick high little wall, just to tidy up the transition from lawn to her white gravel around little low bushes look.

Then, I got to thinking. This is a bad as one might imagine. What if I put in a second little wall a foot from the first, and made a nice long planter? That would be cute.

Then, the old walnut tree in the front yard needed to be taken out – slowly dying, leaning slightly toward the house, was starting to get worrisome. So, out it went, and the truly hare-brained phase began: what if, instead of a worthless front lawn, we put in a little orchard? Hmmm…

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As of 10/1. Pomegranates in the still a mess front yard. 

Next, I’d long been annoyed with the inevitable tire tracks on the lawn where people pulling into the drive missed the driveway. So, what if I made a little maybe 3′ wide brick path along the driveway, throw a little concrete and steel right along the edge to support the inevitable errant car tires…

We started surfing Craig’s List for free bricks. They come up regularly. Soon, we had maybe a 2,000 bricks stacked in the front yard, most needing some clean up of old mortal. we’ve continued to collect more bricks, at least 4,000 by now. I’ve cleaned the mortar off of well over 2,000 bricks. We have a large unsightly pile of mortar chips that I’ve been using to fill in under concrete whenever we need to.

But we also had a couple little trees seriously outgrowing the barrel halves we’d stuck them in, a dwarf fig and a citrus tree andrew had grown from a seed when he was quite little. Why not build in a couple stylish planters out front, and put those trees there?

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Driveway walk & planters as of 2 years ago. 

THEN, looking at brickwork pictures, saw the adorable brick ovens people make. Well, I’ve got thousands of bricks up front, how hard could it be to build a brick oven? So add that to the list.

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Only took 16 months! 

Next next, looked like grandma was going to come live with us, which she did 2 years ago. The late walnut tree had made a mess out of the walk up to the front door, lifting and cracking it. A ramp would be better for grandma anyway, and I have all these bricks. So older son took a sledge to the walk, and younger son and I poured about 3/4 of a ton of concrete to bring the surface up enough so that the ramp would meet the porch slab…

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With ramp to front porch and little trees! About a year ago. 

And, what the heck, after I saw how nice the planters looked with the two little trees with a bench between them, why not just keep going, build a path and some planters along the front facing the street? Then somebody tsk tsk’d me, saying that the problem with the front yard orchard is that people are just going to steal your fruit. That had never occured to me, but, hey, a wrought iron style fence along the top of the front brick wall of the planters would look great. Of course, I’d need to build some columns on the ends to support the fence…

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Nearly finished north section of the walk, planter and fence along the street, looking south. 
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Little columns came out nice. Need to put a capping row of bricked beneath the fence, will need to layout and mark where the occasional through upright spike goes, and so some careful cutting. Front yard still a wreck. 

So, as we wrap up Year Three of the massive brick home improvement project, the one part I haven’t even started yet? The wall between our house and the neighbor to the south. But it looks OK! Maybe 2 more years, and I’ll wrap it up.

If I live that long.

 

Histories of Catholic Education, a Note

Setting aside Parish School by Timothy Walch (1997) and returning to The Catholic School System in the United States,  by James A. Burns, C.S.C. (1908) in order to catch up chronologically.  I read today about French efforts to establish schools in New Orleans.

Burns notes that from its founding, the leaders of New Orleans sought to bring teachers from France to found schools in the tiny colony, and were answered by the Capuchins, who set up a boys’ school in 1725, and the Ursulines, who set a girls’ school in 1727.

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Site of the Capuchin School in the French Quarter

Site of First Louisiana School Marker

The Capuchin school is no more, but a very New Orleans style hotel stands on the spot where it used to be. The Ursuline School is still in business.

So we have here physical evidence of not only French settlement in America, but of French concern for education. Burns describes the heroic efforts of the Capuchins and Ursulines in trying to educate children; he mentions the worry of the sisters when control of Louisiana passed to the Spanish and then back to the French and then to the US. Relations with the Spanish were of a culture class nature but things got worked out. Much more worrisome was post revolutionary and ferociously anti-Catholic France resuming control. Most of the Ursuline sisters fled to Havana, leaving only nine to work on the school.

Then America took over. The French experience with Republican government did not inspire confidence in the remaining sisters, who fired off a letter to President Jefferson, who assured them that the new government would not seize their property nor interfere in the school. Andrew Jackson’s wounded troops were cared for by the sisters after the Battle of New Orleans. He returned later as President to show gratitude.

I mention this merely to point out that that’s a lot of history for one little school in a city of a few thousand people. None of this is mentioned by Walch. It is not clear what selection criteria Walch is using here. A single missionary’s school in Arizona that died when he died warrants a paragraph or two; a couple of centuries of schools in New Orleans do not.

I mentioned Walch’s dismissal of the California Missions. Here is his conclusion:

For Spain and for the Church, the California Missions were an economic wonder. The use of native labor and the favorable climate allowed the missionaries to cultivate a vast quantity of land. The fruit, wine, and beef from California were among the best in the world, but the price was high. The hard labor killed off the the native population, and the decline of the mission system in California followed the demise of the native population.

I just skimmed through the notes of the chapter in which this above quotation occurs, and, unfortunately nearly all references are to modern historians and history books. Therefore, I’d need to dig through a library in order to find actual source materials instead of having them noted in the text, which is what Burns does.

It’s a huge question: what source materials justify the movement from the position of Burns, who calls Junipero Serra a saint and the California missions a miracle that only died, along with the more than 30,000 Indian Christians. as a result of the direct action of Mexican government – and quotes and otherwise references sources to support it – to Walch’s position above? Were there not 30,000+ Christin Indians in the missions when they were seized and destroyed by the Mexican government? If the missions were dying out because forced labor was killing off the Indians, how did the mission population grow to 30,000 in the first place? That might work over a short term or given a comparatively huge population of Indians to start with, but neither of those conditions prevailed.

Or did they? A source or two could clear this up. Instead – and I don’t know Walch is doing this, but he’s failed to provide any evidence he’s not – are we going to jump on the band wagon diparaging Fr, Serra and all things Catholic in California, that was all the rage when Serra was up for canonization? Are we just buying the Fabian program of rewriting history so that it matches ideology?

I don’t know. But I’ve read enough over a lifetime to know that a modern historian is not proved more reliable simply by virtue of being modern.

 

Education Reading: 9/25 Update

Still working my way through Parish School by Timothy Walch (1997) and The Catholic School System in the United States,  by James A. Burns, C.S.C. (1908), with an equal or greater amount of effort spent tracking down references and googling background information. Very enlightening.

Because it is a much shorter work, I’m up to rereading sections covering the late 1800s/early 1900s in Walch while still back in colonial times with Burns. Walch covers the controversies and appeals to the Pope over disagreements in the Catholic hierarchy in America. Archbishop John Ireland, classified by Walch as a liberal, dreams of a day when Catholics can just send their kids to public schools and be done with it. After all, Ireland says, (here reflecting late Brownson) Americanism is fully compatible with Catholicism in its respect for the individual and freedom. Catholics should not fear immersion in Americanism just so long as the overt anti-Catholicism is purged. He seemed confident that it had been purged by 1890, when he was writing. Other archbishops threw their arms up in despair – Ireland was throwing the entire Parish School movement under the bus in order to make nice to non-Catholic Americans. If the public schools were acceptable, what was the point of having had thousands of parishes and millions of immigrants sacrifice to build and send their kids to parish schools?

A couple of issues are touched upon lightly that seem to need further expansion, and one critical point is ignored.  Walch repeats throughout the text the idea that Catholics in general were envious of the comparatively well-funded and appointed public schools, with their trained and certified teachers, and that everybody knew attending a public school gave kids a leg up on getting ahead. Haven’t tracked down or even read through all his notes – there are many – but the quotations in the text that might support these views have so far invariably been from partisans in the disagreement, or at least clerics. We don’t hear from Paddy the cop or Hanz the baker or Gianni the line worker in the shoe factory on their views of pubic versus parish schools. They were probably too busy. But based on their works, the churches and schools they did build with their own money and sweat, one might imagine they would beg to differ.

We do know that certain *clerics* envied the public schools. Fr. Pace, Fr. Shields, Fr. Burns, Archbishop Ireland and other priests and bishops thought ‘modern’ ‘scientific’ schooling embodying the latest advances in ‘scientific’ psychology and ‘scientific’ pedagogy were marvels, and that the dedicated but untrained and uncertified sisters doing most of the teaching in Catholic schools were a bit of an embarassment.

Walch also asserts that non-Catolic Americans were consistently baffled by the Church’s resistance to public schools. Hadn’t the schools (eventually, after some bloodshed) removed the Protestant King James Bible from the curriculum? Sure, there was some dispute over history, where the influence of the likes of Francis Parkman made the Catholics in the New World buffoons on a good day and evil, conniving anti-Americans on most days. But hey, the morality presented in the readers and copybooks was almost identical! So, come on, Catholics, we’ve met you more than half way!

In other words, there was nothing but acceptance, nay, affection among Protestants for American Catholics, who wouldn’t dream of ramming their views down the throats of Catholic kids via the public schools. Too bad Al Smith was not able to tap into all this good will.

I think there might be more to it than that.

A far greater and less excusable omission is Walch’s total failure to include any *reasons* why Catholics in 1890 might be suspicious of the good intentions of those then in charge of public education. It is implied that their fears were largely anachronistic, based on an earlier time. But as readers of this blog are aware, such contemporary luminaries in education as William Torey Harris were pushing Hegelianism as the official view of the US Office of Education – you know, that Modernism stuff the popes kept going on about. Harris, who was in office as US Commissioner of Education at the time Ireland address the (secular) National Education Association with his pro-public schooling remarks, said:

“Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.”

Anything there a Catholic might object to, in principle? Harris also sought to make schools sensory deprivation tanks (“The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places … It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.”). Maybe somebody attending Mass in any one of the thousands of beautiful churches built by immigrants might object to this approach as being fairly explicitly anti-Catholic? No catechism in stone, just abstract thought?

So while the public schools were being lead by people dedicated to turning them into factories producing docile robots immune to beauty, the ‘liberal’ leaders of the Catholic Church were desperate to send Catholic kids to those schools, in the name of Progress and being Good Americans, and to the obviation of parish schools. In Walch’s telling, the opposition of the bishops he calls ‘conservatives’ is just this mystery, or at most them being fuddy-duddies stuck in the past.

Trying to stop getting sidelined and just finish these two books. Instead, I pulled down a short biography of Barnard, a contemporary and co-conspirator with Mann, because something Walch or Burns said made me think of Barnard…

Next up:

IMG_5216

Seaton is an obvious choice. Thoroughly expect the book on the right is another cheerleading job, but true believers tend to slip up and say what they really mean from time to time. I’ve read and briefly reviewed the Holy See’s Teachings on Catholic Schoolsbut want to reread it now, as I suspect there was more than a little judicious cherry picking going on. I remember nothing in these writings that Archbishop Ireland wouldn’t be completely down with. (He wanted the State’s role in education to be on a par with the parents and the Church. No, really, he thought that was a good idea.)

I really need to get that Educational Resources page going here…

An Interesting Educational Tidbit

I’m working on a longer post, but here’s a fascinating bit from my parallel reading of Parish School by Timothy Walch (1997) and The Catholic School System in the United States,  by James A. Burns, C.S.C. (1908). Walch, who is still working and seems to be at least the go-to guy for American Catholic School history at the moment, summarily dismisses the efforts of the Spanish missionaries as not amounting to anything. Walch even quotes with some approval the words of the American historian Parkman, who, based on a quick perusal of his other well-known quotations. would have qualified as an anti-Catholic bigot even according to the standards of the time (his career spanned the 19th century). By which I mean, other anti-Catholic bigots would find his words gratifying, while anyone with any sympathy toward the Church and any broader (non-English speaking world) hint of history would find them libelous.

That a modern academic, even a Catholic one, would take a dim view of the Church’s work in the New World except insofar as it can be seen as ‘progressing’ toward the far, far better now, is not surprising. Any other view will get you banished from the cool kids’ table.

What is surprising is the contrast between Burns’ work and views and Walch’s. The latter can hardly spare enough words to describe the California Missions before lumping them in with the Texas, New Mexico, Florida  and Arizona missions to be dismissed as fruitless. Burns, on the other hand, spend a short chapter on each one, noting on-going educational efforts, lessons learned even in failure, and reasons for their ultimate demise. In the of case  Florida, New Mexico and California, political forces played a large role in frustrating and even exterminating the educational efforts of the missionaries and colonists. Florida, for example, was attacked at one point by English colonists from Georgia, who may have destroyed the seminary school in St. Augustine. New Mexico, by a combination of excessive brutality by both Church and State, fomented the Indian revolt that resulted in the loss of all schools in the territory. In Texas, even the highly critical  Cox (he’s clearly of the Parkman school) notes that it was difficult to justify schools when Indian raids and the harshness of the environment made life itself tenuous.

In California, the missions were a resounding, remarkable success, with thousands of Indian converts living and working with the Spanish friars, who shared their lives with them. Only when the Mexican government (you know, the people who eventually brought their country the Cristero War) dissolved the mission system in the 1830s did the the native population assume its trajectory towards extinction.

Burns quotes the following:

“If we ask where are now the thirty thousand Christianized Indians who once enjoyed the beneficence and created the wealth of the twenty-one Catholic missions of California, and then contemplate the most wretched of all want of system which has surrounded them under our own Government, we shall not withhold our admiration from those good and devoted men who, with such wisdom, sagacity, and self-sacrifice, reared these wonderful institutions in the wilderness of California. They at least would have preserved these Indian races if they had been left to pursue unmolested their work of pious beneficence.”‘

Dwinelle, op. cit.. p. 63. ‘Blackmar. op. cit., p. 48. Cf. also Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1905.

The ‘failure’ of these early Spanish schools seems mostly to be a failure to fit the narrative. The concept that government involvement in Catholic education, at least to the extent of establishing methods and curriculum if not exercising (as in modern Germany) near total control, is to be seen as an unmitigated good, once the rough spots of the 19th century were worked out. The idea that people working outside much direct government control might do good that is then destroyed by their government – well, we’re not to dwell on that, or the mean girls will pick on us.

Needed to vent a little there. Getting back into a more scholarly mode: Superficially at least, Burns seems to support the direction of the Catholic schools, already evident in his time, away from the care of devout sisters and priest toward more professional teachers and administrators, after the fashion of the public schools. He and Walch seem to see eye-to-eye on this. The difference is that Burns, after Shields and Pace, is confident enough to allow consideration of other goals and models without knee-jerk condemnation. I suspect that’s because the Catholic schools of his day could still be appreciated as a triumph of the Church, a shining beacon of Catholicism in a country that hated us.

Walch, on the other hand, is writing at a time when large numbers of Catholics consider the Catholic schools tragic failures, from the grade schools to the universities.  Those most dedicated to the concept of a recognizably Catholic education are founding schools and colleges outside the parochial system and in the face of existing Catholic universities. The big, happy Catholic families that were sending 6 or 8 kids to parish schools in the 50s and 60s, hoping their kids could get into Notre Dame, are now homeschooling or sending them to the likes of St. Monica Academy hoping they can get into Thomas Aquinas College.  Supporters of the current Catholic school models have been betrayed by Progress. While Burns could merely dream of how great things would become if only his progressive ideas were realized, Walch must deal with the less-than-happy sight of those ideas embodied in reality.

I am reminded of the bishop C. S. Lewis puts in Hell in the Great Divorce, who is reduced to arguing that while where he finds himself does not much match his previous visions, it must be Heaven nonetheless.