Cardinal Cupich’s tragic dilemma

You remember how it used to be in the news that some guy in the West would announce that he’s going to burn a Koran, then the Muslim world would go ape-shit, and we would roll our eyes at those excitable Muslims?  Well now some Catholics in Chicago have burned a rainbow flag, and the gay flag is our Koran, so the priest has gone into hiding like the Islam-critics of a decade ago, and his bishop wants to send him to the nuthouse.

Father Kalchik is right, of course.  That flag in a church is an abomination that should be destroyed.  And what about Cardinal Cupich?  Conservative Catholics were quick to point out that prelates never bestir themselves so energetically for any of our concerns.  But I suspect that Cupich also is motivated by true beliefs.  He knows that it is his job to protect the Church.  He knows that if he didn’t condemn the flag burning, then by the next day lay Catholics would have burned down every church in Chicago, for sodomy is their true god and they will tolerate no blasphemy against it.  “…better that one man should die than the whole nation be destroyed…”  Even his claim that Father Kalchik must be crazy and should be locked up–although it sounds creepily Orwellian–might be partly an attempt to protect him from mob violence.  “Leave him alone.  The guy’s out of his mind.”  Or maybe Cupich really is in cahoots with the pro-homosexuals.  The homosexual lobby (inside but especially outside the Church) is so powerful, it’s impossible to tell those who truly agree with it from those who are trying to protect something from its wrath.

What can I say?  It sucks for your enemies to control the culture.  If we laity want to do something, this would be the thing to try to change.

confession of a defender of clericalism

I am a clericalist Catholic–the only clericalist Catholic, it would seem!  If it is true, as every Catholic but me says, that clericalism is the Church’s main problem, then perhaps everyone should agree that I personally am the cause of the Church’s last half-century of woes.  Everyone is hunting for the great beast of clericalism but is unable to find it in concrete form.  Search the college of bishops, the Vatican curia, the pope himself, and everyone you meet will sincerely pronounce himself a passionate anticlerical.  It’s a funny anticlericalism that has overtaken the Catholic world.  Tell me, are you of the party who hope to be delivered from clericalism by Pope Francis or of the party who hope to be delivered from it by Archbishop Vigano?  Either way, you’re not exactly Robespierre yet.  And I am your man, the one you have been hunting.  The last, the only clericalist.

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Cross post: an appropriate setting to end our little drama

Reading about the final exploits of “Sky King” Richard Russell, I was reminded of a fad in mid-20th century drama, when existentialism was all the rage, of characters doing crazy things just to prove their freedom, or something like that.  For example, Sartre’s Orestes and Anouilh’s Antigone cause havoc just for the hell of it.  (The myths had to be reworked to make less sense.)  Dostoevsky arguably got there first, but he knew it was foolishness, and Raskolnikov ultimately repents his ultimately pointless murder.  In existentialism’s heyday, it was always assumed that asserting one’s freedom from all socializing and internalized expectations, sticking it to the bourgeois social order, means aligning with the Left.  Indeed, the inspiration is liberal, but there has always been some irony to the pose.  First, the incoherence of determinist materialists fretting about their freedom.  Second, that they thought they could assert their autonomy by aligning themselves with that great impersonal machine, the Direction of History and Progress, and most often with Soviet tyranny as well.

Men of the Right are understandably touchy about accusations of “LARPing” for long-defeated causes.  Still, there is more than a bit of Don Quixote in every true reactionary.  Why deny it?  The knight of La Mancha couldn’t stop history from moving past the age of knight-errantry, but he could resist being carried along in its flow.  He was only crazy because he was serious.

Jean Raspail published The Camp of the Saints in 1973, a story of Western civilization unwilling to defend itself, virtue-signaling itself to death.  It is best known for its cynical portrayal of Leftist humanitarianism, of the hatred and cowardice beneath its facade of compassion.  Raspail does sometimes read like an irate Alt Right blogger of 2018, but that’s not his fault; reality has plagiarized him.  I find, though, that his treatment of the few Right wing characters is what has stuck in my mind.  A Leftist hero may die for the victory of his ideology.  A Rightist hero often lacks an ideology.  He has loyalties, things that he loves, and things he disdains.  And victory is usually not a possibility.  His fighting and dying make no difference in the grand scheme of things.  He is in some ways much more like an existentialist hero than his adversaries.  (Spoilers follow.)

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Cross-post: becoming a traditionalist is only the beginning of thought

My quarrel with the thinking man

In his essay What we think about, G. K. Chesterton relates his perplexity at finding someone  write “Mr. Chesterton does not mean to enlighten us, for all we know he is modernist enough in his own thoughts.”

What the man really meant was this:  “Even poor old Chesterton must think; he can’t have actually left off thinking altogether; there must be some form of cerebral function going forward to fill the empty hours of his misdirected and wasted life; and it is obvious that if a man begins to think, he can only think more or less in the direction of Modernism.”  The Modernists do really think that.  That is the point.  That is the joke.

Now what we have really got to hammer into the heads of all these people, somehow, is that a thinking man can think himself deeper and deeper into Catholicism, but not deeper and deeper into difficulties about Catholicism.  We have got to make them see that conversion is the beginning of an active, fruitful, progressive, and even adventurous life of the intellect.  For that is the thing that they cannot at present bring themselves to believe.  They honestly say to themselves:  “What can he be thinking about, if he is not thinking about the Mistakes of Moses, as discovered by Mr. Miggles of Pudsey, or boldly defying all the terrors of the Inquisition which existed two hundred years ago in Spain?”  We have got to explain somehow that the great mysteries like the Blessed Trinity or the Blessed Sacrament are the starting points for trains of thought far more stimulating, subtle, and even individual, compared with which all that skeptical scratching is as thin, shallow, and dusty as a nasty piece of scandalmongering in a New England village.  Thus, to accept the Logos as a truth is to be in the atmosphere of the absolute, not only with St. John the Evangelist, but with Plato and all the great mystics of the world….To set out to belittle and minimize the Mass, by talking ephemeral back-chat about what it had in common with Mithras or the Mysteries, is to be in altogether a more petty and pedantic mood; not only lower than Catholicism but lower even than Mithraism.

In our day, we are familiar with the “thinking Catholic”.  “Thinking” means that he accepts the modernist consensus without question, and “Catholic” means he insists the Church adjust herself to accommodate his lack of imagination.  Similarly, we all know the “thinking conservative”, the type who only ever thinks about what new concessions we must make to liberalism.  I have pointed out before this asymmetry between the Left and Right, that the intellectual leadership of the Left is expected to be more radical than most Leftist voters, whereas the intellectual leadership of the Right is expected to be more moderate than most Rightist voters.  This is one of our major disadvantages.

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the common man reconciles himself with mortality

I happened to run across a review of philosopher Kieran Setiya’s guide on how to deal with a midlife crisis.  Just the sort of gimmick for a philosopher looking to do a little of what scientists call “outreach”, I would say.  Although Western popular culture has seized on the idea, most people don’t suffer a crisis per se.  Still,

n 2008, the economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald published their paper “Is Well-Being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?” which suggested that people’s well-being – their subjective sense of how well their life is going – shifts over time. Well-being is high in early adulthood, and high in old age, but it dips in middle age, particularly in the forties and fifties. This U-shaped curve forms the empirical evidence for the existence of the midlife crisis…

How should we characterize the midlife crisis? Setiya notes that it arises in different forms: sometimes it manifests itself in a sense of emptiness about one’s life; sometimes in mourning for the foreclosure of options that were once open to us. For many, it involves a reckoning with death and mortality.

(I’ve peaked at this paper, which wasn’t the first to make the claim of a “U-shaped” well-being curve, but argues that it is still present when cohort effects are controlled for.)  Isn’t it remarkable that this subjective sense of well-being turns up as one passes from midlife to old age?  The foreclosure of options and the approach of death are even more striking then.  And yet somehow most people, average men and women who are not trained philosophers, manage to reconcile themselves to it, thus accomplishing what is supposed to be one of the main aims of philosophy.  A reassuring thought.

the common man’s intuition of God

When we find a law with no lawgiver, we call it God’s law.

When we find order without an organizer, we call it creation.

When we find a justice or fittingness in the affairs of men beyond their capacity to engineer, we call it providence.

It is remarkable how naturally our mind recognizes these cases of intelligibility-beyond-intelligence and how difficult it is to devise a metaphysics in which they are at home.

It would not do to identify God as a person from whom creatures and laws are entirely separate.  God’s order for the operation of beings is intrinsic to them, and His laws of righteous conduct are intrinsic to justice, but in each case they seem to transcend their subjects.  At least, this is what our tendency to attribute them to God would suggest.

Nor when we speak of God’s laws, of God’s order of the world of nature and of men, do we just mean that these things appear as if imprinted by divine intelligence.  It may be that these are nothing but appearances, but to say so is not to explain what we mean when we speak of them, but to deny it.

It is remarkable how unsatisfied people are with scientific explanations.  They ask how something with the marks of intelligibility came to be.  Give them an answer deriving it from some general principle–spontaneous symmetry breaking, detailed balance, natural selection, or whateer–and they will be disappointed.  “Oh, so you’re saying it’s an accident.”  In other words, if that’s the explanation, then there is no explanation.  Scientists are proud of general principles that explain many phenomena, but what people are looking for is a single cause that directly imprinted this particular intelligibility.

Remarkable as well that we monotheists at least attribute all of these cases of intelligibility-without-intelligence to the same beyond-intelligence.  One could say that honesty demands that I tell the truth, sobriety demands I avoid drunkenness, patriotism demands that I avoid treason, et cetera.  To say that God demands all of these things is to bring them into relation with each other, that there is something inconsistent about recognizing the authority of some of these demands without recognizing the others.  Similarly, the intuition of God’s created order might be one reason we so often speak of “nature” instead of “natures”, even though if we were good Aristotelians we would definitely prefer the plural.

The historical ubiquity of belief in divinity is a scandal to philosophers, perhaps especially to a believing philosopher.  He does not imagine that the reasons his uneducated co-religionists could give for their beliefs would pass muster with his colleagues.  And yet, he does not want to credit their faith to fortuitous error or over-hastiness.  How can the common man of all ages have gotten so deep into metaphysics so easily? How could he have gotten so much right with such invalid reasoning?

There may well be an inverse relation between the logical strength of arguments for God’s existence and their attraction to the religious mind.  I can’t imagine that any non-believer is troubled by an argument from morality (of the “no law without a Lawgiver” sort); arguments of this sort seem quite weak to me.  But it does that the virtue of addressing God in a way that believers actually conceive and relate to Him, and so no less figures than Newman and Lewis understood its power.

I think the common intuitions are valid, although by themselves they hardly constitute proof, are hardly even clear enough to know what they might be proof of.  I doubt we ever cease to rely on them, at least as a check on our reasoning.