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 Just look at how modern, more recent creatures are superior to ancient, outdated creatures!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…

Related image

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…)

 

 

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.

 

Thursday Update: Modernism & Education & Science!

A. Ran into some very interesting stuff around the whole excommunicate Catholics who refused to send their kids to Catholic schools even when such were available and affordable. Walch tells the story differently than I’d read it before (where, I can’t remember and didn’t take notes! Never again will I not take notes! No, really, this time – for sure! It’s got to be in either the books on the shelf in front of me or in one of the myriad of links I’ve collected…)

Image result for bullwinkle this time for sure

Walch ascribes the incident to the machinations of one layman, a James McMaster, a convert who, with typical convert zeal, thought Catholics should send their kids to parish schools no matter what, to keep them out of the evil clutches of the state schools. On his own, he sent damning articles showing the evil of public schools to Rome, along with a memorandum asking if Catholics could justifiably send their kids to such schools.

This got the attention of people in Rome, who responded by sending a questionnaire to the American bishops. They responded and, at least according to Walch, were a bit put out. The pope got involved, and issued the Instruction of 1875, which favored McMaster’s take, but left things vague enough to provide leeway in the bishop’s actions. The bishops chose to ignore the instructions.

Walch’s sympathies are clearly with Progress, and he repeatedly states in this section of the book how Catholics thought their schools were often inferior to the public schools and parents concerned for their children’s futures would choose them for that reason. Besides, many if not most parishes did not have a desk in the parish schools for anything like all the Catholic children in the area. The bishops’ disregard for the rulings of Rome is seen as an inevitable and good thing. He quotes, of all people, Orestes Brownson as someone favoring having Catholic students attend public schools.

(Aside: Can’t resist talking Brownson! There’s a somewhat famous Brownson quotation deriding the very idea that the state should control education – “Where the whole tendency of education is to create obedience, all teachers must be pliant tools of government. Such a system of education is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society but the thing is wholly inadmissible here… According to our theory the people are wiser than the government. Here the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give law to the government….to entrust government with the power of determining education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power of the master. The fundamental difference between the United States and Prussia has been overlooked by the board of education and its supporters.” However, this quotation is from around 1840. By 1865, Brownson was championing the idea that the US would both become Catholic by nature and necessity, and that the rest of the Western Hemisphere would convert (if necessary) and petition to join the Union. If one thinks the nation will become Catholic, then one might stop objecting to state run schools.)

The other view I’d come across was rather that some of what would now be called conservative Catholic bishops wanted the power to withhold the sacraments from anyone who could send their kids to a Catholic school and didn’t, and were disappointed with the vague answers the pope gave in the Instruction of 1875, but, obedient as they were, they let it go. By either take, this ended up encouraging people like Shields, Pace and Barns to view the public schools as some sort of ideal that the Catholic schools were to strive to achieve.

Yikes.

B. I have mentioned in passing that Fr. Thomas Shields, a scientific psychologist and pedagogue and, according to the meager sources I’ve found so far, a somewhat obscure Catholic Progressive educator, and Fr.  James A. Burns, a prolific writer and fundraiser and one time president of Notre Dame, espouse and promote ideas concurrently being condemned by popes, namely, Modernism.

Here’s somebody’s summary of Pascendi dominici gregis subtitled on the Vatican website  “Encyclical of Pope Pius X on the doctrines of the Modernists.” It’s well worth reading. This summary seems about right.

Burns first published in 1908, the year after the encyclical was proclaimed; Shields was active both before and after.  One thing I read and didn’t makes notes on (a mistake I’m trying to avoid now!) quoted some late 19th century letters among American Catholic prelates on how backwards and hidebound the European Churches were, and how we Americans had to lead them into the glorious future. That attitude would seem congruent with the writings of Shields and Barns, and would explain their (so far – have lots more to read) silence on the teachings of this and previous encyclicals.

To take it point by point – modernist?:

  • Classic philosophy does not get discussed as a basis for education; the latest ‘advances’ are touted – yes;
  • Not directly, but see catechesis  below – push;
  • Not directly, but that we are surfing the leading edge of Progress is merely assumed, with regular comments about how we used to do it poorly in the past, but now we’re doing it obviously better and scientific mow – qualified yes;
  • So far, there’s both these writers are pretty firm on dogma – no;
  • They both want to reform catechesis. On one paper I read, Shields is commended for his opposition to the Baltimore Catechism and in trying to implement the ‘findings’ of ‘scientific’ psychology to make sure children are not taught stuff too hard for them and are taught in ways that appeal to their feelings. This same author thinks Shields was vindicated in the 1960s when we *finally* ditched the Baltimore Catechism and started doing catechesis right. So that would be a – yes;
  • Burns, at least, is big on sacramentals and devotions, so – no;
  • One way to weaken the Church’s power to discipline would be to always step a little over the line and dare the proper ecclesiastical authories to react. That’s pretty much Shield’s M.O., don’t know about Burns, so – qualified yes
  • Both lead by example: Shields ignored the bishops whenever he felt like it, pushed for the professionalization of Catholic school teachers and for them to run the schools as they saw fit – moving authority from bishops to clergy and lay people. Burns is big on the Catholic National Education Association, by which Shields’ goals were pursued. This isn’t even looking at Notre Dame. This would be a big – yes;
  • See above;
  • See above;
  • N/A
  • Burns:  “In the teaching of the purely secular branches she (the Church) has had no direct interest. She took the curriculum of secular studies such as she found it, and left its development to the operation of the ordinary laws of educational growth. Outside of the matter of religion, there has been no attempt to differentiate Catholic parish schools from other denominational schools or from the public schools.” This sounds OK on the surface, but what it means in practice, and what actually happened, was that Catholic schools accepted uncritically whatever methods and content is developed for the public schools provided it can be framed up as ‘secular’ knowledge. This is not good, when the public schools first goal is to promote control and a harmony, let us say, of ideas – modernist ideas. Think psychology, history and sociology. I’ll talk about this further in another post. So – yes. 
  • This, and the next two points, are quite evident in current ‘catholic’ schools, but not yet evident in the writings of Shields and Burns – Incomplete
  • Incomplete
  • Incomplete

I think it’s safe to tentatively conclude, while leaving room for counter evidence, that since the early 20th century at the latest, our Catholic parish schools have been steered toward exactly the modernism that Pope St. Pius X specifically condemned.

I know you’re shocked.

C. Then there’s this nonsense: Bad science! Bad!.When feminists and other anti-science, anti-reason, anti-reality loonies get to decide what it is permissible to find, Orwell’s dystopia is already upon us. What the paper says and how strong its arguments are is irreverent to this point – we won’t know, because it’s not published! – merely that it can be memory-holed because of bad think.

The time to be nice has long passed. We must make a stink whenever the opportunity arises.

Final Thoughts on Lewis’s Inner Rings & Update

The previous 2 posts are concerned with C. S. Lewis’s 1944 address “Inner Rings“, Fr. Longenecker’s commentary on it, and my commentary on both and examples from That Hideous Strength. I also added a few thoughts on some ways in which fans, both of sports and celebrities in general, can fall into the trap of enforced conformity merely by being such fans.

Politics has become largely such a fan club. The utterly irrational enthusiasm for Obama, Bernie, and to a lesser but still troubling degree, Trump(1) is exactly the sort of behavior we expect from sports fans.

Fans consider a team or celebrity or politician ‘ours’ even though fans in no way own or control or even influence those teams, celebrities or politicians. In sports, it may be more or less harmless for fans to consider a team ‘theirs’ even though they don’t own it, don’t influence coaching or management or personnel decisions, and even though the real owners can take the team to some other city, or sell it or even disband it without a second thought to what the loyal fans might want.

But in politics, here’s what happens: ‘fans’ of socialism, for example, get their hero put in charge, with the belief that, unlike previous leaders, he is going to hold their feelings close to his heart. He will take care of them! Policy details are necessarily vague to non-existent, as the fans are most definitely not fans of all the little detailed steps needed to get to the Worker’s Paradise – that why they hope to elect the Bern or that Ocasio-Cortez woman. It is much more important to the fans that their heroes’ hearts be in the right place than that they have any idea what they’re doing.

The incoherence and impatience with which these two politicians respond to practical, even slightly detailed questions reflects the attitude of their fans. Their resumes – “politician, educator, and political activist” – are completely without any objective, measurable achievements. And the fans don’t care.

Put the last two points together: political fans have no control and vanishingly little input into what their heroes will do once they have power, and they are uninterested in how these results are to be achieved, and even uninterested to an amazing degree if anything at all is achieved. Just as supporters swooned over the ACA, they will swoon over whatever the next nice-sounding power grab is. The Economic Fairness Act, if supported by the Bern or Ocasio-Cortez will garner unquestioning support from their fans, who will not investigate or even care how or if it will work. The American Dreamer Immigration Reform Act, or the Oligarchy Control Act, the Income Equalization Act – any and all of these made-up bills will receive the support of the fans provided their heroes support them. (2) No amount of pointing out how they will really work will even register. The Bern wants economic fairness! Miss Ocasio-Cortez wants to help immigrants! That’s all that will register in the typical fan’s mind.

In the extreme case, you get apologists for Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Che and Chavez. Because, despite what they did in reality – purges (3), murder, mayhem, complete economic destruction, all while personally living high on the hog – because, darn it all, their hearts are in the right place! Look at the Soviet constitution! More and better guarantees of rights than even the US Constitution! Never mind that all those rights didn’t help the Kulaks much, because I’m not a Kulak. They were asking for it anyway.

But, boy, isn’t their rhetoric lovely! My failures and unhappiness are not my own, I am a victim of oppression by vast historical forces. We must defeat those forces by killing all that are under their sway! Then we will all be happy.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m merely stating the core beliefs in plain English.

Well before it finally goes too far, fans may start to realize that they have no say and no effective way to oppose any course of action their heroes chose to pursue, up to and including killing off the fans themselves.

I wish there were a way to help people ask, always, will that plan work? How? At what cost? But there doesn’t seem to be any.

On a lighter note:

IMG_5206

This little dwarf fig tree grew in a pot, then a barrel, for over 10 years. Two springs ago, we transplanted it in this spot by the front door.

It really likes being in the ground. Last year, we got an early and late fig crop, and the tree was trying for a third before the weather turned cold; I trimmed it back over the winter. Now, it’s twice the size and yields a few cups of figs per day, and has been for a couple weeks, and is still loaded with maturing figs:

(Don’t know if you can see them in there, but lots of little figs)

Now, I’m not a huge fig fan. I make a very lightly sweetened fig jam which a couple of the kids like. That’s about it. But I’m a huge fan of beautiful plants and trees, and this is a beautiful little tree. That biblical image of a man content beneath his own fig tree comes to mind every time I pass it.

Further, while we are following the best practice of not letting our other fruit trees bear much fruit until Year 3 – next year – in order to make sure the trees get properly rooted, my lack of thoroughness allowed a couple dozen peaches and pomegranates to grow. We let a handful of apricots come in for testing – they were good – but I failed to dig around in the lower, more hidden reaches of the very thick foliage of our dwarf peach tree and missed a bunch. They were really good, and the little tree is so vigorous I’m figuring its roots are doing fine anyway.

Pomegranates don’t ripen until November or later. This little tree I have trimmed and trimmed again – can’t let them get much over 7′ tall or our front yard orchard will be unmanageable – there’s just no stopping it! Must have pinched off hundreds of blossoms and little fruit and – well, like the dwarf peach, I’m figuring it’s so vigorous the roots must be doing OK. So, in a couple months, we’ll have a 2-3 dozen beautiful pomegranates to deal with.

Really looking forward to next season!

Finally, Tool Time! I’ve never had a workshop or even adequately large garage to work in, so my tool collection, though not insubstantial, is not very big for somebody as into home improvement projects as I am. Things I really wish I had, but have no place to keep: planer, drill press, good size workbench with some bench clamps, masonry saw,  welding equipment, cutting torch and probably a bunch more I’m not thinking of at the moment.

I’m always happy when I find some small tool or gadget that does exactly what I need but doesn’t take up much space. Previous additions include little angle grinder – how did I ever do without one? – a hammer drill and various router bits. The latest add: a step drill bit. Little tiny thing that is making putting in the wrought iron style fence and gate I’m working on much easier. I need to cut all these 1/2″ holes through some fairly soft iron, but I was chewing up drill bits and time doing it. Now? Cordless drill in one hand, can of WD-40 in the other, and I’m a hole-drillin’ fool!

It’s the little things….

For both my readers who care, I’ll have pics of the Endless Brick and Faux Wrought Iron Fence Front Yard Project of Death soon. It’s coming along.

  1. I make this distinction because, in general, fans of Trump express their love based on stuff Trump actually did, e.g., reducing regulation & stimulating economic growth, or is measurably making some progress on, e.g., reducing illegal immigration and building the wall, while fans of Bernie and Barry base their fandom entirely on what they believe their heroes stand for. Bernie and Barry share a track record of having done very, very little except for grand symbolic gestures. Consider: Obama’s greatest achievement is considered getting the Affordable Care Act passed. Note that getting this law passed did not in practice provide affordable care, it merely shifted burdens around, compelled people who might not have wanted insurance to get it anyway, and created a vast, unworkable bureaucratic structure all while providing no workable cost control. But – it’s called the Affordable Care Act, so he’s credited as if affordable care was actually provided. And he’s a positive Edison compared to the Bern.
  2. Again, I’m not a Trump lover, but his support seems fundamentally different (which is why his opponents can’t begin to understand it) – if he somehow tried to get bills passed which restricted gun ownership or opened the boarders or increased taxes, a large section of his base would rebel, no matter how charming the name such bills were given. Compare & contrast Clinton getting NAFTA passed over the objections of the unions – which unions continued to support him.
  3. Fans never think they’ll get purged, because they are True Believers. Wake-up call: fans are often at the top of the culling list.

Follow Up: C. S. Lewis’s Inner Rings and Fans

In yesterday’s post, we discussed C. S. Lewis’s 1944 address The Inner Ring. Fr. Dwight Longenecker mentions this essay in an article of his own, in which he points out the obvious relationship between the concepts in Lewis’s address and his wonderful novel/grown up fairy tale That Hideous Strength.

That Hideous Strength is my second favorite work by Lewis, after Til We Have Faces, and as it is full of memorable scenes and I’ve read it a number of times, it was not difficult to recall passages to illustrate the points in his address. The reality of what Lewis is discussing is patent.

In his address, Lewis goes out of his way to say that Inner Rings are not always a bad thing:

I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an Evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing (1), it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organisation should coincide with its actual workings. If the wisest and most energetic people held the highest spots, it might coincide; since they often do not, there must be people in high positions who are really deadweights and people in lower positions who are more important than their rank and seniority would lead you to suppose. It is necessary: and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous.

So rings are everywhere, sometimes serve a purpose, and are something almost everyone, it seems, is attracted to. But there are exceptions. In That Hideous Strength, Lewis provides the example of Hingest, the renowned chemist, who is a man of actual achievement. He has no interest in the N.I.C.E. and its circles within circles, tries to leave, and is murdered.

Through no merit of my own, I seem to be largely immune to the allure of Inner Rings.  I’m happiest, generally, working on some project on my own, although team activities can be satisfying, too, I’m just more likely to enjoy working solo.

Even back at high school, I do not recall ever wanting to hang with the cool kids. Of course, as the weird loner kid who did both sports (basketball) and drama club and sang in the school choir, there was no Inner Circle that would have me. Nope, it’s another temptation that attracts me, one that is both very much like an Inner Circle while at the same time its polar opposite: the allure of fandom.

Sports is the obvious example. It’s very exciting when your team competes, never mind that they are in no real sense ‘your’ anything. ‘Your’ city doesn’t own them, you have no say over who is on the team, team strategy, long term goals, or any other aspect of team operation. Team owners can and do move their teams away, as the nearby Oakland Raiders fans know too well. This idea that any professional sports team is ‘our’ team, is the fan’s team, is preposterous.

I’ve known all this since I was a kid. Yet, it took me almost 60 years before I shook off my emotional attachment to several professional teams. (2)

Being a sports fan is like being in an inner circle in this respect: there are insiders and outsiders. There are other teams (and their fans) that you despise as a function of your being a fan of your team. Your identity is tied up with being a fan of your team.

Now, few sports fans would admit to this. They’d claim it’s just a game, just for fun. Yet, on an emotional, and even functional level, it’s all true. Sure, those crazy Raiders fans in the Black Hole know it’s a game, that they are playacting according to rules almost as specific as those followed in the game on the field.

Related image

But then again, it’s not. It becomes a chief, sometimes defining, aspect of personality.

Being a fan is nearly opposite to being part of an Inner Ring in three respects: it’s as easy as buying a hat or t-shirt to become a fan, membership is open to everyone, and loyalty is valued. Yet there are definite insides and outsides, and rules. You can criticize the team, the players, the coaches, the front office and the owners, but only so far. People who criticize structural issues, such as how players are compensated or the absence of reasonable safety measures, run the risk of being called out as not real fans – unless they make the proper noises about how much they love the team.

So why even bring this up? The social usefulness of the compelled conformity of fans has not escaped those in love with the idea of compelled conformity.  In this sense, fandom can be made to be an extension of the will of some Inner Circle or other. I think this use of team worship as a method of control has been in play for a long time now. Consider:

Athletes, actors & other entertainers take political stands as an exercise in herd management. Team loyalty is invoked to usurp thought in political affiliation; athletes and actors tell ‘fans’ what politics to root for.  In a sane world, who would care what a 25 yr old jock has to say about anything, let alone politics? Or an actor? The hot dog vendor at the stadium is more likely to have interesting views, since he’s not spent 10,000+ hrs on his jump shot or learning to fake emotions. He may not be compelled in his positions by the need to conform to the group.

In my lifetime, the first famous athlete to take political stands during his career was Ali. He helped reverse public opinion on Vietnam. The press loved him. He was a bit of an outlier, since at the time sports figures could not be counted on to express the ‘correct’ views.

Now? Imagine if someone on the NBA Champion Warriors, who have twice turned down invitations to the Trump White House after a heavily-publicized love fest with Obama, were to be seen wearing a MAGA hat? It would be as shocking as if they started passing the ball to the other team in games.

Now imagine you’re a 20 year old 1st round draft pick, and you wander in to that environment – you going to buck the trend? The coach and stars have made it publicly clear they despise as idiots, evil or both EVERYBODY who holds opposing political views. So you, the 20 year old rookie, conform. Fans continue to be presented with a 100% consistent team political position. Fans may be under less pressure than rookies, but I’d be shocked if anyone at a Warriors game were to wear that MAGA hat. They’d get verbally abused, at least.

That facade of 100% consistent team politics must be maintained. Thus, some of the greatest hatred today is reserved for athletes and entertainers who fail to conform. Traitor to the team! Eeeeevil! Stupid! They must be destroyed! When the NFL tried to get these infants to dial it back for business reasons, all the knives come out.

We cannot let anyone start thinking that freedom of thought trumps group cohesion. All those years of training in school, all the conformity & mindless loyalty, would be undone in a minute if it were shown that teammates could disagree about politics and still be – teammates.

There’s roughly a 50/50 chance an American chosen at random will not be some flavor of committed liberal/progressive/socialist/communist. Yet we are presented with the image of 99% conformity among professional athletes and entertainers, and the complete vilification of that remaining 1%.

This facade of cohesion is one of the last remaining bastions against having to face the true variety of political positions that exist in any functioning democracy. The point of democracy, after all, is to allow people to honorably disagree and still live together in peace.

That’s why, while sane people just role their eyes at the posturing of these prima donnas and get on with their lives, the left cannot tolerate the very idea of professional athletes and other pampered celebrities rejecting any part of their politics. The edifice of group think – the herd – so painstakingly built, would fall.

  1. I think there was a typo here, as context and sense demand it should read “it is not only not a bad thing…” Or?
  2. Lakers, then Warriors, if you must know. I’ve watched a lot of sports, but only gotten really involved in these 2 teams. Now? Meh.