Monday, December 31, 2007

A wish for the New Year

Several years ago, on a New Year's Eve radio show, I heard Karl Haas recite this poem of Alfred Lord Tennyson's. I found it both apt and touching, and now inflict a reading of it upon my helpless family every year.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thoughts of the Curé d'Ars

From the vatious writings of Saint Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney, “the Curé d’Ars,” patron of parish priests:

“God will forgive those who have forgiven: that is the law.”
— Homily

“All soldiers are good in garrison. On the field of battle, we see the difference between the brave and the cowardly.”
— Lenten Sermon

“There is such a thing as holy anger, which comes from our zeal in upholding the interests of God.”
— Sermon on Anger

“If you are afraid of other people’s opinion, you should not have become a Christian.”
— Sermon on the Fear of Other People’s Opinion

“In our actions we must always choose the most perfect.”
— Catechism on the Cardinal Virtue

“Worldly people have not the Holy Spirit, or if they have, it is only for a moment. The noise of the world drives him away.”
— Catechism on the Holy Spirit

“The Saints were so completely dead to themselves that they cared very little whether others agreed with them or not.”
— Catechism on Pride

“Those that love themselves with a love that seeks themselves and the world — that seeks creatures more than God — are never satisfied — never quiet. They are always uneasy, always tormented, always upset.”
— Catechism on the Love of God

“We must love while we suffer, and we must suffer if we love.”
— Catechism on Suffering

“I often think that even if there were no other life than this one, it would be enough happiness just to love God here and to do something for his glory.”
— The Curé d’Ars and the Love of God

“We have nothing of your own but out will. It is the only thing which God has so placed in our own power that we can make an offering of it to him.”
— Mortification of the Curé d’Ars

“To do things well, one must do them as God wishes.”
— Notre-Dame d’Ars, Meditation 22

“God commands you to pray, but he forbids you to worry.”
— On Keeping Sunday

“Do not be like the proud who are always want to assert their own opinion … I have known people with whom this had become a daily habit.”
— On Mortifying the Self-Will

“Are you falsely accused, or loaded with insults? All the better! It is a good sign; don’t worry about it. You are on the road which leads to Heaven.”
— The Strength of the Curé d’Ars in Suffering

Friday, December 21, 2007

I am remiss in posting the news!

My dear sweet friend Maggie Baran was given a son, Michael, on Wednesday the tenth of October last. Thanks be to God and Saint Ulrich for her safe delivery.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Koba, beloved of Valechka

In 1932, Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was in a bad marriage. The Alliluyevas were all high-strung and neurotic, and Nadezhda was no exception. She was also a type that Koba would later claim to detest, an intellectual "world improving" woman, a "herring with ideas." The marriage had always been strained, and now with the political difficulties coming with forced collectivisation and Stalin's ever more frequent infidelities, things were worse than ever. And so, on 9 November 1932, Nadezhda Alliluyeva-Stalina left a dinner party without her husband, went home, and shot herself through the temple.

Koba was devastated, telling friends alternately with bitterness that "She left me as an enemy!" or remorsefully "She crippled me!"

The conventional accounts of Stalin’s life take this as a turning point. Stalin is said to have lost his last link with humanity, to have become cold and calculating, to have become paranoid in his suspicious after this. The purges did begin soon there after, and their brutality would seem to offer support for this position.

But I take a contrary view.

Koba was probably, more than anything else, relieved to be out of a stifling relationship with a highly-neurotic woman. Though he had been discreetly seeing women before her suicide, afterwards he was more open, seeing ballerinas from the Bolshoi, actresses from the Moscow Arts Theater, opera singers (he preferred mezzo-sopranos), and having a series of young “housekeepers” posted to his dachas for his carnal use. These all appear to be rather above-board affairs, neither coercion nor prostitution seems to be involved, simply the seductive attraction of a hugely powerful man.

One such “housekeeper” was the nineteen year old Valentina Vasilevna Istomina who was posted to the suburban Moscow dacha of Zubalovo in 1934. Valechka, as Koba called her, was Stalin’s ideal type: shapeless, yet not fat, buxom and neat, round-faced and pug-nosed, mousy hair, simple yet clever, unlettered yet talkative, in a word wholesomely Russian. Over time she came to prominence, taking care of Koba’s personal effects, becoming in charge of the whole house-hold, and then in charge of all his houses. Koba was proud of her, in an odd sort of way, showing friends his piles of brilliantly white underwear that she kept immaculately clean and starched (surely a unique point of pride among dictators).
By the end of the 1930’s, Stalin’s days of philandering were drawing to a close. The last such affair appears to be with a beautiful Georgian woman who was a test pilot for the Commissariat of Aviation. All sources are agreed that, after 1939, Stalin had only his Valechka as mistress, though some called her his “secret wife.” His orphan daughter, Svetlana (whom he called his “little housekeeper”) came to see her as a second mother. Commissar for Heavy Industry, “Iron Lazar” Kaganovich, told his daughter at this time that Koba loved his little Valechka. Even so, she remained in the background, serving at table as if she were simply one among many household servants.

In was while serving in this role that he turned to her for advice once in 1941. It was in the dreadful October of that year. The Nazi army was only twenty miles from Moscow and the order had gone out for all commissariats to make ready for evacuation. Summoning the various commissars to the Kremlin for dinner, he asked them if their commissariats were ready for evacuation. Misunderstanding the question, each of the commissars averred that they were ready to leave Moscow. Turning to the ever smiling Valechka in her white apron, Koba asked, “Valentina Vasilevna, are you preparing to leave Moscow?”

“Comrade Stalin, Moscow is our mother, our home. It should be defended!”

“That’s how Muscovites talk!” Stalin told his Politburo, thus shaming the commissars into staying in the beleaguered capital with the example of his housekeeper.

Valechka attended the war time conferences at Yalta and Potsdam with her Koba, though as always in her role as housekeeper. First Roosevelt and Churchill, and then Truman and Atlee had no idea that the round little woman who served them at table was their host’s lover. And, though diplomatic protocol demanded that the President of the United States (as head-of-state, a rank that neither the British Prime Minister nor Chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union enjoyed) be served first, Valechka always attended to her Koba first.

It was at this time, while preparing for the Potsdam conference, that Valechka told Koba to cut his hair short, since he looked younger with short hair. Thus, Potsdam photos show a younger looking Stalin than do pictures from Yalta.

On the fifth of March 1953, Stalin suffered a stroke of apoplexy. It took him hours to die, eventually drowning in his own fluids. By that time Svetlana and all of the major commissars had been called to his side. When he finally succumbed, first KGB chief Beria, and then one-at-a-time all of the others, came forth and kissed Stalin before leaving. When, at last, all of the powerful magnates were gone, Valechka pushed through the crowd around the body and threw herself on him, in Svetlana’s words, “wailing at the top of her voice as the women in the villages do. She went on for a long time and nobody tried to stop her.”

Valechka was only thirty-eight when her lover died. She is still alive, aged ninety-two and living in Moscow. And, if you ask her, she will tell you that “no better man ever walked the earth” than Stalin.

Now, my point is this: no matter how many crimes Stalin is guilty of, no matter how much human suffering he caused, no matter how many mistakes he made, he did succeed at this one human relationship. Every scrap of evidence, every bit of testimony indicates that Valechka loved her Koba with unmitigated devotion and that this love was genuine, unforced, and profound. Whatever else he may have been, Koba was the beloved of Valechka.

And you, comrade?

When you are dead, will anyone wail over you “like a peasant woman?” Will anyone beg God to save your soul? Will anyone care if you suffer the torments of the dammed?

Do not think that if you have not earned someone’s love right here on earth that you will be granted divine mercy when you are dead, no matter how you might think you love Jesus. What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only? For even as the body without the spirit is dead: so also faith without works is dead.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Life and Death / Then and Now

Just before his death in July of 1553, King Edward VI of England changed the law of succession, disinheriting his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth (on the claim that they were illegitimate), recognizing instead as his heir his first-cousin-once-removed, Lady Jane Grey. He did this because the Heiress Presumptive, Mary Tudor, was a Catholic, while both he and his cousin were Protestant.

Upon the death of the king, Jane's father-in-law, John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, announced the proclamation of the change of succession and began to gather troops in London to uphold this claim. Despite having all of the resources of the state behind him however, Dudley's attempted coup failed, as almost the whole of the country rallied to Mary. Jane's reign lasted only nine days, and before July was ended she was a prisoner in the Tower of London. All of the conspirators were tried and found guilty of treason, but only Dudley was executed immediately. Jane, being scarce sixteen years old, was thought to be less culpable and so her execution was stayed. Mary hoped that Jane might be pardoned once Mary had produced an heir and her hold on the throne was thus more secure.

The Protestant rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt in late January 1554 sealed Jane's fate, however. Though the rebellion failed almost at its inception, Mary's councelors pointed up the fact that as long as Jane was alive she would serve as a rallying point for Protestants. They had counceled severity from the start and, as this new uprising seemed to prove them right, Mary signed death warrants for Jane and her husband.

On the morning of 12 February 1554, the authorities took Jane's husband, Lord Guilford Dudley from his rooms at the Tower of London to the public execution place at Tower Hill and had him beheaded. Being of the Blood Royal, Jane was not executed publicly, but was beheaded in a private room in the Tower later that afternoon. She is said to have been reconsiled to her fate and comported herself with great dignity.

Thus were taitors dealt with in the sixteenth century.

In reading a fuller account of this incident I happened to take note of one of the practices of that time. On the 10th of February, two days before the execution was to take place, three matrons were dispatched to Jane's apartment in the Tower where they examined her to make sure she was not pregnant. Had she been with child, the execution would have been postponed so as not to take that innocent life.

Contrast that if you will, to the situation today where thirteen states no longer execute criminals, yet in every state abortion is legal.

New baby at the Dziak house!

Little Daniel Joseph Dziak was born on the first of December.
Congratulations to Dick and Joan.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Is IVF as bad as Abortion?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2004 there were 134,242 ART ("Assisted Reproductive Technology") cycles performed at reporting clinics resulting in 38,910 live births of 52,041 infants. According to Wikipedia, when ART (more commonly called In Vitro Fertilization or IVF) is begun,ten or twelve eggs are usually harvested and fertilized, then two or three are implanted, of which only one is expected to survive. Statistics are very hard to come by on this, but let us extrapolate for a minute. Let's assume that the average woman going in for treatment tries it twice, meaning that 134,242 represents 67,121 women who begin ART annually. This means probably 671,121 eggs harvested each year to produce 52,041 living babies. The rest, about 618,080 fertilized embryos are — what? Thrown out? Wasted? Murdered? As good as aborted?

These numbers are shocking when you consider that there are about twice as many induced abortions annually. Think about it: one third of all embryos killed by medical science are a result of IVF.

Where is the movement to ban IVF?

Think about it: people who get abortions usually didn't want to get pregnant in the first place, they're usually stuck making a hard decision about their lives, many of them are unmarried or can't afford another child, some of them are pretty hard cases that might just deserve some sympathy from us. But IVF? That's just a calculated decision, a premeditated attempt to play at being God.

Shouldn't we do something about this?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why Christians Hate Darwin

Recently, there was a dust-up in the Bourgeois press about a few statements made by Nobel laureate James Watson.

"All our social policies are based on the fact that their [i.e. Africans'] intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really ... there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."
James Watson

Of course, the media immediately piled on Watson, alleging that these statements were “racist.” Racism, properly understood, is a prejudice holding that one’s own race is superior to another. It would most assuredly not be racism to believe a provable differentiation among races; as for instance, that (on average) Indo-Europeans are taller than Inuits, or that Bantus have darker complexions than Semites. Watson, it a grotesque violation of Bourgeois Propriety (also know as “Political Correctness”), simply stated as fact what many researchers claim to be able to prove statistically. (cf. Charles Murray, “The Bell Curve”)

What makes his statement intriguing is that, inherent in his reasoning, is the notion that Darwinian evolution makes intelligence differentials among races not merely explicable, but inevitable. This is the dirty secret of Darwin: he’s anti-social.

To understand this, we must take separate the elements of “Darwinism” into the several component idea that comprise his theory.

First, there is the notion of Evolution proper. The idea that more complex forms of life developed out of simpler forms pre-dates Darwin by at least one hundred years. First proposed by the Catholic biologist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, it was elaborated by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and had found wide acceptance among the educated by Darwin’s day. This notion is commonly not viewed as being at variance with the idea of Divine creation; after all, God can make the world by any method that serves his purpose. Only the most doctrinaire of Bible literalists reject this notion.

The second notion is that this evolution happens gradually, over vast periods of time, through mutation and adaption, and that one species develops imperceptibly into another. (Buffon defined the species as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding.) Spengler refutes this decisively:

There is no more conclusive refutation of Darwinism than that furnished by palæontology. Simple probability indicates that fossil hoards can only be test samples. Each sample, then, should represent a different stage of evolution, and there ought to be merely ‘transitional’ types, no definition and no species. Instead of this we find perfectly stable and unaltered forms persevering through long ages, forms that have not developed themselves on the fitness principle, but appear suddenly and at once in their definite shape; that do not thereafter evolve towards better adaptation, but become rarer and finally disappear, while quite different forms crop up again. What unfolds itself, in ever-increasing richness of form, is the great classes and kinds of living beings which exist aboriginally and exist still, without transition types, in the grouping of today. We see how amongst fish, the Selachians, with their simple form, appear first in the foreground of history and then slowly fade out again, while the Teleostians slowly bringing a more perfected fish-type to predominance. The same applies to the plant-world of the ferns and horsetails, of which only the last species now linger in the fully developed kingdom of the flowering plants. But the assumption of utility-causes or other visible causes for these phenomena has no support of actuality. (In the language of Gœthe, we see how the ‘impressed form’ works itself out in the individual samples, but now how the die was cut for the whole genus.) It is a Destiny that evoked into the world life as life, the ever-sharper opposition between plant and animal, each single type, each genus, and each species. And along with this existence there is given also a definite energy of the form — by virtue of which in the course of its self-fulfillment it keeps itself pure or, on the contrary, becomes dull and unclear or evasively splits into numerous varieties — and finally a life-duration of the form, which (unless, again, incident intervenes to shorten it) leads naturally to a senility of the species and finally to its disappearance.
— Decline of the West v. II : p. 32

The third component of Darwinism is the mechanism for evolution, the survival of the fittest. This phrase actually comes not from Darwin, but from the social scientist, Herbert Spencer, and the concept too is one from social science not hard science. Darwin took this notion directly from the economic writings of Parson Malthus who proposed that populations always increase faster than food supplies and thus there was always a struggle for survival in which only the fit would succeed. This notion is not borne out by history and is, in fact, nothing more or less than a justification for the oppression of the poor. There is no better proof of the speciousness of this notion than the fact that, shortly after Darwin published his theory, the social philosopher Herbert Spencer justified social inequality with a theory of “Social Darwinism” holding that the rich were the fittest and thus entitled to their wealth no matter how they got it or what the social cost.

[As an aside, it is interesting to note that, years ago as a Marxist, I was taught to reject Darwinism because he was based upon this reactionary theory and to embrace the neo-Lamarckism of Lysenko. Subsequently, red-diaper-baby Steven Jay Gould gave us an even better neo-Lamarckist hypothesis, “Punctuated Equilibrium.”]

And this is where Christians begin to balk. Social Darwinism (which is, ultimately, inseparable from biological Darwinism) is antithetical to Christian notions of charity and the dignity of the human person. The statements of James Watson are exactly what a Christian would expect from a Darwinist and it is this kind of racist thinking that they perforce reject. Unfortunately, the attack on Darwin came in the form of a Bible fetishism known as Fundamentalism. Rather than attack the scientific flaws in Darwin, or expose his political agenda, the early opponents chose simply to reject science and insist upon a super-natural creation.

As a Catholic, of course, I have no problem with Buffon’s notion of evolution, but I have to reject the notion that God would use an immoral process (survival of the fittest) to accomplish the moral end of the creation of our world and its myriad creatures. It is time to make the Darwinists own up to the fact that their system is based upon a brutal, dehumanizing, mechanism that is repugnant both to Christian morality and a truly humanistic secularism.

To the materialist, people can be ranked and valued by strength, robustness, and intelligence — just like breeding stock! But to the Christian, each and every human soul is equally precious and valuable. Spengler, perhaps the greatest mystic of the twentieth century, states the case succinctly:

It is only from the standpoint of the Stoic and of the Socialist, of the typical irreligious man, that want of intelligence is a matter for contempt.
— Decline of the West, I : 409

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Startling Admission

"When you mix politics and religion, you get politics."

— Evangelical minister, Rev. Gene Carlson of Wichita, Kansas, quoted in the New York Time Magazine of 28 October 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pop Quiz!

Found this quiz on another Cantius parishoner's blog:

1.) Favorite devotion to Jesus:
I wear only black and white on Fridays as a commemoration of His Passion.

2.) Favorite Marian prayer:

Stabat Matter

3.) Do you wear a scapular or medal?

Oh boy! I wear the Green Scapular and pray for the conversion of Godless communists. I wear the Five-Way Scapular, a St. Benedict medal, a St. Denis medal (from Paris), an Our Lady of Aachen medal (from Aachen), a St. Joseph medal, a St. Louis medal, and a medal with the Assumption on the front and Pius XII on the back.

4.) Do you have holy water in your home?

Yes, a font by the front door and a bottle on the mantle.

5.) Do you offer up your sufferings?


6.) Do you go to Adoration?

About once a year.

7.) Are you a Vigil Mass person or a Sunday morning person?

Sunday morning.

8.) Do you say prayers at mealtime?


9.) Favorite Saints:

Pipin of Landen, Arnulf of Metz, Hubert, and Charles Augustus. I am also fond of two fellows who have not yet been canonized (and whom I am sure will be one day): Pius XII and Girolamo Savonarola.

10.) Do you observe First Fridays or First Saturdays?


11.) Can you recite the Apostles' Creed by heart?

No, but I do know the Nicene Creed and usually say that before the rosary.

12.) Do you say short prayers during the course of the day?

Yes — I even use the Hail Mary to time the vacuum on the plate burner!

13.) When you pass a car wreck or hear a siren, do you say a short prayer?

I didn't, until I heard Mrs. Hamilton say a decade of the rosary when passing a car wreck once. Now I try to remember to do that every time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Priorities vs. Possibliities

So, I was browsing the web when I came across someone's blog that had this counter on it:

Is this figure right?
Unfortunately, it probably is. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States there are somewhere between one and one-and-a-half million abortions in the United States annually.

Can we do anything about it?
Probably not. According to the consensus of polling data, not only do a mere one third of Americans favor banning abortion, but this number hasn't changed a bit since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

Compare this if you will, to the fall in support for the war in Iraq. According to New York Times polls, support for the war has plumeted since January 2003, when 64 percent of Americans said the United States did the right thing in taking military action in Iraq. Current numbers show a complete reversal, with 35 percent saying the United states did the right thing and 61 percent saying the country should have stayed out.

So — do we live in the real world, or what?

Do we, as Catholics continue to waste our political capital trying to change a law that the vast bulk of Americans agree with, or do we push for an end to our imperialistic adventure in Iraq?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Freakonomics = The Same Old Bourgeois Materialism

Since it seemed like all of my friends were reading it, or rather my secular friends, and since I found a used copy at a book fair for only $2-, I have just finished reading Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner [William Morrow, N.Y.C., 2005].
The authors begin by telling us right off the bat that, in their eyes, economics is an entirely material science postulating only material motivations for human behavior.

If morality represents how people would like the world to work, then economics shows how it actually does work.

Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them — or, often, ferreting them out — is the key to solving just about any riddle from violent crime to sports cheating to on-line dating.

Levitt is the economist here (Dubner just the journalist who helped him write the book) and he is a tenured professor at the University of Chicago. His basic method is to look for an apparent contradiction in data and then seek other correlations that would seem to “explain” these data. Unfortunately, human behavior is not something that lends itself to repeatable experiment, people often lie about their motivations, and Levitt himself is colored with a secular bourgeois bias, so many of his “startling conclusions” are not merely counter-intuitive, but demonstrably false.

Let’s start with Chapter Five, “What Makes a Good Parent.” Levitt asserts that it is what the parents are, not what they do, that makes a difference in children's lives. He gives paired examples of things that do and do not make a statistical difference in the success of children at school. Let’s look at a few examples:

Matters: The Child has highly educated parents.
Doesn’t: The child’s family is intact.

An intact family doesn’t matter? Where on earth did he get these figures? My experience is entirely contrary to that! For instance, my daughter Pumpkin attended the most highly selective high school in Chicago (the International Baccalaureate Program at Lincoln Park High) and over the years I met at least thirty or forty of her friends in this program. Most of them, probably nine out of ten, came from intact families and all of them regularly saw both of their parents. I don't need to tell you that this is well above the average.

Ah, that’s anecdotal you say. Well, how about some statistics? How about the fact that a boy who grows up in a home without a father is five times more likely to become a juvenile offender. Or the fact that a child is twenty times more likely to be sexually abused by a step-father than by their natural father. I haven’t got figures on the educational performance of children from broken homes, but every statistic that I have seen shows a demonstrable adverse effect.

Matters: The child’s mother was thirty or older at the time of her first child’s birth.
Doesn’t: The child’s mother didn’t work between birth and kindergarten.

This is the old “day-care is just as good” myth and we can demolish it statistically by a simple reflection that “child’s mother didn’t work” includes both mothers who stayed at home because they wanted to and ghetto mothers who were unemployable. Remember, this represents an average and for every college educated mother who neglected a profitable career to nurture her child, there was probably a teen-age drop-out mom who raised her kid on welfare and television. It is also a statistical fact that college and graduate educated women have the smallest number of kids and are the least likely to “interrupt their careers” to take care of their children. Unfortunately, the kids with the best chance in school (educated mother, prosperous home, family work ethic) are also the least likely to have the benefit of a full-time mom.

And remember those kids from Lincoln Park I.B.? All of them had stay-at-home moms. Not just some, not just most, everyone of them!

Matters: The child’s parents speak English in the home.
Doesn’t: The child’s parents regularly take him to museums.

Matters: The child has many books in his home.
Doesn’t: The child’s parents read to him nearly every day.

Oh? And how do they know that parents take the child to museums and read to him regularly? I’m certain this is a matter of self reporting and we all know how to answer questions like that. Why, if someone were to ask you if you washed your hands every time you went to the lavatory — well, you know the “right” answer to that, don’t you?

Back in the sixties it was found that if you asked someone if they were racially prejudiced, they would almost always answer no. But if you asked that same person if any of his neighbors were racist you were certain to be told about the fellow next door who was a bigot.

Try this experiment: go to a museum and see who's there. It is overwhelmingly white and Asian families, with well behaved children, who are cleaner, better dressed, and more articulate than the yahoos spending Sunday afternoon at amusements like Navy Pier or shopping malls. Want to double the bet? Go to a museum on Super Bowl Sunday — it’s about 80% Asian! Fact: the people you see in museums are exactly the sort of people whose children we would expect to excel in school.

Ah, but books in the home! Either they’re there or they’re not. An interviewer in the home can see instantly and it’s also not the sort of thing one thinks to lie about.

Do any of these cases seem to prove that children succeed because of who their parents are (educated, prosperous, late marrying), rather than what they do (discipline, good habits, attentive)? If we wanted to see if being a good parent counted, then why don’t we study cases of children who came from economically disadvantaged families and rose to bourgeois achievement. I’ll bet they had parents who did all of those things that Levitt says don’t matter!

Of course, Levitt’s most controversial assertion is that the otherwise inexplicable drop in crime statistics beginning around 1990 are traceable to the legalization of abortion in 1973. It is his contention that since large numbers of “unwanted children” were disposed of before they were born the numbers of potential criminals were reduced enough in the early 1990’s to affect crime rates.

I will concede that I have no idea of why crime rates fell in the 1990’s, and Levitt pretty well demolishes the conventional reasons given (innovative policing, tougher gun laws, capital punishment, etc.), but once again I think looking at other statistics will discount Levitt’s thesis.

If the effect of legal abortion were to get rid of “unwanted babies” then we should see this reflected in lower rates of bastardy and child abuse and smaller families among the impoverished.
As far as I know, none of this has happened. The principle social effects of abortion that I am aware of are a precipitate drop in fertility among educated women and the disappearance of adoptable white babies. Bastardy, one of the problems abortion was meant to solve, has, of course, gone up.

Anyway — about I year ago, I had a chance to phone in to Milt Rosenberg’s radio show and ask Dr. Levitt if the things that we would expect to follow directly from the expunging of “unwanted babies” had actually happened. Were rates of bastardy and child abuse lower? Had impoverished families refrained from having children they could not afford? He didn’t know. So I then asked if it wasn’t a stretch to attribute an indirect consequence to legal abortion without examining the direct result? He answered that his conclusions “had proven controversial.” Wow! Now there’s a non-answer for you.

Well anyway, after finishing the book I began to sniff around to see if there were any actual statistical conclusions about the abortion/crime matter, and indeed there are. Steve Sailer has found that exactly the reverse correlation exists! In his essay "The Freakonomics Fiasco in Perspective" he shows that the murder rate spiked just as the children of the high abortion rate late seventies were entering young adulthood. Furthermore, Christopher Foote, a senior economist at the Boston Fed, and Christopher Goetz, a research assistant, say the research behind Levitt's conclusion is faulty.

So how does this tie in with the struggle to live a good Catholic life?

It is yet another warning not to be taken in by secular propagandists who dress up their claims as being “scientific.” While I don’t claim to have disproved Dr. Levitt’s claims, I believe that I have shown that his underlying secular, bourgeois bias has definitely colored his conclusions to the extent that they can no longer be called “scientific.” Saint Augstine insists, in De Genesi ad litteram, that science and faith must be reconciled and so it is our task, not to disprove science, but to remove the secular bias from truly objective inquiry.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Free Market Speaks!

Ayn Rand on the Pro-Life movement:

"I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object...Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life."

— Ayn Rand

This is a pretty crass analysis by Rand, but it shows that it is Capitalism, not Socialism, that is ontologically materialistic. Perhaps the most treacherous false path that mankind has ever gone down is belief in the notion that Socialism can be successful as a materialist philosophy. A materialist world outlook will undermine any form of Socialism from within, just as surely as Capitalism ultimately forces a materialist world-view and undermines the spirituality of any society that embraces it philosophically.

The task before us is plain: take Socialism away from Marx and give it back to Jesus!

Friday, July 27, 2007

An Absolutely Stunning Admission

There are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts.
— Gore Vidal

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We All Worship the Same God?

You know, I always wondered how to answer people who said “It doesn’t matter what religion you are — we all worship the same God.” And then I heard this parable:

One day a man went into Macy’s and tried to buy some sox with a bogus twenty dollar bill. The salesgirl spotted that the money was counterfeit immediately and notified her manager, who then notified the police. When the police came and searched the man they found $50,000 in counterfeit twenties, so they clapped the cuffs on him and began to march him off to the station. But on the way out he began to point at another customer buying sox and asked, “Aren’t you going to arrest him?”

“Why should be arrest him,” the policeman asked, “He’s using real money?”

“But it’s the same sox!” the counterfeiter insisted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Simple Miracles Of A Guileless Age

Upon hearing the wonderful news that my friend was soon to be heavy with child, I was moved to take action by selecting a saint known to patronize the enceinte and asking for his special attention. Going through a list in my Catholic Encyclopedia I soon enough found a boon companion for her: Saint Ulrich of Augsburg, a simple and unprepossessing abbot and bishop from the dark, early days of the Western resurgence that began with Saint Carlos Magnus.

Ulrich fit a pattern of the day. An educated man of the gentry, pious from early youth, who wished no more than to withdraw to a monastery and live in contemplation of the divine, instead called to lead and protect his people until finally, overcome by eld, he is allowed to live out his wish and retire from the world. Showing early talent, he became both abbot of the cathedral cannons and Bishop of Augsburg. As bishop, he was conscientious in the carrying out of his duties. Each day he visited the hospital, washed the feet of a dozen paupers, distributed alms. As an important bishop he could not help but be involved in the affairs of the state and here too he was a peace-maker, brokering the reconciliation between the Emperor Otto and his estranged son Duke Ludolf of Swabia. When Augsburg was besieged by the Magyars in AD 955 he rallied the people to hold out against the heathen enemy, which they did, and when, during the siege, his cathedral burnt to the ground, he immediately caused a new structure to be built from scraps of lumber such that not a single day might pass without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being said. Years later, when he felt death to be near, he had the monks of the Benedictine Abbey where he had retired sprinkle ashes upon the ground in the shape of a cross and sing the Psalms.
Whereupon, he laid down upon this cross and waited for death.

This is a good and pious life, but what really intrigued me was one particular miracle associated with him. One night a weary traveler came to the abbey of Augsburg where he was met by the abbot himself, Ulrich, who promptly gave him a leg of mutton to eat and sent him off to a monk’s cell to rest. Immediately, the exhausted traveler fell asleep. Upon awakening, the traveler cursed his luck, for it was now Friday morning and he was forbidden by Church law to eat the mutton. Miraculously, however, he found that the leg of mutton had turned into a fish during the night which he promptly consumed.

[As a footnote, it is unrecorded that the mint jelly accompanying the mutton turned into tartar sauce, but my faith is sufficient not to doubt that this corollary miracle also occurred!]

W hat a terrific miracle!
Sure, sometimes doctors can cure cancer, and we did put a man on the moon, but no doctor or rocket scientist can turn a leg of mutton into a fish! Ever!

Of course, this is the kind of miracle that moderns scoff at. My son (of little faith!) suggests that someone substituted a perfectly ordinary river trout for the leg of mutton sometime before 11:59 on the night in question and then consumed the leg himself. Others might say that with all the suffering abroad in the difficult tenth century of the Christian Era, the good saint might have put his miracle working to something more beneficial such as curing typhus, mending the lame, or ameliorating the frequent crop failures. Protestants are quick to point out that the prohibition of consuming meat on Fridays is mere “superstition” and that the good abbot could just as easily have given the famished traveler a dispensation to gorge himself on flesh despite it being the weekly remembrance of Our Lord’s crucifixion and death.

But these objections point up why I love this particular miracle. People of that benighted age were reconciled to the travails of the flesh, to the inevitability of disease, eld, death, and routine invasions by barbarians. Women were expected to die in childbirth, children were counted as lucky if the lived to adulthood, men accepted it as their lot to be exhausted and broken by constant toil. They offered these sufferings up to God, confident that he had suffered as much for them. But they expected their saints to show heroic virtue. And it is wonderful that Saint Ulric’s hospitality should not only be heroic, but be miraculous! The good saint not only took in the stranger, fed him, and gave him shelter — he insured that the food would remain good even on a day of abstinence from flesh! Can you imagine the talk in Augsburg that day? How the people must have marveled and rejoiced at the hospitality, how reassuring was their satisfaction of having so saintly a bishop, the wonderful frisson of humor at the marvel of flesh turned into fish. Who but an asshole would have scoffed at such a miraculous jape? (I challenge you: name a brighter spot in the tenth century!)

The miracles of the much maligned “Middle Ages” are almost always practical, fleshy, even carnally satisfying. Our Lady was not content to give the scheme of the Rosary to Saint Dominic in a vision — NO! she came down to present both Dominic and Saint Hyacinth with Rosaries of their own to keep. Saint Catherine of Sienna was not merely given the curse of Stigmata and the insight of cardiognosis (which is denied to the Angels), she was also permitted to nurse at the very breast of Mary Immaculate. Saint Carlos Magnus was not merely given the Charism of Saint Ambrose, he was given such modesty that he though there to be nothing extraordinary about this extra ordinary ability. And when a drunken lout known as “Noddo” publicly doubted the chastity of Saint Arnulf of Metzhis pants caught fire!

The mediæval saints are wildly colorful in a way that our modern saints are not. A sense of humor has always been a mark of sainthood. Think of the last words of Saint Lawrence who, while being roasted on a gridiron, said to the Roman soldiers, “I am done on this side! Turn me over and eat.” Despite hearing from Bishop Kane, who chanced to have lunch with her once, that Mother Theresa of Calcutta was the “funniest woman he’d ever met,” our saints of today are never thought even to smile. Our image (and undoubtedly this is false) of Pius X, Maximillian Kolbe, and yes, Mother Theresa, is one of a dourly heroic virtue. This is not the popular image of saints in the mediæval era with their mystical ecstasies, nonchalant miracles, and perverse eccentricities. Even modern conversion stories are lack-luster when compared to the sinful savoire vivre and subsequent abject piety of Augustine, Hubert, and Arnulf.

I submit for your consideration this wonderful exposition of the life of Saint Charles de Blois (AD 1319 - 1364) by Johan Huizinga in his insightful study, “The Autumn of the Middle Ages” (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996). [Fair disclosure: Charles, Count of Blois, Duke of Brittany, known as “the Happy,” is my seventh cousin twenty times removed.]

The princely circles managed a few times to produce a saint. One of these is Charles de Blois. On his mother’s side he sprung from the house of Valois and, through his marriage with the heir of the Bretagne Jeanne de Penthièvre, became involved in a dispute about succession that took the greater part of his life. Under the terms of his marriage contract, he was obliged to adopt the coat of arms and battle cry of the dukedom. He found himself confronted by another pretender, Jean de Montfort, and the ensuing conflict over the Bretagne coincided with the beginning of the Hundred Years War. The defence of Monfort’s claim was one of the complications that prompted Edward III to come to France. The count of Blois accepted battle like a true knight and fought as well as the best leaders of this time. Taken prisoner in 1347, just prior to the siege of Calais, he was held in England until 1356. He resumed the fight for the dukedom in 1362 and was killed in 1364 near Aurai while fighting bravely at the side of Bertrand du Guesclin and Breaumanoir.

This war hero, whose life differed in none of its external features from those of so many princely pretenders and leaders of his time, had led a life of strict austerity since the days of his youth. When he was a boy, his father had kept him away from edifying books because such books would be inappropriate for someone of his calling. He slept on straw on the ground next to the bed of his wife, and a hair shirt was found under his armor at the time of his death in battle. He took confession each evening before going to bed, because, as he said, no Christian should go to sleep with his sins unforgiven'. During his captivity in London, he was wont to visit cemeteries and, on his knees, recite the De profundis [i.e. Psalm 130]. The Breton page whom he asked to recite the responses refused, arguing that these locations were the burial grounds of the those who had killed his parents and friends and had burned their houses.

After his liberation, he intends to walk barefoot from La Roche-Derrien, where he began his imprisonment, to Tréguier, the site of the shrine of Saint Ives, the patron of Bretagne, whose biography he had written while a captive. The people hear about his plans and strew the path with straw and blankets. The count of Blois, however, takes a different route and ends up with feet so sore that he cannot walk for fifteen weeks. Immediately following his death, his princely relatives, among them his brother-in-law, Louis of Anjou, attempt to have him canonized. The proceedings, which resulted in beatification, took place in Angers in the year 1371.

The strange thing, if we can rely on Froissart, is that this same Charles de Blois had a bastard.
“There was killed in good style the aforesaid Lord Charles of Blois, with his face to the enemy, and a bastard son of his called Jehans de Blois, and several other knights and squires of Brittany.”
Are we to reject this as and an evident falsehood? Or should we assume that the combination of piety and sensuality that was present in figures such as Louis d’Orléans and Philip the Good was even more noticeably present in the count de Blois?

Think of what we moderns would make of such a man? He might easily be institutionalized for his unrelenting mortifications of the flesh. He would certainly be denounced as a "hypocrite" for his carnality (as opposed to being understood as an ordinary sinner). He would never be considered "saint material." Yet there he is, warts and all, a saint in heaven, able to catch God's ear and put in a good word for us.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Good news!

I have just found out that my good friend Maggie Baran expects to be delivered of a son in September.

This will be her first child and the fulfilment of her long ambition to live out her vocation as a wife and mother. She is a sweet and wonderful person and my joy at this good news touches me deeply.

Lets all ask Saint Ulrich of Augsburg to watch over her and keep her baby safe!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Love This Pope!

Pope Benedict XVI reasserts other Christian denominations are not true churches

By Nicole Winfield — ASSOCIATED PRESS
12:55 p.m. July 10, 2007, LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy – Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation...

It was the second time in a week that Benedict has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-1965 meetings that modernized the church. On Saturday, Benedict revived the old Latin Mass – a move cheered by Catholic traditionalists but criticized by more liberal ones as a step backward from Vatican II.

Among the council's key developments were its ecumenical outreach and the development of the New Mass in the vernacular, which essentially replaced the old Latin Mass...

“Christ 'established here on earth' only one church,” said the document released as the pope vacations at a villa in Lorenzago di Cadore, in Italy's Dolomite mountains.

The other communities “cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense” because they do not have apostolic succession – the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles – and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid, it said...

This ought to piss-off all the right people!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My Parish

Sun Times Article

Holocaust Bunkum or Godwin's Law In Action

When I was a kid, my mom used to tell her “Bourgeois Liberal Holocaust Story.” It went something like this:

Bourgeois Liberal Holocaust Story

When the Nazis took over Denmark, Hitler ordered that all the Jews wear arm-bands with a yellow Star of David on it, so that the Nazis could tell who they were and, later, round them up. Well, as soon as this was announced, the King of Denmark put on an arm-band with a yellow Star of David on it, and so the next day, most Danes put on an arm-band with a yellow Star of David on it, and pretty soon everyone in Denmark was wearing an arm-band with a yellow Star of David on it, and the Nazis couldn’t tell who was a Jew and who was a Christian, and so all of the Danish Jews were saved.

Gosh, what a triumph for good-hearted bourgeois liberalism!

Well, anyway, when I was about sixteen or so I found out that the story was apocryphal and that Denmark’s Jews were largely evacuated to Sweden. But, like all apocryphal stories, it was created to convey a “truth.” In this case that (I guess) we’re all really just people and if we all just stick together then we can all get along like brothers (cue string music), or some mushy bourgeois liberal thing like that.

So last week I wasn’t surprised when I came across this “Conservative Christian Holocaust Story"

Sing A Little Louder

After a speech, Pro-Life activist Penny Lea was approached by an old man. Weeping, he told her the following story:

"I lived in Germany during the Nazi holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. I attended church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews, but like most people today in this country, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?

“A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!

“Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time that train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we'd just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.

"Their screams tormented us . . . If some of their screams reached our ears we'd just sing a little louder."

Unlike the “Bourgeois Liberal Holocaust Story,” the “Conservative Christian Holocaust Story” is very explicit in its meaning. The writer of the flyer I got it from goes right on in the next paragraph: “This story was related by a speaker on behalf of the tens of millions of unborn children that have been killed by abortion in this country, as a wake-up call to do something and not just sit by waiting for someone else to act.” Do a Google search and you can find dozens of sites with this story, some of them specifying that the story comes from “Penny Lea,” all of them anti-abortion sites! You can even get T-shirts with the "SING A LITTLE LOUDER" logo on them to help spread the pro-life message!

So what's my point here?

1] The "Sing A Little Louder" story has all the markings of being an out-and-out fabrication. It comes from an unspecified date, in a vague location, and is told by a "weeping old man." And where did the singing take place? Again, no location. And can you think of a church built next to rail-road tracks? Can you think of a freight train so silent that you could hear screams coming from inside of box-cars? And of course there is no confirmation from another source. Penny was the only one who heard the old man. Evidently no one else in the village came forward to confirm the story. Obviously — it's bunk, and the pro-life movement only discredits itself by passing off so transparent an urban legend as fact.

2] The pro-life is also mis-guided in comparing legal abortion to the Holocaust. Such a comparison not only offends Jews and other Holocaust victim groups, but it fails to address the central issue of when life begins. To the pro-abort, comparing abortion to the Holocaust makes about as much sense as comparing rates of plastic surgery to the Holocaust. If you don't think that life begins at conception, this analogy is not about to change your mind.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Why Marriage is the Path to Heaven

Several years ago a friend sent me an e-mail asking me to put down my thoughts on the virtues of marriage. This is what I wrote:

Why Marriage is the Path to Heaven

1] While it is easy to live alone, it is hard to perfect yourself living alone. It is easy to think only of yourself, have everything your own way, consider only yourself, but this lets no air into the soul. Living with someone, caring for them, being forced to consider them with each of life smallest decisions, is the very life breath of the soul. In a real, vital love relationship one simply cannot fall into depression, self indulgence, or boredom because one is always faced with the consequence of how this will affect one’s beloved. Left to themselves, people are prone to do the easy thing; knowing that all one does will be seen by one’s beloved, one feels compelled to do the right thing.

2] Men and women are different and benefit from this difference. Men are creatures of habit while women are creatures of intuition, men are reliable while women are accessible, men are disciplined while women are spontaneous — and these are all virtues. What man cannot learn empathy from a woman? What woman would not benefit from the stolidity in crisis of a man? Men without women are brutal, just as women without men are capricious. Without the tempering and correcting companionship of a mate, one has little hope of become a really whole person.

3] Sex without creative love feeds upon itself. Sex is a heady mixture of pleasure that can be taken, given, reciprocal, or mutual. Pleasure that is taken is mere self-indulgence and coarsens the heart, closing it to real love. Pleasure that is given is the very lever of power, used to dominate, and this too has no part of love. Reciprocal pleasure is merely a crass bargain whose value erodes with each use. All of these things either dull us to love or make us slaves to carnality. Only by giving freely of ones self, through real devotion, can the pleasure of sex become mutual. Only when our lover’s happiness pleases us more than our own can we be free of lust and achieve the genuinely intimate union that God intended.

4] Only by taking a mate, someone with whom we wish to have children, can we transcend the narcissism of romantic love. Only by accepting this full creative partnership with the beloved can we transform infatuation into complete acceptance of the beloved irrevocably as a whole person. Only through this understanding can we transform our awe and infatuation with God into a submission to Him and a love of His Divine Will.

5] Ultimately, to know God, we must participate in his creativity by having children and loving them as He loves us. No earthly love, be it filial, fraternal, or amorous, begins to approach the natural love of parents for their children. Only by having and loving children can we begin to understand real piety, can we make sacrifices without any regret, can we honestly care for someone more than we love life itself. Only a living saint could understand by themselves the kind of devotion every loving parent feels in their breast. The easiest, surest way to Metanoia (the death of the desires of the self) is through the love of children.

6] The sure knowledge that there is only one person on Earth who loves your children as you do is an unparalleled unitive factor. The love of mutual children reïnforces and re-doubles the love that mates have for one another and thus further brings them into communion with the Divine.

There are other ways to get to Heaven, but this is the surest.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who Are We to Close the Gates of Mercy?

On 23 October 1935 Arthur Flagenheimer, better known as “Dutch Schultz,” was having a working dinner with several of his associates at the Palace Chop House in Newark, New Jersey. Schultz was a notorious gangster who had first come to prominence as “Beer Baron of the Bronx” during Prohibition. With Repeal in 1933, Schultz promptly ensconced himself in the Harlem Numbers Rackets, not only running them more efficiently than the previous crew of free-lance proprietors, but actually concocting a scheme with the accounting genius Otto “Abbadabba” Berman to “fix” the winning numbers every day to insure a low pay-out. The numbers racket was said, at that time, to be grossing over a million dollars a month. The previous year, Schultz had beaten an indictment for trafficking in beer with the simple defence that it would be hypocritical to convict him for a past violation of a law that was now discredited and no longer in force. Three years earlier, Schultz gotten married to a pretty little auburn haired Catholic girl who wore thick glasses, Frances Geis, by whom he now had two children. That evening they were supposed to meet in a nearby hotel where she was waiting with two copies of a novel. Two copies, so that they could read it simultaneously and then talk it over without having to wait.

All was not well with the Schultz empire however. Other gangsters, not doing nearly so well after the loss of their lucrative bootlegging operations, were casting a covetous eye on Schultz’s Harlem turf. Also, a new and ambitious district attorney, Thomas E. Dewey, had recently convened a grand jury to indict Schultz both on tax charges and on extortion charges stemming from a “labor protection” racket Schultz was running against Manhattan restaurants. Schultz’s solution to this incitement was simple — put Dewey on the spot. The proposed assassination of so prominent a government official as Dewey however was simply unheard of, even among such hardened gangsters as Lepke Buchalter and Lucky Luciano. And so the decision was made among the other members of the Lucky Seven Combination (the forerunner to today's “National Syndicate”) to eliminate Schultz before his plan to kill Dewey could bring down the wrath of an otherwise bribed and passive New York Police Department.

Thus it was, that on 23 October 1935 Arthur Flagenheimer was gunned down by a pair of hit men at the Palace Chop House. Gunned down, but not killed. For the shooters had mistaken Berman for Schultz and riddled the accountant’s body with bullets. Schultz himself was caught while in the men’s room (holding his gun, as it were), mistaken for a potential witness, and only shot once by the then fleeing gunman, “Bug” Workman. Schultz caught a single slug in the gut and was able to stagger out of the lavatory before collapsing into a chair. He was immediately rushed to Newark City Hospital where the bullet was removed and his wounds were stitched up. The surgeons did the best they could, but the prognosis was not good for anyone suffering such a wound in those pre-penicillin days. Peritonitis soon set in and with that everyone knew it was only a matter of time, less than a day in this case, before Schultz was a dead man.

Schultz made the best of his time, however. Born to a secular Jewish family, Schultz had become interested in Catholicism after he married his wife. He had, in fact, become something of a pest to his Irish and Italian gangster associates as he was constantly asking them what it was like to be Catholic. Thus, at 2PM on the twenty-forth of October, Father Cornelius McInerney was called for. Hearing that he wished to die a Catholic, the good Father baptized Arthur Flagenheimer before administering Holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction. Shortly afterwards, Schultz lapsed into a delirium where he talked endlessly in a stream-of-consciousness (or semi-consciousness in this case), making cryptic references to his friends, reliving childhood traumas, and spouting bits of pure poetry such as: “This boy hath never wept, nor dashed one thousand kim.” His last words came at 6PM:

Turn your back to me, please, Henry. I am so sick now. The police are getting many complaints. Look out! Yey, Jack; hello Jack. Jack, mama. I want the G-note. Look out for Jimmy Valentine, is an old pal of mine. Come on, Jim, come on Jimmie; oh, thanks. Okay-okay. I am all through; I can’t do another thing. Hymie, won’t you do what I ask you this once? Look out! Mama, mama! Look out for her. Look, you can’t beat him. Police, Mama! Helen, Mother, please take me out. Come on, Rosie. Okay. Hymes would do it; not him. I will settle ... the indictment. Come on, Max, open the soap duckets. Frankie, please come here. Open the door, Dumpey’s door. It is so much, Abe, that .... with the brewery. Come on. Hey, Jimmie! The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword. Shut up, you got a big mouth! Please help me up, Henny. Max come over here .... French Canadian bean soup ... I want to pay, let them leave me alone ....

At 8:20, Frances Flagenheimer was summoned to his bed side. She asked, “Arthur, this is Frances.” When there was no response she began sobbing and had to be led away. Arthur Flagenheimer was pronounced dead at 8:35 on 24 October 1935, some twenty hours after he had been shot.

The fact that so notorious a bootlegger, gambler, extortionist, labor racketeer, and most probably murderer ended his days as a member in good standing of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church immediately set off a fire-storm of controversy. This issue was addressed by the Reverend John A. Toomey, S.J. in the Jesuit weekly America:

Yesterday there were thousands of people saying “If a guy like that can go to heaven there won’t be anybody in hell.” To these thousand, glaring contradictions appeared to be involved. Here the Catholic Church, which has always impressed upon her children a horror of even the slightest sin; which had ceaselessly warned them concerning the danger of presuming on the chances of a death-bed conversion, which had ever inculcated high ideals in asceticism, in selflessness, in heroic virtue; here was the Catholic Church welcoming into her fold a man who through his entire life had represented everything which the Church abhorred and condemned.

“Dutch Schultz” with the angels! “Dutch Schultz” whose beer-trucks once rumbled over the Bronx, whose gorillas blustered through the sidewalks! “Dutch Schultz” associating with the holy saints in Heaven!

He to get the same reward as valiant souls who have clung to the Faith through a ceaseless hurricane of trial and temptation. It seemed more than unjust. It seemed ridiculous, preposterous, almost laughable.

But it may not be so laughable after all. There were a number of things not taken into account by the judges. One little thing they missed completely was the fact that there is just One in the entire universe Who is capable of accurately judging the complex skein of a man’s life. The influence of bad example, of environment in general: of heredity; the lack of religious training; the exact strength of temptations. That One is God Almighty. No one else can even begin to do the job.

Another element that appeared to be fumbled was the interesting truth that the time of mercy for sinners does not expire until the moment of death; that there is no crime and no series of crime which God will not forgive, this side of eternity, to the truly contrite of heart.

The dynamic power of Divine Grace to move the most obdurate heart to repentance was also omitted from the consideration. Indeed, the intimate and essential connection of grace with final salvation is widely overlooked.

Other important bits of evidence were neglected as the clamorous verdict was reached: for example, the fact that nothing happens in this world without the permission of God. The reason “Schultz” was not killed instantly was because it was God’s will that he be not killed instantly, and so he was conscious the morning after, and able to receive the grace of conversion, a grace that comes from God.

If “Schultz’s” conversion was sincere, it means that God gave him a last chance to save his soul, and that “Dutch” took advantage of the offer. It does not mean that God, or His Church, condoned the evil life of “Schultz” but that God judged he should be given another opportunity to save his soul.

After all, Heaven belongs to God. If he wants “Dutch Schultz” to be there, it is difficult to see what we can do about it. Perhaps, instead of worrying about “Schultz” a somewhat more profitable occupation for us would be to do a little more worrying about our own salvation — to make sure we get there ourselves. We may not be given the opportunity for a death-bed repentance. Relatively few are given that chance.

And whether we meet “Schultz” in Heaven or not, there is one individual we are certain to encounter there; a gentleman who was in more or less the same line as “Schultz” — the Thief who, as he was dying on Calvary, asked the Man on the next Cross for forgiveness and who head that Man say: “This day though shalt be with Me in Paradise.”

A similar piece was written by the Right Reverend Monsignor John L. Belford in the Monitor:

I must object to these cries of shame from Catholics and non-Catholics who thought it crime to administer the sacraments of the church to a man who had been all his life not only a stranger to religion but a particularly vile and violent criminal.

Was Dutch Schultz worse than the penitent thief? He was a criminal. He seemed unworthy of the least consideration. Perhaps he was. But who will close the gates of mercy? The fact that he received the sacraments is no guarantee that he received God’s forgiveness.

If he was not really penitent, the priest’s absolution had no effect. Yet the priest did the right when he baptized or absolved him. The dying man said he was sorry he had offended God; he declared he would do all in his power to avoid sin in the future and to repair the harm he had done. If he meant this, God ratified the action of the minister.

But remember, the sinner contract two debts; the deft of guilt and the debt of pain. God can forgive the former and insist on payment of the latter. He could forgive Schultz and yet keep him in purgatory until the end of time to atone, so far as man can atone, for his wickedness.

I was godless when I first read these words, yet their eminent sensibility struck me. These were not the mindless rantings of religious bigots, but the clear reasoning of intellectually honest men. It is hard to say just how or when the love of God was put upon my heart, but once it was there, it was this kind of coherent, sensible theology that drew me with magnetic force the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Consumerism: Sexual vs. Nutritional

Quite often, sceptics and doubters will call into question our beliefs by showing up apparent contradictions or paradoxes within the teachings of the Church. In facing these challenges we are given an opportunity to deepen our understanding of our Faith by reconciling these objections through a clearer statement of belief. Recently, one such opportunity came my way, when I read an article by Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books:

The real mysteries of the faith are easier to believe than the supposedly rational condemnation of contraceptives based on “natural law.” According to the Pope, the sex act must always be ordinated toward procreation, and never to pleasure alone. By that logic, eating and drinking must always be ordinated towards self-preservation, never to pleasure. The toast of fellowship among well-fed people is ruled out, all the symbolic and extraordinary uses of feasting and drink that find their highest expression in the agape feast and the Eucharist. The body does not physically need the eucharistic bread or cup, so they are unnatural.

Here Wills has, cleverly, misstated Catholic teaching on sex before applying it, by analogy, to food. The Church does not require that each act of marital intimacy be intended to result in conception, just that this end not be precluded by artificial means. Thus couples often licitly engage in intimacy for reasons similar to those “symbolic and extraordinary” ones he has stated for feasting. Who would deny the legitimacy of the ravenous desire of a couple for each other after a long separation? Or the sentimental necessity of intimacy on anniversaries? Or simply the joyous marital congress that follows a day of especially close consanguinity? All of these are not merely permitted, but are central to the unitive purpose of married sexuality — so long as these unions are open to conception!

But Mr. Wills does have a point, one which we might thank him for bringing to our attention.

Just as it is illicit to thwart the physical consequences of sexuality for our own indulgence, so too might it be illicit to thwart those of eating. Just as conception is the physical (as opposed to emotional) purpose of sex, so nutrition is the physical purpose of food. The ancient Christians recognized instinctively that the Roman practice of induced vomiting after a large meal was an immoral indulgence, but I fear that in the modern world we have failed to recognize that artificial sweeteners, ersatz fat, and artificial “low-cal” foods are immoral because they thwart the purpose of nutrition. This analogy goes even further when you consider that just as God has given married couples an infertile period of the month in which they can licitly avoid conception, so too has he given us foods that are naturally low in calories. The seriousness of this offence against natural law becomes all the more repellent when we consider that in this very city today there are probably thousands of unfortunates desperate for a meal, picking their subsistence from garbage cans, surviving on the generosity of soup kitchens, while there are perhaps hundreds of thousands indulging their every whim, gorging themselves on tasty foods utterly devoid of nutritional value simply for the pleasure of consuming them.

I put it for your consideration: Are “diet” foods as immoral as contraception?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Same-Sex Marriage: a Marxist-Leninist perspective

Columnist Paul Varnell recently wrote something about gay marriage that had great resonance for me:

Once the affectional bond became the central element of marriage, the rational for limiting it to pairs who would procreate lost its force. Gays want nothing more than to participate in “traditional marriage” thus understood — marriage for the benefit of the marrying partners: meshing a person’s life with someone they love.

You see, very nearly the same thing had been said by the great German historian Oswald Spengler some eighty years earlier:

When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard ‘having children’ as a question of pro’s and con’s the great turning-point has come … a man’s choice of the woman who is to be, not the mother of his children as amongst peasants and primitives, but his own ‘companion for life,’ becomes a problem of mentalities … When reasons have to be put forward at all in a question of life, life itself has become questionable. Instead of children, [the modern woman] as soul-conflicts; marriage is a craft-art for the achievement of ‘mutual understanding.’ … At the last, only the primitive blood remains, alive, but robbed of it’s strongest and most promising elements.

Please note, that this is the same vision of “companionate marriage,” there is no disagreement between the meaning, only the significance. To Varnell, contragenic marriage allows freedom and autonomy, to Spengler it is death, not only for the race but for the soul as well, yet they are agreed: the modern impulse is irreversibly toward contragenic marriage. The gulf between is both insuperable and it is the gulf that splits the West today. Whether he conceives of himself as such, Varnell is secular, traditionless, and his consciousness is utterly devoid of the pulse of life. While Spengler saw and identified the Varnell type before the end of the Great War (as well as his companion, the "Ibsen woman"), Varnell is unable to perceive Spengler’s deeply mystical understanding, thus we can only talk to Varnell on his terms.

There is a saying among communists, “You can only fight the Moor (Marx) with the Moor.” The idea here was that any argument that wasn’t Marxist was ipso facto invalid. Thus, were I to attack same-sex marriage from a Marxist perspective, it would be impermissible to bring in Christian morality, traditional values, or natural law. I could, however, attack monogamy itself, pointing up that it was merely “petty-bourgeois exclusivity.” Or I could accuse gays who wished to get married of “aping the oppressor” and thus perpetuated their own oppression. Or I could attack the family as a counter-revolutionary artifact within society. A communist could argue for virtually any position, so long as the argument were put correctly. For instance, one could support gay marriage because, by “aping the oppressor” we can make a mockery of monogamy, thus undermining the whole reactionary concept of “family.” See how it works? Because there are no fixed points in the Marxist moral universe, we can work it both ways as long as we use a Marxist argument.

I bring this up because we can only fight the secular with secular arguments. Bourgeois liberals are no more inclined to accept arguments based upon Christian morality, traditional values, or natural law than communists and it is foolishness even to bring this up in public debate. Certainly, homosexual unions are immoral, alien to Western traditions, contragenic and thus unnatural, but none of this counts in a secular debate. We must attack same-sex unions for practical reasons if we wish to score a practical victory. We live in a society that plays the game of politics by secular rules and we can only win if we fight on secular ground.

Let us begin by taking the Homosexualists at their word and concede that “the government has no business regulating what I do in my bedroom.” But let us take this further and insist that the state has no compelling interest in promoting “stable relationships” either. It makes no difference to society if homosexual couples are monogamous or not, since there is no complicating issue of children involved. To those that point out that promiscuity spreads disease, we can only answer that allowing marriage to reduce promiscuity is a classic case of “pushing on a string.” After all, heterosexuals still get syphilis even though they have always been able to marry. Let us assert dogmatically: the state has no interest in people’s sex lives unless this coupling has the potential to produce children.

Let us insist that it is self-evident that the only justification for the financial and social benefits of marriage is that married couples are raising the next generation of citizens. Plainly then, same-sex unions would pose a burden upon our social resources with no corresponding societal gain. Let us put aside the issue of sacramental marriage (as there will always be some church who will marry queers) and get to the real issue of the tangible benefits of marriage. There are tax breaks, inheritance accommodations, insurance policies, and pension rights at stake here and these represent real social costs that should be reserved for a group producing a real social good, not just any two people who like to sleep together. Let us defuze the “fairness” issue by stressing the social cost/benefit analysis: is it “fair” to impose this burden upon society?

In this fight homosexuals say they are after dignity and sanction for their relationships when it is really the monetary benefits that they crave. Churches have performed “commitment ceremonies” for years now (some have even gone so far as to call these “marriages”), and no one is proposing that the government bring these farces to a halt. Let us simply ignore this issue, let them call themselves married if they wish, while we hammer away at the social cost.

Let’s also make sure this issue is not framed as a “right.” By stressing that rights come with responsibilities and, since a contragenic relationship carries with it no responsibilities, we can deny that it merits any rights. Such “rights” are no more than the privilege to indulge in social benefits without corresponding social contributions.

I can hear objections now: “What about lesbian couples — they can have children!” No they can’t. When a lesbian couple has a child only one of them is really the mother and the other is just — the sex partner of the mother, not the father. I have children and I know that the physical and spiritual bond between a mother and the child she carries, births, and nurses exceeds that of any other human bond. I love my kids, and I made them, but I did not make them or love them in the same way or degree that their mother did and to say that some woman, who did not make a child but is only the mother’s bed mate, could love that child as much as I love the ones I made is preposterous. And to say that woman should have the same rights over that child as the actual birth-mother is contrary to all human experience. Lesbian couples break up, just like all couples these days, and to grant parental rights to the non-generating “parent” is to make a mockery of the whole concept of parenthood.

What about the right to be “next of kin?” I have read newspaper items, as I am sure you have, of some poor lesbian in a coma whose parents won’t allow her “soul mate” to visit her in the hospital and that is tragic. This is, after all, a free country and people should be able to make and live their own lives. I know that before I got married, my father was, legally, my “next of kin” even though we had been estranged for some five years. If I were conscious and in a hospital I would not have let him see me, and it horrifies me that he could have been making life-or-death decisions about me if I were incapacitated. The whole idea of “next of kin” should probably be, for adults, an entirely discretionary decision. Who but the most hard-hearted would deny anyone the right to say that their best beloved is their “next of kin”? Let us take this off the table and make it a matter of free choice, a matter of getting a simple form notarized, not contracting a marriage.

I got married in 1985. Probably half-a-dozen of my friends were married that year and now none of them are still married. None of those couples had any kids either. But I’m still married and I have three kids and it’s not easy. It takes money to raise kids but, more than that, it takes time. Many was the time when my little Pumpkin came to me asking “Read to me, please?” when I was too tired to read to myself; yet I read to her. Now she's at Vassar and shows every sign of becoming a fine woman who will contribute much to society. And, though we have produced this wonderful little citizen, we have received scant few benefits from being married. We have taken care of our children ourselves, so we have no “day care” costs to write off on our taxes. Though our property taxes are high, they still do not fund the schools adequately and we have had to buy books and materials and volunteer countless hours of time. The personal exemptions on our taxes are a joke. We are in the trenches every day fighting the real battle of marriage, which is staying together and raising kids, and we feel like we are on our own. The benefits of marriage are so few now — yet would we be so capricious as to extend them to a group that contributes nothing to producing the next generation?

In this fight we must keep it secular. We must not speak of sacraments, or natural law, or Christian morality. Let us hit them in the bread-basket! They are after the goodies of marriage and, if we concede such things as “ceremonial marriage” and next-of-kin status, we can successfully deny them the tangible benefits that belong to fruitful relationships without being caught in the “fairness” issue. Let us be big, and let us fight fair, but let us fight the Moor with the Moor!