Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kenny Memes

In response to my sending him the Christmas meme, Kenny Ignatius Augustine gives us . . . Christmas in Singapore!

Oh the weather outside is tropical
And Bak-Kuah's so delightful
We don't have anything called snow
To the barbeque we'll go!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I Meme Myself

Hot chocolate or apple cider? Apple cider, hard cider if available.

Turkey or Ham Oh these Mericans! It's seafood all the way, baby. Maybe Beef Wellington on Christmas day or thereafter.

Do you get a fake or real you-cut-it-yourself Christmas Tree Neither. We get a real tree somebody else cut.

Decorations outside of your house? No. Electric candles in the window is it.

Snowball fights or sledding? Both. Speed and mobility are the essence of warfare.

Favorite Christmas Song? "People Look East," "O Holy Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," & "Ihr Kinderlein, Kommet." I also like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" because that's what Nick Fury, Agent of Shield would listen to while drinking scotch and feeling sorry for himself in a tough sort of way about his difficult life.

Do you enjoy going downtown or shopping? Sporadically, while I forget the whole "Christmas downtown" thing has as much authenticity as a Civil War re-enactment.

How do you feel about Christmas movies? I think it would be great if they made one. Until they do, I'll struggle along with Die Hard, It's a Wonderful Life, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, in that order.

When is it too early to start listening to Christmas music? Anytime before the middle of December.

Stockings: Before or after presents? We don't do stockings. We hang them, but I see them as a plot to increase commercialism hatched by a malign intellect who read Tolkien's description of Hobbit meal-times: "There's First Present Opening, then Stockings, then Second Stockings . . . . ." culminating, no doubt, in the Christmas Present Palette delivered by Roadway.

Carolers, do or do you not watch and listen to them? See Do you enjoy going downtown or shopping? above. Dickensian period dress is an infallible recommendation of street-crossing; Dickensian carolers are usually the ones singing "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph," and "Let it Snow."

Go to someone else's house or they come to you? Usually we go to visit my parents and my wife's widowed mother.

Do you read the Christmas story? No.

What do you do after presents and dinner? Long for collapse, play with the Irresistable Force that is my three-year-old daughter instead.

What is your favorite holiday smell? If there's lots of snow, and it's also snowing, and it's very very cold, then I love the smell of silence at midnight.

Ice skating or walking around the mall? Walking around the Mall makes me want to don sackcloth and start preaching the penitential part of Advent. I don't ice-skate. I could watch people ice-skating as long as there were a comfortable place to sit and drink while doing so.

Do you open a present or presents Christmas Eve, or wait until Christmas day? Christmas morning, of course.

Favorite Christmas memory? The first midnight mass I attended at St. Boniface, our church. I never knew Christmas could be celebrated with such joy, dignity, and reverence.

Favorite part about winter? See What is your favorite holiday smell?

Ever been kissed under the mistletoe? No.

I now meme Kenny Ignatius Augustine of The Sleepless Eye

Saturday, December 24, 2005

My Favorite Christmas Reading

The twenty-fifth day of December.
In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world
from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses
and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
in the sixth age of the world,
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ
the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary,
being made flesh.
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Prospect of a Dialogue

A few days ago a fellow with blog called Mystery Achievement ("MA") stopped by the Dossier. He didn't much like what he saw here, as you can tell from this review. After that, Mark Shea took off after him in a post called "When Jingoes Attack.

I appreciate Mark's unsolicited support. He and I have some similar, but by no means identical, views on a few issues, including some aspects of American foreign policy. Those views aren't always happily synchronized with the program of conservative American politics. That makes some people nervous, other people angry, and still other people roll their eyes at the spectacle of misapplied Catholic and conservative values. Sometimes Mark and I get disagreeing comments which are trenchant, important, and thoughtful. Other times we get called names, not infrequently by people who don't know what the hell they're talking about. I realize that comparing my writing to Mark's is like comparing an oil-drum-and-driftwood raft to the U.S.S. Missouri. But differences in quality and scale aside, it was good to have an old friend who's been through much worse stick up for me, and to see him do it on principles we both share. Thanks, Mark.

Mark's commentary sparked off some back-and-forth in the comments boxes between MA's author and some bright people who disagree with his approach to what I've written. Predictably, MA's author has invited me to stop by his blog and discuss the whole thing in the comment boxes there. I say "predictably" because one of the last things anybody in the blogosphere, including me, wants to do is appear to be unwilling to engage in a match of wits and words. We're all here because we fancy ourselves wits, we like writing, and because we believe strongly enough in some things to publicly employ them on behalf of our causes. For one of us to decline an invitation to "discuss" things always leaves a bitter taste.

MA's author has, from what I can tell, decided that I'm guilty of several greivous sins. I'm no friend of my country, he says, and I also have decadent views that pretend to courage, but which will ultimately appear as what they truly are -- excuses that allow me to accomodate evil while striking a self-righteous pose. MA's author has decided that I believe Saddam Hussein should be reinstalled as Iraq's leader, so that he can kill people by shoving them into plastic shredders (as he did). My view on the project to create an Iraqi democracy are, in his opinion, adequately summed up thus: "Better a psychotic dictator in a country full of ignorant brown-skinned folk who neither deserve nor are capable of better than a bunch of Smirky McBurtonchimp clones running around chattering about freedom and democracy." More than that, I appear to be an anti-Semite who believes that Jews, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and other "usual suspect" groups are involved in a giant conspiracy to destroy civilization. My supposed hatred for Jews is so great that I've allegedly threatened them with pogroms.

Now these are important issues, and dire charges, and it would certainly edify me to have to defend myself against them in dialogue with someone who is vehemently opposed to my positions. Scripture tells us, "He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." Proverbs 18:17 (RSV-CE). For my part, I'd like to demonstrate that none of this is true, and that MA's summaries of my beliefs have been produced by a pretty thick layering of presuppositional filters and un-necessary conclusions onto text that won't support them and (for want of a better term) a history which actually contradicts them. This is especially true when it comes to that business about my being an anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism is a rank sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance, and that vengeance will come. I would hate to be a subject of it. I also believe it's possible for men to sin in guilty blindness; the dullness of mind that comes from wicked habit can achieve that blindness, as can vanity and arrogance (MA's author also accuses of of self-righteousness). Anyone, like myself, who would reject out of hand the possibility that he is himself blinded in that way, and refuse to submit his views to the scrutiny of a hostile witness, is surely on the fast lane (or at least the on-ramp) to Hell whether or not the immediate accusation is well founded. Even if I were so vain and stiff-necked that whatever real flaws MA might be able to find in my views went unacknowledged by me, the proof of his indictments would be there for anyone else to see and profit from.

The initial problem was that MA's author seemed the sort of fellow with whom rational discourse is impossible. The trigger there was his having declared his intention to be personally insulting:Warning: This post contains Bad Words deployed with the intent of Insulting Someone. No, seriously." I don't have a problem with someone who claims my opinions are pieces of excrement, although I would tell him that the splenetic vehemence of his words might well obscure the justice of his cause. I have to admit that, on occasion, I've been as bad when I lose my temper. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have a moment of clarity before I hit "submit." Sometimes I'm not. And sometimes I think "poltroon" and "moron" are apt descriptions and won't change my mind. It happens. But whether I'm worse or better than MA's author (a subject which is fit for God alone), nobody has a lot of time to waste hashing things out with somebody who thinks name-calling is an argument. When someone, like MA's author or me, is in that mood it means our anger has crippled us and we can't do justice to the subject. If there are two subjects which demand justice, it's America and anti-Semitism.

I was therefore very glad to learn that MA's author has regretted his invective about me personally, although he stands by the objective accusations that accompanied it:
I was very angry when I first wrote this. (No, really.) I am sorry for insulting S.A.M. the way I did. But I stand by my assessment of his posts. And the next time I read a blog post that denegrates our efforts in the GWoT, or insinuates ideas about Jews that sound like someone channeling Pat Buchanan, I'll probably get mad again. But I hope that if that does happen, I'll be able to exercise more self-control.
This proves, of course, that MA's author is a far bigger man than I am. I'm pretty sure I have one or two unpaid debts of apology in my wake. But no matter. MA's author (who I think goes by the name of "someguy," as I also use a sobriquet) has shown himself to be a Christian gentleman whose love for his country and hatred of anti-Semitism -- if not his ability to recognize when either principle is being contradicted -- is unquestionable. That's good news.

It's good because it means that I have misjudged him. He's not a witless snipe. He's a doughty fellow with important things on his mind. (He also wields a serious pen). Still, the questions are complicated on a rhetorical level because if one accepts, as "someguy" appears to have done, that any opinion of the Iraq war and occupation which does not eagerly and entirely approve of everything the U.S. has done is anti-American, then I'd have to concede the "judgment" while protesting the unfairness of its criteria. The same thing goes with anti-Semitism; if we define anti-Semitism as the ability to hold adverse opinions about the fairness and wisdom of anything the ADL or the State of Israel might do, then I'd have to make the same reply. If that's the case, then perhaps "someguy" could tell me beforehand and we could part peaceful company -- he, confident that he's run across some wicked beliefs and I, equally-confident that I've found some foolish ones -- and let readers judge when and as we write in future. If not, I'd be interested in going further with the exchange. The only problem I'd still have is time. To me, these are both huge subjects that require a lot of writing and re-writing.

So if this conversation seems agreeable to us, I can only promise to do the best I can in the time I have. For the time being, I provide these links to prior posts so from which some sort of response might appear, in the hope that "someguy" (who seems only to have looked at the offerings for November, 2005) can peruse them and see if I'm the sort of person who he thinks would be a worthwhile interlocutor:
Posts About Christianity, Jews and Islam
The Passion, the Jews, and the Teaching of Contempt

Canadian Cowardice

Letter to Loretto Girl

Musings on an Islamic Apologia

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

The Catholic Church and the Nazis
Posts about Church Matters
Commentary on the Burbling Church

Commentary on the Burbling Church (2)

Notes on Traditionalist Views of the Ordinary Magisterium

Army of One Interview

Butterflies, Traditionalists and Training Wheels

Miscellaneous Musings on Fr. Pater and ST. PIUS X
Political Miscellany and the War
Cry Havoc! And Let Slip the Dogs of War

The US Through Foreign Eyes?

I Support the Troops?

Notes for Catholics Who Can't Tell the Difference Between the Democratic Leadership Council or the Heritage Foundation and the Magisterium.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

And in the Darkness, Bind them . . .

At Harvard, they're convinced that "apocalyptic visions of armies of cloned soldiers are just fantasy . . . ." Why? I guess it's because nobody would ever be seriously interested in such a thing. Besides, Stalin's dead, and all the evil he represened went with him.

That evil isn't part of the human experience, it's not something to be guarded against in every generation. Its enduring presence is a fantasy, like this one: By foul craft, Saruman has crossed Orcs with goblin men. He's breeding an army in the caverns of Isengard. An army that can move in sunlight and cover a great distance at speed. Saruman is coming for the Ring. . . . .

Nobody's coming for the Ring. Nobody's going to cross Orcs or apes with men, goblin or otherwise. People just don't think like that. At least we don't think like that. Our motives are good. That makes all the difference. Doesn't it?

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Conspiracy theories would fade a bit if we started thinking of bad ideas as the expected results of a common human fallibility that will attend mankind through the ages, and stopped thinking of bad ideas as though they were living beings that exist and influence conduct without regard to human will.

If one thinks of bad ideas as mental lapses, then one can accept that a man can have 2 mental lapses and 6 mental successes. In that world, von Balthazar can take something from Hegel and not necessarily become identical with anything that is objectionable in Hegel's thought. But if one thinks of bad ideas as plague bacilli, then they infect everything. Just as someone who stands next to a plague carrier is "contaminated," so is someone who read an "infected" book. The presence of malice and stupidity in the human race therefore eventually places everyone inside the Grand Infection.

Hence the ever-shrinking circle of illuminati who can detect and understand the Infection -- people inevitably have something to do with each other -- literally, figuratively, and intellectually. It only requires time until the "infections" that are "proved" by proximity and rough similarity are discovered, and discovered again, and over and over again, until finally one "proves" that one's cat is a Rosicrucian agent.

One of the things that keeps the delirium alive is the continual provender of "fresh" proof by what is really a sort of obsessive-compulsive repetition of the same cycle in which the mind discovers proximity and similarity. One discovers that some of the Founding Fathers were Masons. One discovers that they helped write the Constitution of the United States. One then realizes that Masons and the American project profess a belief in similar things. Since ideas are living beings with an irreducible nature, human beings are powerless to judge, modify, repudiate, or accept them. They are either present or absent, and once a similarity exists their damning presence is proved beyond any doubt. And so the United States Constitution is a Masonic manifesto for the perversion of the world and we have to stop paying our taxes and move to Idaho. At the very least, we can't abide the United States, its Constitution, or any of the satanic devices which are eo ipso contained therein.

The result is that the conspiracist almost always concludes that there are more of "them" than there are of the righteous. This naturally produces anxiety, which in turn encourages the conspiracist to redouble his efforts at "uncovering" members of the evil party -- proximity and similarity are easy to prove, and so the conspiracist arrives at the conclusion that the "heresy" under consideration has an incredible power to "infect" by the slightest form of contact. The result is a series of choices by which one accepts, as proof of "infection," "similarities" which are more and more general in nature, which further fuels the cycle of fear and despair as the generalizations widen and embrace more of humanity. The Vatican, for example, accepts money from the Knights of Columbus, who are American and believe in Americanism; Americanism has already been proved part of a Masonic conspiracy for world apostasy; therefore the Vatican is part of the plan for world apostasy.

At the same time, the conspiracist's efforts to remain "uninfected" become increasingly logical and Procrustean. Convinced that the slightest breath, the merest proximity to an ever-expanding list of contaminated generalities, proves the presence of evil, the conspiracist must logically decide to sever contact with anyone who has been infected. Remember, the bad idea is an infection that exists independently of human will. It is simply impossible to have a relationship with an infected person and remain uninfected oneself. This is the logic which drives the ever-widening view of the conspiracy, and when it is turned inward its own logic compels the cessation of virtually any intercourse which might provide contrary information.

Eventually, the very presence of contrary information is taken as proof of infection. If a conspiracist were given enough time, he would cut off one of his legs before uttering an anathema against bipeds.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Anybody Good with Graphics?

Are any of my readers (yes, all six of you) good with graphics programs? Here's what I need to get done in 2006. I am working to make a super-deluxe version of Axis & Allies. I need to make a map of the world. It has to be a realistic color map, mercator projection only, with terrain features like mountains, coastlines and so forth. It has to have the board game's spaces ruled onto it, and then some graphics I've designed in WordPerfect put onto the different countries and sea zones. "Real life" borders and boundaries need to be eliminated from the map.

Once finished, the map needs to be printed on vinyl and applied either to wood or plastic. The map should be about 10 feet long and 4 feet wide. And, unfortunately, the map can't be to scale. Britain and Japan have to be 2-3 times larger than they are in real life, and Europe has to be larger too. South America and Africa can be shrunk.

Anybody interested? There may be a small amount of money involved. Email me. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ken Follett Rant

I'm glad to know that a blogger I like, The Happy Catholic, has tossed Pillars of the Earth into the doorstop bin. I've wanted to say something about Ken Follet ever since I read Pillars when it first came out in hardback, a very long time ago. Now that I've become a blowhard with a blog, I can say it.

Ken Follet can't write historical fiction. One of the chief tasks of historical fiction is to allow the reader to see the past the way it was lived, not to reinforce his prejudices about the past. It's a tough job. None of us lived in older days. Our access to ancient worldviews can come from our culture, our religion, and a lot of quality time spent studying history. Sometimes people have a "sixth sense" about these things. They can just tell that "it wasn't that way." I don't know how well I score on that scale, but I do know that Pillars of the Earth is crap.

Pillars is crap because it leaves the reader with no real idea what it might have been like to have lived in medieval England. What the reader does have is a very good idea what it's like to be a modern, Starbucks-besotted yuppie who's thinking about life in medieval England. Each turn of Pillar's pages leads to a trite new confirmation of what the reader already believes about the past -- it was worse then, except for the parts that are like now. And so our Pillar(ied) "heroes" are put through their modern paces; righteous indignation at the arbitrary power-game called organized religion; unreasonable prohibitions on sex and birth control; feverish, Howard-Roark style work on a giant building project whose only significance is to provide a setting for individual talent and craftsmanship. One really has no idea why, particularly, the story had to be set in medieval England as opposed to, say, Bayonne, New Jersey in 1978.

That's part of the novel's charm, of course -- maybe all of it. Everyone likes to think their preoccupations and perceptions have been the common dream of mankind throughout the ages. Pillars of the Earth reassures us that everyone who's ever lived has the same aspirations and dreams we do. If you hadn't noticed yet, that warm cozy feeling comes from leading a life that's the envy of the ages. Everyone knows the third world wants our democracy and our capitalism, so why should we hestitate conclude that medieval Frenchmen and Sung Dynasty Chinese would want them just as badly? And why shouldn't we hold in contempt those wogs (historical or otherwise) who dare(d) to question the onward march of human progress that created and sustains the American middle class?

I don't have my copy of Pillars handy. But here's a sample of Follet's historical vision from his best-selling Eye of the Needle. Describing the temporary lair of Henry Faber, Needle's arch-villain, Follett gives us a thumbnail sketch of a whole century: "The building in which he lived . . . was a Victorian brick house at one end of a terrace of six. The houses were high, narrow, and dark, like the minds of the men for whom they had been built."

That's Follett's view in a nutshell. Thank goodness we're not like those nasty dead Victorians! We're not high, but lowbrow. We hate narrow-mindedness, and rightly prefer indifference to anything but out own pleasure. Our lives, illuminated by the gleaming brilliance of the television screen, are justly secured by the power of Olympus and happily lived with the morals of Bloomsbury. We are the pinnacle of history and the envy of former ages.

None of this is very noticeable when Follett confines himself to characters who are modern. Their narcissism melds easily with the brutal dictatorship of relativism in which they live and move and have their being. Thus each of them usually finds meaning and happiness in an utterly personal, one may even say selfish, vision of themselves and their times. In Lie Down with Lions our heroine is moved by sexual excitement and marital infidelity; Communism, democracy, and "high, narrow" thinking about the goods and evils thereof have nothing to do it. Ditto for Elene Fontana in Key to Rebecca. Ditto for Alex Wollf in Key to Rebecca. Ditto for Sonja in Key to Rebecca. Ditto for Charlotte Walden in The Man from St. Petersburg. Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.

In contrast, Follett portrays men like David Rose, who did his best to stop Henry Faber from thwarting the Allies' D-Day plans, as a bitchy, juvenile, useless fellow who knows nothing about women and -- therefore -- even less about orgasms. It takes Faber only one day to seduce Rose's wife, stranted on a North Sea island without sex due to her husband's paraplegia and his constant bitter rejection of her emotional advances. (One is left wondering, for the question holds no interest for Follett, whether a paralyzed man can have any marital feelings at all if he's incapable of full participation in the Great Quest for Meaning).

Because Rose discovers Faber's spying, and because Faber's having it off with his wife, Rose tries to stop Faber from taking his vital, clandestine photographs to Germany by U-Boat. But Faber overcomes the British paralytic and provides a suitably-Stracheyan epitaph: "David Rose had been something of a fool, also a braggart and a poor husband, and he had died screaming for mercy; but he had been a brave man, and he had died for his country . . .." Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Not in Follett's world, where it may be good to die for sex, revenge, or anything else -- as long as it isn't something "high, narrow, and dark" like stopping Hitler.

Ken Follett has written a lot of novels. I haven't read them all. But I think I've read enough. It's been said that the difference between a good novel and a bad one is that good novels tell you about their characters, and bad novels tell you about their authors. In like fashion, good historical fiction tells you about the mores of the past; bad historical fiction, like Follett's, tells you only about the mores of the present. I have nothing against what one of my friends called, "mind candy" -- bright, frothy novels that excite with sentiment rather than burdening the mind with drama. But I get irritated when they're passed off to a gullible public as "breathtaking" pieces of historical imagination. They're not. They're mind candy. And a diet of candy isn't good for anyone. Time for healthier fare -- Robert Graves, Marguerite Yourcenar,, Mary Renault, Michael Shaara, Sharon Kay Penman . . . . . .

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


As the day nears, and preparations leave me little time to write, let me just say that I thank God for allowing me to be part of the United States of America. There are so many things to cherish in this country. I, like other patriots, spend more time and ascii being vexed at her flaws. But even those flaws are mostly the exesses of her virtues:
I love America's pragmatism, but not her amorality;

I love her undauntable courage, but not her fickle wrath;

I love America's enthusiasm for the individual, not her cawing maelstrom of egotism;

I love her speedy power, but not her heedless arrogance;

I love America's optimism, but not her vanity;

I love her free and easy ways, but not her licentious indifference . . . .

I love her.
And I thank God that my life is forever written into her story, however small my thread may be. I could not imagine my life as an English life, or a story from the subcontinent or the vast reaches of Asia. I am an American in my bones and in my blood. Uproot me, and I would die from pining.

God bless the United States of America. I would rather be a citizen of the United States of America than a king or noble in any other country. Good Russians or Thais will feel no slight, for they, too, are justly proud of their homelands, and will never be chagrined at the destiny of their births. But the cathedral of the nations spreads God's design across many colors and forms. And so I taste a light that Europe or Africa will never know, and shout with joy.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

If You Haven't Been To Mass Today (And for the Week

Please take a minute, read this, and add this to your prayers. Thanks. Mary Herboth's brother is dying of cancer. It seems nothing can be done except the best things like prayer and the sacraments.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Looking for Something to Pray Over?

Here's one.

Here's another.

I'll pray that one group retain its courage, and that the other group finds it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Golem's Name Is "McCarthy"

I remember an old story about the golem, a creature in Jewish folklore which could be made from inanimate materials only by the greatest sages, who used them to fight pogroms and anti-Semitism. The main problem was keeping the golem from turning on its creators. I recalled the legend when I read this story courtesy of the Drudge Report. The ADL is issuing a wake-up call to the Jewish community. It has a list of hundreds (perhaps millions) of card-carrying Evangelicals who have infiltrated our institutions and halls of government, and who are using their influence to destroy the country. As Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director puts it:
"What we're seeing is a pervasive, intensive assault on the traditional balance between religion and state in this country" . . . "They're trying to bring Christianity to all aspects of American life. They're not just talking just about God and religious values but about Jesus and about Christian values."
I didn't know there was a difference, when it came to "the traditional balance between religion and state in this country." That "traditional balance" has always exiled and outlawed any talk about God and religious values -- Christian, Jewish, or otherwise -- from the public forum. Government at all levels has, for the past sixty years or so, built a "wall of separation," between "Church and state" that includes synagogues, ashrams, and mosques. It is stupid at best, and disingenuous at worst, to suggest that this anti-religious attitude welcomes "God and religious values," and is endangered only when people mention "Jesus and Christian values."

True to form, the ADL has produced its own questionable poll supporting its position. It is, of course, tailor made to elicit answers that can seem threatening to non-Christian religious minorities. For example, the ADL trumpets alarm over this result:
Sixty-nine percent of Evangelicals and 60 percent of weekly churchgoers said there should be "organized" prayer in public schools, according to the survey, and 89 percent of Evangelicals agreed that religious symbols "like the Ten Commandments" should be displayed in public buildings.
I wasn't aware that displaying the Ten Commandments is an act of anti-Semitic exclusion. More to the point, however, is that the ADL (among its many unclarities in the poll) apparently didn't want to ask the respondents whether they thought "organized prayer" meant prayers voluntarily organized and attended by student groups, or mandatory, "gun-at-your-head" recitations of the Nicene Creed. If I were worried about an impending Evangelical theocracy, I'd want to know that.

The rhetoric -- communicated, no doubt, faithfully by The Jewish Week -- is full of code-words that telegraph the ADL's intended course.
Warning that the evangelical right has made alarming gains . . . .

ADL policy [of] attacking several prominent religious right groups and challenging their motives . . . .

national Jewish summit to respond to the growing challenge . . . . .

But even more threatening . . . . .

More ominously . . . .

naming names, and judging the motives of leading conservative Christian groups . . . .

get-tough approach

Jewish groups have been ‘seduced' by the Evangelicals' support for Israel, even as those groups pursue the ‘Christianization' of the nation'
The Nazis are back (as though they'd ever been absent from the ADL's version of history). They're trying to "Christianize" the nation, "seducing" the Jewish leadership with equivocal gestures and words, all the while pursuing "threatening, ominous, alarming" aims with questionable (anti-Semitic) motives that call for all-out Jewish effort to "get tough."

I confess to a great lack of sympathy with this approach, as much as I admire it as a brilliant example of mass politics.
Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Congress and a former ADL official, agreed that a collective re-evaluation of Jewish church-state strategies is in order . . .

He conceded that "Jews have always fared badly in systems where religion is allied with the government. But I just don't see that there is a serious move to do that in this country. I'm not frightened by the issue of whether the Ten Commandments should be in public buildings."
There's far more of Rabbi Korn's sage and excellent observations than I've quoted, but I quoted this small piece to point something out.

Jews have not "always fared badly" in systems where religion is allied with the government. The Lutheran Church, it's interesting to note, is the official, state-supported religion of Sweden and Denmark.
Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens. On September 28, 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, secretly informed the Danish resistance that the Nazis were planning to deport the Danish Jews. The Danes responded quickly, organizing a nationwide effort to smuggle the Jews by sea to neutral Sweden. Warned of the German plans, Jews began to leave Copenhagen, where most of the 8,000 Jews in Denmark lived, and other cities, by train, car, and on foot. With the help of the Danish people, they found hiding places in homes, hospitals, and [gasp! official state] churches. Within a two week period fishermen helped ferry 7,220 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety across the narrow body of water separating Denmark from Sweden.

The Danish rescue effort was unique because it was nationwide. It was not completely successful, however. Almost 500 Danish Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Yet even of these Jews, all but 51 survived the Holocaust, largely because Danish officials pressured the Germans with their concerns for the well-being of those who had been deported. The Danes proved that widespread support for Jews and resistance to Nazi policies could save lives.
Israel is another counter-example that comes to mind rather handily -- Israel is a good day's walk from the ultra-secular model of Church-State separation being touted by Mr. Foxman as the be-all and end-all of human civilization. It would be interesting -- and perhaps will be interesting -- to see the secularist ideals promoted by the ADL's campaign met by some pithy comparisons between Evangelical political influence in America and Jewish religious influence in Israeli politics, or between the supposedly-malign project of "Christianizing" America and the supposedly-benign project of "Zionizing" Palestine.

That sort of heated rhetoric is what Foxman and the ADL hope to provoke. They've already taken the first steps with their axe-handle rhetoric and vexing innuendos. If evangelicals reply in kind, it will only serve to fuel the ADL's paranoic framework and create cause to question the bona fides of any Jewish group which refuses to join the fray. In a world of bitter suspicion and antagonistic relationships, everyone turns to the men who can "name names" and "get tough." As I said, it's a brilliant piece of mass politics. So was McCarthyism. It's playing with fire, and I hope everyone declines the ADL's invitation to strike a match and that we follow instead the civilized approach of Rabbi Korn:
Instead of raising the level of confrontation, he said, "we should be thinking about how to develop a nuanced relationship with the religious right. We should be giving them support and praise for the wonderful things they are doing for Israel, and still manage to be strong where we disagree with them on our domestic agenda."
There have been times when Jewish attempts to build a liveable society through secularism goaded Christians into demonizing them as a culture-destroying race bent on undermining wholesome values. Let's not invite that old, vile rhetoric to emerge -- on either side -- again.

Monday, November 14, 2005

My Ultimate 1950s Sci-Fi Movie Weekend

Destination Moon (1950)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
When Worlds Collide (1951)
War of the Worlds (1953)
Them! (1954)
This Island Earth(1955)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
The Fly (1958)

and . . . . and . . . .


Forbidden Planet (1956)!!!!!!!!!

If only I had the time to sit down in front of the Interocitor with a few cold ones. Ah well, Klaatu Barada Nikto, y'all!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

For Veterans' Day

I saw that the Curt Jester put up a hymn for Veterans' Day. I appreciated that sentiment and his apt choice. Inasmuch, however, as Veterans Day has been employed in my neck of the woods as an occasion to drape red-white-and-blue bunting around the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and some of its more dishonorable attempts to fight (the other guy's) terrorism, here's my selection:
God of our fathers, known of old--
Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe--
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
Or lesser breeds without the law--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard--
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard--
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!
-- Rudyard Kipling, "Recessional."
More Tooting

Since it's beginning on July 8, 2003, The Dossier passed the 150K mark for hits (151,435 as of today). We've had 111,687 visits (more than twenty minutes' spent on the site), 1,049 this week. That means about 74% of our visitors are serious readers of the material I generate (that's a compromise between the phrase "brilliance I radiate" and "bilge I bloviate"). Thanks, y'all, for your appreciation.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

School Days

Today's my first day of student teaching. (Your prayers would be appreciated!!)

For what it's worth, here's an journal entry I wrote on education:

Educating Children for the Malabar Front

One of the things I noticed about Professor Shulman's presentation to EDU 201 the other week was the virtually-complete absence of the learning methods we've been studying in EDU 302 & 404, and which we're experiencing in EDU 201. Aside from a few "microsocratics" and a couple of Q&As there wasn't any vigorous interaction between the students and Professor Shulman. There weren't any small groups, no role-playing exercises, no collaborative or cooperative efforts. Professor Shulman remain seated and motionless for the first 45 minutes of the class, and while I suspect he stood and "painted the room" as a (very) subtle energy shift, the muted technique didn't change the essential format -- the dicactive lecture we're taught to use almost as a last resort.[1]

And yet, to use Professor Frederick's phrase, the lecture was very lively, an "interior dialogue" between Professor Shulman and each of us.

So why, on this most auspicious day, one eagerly anticipated by all of us Constructivists, did we default to the didactic-lecture format? Shouldn't we have been treated to a brilliant expose of all those exciting strategies we've been studying? Shouldn't we have seen at least one power-point slide? I think the answer is, "No," perhaps even, "Hell no."

Like actors, or policemen, or trial lawyers, what we're studying is methods, the techniques of teaching. And like actors, or policemen on a traffic stop, or lawyers before juries, if we do it right people won't notice 90% of what's going on. Few people waiting on the roadside for a traffic ticket notice the cop's surreptitious hand pushing on the trunk to see if it will open because there's contraband or someone hiding inside. Nor will they notice the cautious approach from the driver's or passenger's blind-side, meant to allow the officer time to observe someone reaching for a weapon or hiding something under the seat. When we see George C. Scott deliver his speech before that huge American flag well, by God, we think it's George S. Patton himself growling at us; we don't notice the acting, the acting is invisible. That's true for teaching, too. The method should be invisible, or at least unobtrusive, because it's not the point of what's happening.

That brings me back to Professor Shulman's lecture. Mostly, I thought, it dealt with "meta-issues" such as the purposes and value of comparative / hierarchical grading. His indictment of law school pedagogy as "corrupt" was all too charitable.[2] The first semester our grades came out, not only friendships realigned, but some romantic relationships as well. That's not counting students who let their spouses put them through law school before "better dealing" themselves into new marriages with classmates. I remember one student at the law school telling us that he'd asked the lawyers who were interviewing him for a job what kind of wife would fit into the social life of the firm. He thought the question displayed complete loyalty and put him up over the others. Somewhere out there is a very lucky woman, because he didn't get the job. I wonder if he was beat out by another classmate who asked whether having children fit into the firm's social life.

Most people in my experience tend to think that "corruption" means exchanging something good, true, or beautiful for money. That definition's too limited. "Corruption," to my way of thinking, means exchanging something good, true or beautiful for something that's less true, good, or beautiful. Money just happens to be the most common medium of exchange. It's good to get high grades. It's good to have a well-paying job with a prestigious law firm. But it's corrupt to trade higher, finer things like home and family for them. I think law schools provide that acculturation for their students, playing off the James Bryan Conant / John F. Kennedy "best and brightest" acculturation that preceded it in the lives of their students.

Lawyers, like educators, have immense power. What future can come from legal men trained in the mold of Cromwell rather than Thomas More? I know a lawyer whose firm routinely takes cases that violate his religious principles; he's told to work on them or take a walk. He walked. If he'd stayed, he'd have been corrupt, trading his identity for a mess of 401(K) pottage. I know a Supreme Court Justice who takes pride in his conservative, Catholic credentials -- and then writes articles claiming that the teaching of the Catholic Church against the death penalty doesn't bind his conscience, because if it did, he'd have to resign from the Supreme Court.[3] I recall CS Lewis wondering, in Perelandra, how many college professors have lost their souls pursuing the high opinion of their colleagues. I remember the Sermon on the Mount: "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets." (Luke 6:25). If professional schools were to teach anything valuable, they would teach that. It could be said that the greatest soul-killing myth in the American religion is the identity of virtue and worldly success. I'm glad Professor Shulman lifted a corner of that shroud last Tuesday.

Shulman's cross-cultural comparison of the dilemma of a teacher under the American and Soviet spheres of education was bold, and apt. History, for example, is supposed to be what Herodotus said it was, an investigation, not a memorized group of "just-so tales" cobbled together by mono-multi-stereo- cultural lobbying groups. I have no problem with his solution, either, so long as it's done without hypocrisy or dissembling. I'm not going to teach the spread of Buddhism in Ceylon just because somebody on the state standards committe wrote a doctoral thesis about it. Nor am I going to portray Western Civilization as being particularly shameful or worse than Asian civilization. My World Civilization book has a good deal on the Western slave trade, and nothing on the ancient and long-running Chinese custom of foot-binding (abolished, interestingly enough, by a fascist government). I'm not saying that every conscientious teacher ought to go stalking around the school, fiery-eyed with a chip on his shoulder, itching for the chance to duke it out over some principle or other. I'm saying that members of the learned professions have a constant obligation to exercise an inner moral vigilance, and to perpetually entertain the possibility that this vigilance will demand resistance, perhaps even a donnybrook or two, with corruption.

The rant having ended, I return to the reason I started writing this little thing to begin with. Why, if the topics were so important, didn't Professor Shulman dazzle us with constructivism? I venture the opinion that it's because all the tips and tricks, all the glittering methodology of collaborative classrooms, cooperative learning, "jigsawing" and the like exist because they are deliberately-inefficient ways of teaching. Professor Shulman's didactic lecture was delivered in ideal circumstances. He was a learned and experienced professional speaking to an audience on a theme in which we were already interested and highly-knowledgeable.[4] As liberally-educated men and women, we also shared a common fund of knowledge and experience with Professor Shulman. He did not have to explain what "communism" was in order to make his point about government censorship of education in Czechoslovakia, and had he quoted Shakespeare we would all at least have known he was quoting something, and we all had the verbal and intellectual skills to take his meaning even if we weren't personally familiar with the reference. In short, that classroom was an ideal instructional environment because we were linked, if you will, by superconducting lines of communication.

Our readings (in both EDU 201 and 302; I've given up trying to keep it all separate and entered a sort of syllabus-induced fugue state) undeniably suggest that the exclusive use of didactic lectures is a thing of the past. It is described often as a holdover from medieval times. But in the Middle Ages, the only people with access to higher education had already become literate in at least one second language (Latin) or more (Greek and Hebrew). They were thoroughly-versed in a base corpus of knowledge drawn from Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, classical (mostly Roman) authors, etc., a corpus which is decidedly smaller than our own. On the other half of the educational spectrum, even local schooling tended to focus mostly on the children of wealthy (or at least comfortable) families, and usually ended with acquiring enough Latin to read legal documents and international correspondence. Martin Luther expressed the general view admirably, "A boy should pass one or two hours a day at school and let him have the rest of his time for learning a trade in his father's house. . . . So also girls should have an hour a day at school." Likewise, the law implementing compulsory attendance at school passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1496, applied only to children of the nobility and freeholders (families with their own land), and then only to the point where the children acquired "perfect Latin."

The United States seems, not a unique example of the project, but certainly the first and most prominent of a nation embracing an ideal of universal education as part of the national raison d'etre. From Jefferson through Dewey and beyond, our society has considered "education" (however variously conceived in terms of content or method) to be synonymous with the entire American project. I venture to suggest that because of this egalitarian passion the United States undertook to do for education what Napoleon did for military service, transforming a state function that had been sharply restricted along class lines into a national program of total participation involving all strata of society. One recalls in this connection the strong militaristic tinge that has accompanied American educational reform. Intelligence testing became popular as a result of its use by the American military in WWI, and gained new impetus when schools were enlisted in the national project of defeating Communism and vindicating the American Way.
Our final word, perhaps better characterized as a plea, is that all segments of our population give attention to the implementation of our recommendations. . . . Help should come from students themselves; from parents, teachers, and school boards; from colleges and universities; from local, State, and Federal officials; from teachers' and administrators' organizations; from industrial and labor councils; and from other groups with interest in and responsibility for educational reform.

It is their America, and the America of all of us, that is at risk; it is to each of us that this imperative is addressed. It is by our willingness to take up the challenge, and our resolve to see it through, that America's place in the world will be either secured or forfeited. Americans have succeeded before and so we shall again.
-- "A Final Word," excerpted from A Nation at Risk.
The quoted passage is, in a very Napoleonic sense, a "revolutionary" vision of education in which the state is general to a social army fighting to preserve the motherland against forces that would deprive her of her rightfully-glorious place in world history.

This observation, if true, leads to a number of questions about whether American education, as practiced and popularly conceived, is an example of civilization or merely systematic barbarism. With regard to the immediate point, however, the enlistment of the nation in an "education army" poses some of the same issues for learning and teaching that technology posed for the military establishments of the 19th and 20th centuries. It's an interesting fact, recorded in William Manchester's Dreadnaught, that in 1850 the British Army conducted a study proving conclusively that in the hands of properly-trained troops, the longbow was superior to the rifle in accuracy, rate of fire, and effectiveness at killing or incapacitating an opposing force. The obstacle, as the British realized, which prohibited re-equipping the army with longbows was that effective training in the weapon required literally years of exhaustive tutelage; in the days of Crecy and Agincourt skill in the longbow was often handed down from father to son, giving rise to English family names like Archer, Bowman, Fletcher, Butt, Buttson, and the like.[5] In contrast to competent military bowmanship, riflery can be practiced at an acceptably-effective level with only months, perhaps even weeks, of drill. The rifle, and not the longbow, was the eminently suitable weapon for modern military establishments, which must be capable of enlisting and training huge numbers of soldiers quickly drawn from all classes and conditions of society.

Although that old debate has long been settled by technological advances, the human dynamic it highlights remains a feature of mass politics and therefore mass education. The most efficient, most effective method of teaching -- the lecture, that "inner dialogue," the oral essay, perhaps joined with a truly Socratic dialogue -- can't be relied on to train the "conscript armies" of modern students. The gap in training and experience between student and instructor is too great. (And that, by the way, assumes a lot about instructors which is not, strictly speaking, true). As the infantry of the 1850s no longer came from backgrounds which provided training in the skills necessary to use the longbow, the modern student no longer comes from backgrounds which provide training in the skills necessary to listen to a good lecture or meaningfully participate in a socratic exchange. In the last century, it was realized that some basic training in riflery took less time to impart just enough skill to work on the battlefield, and now we're realizing that the eight-minute sound-bite (accompanied by appropriate audio-visual stimulus) takes less time to impart just enough skill to work in the modern factory. When the Founding Fathers spoke of standing armies as a threat to liberty, perhaps they spoke more truly than even they suspected.

I still wonder at the point of it all. The purpose of our own education as teachers has been forcefully stated as the development of the whole child, but I wonder . . . development into what? The question doesn't seem to require much by way of critical thinking skills in the educational establishment. That's not a judgment, however much it may sound like one; an alienated, culturally-bereft, materialistic society is justifiably intolerant of moral debates or moral didacticism. In that respect, the concentration of educational activity into a state system operating under secularist principles has been a subtle and brilliant method of driving "higher-order moral thinking" out of education altogether. Moreover, the resulting absence of teleological explanations of human existence which exceed materialist priorities carries its own powerful message, one which is all the more powerful because it's never expressly stated and thereby subjected to examination. The educated man's picture of human life becomes a closed circle in which he both eats to live and lives to eat. Leisure, and all the higher levels of human meaning it presupposes, is trivialized into a pleasant hobby at best, a dangerous eccentricity at worst. Thus we wonder, astonished, at the prevailing attitude among teenagers that knowledge and wisdom are not worth the candle, that accelerated and high-order intellectual performance is an example of uncouth bad taste, even an implied insult directed at everyone else.

Perhaps that's as it ought to be. The Revolutionary Army can hardly be expected to question the purpose of its own existence. Maybe it's better to turn all of America's schools into well-funded, cleaner, bowdlerized versions of Seward Park High[6] -- holding pens for thousands of unreflective, other-directed, morally-ignorant young people subjected to a frequent barrages of inducements to enlist in the army. Whichever army -- the one fighting the war on poverty, the one fighting the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on Saddam, the war on intolerance (by which is usually meant moral objections raised to materialist / secularist priorities). Someday we might even wrap all those wars into a neat catch-phrase, something like "the Malabar Front." It's easier to run a society along those lines. It's certainly much easier to run a school.

[1] This bespeaks no inherent prejudice against the method, as I hope my observations explain. IMHO, the de-emphasis on didacticism and lecture is due in no small part to their familiarity and ease of use; under stress, any person will default to his or her training. Most of us have seen didactic lecturing for the better part of our entire academic careers. (That goes for law school, too; what passed as "Socratic method" at IU in my day was "Socratic" only in that it made one long for a draught of hemlock). Our course of instruction is, I think, intended to "skip over" the brilliant oral essay on the theory that any of us can speechify things fairly well already, and we ought to be conditioned so that the stress of a classroom causes a default to other methods.

[2] If I were reading this from the pen of another, I'd think, "sour grapes." Maybe. I wouldn't say my stint in law school even remotely resembled a star academic performance. But I did write on to the Law Review, was selected to represent the school on the ABA Moot Court Team, and I was elected to the Order of Barristers by the faculty. I also went on to clerk for two federal judges, one at the District Court level and another on the U.S. Court of Appeals. I do have biases that influence this appreciation of law school, but GPA-envy isn't among them.

[3] Antonin Scalia, "God's Justice and Ours," First Things, May, 2002.

[4] That's a comparative judgment, of course, but it's comparatively right.

[5] The first names require no elaboration. As to the others, fletchers were skilled artisans who "fletched," or manufactured, arrows; "Butt," "Butts" and "Buttson" are all derived from a term in archery for a place of practice or target.

[6] The high school featured in this book.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Canadian Cowardice

Via Fr. Dowd, we learn that Canada's debating whether to create a programmatic, state-sanctioned approach to killing the sick and mentally ill. Fr. Dowd's blog has all the details, as well as good observations about what it all can mean for Canada. I'm not Canadian. But I thought I'd sit in the gallery for the Parliamentary debate via the links on Fr. Dowd's site. Here's what I think about it.

Ms. Francine Lalonde moved for the bill to go forward. It is time, she said, for Canada to join the progressive and forward-thinking nations who kill the incurably sick, the socially useless, among their populations:
Death is never a mercy. To characterize death as merciful is to invest it with nearly altruistic qualities, with tenderness, which is a kind of anthropomorphizing, as if death has a personality and we can alter its features, render it more kindly, make of it even a friend.

Merciful death — it was for the best ... at least he's not suffering any more — is but a shallow platitude, seized upon most eagerly by those who cannot otherwise admit their own relief in being released from the exhausting burden, emotional and otherwise but essentially vicarious, of illness and infirmities and frailty; of how awful life looks, wasting and desiccated and necrotic, when it's trickling away.

This is, I think, the unbearable heaviness of being.

Of growing old and feeble, or not even so old but terribly sick, losing one's faculties, one's mobility, one's mind — reverting, yes, to the helplessness of infancy. But it is inevitably the healthy who recoil from this, as if even death were a preferable alterative to such dependency and deterioration.

We project our revulsion — which is essentially rooted in fear of our own mortality — and convince ourselves that somebody else would be better off dead because look, just look, at how wretched their existence has become or will become. And that says a great deal about the value that we subtract from a life when it is no longer vigorous and productive; when it just lies there, maybe thinking, maybe dreaming, maybe remembering.

Little wonder that the sick and dying begin to see themselves as valueless, too, abhorrent, ashamed, unworthy because they can no longer walk or talk or feed themselves.
Oh, sorry, that's not Ms. Lalonde. It's Rosie Dimanno writing in the Toronto Star. I thought it might be interesting to look at Ms. Dimanno's editorial first, because so many of its themes are echoed by Ms. Lalonde's argument for the bill.

Take, for example, Ms. Lalonde's brilliant , languid praise for the artistic beauty of being murdered by your family physician:
"The experience of doctors who look after individuals who have been allowed to be helped to die in countries that have passed legislation in this regard is enlightening. One might infer that, knowing that they will be able to get help to die with dignity when they reach the point where their life has definitely become unbearable, it will be easier for people to live fully a painful end of life or a life of extreme limitations because they feel imprisoned in their bodies. As Félix Leclerc reminded us, death is full of life."
Now this really is good rhetoric. A lot of arguments against euthanasia legislation are focused on the dignity of life and its inextricable end in a (hopefully natural) death. What Ms. Lalonde's just done is plant her flag on the same moral high-ground by plausibly using the same line of thought to justify suicide. If, she says, the pro-life bunch are right and death really is part of life, then why not follow the idea where it leads us? If we use our freedom and our medical technology to help us live as we wish, why not continue using them in order to die as we wish?

I thought Ms. Lalonde's reference to Felix Leclerc was curious. The only Leclerc I know fought the Germans in WWII. So I read up on him as much as I could, which isn't much, because just about everything on him is in French. He's a famous artist, a prominent figure in Québécois culture, a folk-singer whose work apparently helped make it "okay" to be French in Canada. That last bit's no small achievement, from what I understand; there's a lot of Anglo-Gallic tension in Canada, and it's tough to find an American analogy. As near as I can gather, it's as though Americans lived in a society where the words "white trash," "trailer-court" and "redneck" applied to French-speaking people. I found this in the Canadian Encyclopedia:
The lyrics of the songs [in Leclerc's considerable repertoire] . . . speak to men of themselves. The naturalistic and mythical aspects of man's origins have been retained. He draws inspiration from the elements - water, earth, sun, fire, and wind - and his themes reflect a love of animals and nature. . . . His poetry, simple and direct, conveys a tragic vision of existence. To him the tragic character of humanity is rooted in nature. Human effort occasionally may lead to death under the yoke . . . but at the same time it provides a link with the beyond and adds a spiritual dimension to everyday actions and indeed to life in general. Nature is omnipresent in Leclerc's songs. The seasons provide the backdrop to the recurring themes of escape, death, God, woman, and country.
That doesn't sound very healthy to me. "[N]aturalistic and mythical aspects of man's origins . . . tragic vision of existence . . . . character of humanity rooted in nature . . . recurring themes of escape and death . . . " It all sounds like something Silverweed might sing in the Warren of Shining Wires.

Of course I may be greatly maligning Leclerc's work, and I apologize for it if I have. His view of the world may have no connection with Ms. Lalonde's -- "death is full of life" is the kind of brass-plated bromide that occupies the place ordinarily reserved for intelligence in the minds of legislators and sophomore English-lit majors. It may not be a distinct theme which Ms. Lalonde picked up from Leclerc's ouvre.

Still, I mention it because one thing Francis Schaeffer taught me is that culture and religious philosophy are inseparable and that secularism is a religious philosophy. I mention it because one thing John Paul II taught me is that all this has been wrapped up in a culture of death. Why shouldn't a culture of death have its own hymns, its own poetic insights? It should, and it does; while Leclerc's chansons may not be a part of all that, Ms. Lalonde's lyrical transmutation of death into a life-giving apotheosis certainly fits the bill. It goes beyond the prosaic, utilitarian arguments about socially-assisted killing, although Ms. Lalonde uses them too. It makes murder and self-murder into holy things, experiences of the transcendent available to anyone with enough personal religious excellence and will to use a syringe.

Ask Ms. Lalonde whether men and women should try to become the best people they can be, and you'll see the road she's paving. It runs straight into a great Canadian abattoir where the troublesome poor, the expensively sick, and the embarrassingly demented can redeem themselves by producing more "life" for Canada. A maple-leaf mockery of the Crucifixion, that, and how Satan must be chuckling over it. From Druid to Aztec, and now to Québécois -- encouraging human society to murderously sacrifice their own in the name of good harvests and life-giving plenty has always been one of his little tricks. What else can we expect to enter secularism's garnished house, swept clean of all religious dogma? Nothing, nothing at all, except for Ms. Lalonde and her own blasphemous chanson about the recurring themes of escape and death.

The isolated voices now singing through Ms. Lalonde and only a handful of others will swell to a vast chorus as more Canadians enter the melody. Canada, they will sing, why do you tarry? If self-inflicted death produces so much life, why should you restrict its gift to the least among you? Why should people have to wait until they are suffering before they give more life to our great country? Some may have to wait, one supposes, if society's needs demand their continued physical presence. Doctors and nurses who kill the weak and sick, and the grave-diggers who bury the mess, certainly fall in that category. But that just proves life is a burden to be carried for others, one which should be shed at the earliest opportunity. Far better to glorify oneself and one's country, to give oneself in the very flower of one's youth and strength . . . . . Oh, yes, Satan will get them to mock every stage on the Via Dolorosa, especially carrying of the cross.

He'll do it because he has to, and he has to because there's truth in Ms. Dimanno's words. It's not good to be sick and dying. It's not pleasant. It's not even tolerable most of the time. What kind of society would expect its members, and their families, to go through all that? To find out, one merely has to ask whether any of the things Ms. Lalonde herself might value -- womens' sufferage, the end of slavery, the survival of native peoples -- were gained without equal degrees of suffering. What will become of those great achievements, or of others yet to be attained, when we no longer value suffering? If the right and duty to live one's life to the bitter end can be an unnecessary and intolerable burden, why then all the rights which come with life can be unnecessary and intolerable too. How kind of the state to relieve us of all that stress, all that strain, all that suffering!

But, as the death-mongers will say, the sick and dying aren't suffering for any cause, they're suffering for no reason at all. It's one thing to praise dead soldiers, wounded civil-rights marchers, men and women who chose to suffer for something noble. The others kind of suffering, well, it's just humiliating. The real noble suffering is done by the family and the doctors who decide to kill grandmamma for the greater glory of Canada. It's quite understandable, once you make the same twisted assumptions that lie behind Ms. Lalonde's smiling face. Officers guarding Auschwitz used to routinely commiserate about how difficult the job was, how much it took out of one, and about the special kind of moral bravery required to keep the bath- houses and crematoria running at maximum capacity. But the killing had purpose you see -- it was for the greater glory of the German Volk and the Thousand-Year Reich. On the other hand, a Jewish life was a canker, the eruption of a disease. Everybody said so. Best to wipe out that pitiable species altogether.

To think that way, one must first deprive another human being of the non-negotiable, intrinsic value of his life -- all of his life, including everything that happens in it. Mr. Jason Kenney, another member of Parliament, saw this quite clearly:
[H]uman dignity, which is the basis of our civilizational belief in the sanctity of human life, is ontological, that is to say, an essential and inseparable characteristic of human personhood, of human existence. To legalize or seek to legitimize the deliberate taking of innocent human life as this bill seeks to do is to commit the gravest offence possible against the human person. In short, it would turn a society such as ours, grounded as it is in the objective existential understanding of human dignity, on its head.
The place of human dignity in social thought is either a fixed, non-negotiable element of the universe, like a spherical planet called Earth, or it isn't. If it is, then you can't kill people just because you've developed your own flat-earth theory of dignity that makes them into disposable snot-rags. It doesn't matter if we're killing them because we've got a new lyrical theory of dignity that makes their deaths into beautiful things; we've still made them into disposable people because we've made a world where the value of anyone's life is negotiable within the state, dictated by the state.

Whether or not they know it, the people who allow themselves to die naturally from incurable illness in Canadian hospitals or homes are soldiers fighting against that disgusting vision of life. They're soldiers whose sacrifices are every bit as noble as the ones who fell at Dieppe and Juno Beach. Nobody wants to do that. I don't want to do it. I don't want anyone in my family to do it. But what difference does that make? Some things in life you have to do even if you don't want to do them. You have to do them even if they're gruesome, terrible, beyond anything that can reasonably be expected to be borne. That may be a shock to Ms. Lalonde. They didn't like hearing it in the Warren of Shining Wires, either. Nobody likes hearing it. That's beside the point. Because if we run life on the basis of what we like or don't like to hear, we'll end up with a society very different from the one Ms. Lalonde thinks she's building. The Germans found that out, in no small measure because Canadians taught it to them. It's sad to see Canada going the same way now.

People who live or die amidst physical or mental circumstances that seem unendurably grotesque teach us real lessons about the glorious nature of human life. They do it because we have to pay attention to them, take care of them, listening to our consciences when their suffering asks us questions about the real meaning of human dignity. We have to do that because their lives, their voices, are "ontological," non-negotiable parts of our own lives. We can't turn them off like displeasing pop songs. Canadians are free to choose otherwise, of course. They can choose to be a nation of cowards who kill other cowards because some more cowards talked a lot of juvenile bosh about life-giving death and merciful murder. God knows, Americans couldn't judge them for it if they did. But we can mourn the loss of a good example as I, for one, will mourn it. I still hope the bill will be defeated. It depends, I guess, on whether Canadians have more guts than their politicians.

Friday, November 04, 2005

This Week's Eureka Convergence Award

Only a worldview which believes in a visible, transmittable Christendom--an identifiable and complete social order marked by objective divinely-instituted and maintained signs (that is signs whose validity is not determined by merely subjective criteria) and possessing public authority which refuses to be just one more voice in a "marketplace of ideas"--can truly stand against Secularism.
-- Tim Enloe, Societas Christiana
Or, in other words:
CONDEMNED: "The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization."
-- Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors

Great minds think alike, eh?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Letter to Loretto Girl

Over at Catholic and Enjoying It I came across the story of a faithful Catholic girl and her faithful mother who've precipitated the firing of a Catholic-school teacher for encouraging mothers going inside abortion clinics. As Mark notes, there's some heat being directed at the ladies, a lot of it vile and silly. Here are some examples:
"I feel sorry for you girl, your mom is a whack job."

"[W]e don't need this bullshit coming from your family right now."

"I hope you transfer, not only to a different school, but into a different religion. Catholicism isn't a hate-based belief system, and we don't need your kind."
There are others that read as though the words were cut out of magazines and then glued onto the side of a paper bag.

Of course not all the comments are appallingly shallow and atavistic. There's a spectrum that runs from the above-quoted posts through the higher realms occupied, variously, by the School of Boldly-Outraged Libertarians ("how dare you enforce your morality on others"), the College of Faint Hearts ("abortion might be wrong except the girls are in trouble and it's a tough choice so there"), up to the Do-It-Yourself Senate of True Catholicism ("all the theologians I know say to leave this medieval divisiveness behind and march onward to the sunny uplands of something else!").[1] On they go until, finally, we get to Loretto Girl.

I take it that Loretto Girl is a student at the school. That must be a good school, because her calm dissection of the issues is a pretty rare sight. Most of her points are already addressed by others in the comments box, but I thought I'd offer my own perspective on things because, well, I'm a blowhard and I have a blog. Here it goes -- Loretto Girl's comments are in blue, mine in black.

I don't [think] it's right to go into a teacher's life like that.

Why not? Seriously, I mean just about every comment on the thread that disagrees with Loretto's decision appeals to pedophilia among Catholic priests as something the Church ought to "deal with" before it can even start thinking about firing Ms. Bain. Fair enough, but doesn't investigating pedophilia "go into a teacher's life like that" -- it can involve following the teacher, taking photos, listening to rumors and anonymous accusations, asking the teacher about his or her sex life, etc. If it's right for the Church to investigate pedophilia among priests this way, why shouldn't the Church investigate the morals of her other educators and leaders?

Usually, what I've heard is that there's a difference because the sex-abusing priests are actually hurting people, whereas those who have or support abortions aren't hurting anyone. That makes sense, as long as you believe unborn children don't deserve to be looked on as human beings, that they're just not "people" who can be hurt by abortion. Born people can believe that, if they like. But they can't claim to be Catholics, or to be even generally agreeable to Catholicism. And that leads us to the big issue here. I agree that Ms. Bain shouldn't be fired "just because" she approves of abortion. But can she be fired because Loretto has a duty to be what it claims to be -- a Catholic school modeling Catholic teaching? I think Loretto can't really perform that duty and have Ms. Bain on its staff; either Loretto has to change totally into something else or Ms. Bain would have to, if they were going to keep on together. I don't think Loretto ought to change into something else, and I don't think Ms. Bain ought to put on a "happy Catholic mask" either. So it's best they part ways.

Ms. Bain was not trying to force girls into her views. No one even knew she was pro choice!

I hate to keep bringing it up, but none of the pedophile priests went to the pulpit and told the parish it was right for them to have sex with children, either. And because of a lot of wicked or incompetent bishops, most people never knew who the pedophiles were, either. Why does unobtrusiveness make a difference to Ms. Bain's case? Is that a good analogy? It's not a good analogy at all -- if you think that pedophilia hurts children, but that abortion doesn't hurt anybody because unborn children aren't human beings. See above.

I just don't think it's right to fire a teacher over her beliefs.

I know you mean there's lots more behind what you've written, but still "just" thinking something doesn't make it right or true. Would you think it's fine to have a teacher who thought it was okay to use the word "nigger" to refer to her African-American students, a teacher who said things like "Kids, I believe in diversity. So I don't want all the nigger children on one team. Make sure each of your lab teams has got its own nigger"?

What if the teacher never used the word in class, or anywhere on school grounds, or around anyone connected with the school? What if she only called black people "niggers" among her own friends, and only attended Klan rallies on her own time? Do you think that teacher really ought to be teaching in school? People have the right to believe what they believe, up to a point. In our country people are free to join the Klan and hate African-Americans, or to join Planned Parenthood and help kill unborn children -- up to a point. Where is that point?

It depends on who's setting the point -- government or private society. As a government official, like a law-enforcement officer, I may have to tolerate a hundred people screaming racist hate at the top of their lungs for hours on the courthouse steps. I had to do that, once, because our police department was doing its duty by providing security at a Klan rally, making sure the Klansmen had the right to free speech. But the local merchants and shopkeepers did something that only private society can do. They organized a kind of boycott of the rally. All the stores closed, so there was no reason to go downtown on that Saturday. Nobody could so much as buy a cup of coffee that Saturday, and the local paper ran free ads telling everyone not to go downtown, that all the stores would be closed. Government can't do that, but private people can do it. And they should be able to do it, because otherwise they wouldn't be free either.

Loretto is a private school, which doesn't mean that it's posh, or filled with rich kids. Lots of private schools have nothing but poor students, students who have families which work just as hard, and have just as much trouble making ends meet, as the families whose kids go to public schools. The difference is that a "private" school isn't a government school. It's like the downtown merchants and the local paper I wrote about -- it can do what it wants to do to express its own values, its own beliefs. It should be able to do that, otherwise nobody at Loretto would be free, either. If that means firing Ms. Bain, just like the shopkeepers decided not to sell anything to anybody on that Saturday, then that's what it means.

(And yes, there's a difference, so long as you think that calling black people "niggers" actually hurts and demeans them, whereas aborting unborn babies doesn't "hurt anyone" because they aren't human beings like black people are. In that case, see above).

I disagree with the church on a lot of issues. Does that mean I should get expelled?

I can't speak for Loretto, but if I were running a Catholic school then I'd say, "It depends." If I thought your disagreements were the result of being young, insufficiently educated in life or the faith, the product of wrong-headed influences at home or among friends, and that your disagreements were the curious, open-minded sort that might be healed with patience and lots of clear answers, then I wouldn't expel you.

But if I thought that your disagreements were held on very serious matters, owned past all persuasion, proudly worn by you as a badge of "independence," indulged (on-campus or off) at every opportunity, and that you believed you ought to help other people have the same disagreements with Church teaching, then I'd do the best I knew how to give you one last chance to change -- even if all you did was change your disagreements into the tolerable kind --- and, if you didn't, I wouldn't expel you.

What I would do is have a meeting with you and your parents (they deserve to be told this too, and I deserve to have to look you all in the eye when it got said), and explain that you won't be enrolling at the school in the next term. I'd try and do that with enough time for you to find another school, and offer (if you and your parents wanted it) to make it very clear to the new school that the reason for your changing schools had nothing to do with bad academics, poor student discipline, etc., and that it had to do with a conscientious disagreement between you and my school about religious issues.

(I don't know if a similar thing happened with Ms. Bain. I think the decent thing to do would be to explain to her, with as much notice as practicable, that she would not be teaching at Loretto in the coming term and that she could remain employed until then, provided she made no more trips to an abortion clinic. Hopefully, the school would be in a position to offer her some sort of severance pay to partially tide her over in case she couldn't find a job right away. As in your case, I'd offer to make it very clear -- provided that Ms. Bain met my conditions for remaining until the end of the term -- to any new school that the reason for Ms. Bain changing employers had nothing to do with bad teaching skills, etc., that it had to do with a conscientious disagreement between her and my school about religious issues. My lawyers would tell me not to do any of that, because it would help Ms. Bain sue us, but I'd do it anyway).

I'd tell you (or Ms. Bain) that the reason for this is that a Catholic school should act like it has a specific mission and expect everyone to get on board with that mission for the same reason the Church should act like it has a specific mission and expect everyone to get on board with it -- the Church does have a specific mission handed to her by God Himself and if people don't get on board with it they're going to be very unhappy either in this life or (God forbid) in the next.

Neither I or anyone else can say for sure whether God is going to be personally angry at a particular person who disagrees with the Catholic Church. But I can say whether a particular person is hurting everyone else because, on an objective level, what they want isn't what God wants. I think it's absolutely true that everybody in the entire world is on a journey to the Catholic Church, and that Jesus Christ is constantly inviting and encouraging us to become Catholics and, once Catholic, become the best Catholics we can be. But that doesn't mean we can't take notice of where people are in their journeys, or that we can't make decisions about whether we can travel together at the present time.

So if you had intolerable disagreements like the ones I described, I wouldn't decline to teach you just because, at this particular place in your journey, you had those disagreements with the Church. No, I'd refuse to teach you because you'd be screwing around with everybody else's part of the journey, handing out false directions and telling them not to trust the map, and however much that might be tolerable in God's plan for your individual life, it's not acceptable in God's plan for what happens in a Catholic school.

When I did that, I wouldn't try to kid you that I'm not judging you. Of course I would be judging you, just as you might be making judgments about me for deciding as I did. It's interesting to me that Jesus never forbade us to make judgments -- He just said that if we do, we're going to be accountable by the same standard we used on others. ("Judge not, lest ye be judged"). But at the very least I'd try and show you that the one thing I'm not judging is your sincerity, your desire to be good even if you don't realize the right standards to use in finding and measuring goodness, and that the standards I was using aren't my own, that they're not my personal invention, but they're from what I believe is true for me as well as you and everybody else. I should hope that our parting would be sad, and not angry, but in the end I'd have a duty to keep my school on a certain path, and I think you'd understand that, however much you didn't agree with it or appreciate the result.

In the comments box, "Ken" wrote, "I think it's pretty funny that you [Katelyn Sills, the daughter of the pair] think it's OK to have non-Catholic teachers, so long as they don't contradict Church teachings. So, would you lobby to have a Jewish teacher fired? I mean, he wouldn't believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, right? His moral identity would be in direct conflict! Ken's right. A Jewish teacher's moral identity would be in direct conflict -- on some things. The question is whether the particular Catholic / Jewish conflict can be tolerated without compromising a Catholic school's core identity.

Let me ask Ken's question a bit differently -- should I, as a Catholic, be hired to teach in a Jewish school? From his comments, I judge that Ken would say that's fine, and that a Jewish school should hire me, all other things being equal. But suppose I understood the Catholic faith as a lot of the commentaries on Katelyn's blog understand it -- as something that depends on my individual conscience, which isn't bound by things like the Catechism or Nostra Aetate. Suppose I thought Jesus cursed the Jews for their evil and wickedness in killing Him. Suppose I said that Jews no longer exist as a chosen people, that they've been replaced by Christians, and that anyone who claims to be a Jew after the Resurrection but who doesn't accept the New Testament is a liar. There are, by the way, plenty of people who answer "What Would Jesus Do" in just that fashion. Is it really proper to say that nobody in the Jewish school's administration should bat an eyelash about having me teach the children there? Would the rabbis who investigated my out-of-school internet writings and on-my-own-time appearances at White Pride rallies really be guilty of all the same nasty, evil, terrible things Katelyn, Lynette, and Loretto are being accused of? No, nor should they be. The conflict in moral identities is direct, irreconcilable, and intolerable. The Jews would have every right to fire me.

But not every conflict in beliefs is so apparent, so dire, or so serious. Suppose I thought that I really did have to believe what the Catholic Church says about the Jews in its official and hierarchical statements. Why then I'd believe that, as Pope Pius XI said, "spiritually, we are all Semites." I'd have to believe that, while Christianity is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Jews who have not realized this fact are really no different (and usually, far better) than I was before I became a Catholic. I can say with John Paul II that Jews and Christians are waiting for the Messiah, and appreciate everything the Jews have done for my faith and mankind. Yes, my appreciation and perspective are not those of a Jew. But are they directly, irreconcilably, and intolerably contradictory to the purpose and mission of a Jewish school?

That depends, on what the Jewish school sees as its "core identity," its purpose and mission. It may see its identity as capable of tolerating my divergence from moral truth in these areas. It may not. Could I -- or should I -- complain if the school's administrators come to me and say, "Look, we hired you to teach here. We didn't realize you were a Catholic, and that you've written favorably about Pope Pius XII's role during the Holocaust. We can't have that here. Our job is to provide a seamless Jewish identity for our children and, we're sorry to say, thinking well of Pius XII is the same thing as hating Jews. Oh, we know you and a lot of other people don't see it that way. We're glad of that. We'd hate to think you were all intentionally anti-Semitic. But the fact remains that we know what the truth is, we know what our school's for, and it's not a place for anybody who thinks Pius XII was a good man or that the Church he represented is G-d's work."

I wonder if "Ken" would think I should sue the school for letting me go in either of these examples, force the school to admit someone whose beliefs are directly contradictory to the school's core identity in ways that are irreconcilable, direct, and intolerable. He probably would. But then, I should ask him, what's the point of being a Jew in America if you can't form and run a Jewish school the way you think it should be formed and run? The way I see it, I'm free to get myself fired and free to find another job where people value my identity, and the Jews who run my hypothetical school are free to fire me and have the kind of school they want. The way Ken sees it, I'm free to demand that the Jews who own and run the school act as though my beliefs are acceptable, and the Jews are free to obey me. Somehow I think Ken's tolerance produces less freedom, not more.

It doesn't matter that the teacher's should set an example for us. Outside of school a certain teacher has a nose piercing, and dresses completely differently. Should we fire that individual for not setting a good example for us by having a piercing that is not very professional?

Doesn't it depend at all on what extra-professional uses of freedom are involved? You talk about nose-piercing, but abortion is about life and death. Shouldn't it make a difference whether a teacher believes some human beings really aren't human beings, and that we can kill them, for any reason at all? Isn't that different from nose-piercing and wearing bell-bottomed pants?

I suppose you can say it isn't really different, that all these decisions are the same. Or you could say that Ms. Bain, because she thinks unborn children aren't human beings, shouldn't be judged by any other standard than that -- as long as she "feels" or "just thinks" she's right, nobody should react to her choices in ways that hurt her.

But that's not a very Catholic, or Christian, or even reasonable way to address these issues. There's no magic bubble called "individual freedom" that surrounds each of us and keeps our choices from affecting other people. If somebody decides to rob a liquor store and shoot the attendant, he's free to believe he ought to be able to do that and get away with it, but his "individual freedom" hasn't kept the store from being robbed or the attendant from bleeding to death behind the counter.

It's the same thing with people who believe in abortion rights. They're free to believe that unborn children aren't humans, that people ought to be able to kill them, but that belief won't keep unborn children from being killed.

I think Catholic schools can fire people who don't set a good example because they help unborn children die. You can disagree, but I'd ask you if it's okay for teachers who represent a Catholic school to tell the world, by their actions, that the Catholic Church is full of crap about something important. I don't like that kind of hypocrisy, whether it's intentional or by accident, and I wouldn't blame Loretto (or Ms. Bain) for not liking it either.

The answer is no! It's freedom of beliefs! That person has a right to dress like that, and Ms. Bain has a right to believe in whatever she wants as long as she doesn't try to force her students to agree with her.

Abortion is all about force. Ms. Bain and the mothers she encourages to have abortions are all about forcing their views on unborn children. Have you ever wondered why American society is so violent? Or why women and children seem to be the victims so often? Have you noticed that people are left to starve on the streets, or forced to kill themselves working three or four jobs just to stay alive? Have you wondered about the racism that causes so much unhappiness and misery? I'm sure you have, and the reason for all that is called the Culture of Death. Pope John Paul preached about it constantly, and its hardest, blackest, and worst manifestation is in abortion -- the killing and exploitation of weak and defenseless people just because they are weak and defenseless. Ms. Bain doesn't realize it, but her abortion-rights activism is feeding all of that, encouraging it to happen, because it tells people that they can decide which weak and defenseless people can be killed or used in medical research, etc.

We don't believe people should force other people to believe certain things. But we do believe that people should be allowed to stand up for what they think is right. There's an old saying, "My right to swing my fist ends at your nose." Finding that balance, finding out where the "nose" is, can be hard. It's especially hard when people like Mother Theresa, who knew all about how wicked abortion is, and Ms. Bain, who doesn't know that abortion is evil, disagree. We settle things, usually, by letting private people express their own points of view and make their own choices about who to associate with.

So that's where we are, really -- it's Ms. Bain's right to express her own point of view (that abortion is okay) and make her own choices about who to associate with (Planned Parenthood), against Loretto's right to express its own point of view (that abortion is wrong) and make its own choices about who to associate with (the Catholic Church). If some girl you really wanted to be friends with, and who wanted to be friends with you, had personality trait of XYZ, you shouldn't have the right to demand that she give up XYZ just so she could be your friend. And she shouldn't have the right to demand that you approve of XYZ just so she could be your friend. The best we can do is arrange things so that you and she can choose what's important to each of you and, if you decide that XYZ is such a big thing that it should stand in the way of your friendship, or influence the kind of friendship you should have, let you choose who to be friends with or not.

The same thing goes for groups. Loretto doesn't have the right to demand that Ms. Bain think differently just so it can have her teach there. Ms. Bain doesn't have the right to demand that Loretto change its beliefs or mission in the world just so she can teach there. Each of them have to decide what's really important, and then make choices based on that. If that means Ms. Bain can't teach at Loretto, then Ms. Bain has to accept that. If it means that Loretto loses someone who's an outstanding teacher in every way other than her personal beliefs on abortion, then Loretto has to accept that, too. The only other way is to make everybody act as though the disagreement didn't matter at all, whether they believed it did or not. That means people would have to be forbidden from living according to their beliefs. It means that by arguing for Ms. Bain to stay in the name of freedom, you're actually arguing that nobody ought to be so free as to live what they believe. I don't see that working very well.

Everyone has different morals and values.

But that's not really true, is it? I mean, people disagree on some things, and sometimes they disagree on many things, but usually there are morals and values everybody shares. Nobody thinks it's fine to steal from poor people. Nobody thinks it's good to lie. People couldn't live together if each of us had completely different morals and values on everything. Shared morals and values are the glue that holds relationships together; without them, relationships blow up.

Suppose you had a boyfriend who said he was only dating you, but actually he was dating a lot of other girls too. Suppose he thought it was good to lie about it, if it kept you from seeing anyone else and let him do what he wanted. The two of you certainly would have different morals and values, yes? But just noting that fact and saying that the two of you have the right to live your lives as you choose won't keep your relationship alive. It only describes the problem -- he values one way, and you value another, and neither of you value the other's choice.

I point that out because it's not enough to say that people are going to disagree on morals and values, throw up your hands, and pretend that "individual freedom" will keep those disagreements from making any difference. There are always going to be times when people disagree on which morals and values they ought to share so that they can live (or teach) together, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't insist on sharing values they think are important in order to continue living or working together.

Harrassing others with signs and hurtful remarks does not solve anything, and will not change them to believe differently.

Probably not, although if my wife were two-timing me and hitting me when I complained, I'd make a few remarks which she might find hurtful. Would that be wrong? Should I just accept what she does because "everybody's got different morals and values" and my wife's "individual freedom" to define what is, and what is not, the kind of marriage she wants means that I'm not suffering from it, that our marriage isn't breaking down, that our daughter might get hurt if we have a divorce? Of course I shouldn't, that won't solve the problem. The problem isn't that she's decided to use her individual freedom to define marriage in such-and-such a way. The problem is that her way is hurting me, and we can't keep going on like that, her hurting me all the time, and so something will have to be done about it.

If it's like any Catholic school I've ever known, Loretto gets a certain amount of "umph" and credibility because it's a Catholic school. Catholic schools are renowned for providing good educations. They're considered to be places where children are not going to be experimented on by goofballs eager to try out the latest educational fads. They're thought of as schools where you can send your kids and expect them to cherish the same morals and values you have and get them ready for college at the same time. Catholicism and the Catholic Church are part of those schools' core identities, the things that make them different and set them apart; Loretto chose that identity long ago, and lives with it, just as I chose my wife long ago, and live with her. They're identities, and if they're worth having, then they're going to cost us some pain and suffering.

What Ms. Bain was doing was hurting Loretto's core identity. Directly, because she tries to keep society organized around some things which God says are harmful and produce misery, and indirectly, because nobody can take a group seriously if they say one thing about themselves and let their members do the exact opposite. Something had to be done about it. And it was. I'm sorry it's hurting Ms. Bain. I'm sorry it's going to hurt Loretto. But it would be cheap and silly for both of them to have gone on as though nothing important was happening, just as it would be cheap and silly for me to go on as though my wife's two-timing and her beating me weren't a big deal.[2]

In the end, who was the better Catholic? The one who reached out to those who needed someone, or the one who protested against them and shunned them away?

I don't know if Ms. Bain's a Catholic, but assuming she is then it all depends. If a teacher is reaching out to pregnant mothers and helping them kill their children, then that teacher's not a better Catholic than other teachers who protest against that and decide not to let it go on in their school. That may or may not be your perception of the matter, I don't know. But it doesn't matter; whether it's Ms. Bain being "worse" by accepting abortion, or Loretto being "worse" by getting all judgmental about it , we're still back to the problem of what to do when peoples' different values require them to do things that make it impossible for them to stay together.

Besides, I think you'll find that Ms. Bain comes out of this with a certain popularity and cachet that will make it relatively easy for her to obtain a new teaching position. That won't change even if Ms. Bain sues the school and takes a money judgment against it to repay her for her trouble. Whether she does or doesn't sue, or win, there are still plenty of people who don't like the Catholic Church and what she teaches about the Culture of Death. They'll be happy to help Ms. Bain. A few years ago there was a Catholic priest named Charles Curran. He was fired from Catholic Univeristy for saying things that are a lot like what Ms. Bain and you are saying. He ended up at Southern Methodist University and the whole thing made him quite popular. According to SMU's press reports:
When The New York Times or the ABC News program "Nightline" needs an expert to discuss the latest news coming out of the Vatican in Rome, they often turn to SMU, home of America's best-known dissenting Catholic theologian, Charles Curran.[3]
I'm not saying that Ms. Bain's going to be on "Nightline" all the time and get a job at a prestigious university like SMU. She may just land another job, perhaps even one that's worse in terms of pay and benefits. If that's the case, all I can say is that you choose your identity and then you pay for it. That happens to everyone who has courage[4] sooner or later. It's happened to me, it's happening to Ms. Bain, and someday (I hope) it will happen to you, too, if you have principles and stick to them. It's not the willingness to stick to principles that's a problem, ever -- it's only what the principles are.

That's when you should ask yourself the question, "What Would Jesus Do", not "What does the church say about this".

I'm wondering what personal authority you have to tell me how to live my life, or to make judgments about Loretto or anyone else on how they decide to follow God. Even if you haven't made a judgment (and it's pretty clear you have), you've certainly suggested that a judgment is possible. How? Well, in order to make a judgment there have to be values and morals that apply, even if Loretto or Ms. Bain or me or anybody else think differently -- these values and morals have to trump our "individual choice," otherwise you wouldn't be saying that there are "better" or "worse" Catholics in this situation. So, you see, saying "individual freedom" and "right to believe" is never enough, it's only a description of the problem to be dealt with.

As to the question you ask, that's the problem, too. What would Jesus do? Would He protect Ms. Bain from being fired, as He protected the woman caught in adultery? Or would He make Himself a whip and lash at her until she ran out of the school, as He did with the moneylenders at the Temple? There are lots of people running around asking "What Would Jesus Do" when, in fact, all they're really saying is "I'm just as good as Jesus and here's what I want to do." There are lots of people running around saying "follow the Catholic Church" when, in fact, they're all really saying the same thing as the first bunch. How can we tell what they really mean? And even if they mean what they say in a good way, how do we know they're right anyhow?

It would be nice if God set up a place that can always show us how to find the true answer to these questions. Catholics think God did that when He made the Catholic Church. It doesn't mean that everybody who's Catholic is always right or always perfect. It does mean that we've got more than ourselves to rely on when it comes to finding out what Jesus wants us to do. I guess you don't think that. I hope you change your mind someday.

[1] These aren't actual quotes, of course, but they convey the gist well enough.

[2] Just in case my wife pops in, I want to say that she is not two-timing me. She has never two-timed me. She does not beat me. She has never hit me. It was just a hypothetical, and my wife is too good for me and I should obey her every wish.


[4] "Courage," by the way, is what Catholicism calls a "natural" virtue. It's something kept in human nature even though sin cuts us off from the "supernatural" virtues, good qualities only grace can restore to us. So anybody, godly or not, can have and show courage. The SS had it, and showed it on a thousand battlefields. That doesn't make the SS a good thing. John Paul had it, and showed it throughout his pontificate. That didn't make John Paul's pontificate a good thing, either. Something else made the difference, and that something else was the loving grace of Jesus Christ.