The weakness of God

The northern lights burned so precisely that you could tell to the very second when they would be at their highest and their lowest points.  In the middle of that enormous snow hall was a frozen lake.  It had cracked into thousands of pieces and every one of them was shaped exactly like all the others.  In the middle of the lake was the throne of the Snow Queen.  Here she sat when she was at home.  She called the lake the Mirror of Reason and declared that it was the finest and only mirror in the world.

Little Kai was blue–indeed, almost black–from the cold; but he did not feel it, for the Snow Queen had kissed all feeling of coldness out of him, and his heart had almost turned into a lump of ice.  He sat arranging and rearranging pieces of ice into patterns.  He called this the Game of Reason; and because of the splinters in his eyes, he thought that what he was doing was of great importance, although it was no different from playing with wooden blocks, which he had done when he could hardly talk.

He wanted to put the pieces of ice together in such a way that they formed a certain word, but he could not remember exactly what that word was.  The word that he could not remember was “eternity”.

— from The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

A while back, there was a big fuss about a woman walking through the city and having a video taken to record all the come-ons from strangers she got.  My reaction is that what those guys did was nothing compared to the catcalling on the cartoons I watched as a kid–I’m used to bugged-out eyes, tongues on the floor, foot stomping and whistling.  And here’s another thing:  when did cartoons become so blasted moral?  Warner Brothers, Disney, whatever:  cartoon characters used to be motivated pretty much entirely by food, sex, and gratuitous sadism.  It was a blast.

When I was a kid, liberals complained about the violence, and Christians and feminists both complained about the fairy tale romance:  prince-chasing, love at first sight–that’s not the lesson our daughters need!  We were so busy griping, we didn’t notice that the romance theme was being increasingly displaced with a theme of love as sacrifice.  “Greater love hath no one than this, that he lay down his life for a friend” intones Bagheera over the fallen Baloo, the only direct Scripture quote in the Disney canon, if I’m not mistaken.  King Triton offers himself in place of his daughter; Belle offers herself in place of her father; Flynn Ryder lays down his life for Rapunzel’s freedom, even as she’s trying to offer her freedom for his life.  Now Disney has given us Frozen, a movie that defines love entirely in terms of self-sacrifice.  Agape has completely triumphed over Eros.  And my fellow Christians still aren’t happy.

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What type of government is most conatural to Christianity?

ArkansasReactionary has his own blog.  Check it out.

As he wryly points out, the historical record is pretty clear:

This Sunday we celebrated the solemnity of Christ the President. We call Christ our President as an expression of the type of authority Christ has over everything. His authority not emanating from his Father, but being the result of election or the will of the people. It’s interesting to note that this is the imagery Christians have used from early times, even though the Roman Empire in which Christianity arose was legally a monarchy. Yet from the earliest times, the Christian ideal of democracy has been present, indeed it was not until after Rome became Christian that it legally became a democracy again. And of course, it is no coincidence that nearly all of the Christian states throughout history have been democracies, and the form of government associated with secularism was monarchy. Also, of course, there’s the fact that the Church itself is organized on democratic lines. These facts should serve to dissuade anyone taken in by Christian Monarchism.

Servile monarchists

Liberals never seem to notice the irony of their positions, how they always beg every question against their opponents in a way exactly contrary to their professed principles.  Liberalism means only public reason in the public square; John Rawls says so himself.  Thus, no criticisms of liberalism or arguments for nonliberal principles can be allowed.  Being nonliberal, they would not meet the bar of public reason, because we’ve already established that liberalism has a monopoly on reason by definition.  Alternatively, liberalism means tolerance.  The only thing tolerance cannot tolerate is intolerance, which–again, by definition–turns out to mean anything other than liberalism.  Most recently, John C. Wright claims that republicans have a monopoly on debate–to debate the common good is republicanism’s distinctive characteristic–so therefore they should refuse to listen to the arguments of their critics.  The arrogance of the man is truly breathtaking.  Sure, people like Dante, Bossuet, Hume, Samuel Johnson, and for that matter most of his pre-revolutionary ancestors might have had reasons for accepting or promoting monarchy, but we needn’t consider them, because these were all men of inferior spiritual quality to Mr. Wright, childishly servile men lacking Mr. Wright’s exalted interior freedom.

The challenge at least is made in the right place.  The question Wright raises is not whether republicanism or monarchy produces better laws or more stable or prosperous societies.  The question is which system promotes full human excellence.

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Motivation: the most useless criterion for moral deliberation

Lots of people claim to have fascinating interior lives, but in my opinion introspection is a waste of time.  This is especially true if one is trying to make an ethical decision by discerning one’s true motivations.  The problem here is obvious.  A scrupulous man will never feel confident doing anything pleasant or in his interest, while an unscrupulous man will write himself permission slips to do anything because it’s all for love, compassion, or social justice.  If you’re trying to decide what’s the right thing to do, don’t worry about what your deepest intention is, just ask what is the right thing to do for somebody in your situation given the nature of the act, the duties of the actor, and the consequences for everyone.

Suppose you see a neighbor committing a crime, something serious enough that you have a duty to report him.  Now, suppose you really hate this neighbor, and you relish the idea of him being in trouble with the authorities.  After deep introspection, you decide that this desire to hurt your neighbor is probably what’s really motivating you.  What do you do?

Turn him in, of course!  We’ve already established that it’s your duty.  What need is there for further deliberation?

Another one we’ve talked about before:  the strain of Catholic thinking that a man may only sleep with his wife if it’s not for lustful reasons.  I hate to play this card that the liberals love so much, but this is something only a celibate could have thought up.  Who is able to judge his motives like this?

To me, a big part of the beauty of the Catholic religion is the escape from subjectivity.

The pastoral response to ubiquitous sexual sin

This being the Year of Mercy, let’s be pastoral, by which I mean think practically about how to help sinners.

I went to a Catholic elementary school, and although an inattentive and impious student, I did pick up the distinction between mortal and venial sins.  I understood that the former send you straight to hell if you don’t go to Confession before you die.  However, the benefit of this knowledge was vitiated by another impression I had–that mortal sins are very rare.  Somehow, my friends and I all got it into our heads that there are only a couple mortal sins:  murder and adultery, we thought, and we weren’t even sure about the second one.  The Catholic attitude toward the Last Things seemed strange to me.  On the one hand, we were told that the way to heaven is very narrow and difficult.  On the other hand, the list of mortal sins in our heads made it seem laughably easy.  I concluded that going straight to heaven is hard, but nearly everybody makes it to Purgatory.  It wasn’t until my late twenties that I accepted that I myself was in a state of mortal sin.

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So is it okay to be obsessed with sex or not?

Pope Francis has made the news again, attacking Catholicism as usual, this time by saying that we shouldn’t be thinking about sexual morality because there are “greater problems”, namely lack of drinking water, “social injustice”, and the like.

One notices in His Holiness an assumption that material goods are more important than spiritual goods.  After all, mortal sexual sin (e.g. contraception, pornography) is nearly ubiquitous, at least in the West.  From the point of view of eternal salvation, it’s hard to think of any crisis that could match this.  Only the 1% are going to hell for social injustice, right?  One might also argue whether regulating sexuality really is such a luxury good.  Thinking as an anthropologist, we see that lots of primitive tribes where want is by no means unknown do take the effort to regulate sex.  There must be a reason for this.  But let that pass.

Let’s take His Holiness at his word.  I’d be happy for him to believe it.  After all, it wasn’t traditionalists who wanted to have not one but two worldwide synods devoted to sex, and in particular the casuistic questions of which kinds of adultery warrant special treatment and what positive elements may be teased out of homosexual relationships.  We’re not the ones who insisted that bishops from countries suffering starvation, draught, or even persecution at the hands of the Mohammedans should haul their asses to Rome for three weeks to discuss the predicament of German divorcees.

This is one of the things about Leftists, especially Leftist Christians, that irritates me.  When we talk about sex, it’s a sign of prurience on our part, to be so focused on silly bedroom issues, when the grown-ups are all worried about the economy.  When they talk about it, it’s social justice, the most urgent thing in the world, freeing women and gays from cruelest oppression.  It’s so important, they’ll threaten to cut aid to third world countries if they don’t bow to our cultural imperialism in these matters.  Independent of who’s right, we should all be able to agree that if smashing the patriarchy is a serious stand, defending the patriarchy is also a serious stand.  If grownups can be excited about promoting gay marriage, grownups can be excited about fighting gay marriage.  If feminists can rejoice that the Pill changed everything, popes (just not this one) can lament that the Pill changed everything.  One side is wrong, but both sides are talking about an equally serious issue, because both sides are talking about the same issue.

Is Islam a religion of peace?

Sure, just like Catholicism is a religion of peace, and like monarchism, liberalism, and communism are ideologies of peace.  They each propose a desired order which, once universally implemented, will remove strife and bring tranquility to some area of interest.  In a Muslim, or Catholic, or liberal society, there will still be personality clashes at home and at work, and there may still be disagreements on secondary or unrelated issues, but Islam/Catholicism/liberalism itself will be exempt from dissent.  Each ideology regards its universal implementation as good, as something to be strived for.  In no case does the outside world have a right to be left alone to its perversity and injustice, although some of ideologies do limit the means their adherents may use to impose them, and Islam is not historically distinguished as scrupulous or unscrupulous in this regard.  Islam, Catholicism, monarchism, communism, and liberalism all endorse coercion and violence to uphold their values in at least some circumstances.

Few religions or ideologies are not peaceful in this sense.  Fascism and social Darwinism recognize strife as an ineluctable and perhaps ultimately even positive part of human existence.  Anarchism and Leftism refuse to think past their current rage to envision an order that would actually satisfy them.  Such non-peaceful ideologies are rare, and therefore interesting.

A friend once asked me if I thought Islam is a religion of peace, and I answered that Muslims regard Sharia the way we Westerners regard “human rights”.  Respecting human rights isn’t optional for any society; it’s basic justice.  If we see some country violating human rights, we feel obliged to move in and start breaking things, even if that country wasn’t provoking us particularly, and we don’t feel that this makes us aggressive.  The other country is the aggressor for violating human rights.  That’s how they feel about Sharia.