Wednesday, 11/19/14

  1. Channeling Toqueville on Children
  2. What if marriage isn’t what we thought?
  3. The Spirit and the Zeitgeist
  4. Judicial humility – imagine that!
  5. McCain, Graham, Lieberman – and Santorum
  6. BlindPigAcorn
  7. Richard Lugar, Statesman

1

If a political culture of individual isolation comes to predominate in a democratic society, the society becomes ripe for the emergence of despotism or tyranny. This is because, as political thinkers since the ancient Greeks have commonly noticed, despots have a much easier time dealing with subjects one-on-one. Friendships and associations among subjects are actively discouraged by despotic regimes, since they rightly recognize these as a potential threat to their absolute power. Brutus, after all, wouldn’t have killed Caesar on his own.

If educating self-interest and drawing citizens out of themselves are indeed crucial goals for the health of any democratic political society, then an application of Tocqueville’s analysis to contemporary issues should lead us directly to an awareness of the immense political importance of familial relationships. Marital relationships contribute powerfully to the goal of mitigating natural selfishness. They supply consistent incentives for each partner to think of the other rather than or in preference to oneself—the common saying “happy wife, happy life” comes to mind.

It is having children, however, that works most powerfully to overcome natural selfishness. For much of their childhood, children cannot offer anything approaching the reciprocal companionship of a spouse or the sort of friendship that is only possible among equals. Parenthood involves the unconditional giving of oneself without expecting anything in return, and is therefore more contrary to the problematic self-centeredness of our fallen human nature than any other human relationship. To some extent, this effect is cumulative: the more children a couple has, the less self-centered they will tend to be.

This is not to say, of course, that parenthood is a sort of cure for selfishness—it may not work at all on some parents, and its curative effect on others is incomplete, at best. Yet, spread over a political society of hundreds of millions of people, there are powerful reasons to think that parenthood makes for better democratic citizens, and therefore that it is an important political good that is worthy of promotion. Parenthood works directly against what Tocqueville identified as the single most dangerous tendency of democratic societies, providing the heaviest social and cultural counterweight available to selfishness and isolation. Compelled to think a bit less of themselves than they otherwise would in their personal lives, parent-citizens might be expected to more readily form attachments to and cooperate with their fellow citizens in political life.

(S. Adam Seagrave)

2

Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz have drafted a pledge for pastors to get out of the business of solemnizing this novelty “marriage” the courts have foisted on us. That strikes me as a good idea – even “prophetic.”

It also strikes me as at least a conversation starter (call me a “bomb-thrower” if you like) for supporters of traditional marriage in our legislatures to start introducing bills to eliminate marital benefits that apply as if marriage was a nanny-state benefit package for luv (or purportedly exclusive lust) between two adults whether or not children are (or have been) present. For instance, what would be wrong with eliminating any tax break from the mere fact of being married while extending a larger tax benefit per dependent?

At the very least, if marriage isn’t what we always thought it was, the government perks that attend the status of married persons are legitimately up for reconsideration, right?

3

St. Paul admonishes us to “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2). And it should be noted that the word translated “world” is not “kosmos” (the material world, world order, or people of the world), but  “tō aiōni” which refers to the age (or generation, or time) in which we live. And we have no better guide as to what the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God is than we find in the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church.

(Texas Orthodox Priests Reject Fr. Arida’s Scandalous Teaching on Homosexuality)

I post the block quote not to join the many who are condemning Fr. Arida’s article, but because I was unaware (or had forgotten) that it is precisely the spirit of the present age, the Zeitgeist, which the Apostle Paul said we are not to conform to.

So insofar as Fr. Arida was arguing “we’ve got to change with the times,” he was dead wrong.

The counter to this among the Jesuits as well as the Protestants is “discerning the Spirit.” Ross Douthat, Roman Catholic “conservative,” dialogues with Fr. James Martin, Jesuit “liberal,” about (among other things) how one tells when one is conforming to the Zeitgeist rather than discerning the Spirit:

Douthat:

It seems to me that there have been many cases in church history when the faith did need to learn from a changing culture, to read the signs of the times and to adapt. But there are just as many cases, under regimesancien and modern, when “adaptation” meant corruption, worldiness, the partial abandonment of the gospel. And I always wonder, in our contemporary discussions about sex and marriage, how would-be reformers so confidently distinguish the Spirit from the spirit of the age. By which I suppose I mean: Does it make you feel uncomfortable at all that every power and principality of our age—every establishment, political and judicial and cultural—is on the side of change in these internal church debates? Does it ever make you worry, even a little, that these reforms are truer to a passing historical moment than to Christ?

Martin:

Trust me: I’m a highly trained Jesuit. [Okay that’s a paraphrase: “[T]hat is where discernment comes in—something that we Jesuits and our Jesuit brother, Pope Francis, are fond of discussing. The discerning person, or bishop, or church, can prayerfully reflect on why these questions are coming up now, what we are called to do, what our motivations are, and what the Holy Spirit is asking of us. So I trust in the Spirit.”]

4

A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the States.

(Judge Jeffrey Sutton via R.R. Reno)

5

Once upon a time, I was enthusiastic about Rick Santorum, who had a very strong record of opposition to abortion. But

There is probably no other recent member of the Senate other than McCain, Graham, and Lieberman who has been wrong more often on so many foreign policy issues in such a short period of time as Santorum. The fact that he could have ever been considered a suitable candidate for president on the basis of such an embarrassing record remains an indictment of the GOP and the quality of our foreign policy discourse. Fortunately, there are good reasons to expect that another Santorum campaign would go nowhere, which is just where it deserves to go.

(Daniel Larison)

6

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

When I was young and foolish, instead of smoking dope I probably said of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin “Wow! Heavy, man!” I now see why sensible people viewed him with suspicion.

But even a blind pig finds an acorn sometimes:

“You have told me, O God, to believe in hell. But you have forbidden me to think … of any man as damned”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

7

Our local TV station’s anchor got an interview with Richard Lugar.

Remember him? He’s the statesman, a great source of pride not just to Indiana but to America, who after 36 years lost a 2012 primary to a Teabagger who was decidedly not ready for prime time.

His interview proved that he’s still a statesman. I’ve savaged TV 18 cub reporters, but now credit it due: good job, Jeff Smith!

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.