Friday, December 21, 2012

Hugh Hefner's Theology of the Body - and John Paul II's

Paul Adams

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is once again scheduled to be married to his fiancee Crystal Harris, this time on New Year's Eve, 2012.  Prompting some thoughts about puritanism and sexual expressionism...and John Paul II's answer to both.

I recently had the privilege of sitting in on a seminar taught by Professor Michael Waldstein, the distinguished theologian who not only translated John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body but also provided the book with a brilliant 128-page introduction.  One of the most memorable sessions involved an unscheduled discussion about Hefner's theology in relation to JP II's.  The occasion was the interview with Hef conducted in 2004 by religion reporter Cathleen Falsani.  According to Waldstein, Falsani is a very bright graduate of Wheaton, the Evangelical college).  The interview - under the improbable title “Hugh Hefner: Man of God?” - appeared in the SoMA Review.  I would link to it except that the site carries a computer safety warning.  Still, her account of the meeting is included in a collection of Falsani’s interviews with famous public figures about their spiritual lives.

The conversation with Hef is revealing and seemed to surprise both participants.  It seems Hef had a Puritan upbringing.  He's descended from the original Mayflower Puritans but was raised sorta Methodist as he explains (loose in dogma, strict in morality).  

To set the stage for looking at Hef and his spiritual evolution, first a word about concupiscence and adultery in the heart - the topic for the day from TOB.  Bear with me here and I think you'll find it interesting from a cultural perspective, if nothing else.  I think it brings out how very differently a Catholic thinks about things than a Protestant or secularist. The two - Protestantism and secularism - are closely linked, I think, historically and spiritually - some say Protestantism is a stepping stone to atheism.  Even some Protestant theologians like Alister McGrath, whose book, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, I reviewed here, thinks there is truth in the observation.  (See also Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society.)  Of course, in countries like the U.S. where Protestant/secularist culture predominates, even Catholics start to think like Protestants, a great loss to the larger culture as well as themselves.

In the Catholic view as explained by John Paul II, concupiscence is defective love, in as well as outside marriage, which it corrupts, so that even a marriage between Christians falls short of a Christian marriage when the spousal love is corrupted by it.  Thus adultery in the heart can happen even within a marriage while adultery in the flesh cannot.  But adultery in the flesh (i.e., involving someone outside the marriage) doesn't happen unless adultery in the heart has already happened.  A full and integral love (of flesh, blood, spirit) derives from the mystery of Creation (God who is love creates us out of love for love, so man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self [cf. Lk 17:33]).  

Our main difficulty with sexuality is that we don't see it in its full value, its real beauty, which is tied up with the spousal meaning of the body.  We are created male and female for a one-flesh union that is a full communion of persons, the archetype of which (without the sex) is the Trinity, a communion of Persons in the complete giving and receiving of love.  Jesus warns, not against normal sexual desires when he says the man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart (Mt. 5:27-28), but against the dehumanizing reduction of another person to an object for one’s own use, like a bar of chocolate.  His strictures, more harshly stated than the OT Law in some areas, can be a danger for persons of a scrupulous disposition.  But Jesus' point is not puritanical or sex-negative.  It is to reduce everything to the commandment of love, which Augustine summed up perfectly in the very non-Puritan injunction to "Love and do what you will."

So the answer to our tendency to objectify the person we are attracted to, to see her in a utilitarian way, in terms of her usefulness for our pleasure, is not to turn away in revulsion at our drives, our bodies, and sex, to take a cold shower (the Protestant-Kantian approach) but to love more.  Not to look away but to look more closely, to see the woman as a full person on her own journey through life and toward God, with her own goods (love is willing the good of the other as other, a matter of will and not just feeling or drives).  This corresponds more or less to the way Aristotle talks about friendship.  It's about living for someone and sharing life with them (the gift of self).  For the utilitarian alternative, think of the way I go to the store and buy a bar of fine dark chocolate.  I don't ask it if it wants to be bought and used by me for my pleasure.  I just pay for it, unwrap it, and eat it, an object of use for my pleasure, and then throw away the wrapper.  Treating a person that way is a real problem, combining slavery and rape.  Prostitution, even where it does not involve trafficking and coercion, is like that except it involves two people using each other in a commercial exchange in which each gets what they want, sex or money.  But there is no pretense of loving or even seeing the other as a full person with his or her own life journey, any more than there is in my relation with the cashier when I pay her for a bar of chocolate.

So what is the character of sexual desire in a right relationship?  It's part of an exchange of gifts--joy through giving and receiving joy.

From this perspective, utilitarianism is the other side of the coin of Puritanism.  Puritans, as did Luther, worried about selfishness.  You have to avoid pleasure in sex, or at most give it without receiving it.  This is manifestly absurd.  I kiss my wife to give her pleasure, but I make it clear that I am doing it for her, I get no pleasure from it myself as that would be selfish.  She'd slap my face.  Reminds me of the advice to English wives who were supposed to do their marital duty but not to enjoy it - just "lie back and think of England" - England being presumably so unerotic a thing to think about as to fill you with a sense of duty but without any pleasure attached.  Kant is like this, isn't he? - One should act out of duty only, not pleasure.

So in puritanism and porn (or hooking up), you have two sides of the same coin.  In both, sexuality is separated from the person, in one case to be repelled, in the other embraced as 'recreation.'  The actual teaching of Jesus is beautiful and liberating.  The real challenge is to love wholeheartedly, not defectively.

Hefner was consumed by the sense that an injustice was done to sex.  He was not hugged, he was left with a longing for love, which his mother could not express because hugging your kids is too pleasurable and like a good Lutheran she wanted to avoid pleasure.  So poor (though rich) Hef never broke out of his puritanism.  He just switched sides.  From born again to porn again. He is right to say (para. 4 of the interview) that organized religion (to the extent it embraced this puritan revulsion from sex) played havoc with people's lives and was very unChristian.  But he's wrong to tell his mother that because of what she was unable to give as love, "it set me on a course that changed my life and the world."  No it didn't.  He just changed sides, but remained as far away as ever from a full integration of sexuality with love and the full human integrity of the person.  He, no more than his mother, was able to love fully and integrally.  Both meant well, but neither was able to break out of their puritan chains.

Of course, Catholicism has been deeply influenced, more in some countries than others, by this puritan strain.  Nostra culpa.  But the challenge is to recover - in the midst of a deep dehumanization as well as desacralization of sex, the body, love, and marriage - a fully human and so fully Christian understanding, which seems more and more to be the task of countercultural 'creative minorities' rather than a socially available option on a large scale.

But young people who encounter JP II's TOB find it life-changing.  I wish more Catholics understood it and were capable of teaching it.  It's JP II's greatest gift to humanity, which is saying a lot given his many and profound contributions - to ending Soviet-style Communism/totalitarianism, stopping the rot in the Church, and his connection to millions of spiritually deprived young people.  (I like that poster of JP II, in the style of motivational management posters about teamwork.  It says, Generation JP II: Raising Our Parents Catholic.) 

Fr. Robert Barron has some excellent discussion of these themes in his essay, Sex, Love, and God: The Catholic Answer to Puritanism and Nietzcheanism.  See also such video clips of his as this:

and this, discussing Hanna Rosin and her defense of the hook-up culture as good for women -

Fr. Barron comments on the Tragedy at Newtown

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thomas Tallis, O Sacrum Convivium

St. Thomas Aquinas, scholar and Doctor of the Church, writes an ode to the Eucharist in which he says:

O sacred banquet!
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why "Merry Christmas" beats "Season's Greetings"

I like this article by Michael Cook from a year ago so much that I am posting it again, this time before Christmas!

Michael Cook | Tuesday, 20 December 2011
7 reasons why “Merry Christmas” will always beat “Season’s Greetings”


Let’s imagine for a moment that Christmas had never happened and that the Roman Emperor Aurelian had succeeded in establishing the feast of Sol Invictus on December 25 back in the year 274 AD.

Instead of Christmas, we would have had the Feast of the Unconquered Sun. At this time of year, just after the winter solstice, the lantern beaming light and heat hangs low in the sky; the days are dark and cold. But day by day it climbs back, infallibly reaching its fiery zenith at the summer solstice six months later. Yay! Way to go! This god has won more rounds than Manny Pacquiao! 

Had this happened, the colourless salutation “Season’s Greetings” might have conveyed something vaguely meaningful, especially if you’re shivering in the northern hemisphere. Something like: gor blimey, I can’t handle this brass monkey weather, but let’s hang in there and may the gods grant us a good harvest.”

It’s a hopeful sentiment, but not an inspiring one, a bit like the experience of eating tofu and celery sticks for Christmas dinner instead of tucking into mince pies and roast turkey. The sun rises and the sun sets; seasons come and seasons go. Whatever good or evil men do, the sun shines on them all alike with a divine indifference. For devotees of Sol Invictus, “Season’s Greetings” would have been a token of our inevitable submission to fate. This was the popular wisdom of the ancient world – from which Christmas has rescued us.

Whether or not you accept the Christian theological beliefs which underpin the celebration of Christmas, they have transformed Western society and they are in the process of transforming nations far from Bethlehem. Christmas, that is, the celebration of the moment in which the all-powerful creator of the Universe took on human flesh and entered human history, sends powerful, if unspoken, messages. Here are seven which are implicitly conveyed when we wish friends a “Merry Christmas”.

God cares. “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, — They kill us for their sport.” This comes from King Lear, but it is the wisdom of paganism. Life’s a bitch, and then you die. What the Incarnation, as the theologians call the act of God becoming man, shows for all time is that the Creator cares about his creatures. As the carol says, “and he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.” Jupiter, on the other hand, when presented with complaints about our sadness would probably say something like, “Yeah, whatever. Get over it. Stuff happens, you know.”

History matters. The ancients believed in the myth of the eternal recurrence, that history was not linear, but cyclic. Their cosmic fate was to live imprisoned in cycles which end in fire and then return in a new cycle, playing the same role over and over again. Its symbol is the dragon devouring its tail. But the implication of the Incarnation is that history is moving towards a climax which begins at Bethlehem. Our own participation in history makes a difference.

All men are fundamentally equal. We can get used to Christmas paintings of the manger, in which shepherds are rubbing shoulders with the Magi as they peer over Joseph’s shoulder. But the implications of this setting are immense. “With the poor, the scorned, the lowly, lived on earth our Saviour holy”: before the infant in the lowly cattle shed, distinctions of talent, rank and education are insignificant. All men are brothers.

Families are the cornerstone of society. Bethlehem suggested the ideal to which Christian families should aspire: a father and mother doting on their child, willing to make any sacrifice for his welfare. But the homely tenderness of this scene was virtually unknown in the ancient world. The Greeks and Romans were not strangers to domestic affection, but this was not the paradigm of their families. Without Christmas we would never have had the bubbly, loving warmth of the Cratchit family made famous in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Women have dignity. No women appear in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. There are famous women in ancient history, but most of them are queens and empresses like Cleopatra and Zenobia. In Bethlehem, a simple village girl, Mary, is the central figure. Kings bow in homage to her and her child. In the Christian tradition, capacity for motherhood gives women an incomparable dignity. As Cristina Rossetti’s marvellous poem (and carol) says,

Angels and archangels
  May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
  Thronged the air,
But only His mother
  In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
  With a kiss.

Children are special. The ancient world defined children by their powerlessness; they were just underdeveloped adults. But Bethlehem suggests that we should treasure their innocence and dependence. “Once in Royal David’s City” is a Victorian carol, but it expresses it nicely:
For he is our childhood's pattern,
day by day like us he grew;
he was little, weak and helpless,
tears and smiles like us he knew.
The fact that a defenceless child is the centre of the Christmas story also means that men and women are not to be valued by how productive they are, but simply because they are with us and share in a common nature. In the Gospel account this is underscored by the sequel to the Nativity, the Massacre of the Innocents by the vicious tyrant Herod.

We should send more Christmas cards. Western art was born on Christmas Day. We take for granted the human drama depicted on Christmas cards. But in other cultures, art was meant to be a faint reflection of unchanging, inalterable divinity. That’s why statues of Buddha depict him in a few stylised postures. Even Greek and Roman art presented idealised figures and seldom depicted ordinary life.

But art of the Christian era is based upon an altogether different philosophy: that all of human life has dignity because the Child of Bethlehem is both God and Man. Since then, everything in human life carries within it a spark of divinity and becomes a worthy subject for an artist. What sort of greeting cards would we have if the cult of Sol Invictus had survived? Probably much like we have now: images of snow-bound homes or decorative calligraphy. But nothing human, affectionate and tender.

So there you have seven reasons to say “Merry Christmas” with greater gusto in 2011. Let’s defy miserabilist Grinches who want to banish it from public life.

In any case, all this has happened before. Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas in England. In the 1640s the Long Parliament decreed that no holy days other than Sundays were to be celebrated. December 25 was to be observed with fasting and humiliation for the sins of countrymen who had turned the day into a feast, sinfully “giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights”. Shops and market were to be kept open for trading. Parliament was to meet for business on December 25. Christmas, said the Puritans, was a pestilent popish festival with no Biblical justification.

However, Cromwell failed to convert Merrie England to miserabilism. As soon as Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the Christmas bans were swept away. Mirth, mistletoe and plum pudding returned and the Christmas fast vanished. The reason for the season was no longer treason. Merry Christmas and "God bless us every one!"

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

This article is published by Michael Cook and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Marriage Needs Help, Pt.2

"Catholics Awake!" cries Anthony Esolen, "Marriage Doesn't Just Happen!" Two exclamation marks in one title, not Esolen's style so a particular indicator of the urgency with which he views the situation.
He notices that in the generally Catholic college where he teaches - and as I confirm from teaching at a non-Catholic public and private universities - boys and girls don't hold hands.
Let that serve as shorthand for the absence of all those rites of attraction and conversation, flirting and courting, that used to be passed along from one youthful generation to the next, just as childhood games were once passed along, but are so no longer.  The boys and girls don’t hold hands. 
I am aware of the many attempts by responsible Catholic priests and laymen to win the souls of young people, to keep them in the Church, and indeed to make some of them into attractive ambassadors for the Church.  I approve of them heartily.  Yes, we need those frank discussions about contraception.  We need theological lectures to counter the regnant nihilism of the schools and the mass media.  But we need something else too, something more human and more fundamental.  We need desperately to reintroduce young men and young women to the delightfulness of the opposite sex.  Just as boys after fifteen years of being hustled from institutional pillar to institutional post no longer know how to make up their own games outdoors, just as girls after fifteen years of the same no longer know how to organize a dance or a social, so now our young people not only refrain from dating and courting—they do not know how to do it.  It isn’t happening.  Look at the hands. 
In our swamp of miserable statistics, let me introduce another that is often overlooked.  In 1960—back when Wally Cleaver was wearing a jacket and tie to join other boys and girls at a party, for playing records and eating ice cream and dancing—in that already souring time, almost three out of four Americans aged 24 were married (72%).  Now that number is less than one in ten (9%)!  That is not a good thing.  First, it is evidence of deep and widespread loneliness.  We are not talking about people who are dating during all those years; they aren’t.  Some of them are bed-hopping; some are shacking up; some are simply alone.  That pretty much accounts for them all.  Three options, all bad. 
Second, it delays, perhaps derails for good, the time when young people will set down roots and integrate themselves into the great passage of the generations.  In a culture where marriage is really treasured, that time is the supreme aim of most people’s lives.  It is when the couple will plant orchards whose fruit they themselves will not enjoy—while tasting the fruit that has been made available to them by their parents and grandparents.  The married couple, open to bearing and raising children, assume wholly new relations to the world around them.  They need not rely upon the ministrations of a secular and soul-withering state.  They themselves make a society within the larger society. 
Third, it implies a divorce of love from the crazy vigor and cheerfulness of youth.  And this is what I specifically want to stress.  Young people should be oriented toward love; that is natural.  Grace perfects nature; but that means there has to be a nature to perfect.  But where, now, is the natural expression of this search for love?  There aren’t any boys climbing the mountains to pick edelweiss for their sweethearts.  There aren’t any sweethearts.  There aren’t any boys singing “Annie Laurie,” nor any Annies for them to sing to.  A whole mode of being has been lost, a mode of being that in every culture but our own produces a wealth of beauty, and sweeps young people along with its strong tide, into marriage and a world of families.
Esolen, author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, relates the problem to the damage we as irresponsible parents who over-schedule our children and leave them to the soul-destroying world of television, video games, and endless distractions, does not mince words:
What do we do about it?  Well, what would we do if we found a land of pallid, feeble, depressed children, kept withindoors all their lives, and so burdened with drudgery and the inanity of electronic gadgetry that they couldn’t climb a tree or fish in a pond or climb a mountain?  We wouldn’t give them lectures on the wonder of the simple joys.  We wouldn’t have them read articles proving the superiority of a way of life they cannot imagine.  We wouldn’t focus on the intellect at all!  For the problem is bigger than that, or more fundamental.  We would get them outdoors, right away.  It isn’t enough that no one prevent them from going outdoors, just as it isn’t enough right now that no one prevents our young people from holding hands, delighting in the company of the opposite sex, courting, and marrying.  They’re lost.  They hardly know where to begin.
It's as well he does not resort to satire, sarcasm, or irony as he does in the book.  When he tried that on Fox and Friends recently, the interviewers missed the irony entirely and, clearly flummoxed, cut short the interview after two and a half minutes. That itself is a sad commentary on our dying culture.  Satire depends on shared values.

Look what happens when adults, even in Catholic schools, colleges, and parishes, neglect their responsibility, hitherto a key task of all cultures, to steer their young toward marriage!
And, let’s be honest, among all sane people, one generation assumes some responsibility to ready the next generation for marriage.  They sponsor dances.  Where are the dances, the concerts, in our parishes?  Dancing, I know, is another one of those games that used to be passed along by the young to the young, but that’s long ceased to be the case.  Now all we’re left with are the epileptic jerks of disconnected “partners” on a strobe-lit stage, all conversation made impossible by noise from hell, or the embarrassing slow-dancing, which you can hardly engage in with somebody you are only beginning to get to know.
Esolen's point is that it is irresponsible to "let our youth muddle and meander; to suppose that marriage will eventually 'happen.'" (Esolen is a witty and articulate traditionalist in literary matters, especially scriptural and liturgical translation.  Here he properly uses the dying semi-colon.)
 For my whole life, the ecclesially minded have asked, “What can we do to keep our youth in the Church?”  And their attempts haven’t worked, because they have viewed young people as consumers of a churchly product, rather than as boys and girls, young men and young women, with obvious natures and needs.
We handled these things better and more naturally in the past, as Mormons, I understand, still do.  The answers Esolen proposes are "sweet and simple and ordinary things."

Marriage Needs Help, Pt 1

DECEMBER 3, 2012
The Marriage Gap in the Women’s Vote
This past year America has seen a trumped up “War on Women” that claimed women’s freedom depends on “reproductive rights.” At the height of the Presidential election, the Obama camp courted the female vote with an exhortation to “vote like your lady parts depend on it” (in an e-card on the Obama campaign Tumbler that was quickly removed, but not before conservative media drew attention to it) and compared voting for President Obama to losing one’s virginity (an Obama for America online ad featuring HBO’s Girls producer, 26 year old Lena Dunham). Then there was the Life of Julia campaign, an ad which showed how a woman could depend on an Obama-style government to provide for her needs throughout her entire life.
“There’s no way they’ll win on that,” skeptics thought, “this election is about the economy and jobs, and women are smarter than to allow themselves to be reduced to their private parts and government aid.” The skeptics were wrong. The buzz and data post the re-election of President Obama tells us that it was the women voters whose support for the President put him back in the Oval Office.
Nationally, the President won 55 percent of the women’s vote, but that vote was boosted by a large sub-demographic: unmarried women, who accounted for nearly a quarter of everyone who voted. Governor Mitt Romney won the married women’s vote by 53 percent to Obama’s 46 percent, but Obama won 64 percent of the single women’s vote, according to election day polling by the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund (WVWVAF). These women include those who are divorced, separated and never married. Many of them have a child or children.
As it turns out, the election was about economics for these women too—they just saw the economic issues differently than married women. Single women, who don’t have their husband’s income and support to fall back on, tend to favor more government support in their lives—support like no cost birth control, a benefit wrapped into the Affordable Care Act which President Obama enacted and Governor Romney vowed to roll back due to the religious liberty threat it poses.
According to analysts, the marriage gap in female voting is not new. But the size of the single woman demographic is new. According to the US Census there are 102 million unmarried individuals in America, and unmarried women are the majority of that group with 89 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women. Additionally, for the first time in Census history, marriage rates are below 50 percent with only 48 percent of households married. The average age of marriage is at record highs at 26 for women and 28 for men.
Along with the rise of singletons, America has witnessed a rise in out of wedlock childbearing. According to the CDC, 41 percent of births occur outside of marriage. And more than half of all births to women under the age of 30 are to women who are not married. In short, the traditional American path to marriage and parenting is not so traditional anymore.
It’s important to pause here to acknowledge that a great deal of social science marshals evidence that the best environment to raise a child is in a committed, man-woman marriage. Social science has also found marriage is very often the best path to stability and prosperity—both fiscal and emotional. This path deserves social and political support, therefore, not simply because it is traditional but because it is a key to happiness and the American Dream of a better and fuller life.
The question for conservatives, in the light of their political defeat, is how seriously they take the issue of marriage and the path to it. It is time to reflect seriously on their political platform and messaging and to ask how America arrived at the point where an election could be influenced, perhaps decisively, by encouraging sex without babies, and babies without marriage—all with government support.
Hindsight is 20/20, and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the message of contraception and abortion as absolutes for women’s health and freedom won out in this election. After all, for the past 40 years a majority of women have bought some version of the feminist message that equality for women will only be found when women became more like men.
Contraception has allowed women to “have sex like men”—that is, without concerning themselves about pregnancy. They can be child-proofed by contraception as the first “protector” and abortion as the “back-up.” When the “protection” fails because of human or method error (as it often does given that 54 percent of women seeking abortion were using contraception around the time they became pregnant), abortion is often expected.
Many women, though constrained by their biological clock, still want marriage and children, but social pressures no longer predominantly demand that a man wed a woman who is bearing their child. So, when a woman decides to give life to her child, it is, as the mantra goes, “her body, her choice”—and often largely hers to raise.
This “sexual freedom” was supposed to empower women and make them less dependent upon men. Well, women are less dependent upon men now. But it appears their dependency has shifted to the government. And can we really blame them for wanting—in some cases needing—some sort of support?
The conservative message that lost this election was not one that doesn’t care for those in need of support. No, the conservative message that lost was one that failed to adequately communicate how it wants to help all Americans get the support they and their families need to live happily and securely. This must include encouragement to have children within a stable marriage. After all, no one really wants to, or should have to go through the trials and joys of life alone.
A ray of hope here is that desire for marriage remains high among young Americans. According to a 2009 report conducted by the non-partisan research firm Child Trends, 83 percent of young adults ages 20 to 24 responded that it was important or very important to them to be married at some point in their life. More than three-fourths of those young adults answered that love, fidelity, and making a lifelong commitment are all “very important” components of a successful relationship. And in a 2010 survey, conducted by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, 82 percent of respondents, ages 18 to 32, answered that they intended to marry and remain married for life.
Since at least the 1970s, social scientists have asked high school teens about their own prospects for marriage; anywhere from 77 to 88 percent of teens respond that they expect to marry someday. In fact, in a 2006 study by the Monitoring the Future project at the University of Michigan, 91 percent of high school students said that having a good marriage was either “important” or “extremely important” to them, with only 2 percent reporting it was “not important.”
But how do we help young Americans realize these desires and appreciate also the support gained through the partnership of marriage?
“It is not enough to promise health, wealth, and happiness—benefits the social science evidence shows that married couples on average enjoy—to young couples considering marriage,” say researchers David and Amber Lapp of the Institute for American Values. This is especially so since the government is attempting to provide many of those benefits.
But we fool ourselves if we believe that, in a country the size of America, we’re really in a partnership with the government or that government regulations are really able to be tailored to every individual’s needs. Instead, we must communicate to young Americans that marriage offers committed support, in good times and in bad, and reduced their need of government support—which inevitably will fail them.
Marriage isn’t always easy and there won’t always be happiness, but we should help women, and men, see that it does not mean simply becoming dependent on another person (rather than the Department of Health and Human Services) but working with another person to achieve their unique needs and desires. And most importantly, that marriage offers the fierce commitment, acceptance and love that all individuals crave.
This essay first appeared December 3, 2012 on and is reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Not.

Paul Adams

When the Mensheviks walked out of the Petrograd Second Congress of Soviets, on October 25, 1917 (Julian calendar), thereby enabling the Bolsheviks to establish their dominance, Trotsky famously declared: "You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on—into the dustbin of history!"

Ronald Reagan made ironic use of the famous phrase when he addressed the British House of Commons on June 8, 1982: "... freedom and democracy will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history."

Whether or not Nikita Khrushchev actually banged his shoe at the UN in 1960 is a matter of dispute - eyewitnesses differ.  But that he said "We will bury you," he himself admitted: "I once said, 'We will bury you,' and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you."

The Nazis shared this sense of the inevitability of victory, that history was on their side, something well captured in the creepily stirring scene in Cabaret where the young Nazi sings "Tomorrow belongs to me" - itself an ironic reprise of the even more famous Marseillaise scene in CasablancaThat scene itself seems like a defiant answer to actual Nazi "tomorrow belongs to us" propaganda - think of Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi classic, Triumph of the Will.  (Casablanca was made during WWII when France was still under German occupation and the actors' tears were real - nothing in the script called for crying.)

What reminded me of all this is the repeated use in utopian-statist politics of left and right of the theme that history is on our side, resistance is futile and will be crushed.

In the less sinister soft totalitarianism of today's supporters of abortion and same-sex marriage - neither of whose representatives are willing to engage in rational debate with their opponents, preferring to smear them as haters, bigots, misogynists, or homophobes - we see the same sense of historical inevitability as if the matter had been definitively settled and there was nothing to debate. This rhetoric of inevitably is often combined with a semi-mystical adoration of the leader.  We see this most recently   in the secular (or is it?) messianism surrounding and encouraged by Barack Obama.  Check out the quotes and pictures collected by the Obamessiah site, like these:

"We have an amazing story to tell," she said. "This president has brought us out of the dark and into the light."
-- Michelle Obama

"Obama is, of course, greater than Jesus."
-- Politiken (Danish newspaper)

"No one saw him coming, and Christians believe God comes at us from strange angles and places we don't expect, like Jesus being born in a manger."
--Lawrence Carter

"Many even see in Obama a messiah-like figure, a great soul, and some affectionately call him Mahatma Obama."
-- Dinesh Sharma

"We just like to say his name. We are considering taking it as a mantra."
-- Chicago] Sun-Times

"A Lightworker -- An Attuned Being with Powerful Luminosity and High-Vibration Integrity who will actually help usher in a New Way of Being"
-- Mark Morford

"What Barack Obama has accomplished is the single most extraordinary event that has occurred in the 232 years of the nation’s political history"
-- Jesse Jackson, Jr.

"This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
-- Barack Obama

"Does it not feel as if some special hand is guiding Obama on his journey, I mean, as he has said, the utter improbability of it all?"
-- Daily Kos

"He communicates God-like energy..."
-- Steve Davis (Charleston, SC)

"Not just an ordinary human being but indeed an Advanced Soul"
-- Commentator @ Chicago Sun Times

"I'll do whatever he says to do. I'll collect paper cups off the ground to make his pathway clear."
-- Halle Berry

"A quantum leap in American consciousness"
-- Deepak Chopra

"He is not operating on the same plane as ordinary politicians. . . . the agent of transformation in an age of revolution, as a figure uniquely qualified to open the door to the 21st century."
-- Gary Hart

"Barack Obama is our collective representation of our purest hopes, our highest visions and our deepest knowings . . . He's our product out of the all-knowing quantum field of intelligence."
- Eve Konstantine

"This is bigger than Kennedy. . . . This is the New Testament." | "I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often. No, seriously. It's a dramatic event."
-- Chris Matthews

In all of this we find a secularized version of Christianity - no wonder the Christian overtones of so many of the quotes above about Obama.  It is a salvationist view, a curious combination of mechanistic determinism - history is on our side and victory is inevitable - with a pure Will to Power unconstrained by reality.  It is mystical and technocratic at the same time.  It believes, in its modern form, that there is a body of scientific knowledge that, when properly applied by experts holding the levers of state power, can resolve all social problems.  It is anti-democratic to the core, holding the implicit wisdom of ordinary people over generations in utter contempt.

I am very interested in how this technocratic-utopian way of looking at things evolved, starting with nominalism (Duns Scotus, Ockham) and proceeding through Bacon and Descartes (fact-value split, mechanics-science as replacing teleology, the 'I' as somehow outside and above nature and manipulating it in the interest of gaining power...) through the Enlightenment and French Revolution to Nietzschean will-to-power on one hand and rationalistic scientism on the other.

Underlying it all are the only apparently opposed ideological elements of voluntarism and mechanistic or crude determinism - both of which you find in Stalinism. In theology voluntarism has several variants, but roughly we may say it emphasizes the will and power of God in contrast to his Reason or ours.  It sees God as unconstrained by logic or his own laws (if indeed he has any laws).

In Marxism, voluntarism emphasizes the centrality of will as opposed to the balance of forces and the economic and other determinants of the constraints and possibilities of a particular situation. Voluntarism and economic or historical determinism can appear as opposites, the one suggesting that anything is possible if our will and determination are strong enough, the latter that history takes place behind our backs, its forces producing the rise and defeat of capitalism and the victory of socialism independently of human will.  One emphasizes the subjective state of the agents of revolution and especially its leaders, the other can warrant a kind of passivity, since progress and change happen independently of our will.  We can use our intellects to study the nature of capital, but we do not need to get up early and go down to the factory gates to sell the revolutionary newspaper.

But in practice voluntarism and determinism of this kind often reinforce each other.  As we see in the "tomorrow belongs to me" scene, the sense of inevitable victory inspires and stiffens the resolve of activists and those they seek to persuade.  Because history is on our side - historical determinism - the party and especially the Leader, to whom absolute obedience is owed, are right in whatever they decide and will - voluntarism.  Opponents are enemies of Progress, History, etc., who must be suppressed rather than debated.

All this is evident in today's "Tomorrow belongs to me" tendencies in current illiberal-liberal rhetoric, not to mention in the violence and irrationality of at least many forms of Islam that counterpose and subordinate reason to the Divine Will - a religion of revelation rather than of reason and revelation, fides et ratio.  In such a voluntarist theology (and politics) the good becomes whatever God (or the Leader) wills, rather than God (who is Logos and Love) willing it because it is good and in accord with reason and the real nature of things.  In any case, supporters of redefining the reality of marriage to separate sex from procreative acts and adult sexual relationships from children, or of defining contraception and abortion as "women's reproductive health care" - i.e., the very opposite of their real nature - do not lapse into complacent passivity as a result of their sense of inevitable victory.  They are energized by it and bring an intensified animus to their campaigns - Obama's re-election campaign was by some accounts the most negative and hateful in American history.

The connection among all this has to do with reality.  Thomist philosophy-theology is realist in the sense that it sees nature as a book written by God that we can learn to read (to the extent our limited human capacities permit) that has implications for how we can truly find ourselves by realizing our real nature and destiny.  That understanding of nature as the predictable, law-governed creation of a rational, non-arbitrary God (Logos) has implications for both science and ethics.  That's what made it possible for science to flourish and develop in medieval Christendom whereas it withered under Islam as that religion rejected a view of God as Reason-Logos and instead insisted on a voluntarist view - God can do whatever he wants, is not limited by reason or logic, can square the circle or order people to commit murder - and so make it right and indeed obligatory - if he wishes.

Reality thus constrains what we can actually do, whatever we may want or will.  So it limits tyrants, but also frames what in fact is the best way for us to live together (justice) or the best institutional setting in which to bear and educate children (marriage and family), as opposed to the voluntarist view that ends up as a kind of intolerant statism - these things are whatever the state says they are, and that comes down to power and the Triumph of the Will ... and anyone who dissents is a reactionary standing athwart the ineluctable forces of history.

Sacred Art

by Cornelius Sullivan

The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.
-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -1.  

Pope Benedict the scholar has not cited the great intellectual tradition of the Church or a philosophical system, he names two places where the faith is en-fleshed. These two treasures still inspire pilgrimages. Pilgrims go to Assisi because Saint Francis was there. Back packing pilgrims for art go to the Sistine Chapel for art and in Rome and throughout Europe retrace the steps of pilgrims for the faith from centuries past.

Support for sacred art does not exist in any Catholic university. Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have insisted that art should have a major role in the New Evangelization.

With a few exceptions, works of art in Catholic Churches today are ordered from the catalogs of furniture suppliers, the ones who provide the pews and the candle sticks. This is in spite of the clear urging of the Second Vatican Council almost a half a century ago for pastors to use local artists to create religious works. 

From the poet author of “The Hound of Heaven”, Francis Thompson:  

 The Church, which was once the mother of poets no less than saints, during the last two centuries has relinquished to aliens the chief glories of poetry, if the chief glories of holiness she has preserved for her own. The palm and the laurel, Dominic and Dante, sanctity and song, grew together in her soul: she has retained the palm, but forgone the laurel. … But poetry sinned, poetry fell; and in place of lovingly reclaiming her, Catholicism cast her from the door to follow the feet of her pagan seducer. The separation has been ill for poetry; it has not been well for religion. 2.

Catholic colleges and universities have preserved intellectual disciplines from earlier centuries with core classes in Theology, Philosophy, and the study of Literature, but they have shied away from any creativity in art. Instead they have embraced Reformation-like iconoclastic ideas. And art is partly to blame. As Thompson said “poetry sinned”. Art sinned even more. Art became autonomous, no longer serving, but always proclaiming its own newness and freedom from restraint and even freedom from relevance to people’s lives. The self referential stance of Modern Art inevitably had to lead to a complete break with any connection to the real, as most people view it, ending in Conceptual Art, art solely as an idea. So, art has become just an idea that man the creator generates. There is no acknowledgment that he is a creature and there is no realization of the truth of the Incarnation. The Church’s distance from music has not been so great because some consensus has been possible. Bad music hurts the ears. Bad art can be shrugged off and then it lingers somewhere in the back of the brain like a bad dream. The elitism of contemporary art is maintained.

Without the holy images, we are in danger of forgetting the face and thus the flesh of the Son of God. The mysteries of the life of Jesus fade from our minds. In the eight and ninth and sixteenth centuries, and again in our own time, Iconoclasm always tends towards Docetism. Robbed of the beauty of sacred art, the Christian can become blind to the beauty of Divine Revelation. And that is disastrous, for, when sundered from beauty, truth becomes correctness without splendour and goodness a value of no delight. 3.

The holiness of beauty is ordered to the beauty of holiness. Sacred art is intended to encourage saintly life. Both are transparent to Christ, radiate the splendour of His truth. Both, in their different ways, are gifts of God. - 4.

1. Joseph Ratzinger & Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, Ignatius Press, 1987.
2. Francis Thompson, frontispiece, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity and the Truth of Catholicism, John Saward, Ignatius, 1997. 
3. Saward, p. 25.  
4. Saward, p. 84