Saturday, February 25, 2012

Don't Burn, Baby, Burn

The latest instance of our stepping on our shvantz in the Middle East is the burning – or partial burning, which is worse, I guess – of a bunch of Qurans. Now... the most obvious question, which is the first one our sterling media should have asked, but didn't, is: What's the American military doing burning _any_ books in Afghanistan, to say nothing of Qurans? I mean... where in the job description of the average soldier does the phrase “burns books as needed” appear? But apparently it has something to do with security in prisons, or something. But if that's the case, why not just confiscate the books and store them in some safe place until the war is over (heh heh)... or donate them to the nearest mosque? And finally, what on earth business does the American military have “handling religious materials” in other countries? How would we feel if some occupying army came over here and started “handling religious materials”? The question pretty much answers itself.

But there is a broader issue of which this is only one small instance. It has to do with the “face of America” that is presented to the rest of the world. And in the case of military occupations, that face has nothing whatsoever to do with the pompous pronouncements of the president, or the mealy-mouthings of generals in air-conditioned “briefing rooms”. No, it consists mainly of the interactions of our military – our “boots on the ground” -- with the local populace. It's at that interface that our image is formed... and make no mistake, the data gathered at that interface has a way of percolating upward and outward, as we see on a daily basis. Ordinary Afghans don't need CNN to tell them what's happening in their own country, nor do they need NPR to make excuses for our commander-in-chief's aggressive posturing. They can see it right outside their own homes – or inside, in worse cases. So this is where our image is formed, and this is also the seedbed of the next generation of rebels, insurgents, fighters, “terrorists”. We reap dragon's teeth everywhere we go, it seems. And yet the spirit behind the burning of the Qurans – just as the spirit behind the urination scandal – is as pervasive as it is simplistic: We (Americans, that is) are the master race, and you'd better do things our way or accept the consequences. (Or – you'd better at least pretend to be doing things our way, which is all we ever do ourselves.)

Now, I'm not claiming that direct interaction with our troops is the only way the natives get news of what we're doing and what our intentions are; that's just the most immediate source. Other sources include news of Evangelical preachers burning Qurans over here... “contractors” (who turn out to be Evangelicals) being paid to brief our troops about what a horrible religion Islam is... political pep rallies where candidates (including Evangelicals) promise to start wars with any Moslem country we're not already at war with once in office... see any trends here? That's right, class – we're engaged in a religious war here, and there's no sense denying it. The “wall of separation of church and state”, which has never been all that secure on the domestic front, doesn't even exist when it comes to our foreign policy. We have, in effect, declared war on Islam on behalf of Israel and on our own behalf – and, again, no stammering denials by “top officials” either here or overseas is going to convince the Moslems otherwise. The few remaining Moslem leaders who are unambiguously on our side are increasingly accused of treason, treachery, and infidelity.

And while we're on the subject, let me point out some of the things the typical Afghan (or Iraqi, or any other) native _doesn't_ care about; they aren't even on his radar. He doesn't care about our “freedoms”, nor is he particularly envious of them. He doesn't care about the “American way of life”, because his local imam has told him that it's hopelessly decadent. He doesn't care about “democracy”, because – once again – all he sees of that is what the puppet leaders that we set up do, and how's that supposed to appeal to anyone? He only cares about “regime change” as it directly affects himself, his family, his tribe, his sect. And when it comes to American money... well, if we fly it over there by the planeload, he'll line up to grab whatever he can grab, and run off chuckling like the Beagle Boys in an old Scrooge McDuck comic. But if we're tying to buy loyalty by handing out the long green, forget about it. Might as well try and buy loyalty from a pet rattlesnake.

Well, I don't want to belabor the farcical aspects of our endless wars in the Middle East, because we all know by now – or we should – that none of this matters to the people in charge. They don't care how foolish we look, or how many people we offend, as long as their agenda is pursued with diligence, and that agenda has nothing to do with good will, or enhancing the life style of the natives, or bringing them the blessings of a benign government. And so yes, it is a bit hypocritical of people like Obama to fall over themselves “apologizing” for Quran-burning, and it's equally hypocritical of the Republican candidates to take Obama to task for these apologies. Don't they realize he doesn't mean it? Don't they realize it doesn't matter anyway? All it does is highlight the foolishness of what was, long ago, determined to be a fool's errand.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Academic Question

The question came up recently in conversation, why is the academic (college and university) sector so overwhelmingly liberal in its outlook? This has been the case for so long that we've come to take it for granted – of course academicians are liberal; that's just the way it is. And I suppose that this stereotype (which is nonetheless true) falls into line with liberals' own stereotypes – like the one that conservatives are stupid, primitive, ignorant, superstitious, rural, inbred, etc. ... whereas liberals (i.e. themselves) are intelligent, advanced, sophisticated, enlightened, humanistic, compassionate, etc. (This has led to, among other things, the characterization of “compassionate conservatism” as a contradiction in terms.) And I also suppose that American conservatives don't always help themselves much by embracing no-neck Evangelical preachers and allowing into their ranks people who are really and truly bigoted (even if their numbers are a small fraction of those alleged by the liberals). The truth is, there are knuckleheads on both ends of the political spectrum, and all along it. If you want to see liberal ignorance in action, just check out any of the numerous Jesse Jackson- or Al Sharpton-led “rent-a-mobs” over the years. Check out the people who voted for Obama then wondered where “their” money was the day after his inauguration. Check out, for that matter, the “Occupy” crowd, whose sense of entitlement rivals anything the Northeastern elites ever came up with.

The liberals/Democrats certainly have a multi-tiered social structure, with academicians and the media at the top, and politicians a step down (yes, I got that right – politicians are not “in charge” of liberalism, they are its product and are completely dependent on anointing by the people at the top). Below that level are the activists – some in academics, but more in politics, non-profits, churches, unions, and so forth. These are the people whose voices we are most likely to hear on the street, by way of bullhorns – and the people who get interviewed on the Sunday morning “talking heads” shows. They are supposed to represent the masses – the “people”, who are widely assumed to be incapable of speaking for themselves (and when they do, they turn out to be upsettingly conservative in their views, like Joe the Plumber).

Then we have the mass of “educated” liberal voters – the liberal elite as well as populists in fly-over country... followed by “cultural Democrats” (blue-collar or the descendants thereof), followed by the vast reservoir of tax receivers, welfare recipients, resentful minorities, and anyone motivated by envy and a desire for vengeance. Make no mistake, this is a caste system, and is every bit as ossified and impacted as anything you'll find in India. The theoreticians at the top define what is politically correct, the politicians follow their lead, the media and the activists push the agenda as far as possible, imposing it on the rest of us... the “moderates” follow along in lock-step, and the proletariat wait in readiness for the next signal to take to the streets.

So this is, basically, where academics appears in the overall political picture. Of course, their stated task is to educate youth, which they do with – let's admit – an admirable sense of duty and self-sacrifice. Because nothing is more important than to enlist the next generation in the never-ending battle against... well, whatever liberals are against, which is a heck of a lot. It starts, as it must, with the revelation -- to tender and callow youth -- that their parents don't know everything – that their knowledge base doesn't cover the waterfront, and that there are, in fact, viable alternatives to their priorities and values. (Of course, anyone who gets as far as college who hasn't already figured this out might need more than a few hints from professors – but let that go for now.) The process is, in a way, similar to that in Marine Corps basic training – first you forcibly remove all traces of certainty, ego, security, and self-respect, then you rebuild from scratch. The student who staggers, dazed, out of his first philosophy or “poly sci” class will return, like a starving dog, to his victimizers in order to partake of the fare they have substituted for everything he has known up to then. It will be strange and exotic, and contradict common sense, but it will have the advantage of being certified as true by every authority within reach – and youth of that age, contrary to stereotype, value certainty above all... even if that certainty is tied to moral anarchy, political authoritarianism, and economic pipe dreams. As long as it's not what “the old folks” think or say, it's OK.

Thus, the many-faceted mission of academics in our time – the corruption of youth as well as the inoculation of the body politic with a succession of fevers and delusions. And in this latter, they have no ally so vital and indispensable as the media – full of pseudo-intellectuals, poseurs, and frauds. The Sunday morning talking heads are the link between the halls of ivy and the heads of mainstream liberals, just as union bosses, public school teachers, and black preachers are the links between academia and the working classes. The system is admirable in its completeness and in its pseudo-democracy – by which I mean everyone is welcome as long as they know their place. Clearly, anyone who is otherwise qualified for membership – by being black, for instance – but who wanders off the reservation – by being conservative, for instance – is consigned to the outer darkness. This is simply the way the organism defends itself, and it would not have lasted all these many years if it had failed to do so.

Now, you might say, why am I only picking on liberals and Democrats? It's because the topic is academics, and we already know who enjoys the imprimatur of the vast majority of academicians and academic institutions. Plus, most of the so-called "conservatives" in academia and the media -- not to mention in politics -- are frauds. Their "conservatism" -- AKA "neoconservatism" -- is little more than a vehicle for American militarism, which is, historically, more of a liberal/populist cause than one that is truly patriotic or intended to preserve the nation and its citizens' liberties.

But even this is only a snapshot based on the current scene. A proper approach to the question also has to include a historical survey, which is what comes next. If you look back far enough, you find that, to quote an article in a recent issue of Chronicles, concerning medieval universities, “The income from the tuition charged went in large part to maintain the faculty in their pursuit of truth, an activity blessed and further underwritten by the Church, with which universities maintained a close association. Faculty took religious vows and typically lived in poverty, or close to it.” The picture we have from that time is not one of academics and scholarship “versus” the Church, but in harmony with it and with Church teachings. Even the science of that time (and yes, there was science back then, and plenty of it) was conducted within the wider context of faith – there being no better example than the work of St. Albert the Great. It would have been inconceivable to anyone at that time that there could arise a clash and a parting of the ways between science and religion – or between any sort of learning (the humanities, economics, history, etc.) and religion. It was a model of reality based on the premise that everything is part of the created order, and thus worthy of study, but also – again within the context of faith – on accepted premises that did not require scientific proof (logical proof being another matter, as exemplified by the work of Aquinas). To put it another way, science was the figure and faith the ground. The scope of science was broad, but still contained within the broader scope of non- (not anti-) science.

But then a few things happened – to put it mildly. One was the rise of heresies of various kinds, which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation and then, later on, to the secularization of most academic institutions. It was, in effect, a rebellion on all fronts -- spiritual, theological, and philosophical. It was no longer “unquestioning” faith that mattered, but only man, however defined – thus “humanism” became the leading theme in academics. Humanism, and materialism – which is why Marxism found such a ready reception in academic circles and continues to do so. But all academic disciplines suffered to some degree, not the least being economics, which Catholic social teaching was intended to speak to – which it has, but with very little tangible success. By the time the encyclical Rerum Novarum was issued in 1891, the juggernaut of secular, materialistic history, politics, and economics (as exemplified by the Industrial Revolution, socialism, and capitalism) was already up to full speed.

On the scientific side, most people would agree that Galileo's work was the first major battle in a war that continues to this day. Suddenly it appeared that faith and science could be incompatible – and the mindset of the time (and of ours) dictated that science must, inevitably, win. Any time faith and science ran into conflict, or appeared to, it was faith that had to butt out, apologetically. Two other major battles of note are Darwinism, or evolutionary theory, and Freudianism, or psychoanalysis. And what do we have in our time? I would say that the controversy over “when live begins” (in the womb) is paramount – but the battle over evolution rages on, as does a less noisy controversy over human nature. (Are we mere animals? Or animals with a spiritual side? Or animals with an illusion of a spiritual side? Etc.)

Now, I'm not going to try and condense a few libraries' worth of work into a single paragraph, but suffice it to say that, in Galileo's case, the Church may have dug in a bit too hard – or, let's say, it may have over-interpreted what faith requires in the face of observed phenomena. It's not as if faith has boundaries, but it certainly should be able to accommodate any and all true findings about nature; this was certainly the premise upon which St. Albert and St. Thomas operated. Even being willing to consider the validity of evolutionary mechanisms does not require a compromise with faith – providing that said mechanisms are kept within the bounds of science and not granted extra-scientific or metaphysical status. And as for Freud, he dismissed religion as an “illusion”, which is curious considering that he was perfectly open to all other human traits and habits, and anxious to describe their functions – their “survival value” if you will (thus, an area of overlap between Darwinism and Freudianism that today's liberals are curiously phobic about contemplating).

Another problem was that, since the Church and science had different missions and priorities, and spoke a different language, the Church did not have ready scientific answers for Darwin, for example. All the faithful could do was kind of sputter and say, well, it can't be true, because it's against faith – and thus the fault line became wider and deeper. Since then, however, at least one major line of research (and mathematics, and logic) has come along, namely Intelligent Design theory, that is able to ride out and do battle with Darwinism on its own terms... and this, I hasten to add, is not the same as “creation science” or “creationism” -- although liberals love to conflate the two. (This is also why you hear a lot more about "creationism" than about Intelligent Design, since secular materialism has ready answers for creationism, but is strangely silent about Intelligent Design.)

There are also plenty of perfectly sound economic arguments against Marxism, some of which actually predate Marx and some of which have come along since – and many of these are compatible with Catholic social teaching. So in this sense the tide is turning, and we find, in small, isolated pockets of academia, robust theories and models that are a match – and more than a match – for Marx, Darwin, and Freud, but which are also compatible with faith. And yet there is still a long, uphill climb ahead, simply because many areas of science, economics, etc. are no longer (assuming they ever were) matters of fact, data, and logic, but matters of – dare I say it? -- faith.

Yes, there is a “secular faith” that has grown, and broadened, over the years to take in virtually every human endeavor (including religion, if it's studied in an anthropological and/or psychological way) – and its premises are simple (if seldom stated) and self-serving – namely that anything worth study must fit into a “scientific” mold, and that only findings resulting from this process are valid as a basis for human activity (to include education, government, etc.). But at the same time this secular faith is corrupted by decidedly non-scientific premises having to do with the nature of man and the significance (or lack thereof) of human existence. Whether we say that it's all about economics, or survival, or sex, and nothing more, we are are not making a scientific statement. But because this “faith” is purely secular, it fails to answer man's highest needs, including the need for meaning – and it is thus a form of despair. At least the existentialists were willing to go all the way in this regard – if life is meaningless and absurd, then each of us is set back on his own devices; we are lonely people in a lonely world, with naught but cold infinity on either side. But this is taking a very negative “is” and deriving from it an even more negative “ought”. Most so-called humanists don't have this sort of courage – they insist on making up values out of whole cloth as a poor substitute for genuine faith. The problem is that so many of the values they come up with turn readily into catastrophes like revolution, war, totalitarianism, collectivism, etc. If human beings are, somehow, provided with a consciousness, but then given nothing to think about other than their own mortality... well, then doesn't this make us the most pathetic of species? Hateful, even? And sure enough, one typically finds, within the ranks of secular humanists of all stripes, people who hate themselves, but who hate humanity even more. Their “humanism” is just a disguise for despair. Is it really an accident that all attempts to change human nature... to collectivize... create little but death, destruction, and misery? They want us to believe that a life without faith is perfectly benign... that it doesn't hurt anyone else... “live and let live”, “tolerance”, "diversity", and all that – but the results tell a different story. And I don't care whether you're talking about left-wing secular humanism or right-wing fascism; the end result is the same. Deny a big part of human nature, and you deny man. Deny man, and you deny his right to live in a meaningful way – or to live at all. The tragedy of our time is that the academic world, which should be the strongest force against this point of view, is its biggest promoter. But this is a consequence of the great schism I have tried to describe above... and the answer is not for the Church to pull further away from science, and from academics, but to reclaim both and put them back into their rightful place within the larger context of faith.

I know there's much more that could be said on this topic, but I hope I've made a good start.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Church Non-Militant

The waves of totalitarianism are lapping at the feet of the American Catholic Church, in the form of the new “initiative” on the part of the Obama administration to provide “reproductive services” to women as part of health plans connected with Catholic institutions. And what are ordinary American Catholics likely to do about it? Yeah, I mean the folks 54% of whom voted for Obama in 2008. Talk about sheep to the slaughter! The chaplain of my local Latin Mass community pointed out that there is nothing new about this – i.e. about Catholics lying down and playing dead in the face of intrusive and persecutory policies on the part of the government. We have tolerated every fresh assault ever since the country was young, so what reason would the government have to expect us to stand firm now? Everyone knows that Catholics have been, historically, tolerated in this country as a source of cheap labor and Democratic votes, but have never been more than second-class citizens. Even John F. Kennedy had to, basically, apostatize in order to keep his campaign for president alive... and it still didn't do him any good in the long run. No, anti-Catholicism has been part of the life blood of America since its founding, and I suppose that we can only claim to have held our own in the areas of primary and secondary education and big-city politics. But even that is a thing of the past, since parochial schools have fallen on hard times and the (admittedly corrupt) big-city machines have fallen victim to the ethnic cleansing of blue-collar whites from the cities. So there's really nothing left of Catholic political or social power these days – and the final blow was (or was supposed to be) the exposure of “pedophile priests” in every diocese and parish. So the Catholic Church in this country is, undoubtedly, on the ropes, politically speaking, without a friend in the world – which means that it's ripe for the picking, especially if you're a Democratic/liberal power-hungry demagogue (including those who are nominally Catholic).

And, for that matter, what is “the Catholic vote”? Does it really exist? I say that it doesn't, for the simple reason that, statistically, the “Catholic vote” is indistinguishable from that of the general populace. And when there is no statistically-significant difference, you have to conclude that the groups are, for all intents and purposes, the same. So if most people would have no objection to the government imposing its own “health care” values on Catholic institutions, why should Catholics? Why, in particular, should Catholics who themselves make use of artificial birth control and even, heaven forbid, abortion? As far as they're concerned, the government is simply validating what they already felt to be the case – that the Church was being a fuddy-duddy, and behind the times, and imposing their rules and standards on everybody.

Of course, what no one has yet mentioned in the current controversy is that anyone working in a Catholic institution who doesn't like the health-care plan that is offered there is free to leave, or to purchase their own policy outside the institution. It's not as if we're talking about a bunch of slaves here, who have no choice of where to work or whom to work for. Another option – also unmentioned to date – is that the Church simply disengage from the institutions in question. I don't know what their legal relationship is now, but I can't imagine that most of them would not survive being independent – if their services are truly needed. I mean, is a hospital or charitable organization going to go out of business just by ceasing to be “Catholic”? Still another option would be for the Church to simply refuse to cooperate, and take the government to court on the matter – and this seems most likely at this point... more likely than capitulation, which would be a complete disaster, because then all we would have to do is wait for the government's next outrageous demand... like that Catholic hospitals start performing abortions, “or else”.

This is, truly, a time for the Church to stand tall and reclaim the moral high ground – yes, even as the “pedophile priest” cases plod drearily through the courts and new revelations crop up with each passing day. It's time to say that the current generation will no longer put up with attacks and insults – and that the “wall of separation of church and state” has to operate both ways, not just to protect the state from religion (which it does very effectively if you're talking about the Catholic Church) but also to protect religion from the state.

The problem is, Catholics have such a long history of compromise – of going along to get along. We know that, outside of the old urban enclaves and a few isolated rural areas, we are in a vast landscape of anti-Catholicism and hostility... or, at the very least, skepticism and distrust. What, after all, was the great fear about John Kennedy? That he would be “more loyal to the Pope than to America”. (Funny how no one seems to have a problem with our politicians being more loyal to Israel than to America...) Well, when it came to JFK, that was the least of their worries – but it's still a good question. If America is a moral country, and if the Catholic Church teaches morality, you would expect their interests and values to seldom, if ever, diverge. Right? The problem is that America embraces a Protestant version of morality, which has little or no use for, for example, Catholic social teachings or “just war” doctrine. So whenever these come into conflict, the Protestants invariably win, while the Catholics are open to charges of disloyalty and not being “real Americans”. And this is, quite simply, why “Catholic” politicians leave the Church behind when they get into politics – the two are incompatible and can never be reconciled. I mean, it must be tough enough to be a politician in a “Catholic country” like Spain or Italy, with all the conflicting pressures; over here it's impossible. And yet, these characters persist in identifying themselves as “Catholic” in the expectation that this will give them some advantage in elections – although if the “Catholic vote” is an illusion, then one has to wonder if it's worth the trouble.

Ideally, the Church should, without delay, excommunicate any politician who supports, in any way, abortion. Occasionally, some isolated bishop threatens to do this, but to my knowledge it has not yet been done. The most they will ever say is that politicians of this sort “have excommunicated themselves”. Yeah, well... whoop-te-do. I think it would more dramatic if they were officially excommunicated, and then driven from church with a flaming sword if they ever tried to receive Communion. That would be the “church militant” -- that would be a church with, if you'll pardon the expression, balls. That would be a church that is unapologetic, assertive, and willing to stand up for its rights, rather than the cringing lap dog we see so much of the time. That would be a church that – come to think of it – acts like the Jews and Moslems do all the time. Imagine that!

It is to the credit of some bishops that they have stood up and protested this most recent offense – and likewise some politicians (even those who are less-than-stellar Catholics). And sure enough, the Obama administration has backed off a bit -- maybe too small a bit to be significant. But it is too little, too late? Is it all too pathetic, like the half-hearted opposition to abortion on the part of the Catholic establishment? Are we afraid that we might wear out our welcome, and be put on boats and shipped back to Europe and Latin America? Well? I mean – what on earth do we have to lose? If the bishops rose up as one man and simply said, do not vote for any politician who supports abortion, period – what's the worst that could happen? Ooo, we might lose our tax-exempt status or something. Well... it's been my observation that, historically speaking, the true moral power of the Catholic Church seems inversely correlated with its material wealth. This is certainly true if you break it down to the level of religious orders, or even dioceses or parishes. We might say that in poverty there is (moral) strength, and in riches there is, inevitably, compromise with the world. What this administration is asking us to do is compromise – fatally – with the world, even when there are no discernible advantages to doing so, and no discernible disadvantages to refusing. If you work day and night for years... decades... centuries to rob the Church of its political and moral influence, what incentives are you then going to offer for its “cooperation”? The answer is – none. We have arrived at the point of brute force... of the last battle between church and state, at least in this country. The Protestants are already fatally compromised, and have been for decades; the Jews have traded their spiritual birthright for a mess of political, social, and economic pottage; the Moslems in this country are the new minority that it's politically correct to hate and oppress... and so who is left to take a stand? Basically, it's the Catholics or no one – and yet we have become so unused to the idea that it seems downright shocking, and possibly in bad taste as well. Wouldn't it be easier just to allow ourselves to sink into the same “melting pot” -- the same morally-indifferent mush as everyone else? But I call to your attention Dore's illustrations of the Inferno – just being in the majority in no guarantee of comfort and security.