A Small Religious Speculation

What if…

The Church’s missionary efforts looked like this:

  • Start with building a smallish but beautiful chapel within the Church’s traditional architectural language.
Image result for Church of Saint Joseph in Zalipie village, Poland,
Along these lines?
  • Assign 2 canons to make sure that the liturgy is celebrated beautifully and consistently, as it has been best celebrated for centuries:
Like these guys, maybe?
  • Then build a multipurpose building nearby, but not too nearby. (Building A should be clearly distinguishable from Building B.) This building will serve as a base for all the Church’s activities that flow from and are directed toward the Eucharist those two guy up above are making sure gets reverently celebrated.
Image result for african clinic building catholic
This would do.
  • Then staff this facility. Note the order is very important, as it carries and communicates the truth that the Church is commissioned with spreading: that Jesus Christ we commemorate and Who is among us in the most powerful and direct way in the Eucharist has died and risen that we might be saved. AND that we therefore must love one another as we love ourselves.

Of course I’m ignoring a bunch of stuff here, such as how much more effort it takes to set up something like this instead of just sending missionaries out to celebrate Mass on a colorful native blankets spread on Mother Earth, and that the people being proselytized will not (at first) understand what is going on, and that if this were put into practice, many fewer (at first) missionary churches would be established. And I’m rejecting outright the idea that the message – of God’s sacrificial Love and our need for salvation – must be in any material way shaped for the particular audience. I’m making the radical assumption that people being people, and all of us needing saving, that this message doesn’t really need to dressed up in local garb in order to be digestible. Instead, I’m recognizing up front that the Way is weird and foreign and potentially off-putting no matter who you are. I’m rejecting the idea we’re going to go easy on it at first, make it seem just like what people are used to, only to spring the full horror/brilliance/dazzling Love on those same people at some future point. (Right? We’re planning on doing that at some point?)

Anyway, I’m just a nobody who hasn’t done anything, let alone been a missionary. I don’t even really know what is being done (except that mass on a blanket thing – got that from a missionary order’s magazine). Nonetheless, I can’t get away from what I expect would be Paul’s reaction to all this, the greatest missionary of all time and the man who tried to cut through the nonsense of the 1st century by declaring: “I preach Christ, and Him crucified!”

In His Footsteps — Pro-Life Walks Across America

From the Crossroads Pro-Life Walk website:

In His Footsteps

JULY 20, 2019

by centralwalkers

This week, 7 years ago, my parish informed us that a boy walking on Crossroads was hit by a car and passed away early that morning. I was 12 and had known what Crossroads was for as long as I could remember because my parish in Northern Virginia invites walkers to come through and speak at the end of their walks. I remember reading about Andrew and being completely shocked.

This year, I decided to walk with Crossroads, and wow, God’s timing is incredible.

On the first weekend of our walk, way back in San Francisco, at the very first Mass I spoke at, this woman came up to me after and told me she knew someone who did the walk once. I talked to her for a while, and she turned out to be Andrew’s aunt. She said her family was very at peace with what had happened and talking with her was really inspiring and encouraging to me.

On Sunday, I was randomly assigned to speak at St Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in St Louis, MO. Many parishioners came up to me after and told me Andrew had spoken at this same parish just a couple days before his incident several years ago. They were exceedingly sorrowful, and I had many fascinating conversations with them about Andrew. I told them about how his uncle had walked the rest of the summer in his honor and how the rest of the team that year did end up finishing the walk together. It was really moving, and I was struck by how in 2 days or 2 weeks, or at any moment, something like that could happen to us, but are we really prepared? Are we spiritually prepared?

On Thursday, I was on shift walking, and while finishing the final prayers of a rosary with a teammate, we happened to walk right up to the site of the incident, finding the cross planted for Andrew. It was a chilling experience, kneeling and praying in the middle of the road on the median, while cars drove past all around us. My heart was pounding, and I had goosebumps just thinking about Andrew and how he was killed at that very spot while praying the rosary for the unborn, who do not get a chance to live at all. 7 years later, we walk in his same footsteps, and steadfastly continue to pray for an end to abortion.

I am so grateful I was given a chance to live, and for this chance now to witness the gospel of life to others.

Deo gratias.

Victoria Bliss, Central Walk 2019

IMG_1264

Final 2019 Graduation Update

…then back to something more serious, promise.

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts has a lovely campus in Merrimack, New Hampshire, next to the comparatively larger Nashua. The weather cooperated, as the sunny 70F low humidity day is about the best they ever get in New England.

They have a lovely but tiny chapel, so they set up a tent for Mass:

Chapel
Almost the entire interior.
Tent
Lovely icon.

The college requires graduating seniors to make a 5-minute presentation on their thesis before the parents, in a ceremony held at the Mansion, a large 114 year old building a couple miles from campus:

With 28 graduates divided into 2 groups, this didn’t take too long, and we were able to turn to socializing and refreshments.

Bragging break: our son got honors for his thesis defense at TAC; the college president at TMC, unsolicited, told us our daughter’s paper was one of only 2 he’d really liked in his decade-long tenure as president. They did well.

Sunday, we attended Mass at St. Patrick’s – pics in the last post – before heading off to the kid’s uncle’s house (complete with aunt and 4 cousins). On the way, stopped in Northfield, MA, to visit the new TAC East campus. Wow.

One of the dozen+ beautiful buildings on this beautiful campus.
Chapel.
Main doors
Interior, from the choir loft.

The college is renovating some of the buildings, especially the chapel, which, having been built by Protestant Evangelicals, had no center aisle for processions. Overall, most of the buildings are beautiful, the grounds are very striking, just a lovely place. What a blessing!

Our son will be a prefect there next year, meaning he lives in the dorms and hangs with the students, in an effort to help seed the culture which TAC has spent almost 50 years developing on the west coast. He also will be a manager in the kitchen, which means supervising students, mostly, but also doing some cooking. He’s excited. He starts in 6 days.

Daughter soon heads off to Israel for a visit, then back home for a few weeks – then off to Africa as a lay missionary for a year! Yikes! On the plus side, older daughter is moving back to northern California from L.A., so we may see more of her, which is very nice. Down to one 15 year old child, and he’s making noise about doing college early. Kids these days.

So packed house at the moment – we also have another guest – soon to be largely empty. Prayers for the safety and success of our kids would be much appreciated.

The Allure of Psychology

One thing a classic liberal education is supposed to do for you is make you suspicious of ideas you find emotionally attractive. Like the brutal honesty demanded by science, it is just assumed to rub off on students who work their way through all those tough classic texts. Just about every freshman finds Plato attractive. Like the young men who followed Socrates around just to see him lightly eviscerate some pompous fool, we thrilled to the discovery that pompous fools could be eviscerated, and craved more. Then we run into Aristotle, and don’t like it much, because he, effectively, says: enough with the fun and games, time to stand your ground and say what you mean. Perhaps some of us get the idea that Socrates would have met his match, or more, in Aristotle (although I suspect they would have gotten along pretty well while having some doozies of arguments, because they had doozies of arguments. Socrates must have been bored out of his skull with the Ions and Menos of the world.)

Then, as you move on through the list, one precious idea after another gets beat up. You think that you’ve reached the pinnacle of sophistication as an 18 year old who has learned that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing, only to have that self-refuting notion beat up by Aristotle’s moderate realism. Then, perhaps, you see how Aristotelian metaphysics and epistemology lead to places you might not want to go, making Descartes very appealing. But Descartes leads to Hume, Berkeley, and, eventually, Kant, while Thomas leads to science. So now, maybe, Descartes is less appealing, and you take another look at Aristotle…

Thus, by a million paths, the serious student learns to take extra care about accepting too readily ideas that he finds attractive, because he finds them attractive.

When I read Alice Miller‘s books 30+ years ago, I found her ideas very attractive, even though her Freudian approach was seriously off putting. I like to say that Miler was a fallen-away Freudian, but had not fallen away nearly far enough. What made her assertions more acceptable to me was how well they fit with evolutionary theory. On the fly as I read her books, I would substitute arguments from natural selection for hers, the unholy offspring of Freud and Rousseau.

Brutal honesty moment: in other words, I back-filled psychological theories I found emotionally appealing with evolutionary just-so stories. I get it. I suppose my purpose in writing this out, apart from trying to make it as clear as possible to myself, is to invite criticism.

What are these theories? I’ve mentioned them before, but never in great detail. Here, I’m paraphrasing them based on 30 year old memories and replacing Freudian turns of phrase with Darwinian language. These start out as truisms (I should hope) but turn dark:

  • For their very survival, children need to be part of a family/tribe (Extended family – I’m just going to use ‘tribe’ from here on out). In our evolutionary environment, no children lived to reproduce outside of a tribe. Therefore, intense selection pressure has been applied to children in favor of group membership and against running off or doing anything that might get them excluded. (1)
  • As sophisticated social mammals, children by instinct incorporate whatever behaviors are required for tribal membership into their base understanding of the world as foundational assumptions. (This is nothing more than saying ‘tribalism’ is a base state for humans and is pre-rational). Kids don’t think about these requirements (much), they just are.
  • We see it in the ‘attachment-promoting behaviors’ of babies and toddlers before they are even aware of what they’re doing. As they grow, their behaviors become more complex and more specific to their particular environment. In this, people are only the most sophisticated among animals – you cat and dog do this as well.

All well and good, and I hope not too controversial. It should be noted that the reciprocal activity on the part of the adults – nurturing the tribe so that the child might survive – must also be a part of any environment of evolutionary adaptation. So parents and relative – the tribe – can be expected to behave in such a way as to promote the survival and integration into the tribe of its children. That’s the model that seems to have been developed and to have worked over the last half a million years or so, at least. There’s nothing necessarily nice or pretty about it – it’s just what works.

But what happens when, as in the modern world for the last couple hundred years in many places, many people survive despite having no tribe in the evolutionary sense? What happens when the brutal culling mechanisms of Darwinian survival get put on hold? Whatever else may happen, it is now possible on a scale and to a degree never known before for children to be neglected, abused, and traumatized – and still live, and perhaps even still reproduce.

  • Children who are neglected, abused and otherwise traumatized will, through the all but inexorable drive of instinct, incorporate their neglect, abuse and trauma into their pre-rational view of the world. Miller, in her decades of work as a psychoanalyst, noted a remarkable ability of her patients to excuse, ignore and explain away the objectively horrible things done to them – which is what one would expect, under the evolutionary explanation above. Aside: this, at least, seems to be obviously true from just routine interactions with people.
  • So we have a world increasingly filled with damaged children of all ages who, for basic survival reasons, have accepted their mistreatment at the hands of those who were supposed to love them, rationalized it, and who are highly motivated to accept it as part of their tribal membership fees.
  • It gets worse: as part of the emotional mechanisms that ‘worked’ insofar as they did in fact survive into adulthood, their experiences and coping mechanisms now become the template for how to raise any children they might have. Thus, Miller observed the pattern where someone who had been sexually abused as a child, even if they were not themselves an abuser, would routinely put their children into situations where they were likely to be abused. To do otherwise would be to confront the careful structure that allowed the parent to survive in the first place. Very painful and disorienting.
  • This is expressed in the title of one of her books: Thou Shalt Not Be Aware. To acknowledge one’s own mistreatment enough to protect one’s own child requires reopening some deep and carefully scarred over wounds. Rather than do that, we readily subject our kids to what we experienced, no matter how horrible.

Miller says that a sympathetic witness, someone who understood the trauma and abuse on some level and could tell the child that it wasn’t right, was all but essential to having any hope for healing. That witness provided a counter to all the stories the kid would otherwise make up in order to keep his membership in the tribe: that daddy didn’t mean it, that momma does really care, that what uncle did wasn’t so bad, and so on – all the little myths one runs into whenever one is drawn into other people’s dramas. Lacking such a witness, it seemed to Miller all but impossible to get past all the barricades built up by the child.

So, there you have it: I see – I think, that’s the question – people reenacting in their child’s life whatever it was that traumatized them as children: people who were abandoned at 15 abandon their own kids as teens; children of divorce get divorced; Sexually abused kids become libertines and expose their own kids to that life; and so in a million ways.

There’s more, but that’s the general outline. I’m not just saying that miserable childhoods tend to make for miserable adults. I’m saying that miserable childhoods tend to all but compel people to make their own children miserable in the same way.

Anyway, make any sense? I readily acknowledge that Miller is a loon – I read most if not all of her books, and she gets into speculation that’s little better than palm reading in many places. And, as mentioned, even though she became one of Freud’s harshest critics, she still thought and spoke like a Freudian. Am I just experiencing confirmation bias when I seem to see this inflicting of one’s childhood trauma on one’s own children everywhere I look, or is it real?

  1. And, of course, tribes can’t survive without children, either, so, at least by nature, tribes care about their children as passionately as children yearn to belong. Note that this doesn’t imply any sort of lovie-dovie niceness: the ever-popular Yanomami tribesmen raise their sons to be good little homicidal sociopaths, because that approach has been proven to work. Similarly, their daughters are raised to seek the most murderous sociopaths as mates.
  2. And then expanded, by design, to school, with its artificial and arbitrary tribes of classrooms and grades. But Miller doesn’t go there, as far as my memory can recall.

He is Risen! della Francesca’s Resurrection Fresco

The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesca, a fresco from the 1460s found in the Palazzo della Residenza, the City Hall, as it were, in the town of SansepolcroTuscany, Italy. As is so often the case, in person it is far more impressive and moving than any reproduction. This fresco has made a strong impressions on many people, including many non-Catholics and even atheists. Huxley wrote about it. This is Christ in triumph, but also Christ in judgement, which makes it an image well-suited to our current crazy years. It was commissioned not for a church or chapel, but for the place where city government was conducted. The village elders would pray before it prior to conducting business, to remind themselves that they would be judged by Christ, who died and rose that they might be saved. Look at the face della Francesca gave to Christ: A merciful yet just judge.

Piero della Francesca – http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/piero/resurrex.jpg.html

This fresco shows an amazing degree of sophistication: 2 vanishing points, one for the soldiers, one for Christ, so that the eye can contemplate them both separately and together. The near-hyperrealism of the guards on the one hand stands against the utter disregard for gravity and anatomy other. There are three legs between four guards; the guard in the front right is leaning on air; more subtly, the guards in the middle have assumed anatomically and physically impossible positions. While there are technical accounts of why this is so, the simple reason is that della Francesca was painting the Resurrection, not a bunch of mercenary guards. Stuffing in the right number of legs and giving them all proper postures and things to lean on just didn’t figure into it.

This masterpiece narrowly survived destruction in World War II when British artillery officer Tony Clarke defied orders to shell the town. He had never seen the fresco, but had read Huxly’s description, and had seen the destruction of Monte Cassino. He didn’t want to go down in History as the dude who wantonly and needlessly destroyed a priceless work of art. The grateful villagers (Sansepolcro is hardly more than a village even today) named a street after Clarke. (1)

The della Francesca brough the image below to mind: Gerard David’s image of the Judgement of Cambyses. commissioned in 1488 for the City Hall of Bruges. In this diptych, we see on the left Cyrus’s son Cambyses condemning the corrupt judge Sisamnes, who on the right is shown suffering his sentence: being flayed alive. His skin was then used to cover the judgement seat, occupied next by his successor: his own son.

David Diptych The Judgment of Cambyses.jpg
By Gerard David – Image from Web Gallery of Art(WGA has given permission for use of images on Wikipedia.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6101730
Appalling detail.

Dante puts traitors to benefactors in the lowest circle of Hell. This would include those who are entrusted with the public good and abuse that trust. On this most holy of days, we rejoice that a good, merciful and just judge awaits us, but are warned to not presume on his mercy. We pray for those who reject His authority, and fervently throw ourselves on his mercy and beg mercy on everyone we know.

Mercy is there for the asking, but God is too polite to force His mercy on us if we won’t ask for it.

  1. One of the weird things that came out of the two world wars: in my (very light – I welcome correction here) reading, wanton destruction for the sake of revenge was just as much, if not more, prevalent on the British side than the Nazi side (one gets the impression the Americans were merely clueless, but I’m hardly an authority). Understandable, since the Germans bombed London to terrorize the English. Given the horror of those attacks and British character, that did not go over well. I think many in England would have reduced all of Germany to ash if they could. They came close in some places. Meanwhile, there are numerous stories about Nazi officers doing what they could to prevent wanton destruction: not burning Paris against orders, not putting anything important enough to destroy in the ancient heart of Florence, for two examples. Not defending Naziism (isn’t it insane that I think it necessary to state that?) but individual Nazis were just human beings like us, and could behave as evilly or beautifully as anybody else. We prevent ourselves from learning from this cautionary tale by blanket vilification: those people were not like us! They were evil! Nope, they were for the most part just regular folks who fell to social pressures, a misplaced sense of duty and a eagerness to believe a story whereby their troubles were all somebody else’s fault. Kind of exactly like most people today.

Textbooks: An Unnecessary Evil pt 2

Image result for Richard FeynmanWe are discussing textbooks, starting here with some preliminaries and what textbooks are.  The remaining two questions are:

2. Who gets to say what’s in textbooks

3. Why do we need them

Who gets to say what’s in textbooks? First, let’s consider a fairly recent and I think representative example. Richard Feynman was once on a textbook committee here in California. (Aside: the link above came up when googled for the Feynman essay. The commentary at that site is also worth perusing.) While his experiences date back 50 years, the situation has only become worse. So, who says what in them?

You see, the state had a law that all of the schoolbooks used by all of the kids in all of the public schools have to be chosen by the State Board of Education, so they have a committee to look over the books and to give them advice on which books to take.

Feynman getting a say in what’s in science and math books? Famous, brilliant, Nobel-winning teacher? Sounds about right. Buuuut:

Immediately I began getting letters and telephone calls from schoolbook publishers. They said things like, “We’re very glad to hear you’re on the committee because we really wanted a scientific guy . . .” and “It’s wonderful to have a scientist on the committee, because our books are scientifically oriented . . .” But they also said things like, “We’d like to explain to you what our book is about . . .” and “We’ll be very glad to help you in any way we can to judge our books . . .” That seemed to me kind of crazy.

A nice lady who’d been on the committee before told him how it worked:

They would get a relatively large number of copies of each book and would give them to various teachers and administrators in their district. Then they would get reports back on what these people thought about the books.

But this is Feynman we’re talking about! So:

Since I didn’t know a lot of teachers or administrators, and since I felt that I could, by reading the books myself, make up my mind as to how they looked to me, I chose to read all the books myself. . . .

If you know anything about government committees, you may be able to guess what happens. Feynman is the ONLY person on the committee who read any of the books. In one case, there was a book being rated even though it was blank:

We came to a certain book, part of a set of three supplementary books published by the same company, and they asked me what I thought about it.

I said, “The book depository didn’t send me that book, but the other two were nice.”

Someone tried repeating the question: “What do you think about that book?”

“I said they didn’t send me that one, so I don’t have any judgment on it.”

The man from the book depository was there, and he said, “Excuse me; I can explain that. I didn’t send it to you because that book hadn’t been completed yet. There’s a rule that you have to have every entry in by a certain time, and the publisher was a few days late with it. So it was sent to us with just the covers, and it’s blank in between. The company sent a note excusing themselves and hoping they could have their set of three books considered, even though the third one would be late.”

It turned out that the blank book had a rating by some of the other members! They couldn’t believe it was blank, because [the book] had a rating. In fact, the rating for the missing book was a little bit higher than for the two others. The fact that there was nothing in the book had nothing to do with the rating.

Read the whole thing, if you have the stomach for it. Feynman noted many egregious errors and obvious failings in the books that did have stuff in them, so much so that one is lead to wonder if the blank book would not have been an improvement (hint: yes). The rest of the essay is about the corruption of the selection process, where the publishers wine and dine the committee members to get their support, but given the nature and quality of the books, that qualifies as a secondary scandal.

So, to answer the question: who gets to decide what goes in textbooks? it’s ‘educators’ with the ‘help’ of politicians. In the above essay, the recommendations of the committee are largely overturned by the politicians allocating the state budget. The committee was instructed not to look at cost, so they couldn’t recommend a set of books within any budget, or have a hierarchy of which books to cut first if the money wasn’t there. Didn’t matter anyway, as the Education Department simply did what they wanted once a budget was determined. Feynman, a legendary teacher himself, is there just for cover – it’s not like he get to decide, or even have much of a say, despite his expertise.

Two things should be obvious from this story: first, educators, a class of people that did not exist until about 200 years ago (people were teachers, back then) decide what goes into the books. State education departments are and have always been staffed by educators and political hacks.

But the second thing is more perhaps more shocking: it doesn’t matter what goes into the textbooks, so long as it fails to teach! It is not like there are not many people out there who can teach algebra, say, and who could write a good, usable textbook on the subject.  I ran across one such book many years ago, and it was night and day. After taking the usual high school algebra courses, I could sort of do the math, but my understanding was limited. Then, in my mid-20s, in a few pages of a book I stumbled across in a library  written by a guy who understood and loved his subject, it was a mini Eureka! moment. Algebra wasn’t a series of tricks and rules, but rather a complete logical system. The fragments made no sense; the whole was beautiful.

So, I know they’re out there. Textbooks written by people who understand and love their subjects are never used in the public schools, at least K-12. This is no accident. It’s not just the experts whose opinions are ignored. What parents might wish were in them is worse than irrelevant – it is to be actively shunned.

The compulsory, graded public school system was never envisioned as a means to educate. Fichte, Mann and their spawn hardly cared if the students learned traditional subjects. The system they dreamed up, realized and imposed with the police power of the state was intended from the beginning to form an obedient and docile population.  Textbooks that teach real knowledge do not help toward this end, and might hinder it. Better to not run that risk.

Raw Data:

Just some quick links. Amusing stuff gleaned from Twitter, where Raw Data gets some comeuppance:

1.

Found here

The above seems to be in response to this. Tiny changes either way in tiny states; large changes either way in big states. Per capita numbers might be more interesting, maybe not. Raw data is just that – raw.

2.

Woman's Pay
Found here  

Raw data also tells you that Chinese American and Japanese American women, in general, make more money than white men, in general. Adding geography – Are Asian women more likely to live in urban centers? Or do many live among the white males of Appalachia? – or education level – Do Asian women in general get more education than white men in general? –  might recalibrate the numbers. Would be interesting. Inquiring minds would want to know.