Monday, January 31, 2005

Suggestions, Anyone?

We're starting a Catholic reading group for young people. Anybody wants to suggest what we ought to read, please "make contact" per link above. Thanks in advance.

I'm going to get disciplined about blogging. Here's what's coming:

1. "Notes on the Lumen Gentium Problem."
2. Replies to Various Persons on the War in Iraq
3. Why George Bush's America Creeps Me Out
4. A hopefully-thoughtful response to some John Ankerberg pamphlets.

Now there are all sorts of things which I would rather blog on. But these have been in the back of my mind for awhile. So I sat down and asked myself, if this blog were actually worth reading, which of the topics to hand would be the most worthwhile. The above four made my list.

I'm going to take a request, if there's anyone out there who would like a long, ponderous blog on a topic, click "make contact" above and suggest it. I may blog on it. I may not blog on it. But I already thought of five post topics, and I'm done picking for awhile.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Few of My Favorite Things

-- The Dyson DC14 Series vacuum cleaners. Been using one for a year in our house. It works as advertised, and then some. The canister's easy to remove and clean, too.

-- QuikTrip convenience stores. They're not where I live, but I used to live near them. Clean, well-lit, handy. And their line of prepackaged food is the best of any gas station I've tried. (Did I mention I'm supposed to die when I'm 58?). They had one item, an extra-spicy burrito, which was really a futurist's take on the burrito. I miss that burrito a lot, and they don't sell by mail.

-- The Bose wave radio. These heiffers are expensive, but you will receive full satisfaction for every dime, I promise. It does jazz and classical music proud.

-- Silva Screen Records. They make lots of soundtracks, and I really like soundtracks. I'm listening to one of their CDs now -- the soundtrack to Lion in Winter and Mary, Queen of Scots. I'm especially fond of the last track's "But Not Through My Realm," which suggests all the bright promise of the age. (Lion's, "The Lion in Winter" is thrilling too).

-- The old dollar bills with Federal Reserve seals. I liked looking at a bill and wondering how it got from L to G.

-- The new Battlestar Galactica series on the SciFi Channel. They've taken the cheesy old series and done something elegant and edgy with it. It's still on it's foal's legs, however, and only time will tell if it can scale the heights to where Star Trek DS9 and Babylon5 have already planted their flags.

-- Netflix. This is a real deal, guys. You pay ‘em X per month and you've got 3, 5, even 7 DVDs picked from an impressive archive (including new releases) to watch at home. They are shipped quickly, and returned and logged in quickly. (They don't cheat by "waiting" in transit times, they really do try for and achieve a quick turn-around). I got a cracked DVD once and emailed them, half expecting to be told that their computer says it left in fine condition and so I owe them the full retail price of a DVD. (In other words, I expected the "Blockbuster" treatment). Nope, they just sent me another one right away and asked me to mail my broken disk back. No late fees. Ever. That's good, because I like to watch a good movie over and over again. You should try it, and if you do, tell ‘em Mark Shea sent you, because I'm sure he gets kickbacks.

-- The LAV-25 It's one of those things that looks so much like what it does that you can't not like it.
Good News / Bad News

I am going to die at 58. When are you? Click here to find out!

The bad news is obvious. The good news is that I can do 17 years standing on my head.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Status Notes

As of today, the Dossier's had 100,361 page views, and 74,838 visits. (A "page view" is when someone looking for "secret velveeta" click into the site before clicking back out. A "visit" is when the same person goes to eat lunch for at least 20 minutes before clicking back out). The Dossier is averaging 241 page views per day, and 152 visits per day. (TTLB Ecosystem says the average is, and has always been, 99. I wonder if they calculate it differently, or if my evolution from Marauding Marsupial is farther along than they think it is). So far, 103 people subscribe to the email service at Bloglet.

I'd like to add some sort of "feed" to this site. A well-known Catholic apologist, who shall remain nameless, once told me I *have* to do this, but it seems no one is skillfull enough at explaining things to idiots to tell me how. If you're up to the challenge, please contact me via the "make contact" button above and fill me in on this stuff. Thanks!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Random Thoughts

This article got me thinking about why unfaithful liturgies bother conservatives. When priests and parish nabobs decide to "inculturate" (and I use this term loosely, and not as intended by the Church) the liturgy, they usually create a conflict situation, especially in diverse countries like the United States. One of the hallmarks of great liturgy, IMHO, is that it creates a heavenly environment where everyone is suffused with an experience with holiness that doesn't obliterate their individuality or raise it to the level of a universal ideal. In a culture where everyone dances, and expects dance, in celebration of the holy, then the "inculturation" of dance won't violate that tenet. But in a culture like ours "dance" means a hundred different things at once not to mention the fact that, in a Catholic liturgical context, "dance" is inherently identifiable as the emblem of a certain, shall we say metier, of Catholic experience which is definitely not shared by many Catholics. To use dance, therefore, in an American parish is inherently alienating and divisive, because it opposes one vision of culture to others.

It is no answer, I think, to say that once a practice is made part of the liturgy it experiences the universal transformation mentioned above ipso facto. The very definition of "inculturation" describes the intrusion into the liturgy (or, if you will, the liturgical "frame") of things which arose outside of the liturgy; the act of intruding the practice is not a sufficient guarantee of its eventual authenticity within the rite. If it were enough the Mass could literally be anything and, as the most exreme liturgical abuses remind us, actually becomes so in the hands of people who do not understand this critical "gap" between intention and result. I don't know what accounts for that pollyannish perspective, save for a sort of quietist idea about Christ redeeming anything willy-nilly, as though He were not a person with necessary conditions for happiness[**] but some sort of "life force" whose rejuvenating power can be unleashed on anything and everything. Paradoxically, the vision of the divine as a salvific blessing to everything directly abandons the universality of the person of Jesus Christ and, when applied to the liturgy, causes the Mass to disintegrate into a hodgepodge, parochial expression, losing in catholicity whatever transient gains it may make in its appeal to local enthusiasms.

Liturgically-conservative Catholics inherently recognize this fact, even if the present climate of antipathy to their efforts obliges them to describe it in terms of liceity and law. Even in that attempt, the appeal to the law of the universal Church, their efforts hint at a sort of catholicity which transcends the competing definition that underlies most liturgical abuse. There's a regular column in the Wanderer where a priest answers questions about liturgical abuse. I read one column, long ago, wherein the the parishioner's complaint question didn't involve the "usual suspects" such as lay homilies, group-grope signs of peace, etc. No, the subject of the complaint was a parish's practice of praying, out loud and as a group, the Rosary during communion. Now people who write the Wanderer for advice are not the sort of people who glom onto the latest hip fad. They are, so far as I can tell, just about as "conservative" on Church matters as you can get without also subscribing to the Angelus. (That makes all the difference, BTW, in case any fellow Wanderer subscriber might take umbrage at my imagery). Here was one, complaining about the improper use of a truly- and time-honored Catholic devotion during Mass. And there was a "conservative" priest writing the column, every bit as disapproving as the letter itself.

Yeah, I know I just took about 600 words to say, lex orandi lex credendi. But in an ecclesiastical climate that forbids the public use of Latin in our liturgy, it's worth taking the extra words to say it. Within the context of the Novus Ordo, fidelity to the GIRM is not a factional issue. It is an unalloyed question of catholicity. I think it very dangerous, in the long term, to promote in the Church's public worship, in the summit and end of all the sacraments, the idea that catholicity is the ability to negotiate and compromise with competing sub-cultures. When Catholics like the author of the article I'm discussing leave, as he did, for the Tridentine rite, the self-styled champions of Sacrosanctum Concilium ought to question themselves about what they're really doing.

[**] It strikes me that the difference between us and our God, Jesus Christ, in this respect is that as pure creatures, the conditions of our happiness are dictated. But He, as God and Man, shares with us conditions of necessary happiness which He Himself creates. Not to mention the fact that, as perfect God and perfect Man, He Himself is perfectly happy, the Gospel an appeal and instruction to share the conditions necessary for that happiness with mankind. The basic idea of "human personhood," however, remains -- human beings have necessary conditions of happiness which cannot be transgressed without causing unhappiness. Thinking of God as a person, therefore, radically limits one's ability to contemplate the array of human possibilities with an easy attitude.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Culture Blogs

A few months ago I made a foray into the realm of Culture Blogs. I define a "Culture Blog" as one that witnesses C.S. Lewis' dictum that goes something like, "We need fewer books about Christianity by gardeners, and more books about gardening by Christians." What he meant was that Christianity ought to permeate our culture, and that the task is not accomplished by blogs like mine, which tend to discuss Christianity as though it were a subject in its own right without connection to things like art, sex, or food. Food. Yes, I'm going to do The Food Thing soon. I can feel it. I've been calling up websites that sell cooking utensils, pots and pans, searching Ebay for Saladmaster, wistfully browsing the favorites list I have of websites that sell Italian groceries through the mail at black-market prices. So I'm glad to have found my latest specimen of Culture Bloggery.

The last time I went to the Culture Blogs I found Elinor Dashwood's Mommentary. Before that it was Otto Hiss' Otto da Fe and before that, the Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa. Oddly enough, these guys all seem to know each other. I guess a Cynic can recognize a Stoic across a taberna-full of drunken legionaries and drovers any day. So, the new Culture Blog on my blog roll is . . . . . . Erik Keilholtz's Eriks' Rants and Recipes Hey, I feel classier already!

Delving into the blog I found lots of great posts. Here's one that discusses the preservation of one's faith in the (professional) kitchen. I really enjoyed it because it refers to a great book, Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. When I read it I thought, "Can people do so much drugs, drink so much liquor, chase so many immoral pleasures, and be coherent enough to cook great food?" Apparently they can, and so Mr. Keilholtz answers my second question, "How could someone live their faith in that environment?" Apparently that's like tightrope-walking. It can be done, but it's not easy.

There are also brilliant food ideas. Like this one for a savory cheesecake. No recipe was forthcoming, unfortunately. I think a slice of savory cheesecake would be an incredible side-dish, the ultimate gratin, with beef (or is that boef?). It's also the kind of "incredible-but-logical-when-you-think-about-it" idea that intrigues me.

And Mr. Keilholtz's interests are not limited to the purely culinary. He is a dedicated father, vigilantly guarding his child from the terrible dangers of Bambi-ism. (Cue snippy sterile feminist or girly man, "Oh, don't tell me you're going to shoot Bambi!" And my reply, "Of course not. Didn't you see the movie? No one wants to shoot Bambi. We want to shoot his mom.") Among the wonderful things he does is take his little girl to a cattle-slaughter, so she can see where food comes from. This is the kind of thing that triggers anxiety among dumb people. Among those things required for a human life are truth and food, and seeing where food comes from serves both requirements. Why plague your children with years of stupid, unarticulated Bambi-guilt over every hamburger, steak, and Thanksgiving dinner they will eat? I'm forever grateful to my trip, so many years ago, to a cattle auction. No, it wasn't a slaughtering, but everybody knew that was next. Feel guilty about eating those slobbery, smelly, beasts? Hell, no!

I wish I could cut-and-paste long quotes to further intrigue you. But I can't, there's some computer thing that won't let me do it. So here's a bit of Mr. Keilholtz's incisive wisdom about the significance of food and eating it:
"Excessive convenience when it comes to the family dinner table is a gigantic erosion of the social fabric that binds families. The other side of selling convenience is encouraging two-income families and the ills that come with absentee parents. Certainly, using pre-brined pork is not going to suddenly break apart a family and send teenagers into wanton sex and drug abuse, but it is a step in that direction."
People just don't "get" things like this, and their incomprehension is proof that we really have a Culture of Death. People who are deep into a culture don't really notice it, they only notice its consequences. "Lifestyle choices" like lesbian marriage aren't the culture, they're the consequences of a culture that alienates people from their sexuality. Choosing whether to whip up a velveeta-and-pre-cooked-bacon "skillet" meal out of a box, or to take the kids to McDonald's again, isn't the culture, it's the consequence of a culture that says our fuel is irrelevant and that it only matters how quickly we can get back out there and serve the machine.

I note that Mr. Keilholtz's extensive food writing is not only the result of his being a food critic for the newspapers, it's also due to the fact that he lives in the best place to buy and enjoy food, namely a major sea-coast city. He can buy organic heirloom tomatoes, fresh-killed beef, seafood and anything else from the fantastic, life-affirming panoply of cuisine brought to his home by cultures older than our own. For anyone like myself, living in the middle of Velveeta Country[TM] where distance and cultural sterility make even simple, homely (and wonderful) things like Mortadella or escargot rare delicacies which must arrive via a horribly-expensive FedEx'ed replay of the Berlin Airlift, his blog gives frequent cause for despair. But it's a melancholy, wistful despair, not altogether unpleasant when one considers the Cheesy Tuna Noodle Bake[TM] alternative. Still, it's best to lash oneself to the mast of God's will before reading the blog's gastronomic elegies. Otherwise one could easily wake up barefoot and suffering from exposure, having walked halfway to California in a paeilla vision.

No blog is without its flaws. (Some, like mine, are largely displays of flaws). Mr. Keilholtz has one or two bad habits. His positive hatred of deviled eggs is one of them. He loathes them, often referring to them as synonyms for everything that is banal and disgusting. In defense of deviled eggs, I must point out that if you're compelled to attend funerals, church-meetings, and such in the Midwest, you'll quickly learn that deviled eggs are usually the only safe thing to eat. You don't want deviled eggs? Then go try the creamy, lumpy gook in which an unthawed package of BirdsEye[TM] vegetable medley is suspended; the brown stringy stuff covered in a sheen of fat which you can pour on hamburger buns made from tan styrofoam; the Jell-O[TM] dish that looks as if it's preserving the entire city of Pompeii; the dish of Spam[TM] slices topped with canned pineapple rings and maraschino cherries drizzled with Mrs. Butterworth's[TM] maple syrup; the hard umber orbs ensconced, like demented caviar, on a pile of (cut-up) spaghetti sauced with a daring blend of Ragu[TM] and ketchup; or, the tuna salad made with peanuts and tiny marshmallows. Yep, deviled eggs can look pretty damn good, especially if the cook's taken the time to make a filling and use paprika. I'm not so hot on the hardboiled-eggs-cut-in-half variation, but even that's preferable to balgona-and-Kraft-cheese slices rolled up together and topped with a cocktail olive held in place by a plastic toothpick.

But Mr. Keilholtz's uncharitable view of a time-honored survival strategy does not detract from his fine writing and sense about food. His blog covers many other topics such as bullfighting, theology, liturgy, and something called "semiotics." (Hey, I told you it was a Culture Blog!) Even better, he's got recipes, and links to cool websites about coffee. In addition to adding the site to my blogroll, I think I'm going to designate it as the official headquarters for Food Thing 2005. I highly recommend long and frequent visits.
Blog Mutterings

99,915 bottles of beer on the wall, 99,915 bottles of beer . . . . .

Anyhow, I notice that I haven't done this in over a year. So here's how they get here, and what I say to ‘em:

"man relation to nurture victim japanese" Yep, that's the difficulty with a positional language like English, or the positional English problem with language, or the English positional language-like problem.

"Junior Secret Service Agent" Yep, Hannah's only 2, but she already yells for a long time.

"bettnett" Everybody here's going somewhere else. Feels like Casablanca.

"crimson catholic blog spot" With bleach. Or you could go here instead.

"rural temptress calendar 2005" I can assure you that I'm not on it.

"st.aaron need to know were on orthodox calendar" He's in the canon. He already knows.

"secret agent badges" No, but that's not a bad idea!

"presidential secret agent attire" White tie and tails, of course.

"typical secret agent custom" Martini and a cigarette.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

It's Good to Laugh Out Loud

Go here.
No-Fault Divorce and the Code of Canon Law

I reply here to an email recently received: "I am curious about this concept of the Catholic "dumpee" spouse fighting the Catholic "dumper" spouse in the no-fault divorce climate. I have read where Bud MacFarlane's wife (Bai, I think) has tried to have her husband's case for secular divorce put into the ecclesiastic court jurisdiction based on catholic church verbal prenuptual assumptions and agreeements. Do you have any comments or can you direct me to some reliable source on this?"

I don't know how helpful these musings will be, but here goes. The MacFarlane's divorce case was originally fought by Bai MacFarlane on the theory that the Code of Canon Law constitutes a prenuptial (a/k/a antenuptial) contract between the spouses which governs/restricts their rights in divorce ligitation. It was rejected almost out-of-hand by the court. While secularism plays a huge part in that hostility, there's a tough legal issue at bottom -- should the courts allow religious law to constitute a prenuptial contract between the spouses that overrides secular law. In other words, should we allow the Islamic Sharia law, the Book of Mormon, or other religious laws, to control divorce matters like property division, child custody, etc.? These points were alluded to, but not made so bluntly, by the Guardian Ad Litem's opposition to Bai's request. It's a serious argument, and I'd personally be interested in reading more arguments on the issue, especially arguments conducted in view of the Church's teachings on subsidiarity, before agreeing with Bai's legal assertions about the antenuptial authority Canon Law and, by extension, all other religious laws, should have in civil divorce courts.

IMHO, another good ground for challenging a secular no-fault divorce (Bai's attempt was ingenious, and worth trying, I didn't mean to suggest otherwise) is that "no-fault" really *isn't* "no-fault." For example, here in Indiana the statute technically requires proof that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown such that the parties can no longer live as husband and wife. That's "no-fault" in the sense that no one has to prove *who* wrecked the marriage. Some proof is still required to the effect that the marriage has been irretrievably wrecked. Normally that's a mere technicality -- the lawyer calls his client to the stand and says "Dick, has your marriage to Jane suffered an irretrievable breakdown such that you two can no longer live as husband and wife?" When Dick says, "Yes," that's all the proof required. But what if lawyers began challenging that pro forma method? What if we began trying to prove that the marriage *isn't* irretrievably broken, *despite* what one spouse says about it? That avoids the "Sharia law" problem with Bai's challenge, but I wouldn't hold out much hope for its swift success.

The other method would be to actually *write* a prenuptial agreement which, while making no reference to the Code of Canon Law, incorporates its strictures on divorce. That was another problem with Bai's challenge -- because it was based on out-of-court, informal statements by Bud and herself, and assumptions stemming from those statements about the parties' intention for their marriage, it is relatively easy for a Court to indulge the natural reluctance about writing a *post hoc* contract into a marriage when neither party did was Ceasar requires to write such a contract. The prenuptial could be drafted with a "severability" clause, which basically means that if the secular court refuses to enforce one part of the agreement, the others could still be enforced. That, plus vigorous litigation along the lines in the preceding paragraph, might significantly alter American divorce law if the campaign were sustained and conducted many times in many jurisdictions.

As matters now stand, I think it will be impossible for any half of a Catholic married couple whose marriage has fallen prey to the jurisdiction of a secular court to successfully argue that the Code of Canon Law must, simply because both spouses are Catholics, control the outcome of any aspect of the divorce. Both the ardent secularism of the American legal system, and the difficulties posed by that argument for the rule of law, would invariably cause the court to reject such a challenge. Of far greater impact, both in the long run and the short term, would be a renewed appreciation in the culture about the sick nature of most divorces, and a renewed interest by the episcopacy in the lives and behavior of its charges. That ought to indicate how dire I think things are.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What I Love About the Episcopalian Church

Via the most excellent Pontifications, I read these thirteen reasons to love the Episcopalian Church. Rather than eat lunch, I thought I'd doodle some replies / comments. Salty Vicar's list is in blue. My doodling is in black.

1) The Book of Common Prayer is poetically precise and complete in its beauty. I agree. At least the one I've got from 1945 is. I haven't read newer ones, but I'll take your word for it.

2) The service is efficient in its theology, generating thought through prayer. I don't have the slightest idea what that means, sorry. I'm not trying to be arch, I really don't understand what he's getting at. The only thing I can figure out is that prayer is an exercise to generate thought, but that can't be right, or the whole of it. I can generate thought reading blogs.

3) We emphasize shared prayer and the care of souls as a grounding for theology and practice. OK, no problem with that in my view.

4) We are transparent in our organization. We've got John Allen, does that count?

5) Priests listen to the members. . . . 6) Bishops listen to the priests. Same with us. Ours just don't do anything afterwards.

7) The church isn't afraid of truth in the secular world. We're not really keen on the idea of truth running around loose in the secular world. One time it happened, the truth got picked up by the police and killed. Father was really teed off about that. Caused an earthquake and everything! Now He insists on a chaperone at all times, and let me tell you, that chaperone is strict: "[Condemned:] The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization." A lot of us have gotten pretty good about sneaking out of windows at night and raising hell, though.

8) We respect the traditions of the church, but are also critical. But surely criticism can't be a positive value? It may be a sign of incomplete conversion, or even a regrettable necessity, but it can't be an unalloyed good.

9) The music has been generally free from fads and trends. Same here. Oh, we've had our problems with trendy fads for older music like Tantum Ergo or Holy God We Praise Thy Name. But in the main we've kept to the old standards by Schutte, Haugen, and the like. Gag.

10) You're average Episcopal priest is pastorally sensitive, eager to serve and pretty good at making ethical judgements. Well I'm not sure about that, see below.

11) Its a good place for people who've been abused by other denominations, or are skeptical of "authority" generally, while wanting order. OK. But where do you send abused Episcopalians?

12) Scripture is a friend rather than a rule. I'm not sure why these aspects are opposed to one another. Given the misery I've seen generated by and in lives which depart from the commandments I tend to think of the decalogue as a very friendly set of rules.

13) Our daughters can use birth control without feeling ashamed. Why can't your sons use birth control? Surely the story of Onan is their friend, and not a rule? What gets my goat about this point is that it seems to assume that the object of Christian life is thwarted by the advent of shame. Who, actually, cares that Episcopalian girls are ashamed when they use birth control? I don't and, frankly, neither should any Episcopalian. What ought to be the main concern is whether Episcopalian girls are justified in experiencing that shame, but the whole issue of whether birth control is just seems to have been tossed out the window. That's not good ethical guidance in my book. And it's also small beer to boot. Even assuming that Episcopalian girls shouldn't feel ashamed when they use abortifacients like the pill, isn't the greater boon freedom from a blasphemous, blinkered papal elite with unshakeable medieval tendencies to hate women? Seriously, isn't it? I should think so, and unless this point is hyperbolic shorthand for that liberation (which it may well be) I think it displays a rather disordered set of pastoral priorities.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Fine New Blog

By HOLLY, a fellow veteran of the Old Steve Ray Catholic Converts Message Board. It's called Fired Up Catholic! and it is. Among the first things Holly's blogged is her conversion story. You gotta read this, it's priceless. Here's some bits:
That Monday morning I woke up determined to do two things. Show my husband why the Catholic church was not Christian and also to begin investigating the different Protestant denominations to determine which one I could agree to attending if we were to "compromise" on another denomination that we both felt comfortable attending.


It's important to note here that my understanding of the different Protestant denomniations was incomplete. I actually believed that the reason we had different denominations was for the same reason we have different "genres" of music. It was all about style and not substance. Some people like rock, some people like country, some people like classical. If you like a lot of upbeat music and hand clapping you go to an Assembly of God church. If you like something more reserved you go to an Epsicopal Church. As far as I was concerned that was the only real difference.
Permit me to digress a bit. This is absolutely correct; it's how Protestantism, largely speaking, describes itself to itself. Vishal Mangalwadi, a leading member of the Evangelical movement in India, describes Protestantism the same way. After making some ridiculous assertions about Catholicism,[**] he writes:
Protestants are of various different denominations (Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and so on) but these differences are marginal and arose out of the fact that the protests against Roman Catholicism were started by different individuals, in different languages, within different cultures, and at different times.
Now this is quite true, to a limited extent, as anyone familiar with the differences between Polish and Mexican Catholics will attest. But to reduce the entire gamut of distinctions between the Amish and the Assemby of God, Presbyterians and Pentacostals, Methodists and the Missouri Synod, to the accident of "culture" is inane and, it must be said, incredibly condescending.

Rev. Mangalwadi, however, isn't some hick who just fell off a turnip truck. He does amazing work for Christ in India. He's a student of Francis Schaeffer's famed L'Abri community. Christianity Today calls him "India's foremost Christian intellectual." And here he is, telling us that the difference between the Anglican priest's consubstantiation and the Baptist minister's symbolic meal has no more pith than the difference between Heineken and Budweiser. So we may take him at his implied word, that Protestantism is anxious to down-play its embarassing historical variety, to ignore the "Lumen Gentium question,"[***] and, for want of a better word, pretend there is such a thing as "Protestantism."

As a result, we have this from Holly. It is an incredibly-good piece of writing, elegant in its expression, portraying the perfect innocence with which she confronted the issue on her own:
I began reading "Faith of the Early Fathers". It was outside of the Bible and I begged God's forgiveness for it but I decided if it was ok for me to read what Billy Graham or Charles Stanley thought about scripture then it must be ok for me to find out what Augustine thought. That is when it all went south for me....
Just so. The rest, as they say, is history. Go read Holly's conversion story. You'll enjoy it and profit from it as much as I have.

[**] Vishal Mangalwadi, The Quest for Dignity and Freedom, Chapter 6. You can read it online here. The old "Catholics believe they earn their salvation" chestnut is routinely trotted out, as is the claim that Catholicism places her traditions (the term is not defined as Catholics define it) above Scripture. These are routine blunders, but Rev. Mangalwadi distinguishes himself by arguing, for example, that Lord Acton "protested against ‘Papal Infallibility' in defense of liberty for Protestants and others." One may search in vain for evidence of the persecution of Reformed Christians in, say, Norway or South Carolina which was threatened by the proclamation of the dogma. Indeed, when Lord Acton confronted the dogma of papal infalliblity in 1870, it was only 92 years after the British allowed Catholics to own property, inherit land, and serve in the army and only 31 years after Catholics were granted the right to vote in British elections. To infer, as Rev. Mangalwadi does, that Protestants the world over were threatened with a renewed Inquisition by Vatican I is really too amusing for words.

Even more ridiculous is Rev. Mangalwadi's explanation of the moral superiority of Protestant America to the corruption and decadence of Russian society:
Professor Sair Singh, a Trinidadian of Indian descent and a graduate of Harvard University, now teaches Hinduism in Moscow. During a visit to Moscow in the summer of 1999 I was discussing with him the contrast between America, which impeached President Clinton because he lied about his private life, and Russia, which allowed Stalin, who killed 35 million innocent people, to die in his bed in peace. Prof. Sair Singh explained to me why the moral standards in America are much higher than those of the Russians (and Indians).

"Although the theology of the Russian Orthodox Church"he explained, "is very similar to the biblical theology which shaped the American ethos, in practice most ‘Orthodox' Russians do not have the same confidence about their salvation by grace alone which the biblical Christians do. The Bible teaches that we do not have to earn our salvation, because Jesus took the punishment for our sins. We need to repent for our sin and accept Jesus' death and resurrection as sufficient sacrifice for our sin. The Orthodox Russians, by contrast, perform religious rituals in order to earn their salvation. They soon discover that they are not good enough, and that they will never be good enough, because in order to survive, let alone succeed in real life, they have to compromise with evil – if not to actually use evil means. So, they give up trying to be good.

"In America, by contrast, the evangelical revivals assured the believers that they didn't have to earn their own salvation. Jesus' sacrifice had already atoned for their sin and had secured their pardon and reconciliation with God. God accepted them as his beloved children – not on the basis of their righteousness, but because of Christ's righteousness through their repentance and faith. We may fail and fall, but we can be forgiven and make a fresh start in our growth towards God's standards. This assurance of personal salvation freed the believers to continue to pursue holiness in spite of personal failures and external persecution. Moreover, faith in the resurrection and experience of the love and care of God enabled them to continue to love God, and fight against the corruption of their own society even when they suffered loss. They knew that they had an assured reward in heaven."
In his quest to excoriate the Gospel on behalf of "Bible Christianity," Rev. Mangalwadi has seen fit to ignore a few facts that might assist us in realizing a more accurate explanation. Facts like the KGB, the gulags, and seventy years of ruthless repression of anything Christian. No evangelical culture has ever been afflicted by a totalitarian regime and done anything more than (or equal to) what the Russian faithful managed to achieve under Stalin. If Rev. Mangalwadi wishes to take an honest look at the salutary political effects of evangelicalism, let him explain how millions of German "Bible Christians" put Hitler in power and fought for him until the bitter end. Or, for that matter, let him explain how millions of American "evangelicals" tolerated and practiced human slavery in the United States. Or, for that matter, let him explain how "Bible Christians" have "allowed" over 40 million babies to be butchered here in the United States since Roe v. Wade. I would submit to him that the legal murder of 40 million people is, or should be, somewhat more disturbing to an "evangelical" conscience than whether an elected official lied under oath about whether he cheated on his wife.

One may, perhaps, forgive Rev. Mangalwadi for writing this drivel. After all, it is clear that he's getting his information from Harvard graduates. Catholicism has its own quiver of such generalizations. It is, for example, argued that an ethos of self-divinizing arrogance, habituated by the constant practice of private judgment about the meaning of Scripture, renders the Protestant mind pliable to lunatic theories about anything, thereby making Protestant societies more likely to entertain massive hallucinations about whether Jews (or babies) should be protected by law. It is argued that the negative, history-denying, individualized, and deconstructing ethos of Protestantism makes it impossible to create or maintain a human community. Tempted though I am by such broad "theology-is-cultural-destiny" generalizations, I have never found any of them which bear up under principled scrutiny. I think they take their impetus from a modern tendency to immanentize the eschaton through secular politics, to "out-Marx" Marx himself and locate everything which is ugly and unfortunate in the human character in a predestinate "other." It is an old story which can be found in the histories of Catholic, Protestant and pagan societies. Its variegated presence suggests strongly that it is itself a false and human thing, and that alone ought to caution us about adopting it as the paradigm for our theological disputes.

[***] About which I shall blog presently, in response to an ancient email and some questions raised by the estimable Dawn Eden.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Please Take a Minute, and Pray

For a good friend of mine who's visiting a religious order this weekend. He believes he may have a vocation. Thanks!
A Royal Wardrobe Malfunction

Has befallen Britain's Prince Harry, who got himself photographed in what appears to be a very bad reproduction of a Nazi Afrika Korps uniform while attending a costume party. The reasons why the prince's choice of costume qualifies as jackassery hardly need recounting. Over half a million British and Commonwealth soldiers, sailors, and airmen got killed defending King and country (not to mention the world) against the evil represented by that uniform. For a prince of the blood to wear it, even in jest, while the deaths of so many is still a matter of living memory in his country, is jackassery of the lowest type.

Which brings us to a well-known fact, that jackasses are herd animals. Thus the Prince, by and through his public-relations wallahs (the party's theme was "native and colonial") have issued an insipid Samuel-Adams-Beer-non-apology: "Prince Harry has apologised for any offence or embarrassment he has caused. He realises it was a poor choice of costume." Any offense? Doesn't he have the slightest idea why or whether his costume might actually be offensive? Is he not sure? Does he not care? Or has he been surrounded by Mottrams, pseudo-men to whom the idea of a prince with an actual connection to his people and their history does not (cannot) occur? "A Clarence House spokeswoman said he would not be making a further, public apology despite calls for him to do so. . . . "Poor choice of costume," indeed. Why not just call it a "wardrobe malfunction" and be done with it?

Still and all, it should be remembered that this jackassery is probably born from a combination of flippant ignorance and disgustingly-misdirected high spirits. It certainly doesn't provide much cover for other members of the Jackass herd, like Labour MP Doug Henderson, who's claimed that Prince Harry has shown himself unfit to serve in the British Army. When they're in the mood, of course, the Germans can be bigger jackasses than anybody:
"A vitriolic article by the [Bild's] regular commentator, Franz Josef Wagner, which was addressed to the Prince in person added, "You, hip and cool with a swastika on your arm at your party, are about as disgusting as a mouldy piece of food. I vomit. It is high time that you were given serious medical treatment. You are a traumatised child."
And there's this howler from the brother of Germany's ambassador to the Court of St. James:
"Apparently, the British have forgotten about the victims of the Nazis more completely than the Germans; but in Britain the Germans have always been a part of everyday life as Nazi caricatures to be scorned at will. Sixty years after the end of the war, 10-year-old German children are hunted down in the parks of London for being Krauts."
Huh? OK, maybe he's got some sort of point in there, somewhere. But still, you'd think people who were seduced, as a nation by Nazi armbands and torchlight parades would have some level of maturity about all this. I mean, they've been there and done that.

Here's what ought to happen. Prince Harry, having been thrashed in the court of public opinion, should apologize with dignity and sincerity, and grow up some. This would be a good start, as would a visit to some place like this, so long as (a) the Prince makes private visits, unconnected with any memorial, and (b) they're not run by self-righteous publicity pimps eager to inflame the offense or Mottram-eunuchs intent on pretending nothing's happened. If he does it right, he can turn what looks like an appalling setback into a personal and political victory.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Burbling Church (3)

The reasons for this series are explained here. This "installment" comments about a prayer noted by Domenico Bettinelli and Dale Price, a prayer which appered as an endorsed devotion on the web page of the Archdiocese of San Franciso:
We greet you Spirit of the North.

Teach us to plant our feet securely on the earth and to see things as they really are, that the coming of your Spirit may find us standing firm in integrity. Teach us, Spirit of the North, in the solitude of winter, to wait in darkness with the sleeping earth, believing that we, like the earth, already hold within ourselves the seeds of new life.

ALL: May the deep peace of mercy be on us forgiving us, beckoning us, encouraging us; and may our readiness to forgive calm the fears.

We greet you, O Spirit of the East.

Awaken in us with each day, new hopes, new dreams of colors, loves and joys never before imagined. Fill our bodies with your breath, invigorate us. Carry us to the farthest mountains and beyond. In-spirit us that we might reach out to you boldly to grasp the miracles that are given birth with each new dawn.

ALL: May the deep peace of compassion be on us holding us close when we are weary, hurt and alone; and may we be the warm hands and warm eyes of compassion when people reach out to us in need.

We greet you Spirit of the South.

You bring the winds of summer and breathe on us the warmth of the sun to sooth [sic] and heal our bodies and our spirits. Quicken us, draw us by the urgings of your warm breath to break through the soil of our own barrenness and fear. Teach us to hold sacred the memory of the spring rains that we might have the strength to withstand the heat of the day, and not become parched and narrow in our love. Lead us to accept fatigue with resignation, knowing that life is not to be rushed, that there is no flower of the field that grows from seed to blossom in a single day.

All: May the deep peace of gentleness be on us caressing us with sunlight, rain and wind; may tenderness shine through us to warm all who are hurt and lonely.

We greet you Spirit of the West.

Cool our hot and tired bodies, refresh and bring laughter to our hearts. It is you who usher in the setting sun. Guide our steps at the end of day; keep us safe from evil. Fill us with your peace as you enfold us with your great mystery of night that we might rest securely In your arms until morning call us forth again.

ALL: May the deep blessing of peace be on us stilling our hearts that have fear and doubt and confusion within them; and may peace cover us and all those who are troubled and anxious. May we be peacemakers.

We greet you, Great Spirit of the Earth.

It was from you we came as from a Mother; you nourish us still and give us shelter. Teach us to walk softly on your lands, to use with care your gifts, to love with tenderness all our brothers and sisters who have been born of your goodness. And when the day comes when you call us back to yourself, help us to return to you as a friend, to find ourselves embraced, encircled and enfolded in your arms.

ALL: May the deep peace of community arise from within us, drawing us ever nearer, speaking to us of unity, true community where distinctions of persons is also oneness in being.
The pagan nature of this "devotion" has already been described by Dale Price and Dom Bettinelli. I'd like to briefly note some other aspects of this item which have occurred to me. Before that, however, I'd like to point out that the Archdiocese, realizing its devotion to the Great Earth Mother has been noticed, has now put up a fake version of the prayer -- without disclosing that it's been changed from the original pagan version.[**]

I want to write a bit about how ridiculous this devotion is, even by pagan standards. This "devotion" is not about anything real. Its sophomoric use of bucolic imagery is not addressed to a person. Its Hallmark-card sniffling does not even acknowledge the possibility of real healing and justice. The "prayer" is, to paraphrase Shakespeare, a tale told by an idiot, full of saccharine and weakness, signifying nothing. Compare it with Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus:
Most glorious of the Immortals, many named, Almighty forever.
Zeus, ruler of Nature, that governest all things with law.
Hail! for lawful it is that all mortals should address Thee.
For we are Thy offspring, taking the image only of Thy voice,
as many mortal things as live and move upon the earth.
Therefore I will hymn Thee, and sing Thy might forever.
For Thee doth all this universe that circles round the earth obey, moving
whithtersoever Thou leadest, and is gladly swayed by Thee.
Such a minister hast Thou in Thine invincible hands;
-the two-edged blazing, imperishable thunderbolt.
For under its stroke all Nature shuddereth,
and by it thou guidest aright the Universal Reason,
that roams throught all things,
mingling itself with the greater and the lesser lights,
till it have grown so great, and become supreme king over all.
Nor is aught done on the earth without Thee, O God,
nor in the divine sphere of the heavens, not in the sea,
Save the works that eveil men do in their folly -
Yea, but Thou knowest even to find a place for the superfluous things,
and to order that which is disorderly, and things not dear to men are dear to Thee.
Thus dost Thou harmonize into One all good and evil things, that there should be one
everlasting Reason of them all.
And this the evil among mortal men avoid and heed not;
wretched ever desiring to possess the good, yet they nei'er see nor hear the universal law of God,
which obeying with all their heart, their life would be well.
But they rush graceless each to his aim,
Some cherish lust for fame, the nurse of evil strife,
Some bent on monstrous gain,
Some turned to folly and the sweet works of the flesh,
Hastening, indeed, to bring the very contrary of these things to pass.
But Thou, O Zeus, the All-giver, Dweller in the darkeness of cloud,
Lord of thunder, save Thou men from their unhappy folly,
Which do Thou, O Father, scatter from their souls; and give them discover the wisdom,
in whose assurance Thou governest all things with justice;
So that being honored, they may pay Thee honor,
Hymning Thy works continually, as it beseems a mortal man.
Since there can be no greater glory for men of Gods than this,
Duly to praise forever the Universl Law.
I'd take Cleanthes' Zeus over the Archdiocese's soulfully-sighing, soft-touching, warm-feeling earth-spirit any day. So would most people. Because life is hard. It needs a god who can rule it, bring justice from evil and order from chaos. Because man is noble. He needs a god who can match his thirst for peace, goodness, and truth. I'd lay a good wager that Cleanthes' soul will benefit more from God's "winking"[***] than author who penned this "devotion" or the Archdiocesan functionaries who urged men to pray it. I think it's really quite impossible to drive people away from Christianity properly described and devoutly practiced; the religion which proclaims "the Glory of God is man fully alive" is too powerful an antidote to evil, too congenial to human nobility, to give much cause for dissatisfaction. But I think it's quite easy to drive people away from the Church with burbling, nonsensical, wiccan chic that answers to nothing in the human condition save man's unending capacity for the banal.

The Archbishop's spokesperson has told at least one concerned Catholic[****] that the Great Earth Mother prayer is a grand thing because it "was part of an apology ceremony - planned largely by local victims of clergy sexual abuse - in which the Archdiocese of San Francisco was a participant. An apology to clergy abuse victims for the pain and suffering caused to them by ministers of the Church was delivered by the Archbishop. The planners felt that because many of the abuse victims are alienated from the Catholic Church, the text was appropriate." In other words, because the Archdiocese's priests have made faith in Christ appear odious it behooves the Archdiocese to publicly relinquish Him in favor of the Great Earth Mother as a token of the Church's good will. It once read as a condemnation, but for the Archdiocese it now sounds more like an epitaph:
And yet a hackneyed reproach of old date is leveled against her, that the Church is opposed to the rightful aims of the civil government, and is wholly unable to afford help in spreading that welfare and progress which justly and naturally are sought after by every well-regulated State. From the very beginning Christians were harassed by slanderous accusations of this nature, and on that account were held up to hatred and execration, for being (so they were called) enemies of the Empire.
-- Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, P. 2 (1885)
Now that we've figuratively burned some incense on Caesar's altar, does anyone think they'll take us back? Does anyone hope for it? Apparently so.
We greet you, Great Spirit of the Earth. It was from you we came as from a Mother; you nourish us still and give us shelter. Teach us to walk softly on your lands, to use with care your gifts, to love with tenderness all our brothers and sisters who have been born of your goodness. And when the day comes when you call us back to yourself, help us to return to you as a friend, to find ourselves embraced, encircled and enfolded in your arms.
I've sinned. In fact in God's eyes I'm no better than Kos, Shanley, or the rest of them. We all need a Redeemer. But His name is Jesus Christ, not Gaia, and the wind which blowed on Pentecost day was not God, it was only evidence of His greatness. We can all sin, do all sin, and stand judged. That is the human condition. And it is not the point here. The point is that if any of us -- sinners and victims alike -- abandon God's name, we cannot hope for more than His judgment. Prayers to the Great Earth Mother and her Wind Spirits are harbingers of despair for all of us, perpetrators and victims alike.

As is typical of chancery responses to inquiries about theological malfeasance, at least one person[****] was advised to stop insisting on Christianity and try instead to become a better person: Finally, I hope that there are more important things in this life to which you could give your attention and energy — perhaps following the Holy Father's message to welcome the immigrant; or volunteering at a soup kitchen; or some other good Christian acts of charity. Apparently someone's not been keeping up with his or her National Catholic Reporter reading:
The gospels suggest that there was only one type of person for whom Jesus expressed moral repugnance and even contempt: the self-righteous who condemned others from a position of ecclesiastical power. We are not even told that the publican praying in the temple who begged, "God have mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13) made a firm purpose of amendment or reformed, but we are told that he went down to his house justified, while the Pharisee who thanked God that he was more righteous than the publican did not. Jesus castigates the whitened sepulchers (Matthew 23:27-28), those who bind heavy moral burdens for others to carry, who keep the minutest regulations of the Law while driving their neighbors to self-hatred and despair of God's goodness, who marginalize and exclude from the table those they judge unworthy (Luke 6:41-42), their elaborate defenses against the moral gnats as they swallow the camel of religious abuse of the downtrodden (Matthew 23:24).
When a sinner [****] suggests to an Archbishop's staff that Christianity is not about Great Earth Mothers, Wind Spirits, and the like, he is met by an accuser of the brethren who calls him out for having a cold heart, a dead soul, and a fixation on little things which ill-behooves a man aspiring to the beatitudes. I don't think the lesson applies as broadly as Sandra Schneider, the Immaculate Heart sister who wrote the above article, probably thinks it does. But it certainly must apply here, unless it really doesn't apply at all.

I wonder if the Archdiocese's catechism program is clearly teaching the idea that fixating on large doctrinal issues is an impediment to the good work Christians can do in soup kitchens. Apparently so, because there are quite a lot of San Francisco Catholics who have fallen for the heresy of believing that their efforts in the faith go beyond potato-peeling. Some have taken up the Archdiocese's own cries for a worldwide ban on landmines, massive welfare-reform legislation, and affordable housing. Others are helping the Archdiocese advocate "an equitable and fair partnership between consumers in North American and producers in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean." Why aren't those Catholics told to shut up and get back in the soup kitchen? Surely members of the Archbishop's staff, like the one whose reply I'm quoting,[****] must be very worried about the spiritual health of all those Catholics obsessing over "big-picture" issues like landmines, poverty, and trade tariffs. No? Then I think we can take the words of the Archbishop's spokesperson for what they are -- a cruel, bullying jibe intended to shame and humiliate people who like the Trinity to figure in the public prayers of a Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

The Archbishop's spokesman also writes that the ceremony at which this prayer was used, "was not a liturgy and was not held in a church." Let me get this straight. If I want to pray to the Great Earth Mother or, for that matter, commit any other kind of sin, it's acceptable so long as I'm not doing it as part of a liturgy or inside a Church? Is it even commendable, so long as I do it to placate people who've been alienated from Catholicism? This dark text was prayed publicly and published for public use on the Archdiocese's main website, which is itself published under the Archbishop's approval. If -- as the Archdiocese's social-justice website never tires of reminding us -- our Catholicism should inform our social actions with respect to landmines, health-care legislation, and 20% discount cards for fuel purchased by low-income Californians, doesn't that imply that Catholicism is not a "Sunday Christianity" confined to "liturgy" and parish buildings? And if that's the case, what difference does it make whether a Wiccan prayer is offered by the Diocese on its website or on its altars? You can't eat your Gaia cake (see Jeremiah 44:19) and have it. Either Catholicism applies across the board, in church and out, or it doesn't apply at all. But it does, you see. And that's why the folks who like to induce these embolisms into the Body of Christ will not prevail.

God will help Archbishop Levada. He already has. I refer to the fact that, once the Wiccan prayer was noticed, persons in the Archdiocese felt constrained to censor themselves and remove mention of their deity, transforming the prayer into the kind of ICEL-ized mush we've come to expect from the orthodox-but-befuddled Church. In the end it was, I submit, they who apostasized, abandoning witness to their Wind Spirits and their Earth Mother once the facts became known among people who cared about the difference between Ebal and Gerizim. Yes, the weevils are still there. They still want the decay their prayer would bring upon all of us. But they have a Roman Catholic Archbishop who, even if he were not devout and orthodox, can at least realize that once we've embraced Gaia and the Wind Spirits we'll have no need for bishops. The site's resources on prayer still recommend Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection, and The Dark Night of the Soul. And Catholics in San Franciso and elsewhere still love Jesus Christ and keep the faith He entrusted to His apostles. In this little, but significant, affair, the light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

[**] Since I read this two days ago, the text has been altered to omit the Archdiocesan prayers to the Spirits of the South, East, and West Winds and to the Great Earth Mother. The Bowdlerized, for-public-consumption-now-that-we've-been-noticed devotion reads as follows:
Teach us to plant our feet securely on the earth and to see things as they really are, that the coming of your Spirit may find us standing firm in integrity. Teach us, in the solitude of winter, to wait in darkness with the sleeping earth, believing that we, like the earth, already hold within ourselves the seeds of new life.

ALL: May the deep peace of mercy be on us forgiving us, beckoning us, encouraging us; and may our readiness to forgive calm the fears.

Awaken in us with each day, new hopes, new dreams of colors, loves and joys never before imagined. Fill our bodies with your breath, invigorate us. Carry us to the farthest mountains and beyond. In-spirit us that we might reach out to you boldly to grasp the miracles that are given birth with each new dawn.

ALL: May the deep peace of compassion be on us holding us close when we are weary, hurt and alone; and may we be the warm hands and warm eyes of compassion when people reach out to us in need.

You bring the winds of summer and breathe on us the warmth of the sun to sooth and heal our bodies and our spirits. Quicken us, draw us by the urgings of your warm breath to break through the soil of our own barrenness and fear. Teach us to hold the memory of the spring rains that we might have the strength to withstand the heat of the day, and not become parched and narrow in our love. Lead us to accept fatigue with resignation, knowing that life is not to be rushed, that there is no flower of the field that grows from seed to blossom in a single day.

All: May the deep peace of gentleness be on us caressing us with sunlight, rain and wind; may tenderness shine through us to warm all who are hurt and lonely.

Cool our hot and tired bodies, refresh and bring laughter to our hearts. It is you who usher in the setting sun. Guide our steps at the end of day; keep us safe from evil. Fill us with your peace as you enfold us with your great mystery of night that we might rest securely In your arms until morning call us forth again.

ALL: May the deep blessing of peace be on us stilling our hearts that have fear and doubt and confusion within them; and may peace cover us and all those who are troubled and anxious. May we be peacemakers.

It was from you we came; you nourish us still and give us shelter. Teach us to walk softly on your lands, to use with care your gifts, to love with tenderness all our brothers and sisters who have been born of your goodness. And when the day comes when you call us back to yourself, help us to return to you as a friend, to find ourselves embraced, encircled and enfolded in your arms.

ALL: May the deep peace of community arise from within us, drawing us ever nearer, speaking to us of unity, true community where distinctions of persons is also oneness in being.
Fortunately for people who are interested in truth, the original version of the prayer has been captured by the Internet Archive. I say the present display is a "fake" version, because it was not read at any ceremony nor used anywhere until recently, when people began contacting the Archdiocese to ask why the Great Earth Mother isn't in the Nicene Creed.

[***] "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands . . . And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: . . . And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent. Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." Acts 17:22-24, 26-27, 30-31 (KJV)

[****] Originally assumed to be Dom Bettinelli. He's since clarified the matter, and so corrections were made at the points where he was originally mentioned.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Correcting an Unclarity

When I wrote "Some Reading from the Anti-War, Soft-on-Terrorism, Hippie Brigade I was referring to some people who've emailed me about my comments on the war here and elsewhere. I did not intend to refer to anyone who's engaged me on the subject publicly via blog or message board, a list which includes (but is not limited to) I. Shawn McElhinney, Dave Armstrong, Isabel and Reb (a/k/a Amica99m) on the St. Blog's Parish Hall, and (a long time ago) a grand fellow named IrishJohan on Gary Hoge's Catholic Outlook message board. If I left you out of the list, then so long as you haven't emailed me about Iraq in the last 15 days, you're likewise not included in the (small) group referred to in that earlier blog. Sorry for any misunderstanding.
Lasers & Commercial Aircraft: Tag or Target?

Listening to today's news I heard a story about the Department of Homeland Security denying any link between terrorism and a spate of "incidents" involving lasers and commercial aircraft. Apparently people have been "painting" commercial planes with lasers since 1995; to date the Federal Aviation Administration has logged
over 200 incidents.
Some of this activity is definitely of a criminal nature. Gangs in California have been "bundling" cheap pointer-lasers (the kind used for presentations) together and using the assembly to interfere with airborne surveillance by police. Id.

The main concern, of course, is that these devices are being used to target commercial planes for terrorists equipped with surface-to-air-missiles. Some sources estimate that there are between five and ten thousand of these missiles which are unaccounted for in the world's arsenals. The effective range of most such weapons likely to be available to terrorists is between 11,000 and 15,000 feet. "Since that's far lower than the 40,000 feet airliners normally cruise at, terrorists must fire off the weapon while planes are taking off or landing." A terrorist might use the lasers to find out if his intended target is within range. Given the difficulties apparently involved in using these weapons, that seems entirely plausible:
During the Yom Kippur war of 1973, according to a U.S. Air Force report, Arab armies fired more than 5,000 SA-7 rounds against Israeli Air Force ground-attack aircraft, but shot down only 30 planes. Even today, as a general rule, the best soldiers trained in the missile's use only hit about 70 percent of their targets in combat. And civilian jumbo jets, while bigger and slower-moving than fighters, can actually be harder to bring down with shoulder-fired missiles, since they can usually still fly after losing one or two engines. Of those aforementioned 42 attempts against non-military aircraft, about a dozen were successful. But only twice have larger commercial passenger jets been brought down--once in 1993, when Abkhazian rebels in Georgia shot down a Russian airliner, killing 106 passengers; and once in 1983, when UNITA rebels in Angola claimed to have bought down another such aircraft, killing 130.Id.
Commercially-available lasers are relatively inexpensive and can paint objects at distances up to 3,600 feet. I found two online for illustration purposes here and here. And I don't see why someone with a sophisticated electronics background couldn't adapt a more powerful laser, perhaps one specially developed for surveyors or light shows, to the same purpose.

There are entirely-innocent explanations for some of these incidents. One, for example, involves amateur astronomers using laser devices to point out stars. And the usual suspect, jackassery, can't be ruled out; witness this story about an idiot who apparently thought to impress his seven-year old daughter by trying something that could crash an airplane. Another story illustrates how serious that kind of "prank" can be:
On Oct. 30, 1995, the pilot of a Southwest Airlines flight departing from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas reported that a laser beam sweeping through the cockpit caused him to be temporarily blinded.

The pilot could not focus or interpret any instrument indications and was disoriented for several minutes, so the other pilot in the cockpit took control of the aircraft.
Having read all that, I still have some questions about this phenomenon.

First, why would a major power (these missiles are made by Russia, China, France, Japan, Germany, and others) design and issue a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile that has no rangefinder, and obliges the user to provide his own home-grown item? I realize that the older versions are heat-seeking, and not laser-guided, but anyone using them would still want to know if his target was within range of the heat-seeking device before he fired. I suspect, however, that older models may have used some kind of iron or optical sight, or a combination, and that a new laser rangefinder might be what's needed to "make assurance doubly sure." Most of the guys we're worried about were educated in madrassas, and while they can tell you how many djinn are carrying the Great Satan's 747 through the air, they're probably not all that good at the math needed to bring it down.

Second, why not try and shoot one down? Either the people we're worrying about have usable surface-to-air missiles or they don't. While the 911 attack was planned for years, I can't see the nine-years between 1995 and 2004 as being some kind of lull during which the terrorists were (or still are) planning a large-scale attack outside of multiple U.S. airports. I think it should be borne in mind that every time stories like this are reported, not a few of our countrymen are tempted to jackassery; perhaps this is just a self-perpetuating series of events.

Paul Rantacore, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Commitee for the Allied Pilots Association, was quoted in the L.A. Times story referenced above as saying,"It's not some kid. It's too organized." The article didn't say what he based that assessment on. Given our rates of airline traffic (50,000 commercial flights per day in the United States), 200 "hits" over a nine-year period seems to indicate this is the result of random jackassery rather than a well-organized campaign to do . . . well . . . nothing.

Another possibility that occurs to me is that this isn't mere jackassery, but terrorist jackassery, namely the use of lasers merely to raise a little havoc and, perhaps, blind one or two of the Great Satan's air pirates in the name of Islam. You may want to kill Hitler, but that doesn't mean you'd turn up your nose at the idea of keying his car's paint, so to speak. Just as there are American jackasses who think it's fun to screw around with air traffic, I'm sure there are foreign jackasses who'd do it for a much "holier" motive.

Lastly, it's worth noting that terrorists don't need expensive shoulder-fired missiles to screw around with air traffic. All they really need is a van with a hole cut into the top, a place to park it somewhere within 4,500 - 6,000 feet of a runway approach, and one of these. Given a sufficiently-good marksman, it would be possible to put a single round into a jet's fuselage, tail or -- preferably -- one of its engines. The plane would be grounded and the airport closed, perhaps for days. It would take more days, perhaps even weeks, to rebuild the engine or repair the damage to the plane. (Even if the plane wasn't seriously damaged, it would still have to be grounded and given a thorough inspection). With our search-and-seizure laws it's doubtful the government could actually secure a space 6,000 feet around every airport-approach lane in the U.S. Perhaps that's what the rangefinders are for, if the terrorists are using them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Salmagundi Capitalism

Check out the cool items offered via A Saintly Salmagundi. Fr. Sibley's a genius! There's a book tote which proudly states, "The Contents of this Bag Have Been Approved by the Holy Office To Contain Nothing Listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum." He's also got a BBQ apron that reads "I'd Rather Be Roasting Heretics." And my favorite, a coffee mug which says "Mary, Exterminatrix of Heresies, Pray for Us." It's not a Jester-like joke. It's serious. You can buy this stuff! Totally cool!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Some Reading from the Anti-War, Soft-on-Terrorism, Hippie Brigade

Having had my Catholicism, my patriotism, and my possession of a human brain called into question several times by various correspondence about the invsion of Iraq, I thought I'd show just how bad the company I'm keeping really is.

First there's Pat Buchanan. From his early flirtation with Soviet-style communism, through his tenure on the board of NARAL, until his recent infatuation with New Age religion and unbounded Francophilia, Pat's always harbored a special hatred of true red-blooded American ideals. That's why he writes columns like "Bush Rehtoric vs. Reality", "Stay the Course Is Not Enough", and "Scapegoating Rumsfeld." Pat and I love to smoke a bong together while he regales me about his days as Tom Hayden's live-in paramour, and so I always enjoy reading his latest anti-American columns. Vive la France, Pat!

Then there's Joe Sobran. Those of you in the fringe-and-bead crowd are probably familiar with his frequent calls for women priests and gay marriage in the National Catholic Reporter. Fewer people know that Joe spent 18 years as senior editor of the National Review, putting up with all those disgusting conservatives, for the sole purpose of encouraging Bill Buckley to write those "let's legalize dope" editorials. Rumor has it that Joe's presently working on a series of childrens' books based on The Davinci Code and traveling the country in a VW microbus, stopping every now and then to photograph power plants, dams and tall buildings for Al-Qaeda. I link to two of his America-hating, I-Love-Islamic-Terrorist screeds here and here.

I could point out for my correspondents' benefit that nothing in the above is true, except that the columns I've linked to are actual columns by Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran. But that might deprive them of the zealot's greedy pleasure, sucking up all the righteousness in the environment until no one else has the ability to breathe. Damn right I'm irritated. I think I'll get to work on my long-delayed replies to more enlightened people who disagree with me about the war, and let this stand as my sole reply to the denizens of hotmail-land and

Monday, January 03, 2005

Miscellaneous Notes

I'm washing the dog's blankets and beds. Right now they're in the dryer. Before I go back to the laundromat, I thought I'd post a few things I've been meaning to mention for awhile.

Hope for a Great Joan of Arc Movie Apparently, Ronald Maxwell is going to make a film about Joan of Arc. It's titled, "Virgin Warrior," and you can read about it here. Maxwell, as you may know, directed Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. In my opinion, those are the finest films ever made about the War Between the States, if only because Maxwell's scripts allow Southerners speak for their cause instead of infusing the story with whatever Yankee Zeitgeist is fashionable this year. (I once listened, jaw to the floor, when Jesse Jackson Jr. told a campaign audience that George Meade's army was fighting for abortion rights and the environment "even though they didn't realize it.") Perhaps medieval Catholicism will get the same salutary treatment from Mr. Maxwell.

Jester's Best Here's the best of Curt Jester, 2004. Laugh all over again at "Fallen Nature Monitor," the "Porpoise-Driven Life," "The Secularizer," and the nationally-acclaimed (and belly-laughed) "MS Forger." It's astonishing that all this was just for 2004. If Tom Monaghan ever buys NBC, he couldn't do better than making the Jester responsible for Saturday Night Live.

Crimson Tide A new blog's made it to my blogroll. It's called Crimson Catholic and, although it's just started, is displaying a lot of erudite, thoughtful commentary on various issues including a review of Dave Armstrong's The Catholic Verses. It's worth a visit.

Good to Find this One The second new blog I've found is Ithilien, a blog by Edwin Tait, one of the most thoughtful fellows I've run across on the Internet. His blogging tends to be sporadic, but he always offers brisk opinions from a new perspective. Take this one as an example:
The good Fr. Kimel, host of Pontifications, has finally (after many clear hints) delivered himself definitively of the view that lay Episcopalians should get out without further ado ("Fly, you fools!"). To help us make up our minds where to go, he's invited two ex-Episcopalians, one currently an Orthodox priest and the other a Catholic priest, to explain their respective choices. The Orthodox priest. Fr. Freeman, wrote a wise and eloquent account of how he came to Orthodoxy. The Catholic, Fr. Hart, shocked everyone by announcing that he wasn't really that thrilled with Catholicism but it was the "default." It is in continuity with the early Church, and papal primacy allows Catholicism to adapt itself to various cultures while retaining its integrity.
Not impressed? A bit shocked, perhaps? Read on:
Now perhaps it's a measure of just how jaded I've become that all of this seemed quite sensible to me -- indeed I found Fr. Hart's candor refreshing. Too many people choose Catholicism or Orthodoxy as one takes up a hobby, because it's exciting and enjoyable. If the claims of either of these Churches are true, then whichever of them is true is not a hobby but a home, not a mistress but a mother.
Like I said, it's a blog worth visiting. Edwin, please post more frequently!