Tuesday, March 29, 2016

'Nof said

(It's not every day a pun like that walks into a bar)

Go read Gerard Vanderleun, who doesn't have enough faith to be an atheist. He'll explain. 

A Florida State University professor of oceanography named Doron Nof tried to explain (or, more honestly, debunk), but Nof just confuses people.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter

All the durable inspiration today (or any day, really) is in scripture and sacrament rather than in blog posts.

But I do think that some meditations are worth bookmarking. Myra Adams made her joy palpable in an Easter essay. And here is Gerard Vanderleun writing about what he calls his own "cut-rate resurrection," which he intuitively grasps is just an echo of the original (full price!) Resurrection:

“Still not satisfied” is not a good attitude to have if one has been resurrected. As they say in meetings, “The attitude is gratitude.” I had that for a long time. It slipped away. Maybe I should try to get it back.

Or maybe I should not.

Maybe I should just drop all that and drop the searching for the BIG MESSAGE. Maybe, just maybe, I should try to see again what we always forget: the Here and the Now of the Miracle. Maybe, just maybe, on this day, I should strive always to recall that Christ is not just the Resurrection, but “the Resurrection and the Life.”

Here is John C. Wright, novelist, in a more puckish mood:

"When you meet someone who says Easter eggs are a pagan holdover of a pagan symbol, you can remind him that during Lent the tradition was to give up eating meat and eggs, so that eating delicious, delicious eggs again after 40 [days] became a matter for ceremony. Our grandfathers lived in a more ceremonial hence more fun society, one more suited to human psychology, and so having the kids eat eggs again became kind of a game, a hide-and-seek, and the eggs were decorated, because in those days people loved kids, and were not told having children was a disease that overburdened the earth, and did not abort them in the womb."

Meanwhile, Fr. Dwight Longenecker wraps the whole Triduum up in this post:

"Christianity is the only religion that does not ignore or skirt the issue of suffering. Indeed terrible suffering is at the very heart of our religion. Our central icon is a crucifix. Our central act of worship is a commemoration and re-presentation of the execution of an innocent victim...Christianity is the one religion that plunges into the depth of the suffering [to] wrestle with the darkness and come out the other side, bloodied but triumphant."

It seems to me a double blessing that the Web makes edifying thoughts from people I have not met easy to find, even as active participation in a parish also assures me of support from people whom I do know, and people I might eventually meet.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Holy Thursday hook

My (close) paraphrase of the beginning of the homily from Father Dan at tonight's Mass of the Lord's Supper:

"A few years back, there was a saying popular with our Protestant brothers and sisters that even made it into the rest of the culture after awhile. You probably remember that the initials 'WWJD' stood for 'What Would Jesus Do?' 

Well, I want to propose to you something much less popular, but much more useful. We are here tonight to celebrate not what Jesus would do, but what He actually did and does do. Moreover, He expects us to emulate His example."

Appreciating the pope emeritus

David Warren does appreciate Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), and in two different places.

I particularly like how Warren develops this thought:

"It is in Ratzinger’s nature to review events of the last fifty years in the light of the last five hundred: he cannot be satisfied with the immediate. Nor did he ever respond in the “media” way, to events of the last five hours or five days. First, he examines.

This is precisely the virtue — prudence in its essential form — that seems most absent from contemporary life...

We, today, as men in all ages, cannot do without the anchoring of faith, which begins in an attachment to the unchanging. The detachment from “breaking news” follows from this. I pass by the profound theological observation, that underlies all faith — that it originates in the grace of God, not in some human intention — only because I am giving an external description. A man of any culture — East or West — who is not by desire rooted in the unchanging, is not rooted at all."

Joseph Ratzinger's tenure as Pope Benedict XVI continues to influence even non-Catholics in good ways.

And as my friend John might put it, prudence is a prerequisite for thinking long-term.

Nate has a point

And by "Nate," I mean Nathan Hale, writing at In from the Cold:

"In the wake of the massacre in Brussels, some American counter-intel types were shaking their heads about the "poor tradecraft" exhibited by their Belgian counterparts.  That little exercise in self-congratulation is not only delusional, it's hypocritical to boot.  To be fair, there are hundreds of dedicated CIA and FBI agents and analysts who have prevented countless attacks since 9-11.  But those successes must be squared against failures at places like Fort Hood, Chattanooga and most recently in San Bernardino.  In each case, clues were missed and innocent Americans paid with their lives.

Then again, it's hard for the security and intel agencies to get the resources they need when the commander-in-chief spends barely a minute addressing the Brussels attack, and adjourns to a baseball game with Raul Castro."

Andrew McCarthy has related thoughts at Imprimis that are also well worth reading, either at the original site maintained by Hillsdale College or in this handy one page format.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Always entertaining

The Gravy Boys played on a makeshift stage behind the Raleigh Beer Garden this past Saturday, adding a little Celtic flavor to their high-energy set in honor of that Irish-American holiday just around the corner.

Although you might not know it from the surname shared by the men in the rhythm section, they can claim some Irish heritage. Even if they couldn't claim such an affinity, however, that band does right by everything it plays.

If you want a little thinking with your music, you could do far worse than mull over what Scott Kirwin has to say about "cultural appropriation." Kirwin writes thoughtful stuff.

His essay reminded me why it's a shame that so many of the people who get intermittently but righteously indignant over cultural appropriation do not recognize that phenomenon as a collective salute to Sir Isaac Newton. Newton famously opined that if he saw farther than others, it was because he was "standing on the shoulders of giants." Fittingly, Wilkiquote asserts that Newton was himself paraphrasing the 12th-century philosopher Bernard of Chartres when he said that.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Contra Wirzba (On national character)

Duke Divinity School professor Norman Wirzba wrote recently about why he thinks we ought to declare the end of “Christian America.”  A link to that essay was emailed to me by a friend who thought it was an EXCELLENT read (the capital letters are his), but I was underwhelmed by the work. Wirzba opened with a basic grammatical error, and never really recovered. He is, it seems, disappointed with the country to which he moved 30 years ago. More specifically, the long run-up to the election has drained Wirzba of whatever tolerance he once had for the hypocrisy of American voters.

“Though voters may speak piously and rather vaguely about Christian values and ideals,” he wrote, “polls and election results communicate clearly that this is a nation consumed by fear, anger and suspicion, none of which are Christian virtues.” 

“Consumed” seems a dire verb in this context, but even if he's right, Wirzba's thesis only lends an academic gloss to the “Hate is not a family value” bumper sticker that retired to the Straw Man Hall of Fame a few years ago [Brief recap for leftie friends: 1) Nobody said it was; and 2) To decry something that other people see no problem with does not mean you “hate” those other people].

Wirzba wants Americans to “paint with the colors of love, joy, peace, and patience,” and he means that as an alternative to opposing truly progressive policies, or supporting any of several mean, dishonest people now vying for spots atop the Democrat and Republican tickets.  He does not think we will take his advice, which is why we he says we ought not be calling ourselves a “Christian” country. 

Remembering the “Judgement of the Nations” verses in the gospel according to Saint Matthew, Wirzba wonders how we will fare before the throne of God, “especially when we admit as evidence the millions of Americans (many of them children and the elderly) who do not have enough good food to eat, or the millions of Americans who have to drink water polluted with lead and industrial/agricultural pollutants.” 

To ask the question is to answer it. If the Last Judgement is collective rather than individual (something  that Wirzba does not get into), then we have reasons to be nervous, even without mentioning such blots on our national character as legally permissible abortion. But conspicuous failure to live up to a Christian moral code is not reason enough to abandon all thought of the American religious heritage when we describe ourselves. 

After all, it wasn't Muslims, Buddhists, or Sikhs who first fled England for the New World, or left comfortable lives in France to preach the gospel to indigenous people near the Canadian border as Isaac Jogues and his companions did. To whom besides Christians would Wirzba attribute the missions built up the length of California, or the religious heritage of cities as different as Philadelphia and Santa Fe?

Following Wirzba's advice would accelerate a kind of collective amnesia about those parts of American history, not to mention both the Civil War and the civil rights movement, each of which were attempts to find and secure a durable interpretation of the principle that “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” 

Thomas Jefferson's magnificent preamble for the Declaration of Independence was the only part of that document that his colleagues in the Continental Congress let stand unedited, and they were all educated enough to recognize that his paraphrase of “Enlightenment” values had Christian roots. Even the “wall of separation” between church and state to which Jefferson later gave voice in a  letter reassuring nervous Baptists in Connecticut has Christian antecedents. What could that wall be, other than a Constitutional blueprint for working out how a free people might enjoy liberty enough to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, but to God what is God's”?

“What matters is not what you say, but how you live,” Wirzba asserts. In that, he is partly right. But he forgets that words mean things, and that how you live is shaped by what you say. Christianity itself understands that those of us who identify with it do not always live the way Jesus says we should. But that means we are sinners; it does not give Wirzba or people like him license to decide who is or is not Christian. 

If, demographics aside, we are not now a Christian nation, then let us at least remember that we once aspired to be. Laying that dream aside would douse the last embers of American exceptionalism for no good reason.

A slightly modified version of this essay was also published on March 8 by American Spectator Online, under the heading "The End of Christian America?"

Postscript: Matt Walsh makes the case that we are not a Christian nation, but he does not also make Wirzba's mistake of suggesting that hypocrisy ought to silence history.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Rooting for the "old" guy

He's not actually old, except by comparison with some of the other people auditioning for this year's edition of "The Voice." The guy can rock. Go, Laith, go!