A world of prophets

Any of us could be destroyed by a social media mob.  Someone takes a picture of you that, without context, gives the impression that you’re being mean or negligent.  They post it on twitter or facebook and a day later a hundred thousand people regard you as the quintessence of evil and want you dead.  When I was a kid, “it’s a free country” was still a common expression; now there are Stasi agents with smartphones everywhere.  How the hell did we let this happen to us?

When I was a kid, you could have an organization devoted just to hiking or wine tasting or space exploration.  Now everybody and everything has to have promoting designated victims as its primary goal.

Two types of religious figure:  the prophet and the priest.  The prophet proclaims God’s wrath, the priest God’s forgiveness.  The prophet condemns social order; the priest consecrates it.  The people admire the prophet who hates them just as they despise the priest who pities them.  For men know that they are wicked, that the whole world of men is wicked, and the priest who offers reconciliation so cheaply seems an agent of corruption.

A priest’s job is to mitigate the cruelty of the moral and religious impulses.

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First Communion

I remember very little about my own first communion preparation.  Perhaps the sisters treated us to sublime theology that I have all forgotten, but I suspect they knew better than that.  The thing I remember most clearly was being told that if the host gets stuck on the roof of my mouth, under no circumstances am I to stick my finger in my mouth to scrape it off.  I also remember learning that while it’s probably best to just let the host dissolve in my mouth, it is permitted to chew “respectfully”.  This was apparently a new relaxation of discipline, and my mother was a bit scandalized by it, and to this day when I bring it up she tells me that she would never chew.

I’ve come to see the wisdom of those holy sisters.  If instead I had been told that what matters is not any such physical details but my interior disposition, I would have concluded that the whole thing is make-believe, because only when the act itself is unimportant does one’s attitude matter more than correct performance.  What I did learn was that the Eucharist is something real, something serious, something gravely important.  This intuition leads to a sense of holiness and the presence of God, and this is the most important thing.

With my daughters, I have tried to convey the sense that something important happens at the consecration, that this is the moment to pay special attention.  I used to point then at the host and cup and say “Look.  The body of Jesus.”  And I would whisper a blessing.  “Let His blood be upon us, and on our children.

Now Julie is old enough for the sacraments.  In our parish, sacrament preparation has been handed off to the parents.  I’m not sure how good an idea this is in general, but I was eager and confident that I could do a better job with my own daughter than a standard class.  It turns out that guiding the learning of second graders is not quite the same as teaching college students.  Here I report for the benefit of other parents my successes and failures.

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Commencement time again

A couple of weeks ago was commencement at WSU, and I was there to hood one of our new PhDs.  I do appreciate the ritualism of commencement ceremonies.  Universities are, after all, medieval institutions, and occasionally we are allowed to let that show.  Although I have written appreciatively of social and phenomenological aspects of ritual, I tend not to be very good at performing them myself, both because of my poor memory and the tendency of my mind to wonder.  Did I ever tell you about the few times I served as an altar boy in grade school?  I was a disaster.  Couldn’t remember anything.  Considering what an awful priest I would have made, perhaps this was God protecting His Church.  Anyway, for commencement, I only had to do something for a few seconds, and the rest of the time I could let my mind wander.  Plus, I was careful to go to the bathroom beforehand.

One of my favorite moments watching television was when I saw an ad for some community college, and a recent graduate enthused “Going to this school has turned my life around three hundred and sixty degrees!”  Sitting through commencement speeches, I did not enjoy that level of brilliance, but there was one happy moment.  A student, president of some graduate student thingie, told us with great conviction, “Myself and my fellow students are proof that public higher education works!”  Myself was inspired.  Go Cougs!

Alas, there was some talk about making the world a better place and how our graduates are uniquely qualified and inclined to do such.  So I reprint my pretend commencement speech from two years ago.

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Cross post: review of Schleiermacher’s On Religion

On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers
by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1799)

Orthosphere readers will have mixed feelings toward Schleiermacher.  On the one hand, he is perhaps the founder of the study of the phenomenology of religion, a study which was later carried to greater heights by Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade; he and these other thinkers have proved that religion is not merely a substitute for philosophy for the uneducated but contains its own irreducible value and insights.  In working to tie Protestant Christianity to the nascent Romantic Movement, Schleiermacher also stands as a forerunner of Romantic Christianity.  On the other hand, he more influentially stands as the founder of Liberal Protestantism, the project of gutting Christianity to accommodate bourgeois bohemian sensibilities.  Consider the title of the book.  It sounds ironic; we expect these “cultured” despisers to have their lack of proper cultivation quickly shown up.  The first speech’s hearty praise for the intelligence, morality, and progressiveness of its readers (presumed to be haters of religion) in what I took to be deliberately overwrought prose seems to confirm this impression.  I was a couple dozen pages in, still waiting for the hammer to drop, when I began to realize to my horror that Schleiermacher’s praise for his atheist friends is entirely in earnest and that what I had been reading is his real prose style.

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A nitpicker’s lament

G* damned head lice.

Actually, head lice are themselves completely harmless.  It’s other people who are the nuisance.  The need to get them to let your children go back to school.

Sabrina picked them up at preschool, and now I have to spend hours each day vacuuming and combing hair.  My group’s research has nearly stalled.  The cleaning is not so bad, but nitpicking is awful work; I can’t let my mind wander.  Must focus on looking for tiny dots.  Did I ever tell you about the one nonacademic job I ever had?  I was packing cups into boxes.  12 hour shifts.  It’s very bad to put cups in the wrong boxes (e.g. Dairy Queen cups in a McDonald’s box).  I was almost fired once.  I have a lot of trouble keeping focused for long stretches of time.  I bet I know what’s wrong with me.  I must have that thing that all the kids have nowadays.  What’s it called?  Attention deficit disorder.  That must be it.  Also mathlexia.  God knows what would happen to me if I had to leave academia and find my way in the real world.  Or maybe I’m just rationalizing the vice of impatience.

On sodomy

The Church’s reticence on sexual matters

It’s often said that the Catholic Church (by which is meant her clergy) is “obsessed with sex”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, the Church is positively squeamish about sex.  It is the world that is obsessively screaming at her to accept homosexual sodomy, to which the Church must keep replying “no” before quickly changing the subject, and the world thinks we must have some sort of obsession not to have given in already.

As an example of the Church’s reticence, consider her dealing with the more common practice of heterosexual sodomy.  Because there is no faction campaigning for its official acceptance, the higher offices of the Church are not forced to speak on the subject, and they show no inclination to initiate.  “Oral sex is okay as long as you ‘plant the seed’” is a claim often heard on Catholic blogs and marriage preparation classes, because pastorally–“on the ground level”–it is a subject that is impossible to avoid.  Yet I have found no clear Magisterial statement confirming or contradicting this claim. Readers are encouraged to correct me with missed sources, but the fact that I found so little in the obvious places is itself telling.  It seems to be an inference from more general principles of Catholic sexual ethics.

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