Friday, March 27, 2009

The Tyranny of Liberalism: An Interview James Kalb

Below follows an interview with James Kalb who recently authored a book entitled: The Tyranny of Liberalism - Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command. Originally published by, a Catholic news service, I strongly encourage everyone to check out this article and pick up his book! James Kalb is both an author and an attorney

NEW YORK, MARCH 27, 2009 ( Liberals -- on both the Right and Left -- may posit that they favor freedom, reason and the well-being of ordinary people. But some critics believe that liberalism itself erodes the very institutions -- family, religion, local associations -- necessary to restrain its excesses.

One such liberal skeptic is attorney and writer James Kalb, who recently wrote a book entitled, "The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command" (ISI). Kalb explained to ZENIT why he believes liberalism inevitably evolves into a form of soft totalitarianism, or a “dictatorship of relativism,” and why the Church is well positioned to be its preeminent foe.

Q: What is liberalism?

Kalb: We're so much in the middle of it that it's difficult to see it as a whole. You can look at it, though, as an expression of modern skepticism. Skeptical doubts have led to a demand for knowledge based on impersonal observation and devoted to practical goals. Applied to the physical world, that demand has given us modern natural science. Applied to life in society, it has led to a technological understanding of human affairs. If we limit ourselves to impersonal observations, we don't observe the good; we observe preferences and how to satisfy them.

The result is a belief that the point of life is satisfying preferences.

On that view, the basic social issue is whose preferences get satisfied. Liberalism answers that question by saying that all preferences are equal, so they all have an equal claim to satisfaction. Maximum equal satisfaction therefore becomes the rational ordering principle for life in society -- give everyone what he wants, as much and as equally as possible. In other words, give everybody maximum equal freedom.

Q: How can an ideology of freedom become tyrannical?

Kalb: Equal freedom is an open-ended standard that makes unlimited demands when taken seriously. For example, it views non-liberal standards as oppressive, because they limit equal freedom. Liberal government wants to protect us from oppression, so it tries to eradicate those standards from more and more areas of life. The attempt puts liberal government at odds with natural human tendencies. If the way someone acts seems odd to me, and I look at him strangely, that helps construct the social world he's forced to live in. He will find that oppressive.

Liberal government can't accept that, so it eventually feels compelled to supervise all my attitudes about how people live and how I express them. The end result is a comprehensive system of control over all human relations run by an expert elite responsible only to itself. That, of course, is tyranny.

Q: You argue that liberalism, especially its "advanced" form, corrupts and suppresses the traditional aspects of life that defined and kept Western society together for centuries such as religion, marriage, family and local community. How does it do that?

Kalb: Equal freedom isn't the highest standard in those areas of life. They have to do with love and loyalty toward something outside ourselves that defines who we are. That love and loyalty involve particular connections to particular people and their ways of life. Such things cannot be the same for everyone. They create divisions and inequalities. They tell people they can't have things they want. So equal freedom tells us traditional institutions have to be done away with as material factors in people's lives. They have to be debunked and their effects suppressed.

At bottom, liberalism says people have to be neutered to fit into a managed system of equal freedom. They have to be encouraged to devote themselves to satisfactions that don't interfere with the satisfactions of others. In the end, the only permissible goals are career, consumption and various private pursuits and indulgences. That doesn't leave much room for religion or for family or communal values. The only permissible public value is liberalism itself.

Q: How does mass media advance the cause of liberalism?

Kalb: The relationship is almost mechanical. It's one of the great strengths of liberalism. Television and the Internet give us a world chopped up into interchangeable fragments. To make that world comprehensible to journalists and viewers it has to be put in order in a simple way that can be understood quickly without regard to particularities. That's impossible if complex distinctions and local habits are allowed to matter.

For that reason the mass media naturally favor a top-down managerial approach to social life with a bias toward sameness and equality -- in other words, something very much like contemporary liberalism. To put it differently, the mass media prefer things to be discussed publicly and decided centrally based on a simple principle like equality. If that's done they can understand what's going on and what it all means. Also, they themselves will serve an important function because they provide the forum for discussion and the information for decision. That situation naturally seems appropriate to them.

Q: What about the distinction between Anglo-American liberalism and continental liberalism, and their different models of secularism? Is it inaccurate to lump everything together under the heading of "liberalism"?

Kalb: The fundamental principle is the same, so the distinction can't be relied on. In the English-speaking world the social order was traditionally less illiberal than on the continent. King and state were less absolute, the Church had less independent authority, standing armies were out of favor, the aristocracy was less a separate caste, and the general outlook was more commercial and utilitarian. Classical liberalism could be moderate and still get what it wanted. Liberalism is progressive, though, so its demands keep growing. It eventually rejects all traditional ways as illiberal and becomes more and more radical.

For that reason state imposition of liberal norms has become at least as aggressive in Britain and Canada as on the continent. The United States is still somewhat of an exception, but even among us aggressive forms of liberalism are gaining ground. They captured the academy, the elite bar and the media years ago, and they're steadily gaining ground among the people. The international dizziness about President Obama and the violent reaction to the narrow victory of Proposition 8 concerning same-sex marriage in California show the direction things are going.

Q: Does rejecting "liberalism" mean rejecting freedom of conscience, political equality, free markets and other supposed benefits of "liberalism"?

Kalb: No. A society can still have those things to the extent they make sense. They just need to be subordinated, at least in principle, to a larger order defined by considerations like the good life.The Church has noted, for example, that free markets are an excellent thing in many ways. They just aren't the highest thing. The same principle applies to other liberal ideals.

Q: Both Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII condemned liberalism, but it seems the Church has embraced it since the Second Vatican Council in its defense of democracy and human rights. The tone of Church social teaching has also focused more on influencing liberal institutions, and less on shaping individuals, families, and local communities. How does one account for this shift in the Church's attitude?

Kalb: The Church apparently decided modernity was here to stay. Liberal modernity looked better than fascist modernity or Bolshevik modernity. It claimed to be a modest and tolerant approach to government that let culture and civil society develop in their own way. So the Church decided to accept and work within it. Also, the development of the mass media and consumer society, and the growth of state education and industrial social organization generally, meant Catholics were more and more drawn into liberal ways of thinking.

Hostility to liberalism became difficult to maintain within the Church. The problem, though, is that liberal modernity is extremely critical and therefore intolerant. In order to cooperate with it you have to do things its way.The recent, virulent attacks on Pope Benedict for many different reasons by the liberal elite illustrate that phenomenon perfectly. For that reason, if there's going to be joint social action today, it inevitably focuses on extending liberal institutions rather than promoting local and traditional institutions like the family, which are intrinsically non-liberal. Many people in the Church have come to accept that.

Q: You argue that religion can be the unifying force that offers resistance to advanced liberalism, and that the Catholic Church is the spiritual organization most suited to that task. Why do you think so?

Kalb: To resist advanced liberalism you have to propose a definite social outlook based on goods beyond equal freedom and satisfaction. A conception of transcendent goods won't stand up without a definite conception of the transcendent, which requires religion. And a religious view won't stand up in public life unless there's a definite way to resolve disputes about what it is. You need the Pope. Catholics have the Pope, and they also have other advantages like an emphasis on reason and natural law. As a Catholic, I'd add that they have the advantage of truth.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Does Washing Feet Mean Only Service?

Chapters 13-17 in the Gospel of John are perhaps my favorite back-to-back chapters of any biblical book. In case you don’t already know, these chapters describe what happened at the Last Supper and they tend to leave out what was included in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) while adding details not previously revealed by those earlier Gospels. This is because the synoptics were written between the 40s and the 60s while John’s Gospel was written in the 90s. Some may wonder why John does not give an account of the institution of the Eucharistic banquet. This, however, is because it was accounted for in the synoptics, by Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians, was being lived out in the 90s through the Sunday liturgy, and was largely discussed by John in the Book of Revelation which he wrote in the mid to late 60s.

If you read these chapters, you will notice that they are bookended with the purification of the priesthood (chapter 13) and church unity (chapter 17). Most sermons I hear regarding the washing of the Apostles’ feet by Jesus in chapter 13 describe the act merely as a call to serving others. Jesus himself said: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet” (John 13:14). But does Jesus here mean that washing each others’ feet is only a call to serving one another?

I say no.

When Jesus washed the feet, he saw the Apostles as an organic whole – as the leadership of the Church. Peter, brash as usual, protested. To him Jesus seemed to say that Peter was both clean but not all clean. At first this may sound confusing, but the following verse clarifies it: “For [Jesus] knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, ‘Not all of you are clean’” (John 12:11). Jesus was using the water cleansing as a means of purifying the apostolic leadership, just as baptism cleanses the soul of sin through water. In fact, this event closes with the expulsion of Judas from the group.

The thing that is so important about Holy Thursday is that Jesus gave us Himself in the Eucharist that night through the institution of the priesthood. When Jesus said “Do this in memory of me,” the Greek words connote a sacrificial, continual recapitulation of the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. What’s more, if the priests are here to confect and dispense the Eucharist, they must themselves remain pure and holy and the must hold each other accountable! We especially need this message today!

Jesus said: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). So I have to ask: does the Holy Thursday feet-washing of random church-goers really encapsulate the meaning that Jesus gave it? Do people understand this as the purification of the priests by their bishop? I think many see it in light of their own inflated self-worth (or sometimes self-worship). What happens is that many peoples’ eyes are turned inwards (on themselves) and not turned upwards (to God).

Perhaps what we need is a little more responsibility, a little more holiness, a little more purification, and a lot more liturgical common sense!

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but if Catholics really want to exemplify the message of the feet-washing in their own lives, perhaps they need to expel the impurity in their community and in their country. Here in the U.S., Catholics need stop looking to the bishops as the ones who tell them who to vote for and instead start living out their lives based on the Gospel in which they believe. Maybe it’s time for us to clean up our own house and get rid of pseudo-Catholic politicians like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Rudy Giuliani.

Only then will the purifying waters lead to the life-giving love our world really needs.

Obama as Notre Dame's 2009 Commencement Speaker – Catholics React!

I was quite pleased to hear about a petition against Obama’s speaking at Notre Dame – and even more so when I found out that Archbishop Chaput is openly supporting it. The idea of allowing Obama the privilege of giving the commencement address for students of perhaps the most well-known Catholic university in the country is abhorrent. What’s worse, the school wants to give him an honorary doctorate – in Law! How could a man, who has twisted the law and the Founding Fathers to justify abortion, be entitled to an honorary law doctorate?

It makes me want to drive out there and protest!

Many, however, already are. Notre Dame students have recently published an open letter to the President of the college, Fr. John Jenkins. What’s more, the national petition against Obama’s presence is moving forward and I encourage all of you to sign it! We really cannot let Obama, who unfortunately won the Catholic vote this election, rub his anti-Catholic and anti-human agenda in our faces at our most prestigious university.

It’s a slap in the face of Catholics and a slap in the face of our Blessed Mother, the patroness of the university!

So I ask you all to fight through word and prayer!

In other Indiana-related Catholic news, the bishop of the Evansville diocese (Bishop Gettelfinger) seems ready to snub a GOP event if Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele addresses the crowd of 4,500 people. Steele, an African-American Catholic, made headlines in recent days over what appeared to be his mixed stance on abortion. What’s worse, there is fear that the bishop’s stand against Steele may hurt the evening’s VIP: Sarah Palin. Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee with John McCain, is well-known for her pro-life position – a position that she has both practiced and preached.

With all this going on, I can’t help but join the fourth-century Christians in praying: "Sancta María, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatóribus…"

And let us not forget the prayer leading to the victorious Battle of Lepanto:

Our Lady of Victory
Ora pro nobis!

UPDATE: The Associated Press just ran an article on the petition - which now has over 28,000 signatures (including yours truly). The article is of course slanted. It seems that if your organization is opposed to abortion it gets the label "conservative Roman Catholic group" applied to it! Anyway, feel free to read it and, if it's accurate, we may have to go protest on May 17!

My Beef with Neo-Conservatives

There’s an old saying: “If you’re not a liberal at age twenty, you’re heartless; if you’re not a conservative by thirty, you’re brainless.” That being said, at twenty-five I can’t say that I find myself directly between both sides. In fact, I have no problem saying that I’m not a liberal Democrat! At the same time, I can’t seem to say that I am all for what the neo-conservative movement has been about. Or maybe I should call it the neo-neo-conservative movement – but I’m really not sure if "neo-neo" could even apply to someone as old as John McCain!

In any case, this past presidential election was evidence enough that foreign policy and matters of war were what the Republican Party was really stressing though their candidate. It became the party of national security more than the party of life. This, however, is not to say that national security (and the defense of Israel in particular) isn’t important, but rather that everything we do in our lives – including politics – must be formed by the Christian foundation and natural moral law that our Founding Fathers so clearly espoused in the eighteenth century. Obviously the Far Left has thrown these principles aside, but it seems as if more and more Republicans are doing so as well. There are, unfortunately, many examples of this.

Let’s begin with Republicans in Left-leaning states. This is what at first made me leery of Mitt Romney in the ultra-Left state of Massachusetts and what makes me so glad that the Constitution keeps those like Governor Ahh-nold of Ahh-stria from being president. They tend to compromise on the moral issues in order to please others. They call themselves “fiscal” conservatives (which is in itself okay) but are then “social liberals” on matters of, say, abortion or gay “rights”. Romney, though campaigning on a pro-life stance, has had a mixed record on the matter and did strike some as holding a potentially compromised position on the issue of life. Giuliani, however, was clearly the pro-lifers’ nightmare. Granted I have an unparalleled respect for the man, I could never vote for him due to his untenable position on life’s most vulnerable. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is another example of a “conservative” willing to trade millions of innocent lives for political gain. Besides Arnold, Hollywood’s conservatives also have a stained record. Clint Eastwood, whose newest movie (Gran Torino) has proven to be perhaps the most morally remarkable of his career, recently directed a movie that overtly supported euthanasia!

John McCain, however, seemed to become the “acceptable” middle candidate. Like Giuliani, I have a great deal of respect for McCain. Nevertheless, how he could say that abortion is evil and yet tolerate embryonic stem cell research is appalling. What difference is there between the embryo in the womb and the embryo outside the womb in a dish? Granted, life should not be artificially created as these embryos are – but we have life and life should be protected! To me, this position for embryonic stem cell research seemed to me to comprise McCain on matters of life in general. He was, however, a much better candidate than Obama – who has since used his skills at defending the deaths of children to justify the death of our economy as well.

Perhaps the movement away from the Christian ideal began with members inside the Bush Administration. President Bush, it should be said, ran this country in as thoroughly a Christian manner as could be expected from a man of his convictions. He was devout and faithful and his leadership, by and large, reflected this.

One problem, however, was in Donald Rumsfeld. As Secretary of Defense, he helped shape the militaristic foundation of the neo-neo conservative agenda. What’s more, he appointed the man whose job it was to assign chief offices in the military. This man, a homosexual proponent, sought to make open homosexuality an acceptable “orientation” in the military and gave a speech in which he strategized how he could make homosexuality in the military a part of the soldier’s everyday life! Is this the kind of leadership we want in the military?!

In conclusion, I believe the GOP is typically by far the lesser of two evils – but Christians must be vigilant of both parties, never assuming that one is obviously the best. The Church teaches that we must closely examine each candidate and not vote for a single party or vote based on a single issue. The biggest problem, however, is that we have to choose the lesser of two evils! Christians need to stop being prudent, pragmatic, and practical and start standing up for what is true, good, and beautiful. They need to speak out and get involved! Jesus Christ, the light of the world, cannot be put under a basket and be hidden from the world. Instead, he must be proclaimed by our words and our actions – especially the actions of those who call themselves Christian politicians.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Poliltical Divorce Letter

Hilarious divorce letter to the Far Left. Biting, yes, but absolutely hilarious!

Dear American extreme liberals, leftists, social progressives, socialists, Marxists and Far Left Obama supporters, et al:

We have stuck together since the late 1950's, but the whole of this latest election process has made me realize that I want a divorce. I know we tolerated each other for many years for the sake of future generations, but sadly, this relationship has run its course. Our two ideological sides of America cannot and will not ever agree on what is right so let's just end it on friendly terms. We can smile and chalk it up to irreconcilable differences and go our own way.

Here is a model separation agreement:

Our two groups can equitably divide up the country by landmass each taking a portion. That will be the difficult part, but I am sure our two sides can come to a friendly agreement. After that, it should be relatively easy! Our respective representatives can effortlessly divide other assets since both sides have such distinct and disparate tastes.

We don't like redistributive taxes so you can keep them. You are welcome to the liberal judges and the ACLU. Since you hate guns and war, we'll take our firearms, the cops, the NRA and the military. You can keep Oprah, Michael Moore and Rosie O'Donnell (You are, however, responsible for finding a bio-diesel vehicle big enough to move all three of them).

We'll keep the hot Alaskan hockey moms, greedy CEO's and rednecks. We'll keep the Bibles and give you NBC and Hollywood.

You can make nice with Iran and Palestine and we'll retain the right to invade and hammer places that threaten us. You can have the peaceniks and war protesters. When our allies or our way of life are under assault, we'll help provide them security.

We'll keep our Judeo-Christian values. You are welcome to Scientology, Humanism, and Shirley Mclain. You can also have the U.N. but we will no longer be paying the bill.

We'll keep the SUVs, pickup trucks and oversized luxury cars. You can take every Subaru station wagon you can find.

You can give everyone healthcare if you can find any practicing doctors. We'll continue to believe healthcare is a luxury and not a right. We'll keep The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the National Anthem. I'm sure you'll be happy to substitute Imagine, I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing, We Are the World, or Kum Ba Ya.

We'll practice trickle down economics and you can give trickle up poverty your best shot. Since it often so offends you, we'll keep our history, our name and our flag.

Sound’s like a good deal to me!

I love my Archbishop!

In 96 AD, Pope St. Clement I (who was ordained by St. Peter and thought by some early Christians to have been mentioned by name in Philippians 4:3) wrote to the Corinthians, who were always falling into fresh doctrinal or moral crises, and said: “Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.”

This early reference to Apostolic succession, made even clearer by Christians in the second century, makes the words of my archbishop, Archbishop John Nienstedt, all the more powerful in my heart. As a direct successor of one of the Apostles, he has particularly been charged with the preaching, the leading, and the giving of God’s spiritual gifts to Christians in the Twin Cities and in way to the state as a whole.

Below is from an interview with the archbishop about Lent, culture, evangelization, and how Christians must make continuing conversion to the Lord a part of their daily lives. What’s more, he also describes what I do as the Director of my parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) Program. So if you’d also like to learn a little bit of what (part of) my job is like, read on! Oh, did I mention the Archbishiop rocks?

From the Archbishop:

When I first came to the Archdiocese [of St. Paul-Minneapolis], people wanted to know what my agenda was. I was asked that question so many times that I said, “Do you know what the
Catechism of the Catholic Church looks like?” Well, bring that out, and that’s my agenda.” Now obviously there are priorities in that agenda. The Catechism
is over 600 pages long and you’re not going to be able to realize every aspect of that this week, or even this year, or even in one tenure as an archbishop. I believe that we must turn to the Church and ask, what does the Church want [of us during Lent]?

I think the name itself gives us an indication. Lent derives from the word for springtime. I think of the late, beloved Pope John Paul II, who called for a new springtime in the Church. A new springtime of grace, and new springtime of evangelization, a new springtime of energy and a passion for preaching and living the teaching of Christ.

I would like to see Lent be looked upon not as a heavy burden when we have to give up something or be penitential. We do, but we should be both positive and negative in our Lenten resolutions. There should be something that I decide to do over and above what I normally do, and there should be things that I am willing to give up to make sacrifices. I must call upon the whole of myself – we are body and soul – and the body has to be denied certain things in order for the soul to center itself more singularly on the Lord and His presence.

I have said before that Lent is all about the Easter Vigil [the Mass the evening before Easter Sunday] – about waking with our catechumens [ancient title for those to be baptized] and our candidates [those baptized but not members of the Catholic Church], many of whom are responding to the Lord for the first time through the Church. Maybe it’s not the first time for the candidates, but certainly the catechumens, who have not been baptized, are walking towards that wonderful celebration of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion. It seems to me that that has to take a central place in our understanding of what Lent is about. We walk with these people who are so eager to receive the Lord in His sacramental presence, to receive Him anew in His word and through the teachings of the Catholic Church.

For me, as a priest, one of the greatest joys I had was teaching and walking with both catechumens and candidates through the RCIA process. That process, you know, begins with a period of evangelization, in which they hear the word of God and respond to it. We enter into the actual ritual of the catechumenate, and then there’s a period of purification and enlightenment, and through that we move to the Easter Vigil, and through the Easter Vigil into the period of mystagogia, putting this into practice. All of that is terribly exciting. Our hope turns to those people who are receiving the Lord for the first time.

But again, the whole idea is that I’m baptized once, yes, but I continue to grow in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I continue to grow in my participation in the Church. I continue to reach out to those who are in need, extending myself in the corporal works of mercy. All of us need to be re-energized and accept that ongoing conversion of my heart, my mind, and my attitudes in life.

This is particularly important in the times in which we are living. We live in a very materialistic society. We live in a very individualistic society. We live in a hedonistic society, where sex is everywhere, and it so often is denigrated from what its sacral purposes are: top bring spouses into union with one another and to give rise to the procreation of children. All of us are affected b these “ism,” if you will. Lent is a particular time to stand back and to renew the grace of our Baptism, the grace of our Confirmation, the grace of every Eucharist we receive.

Lent is our universal retreat. I like to look upon Lent as the time when all Catholics and all Christians of good will go on retreat. Retreat is to take a look at not only the call that I have, but how I’m living that call. So, obviously, the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is so important in that particular context, because I need to recognize sin. Part of the problem we have in our Church and our world today is that all these evil things are going on – terrorism, rape, sexual abuse – and nobody sees it as sin. They are grave evils, but no one takes it personally that this is really sinful activity. It’s destructive of the human person. It’s destructive of human society.

More than ever, I think, in this particular time in which we live, Lent is an important time for us to focus on what it is the Lord is calling us to be.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Published in the Newspaper Once Again!

I must say I was pretty surprised to see I was in the paper today - being that I only submitted this late yesterday. Nevertheless, it was a topic that was on my heart and I really needed to speak out about it, especially to other Christians. So far the newspaper's website is buzzing with fundamentalist and evangelical protestants protesting Catholicism while the liberals protest Christianity. It simply reminds me of Chesterton's saying: "When one says you're too short and another says your're too tall it usually means that the first person is too tall and the second too short while you're right were you should be."

Anyway, here it is:

Some media outlets have described the debate on embryonic stem cell research in purely religious terms. Needless to say, it is true that those with strong religious convictions are most likely to speak out against the killing of human life. At its core, embryonic stem cell research is the artificial creation and consequent dismemberment of innocent human beings for the sake of scientific progress. That last sentence should be evidence enough that the issue is not merely a religious one.

Nevertheless, I am very disappointed with the number of Christian leaders who support such research. As a Catholic, I do adhere to the teachings of the Church. This is in part due to her authority. That authority, however, is not an authority to invent teachings or morals but rather an authority to faithfully hand on what Jesus instructed.

When Jesus commanded us to clothe the naked and feed the poor (Matthew 25), the Catholic Church went into the slums, pulled people from the gutters, cleaned them, fed them, clothed them – and in many cases, even died for them. The Church built hospitals and schools that served local communities for decades. When Jesus condemned divorce (Matthew 5), the Church cannot but hold to his words. When Jesus said to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6), the Church must continue to teach that holy Communion is substantially his body and blood.

And now with the life issues, when Jesus commanded us to let the children come to him and offered a “Millstone-of-the-Month” award to those who harm them (Matthew 18-19), the Catholic Church does not, nor any Christian worthy of the name, have the right to condone their destruction. During the Cold War, Bishop Fulton Sheen said that Communist Russia was the cross without Christ and America was Christ without the cross. I challenge Christian leaders not to run from Christ and his cross of truth, but rather embrace them for they alone shall set us free.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Examining Catholicism: The Word of God and the Catholic Church

Last time we briefly explored the relationship between faith and reason. In this article, we shall examine the role that reason can play in having logical certainty about the Word of God and the Church.

As we have already said, reason opens one up to accepting the truths of faith. These truths of faith, however, never contradict what can be known by reason but are nevertheless beyond what reason can fully understand. They are mysteries. “Mysteries,” as one Catholic apologist once said, “are not something we can’t know anything about; they’re something we can’t know everything about” (Frank Sheed, emphasis mine). The two questions for us today, however, are: (1) where do we find a the truths of faith, and (2) how do we know these and their sources are true?

The first question is easy to answer: the truths of faith are found in divine revelation. This fact is acknowledged by both the ancient and the modern philosopher. If there is a God who is wholly beyond our complete understanding, it would be up to Him to reveal Himself (i.e. through divine revelation). Thus, aside from knowing through reason that there is an infinite, all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful God, anything more is a matter of God’s word about Himself. More still, the proper relationship we should have with Him is also a matter of His word.

And speaking of God’s word, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Word of God. Perhaps when I say this, the image that springs to your mind is a leather-bound book with a cross on the cover. Well, true enough, Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God; the divinely inspired self-revelation of God in writing.

What makes Christianity distinct from other religions, however, is not the idea of a written divine revelation – Jews and Muslims, for example, believe in the Torah and the Koran. What makes Christianity distinct are two key beliefs (called dogmas): the Incarnation and the Trinity – and both are bound intimately to the Word of God. The dogma of the Trinity is the belief that God, by being so personal and one, He is actually three. While that sounds like a contradiction, it is nevertheless a mystery beyond reason’s ability to fully understand.

We shall nevertheless examine the Trinity more closely, if only briefly.

God is Himself a unity of three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One way to conceive of these persons is to understand that the personal God, as being such, must have a self-thought or conception of himself. Every person has some kind of self-image or idea of himself. For God, however, being infinite, His begotten self-image contains all that He is. This self-image or thought is itself so real that it is a Person – a divine Son! The two are one as a Thinker is one with His Thought, yet distinct as a Father is from a Son. The Thought of God, that is the Son, turns back towards the Father instead of turning inwards on Himself and producing another self-thought. From this turning and union in love proceeds the Holy Spirit – the Personal life and love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father.

Or put another way: Christians believe God is love. If this is true, then God must be three for there are three ingredients to love: a lover, a beloved, and a relationship between them. In God, these three ingredients are divine Persons. It’s also important to remember that God’s triune existence does not imply a causal relationship between the Persons. This would mean that the Father in some way created the Son and then the two brought about the existence of the Holy Spirit. Rather, insofar as God is, God must eternally be three.

Okay, that was some heady theology and philosophy to be sure. One could spend his whole life contemplating that mystery – and thank goodness we have all eternity for that!

Looking at the other distinct belief of Christianity, the Incarnation, we understand that God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, assumed a human nature in the person of Jesus Christ so that the human race might find salvation through, with, and in Him. The Incarnation does not mean that Jesus Christ is half God or part God or not God at all, but rather that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly human; one hundred percent both. Again a great mystery of faith but nevertheless not opposed to human reason.

By now you might be wondering what the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation have to do with the Word of God. Well, put simply, Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Remember we said earlier that God the Son is the thought or self-image of God? As it turns out, the Greek term for thought or idea is logos. Logos is also translated into English as “word” – which is why St. John opened his Gospel with the following reference to the Trinity and the Incarnation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14)

But more to the point, it is in Jesus Christ that “the fullness of God dwells” (Colossians 2:19) and in whom the fullness of God’s revelation comes. As the author of Hebrews said: “In many and various ways, God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is the fullness of divine revelation and is communicated uniquely through the Bible which is the written word of God. This brings us to our second question.

How do we know that Scripture truly is authentic?

Some have argued that the Bible is self-authenticating. They use the Second Letter to Timothy in which St. Paul says: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Notice here that St. Paul says scripture is useful and not the sole source of truth, refutation, correction, and training in righteousness. Nevertheless, no infallible source can prove itself. It would be like someone saying: “I’m infallible” and then when asked for proof of their infallibility, they simple say: “Because I said so.”

We simply need more rational evidence of scriptures inspirited inerrancy.

For this we have to look back a bit at history. As you probably already knew, the Bible was written by many people and some didn’t even speak the same language. At first, the words of the Bible were passed down by oral tradition and then put into writing. This is even true of much of the New Testament. Saints Mark and Luke were the disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and their Gospels were simply the words of Peter and Paul as remembered by these disciples.

The big issue that most people forget is the question of which books should go in the Bible. There was no divine canon (list of books) dropped down from heaven in regards to which books made the cut and which didn’t. At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther thought the Epistle of James and the Book of Revelation should both be taken out of the Bible. In more recent times, Mormons have sought to include their Book of Mormon into the list of inspired books.

The big year to remember, however, is the year 386. It was in this year that Pope St. Damasus I convened a synod (a gathering of priests and bishops) which decided the list of books in the Bible. It was also from this synod that St. Jerome was commissioned to translate the Bible from Greek into Latin, the language of the people in Western Europe. In any case, it was the Catholic Church, led by the pope and the Holy Spirit, that decided which books were inspired and which were not. It was only when some Christians rejected the authority of the Catholic Church that other books could be thrown out while others brought in. It’s certainly one reason why the Da Vinci Code, which implicitly argues for certain heretical books condemned by the Catholic Church, was itself such a popular book.

Okay, so we’ve seen that the Catholic Church has some pivotal involvement with the Bible, but to what extent? Let’s go back a bit and work through the logical steps of belief in the Bible.

The first thing to do is to simply look at the Bible as a good historical reference. Add into this the other historical documents of the period – like letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Letter of St. Clement, and the Didache. Not only are all these texts written by first century authors, but they were contemplated as candidates for scripture. Ignatius, for example, is said to be the child who sat on the lap of Christ in the Gospels – he later became the Bishop of Antioch, was arrested, and one day fed to lions in the Coliseum.

With this in mind, we look to God and we can know by reason alone that he exists. From this point we look to history and find a man named Jesus who worked miracles, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. If we read the first century texts about him, we find that he claimed not only to teach us about God but that he in fact was God. At this point, faith must play a role. Shall we believe in this Jesus or not? Whether or not scripture is inspired plays no role – and when it comes down to it, the person needs the grace of the Holy Spirit to move any further.

When one has accepted Christ, the next step is not simply to read the Bible as the word of God but to try to understand what it means to be a Christian. If one looks at history, he will see that Jesus worked very closely with twelve men and it was to these men that he entrusted his own ministry. At the Ascension, Jesus instructed the Apostles to: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

This task of teaching, governing, and sanctifying was given specially to the Apostles. Again, if one reads the history of the Church, he would see that the Apostles passed their authority to the bishops. When a crisis confronted the Church in the first century, the Apostles gathered and, guided by the Holy Spirit, made a decision that affected all Christians (see Acts 15). Towards the end of the first century and into the second, the heresy of Gnosticism began to spread and many Christians didn’t know who to believe. The bishops at the time then spoke out and let the Christians know that they were the successors of the Apostles and that to be united with them was to be in union with the truth and the true Church.

Next time we shall take a look at what the key characteristics of the Church are, but let us quickly conclude our step-by-step logic of Christianity. Once one has accepted the Apostolic role of the Christianity (that Jesus structured his Church on the leadership of the Apostles) then one can accept the Church in its apostolic and authoritative dimension. It is only from this point that one would have the logical grounds to accept the Bible as the word of God.

So let’s recap: first one believes in and accepts God as infallible because he is God. From here, based on history, one accepts Christ as God the Son incarnate who suffered for our salvation and is also infallible because he too is God. From this point, the Church as the body and bride of Christ is accepted based on the historical claims made by the infallible Christ. This Church, which is guided by the apostles and their successors, the bishops, is infallible based again on Christ who said he would send the apostles the Holy Spirit – which would lead them “into all truth” (John 15: ). The Church would in turn, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, compose and compile the Bible. Thus, the inerrancy of the Bible can be known by the infallibility of the Church that created it.

In other words, the Church is a crucial link in Christianity’s chain of logic.

But before we conclude, we must ask: is there anything wrong with someone believing the Bible is the word of God without having first reasoned his way into the Church? Well, no because the Bible is in fact the word of God. It is, logically speaking however, jaywalking. The person who does this has cut corners and, unfortunately, left others who are more reason-based behind.

Of course, there’s much more to be said about divine revelation and the Church – but in the next article we’ll take a look at how the first Christians identified the Church.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Examining Catholicism: Faith and Reason

When examining the Catholic Church, the first question one should ask himself is: how do faith and reason relate to each other. Unfortunately, as a result of theology influenced by modern philosophy, many Christians (and secular humanists) today see the two as very much opposed. The humanist would say that reason is above faith while a Christian might say that faith is above reason. This, however, is a case of modern thought being juxtaposed into a matter that was rarely questioned by members of the Church prior to the 1500s.

True enough, historic Christianity looked at faith as the means to see the truths that are beyond the capacity for human reason to fully understand, but the Church always taught that faith and reason never contradict each other. Reason is like pondering about the moon while standing on the surface of the Earth and faith is like the rocket that can take us to the moon itself for deeper study. What’s more, once one has reached the moon via the rocket (faith) he can examine the moon using the tools he had on Earth (reason).

The moon, in this analogy, is like God and our relationship to Him. Once we have a means to know Him and to know more about Him, we can begin to use reason to better clarify our understanding and to see the order and structure of the truths He has revealed to us through faith.

But let’s back up for a moment. The most important concept to understand right away is: reason can be first used to point us towards God and a relationship with God but faith is needed to take the next step. As one Catholic covert and philosopher put it: reason is the car that gets us to the ocean (God); faith is the act of jumping off the pier for the Great Swim.

Before we continue, you should ask yourself: does this description of the relationship between faith and reason sound right to me? Is this the view I’ve been raised with? Does this sound acceptable?

If you answered ‘no’ to two or more of these questions, I offer some examples of Biblical and historical uses where faith and reason were understood this way. First the Biblical: St. Paul said to the Romans: “For what can be known about God is plain to [the gentiles], because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20, emphasis mine).

When in Greece, St. Paul used a similar line of argumentation to open the gentiles’ minds to the one true God when he said that God “made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him…” (Acts 17:26-27, emphasis mine)

In one last Biblical example, again with St. Paul, we read that “In past generations [God] allowed all gentiles to go their own ways; yet, in bestowing his goodness, he did not leave himself without witness, for he gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filled you with nourishment and gladness for your hearts” (Acts 14:16-17, emphasis mine).

Finally, a quote from a great convert and saint –Augustine, who said: “Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air… question the beauty of the sky… question all these realities. All respond: ‘See, we are beautiful.’ Their beauty is a profession [witness]. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One who is not subject to change?” (Sermons of Augustine, emphasis mine).

In all these cases, the argument has been to use reason in order that one might be open to faith. In no way has reason been used to usurp faith nor has it been assumed that reason is worthless – for if reason were worthless it would not have been used in the first place. Or the Catechism of the Catholic Church concisely describes faith and reason: “[reason] can predispose one to faith and help one to see that faith is not opposed to reason” (CCC 35).

A Spoiler-Free Review of The Watchmen - The WORST Movie of the Year!

In response to my good friend's request for a spoiler-free review of The Watchmen, I have provided this decent review (from the Catholic-run website Decent Films). To be honest, I loathed this movie. I left feeling like I needed to go to Confession or bathe in holy water or something in order to cleanse myself of the absolute evil of this movie. I'm not sure if this review will convince you not to go (which I don't think is its aim), let me tell you now: do NOT see this movie!

And on a side note, you'll notice some links to other movie reviews by Steven Greydanus (who wrote this review). Please feel free to read them and other reviews at his website. He gives ratings for: Overall Recommendability (A-F), Artistic Merit (1-4 stars), and Moral-Spiritual Content (ranging from +4 to - 4). In the case of Watchmen, it revceived a D, 3 stars, and -3 overal. I'd have been harsher personally.

Now as promised, the Review for Watchmen:

Along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, also released in the late 1980s, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen redefined what comic-book art was capable of being and accomplishing. I was an art student studying cartooning when Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns first appeared; heady times for comic-book enthusiasts.

In my review of Miller’s ill-advised recent cinematic take on Will Eisner’s The Spirit, I wrote that The Spirit had been the Citizen Kane of comic-book art, and The Dark Knight Returns had been The Godfather. Watchmen does not suggest a similar cinematic analogy, but reading it one might be at turns reminded of Dr. Strangelove, Bonnie and Clyde, Dirty Harry, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Taxi Driver.

It is a work of remarkable density and sophistication, a deconstruction of the superhero genre rather than, like Dark Knight Returns, a reinvention and a deepening of it. Subversive, cynical and nihilistic, Watchmen paints a universe in which Heath Ledger’s Joker from last year’s cinematic The Dark Knight would feel right at home — in fact, he might just find it a world in which there was nothing for him to do.

In this world, the amoral Comedian, who regards life as a meaningless joke, is one of the so-called heroes. The psychotic Rorschach schizophrenically sees the world in morally black and white terms while simultaneously regarding morality as a projection of human meaning onto meaningless patterns. Dr. Manhattan, the only figure in the story with obvious super-powers, is so detached from humanity by his godlike status and quantum perspective that he has a hard time seeing a meaningful difference between life and death. Then there’s an Olympian figure who sets out to save the world by an act more monstrous than the Joker’s wildest machinations.

On one level, Moore sought to craft a narrative exploring what masked vigilanteism might look like in the real world, with flawed and marginal characters rather than the altruistic do-gooders of traditional comic-book mythology. On another level, although he made some effort to imbue his characters with varying outlooks, Moore’s anarchic, atheistic worldview clearly informs the narrative as a whole.

The story could be called a critique of super-hero hubris, of those who in setting out to help mankind set themselves above the rest of humanity. The title alludes to the Roman poet Juvenal’s pointed query, “Who watches the watchmen?” (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?) The climax threatens to rip the rug from under traditional heroism altogether — until a final twist rips the rug from under the climax, and the story seems to end as it began, with a meaningless, deadly joke.

Why have I spent six paragraphs of a movie review talking about the source material? Because Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is not only the most faithful cinematic comic-book adaptation ever created, it is possibly the single most faithful cinematic adaptation of any source material, ever.

No medium other than comic book–style sequential art could ever inform a film adaptation to the same degree, since movies and comics are uniquely fusions of visual and literary art. The most faithful imaginable film version of a novel could never owe as much to its source as Snyder’s Watchmen owes to the graphic novel, since composition, visual point of view, set and character design, even physical details of casting choices have all been influenced to a degree beyond the novelist’s art.

This isn’t to say there was no opportunity for creative choices on the part of the filmmakers. To begin with, the book is a work of such density that choices had to be made what to include. The need for compression has led to new images and sequences, especially in the striking title sequence. Adjustments have been made here and there, sometimes to good effect — most notably regarding a climactic device, where the spirit of the original is honored in the breach by a clever twist. In a word, Watchmen is the anti-Spirit, and that can only be a good thing.

Some choices are less welcome than others. The creative title sequence, offering iconic snapshots of the movie’s alternate history set to the strains of Dylan’s “The Times They are A-Changin’,” restages the famous Life magazine V‑J Day photo of a sailor kissing a nurse with a masked hero in the sailor role, but makes it a lesbian heroine named Silhouette who never appears onscreen in the book — and then depicts Silhouette and a female lover murdered in bed with the words “lesbian whores” blazoned on the walls.

This psycho-homophobia motif is original to the film (the novel refers to the unseen Silhouette as a lesbian and mentions her murder by a revenge-seeking enemy). For a moment it seems Watchmen might go the way of V for Vendetta, another Alan Moore adaptation in which persecution of homosexuals was a major theme — but it ends there, with maximum gratuitous effect. Wasn’t Rorschach’s bloviating against homosexuals and liberals enough for Snyder?

While casting choices are generally excellent, some of the comic-book characters are actually more ordinary-looking than their movie counterparts. As Nite Owl, Patrick Wilson is fitter and more conventionally handsome than Gibbons’s slightly dumpy rendering of the character, and Matthew Goode is both prettier and more lightweight than Gibbons’s Ozymandias/Veidt, who’s supposed to be the world’s smartest human (my friend Lawrence Toppman cracks that Goode’s Veidt is only the smartest runway model). On the other hand, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian and Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre seem to have walked off the comic-book page, and Jackie Earle Haley makes a splendid Rorschach, growling like Clint Eastwood by way of Christian Bale’s Dark Knight, which is just what he should sound like. (He actually sounds better than Bale, darn it — doesn’t sound like he’s trying, or digitally enhanced.)

Billy Crudup provides the tranquil voice and motion-capture physical performance for the computer-generated Dr. Manhattan, who’s a splendid special effect — light-years beyond, say, the second Fantastic Four’s Silver Surfer — though his bulging, ripped CGI muscles go beyond even the perfect physique of his comic-book counterpart. More crudely, the movie vulgarizes Manhattan’s habitual nudity; where Gibbons’s rare full-frontal shots are as matter-of-fact and “understated” (Gibbons’s word) as classical statuary, in the movie the doctor lets it hang out all over the place — and he’s endowed like a blue CGI porn star, in marked contrast to the comic book.

Other comparatively subtle choices in the book have been coarsened in the film. Where sex in the book is all offscreen, the film offers an extended, fairly explicit sex scene in Nite Owl’s flying ship. The violence, too, has been tarted up for the screen. The graphic novel has a horror-stricken young Rorschach, snapping after making a grisly discovery, chain a human monster inside his apartment, splash kerosene around, drop a match, and walk away, leaving him to burn to death offscreen. In the movie, after chaining him up, Rorschach splits his skull with a meat cleaver, then continues to whack at the skull again and again, all in closeup. Another scene in which a thug’s throat is slit in the comic book becomes a double amputation with a buzz saw.

Last year’s brilliant The Dark Knight showed how effective implied violence and menace could be without spurting blood or unnaturally draped limbs. The R-rated Watchmen is more explicit, but much less effective.

Snyder’s direction is professional but uninspired, especially when it comes to action scenes. Two big scenes, a rescue from a burning building and a prison break, could have been thrilling, but merely go through the motions. A much built-up sequence in which convicts attack the imprisoned Rorschach in his cell peters out in anticlimactically rote action rather than building to a kinetically stunning finale.

Though an impressive achievement on many levels, Watchmen doesn’t connect emotionally. Characters and situations remain distant and uninvolving, a problem not entirely absent in the source material, but aggravated by the compression of the film which necessarily leaves out some of the human detail of the original.

More elusively, as reverently as Watchmen treats its source material, what was groundbreaking in a 1980s graphic novel is old hat in a 2009 action film. Dystopian apocalyptic scenarios, violent antiheroes, graphic violence (and here sex) and so forth had never been seen in mainstream super-hero comic-book art — but there’s nothing new about seeing it on the big screen.

I admire Moore and Gibbons’s work in the graphic novel. I can’t say I like the work as a whole. It’s a super-hero story without heroism — not a story of ambiguous or flawed heroism, like The Dark Knight, but simply non-heroism. A key character in a key scene debunks what he calls the “obvious,” “schoolboy” heroics of a simpler time — but then his own vision is debunked as well in a closing conceit that seems to depict humanity lurching randomly toward meaningless annihilation.

The movie is an impressive work of transposition, but I can’t recommend it. Excessively brutal and sexually graphic as well as nihilistic and and antiheroic, it’s a thoroughgoing deconstruction of humanity as well as heroism, one that takes its world apart without putting it back together again. There are things to admire here, but Watchmen doesn’t make me care. If you can’t care about characters facing the end of the world, perhaps it’s time to turn back the clock and move on.

Recurring graphic, often murderous violence; some sexuality including a lesbian kiss and an extended sex scene with partial male and female nudity; violence against women including an attempted rape and a murder of a pregnant woman; profanity and much obscene and coarse language.