I recently recorded an interview with the CBC’s Tapestry radio program, talking with host Mary Hynes about how Dante saved my life. It was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done; you can listen to it by clicking on that link.
Reader Andrew S. put me on to Damon Linker’s excellent, excellent column about the critic (and sometime TAC contributor) George Scialabba, and his lifelong struggle with depression (which Scialabba chronicles in a current Baffler essay, which is really not an essay, but excerpts from decades of medical records).
The only time in his life (until very recently) when Scialabba was depression-free was when he was an undergraduate at Harvard in the 1960s, and deeply involved in Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic religious organization for clerics and laymen. After he graduated from Harvard, his religious faith collapsed. He left Opus Dei, and told his doctors over the years that after losing his religion, he never really recovered.
What Damon finds most interesting about the Scialabba story is the role Opus Dei played in his life, and in his mental outlook. Excerpt:
Catholicism is a remarkably totalistic religion. In addition to the Bible and the creeds and the liturgy, there are papal encyclicals and other authoritative pronouncements of the magisterium, not to mention the Catechism, which in its Pope John Paul II–approved second edition contains 2,865 heavily footnoted paragraphs cross-referencing each other and covering every conceivable aspect of human life. For a person who craves an answer to the question, “How should I live?”, the Catholic Church provides an astonishingly comprehensive answer. (As do, in certain strands of their respective traditions, Judaism and Islam.)
Opus Dei then takes this imposing edifice of dogmas and doctrines and transforms it into a holistic way of life that for many members of the order includes communal living arrangements, daily prayer and mass attendance, celibacy, and even “corporal mortification,” or the deliberate infliction of pain on oneself in order to allow the believer to take some small part in the passion and suffering of Jesus Christ.
When secularists look at an organization like Opus Dei, many of them see a cult actively engaged in brainwashing its members, enslaving them to superstitions that seem designed to make them miserable. Much better is a life of freedom from dogma and doctrine, breathing the bracing air of reason and science.
The experience of devout faith is naturally very different from the inside. Relieved of the lonely burden of individual choice and decision, shielded from anxiety and ambivalence, released from the need to reflect from scratch on every moral quandary, confidently oriented in all aspects of life toward steadfast, clearly enumerated metaphysical truths — living and thinking and acting from such a standpoint can feel like its own form of liberation.
But what about a third group — the one in which George Scialabba is an unhappy member?
Read the whole thing – I promise it’s worth it, as Damon’s pieces almost always are.
The “third group” is people who deeply, restlessly want to believe, but cannot. Damon says that the Scialabba case raises questions: Are unbelievers better off than tortured seekers because they do not suffer from the internal torment of the failed seeker, or are they worse off because their satisfaction comes at the cost of cutting themselves off from something Real?
It’s interesting to consider that Opus Dei was a great fit for someone like Scialabba, and was the only place in which he could be psychologically healthy. I looked into Opus Dei once upon a time, and decided its spirituality was very much not for me. But I can understand why it would work for some. I have friends in Opus Dei, and it has deepened their spirituality considerably.
Leaving aside questions of metaphysical truth, I think it is a psychological truth that nobody can tolerate staring at the abyss for long. People either turn away from it and force themselves not to think about questions of ultimate meaning, or they decide to affirm certain worldviews — religious, political, philosophical, etc. — as a buffer against the abyss. One thing that profoundly annoys people like me is the illusion so many secularists and materialists have that their point of view is neutral, shorn of all illusion; in fact, it is a worldview like any other, and one that is based on accepting certain maxims on faith.
My guess is that Scialabba’s miserable case probably says more about Scialabba’s personal psychology than it does about the philosophical dilemmas we all face. But we can’t easily wall Scialabba’s dilemma off from our own experiences. Do we long for God as a way to protect ourselves against dread of the abyss, or do we long for God because He is really there? Put another way, is the tumult many of us seeker-types feel a result of responding to something Real but hard to grasp with our finite capacities, or is it the result of not being able to convince ourselves of a tranquilizing lie?
Random thoughts for the room:
Is it better to have never believed at all than to believed and to have lost that belief?
The thing many people don’t realize is that secular materialism can be as much of a tranquilizing lie as religious faith.
The thing many seekers don’t understand is that questions are meant to be answered. Many of them claim to be seeking, and maybe even really believe it, but there are no answers, not even true ones, that will satisfy.
The thing many finders don’t understand is that answering certain fundamental questions does not obviate restlessness. New questions may arise. As long as we live in this life, there will be tension between our desires and their ultimate fulfillment, which can only happen in the next life. The important thing is to be on the straight path, drawn forward by our desire for God, knowing, however, that we will always have some anxiety within our hearts until we are united with Him in the next life.
If you haven’t been following the uproar over the Jonathan Gruber videos, this explainer from Vox.com brings you up to speed. In short, Gruber, an MIT professor who was one of the principal architects of Obamacare, was captured on video saying, among other things, that it passed because voters were too stupid to notice what was really going on, and that its proponents hid the truth out of political necessity. There are several of these videos, and they’re absolutely infuriating. Gruber wasn’t videotaped giving these talks in secret, but he said these things in public forums. Look at this short clip, for example:
Weinstein, back at home, was stunned at the reaction. Why did he keep finding Gruber gaffes? Why didn’t the press glom onto this stuff first?
“It’s terrifying that the guy in his mom’s basement is finding his stuff, and nobody else is,” he says. “I really do find this disturbing.”
Weinstein dates his accidental citizen journalism back to the end of 2013 and the first run of insurance cancellations or policy changes. He was among the people who got a letter informing him that his old policy did not meet ACA standards.
“When Obama said ‘If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period’—frankly, I believed him,” says Weinstein. “He very often speaks with qualifiers. When he said ‘period,’ there were no qualifiers. You can understand that when I lost my own plan, and the replacement cost twice as much, I wasn’t happy. So I’m watching the news, and at that time I was thinking: Hey, the administration was not telling people the truth, and the media was doing nothing!”
This guy found all this stuff with extensive Internet searching. That’s it. Nobody in the media did. A pissed-off nobody at home in suburban Philly did.
They say now that Republicans, who now control Congress, will use this stuff to go after Obamacare. And who can blame them? Great job, Gruber.
There was (and still is) some good discussion on the weekend thread about the decline of Catholicism and the rise of Protestantism in Latin America. One thing that keeps coming out, both in the commentary and in the Pew study that sparked it (see that post and thread here) is that many Latin Americans who leave Catholicism for Protestantism do so because Protestantism, at least in the forms they are receiving, demands something of them. It expects the men to stop being drunks and womanizers. It expects them to stop beating their wives, and to work hard and support their families. It gives them help in doing so. It changes lives in practical ways.
It’s not that Catholicism endorses drunkenness, womanizing, and the rest; it’s that for whatever reason or reasons, Latin American Catholics feel little or no pressure from their church to live by a Christian moral code in this way, and no inspiration to do so either. Why this is I cannot say. But I see that Kevin O’Brien, the Catholic writer in St. Louis, walked out of mass yesterday and wrote a jeremiad about this same thing in American Catholic churches. He calls it The Heresy of Inconsequentialism. Excerpt:
So what is this weird thing that is happening all over the country, and apparently all over the world? What is this weird religion that calls itself Catholic?
This is the religion of antichrist, of Christ without the cross.
Others have called it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, but that phrase is not only awkward, it’s a misnomer. For this heresy is neither Moralistic, Therapeutic, or Deist.
There is nothing Moralistic about the Suburban Parish Mass at all. Universal salvation is offered to everyone, regardless of your ethical beliefs or practices. There’s nothing Therapeutic going on there, either. Any good therapist challenges his patient to get better, and not to continue wallowing in his addictions and bad choices; I’ve never heard any homily or modern hymn do anything like that; we are always affirmed right where we are. And this whole thing isn’t exactly Deism, for there is a personal God in the mix and we do more or less pray to Him, or at least we try to if the music isn’t too loud.
So what is this sick and bizarre heresy that we find in the vast majority of Catholic parishes, especially in the suburbs, that we find in Mainline Protestant churches and that the “Progressives” at the Synod on the Family are pushing? If it’s not really Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, what is it?
The whole thing is here. I sense that O’Brien is frustrated with this idea going around that the problem with the Catholic Church is that too many trads and conservatives are behaving too judgmentally, keeping folks away. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, of course, but in my own 13 years as a Catholic, the absolutely opposite was true. I can only think of one parish I was part of where the priest ever preached anything of substance. Ever. It was almost always mush. If I didn’t educate myself about the faith on my own, I never would have learned anything about the Catholic faith and what it meant to be a Catholic, aside from the fact that God loves me just like I am, and the only thing I need to do is accept my wonderful self as it already is.
I’m actually not exaggerating. If your experience in your parish is different, good for you. I mean that: good for you. You don’t know how rare that experience is.
I was so grateful when I was on my way into the Catholic Church for the strong, clear teachings of the Church on morality, which I received from reading Catholic books and magazines, and papal encyclicals. I was something of a mess when I sought out the Catholic faith. I needed what it had to offer me: a way out of the mess I had made and was continuing to make of my life.
And it worked. It required years of prayer, repentance, and receiving the sacraments. But it worked.
Here’s the thing: it worked in spite of parish life and pastoral guidance. I mean, it worked because I educated myself in the faith, and dedicated myself to living it out in spite of the fact that there was little or no support in the parishes I searched out.
I hasten to say that I don’t intend this post as a slam against the Catholic Church exclusively. I have to talk about it because that’s where my experience is. I have an ex-Orthodox friend who grew up in this kind of Orthodox church (he became an Evangelical). I know Protestants who came out of churches like this. When Kevin O’Brien says, “Why would any normal human being seek something like this out?”, I understand what he means. Why should anyone bother going to church where nobody demands anything of you?
For me, coming into Christianity believing that God was wrathful was a blessing. Why? Because it compelled me to face that fact that God is holy. I felt the enormous difference between myself and Him, and how sunk I was in, well, sin. People don’t like that word, but I can’t think of a better word for what I was doing. The pain I caused other people. The fool I made of myself, time and time again. The wonder that I didn’t kill myself or somebody else drunk driving. And on and on. It’s ingenious the way Dante has designed the Inferno, in the form of a downward spiral, because that’s exactly how it was for me: wheeling slowly but steadily downward. Reading Catholic books, and beginning to pray, and becoming convicted of my own sin and need for a Savior — all this caused me to become a serious Christian, and a serious Catholic Christian.
All Christians are a work in progress. I’ve written here before extensively about my own intellectual pridefulness, and how that worked to undermine me in the spiritual life. I don’t mean to say that one day I was a wreck and the next day I was great. It doesn’t work that way. What I do mean to say is that believing that God exists, and He is holy, and He will judge me — all of that sobered me up, philosophically and theologically (and otherwise), and started me on the journey toward God.
What I found, though, is that the actual Catholicism you encounter in the parish — as opposed to in what the Pope says, and in what the books tell you — doesn’t act as if there is anything to be saved from. And if that is true, well, why go to mass? Or, if you are Orthodox and your parish teaches MTD, or Inconsequentialism, why show up at liturgy? If you’re Protestant in an MTD church, what’s the point of it?
In the Divine Comedy, the pilgrim Dante moves from re-awakening to the horror of sin in the first book to encountering the blissful love of the All-Holy God in the final one. The thing is, the Divine Love is the same everywhere. God’s holiness and love feels like torture to those who separate themselves from Him. If the church — Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox — is not helping its people to repent and change their lives by making more room in their souls for the spirit of God, then what is it for, anyway? I’m serious.
I know that believing in a wrathful God has been a curse for many, many people. A reader who hasn’t commented in a while, Matt, was raised in a fundamentalist home, where God was nothing but wrathful. He lost his faith, and I can understand why. That was a horrible, vengeful portrait of God — and, ultimately, a false one. But it is just as false as its opposite, which gives us a God who is nothing but Mr. Rogers. I loved Mr. Rogers, but he was for children. We are not children, and should not want to be kept infantilized by our religious leaders.
In the past couple of years, I have begun to understand God in a more loving way than I had before. This is a great blessing, and I wish I had been able to know this God earlier in my life as an adult Christian, but I really do give thanks for the fear of God that descended upon me in my twenties, and shook me out of my sleepwalking. What I experienced in my imagination as a wrathful God was really a loving Father who wanted to save me, and could not do that if I did not grasp how seriously far away from Him I was, and where I was headed if I didn’t turn around.
I imagine those poor people in Latin America who come to Evangelical or Pentecostal Christianity know exactly what I’m talking about. Their pains are real. Their brokenness is real. They need help changing their lives. A church that gives them that will win their hearts. Makes sense to me.
To be clear, I’m not talking about Christianity as pietism, as described in this essay by the Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras. Excerpt:
Piety loses its ontological content; and, in addition, the truth and faith of the Church is divorced from life and action, and left as a set of “principles” and “axioms” which one accepts like any other ideology. The distinction between contemplation and action, between truth and life or between dogma and morality, turns into a schizophrenic severence. The life of the Church is confined to moral obedience, religious duties and the serving of social ends. One might venture to express the situation with the paradox that, in the case of pietism, ethics corrupts the Church: it turns the criteria of the Church into worldly and conventional criteria, distorting the “great mystery of godliness” into a rationalistic social necessity. Pietistic ethics distort the liturgical and eucharistic reality of the Church, the unity in life and communion of the penitent and the perfect, sinners and saints, the first and the last; they turn the Church into an inevitably conventional, institutional corporation of people who are individually religious.
A host of people today, perhaps the majority in western societies, evaluate the Church’s work by the yardstick of its social usefulness as compared with the social work of education, penitentiary systems or even the police. The natural result is that the Church is preserved as an institution essential for morals and organized like a worldly establishment in an increasingly bureaucratic fashion. The most obvious form of secularization in the Church is the pietistic falsification of her mind and experience, the adulteration of her own criteria with moralistic considerations. Once the Church denies her ontological identity — what she really, essentially is as an existential event whereby individual survival is changed into a personal life of love and communion — then from that very moment she is reduced to a conventional form under which individuals are grouped together into an institution; she becomes an expression of man’s fall, albeit a religious one. She begins to serve the “religious needs” of the people, the individualistic emotional and psychological needs of fallen man.
I’m talking rather about the kind of sermon we got yesterday in our parish: an anticipation of the Nativity Fast, and a discussion of the importance of learning how to deny our passions to make room in our hearts from the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit. This has moral implications, obviously, but it is a far, far cry from moralism, or a socially utilitarian piety. It’s about transforming your spirit and your life, and doing it together. I don’t mean to come across as boasting about my parish, but I do want to express my gratitude for teaching that week in and week out challenges me to get over myself, to turn away from all that is not God, and to allow the Holy Spirit to redeem everything in my life. I am learning to love God more than I love myself, and in so doing, learning how to love myself and others as I ought to do.
It’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s supposed to be hard. But I’ve spent a long time with the other thing, and believe me, I’ll take hard, because it’s real. And it’s consequential, in that it’s the kind of faith that compels you to accept that fact that this stuff matters, and matters eternally.
Churches that think they’re going to get more people by failing to teach and preach challenging things are dreaming. And, going back to Catholic blogger Kevin O’Brien’s post, I’m with him: anybody who thinks that the problem with American Catholicism is that it’s been too morally rigorous and judgmental is out of their minds. I find myself feeling pretty bad for orthodox Catholics, both conservatives and traditionalists, bearing the brunt these days of being told that they are the problem with their Church.
RENTON, WA—Local man Paul Campbell confirmed Saturday he was raising his daughter Emma on a variety of media carefully selected to help her cultivate an appreciation for artistic quality, a move that will reportedly put the 12-year-old girl hopelessly out of touch with her generation.
Perusing his music and film collections and showing reporters distinctive, well-regarded works that will thoroughly alienate Emma from her sixth-grade classmates, Campbell said he wanted to make sure his daughter enjoyed the benefits of a cultural education he never received at her age.
“Back then, I listened to junk like Journey and watched crappy movies like Iron Eagle,” the 41-year-old said in reference to popular music and films of the 1980s that allowed him to have something to talk about with friends. “I wish my own dad had turned me on to the good stuff, so I wouldn’t have had to wait until I was in my 20s before I started digging anything halfway decent.”
“Well, I’m not making the same mistake he did,” Campbell continued as he pulled out vinyl copies of Television’s Marquee Moon, Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain, and Big Star’s #1 Record, highly influential albums that will in no way help his daughter interact with her peers at a particularly delicate time in her social development. “There’s a lot of cool stuff out there, and it’s never too early to start learning what’s worth your time. I’m just glad I have the know-how to guide her.”
Well, look, I plead guilty to introducing my 15 year old son Matthew to the Talking Heads, but he fell in love with them all on his own. It was his idea to dress as David Byrne from the 1984 Stop Making Sense tour and movie. He asked his mom to make a Big Suit, and she did. I couldn’t possibly have been prouder. I gave him my framed Stop Making Sense film poster, signed by each one of the Talking Heads. It sits over his bed now.
UPDATE: The software cut off the whole photo. Here it is:
This is sobering: William McPherson, 81, the ex-editor of the Washington Post Book World and winner of the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, writes about his own poverty. Excerpt:
I was never remotely rich by what counts for rich today. (That requires a lot of zeroes after the first two or three digits.) But I look through my checkbooks from twenty-five and thirty years ago and I think, Wow! What happened? It was a long, slowly accelerating slide but the answer is simple. I was foolish, careless, and sometimes stupid. As my older brother, who to keep me off the streets invited me to live with him after his wife died, said, shaking his head in warning, “Don’t spend your capital.” His advice was right, but his timing was wrong. I’d already spent it. He sounded like the ghost of my father. Capital produces income. If you want to have an income, don’t dip into your capital. I’d always been a bit of a contrarian, even as a child.
My money wasn’t working hard enough to finance my adventures, which did, after all, come with a price. I wanted to explore and write about eastern Europe after the fall of the Wall, which I did for several years. It was truly a great adventure, it changed my life, and it was a lot more interesting than thinking about what it cost, which was a lot. There’d always been enough money. I assumed there always would be. (I think this is called denial.) So another dip into the well. In my checkbook, I listed these deposits as draws. That sounded very businesslike, almost as if I knew what I was doing. Sometimes I did. (It’s hard to resist a little self-justification.)
Against the advice of people who thought they knew better, I bought shares in AOL before it really took off and in Apple when it was near its bottom. I figured Apple’s real estate must be worth more than the value the market gave the company. I was right. Shares in both companies soared. If I’d shut up and stayed home…but I didn’t. On the advice of these same people who advised me against AOL and Apple, I turned my brokerage account into a margin account for someone else to handle, and I left the country again. A few more dips into the well, a few turns in the market, a few margin calls, and when I went back for another dip, the well was empty. The old proverb drifts back to me on a wisp of memory. A fool and his money are soon parted. My adventures were over.
Read the whole thing. He attributes his poverty to “magical thinking”: the belief that because the money had always somehow been there, it always would be. It wasn’t that he lived extravagantly when he had money; it was that he lived beyond his means. There’s a difference. As McPherson concedes, he didn’t take as seriously as he ought to have done the importance of saving, investing wisely, and living conservatively. Though he was never rich, the key factor here seems to be his inability in the past to imagine what poverty would be like, and that it would be a possibility for someone like him.
I think this is me. I mean, I have been guided by a good financial planner for the past seven or eight years, and through conservative investing and saving, have built up a decent amount of financial security. But I live in fear that I’m missing something, and through my own extravagance — hey, why not buy those expensive pork chops for that French dish you want to cook this weekend? — I will have left the gates of the city open at night, and the enemy will come in. I read that piece by William McPherson and think: yep, that could easily be me one day.
UPDATE: Help William McPherson out; buy his book.
That was my lunch today: Côtes de Porc aux Pommes à la Moutarde, which is French for “pork chops with apples in mustard sauce.” Sounds dreamier in the French, but tastes just as delicious either way. Man, was this good. I was a little skeptical about how the Dijon mustard was going to marry with the apples, but the cream made all well. I served it with boiled potatoes coddled with Irish butter. Leftovers were even better for supper. We added salad and a bone-dry Spanish hard cider to the mix. I love cooking in the late fall and winter.
The recipe comes from Richard Olney’s classic Simple French Food. Dishes like this are ridiculously easy to make, but taste so good you feel like you are getting away with something. Here’s the recipe:
2 lbs apples, quartered, cored, peeled, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon butter
4 pork loin chops about 3/4 inch thick, pared of excess fat
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
About 1/3 cup Dijon mustard (to taste)
Spread the apples in a lightly buttered gratin dish (large enough to hold the chops placed side by side without forcing) and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, salt and cook the chops in a bit of butter over medium heat until nicely colored on each side — 7 or 8 minutes per side. Arrange the chops on the apples’ surface, deglaze the pan with white wine, reducing it by half, and dribble it over the surface of the chops.
Mix the cream and the mustard, adding the latter progressively and tasting. Salt lightly, pepper to taste, and pour the mixture over the chops and apples, shaking the dish gently to be certain the cream penetrates the bed of apples. Bake 15 minutes longer at the same temperature.
This is comfort food, for sure.
This, by the way, was what was across the table from me as I finished off the chops for dinner. Nora asked for a rabbit for her birthday. I was opposed. Naturally, Nora now has a rabbit. Boogie is his name. I am actually growing a tad fond of the rodent [UPDATE: I know rabbits aren't rodents; I was mock-insulting the little lagomorph by comparing him to a rat -- RD]:
Take a look at that short clip from the European Space Agency. It gives you a sense of how spectacular is the scientific achievement of landing a probe on a comet. Those scientists had to calculate and project the motion of the planets, the comet, and the probe for ten years out. The ESA team had to figure out how to land a spaceship on a rock only three miles wide, one hurtling through space at 84,000 mph, after a looping journey of 3.7 billion miles. And they did it!
This is a thing that human beings did!
But you know, one of those guys who did it wore a trashy shirt to the press conference, so shame, shame, shame. Yes, I think that is the lesson in all this: that the important thing to know about Dr. Matt Taylor is that he is impure.
This morning I was thinking about how bizarre this is, and it occurred to me that this helps answer a question that I had for my son Matthew. Matt has been deeply immersed in reading and thinking about the Soviet space program for a couple of years. In fact, the term paper he’s doing for his Modern Russian History class at LSU is examining the effect Stalinism had on the Soviet space program. One of the great tragedies — or, if you like, idiocies — of the USSR was how Stalin sent Sergei Korolev, the scientist who would later become the father of the Soviet space program, to the gulag in the Great Purge of 1938. Already a top Soviet scientist working on rockets, he was denounced as a traitor by a competing scientist. The NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) tortured him and sent him to Siberia. He was later brought back west and served with other engineers in a slave labor camp. The Soviets very nearly executed him (and did execute some of his colleagues).
Matthew tells me that the Soviet rocket program lost years of progress, and that this posed a direct national security threat to the USSR, given how far and how fast Nazi scientists were going in developing Germany’s rocket capacity. Just before the war’s end, the Soviet government released Korolev, though they didn’t officially drop the charges against him until the late 1950s. He was said to have been deeply damaged by his years in prison. And for all that, he led the Soviet state to amazing heights. Had Stalin not treated him so horribly for his alleged political crimes, and had he not been so broken by that treatment, who knows how far the Soviets would have gone in the space race before Koralev died in 1966?
Obviously Matt Taylor is not Sergei Koralev. Being shamed on the Internet by feminists is galaxies away from being tortured and sent to the gulag. But you see a germ of the same principle that condemned Koralev at work in the Taylor debacle. A scientist achieves stunning, world-historical results for his work, but the most important thing to the commissars is whether or not he is correctly positioned vis-a-vis the politics (or cultural politics) of his society.
This paranoid heretic hunting was not just a Soviet thing. The Nazis were happy to throw out some of their best scientists, and exile their most creative artists, because they were Jews. This kind of thing reached its heights in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, because both countries were led by totalitarian governments, and were in the iron grip of ideology. But it’s important to remember that these regimes were simply extreme examples of a compulsion that is part of the nature of all humans and their societies. To refuse to recognize our own capacity for this kind of self-sabotaging thing is to make ourselves vulnerable to it.
UPDATE: The reader who posts under the title “The Wet One” cites a perfect example: the British government hounding the computer genius Alan Turing to his suicide because he was gay.
UPDATE.2: Nice comment by reader Candles:
Here’s one reason conversations like Rod’s here are valuable, to those of you who want to claim Godwin or whatever.
There are some of us out here (like, say, me) who came of age politically during the Bush years, hated everything about the Cheney/Rumsfeld regime, and instinctively turned left, assuming it was the home of all smart, reasonable, moderate, educated people. We never really confronted what ideology meant, and where it led. We didn’t have to.
Now we have to. The ideological illiberal left has been growing louder, more activist, and more aggressive the last several years. People we know and care about are behaving in fundamentally toxic, anti-liberal ways under the banner of lefty ideology. This isn’t an abstraction. My twitter feed is full of this shirtgate garbage and ideological fervor from people I have to maintain relationships with, and people I care about.
I’m suddenly confronting that these folks absolutely would have been the sorts who, 40 years ago, would have been carting around Mao’s little red book, and would have been apologists for the Soviet regime.
It’s absolutely disheartening. But it’s important, at least for me, to confront. It turns out that a lot more of the critiques from the right about the left have an ugly grain of truth than I had wanted to believe.
I’m still horrified by neocons getting anywhere close to the reigns of power, but I’m starting to grow just as concerned about my lefty friends getting anyone in office who is beholden to them either.
As a follow to the Pew survey documenting the rapid Protestantization of Latin America, my old TAC colleague Catherine Addington points to a 2007 piece by the leading Catholic journalist John L. Allen, in which he traveled to Honduras to find out why, despite half a millennium of Catholicism, the country is such a basket case. The answers were really interesting. Excerpts:
If any corner of the globe should bear the imprint of Catholic values, it’s Latin America. Catholicism has enjoyed a spiritual monopoly in the region for more than 500 years, and today almost half the 1.1 billion Catholics alive are Latin Americans. Moreover, Latin Americans take religion seriously; surveys show that belief in God, spirits and demons, the afterlife, and final judgment is near-universal.
The sobering reality, however, is that these facts could actually support an “emperor has no clothes” accusation against the church. Latin America has been Catholic for five centuries, yet too often its societies are corrupt, violent, and underdeveloped. If Catholicism has had half a millennium to shape culture and this is the best it can do, one might be tempted to ask, is it really something to celebrate? Mounting defections to Pentecostalism only deepen such ambivalence.
After my recent jaunt in Honduras, I understand the question.
Fr. Ricardo Flores, pastor of San Jose Obrero parish in Tegucigalpa, told me that in his view, globalized economic systems and American policy “are not the big problems we face,” and don’t explain why Honduras is in crisis. He said the real issues are corruption, a lack of social solidarity, and inadequate investment in education — all of which, he said, are basically home-grown.
Thus the original question: Why hasn’t Catholicism had a more positive effect?
The most frequent explanation I heard boils down to this: For most of the 500 years since the arrival of Columbus, Catholicism in Latin America often has been skin-deep. People were baptized into the faith, married and buried in it, but for a variety of reasons there was precious little else.
Read the whole thing. Allen quotes the Honduran Cardinal Rodriguez as saying, in Allen’s paraphrase, “that deep evangelization is a work still to be done, and thinks the church in Latin America is now developing the muscle to pull it off.”
Is it possible that the cardinal’s theory is generally true for all of South and Central America, and that accounts for the rapid collapse of Catholicism in those countries?
If this theory were true, wouldn’t it be far more so in Russia, which has had Christianity for just over 1,000 years? Of course the Russians suffered what no Latin American ever has: 75 years of a technologically sophisticated atheist regime dedicated to the extermination of religion. But you can’t say that Russia was a Christian paradise prior to the coming of the Bolsheviks, right? How does a country that has had Orthodox Christianity for nearly a millennia fall to communism?
For that matter, what about western Europe? It had Christianity, both Catholic and then Protestant, for even longer, but it gave itself over to two world wars. Reading a short James K.A. Smith essay in Comment magazine, I became reacquainted with this quote from Erich Maria Remarque’s protagonist in All Quiet on the Western Front:
How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.
Auschwitz would come within a generation.
How does Cardinal Rodriguez’s theory about Latin American religion hold up when you consider revolutionary Russia, and Europe before the great wars?
Thought experiment: do we expect too much of religion, or too little?
“Man Forced to Apologize for Sexist Shirt After Successfully Landing Spacecraft on Comet” has to be the ultimate headline for our age.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) November 14, 2014
You tell it, Iowahawk. Sweet honey in the rock, what kind of head-up-the-butt idiots are we? The British scientist who helped land a freaking space probe on a comet was reduced to grovelly tears because he wore a dorky shirt featuring 1940s-style pin-ups. Excerpt:
The controversy follows the revelations from the scientist’s sister Maxine that he could be “useless” in everyday life. Portraying her tattooed sibling as absent-minded, unable to find his car in the car park, and sometimes lacking in common sense, she told the Evening Standard, he didn’t like making decisions.
Aspie. Guaranteed. The last person in the world you should expect to be aware of the ultradelicate sensibilities of progressives. Prostituting yourself as a porn star can be feminist and empowering. A nerdball British scientist who Landed. A. Spaceship. On. A. Comet. demonstrating harmlessly poor sartorial taste — well, to the stockade with you, matey.
Only in an age like ours could a man LAND A *%$#@& SPACESHIP ON A COMET, and people would complain about the hopelessly unhip shirt he wore when talking about it on TV. Only in an age like ours would a man who accomplished something like that feel compelled to weep on television in remorse to placate gripy feminists.
Any way the European Space Agency could redirect that comet towards our planet? Because we deserve it.