Thanksgiving Day, 2015

  1. The philosophy of the cancer cell
  2. Spotlight
  3. Will “we always have Paris”?
  4. The Yale Problem
  5. Paradise or Utopia?
  6. Xmassy Traditions

1

More is better. Full stop.

This is the philosophy of the cancer cell — and the American consumer economy.

(H/T Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in this very philosophical and anthropological podcast from November 22, which I highly recommend.)

“Only in America,” as they say, do we trample one another in the pre-dawn hours to get retail bargains the morning after giving thanks for what we have. My brethren, these things should not be so.

2

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” This dialogue sums up the primary lesson of the film Spotlight, currently playing in a major nationwide release …

If you are a devout Catholic, as is this film reviewer, and believe that no matter what, the gates of hell shall not prevail against Christ’s Church—sitting though Spotlight may be the longest two hours you’ll ever spend in a theatre. You will not be able to exit the multi-plex reassured that this is a horrible movie, a hastily thrown-together thoughtless Hollywood hatchet job produced by people who obviously loathe the Catholic Church and are just out to get her. Instead this is an intelligent, well written, acted and directed movie. Due to the subject matter, Catholic film-goers cannot help but feel Spotlight is rubbing their noses into one of the most demoralizing, pathetic and despicable episodes in the history of Catholicism.

Most secular film reviews note that Spotlight is really a story about investigative journalism and how effective such journalism can be in disclosing corruption in high places and being a force for justice …

The leader of SNAP and even the attorney who settled victim cases out of court had given the newspaper evidence of clergy abuse years ago, but the evidence was essentially ignored. Just before the big story is about to break we learn that even the leader of the Spotlight team, Keaton’s character Robbie Robinson, ignored the potential scandal. When the victims’ attorney told the Globe about the twenty priests suspected of abuse, Robinson himself, when he was Metro editor, buried a story about it in the newspaper’s Metro section. Apparently when an editor wants a story to die he buries it deep down in the Metro pages. Thus even the Globe is part of that village it takes to abuse a child—a village afraid, apathetic, or too distracted to pay attention.

(Monica Migliorino Miller, Priest Scandal Movie: Painful, Disturbing, and Surprisingly Fair, from Crisis, which surely would blow the whistle if the movie were a hatchet job)

3

I was in Paris in June, 1968, as part of a musical tour. I didn’t prepare for the touristy aspects of the trip — e.g., when in Paris, I must see this, this, and this and must buy some French perfume for my girlfriend. But I, an introvert, was ready for time away from the group, and set off walking on my own.

It was a summer when Paris was not notably friendly to Americans, as Vietnam divided France and the U.S., but I kept my mouth shut and had a lovely day, with a glow that endures, even though I can remember no detail beyond arriving at the Louvre too late to see more than a rack of picture postcards and learning that one of my buddies had his camera stolen from under his nose at un pissoir.

More recently, I’ve plugged a cultural gap by reading Hemingway’s Moveable Feast.

On that slender thread I hang my endorsement of this, if not the whole column from which it’s excerpted:

Insouciance is a Parisian pleasure. This is the city of aimless wandering and casual delight. But today, insouciance feels freighted with danger. There is too much of it in the West. The enemy has been underestimated …

Paris has changed just enough to stay the same. Gone is the Gitane-Gauloise pall of the cafes, gone the mineral midmorning sauvignons blancs downed by red-eyed men, gone the horse butchers and the garlic whiff of the early morning Metro. Where artisans hammered and workers toiled in the ateliers of the 10th and 11th Arrondissements, restaurants now attract a young crowd — of the kind cut down last week by the jihadi fanatics.

Yet, despite its gentrification, Paris has resisted the brand-obsessed homogenization of our age. If capitalism works less well here, it also works less cruelly. The city is still itself — with its parks of satisfying geometry, its strong Haussmannian arteries, its gilt and gravel, its islands pointing their prows toward the solemn bridges. It is a refuge of our hopes, a repository of our fantasies, a redoubt of a quaint old word — solidarity.

(Roger Cohen, New York Times)

Some, not surprisingly, take a darker view, which I cannot gainsay. Responding to “Niall Ferguson [suggesting] that Western Civilization is now reprising the story of the Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D., with Muslims cast in the roles of the invading barbarians”:

Ferguson … does not really face up to what he sees through a glass darkly:

Let us be clear about what is happening. Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defenses to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time, it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.

Ferguson … is worried that Europe will succumb to Muslim terrorists. But these terrorists (in a horrific act) managed to kill somewhat over 100 French citizens on a single day of this year. Meanwhile, French abortionists kill over 500 would-be French citizens every day of the year, year after year, and far from protecting these victims, the French government subsidizes their deaths. When a civilization is wiping itself out that fast, it is a little fatuous to put the blame on opportunistic parasites who are invading its dying body.

(Gene Callahan, No Barbarians at the Gates of Paris)

4

I was thinking recently of how everyone tends to exult at support for (or at least collateral insight into) their position from an unlikely source. (There ought to be a name for the phenomenon, but I’m unaware of it. Drop me a comment if you know an apt term or care to coin one.)

  • The leftish folk are currently quoting Dubya on how we’re not at war with Islam.
  • Brad Birzer shares his secret fascination with Camille Paglia.
  • I loved to read Jewish, agnostic and atheist pro-lifers, like Hadley Arkes (since converted to Catholicism), Nat Henthoff and Bernard Nathanson, back in the day.
  • I love reading LGBT people trying to live chastely because of their religious convictions.
  • And I love almost anything Jonathan Haidt writes these days (it’s becoming so predictable that it’s not unexpected, but Haidt is not part of any Tribe of Christian Conservatives).

Here’s Haidt’s opener for a terrific piece:

A month before the Yale Halloween meltdown, I had a bizarre and illuminating experience at an elite private high school on the West Coast. I’ll call it Centerville High. I gave a version of a talk that you can see here, on Coddle U. vs. Strengthen U. (In an amazing coincidence, I first gave that talk at Yale a few weeks earlier). The entire student body — around 450 students, from grades 9-12 — were in the auditorium. There was plenty of laughter at all the right spots, and a lot of applause at the end, so I thought the talk was well received.

But then the discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?” Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking ….

This is a microcosm, titled The Yale Problem Begins in High School, and I’m not the only one who picked up on it delightedly. I only wish these apprentice fascists, high school and college, could see themselves as gimlet-eyed Haidt sees them, and could see the dystopia to which their fascism tends.

5

There is something inherently utopian within Christianity: we look for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Christ began His ministry, preaching the coming of the Kingdom. And He acknowledged, “If my kingdom were of this world, then my disciples would fight.” Modernity, in many respects, is simply the secularizing of the Christian vision. The Kingdom that is “not of this world” must, in modernity, become “of this world.” Every dream of a better world, every hint of progress is a modern echo of the preaching of the Kingdom. Of course, the Kingdom no longer needs a king, much less the King of Creation. But the modern imagination is always turned towards a future. Our dreams are inherently eschatological (directed towards the end).

The modern secular paradise has almost no definition. We think of it vaguely in terms of a “better world.” In the name of a better world, almost anything in the present can be overthrown, often with little evidence that the result will actually be an improvement. The world is constantly beset with “unintended consequences” and “collateral damage” as ever more “progress” is set in place.

… There is, within such an eschatological vision, an inherent violence. That violence is only limited by other ethical restraints, something that grows thin or almost non-existent from time-to-time.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Dangerous Vision of Paradise).

Fr. Stephen also discusses in this blog entry the Islamic version of a secular paradise, rooted in Islam’s appropriation and distortion of Christian elements, but I didn’t want that to be front-and-center in this commendation.

6

If it’s Thanksgiving, that means the annual “Black Friday” Shopping frenzy is scheduled to start tomorrow and that, in just 29 more days, we’ll be collapsing in a stupor before getting the credit card bills.

A secondary tradition has also grown up: The Creche Wars. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, heir to a pestiferous legacy, has hectored the Franklin County, Indiana Commissioners into allowing a seasonal display honoring part of our dying Constitution instead of the birth of our living Lord. Their co-hectoror was The Satanic Temple, based in Massachusetts, likewise deeply offended by a display in a small county 800 miles away.

That’s not exactly how they’d put it, but this is my blog and I calls ’em like I sees ’em.

Meanwhile, Christians (instead of the debased monstrosity still sometimes called “Christendom”) are trying to observe Advent/Nativity Fast, a penitential and reflective time, in anticipation of the Christmas feast beginning in 29 days (or, for some, 42 days).

That might not be how you see it, but this is my blog and I calls ’em like I sees ’em.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.