Photo by Robert Phelps
Starstuff: May Wonder Never Cease …
Faith: The Promise And The Price
The Beguiling Illusion of Empowerment
I’m Spiritual But Not Religious
The Lesser Angels Of Our Nature
An Elder Ponders The Question:
Contemplating the Number 321,384
17 December 2018
Christmas And Family
Everyone enters this world as a vulnerable and utterly dependent child, giving witness to humanity’s universal need to receive and to inspire love and affection … and that’s what family is all about.
To love and to be loved: this is the first principle which defines human nature. And nowhere in life is this principle closer to each of us than in the family.
It is the family which -- by God’s design and Nature’s guidance -- gives us the moral bases and the emotional balance to face inevitable travail and confounding ambiguity. It is the network of relationships within the family which molds our values and unfolds our personality, which forms our character and sustains us for a lifetime.
To love and to be loved: this is the first and final end to which we are called by our Creator, each and all of us. And, to that Godly end, family is (or should be) the benign community where we learn to love and to be loved; where we learn to respect ourselves and others; where we learn self-restraint in the expression of our God-given wants and desires throughout our length of days.
However, reality tells us that no family is without difficulties and conflicts which challenge our loving instincts and needs. Sadly, some families become entwined in distractions and denial as they avoid confrontations which are so often painful, but fundamentally curative.
In fact, candid clarity is the core of knowing and trusting in family life. When such communication falters, our relationships cease to flourish, and our family ability to move beyond conflict and resentment is thwarted. Then is life’s balance severely off-set. Chaos – emotional, physical, spiritual – often ensues and solidifies in quiet frustration. We are stymied, vulnerable, wounded as persons and as families – yet still bound by the unspoken code of avoidance. Our hearts are strained; we are conflicted within ourselves and with each other. Family dysfunction and the disintegration of trust and love quietly become routine.
One Family In Particular
Giving and receiving love are nowhere more poignantly or humanely revealed than in the forgiving touch and consoling voices of our faithful family -- especially in the disarming simplicity of a child’s smile.
There was a child born long ago to a couple traveling in great discomfort along darkened, dusty roads. The husband worked with his hands, a carpenter by trade. He was taking his pregnant wife on a journey commanded by a hostile, occupying foreign power. His wife was a very young Jewish girl, close to delivering her first-born. And, while they journeyed, her time did indeed come … and they were forced by harsh circumstances to find shelter in -- of all places for a child to be born -- a stable.
For thirty years thereafter, the family lived a quietly, unobtrusively austere life. But it was a life filled with an abundance of family kindness and harmony which only a loving family life provides. And, as in every loving family, the goodness of each brought peace and serenity to all.
The child grew in age and wisdom. Even before he reached his teens, he startled elders with the depth of his learning about history and the human search for meaning and the laws of God. His insights were precocious and prescient; even his parents were taken aback … and his mother kept all memories of her Son in her heart, and she cherished him -- as only a mother can do.
The Message . . . . .
Later in his life, his startling insights grew into an explicit philosophy. He left his family and began to share his beliefs with others. His message was a challenge to selfishness and pride. He told stories which had a moral point. For example, he told people not to seek revenge, not to promote aggression, not to hold grudges, not to pretend to goodness by self-righteous posturing, not to pose hypocritically.
Gradually, crowds followed him. Instead of hurting one another, he said, be patient with one another. Be kind and generous and forgiving with one another. How? By giving love and by receiving love.
He emphasized the path of humility and the way of goodness, but he never downplayed the fact that wrongdoers exist and should be held accountable by God and man. Nor was he hesitant to express his own anger when God’s laws were mocked. He did not flinch at criticism, even when his words threatened ruling elites.
His constant message was that we must love one another, not with toxic pride nor virtue-signaling, but with a proper sense of self-respect and clarity of motivation which truth and conviction inspire.
Above all else, he urged his listeners to live according to the simplest of all God’s laws, i.e., that first principle of loving and being loved. Our life’s mission is to love God, to love one’s self within proper limits, and to love the people around us – even strangers, even those who seem to be our enemies, even those who treat us dismissively or harshly or violently – even those who are blind to truth and, therefore, who know not what they are really doing.
And his mandate went even further, as he told his followers to embrace the needy child, the shunned and anxious elderly, and the countless lonely souls whose hearts still yearn for a consoling glance and kindly words of care – even if they are total strangers to us.
By his words and his example, he taught that each life is both a blessing and, at the same time, a struggle. He held that each person has a dignity and value which his followers must recognize and respect. No person’s life is without blessing and struggle, dignity and value.
Furthermore, he taught his followers that both our blessings and our struggles may be used for our own betterment, for the best interests of our family and for the good of our community -- even those weighed down with disbelief, or those who smugly dismiss his ideas as the foolishness and rant of a naïve idealist.
And The Price . . . . .
Many people found (and still find) his words a validation of their deepest yearnings and a respite from their deepest fears. However, other people find his words to be hard sayings. “How can we be loving persons,” they object, “when we are beset by hunger and war and loss of loved ones -- and the thousand wounds which life inflicts on body and mind? How can we remain hopeful about life and stay loving toward others when so many around us refuse to open their hearts to us, when they close their ears to our affliction and refuse our affection? Is there no limit to the darkness in our souls and the coldness of this world? How much must we accept? How can we love when we suffer rebuff and avoidance and indifference … even from those whom we call family?
Some people-in-power found his message threatening to their hard-hearted practice of putting themselves at the center of their community. Some of these stiff-necked cynics lived in festooned bastions of narcissism, shrines to their self-appointed superiority, often achieved at the expense of folk who have neither the temptation to power nor the will to deceive.
After several years of tolerating his message of loving and being loved, these threatened elites -- resenting his popularity and his candor -- took their revenge. They accused him (falsely, obscenely) of a number of crimes. He was sentenced to die. And at his gruesome execution, only his faithful mother and a very few friends stood loyally by him.
And so he paid the greatest price for his beliefs …. but his message is still clear and persuasive to this day: if we choose, we can be persons who love and who are loved, no matter how dire our circumstances or how dreary our vision of life or how faint our faith in ourselves may be. BUT …… we cannot love or be loved without involving ourselves in the lives of others, without risk of honest encounters with the needs and hopes of others, without responding humbly to others.
We cannot love nor be loved without giving of ourselves to others, without placing our undefended vulnerabilities into the hands of others -- with hope and humility.
The Path Today
We Americans do live a most enviable life materially. We are physically safe from those who wish us ill. Most of us live in abundance, amid many blessings, as extensive suffering in this world daily reveals. Unfortunately, many of us also live in excessive thrall to the comforts with which we surround ourselves. We are able to compensate ourselves in soothing ways when we are inconvenienced, when our ease is ruffled or our egos bruised.
As happens to people blessed with lack of want, we ofttimes forget the first principle of loving others which requires that we give the gift of our very selves.
There are countless ways in which we can express our love for others. Sometimes we do so with gifts, especially in family at Christmas. But gifts are symbols, stand-ins for the self. Gifts are good and should be given when possible. But let us also remember that no gift can substitute for the gift of self, the gift of listening, of showing concern in word and attention … for it is those small but crucial personal gestures which endow life with depths of meaning otherwise not found.
The most priceless gift we can give others is our love, our care and kindness, our very selves. No greater gift exists – and it is in the family that such lessons are learned, such courage mastered, such love imparted.
The Family As Model
Loving and being loved, starting in family. That’s what we are here to do … with one another and for one another. Love does not pretend that faults do not exist, especially in family life. But love starts and ends in family. In family, together, our love insists that we face our faults with courage and support, without avoidance or denial or excuses. In family, our God-given commitment to love one another and to be loved by one another must be ever-stronger than our fears or our defensive egos.
In family, our shared goal is that we can one day say to one another:
“You know my faults and I know yours. We have embraced the challenges and worked together to love one another with full knowledge of our faults. Our faults have become our common links to one another and our inspiration to love one another. Rather than obstacles, our faults and fears are now our shared bonds by which we give each other time and attention and patience and hope and the reality that we are loved, not despite who we are but because of who we are. And for our years of shared giving, our mutual loving and trusting and giving, we have learned to love and to be loved as a family. As a result, our lives and our souls are closer to one another and to God.”
It is for this purpose that the little child still comes into this world. It is for this purpose we, too, were born.
It is for these reasons that we have time and energy, and all the abundance of God’s blessings which His Creation has put at our fingertips …. most especially, our family. And it is for these reasons that Christmas is a never-ended event.
Finally, it is in our family that we should hear the most rewarding words we will hear in our lifetime:
“I thank you for generously sharing your life and your love with me. And I thank God for helping us share our lives together and for helping us love one another -- and for our being loved together. You are the Beloved of my heart, the most precious gifts God has given me in my life … and I love you ......”
This is Christmas.
28 November 2018
Starstuff: May Wonder Never Cease …
Carl Sagan was an astronomer and astrophysicist, an educator and a dedicated lover of life and learning. He died just before Christmas 1992, when he was only 62 years old … far too young for anyone who so tenaciously embraced life, who thrived as teacher and learner, who so relished the bounteous gifts of Creation -- and made wonderment so appealing.
His wife, Ann Druyan, tells us that Dr. Sagan wanted us to see ourselves as “starstuff,” as made of atoms forged in the fiery hearts of distant stars. And, to be clear, his words were not merely poetic imagery. We humans are, indeed, made up of the chemistry of the cosmos, of elements which comprise the incredibly complex and ultimately unfathomable reality of the Universe, our home.
Sagan described humanity, poetically and factually, as “…starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of 10 billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose.”
He defined science, in part, as “informed worship,” because, he added, science and religion are two approaches to the same reality, two ways of pursuing a sacred search.
Read And Look ……. And Wonder
But what do we know about our Universe, and about our place in it? For starters, let’s look at our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
It’s called the Milky Way because ancient observers perceived the stars in the night sky as a milky band of light stretching across the darkened evening sky.
And it is huge…….
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) tells us that our Sun (which is a star) is one of at least -- at least -- 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy……. That’s 100 billion (or more) suns in our one galaxy … and we know billions of other galaxies exist.
Our Milky Way is what NASA calls a spiral galaxy about 100,000 light-years across. In case you forget, a “light-year” is the distance which light travels in one year --- about 5.878 trillion miles in one (one) year. That’s trillion with a “t”.
The stars in the Milky Way Galaxy are arranged in a pinwheel pattern with four major arms. Our Earth is located in one of those spinning arms, about two-thirds of the way outward from the center. Most of the 100 billion (or thereabouts) stars in our Milky Way Galaxy also have their own families of circling planets. Many of these newly discovered stars -- these solar systems -- are quite different from our own.
The Milky Way and its 100 billion (or more) stars orbit a supermassive black hole at our Galaxy’s center. NASA estimates that this central black hole is four million times as massive – bigger in size and weight - as our Sun. Not to worry, however: this black hole is, NASA adds soothingly, a safe and comfy distance from Earth, around 28,000 light-years away – a relief for those prone to panic attacks and catastrophic thoughts.
As a further humbling aside, NASA reminds us that our Milky Way Galaxy is but one of countless billions (again, with a “b”) of galaxies in the Universe, each having millions, or frequently, billions of stars of its own.
Moreover, scientists calculate that at least 100 billion galaxies exist in the observable -- observable -- universe. Each galaxy is brimming with stars but, in addition, each galaxy also writhes and evolves within a matrix of incalculable space which, even to the trained eye, seems empty. But space itself is packed with yet-to-be-seen energies (which are measurable) and yet-invisible forces (also measurable) which science simply cannot explain.
As my high school friends in Chicago used to interject: “Say what?”
Speed And Distance
And there’s more …….
NASA then tells us that all the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy spin in a galactic orbit around that central supermassive black hole. Our whole Galaxy spins at an average speed of about 514,000 mph. At that speed, it takes about 230 million years (or so) for our solar system to complete one revolution around that humongous black hole at our Milky Way’s center.
Next, we should note that our Milky Way Galaxy is only part of what astronomers call the “Local Group.” The “Local Group” is a “neighborhood” about 10 million light-years across. The Local Group consists of more than 30 galaxies bound to each other by the force of gravity. The most massive galaxy in our “Local Group” -- and the one closest to our Milky Way -- is the Andromeda Galaxy.
The Andromeda Galaxy is 10 billion (or so) years old, contains a trillion (or so) stars and is 2.5 million (or so) light years from our Milky Way. By the way, the Andromeda Galaxy is on a collision course with our Milky Way Galaxy, and will bump into us in about four billion years (or so) … quite a sight for star gazers.
Our “Local Group” is only one of many, many clusters of galaxies. And that’s not all: these countless galaxies are all moving away -- away -- from each other. As a result, more and more space exists between them.
Conclusion? The Universe is still expanding, still enlarging itself. This discovery led to the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe. The echoes and the energy from the Big Bang are still very much active -- almost 14 billion years after it happened (assuming that the Big Bang did actually happen).
Another fact: these countless galaxies are not all made up of solid stuff, such as Earth is. Clouds of roiling gas and space dust comprise many of these galaxies. But … scientists have figured out that something more than observable stars and clouds of gas and dust is responsible for the astonishing abundance of additional gravity.
What accounts for this added immense gravitational force?
The source of this additional gravity is called “dark matter.” Astronomers estimate that there is five times more “dark matter” out there than what they can actually observe. Mysteriously, this “dark matter” (whatever it is) can be detected only by its gravitational pull, which bends even light. In this context, then, the word “dark” means it’s there -- but we cannot see it.
But Wait ….. There’s More !!
And that’s not all.
You’d think that, at some point, gravity would slow up the expanding Universe. You’d naturally assume that galaxies and stars and moons and planets and all the moving parts of our Universe would slow up -- especially after all these billions of years of moving outward -- and maybe even back up a bit.
Not so. Not so….. In the 1990s, scientists discovered that the Universe’s expansion is actually speeding up, getting faster. Again, at a loss to explain these mysteries, science calls the source of this acceleration “dark energy.”
So, we now have “dark matter” and “dark energy” in the Universe. No one knows what they are, only that they’re out there, exerting force and energy and change and constant movement, pushing the Universe outward at increasing speed.
And here’s yet another startling realization: “Dark energy” makes up about 68 percent of everything in the universe. “Dark matter” accounts for another 27 percent. This means what we see and observe about the Universe is barely five percent of its total.
Once again, to invoke my sage Chicago friends from high school days of yore: “Say what?”
Recalling Sagan’s Point
While some scientists deny the validity of religion in human affairs, Carl Sagan believed the objectives of religion and science were certainly compatible. He admired William James’s provocative definition of religion as “the feeling of being at home in the Universe,” and he acknowledged the bonds between science and religion. Certainly, there are cautions to be observed in terms of the methods and truths claimed by each. But commonalities are united in our expressions of awe and gratitude at these astonishing facts which, as we can see, reveal only a fraction -- a very small fraction -- of our Universe’s complexity.
Sagan advised us -- and I so agree -- that the best way to engage our religious sensibility, to ignite our innate sense of awe, is for us merely to look up on a clear night. He believed that “…everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky. This,” he added, “is reflected throughout the world in both science and religion… It’s after an exercise such as this that many people conclude that the religious sensibility is inevitable…”
So, What Are Our Options
When we are candid, we know that we are all errantly prone to degrees of pretentious self-adulation and ego-flailing fallibility. Every honest person knows this all too well. We are -- all of us -- on risky ground when we allow our unchecked egos to dominate, instead of embracing self-restraint and humility, and accepting the gratifying limitations of Truth.
Awe and gratitude stand in stark contrast to denial, hubris and self-indulgent puffery which, sooner or later, serve us badly. When we gaze upon the Universe in front of us with
awe and gratitude, we are soon challenged by our own fragility. Even the gift of sight should prompt us to awe and gratitude.
Awe - that moment of simple wonderment - has the quiet power to untangle our needless defenses, to free us from pretense, to instill in us simplicity of heart by touching our vulnerability and tapping into our lingering innocence.
Gratitude -- that moment of gentle thanks for a gift freely given -- unlocks dispositions and sentiments which calm our preening egos. Gratitude gives pause to aggressive ambition, soothes edgy skepticism, calms clouded cynicism, relieves weary nihilism and heals troubled souls.
The Heart Of The Matter
So, it is for healthy reasons that we study, then ponder, the Universe, that we look upon incalculable space and unimaginable time. It is for beneficial reasons that we look with awe and gratitude upon the mysteries -- visible and invisible -- these facts bring to mind and spirit.
And, as we ponder, another realization hits us: amid all the mystery and power and ever-ness which our Universe possesses … here we are!
We are part of all this, part of Creation, part of the “starstuff” pondering the stars….. and ponder we must, for we are human.
As we realize what the Universe, in all its stunning complexity, is revealing to us, then does our simplicity of heart surely seem all the more appealing, all the more essential, all the more persuasive and credible, all the more available.
Nevertheless, many people find ways to obscure our natural sense of awe and displace our natural sense of gratitude to which the Universe -- and our Creator -- call us.
Too often do we miss the beauty and grace of Creation. Too often do we stifle our appreciation for the mysteries in our Creator’s constant epiphanies, mysteries clothed in beauty all around us, revealed to us in the stunning raiment of our Milky Way and its splendid, overwhelming presence.
Some people want to obscure simple truth and stifle quiet beauty. They disdain awe, belittle gratitude and dismiss our natural responses to incalculable beauty. And, when people scurry into fictive denial and pride-filled avoidance, their problems are compounded, even though awe and gratitude can bestow upon them hopeful hearts and peaceful minds.
Awe and gratitude are graces from God, gifts freely given by God, calls to share Divine insight, invitations to relish His Presence. God’s grace is meant to inspire in us moments of simple resignation and acknowledgement that we are children of our Creator, His children … and nothing less.
Awe and gratitude reveal to us that the Universe is a constant invitation, a vast panoply of God’s Revelation, a never-ending declaration of His Love. Awe and gratitude are Divine gifts which God generously hands us – for free.
Gazing at the night sky, looking back into the mystery of time, stilled and humbled in wonderment of God’s Creation, we are then left with the quietly comforting reality that grace -- God's grace -- is everywhere for us to see and accept.
We have only to look upward some starry night and allow awe and gratitude to seep into our minds and hearts, so that we may willingly become more grateful to our Creator, more in awe of His gifts to us -- more loving to those around us and, thus, more fully human….. as He intends now, and has always intended for us --- from the very beginning, when time began.
21 November 2018
Knowing Beyond Knowledge:
A Word To The Wise
You’re in the kitchen, slicing vegetables. Four-year-old Henry, curious as always, reaches for a knife. Naturally, you say, “No, Henry. No!! you can’t have that!! You’ll hurt yourself….. NO!!”
Henry’s insatiable wonderment is piqued. With his lower lip in a sly pout, Henry asks the oldest question in humanity’s ageless vocabulary: “Whhyyy?”
Protecting Henry is the natural reaction, the intelligent response, a truly glorious instinct. No right-thinking person (well, almost none) would willingly injure a child.
But … as we examine the moment … there’s much more involved!!!
The Universal Journey
Your cautionary response is the first step in Henry’s life-long journey of wondering, asking, learning, becoming. It’s a universal journey all human beings take as we search for meaning, for the “why” and the “what” and the “who” at the very core of our lives.
Our journey immerses us in life’s most essential human enterprise, i.e., the process of learning how to become rational, intelligent human beings, how to bring order and coherence out of random, often chaotic, events, how to find meaning and purpose and the point of it all. It is a journey safeguarded by Nature’s sometimes burdensome but beneficial rules which dignify human existence -- when the rules are honored.
In our journey, we move from raw instincts to self-restraint, from simple curiosity to depths of understanding, from rudimentary tics to reasoned insight, from shallow frivolity to hard-won maturity, from frigid conceit to altruistic concern, from mastery of a specific craft to the gift of insight beyond knowledge.
And as we search, we will – hopefully - recognize and embrace the beginnings of True Wisdom, a state of understanding that reveals to us that Nature – and Nature’s Creator -- is not an arbitrary or uncaring guide.
Steps Along The Way
Over the years, as we move into adulthood, we learn to follow our natural yearning to make sense of life’s unscheduled events. We learn to read and to write, to ride a bike and drive a car, to balance our checkbook, to get along with others. We pick up some street-smarts and stretch our natural abilities. We acquire information useful to our work … and, once in a while, we stop and wisely ponder: “What’s it all about?”
Hopefully, one day we begin to see that the end-point of our journey, the goal of all our learning and experience, the explanation of life’s ambiguous, often contradictory, events rests in our understanding and acceptance of the fact that a transcendent Intelligence (far more impressive even than our own) has Creation under control.
That slight insight is actually the humble beginning of wisdom … or, rather, the beginning of True Wisdom.
The ideal of wisdom as a human trait appears in many cultures. Buddhist and Hindu believers are philosophically borne to a sense of wisdom as fatalistic inevitability, with little concern for a personal afterlife. The agnostic non-believer moves in-and-out of zones of uncertainty which defy definition. Even the kindly atheist's worldly-wise view offers nothing beyond the quickly fading now.
From the perspective of the blasé nihilist, wisdom means calculating one’s strategies and plotting one’s end-game with the sort of amoral shrewdness which winners possess and losers envy. Winning is all.
There’s also the secularist’s “practical wisdom” which acknowledges that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, hopes and ambitions, talents and limits. Psychologists call this sort of practical wisdom “the right way to do the right thing.” It’s a respectable recipe for ordered civility and inclusive, tolerant mutuality. For the generous person, it is motivation to goodness and sincerity. For the cynic, however, it is a useful gambit for getting people to like you … while you gain favor or power or an ego rush…
Then there’s the Judeo-Christian view of True Wisdom, stated in the regal writings of Solomon and, centuries later, updated in the first and greatest principle of transcendent virtue and goodness, the Law of Christian Charity: ”Love God, then love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
True Wisdom’s first instruction is that we become a loving, giving human being. True Wisdom starts with loving one’s self -- not in the manner of the haughty narcissist or the self-serving egotist, but with disciplined humility inspired by solid faith and eager, trusting hope.
In this Judeo-Christian context, True Wisdom aims at transcendent moral maturity based on the First Principles of balanced, virtuous behavior. It asks simplicity of faith and honesty with one’s self and others. It seeks selflessness and inspires an abundant sense of gratitude. It entwines our minds and hearts in attitudes and dispositions which our suave, urbane modernity so often disdains. It advises us when prudence is called for, and, by fostering within us a generous heart, True Wisdom insists that we give more than we are asked to give, and that we take less than we are allowed to take.
True Wisdom necessitates Empathy for the pain and travail of others, as if these sufferings were our own -- because True Wisdom recognizes that, at some point in life we, too, will endure the same.
True Wisdom does not back away from confrontation and, when necessary, it accepts conflict ... but it seeds these moments of discomforting necessity with Temperance and an abiding sense of Justice, with a readiness to clarify and go beyond conflict, then to reconcile with alacrity and gentleness and decency.
True Wisdom nurtures Patience, knowing that human foibles are universal. It abhors pretense, shuns hypocrisy, and pursues Truth with avidity and consistency. It knows that falsehood and a deceptive heart sour the soul and bring ruination to human affairs.
True Wisdom is radically different from shrewdness or business acumen or the manipulation of others to get ahead or to impress. Clearly, it is never found in hypocritical persons who knowingly deceive with evil intentions and cruel actions which, sooner or later, reveal themselves.
True Wisdom’s Traits
True Wisdom functions as an abiding intuition, a state of educated insight resulting from the cumulative revelations of our life experiences. It honors people’s achievement (however seemingly small) but never uses its influence as a weapon against others. It remembers that human dignity may be obscure or hard to see in some people, but it must never forgotten or demeaned.
True Wisdom teaches us to recognize the power of transcendent truths and unchanging principles about life, about human behavior, about relationships and about Creation Itself which exceed the limits of our logic; truths and principles which we can neither explain nor control because they are from God, our Creator.
True Wisdom brings clarity beyond words, insight beyond knowledge, so it does not require miracles to justify itself to the unbeliever or demonstrate its validity to the skeptic. It does not, for example, demand that water be turned into wine because it recognizes real miracles already exist all around us. It knows the very existence of water -- in and of itself -- is sufficient to reveal the transcendent power and vitality of our Creator … and the utter dependency of the created.
True Wisdom transcends logical reasoning and is willing to admit that we cannot control ambiguity and unpredictability in this world. But True Wisdom goes further and perceives life through an inner vision, a vision which resides not only in the reasoning mind but in the spirit of each of us --- provided we do not refuse to acknowledge our reliance upon our Creator or tarnish our conscience by nourishing lies and deceit which, as Solomon points out, deal death to the soul.
Changing Life’s Rules
Our Creator has infused Nature – including human nature -- with a kind of “logic” which reveals to us the laws and limits by which humanity is -- or should be -- guided.
When we deviate from the demanding benignity of Nature’s subtle call, we risk consequences of incalculable gravity. Yet, our culture’s excesses regularly ignore Nature’s inherent cautions. Our disregard of Nature’s basic moral limits may well mark us as an age in history which elevated the seductive folly of superficial feelings above the laws and limits of Creation Itself.
For example, as we disregard the nagging wisdom of virtue and as we replace respect for life with a specious “right to privacy,” we forget the principle that a fleeting appeal to feelings dishonors life’s fundamental purpose and denigrates human nature’s intelligence.
Thus, in our Judeo-Christian worldview, True Wisdom originates in our relationship with God. It is a relationship begun in an era before history, refreshed and inspired by the life and promises of Christ. It is a relationship founded on love and reverence; a relationship intended to elevate the human condition, to unfold the potential of human reason and celebrate the God-given dignity of all human life.
Christian Wisdom is special because it rests upon the reality of a relationship with our Personal Creator, with God Who - no matter what happens - is with us, all around us, enlivening creation and revealing to us the endless beauty of the world in which we live, the world of His Creation which includes all of us, even those who try to deny all of this.
True Wisdom is, therefore, not merely an intellectual exercise but a spiritual reality which begins with, and rests upon, our relationship with God. But it is a relationship which requires our freely-given assent, a relationship in which God patiently awaits our humble “Yes.”
As we grow and mature in that relationship with God, we receive various insights which a secular, restrictively rational approach cannot give. Why? Because True Wisdom comes from God as an ever-evolving gift which rests wholly on faith in Him, on His laws and His limits, on His love and loyalty – all this, despite the conflicts and doubts and distractions and hesitations which every human heart endures in our universal journey to Him.
And when our moment comes and we give ourselves to God and utter our humbled “Yes” to His care, then does True Wisdom involve us in a gradual change in our spiritual insights, a change which takes us beyond reason and logic, beyond the bounds of rational cause-and-effect, beyond human knowledge, beyond the lesser urges which have held us back.
Indeed, True Wisdom introduces within us new categories of knowing and understanding which become the core of our growing interior life, our life of Faith in the Spirit. There is no dramatic “Aha” moment, no sirens or whirring red lights or trumpeting Seraphim alerting us to all this … just the quiet, slowly growing sense that God is here, in our midst, in us, close … as a Father to His children, inspiring us to goodness, ever close in heart and mind and spirit and soul and all that makes us most fully and truly human.
This is the awareness that transcends the comprehension of rigidly fixed people who judge these realities as simplistic and hollow. In fact, there are some persons who cannot (or will not try to) understand their own capacity for True Wisdom’s grace-filled insights. There are some persons who seek fleeting explanations for life’s vagaries: explanations which satisfy only their need for superiority, their compulsion for control over others, their penchant for a quick-fix of quixotic self-indulgence – none of which will ever satisfy our yearning hearts nor ease our thirsty souls, nor sustain us in tranquility for life’s long haul ….
… unless, one day, True Wisdom prompts us to extend kindness and a smile to another needy person – and then follow through for the rest of our days in such a giving fashion in this grand and gracious world, a world brought alive with hope, a world which we all now honor with our inspired awareness and our journey into goodness … just as God has been asking of us from our earliest days.
In this way do we love ourselves with humility and quiet dignity.
In this manner do we love our neighbor, our family, our loved ones, our Beloved --- and our enemies. For no matter where we seek happiness, we are always brought back to the realization that caring for one another is essential if we are to honor Wisdom’s call.
And, in this fashion, do we finally say to God, “… It is You I have sought to love. When all is said, and when my life is truly done, Dear God, I realize that it is You I love .. and it has always been You, all along …”
5 November 2018
Greater Love Than This . . .
Friendship At Its Best
We all know about friendship. We have lots of friends: friends at work, in the neighborhood, friends from school or church, friends at the club or the pub - or somewhere.
Our children “hang out” with friends, thumbs a’whirl texting one another, even as they stand but two feet away from each other. Even the internet lets us “friend” people we do not even know and will probably never meet.
We’re friends (or friendly) with lots of people. We wave in friendly fashion at neighbors; they wave back. A wealthy investment broker recently threw a birthday party for two hundred of his best friends. Two hundred.
We seek friends because we need friendship. Friends bring us out of ourselves into a community of humanizing mutuality in which we learn that life is not always just about us.
Beyond The Word
But what does it really mean to have a friend or, more importantly, to be a friend. Indeed, who are our real friends? What does true friendship really involve? Where do we learn friendship?
Aristotle – good old reliable, thoughtful Aristotle – says there are three types of “friendships.”
Aristotle’s first “friendship” occurs when people are useful to one another. He calls it “friendship” of utility, the connection we make in business or at the club or in political circles: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” We see this arrangement all the time. Utility and usefulness define the relationship, but the absence of utility sometimes reveals underlying cynicism.
Aristotle’s second “friendship” relates to shared pleasures we enjoy with others, to bonding through fun and games and leisure activities we mutually enjoy. The weekly bridge game or the golf foursome provide the stage for enjoying each other’s company. We delight in the same undertakings … but – we’re careful not to push differences of opinion or trigger discomforting confrontations. Fun is fun with friends; that’s what friends are for … but with discretion.
Friendship For The Sake Of The Other
Finally, Aristotle identifies the “friendship of virtue.” This is friendship based on our good will toward the other person without our seeking personal gain or pleasure in return.
This friendship is selfless. It does not rest on mutual utility nor shared enjoyment nor what we can get from one another. In fact, it harbors no expectations of personal gain or shared pleasures. It seeks no business advantage or market edge, no perks when a deal is done, no profitability, no freebies.
This friendship springs out of our sense of virtue, our altruism and goodness, our unselfish concern for the other. We choose generous giving over selfishness. And we seek no recognition because this “friendship of virtue” exercises goodness and virtue for their own sakes. We choose to do what is right for the other person, even at the cost of our time and energy, even at the risk of personal rejection or anonymity.
Thus, this friendship is indeed self-less. We act for the benefit of the other person. It’s not what we get but what we choose to give as a friend – even without acknowledgement.
Friendship As Love
Aristotle’s “friendship of virtue” has profound meaning and application in everyday living. In Judeo-Christian terms, this selfless love is called the “amor benevolentiae,” the love of benevolence. It’s the highest form of love and loving: virtuous, selfless, generous. It is willing to give everything, even life.
It’s the love which inspires 1) the loving parent or family member, 2) the committed, tenacious friend, and 3) even the stranger who acts only for the welfare of others.
Such virtuous generosity can be a costly way to live, because it is often a lonely, one-way street … and that’s the point. Our egos crave applause and recognition, so this benevolent love is an oddity, a contradiction in our conflicted, selfie-saturated world. And many modern folk find it impossible to believe that in giving, one does truly receive.
Only the heart’s embrace of goodness can reward - or even comprehend - such a selfless attitude, such a loving choice.
In The Real World . . . Family !
Idealism is fine, for a while – but let’s be practical … In real-life situations, is benevolent love possible?
Of course!! That’s what family life is for.
Benevolent, loving friendships are the natural purpose of family life … although this is hard to realize when feelings run high and voices are raised and tempers are tantruming and doors are slammed and harsh words flow like lava.
Nevertheless, family life is the natural, God-given training camp for goodness, benevolence and the development of virtue. And it all starts with parents as the family’s moral exemplars.
The first requirement for family benevolence is mutual commitment to the truth. Truth? Why truth? Because untruth and duplicity, dishonesty and lies are incompatible with loving friendships and family cohesion.
Next, two-way candor must be part of family relationships; no fudging or hedging. Family members must learn to be out-front about misunderstandings, conflicts and troubles, always ready to speak truth, candidly, humbly, without evasion or subterfuge, without arrogance or deception – but prudently and precisely, for clarity’s sake, with facts instead of accusations.
And (this is a tough one) we must be prepared to hear the truth about ourselves from other family members, with the humility to listen to -- and to hear with our hearts -- what our family says, even when it hurts! Certainly, truth and candor create painful moments. But it’s better to bear an occasional pain in the ego than to normalize avoidance, pretense and denial, which destroy family trust and corrode relationships. How can we love anyone we cannot trust. Trust is crucial.
The End Point of Loving
Eventually, we must ask: What is the goal in the family, the end point of truth and candor and trust in family life. How do they relate to stable, enduring, loving family friendships?
The ultimate point of benevolent friendships in family life is intimacy. Intimacy means knowledge of one another coupled with unflagging loyalty, even when the other person is wrong. Loving does not demand constant agreement, but it does ask loyalty. And loyalty cycles back to candor and truth, for if I am wrong and you do not help me see the truth, that’s a breach of your loyalty to me. Hurt my feelings, yes --- but do not avoid telling me the truth. Do not care so little about me that you stay silent in the face of my error!!
Help me find the right path. That’s what family loyalty demands. That’s the role of family and the obligation of friendship.
Being Our Better Selves
Family intimacy rests on mutual knowledge of one another and uniquely shared vulnerabilities. In family living, our defenses are minimal because we tend to take one another for granted. This is good news – but it is also bad news.
Family provides shelter for our foolish selves and an unwritten bond of mutual allowances for being ourselves. Family provides intimacy in which our foibles are shared, our souls are bared and our hearts become one – but not without struggle and error, hurt and reconciliation, conflict and forgiveness, confrontation and penance – and periods of sheer delight.
Throughout trying moments of abrasion and soothing instances of embrace, a benevolent, forgiving, loyal friendship is the family goal. For our own spiritual and psychological health, we all seek an intimate and abiding friendship, and family is the measure of benevolence and the standard for true love which Nature’s wisdom provides and demands.
That’s why Christian marriage and family are forever: learning to trust and to be trusted, to listen and to be listened to, to reveal our mutual needs for intimacy and understanding – in other words, to love and to be loved – these needs and ideals take a lifetime to become our own reality.
Over many years, family life teaches us to pursue this benevolent, sometimes painful, reality together. We learn not go to bed if disagreements o’ershadow us, or if hurt feelings hover or if unsaid issues need to be clarified. And when we listen to each other, we embrace one another and hold one another -- and we become better friends, as we become even closer as family.
By knowing one another in these ways, with our mutual intimacies and vulnerabilities exposed, our weaknesses become our shared binding force … for when we are weak, then we are strong. In sharing our weaknesses, we find our strength. We face hard facts together, with candor and trust – and we are better human beings for it.
And we unite as family. We become as one person, with one heart and one goal: to love one another and not to be afraid of one another. We learn to shut up, to stifle our egos, to listen to one another without defending ourselves or attacking others. And we pay the price of loving by learning from one another and learning about one another -- and, hopefully, we see ways to love and to be loved, ways to share the painful moments and pay the price of our friendship of virtue in our God-given home with these blessed others, our family.
In time -- with effort and a quietly patient attitude, with humility of heart and the gift of “sucking it up” – we will see that only a loving spirit and tenacious affection for others, and gratitude for life itself -- only these insights make any sense in this still-beautiful world, a world made so much better by family.
Finally … And So Much More
Forty years ago, I counseled recovering heroin users in a drug recovery clinic. One recovering gentleman told me he could not remember his mother nor his father. He had no sisters or brothers whom he knew of --- but he had a family.
His family was here, all around him, recovering with him, supporting him every day, confronting him, telling him the harsh truths about the deceptive ploys he used to alibi his behavior and avoid his responsibilities.
His family was all around him, bringing him to his senses by truth and candor and overwhelming love, a love shared in a community of honest people with hearts of pure gold and wills of steel and clarity of purpose seldom seen. They understood him, and loved him simply because he was one of them.
One day as we parted, he said to me, “These people are my family. These people love me … this I know … and it is here that I am saved……. Here I am saved……”
Are we not fortunate - we happy few - we who strive to love with benevolent, forgiving eyes. Are we not fortunate that life still provides us with these sacred years, with this time to learn some little bits of wisdom from our own mistakes?
Are we not fortunate that we still have time to become more worthy of the love which our family has for us - and needs from us ….. that we still have time to be a more benevolent and kinder friend to them and, God willing, to this world of needy others.
This is -- in my view -- a worthy, if costly, goal which is well worth striving for. Happily, it is a goal which is open to us all because it is only a choice away. To love and to be loved is always within our reach, if we choose.
Even if no one else tries or knows; even if cynics scoff and broken souls object and no one - even family - seems to care … and only we know what it costs us to become a tenaciously loving person, it is, nonetheless, a worthy way to live our lives.
Don’t you agree?
24 October 2018
On The Border
Twenty years ago, I was invited to consult with a large financial institution centered in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. On the flight from Miami, I was seated next to an American businessman who quickly proved to be both an enthusiastic bibber and, as his intake swelled, a loquacious, self-described “expert” on the worrisome facts of life in Central America.
As we zoomed over the Caribbean, he told fearsome tales of how dangerous life was for business leaders in Honduras, how widespread the poverty, how dangerous the violent gangs, how brazen the smuggling of people, how prevalent the flow of drugs, how chilling the kidnappings, how stark the living conditions; on and on, as he detailed a dreary scene.
Then, with morose delectation, he listed the risks in our upcoming landing at Tegucialpa’s Toncontin Airport: mountains at both ends of the runway, unpredictable crosswinds, the shortest landing space in the Americas (though, for consolation’s sake, he added that a shorter one exists in Nepal). Nonetheless, we landed in one piece.
As I deplaned, several representatives from my host institution waited on the tarmac. With brusque handshakes and no delay, they whisked me directly to three black limos, each with smoky windows, engines running. We were surrounded by half-a-dozen men; serious-looking men in dark suits and sunglasses; each armed with a sub-machine gun, scanning the area with grim, silent attention. It was a scene from a Tom Clancy novel.
The limos formed an edgy procession, led by two policemen on motorcycles, and we sped into city traffic. As we settled down in the back of the limo, my hosts explained the need for all this security: fear of kidnappers or a demonstration of violence. And then it hit me …. these strangers were protecting my life. People I did not know, people I had never met, were protecting my life. And I also realized this was part of their daily routine, part of doing business for these men. The potential for violence was a normal fact of life, a daily reality for them.
And, once again, I was vividly reminded that we Americans are a most fortunate people. But our good fortune as a nation is not an accident. It is the result of -- among other factors -- the extraordinary, historic confluence of an intelligent, prescient group of Constitutional Founders, of our willingness and ability to learn from our gravest mistakes, of our belief in law as the foundation of mutual rights and responsibilities, and of a system of governance which, until recent years, accepted the centrality of Divine Providence in our nation’s moral identity and our mandate as an exemplar of international generosity.
The Surge North
Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize. These are the nations of Central America from which countless human beings come North – some hopefully, some recklessly, some with evil intent, some as a last resort, some with children in arms, many with plastic bags containing their life’s meager possessions.
Many seek work, unable to survive on less than one dollar a day, the standard for half the people of Honduras. Many are attracted by the over-the-top basket of goodies which, they are told, awaits: high-paying jobs, free medical coverage, free educational opportunities, driver’s licenses, work opportunities, protection from deportation offered by tax-subsidized, well-publicized, seductively misleading, “sanctuary cities” largesse. They’re egged on by rumors of “open borders” which is now a rampant mythology throughout Central and South America.
Even as I write these words, increasing thousands of marchers pour northward from Central America into Mexico, heading for the United States.
For some observers who watch these developments on TV, their first impulse is empathy. They think: these poor people should be given sanctuary, enfolded with warmth and cheerful greetings into the prosperous embrace of the United States. We are wealthy, they are poor. We are generous, they are needy. Anyone who would resist these throngs of hungry, hurting people – these hordes of helpless mothers with crying babes-in-arms, these streams of frightened, unaccompanied children – anyone who does not melt must be hard-hearted.
Let them in!! Let them in!!!
This argument - based on a skewed notion of the virtue of empathy - is often used not merely to assist the needy but to indict the cautious and belittle the law-abiding.
Understand: I am all for empathy -- when 1) it inspires appropriate action, 2) is able to accomplish its proper ends without 3) causing greater harm.
Empathy is one of human nature’s earliest, healthiest signs, but we must also remember that every virtue requires a delicate balance between its extremes.
For example, too much empathy breeds rigid, righteous intolerance for opposing views. Too little empathy breeds a fallacious, self-serving resistance disguised as righteous self-absolution.
In addition, the argument from empathy is sometimes used (deliberately or accidentally) with aggressive intent, as a tool for shaming the rightly cautious.
Moreover, the empathy approach incorrectly applied tends to minimize or eclipse crucial interaction with other virtues, such as considerations for community justice, long-term prudence, attention to unintended consequences and – in the present instance – threats posed by lack of factual information and the denial of pre-existing responsibilities to law, to one’s family and to one’s community, both friends and strangers.
Finally, the argument for empathy is too often based on the superficial leverage of emotional suasion to the exclusion of the rule of just laws which must be the normative standard for individuals -- and for whole societies.
Empathy for individuals cannot – must not – overshadow the rule of law as the first and final determinant for any civilized collective, be it family, community, city or nation.
This is, incidentally, why so-called “sanctuary cities” (or, in California, “sanctuary state”) are invitations to financial chaos and moral corruption – not to mention the lives and safety of citizens and the destruction of government’s right to exist.
The Hidden Truth
So, what about the march of the thousands now moving toward our borders?
We know this march is not a spontaneous rush. The marchers are well-organized, fed, even transported when cameras leave, bedded at night, and led northward on this 1500 mile-a-thon toward our borders in hopes of provoking chaos.
And if – or when -- they arrive? What then? Will law endure or will chaos prevail?
Let us understand that our leaders do not respect and enforce existing laws, then they facilitate the destruction of our nation from within. By now, we know (or should) how hatred of America by violent outsiders increases day-by-day. Example: a few days ago, Guatemalan President Morales revealed that his government had already arrested more than 100 acknowledged terrorists, members of ISIS. We may be assured that these persons meant us – you and me, our children and neighbors, our nation and our way of life – no good whatever.
Mr. Obama once spoke firmly about defending our borders, but then he flip-flopped in favor of policies for non-vetting countless immigrants. This set the stage for the report from the Texas Department of Public Safety that many gang members crossed the Mexican border without even being questioned. The benefit to violent gangs in America such as Mara Salvatrucha – MS 13 – is obvious … and terrible.
It should also be obvious that reckless empathy without law or pseudo-empathy motivated by political calculation becomes worse-than-folly and costs human lives. It empowers those who seek our destruction. It is a form of cultural madness and moral collapse.
Without our leaders enforcing existing laws and protecting our borders, we are no longer a nation.
And there are more issues to consider…. many more.
When we probe beneath the simplistic, politicized arguments of sound-bite/talking head reportage, a plethora of startling facts emerge which should concern every thinking voter.
According to La Prensa Libre, Guatemala’s largest newspaper, international human trafficking networks are centered in Guatemala. There, smuggled migrants -- and victims of human slavery -- from many third-world countries (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, others) are moved to markets.
Judicial Watch reports that illegal immigrants have been quietly transported to different parts of the country on commercial flights. Proper vetting of incoming Illegals is impossible in many border locations. Indeed, the vetting process supposedly involves a court hearing and immediate release of immigrants who then vanish into America where “sanctuary cities” await, empathic arms outstretched. And the potential for violence increases. Clearly, our appropriate Federal agencies are deluged to the point of collapse, and yet many Leftist politicians call for their eradication.
These facts -- and many more -- are rarely debated without the slant and spin of ideological arguments, the desire for political gain and the offsetting tilt of adversarial energy. Distrust and profound hostility now characterize our public discourse. Factual information is rare indeed – but the reality stands: we need leaders who respect and enforce existing laws. Without such clear-headed leadership, the most dangerous outcome of all this will be the loss of our nation’s respect for law -- and the inevitable, unavoidable collapse of our society.
Obsolescence Of Law
One thing is clear: the enforcement of existing laws – as in California -- is too often compromised by the victory of self-defeating emotionality, by the rhetoric of false humanism and by the fallacies of political correctness over reasoned, fact-based discussion.
Worse, the safety and protection of American citizens is far too often thwarted by politically correct officials who blithely dismiss, even disobey, the oaths they swore -- in God’s name -- when we elected them to office.
Dale L. Wilcox, executive director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute states: “…we must remember that the ultimate stakes here are extremely high – our integrity as a nation, and as a functioning democracy, is imperiled if states may turn huge areas of the country into immigration non-enforcement zones. In the end,” he adds, “these sanctuary cases will be decided by the Supreme Court, which we hope and expect will not let such gross interference with federal law enforcement stand.”
The Beauty Of Being An American
To be an American is a precious identity. To revere what this country stands for is our moral duty.
Millions of people around the world yearn to be here precisely because America is the remarkable nation that it is.
Even those citizens who despise our country and vociferously proclaim America’s delinquencies are able to do so precisely because they are Americans, precisely because America is the nation that it is.
Empathy and concern for the needy are admirable human qualities. But let us make no mistake: adherence to the rule of law is essential …. absolutely essential .… if America is to survive, if we are to survive.
17 October 2018
Is Performance Rage Working?
Demonstrators screech at legislators in restaurants, on the streets, in their offices. Fits of venomous vulgarity, frothy rage and florid irrationality are standard ploys for upset Progressives on the warpath … and combative events increase in frequency and intensity.
Some observers say the underlying reason for these escalating forays is simply the overflow of Leftist political enthusiasms. Folks gotta rant and rave and attack others and scream filthy words at strangers … and destroy reputations and shred the credibility of a worthy lifetime. But, hey, its only politics.
To say these displays of hostility are merely politics is, at best, simplistic. People who propose such nonsense evade the fact that a rightly-formed moral conscience must always guide human behavior in every interaction and every enterprise.
An objective standard of right and wrong exists. Fury and foot-stomping do not excuse anyone from the moral bonds and laws of mutual humanity.
Just politics? Ridiculous…..
Our Authentic Foundation
Our moral identity -- our rights and responsibilities -- arises from universal laws and obligations implanted in human nature. These laws and mutual responsibilities do indeed come from God. All law reflects divine law.
These moral laws bind us all, even Republicans … and Independents … and Libertarians and, yes, even Left Progressive Democrats are subject to these laws.
But (here’s the catch) we also have free will. We choose to obey these laws or we choose to ignore them. Fidelity to law is a choice we accept or refuse.
Politics Of Excess
The sturm-und-drang of the Left’s behavior are fed by self-righteous prods from “leaders” such as Hillary Clinton, Maxine Waters and Eric Holder. Too, Mr. Obama downplays American exceptionalism, while Gov. Cuomo assures us that “…America was never that great...”
The Democrat mayor of Portland, Oregon orders police to stand down whilst Antifa thugs rampage and attack citizens. The Democrat mayor of Minneapolis compels police to protect the “rights” of illegal aliens. Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, St. Louis, San Francisco: America’s largest Democrat-led cities are bankrupt, and often, very dangerous places.
We even witness the recent spate of repulsive racial insults against Kayne West by a plethora of black Leftists because of his visit with the President.
Admittedly-hostile Leftists over-populate media and education. The entertainment world abounds with cynically caustic celebrities … and the omnipresent umbra of Soros-funded anti-American agencies hovers.
For more details, read this excellent summary by Historian Victor Davis Hanson:
The preponderance of evidence attests that disdain for American traditions is now the Left’s defining rationale, befitting their extreme agendas which threaten our national strength and stability, our moral common sense and our Constitutional identity.
Author George Neumayr proposes that today’s corrupted version of classical liberalism -- Leftist Progressivism -- is an intrinsically uncivil ideology. As one reviews the history of America since the 1960s, it becomes clear that radical individualism and reckless relativism are now the Left’s rootless norms in their attempts to re-define human nature itself.
Consider: The Democrat Party has long supported the basics of toxic socialism, expanded government, tax increases, massive welfare programs -- and much more. Their agenda constitutes the assured doorway to economic and moral collapse, as history affirms time after time.
Moreover, the Left’s push for open borders, sanctuary cities, wage increases beyond small business limits, and citizen rights for undocumented foreigners abet the ongoing breakdown of law and common sense in all areas of American life.
Yet, despite decades of evidence, the Progressive Left still advances in America, spurred by the deceptive mantras of political correctness and the inevitable cultural nihilism and hopelessness which result.
Progressives accuse opponents of opposing “inclusion,” of denying rights to minorities, of indiscriminate “hate speech,” of racism and sexism and victimization of women, of “judgmentalism,” of a lack of “diversity,” of being capitalist profiteers who oppress the poor, and a list of other dishonest labels which distort reality and besmirch opponents as part of a strategy of polarization.
Distortions Of The Left
Classic liberalism (which is not the same as today’s radicalized Progressive Left) believed in individual freedom, the right to reasoned self-governance under law, the rejection of tyranny and restraint of government intrusion. But classic liberalism was defenestrated by the Democrat Party decades ago.
Instead, Democrats have become the center of secular Progressivism. They now promote the politics of identity politics and moral relativism. In the process, the Left has re-defined human nature not as possessing rights-and-liberty-under-law but, contrarily, as having unrestricted license to do as one pleases.
This extreme self-centered permissiveness promotes unfettered expressions of singular urges-as-rights and the banishment of self-restraint. It matters not how perverse and unnatural these “rights” may sometimes be.
For example, the urge to declare myself any sexual orientation I choose, and the decision to encourage children into the same dreadful pathology take precedent over all other factors.
Dismiss long-revered moral and cultural traditions Dismiss biological facts. Dismiss religious beliefs, social mores and parental prerogatives.
These are of no account. They do not matter.
To the Progressive Left, people are not inherently linked to the common good, nor bound by Nature’s limits, but are responsible only to the special interest group they serve. Moral values and community rules are entirely relative and, often irrelevant.
To the moral relativist, human rights are not based on divinely-revealed, objective principles of mutual accountability and self-restraint. Rather, a subjective, “Me First” standard of moral and social “discernment” informs and inspires remarkably selfish choices. If I think it is OK, then it is OK -- even if it hurts you!
And, as we have witnessed recently, the Left’s ideological credo legitimizes the politics of personal destruction, defamation of character and, indeed, any tactic befitting its agenda.
Relativism’s Dead End
Our culture now sees the practical outcomes of this thinking. Democrat policies result
- in millions of aborted children,
- in the destruction of traditional marriage and the collapse of family cohesion,
- in self-gendering rejections of Nature,
- in surgical mutilation of pre-teens,
- in endless urban violence,
- in open borders and reckless “inclusion” of illegals,
- in the fracture of communities,
- in suicide-on-demand even for children as young as ten (without parental knowledge),
- in the growth of violent gangs,
- in the eradication of America’s deepest traditions, among them freedom of speech…
- all these, and more, for starters.
Chaos vs Accountability
The objective moral order is crucial for the survival of our Western moral and cultural traditions and Constitutional restraints on government.
Without the moral laws of our Judeo-Christian tradition, accountability vanishes. Chaos and violence follow – especially when leaders refuse to advise restraint and, instead, smile on incivility.
What benefit to the common good comes from arrogant “celebrities” such as the injudiciously-named Madonna, when she speaks of blowing up the White House; from the incredibly foul-mouthed excesses of Robert DeNiro; from the once-amusing Jim Carrey, who embarrasses with his over-the-top, childishly savage comments.
We cannot continue to watch Conservative speakers be hounded and assaulted on university campuses or our Representatives chased from restaurants, pursued into the streets, harassed in their homes. We cannot support Leftist historians who persuade our children that America is the world’s worst oppressor. We are gravely remiss to allow librarians to hold pro-GLBTQ assemblies for our youngest children … led by adult “drag queens.”
It does not take a Conservative to recognize the threats which now blanket our country.
It does not take a Conservative to recognize the pressing need to preserve and protect America’s political, cultural, religious and family traditions.
The Right As Villain
The Left requires villains for its veneer of legitimacy. Its agenda is as much focused on fighting progress as achieving it. Yet the Left maintains the misconception that it is the stalwart defender of all minorities, no matter how calculated, bizarre or baseless the cause may actually be.
Now comes Donald Trump, the epitome of villainous, ill-gotten wealth. He is The Ideal Target: a callous, rough-and-rude, blowhard capitalistic sexist who uses women as objects; he, who manipulates as needed, tells lies and tweets nastily about his competition. Mirabile dictu!! He is a real Deplorable -- yes, he is – and a timely one at that!! A homophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic Deplorable, deserving of impeachment as soon as power passes to the Left. Oh… and he hates non-citizens and persons of color, any color. So, indisputably, he is a racist, too, and a fascist dog … and like that. Right?
And, as Mrs. Clinton states, such people can’t be treated with civility … unless Progressives have power. No civility without power. So says the Democrat leader who indicts millions of our citizens as Deplorables and right-winging conspirators; she, who still finds no abuse of power in her husband’s squalid Oval Office escapades.
She, almost our President …..
….. and so it goes….. and so it goes.
Am I Wrong?
Our society becomes less safe as years pass, not only from foreign terrorists but, worse, from those elected officials who speed the erosion of law and order in the name of self-destructive Leftism and Progressive moral decay.
Surely, there are -- there must be -- civil and truthful ways to speak and act with other human beings.
It really does matter that we talk to one another and talk about one another truthfully, with civility and courtesy and empathy.
It does matter, doesn’t it?
It really should matter how our elected leaders conduct themselves in private and in public.
It does matter what tone we set for fairness and justice, for truth and prudence and goodness, and how we raise our children to revere these virtues.
All this does truly matter ………………….
8 October 2018
Beneath The Label:
A Conservative Heart
After reading my last essay about the Kavanaugh Event, a Left-speaking neighbor said to me, “You must be some kinda’ weirdo Conservative.”
My answer was brief. “If you must label me … then, yes, Conservative fits…”
But wait!! Conservatives are rigid racists, uppity sexists, women-hating, inflexible absolutists, judgmental snobs and stuff like that ….. right? So, why do I admit that “I am indeed a Conservative”?
Let me explain -- but please understand. This is not merely a partisan political statement. I offer here a brief view of certain First Principles with which I view our lives in this blessed, but threatened, nation.
A Little Learning Background
We all have a vision of what’s good for us in this life. Our vision embodies our values and goals. When a goal has sufficient weight, it motivates and influences our behavior and fuels our energy. But energy must be tempered and focused, lest we defeat ourselves by excess and intemperance.
When I am young and inexperienced, all of this is vague, foggy, unimportant. I simply want to satisfy my body’s needs and my ego’s urges. As I grow older, I bump into others who also have needs and urges. Now my needs must be socialized, my urges restrained -- and that’s the role of family, school, church, playmates, employers and, eventually, government. These agencies restrain my urges and direct my energy in acceptable ways.
I soon learn about work and responsibility. I learn I must voluntarily do my work and accept my responsibilities without excuses or a snarky attitude. To do this well, I must be unimpeded by external forces, free to meet my obligations before I dare claim my rights.
I learn that claiming my rights without first meeting my responsibilities brings conflict and chaos. And that realization is the start of my Conservative beliefs.
I learn true freedom is the unhindered ability to fulfill my responsibilities. It’s not an excuse to avoid them or to do anything I want. Freedom is neither anarchy nor license to say or do whatever my urges dictate. It is the right to do what I should -- should -- do without interference from outside agencies, without my violating the freedom of others or the common good.
Freedom means I am able do what I should do without intrusive obstacles or opposing force from contradicting or disapproving agents, especially from government.
As I grow older, I encounter established customs and revered traditions which limit ways I may satisfy my needs. These traditions clarify my obligations and responsibilities and, thereby, identify me as a moral agent, linked to the common good. These traditions teach me what is best for our nation and my community.
In this way, I learn to value and to conserve what’s best for the common good. I accept my moral responsibilities and acknowledge the “shoulds” in my life, the common-sense boundaries and moral imperatives of behavior.
These imperatives define human nature and awaken us to our role in conserving the moral traditions and historic values which best serve the common good. The common good: that’s what my Conservative heart seeks.
Seeking The Common Good
How do I determine what is best?
As a moral agent, my question now becomes: “Are my attitudes and behavior consistent with standards and values – our moral traditions -- which move me to seek the good of others?” I ask myself: ”What impact do I have on others? How can I influence the common good for human decency and moral integrity?”
In secular terms, I develop a sense of citizenship. In moral terms, I develop an educated conscience, without which maturity remains distant and alien, even as years pass.
And how do I find a clear vision of moral goodness and the best path for the common good?
I look to human history, to divine Revelation, to the Ten Commandments, to the Parables and to our Constitution. I take counsel with wise elders. I look to Judeo-Christian traditions of my predecessors. I look to my religion and to good people, to moral exemplars (Gandhi and Bonhoeffer and Mother Teresa) whose impact on people is unquestioned even by dedicated cynics and chic relativists who find goodness intolerable and morality tedious.
Finding The Moral Compass
Experience and tradition reveal that the best guides to goodness are the theological and moral virtues of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Many people are discomforted by the very word “virtue” … but virtues are tough, hard-won habits of attitude and action. They clarify the best ways for people to behave and speak and think … and be.
Every virtue is a habit deliberately cultivated. Example: My father (my life’s hero) was always on-time. He set his clock, rose extra-early and practiced the virtue of promptness, with its added benefit of credibility. He believed others deserved courtesy, and he believed his word was sacred. That’s virtue in action … and it is costly.
Conservatives believe personal commitment to virtue is crucial. But I do not find virtue, honor or integrity in the ruthless, dehumanizing ideologies of Leftism, Marxism, political correctness or Progressivism … which, in real life, are intolerant, demeaning doctrines leading not to liberty but to moral anarchy and survival of the meanest.
My Conservative Vision
Conservatism’s origins go back to Plato and Aristotle but our American form received specific delineation in our Constitution, wherein the rights of individuals and the restraints of government are stated.
Thus, my Conservatism rests on my belief that every individual possesses God-given rights to life, property, economic opportunity and freedom from arbitrary government intrusion ….. and much more.
These principles mean, among other things, that we Americans can reasonably speak our minds. We can worship our God and live our lives without government interference. These principles apply -- or should -- even to florists and bakers whose Christian beliefs bruise the egos of others. These principles apply -- or should -- even to babies unborn and being born ….. and much more.
I believe (as our Constitution affirms) that liberty cannot exist without the exercise of various virtues such as truth, justice, self-restraint, prudence, mutual respect, patience, sacrifice, kindness, temperance, fidelity, charity ….. and still more.
I further believe no authentic liberty endures without virtue among our leaders. My Conservatism tells me that personal and communal virtues are the glue of our Republic, the bond which, ideally, unites us as Americans … or used to.
My Conservatism tells me that freedom and the common good cannot -- will not -- be achieved without virtue, both public and private. Why? Because we have obligations to one another as citizens, as human beings … and that’s where virtue matters as a personal habit and as a value beyond politics, to the very soul of our nation.
God’s Place In American Life
I believe human rights are of divine origin. Indeed, our Declaration of Independence credits God and Divine Providence as the source of our rights and responsibilities.
God has a central role in our national story. That’s why my Conservative vision honors the moral traditions of our nation’s Judeo-Christian history. Our history has been time-tested by mistakes and errors -- some grievous. But our nation is made better by our willingness to admit our errors and correct our errancy. So, Conservatives support reform and change, as long as 1) change springs from true necessity, and 2) does not negate the values and virtues which have inspired our nation’s journey through human history.
Thus, I believe our amended traditions are -- or should be -- the stable, if sometimes worrisome, pathway toward an orderly society, a moral culture, a virtuous citizenry and wise governance …. if we so choose.
I believe law is absolutely necessary but, by itself, insufficient for effective governance. Law and politics -- or, better, politicians -- must also be guided by a God-given moral vision if order is to be maintained and the common good achieved. That’s why I believe prohibiting prayer in public schools is self-defeating for a nation founded on gratitude to Divine Providence for the abundance of its blessings.
Right And Wrong, Good And Evil
I believe good and evil exist. Both human and divine law address moral right and wrong, good and evil. The evidence is everywhere: personal evil is a reality which does profound harm to individuals and societies. Without clarity about good and evil which law and tradition mandate, there is no justice, no right and wrong, only chaos and violence, revenge and defamation.
I believe we must respect people in authority. I believe patriotism -- love for America -- is essential, because we truly are a nation blessed. I have seen first-hand that American exceptionalism is a profoundly moving reality, despite the disdainful attitude of Leftists and the unconscionable denials of today’s Progressive leaders.
I believe we have the right and the duty to vote, to pay just taxes, to defend our country at home as well as in just wars abroad.
I believe we have grave responsibility to truth and civility as well as the right to express constructive criticism to our leaders who are, God knows, as fallible as any of us (maybe more). We do not have a right to use violence or accusatory language, nor to sinfully defame others.
The Left’s Dreadful Vision
Progressive Leftists still favor wide distribution of taxed incomes … even to non-citizens. Over seven decades of profligate welfare, this twisted largess has produced vast concentrations of government-subsidized poverty, single motherhood, mounting gang violence, decay and urban blight, waste and fraud, corruption and welfare abuse, and record illegitimacy.
Furthermore, if there are any persons in this world who, by their very existence, merit our most intense reverence and affection, it is our children born and unborn.
When we adults look upon a baby, we instinctively smile and reach toward the child’s shining innocence. We embrace the child with unquenchable spontaneity which we rarely otherwise express. The child’s simplicity and vulnerability are reflections of our own desire to give our love in a manner which is simply so unguarded, so undefended, so pure.
My decades-old Conservative heart can surely grieve with the truly remorseful woman who unknowingly aborts -- and later regrets. But I cannot understand how any person would choose to take the life of a child for their own convenience, then celebrate the taking of that child’s very existence. This, I cannot fathom…..
Democrat Leftists orate mightily about their political outrage and harrumph about the rule of law and the right to privacy. Perhaps the conscience of the Leftist is calmed by saying that the child is not a child at all, merely a soulless “fetus” of no value. But the putative “right” to kill this child - unborn or being born - can never outweigh our God-given responsibility to cherish this child and honor this child. Human life is not arbitrary.
Furthermore, given the innocence of childhood, my Conservative heart is appalled when Leftist politicians and teachers and medical doctors encourage naive children to embrace “gender dysphoric” other-identities for the absurd sake of “inclusion” and “diversity.”
I shudder when adult “drag queens” are invited by public libraries to host “gay story hours” for five-year-olds. I am outraged when some physicians establish protocols for killing defenseless children and unknowing elders.
These acts are moral and political sins which one might expect from a godless invader … but these are the norm for the morally stricken, politically correct Left.
A Final Hope
Finally, my Conservative heart is old enough to remember the days when we Americans engaged in conversations, when we actually looked at one another, spoke to one another kindly, listened patiently with our eyes and ears to the words of neighbors, to the innocent ramblings of children, to the mutual concerns of family, to the confidential comments of struggling colleagues.
My Conservative heart is old enough to remember when we Americans were civil to one another, forgiving of others, apologetic when need be, unready to label one another, certainly not eager to snipe and demean and destroy one another. We even said “God bless you” in public -- and were not accused of hate speech.
I recall the days when kindness and empathy were the norm; virtues which now are distant in our tattered culture of demeaning political correctness, brutal tweets, flippant name-calling -- even the astonishingly tasteless ridicule of a child’s prayer of forgiveness.
My Conservative heart wishes we Americans - led by our political and religious leaders - would disavow the dehumanizing relativism, the culture of death and the desire for “gotcha” revenge which Leftist Progressivism and Marxist Socialism daily inflict upon our once-hallowed land.
My Conservative heart yearns – naively, perhaps -- for truth and prayerful civility, for kindness and restraint in our public arena and in our private lives.
My Conservative heart yearns for the safety of our children, for truth to blossom in our families, for smart, courageous parents to lead our young with moral clarity; for misguided educators to revere the souls of their pupils and not lead them into secularism’s nihilistic wasteland.
These are some reasons why I am a Conservative, as I hope moral toughness will be re-born in America ... and as I pray for kindness…. for us all, kindness once again.
2 October 2018
Beyond The Kavanaugh Event:
The Precarious State Of America’s Fading Traditions
A vast divide now exists amongst Americans. It is far more than a political rift between Democrats and Republicans. It is not merely a struggle between Conservatives and Liberals. The true nature of this conflict centers on how we shall live as individuals and what values we shall uphold as a nation. The facts at hand are not encouraging.
The Kavanaugh Event highlights the rabid polarization in the struggle for survival of our fundamental values, our American identity and even our national security.
Progressivism’s Errant Values
Progressive Leftists seek to create a nation without national boundaries, moral traditions or Constitutional restraints. “…Let people do what they want. Let them have their way, no matter what price we pay for unhindered progress or what age-old laws and time-honored customs of dead-white-men we banish along the way…”
America’s national character and moral coherence are based on 230+ years of Constitutional stability inspired by Judeo-Christian mores. These legal and spiritual codes emphasize individual accountability and define the natural and lawful limits of human behavior.
Until recently, individual rights have always been balanced by personal responsibilities -- and by accountability to God and to other human beings -- for the common good, starting with the first natural right of all persons, the right to life, which includes the unborn.
Until recently, these codes have restrained government abuse and tempered the fads and foolishness to which humans are attracted. Until recently.
Today, the Progressive Left jettisons these norms as outmoded, offensive, restrictive – the stale product of male/sexist/white/Christian/Conservative dominance.
To advance their vision of unhindered “progress,” Leftists seek to eradicate our American system. Thus, many of our sacred traditions and boundaries are being overthrown by practitioners of Marxist political correctness and moral relativism, mental and moral distortions to which many Americans are in militant, yet ignorant, thrall.
And now comes the Kavanaugh Event where accusation and condemnation -- rather than civility and restraint -- are common. The dignity and achievements of a good man’s lifetime are expunged in favor of flimsy rumor and deliberate exaggeration in service to manipulative power.
Memory’s Weak Links
The Kavanaugh hearings quickly devolved into character defamation, focusing not on the nominee’s professional qualifications but on whether he was a teenaged drunkard, so afflicted by alcoholic blackouts that he was forgetfully capable of anything, including violent rape.
Politically correct character assassination is the goal of the Kavanaugh Event, with the threat of impeachment ever hovering.
Judge Kavanaugh is accused of a felony. But the preponderance of evidence assuredly does not – not – support this charge. However, many Leftists hope the ensuing FBI probe will unearth additional dirt about Kavanaugh’s college drinking and belligerency, and a subsequent charge of perjury they hope to pin on him; dirt with which they expect to bury Judge Kavanaugh.
It is crucial to note that dissociative amnesia and the validity of recovered memories – the bases of his accuser’s charges -- carry scant weight in research psychology and forensic testimony. The validity and credibility of recovered memories is highly unreliable.
Research tell us that recovered memories are by no means credible and carry no probative value. Yet Democrats grant eager assent to the accusations, which originated in trauma forty years old. Despite this, the Progressive Left celebrates the accusation as “proof” of Judge Kavanaugh’s guilt.
If you wish to review these accusations and, more to the point, read the report of Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor who interviewed Dr. Ford during the proceedings, here is the link:
The Progressive’s Approach
To the Progressive Left, accusation alone cancels reasonable doubt. It “proves” Judge Kavanaugh is unworthy. Henceforth, he shall be known and dishonored as liar, drunk and rapist.
For the Progressive Left, even a reckless, fact-less accusation that anyone is a racist or a homophobe, a chauvinist-pig or a sexist, a bigot or a promoter of hate speech or, worse, a faithful Christian baker or florist (with all the attached spiteful, religious baggage) … even a mere accusation is sufficient to cast shadows over good people to justify punitive wrath and budget-busting fines.
Such is the Progressive politically correct ethic in our morally-wounded, rationally-bereft culture.
The Behavior of Some Senators
The insults and “gotcha” posturing by Democrat Senators were, to many observers, way over the edge. It was deeply disquieting to watch our elected representatives leverage Judge Kavanaugh’s plight for their own unsavory political agendas, their unseemly grandstanding and their appeals to financial donors.
For example, Senator Schumer declared his resistance to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination less than half an hour after the announcement. Mr. Schumer’s rush to pre-judgment was startling in its alacrity and vehemence.
Senator Gillibrand’s opportunistic “anti-males-.in-power” feminist screeds were wearisome in their denial of historical and biological reality -- which is nowhere better explained than in this brief, must-watch link:
Senator Hirono’s advice to men to “shut up and step up” was simply incoherent and outlandish.
Senator Kamala Harris’ fumbling, all-too-obvious attempts to trap Judge Kavanaugh into contradictory testimony were feckless and amateurish.
Senator Cory Booker indulged in several episodes of self-promoting rodomontade a’brim with cringe-worthy virtue-signaling and martyr-ish rhetoric. His performance was out of sync with his own teen-age sexual excesses, about which he wrote in a college column proclaiming his conversion to feminism. Here is the link:
One could also mention Senator Blumenthal’s needless slur that Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment will “stain” the Supreme Court; the same Blumenthal who claimed to have served in Vietnam when, in fact, he did not. To review his deceptive misstep, here is a link:
There are other embarrassing and un-statesman-like (or, if I must, un-stateswoman-like) examples from our national leaders in this unfortunate inquisition … but the point is evident… and disturbing.
The Stunning Absence Of Honesty
The intemperate name-calling and adversarial behavior of Democrats did indeed shock. Such behavior compels us to recognize, with heavy heart, that politics - and far too many politicians – no longer exemplify responsible civility, moral and intellectual clarity, human courtesy or simple fairness.
Some will counter with a challenge: “Yes, but how ‘bout Trump and his ranting, blathering incivilities?”
Yes, many Americans vehemently condemn President Trump’s tweety indiscretions. In fact, many loathe our President for his tactless style and his tasteless crudities.
Many people also criticize Republicans for their hesitant, tradition-bound approach to their exercise of their Congressional majorities, and for their failure to reach effectively across the aisle and seek unity with Democrats. “… After all, Republicans have the power, yo …”
… but Progressivism’s defaming strategies and divisive energies – now on grim public display – clearly reveal how they are deliberately eroding our American ideals … and how responsible - in the final analysis – these Progressive Leftists truly are for the toxic state of affairs we now face.
To this day, the story of America is a record of human nature’s best attempts at limited governance and the evolution of justice. Sadly, today’s destructive Leftist politics reveals that power-grasping can overshadow the good will and highest hopes of human nature which defined American exceptionalism.
Political Life And Reality’s Bite
So, in summary, let us be clear: our Declaration of Independence declares that our laws are codifications of rights and responsibilities granted by our Creator - except for the Progressive Left.
Our nation’s historic struggle for a balance between human laws and their divine origin are summed up in the admonitions of John Adams, who cautioned that our form of governance relies not only on law but also on the virtue of citizens and their representatives – except for the Progressive Left.
We can see that American politics today is no longer a unified struggle for a common goal. Party politics is now a bitter, morally divisive enterprise. Americans are separated according to our vision of human life, its origins, its rights and its inherent value.
These differences are nowhere more definitively clarified than with the issue of abortion.
The divisions in our country relate to our beliefs about life itself –about the “right” of individuals to live and the “right” of both the state and private persons to take life away from its own citizens, especially from the unborn and the elderly.
It is the taking and giving of life which threaten our Republic’s very survival. It is abortion, its moral consequences and its political leverage which are at the dark core of the Kavanaugh Event.
Threats To American Stability
The corrupting intrusions of Marxist political correctness, the ascendance of moral relativism in the American consciousness and the denigration of Judeo-Christian principles now inspire character assassination as a mainstream political tool.
But there is also much more to worry about ….
Illegal aliens are now protected as sanctuary-seekers, given free medical and educational access, drivers’ licenses and other comforts of citizenship at taxpayer expense.
To the Left, taxpaying citizenship is a relative issue.
Twelve-year-old “gender dysphoric” children now have the support of some pediatricians for dreadful transgender therapies despite the fact that sexual identity is always evolving especially during adolescence.
To the Left, established facts of adolescent development are relative.
Free speech is increasingly contaminated by Leftist’s who blithely label other people as homophobes, racists, anti-feminist chauvinists, hatemongers and more.
To the Left, solid reputations of moral probity earned over an adult lifetime are relative.
Our national malaise is severely complicated by Leftist propagandists in the media and entertainment industries, to the grave detriment to our entire culture. One has only to listen to some late-night hosts to realize how foul “humor” has become, as Jimmy Kimmel’s disgusting comment – linked here - affirms:
To the Left, factual reportage and decency in speech are relative to the desired outcome.
The impact of the Progressive Left’s relativism on American politics, education, family life, law enforcement – on our entire culture – is difficult to face but impossible to deny:
- the ongoing denigration of Judeo-Christian traditions;
- the triumph of non-judgmental, “anything goes” moral madness;
- the acceptance by medical professionals and parents of gravely misguided transgendered “identity” change therapies over natural sexuality, explained here; https://illinoisfamily.org/homosexuality/55-members-of-american-academy-of-pediatrics-devise-destructive-trans-policy/
- increased taxation and subsequent re-distribution of income and opportunity, regardless of talent or experience;
- the perpetuation of welfare without qualification;
- open borders and further influx of unregistered non-citizen “sanctuary” seekers demanding care and comfort for all entrants – this, added to an illegal population which is twice what experts previously estimated; see the new MIT study, linked here: http://trumptrainnews.com/articles/shock-study-number-of-illegals-in-u-s-double-estimates
- destruction of moral codes which respect the unborn and the elderly;
- increased control of industry, commerce and systems of distribution, psychological and medical services and educational institutions;
- these… for starters…
Finally … Do We Get It Yet ?
The un-making of America in the mold of the Progressive Left proceeds apace as self-restraint is diminished and counterfeit, artificial “freedoms” are let loose amongst us.
The public destruction of Brett Kavanaugh is but one of countless tragic events ahead for America – and for many Americans …..
….. and we have not mentioned the mortal danger of Islamic militancy which promises violence and death to America. In fact, violence is now occurring throughout Europe, a continent made victim by its own twisted sense of giving aid to its destroyers and welcoming its enemy in the names of suicidal empathy and false altruism.
History tells us that disturbing outcomes are increasingly probable --- unless we take seriously the facts at hand.
The facts at hand attest to 1) the demise of our moral traditions, truth and civility in the Progressive Left’s politically correct, socialist America -- and 2) to the continuing destruction of American exceptionalism and identity.
It can’t happen here? Really?
It is unfolding before us --- every day.
24 September 2018
Warsaw and Auschwitz:
Words Are Only The Beginning
Politics is about power. Political rhetoric is about control over people’s thinking, decisions and behavior. Sometimes power comes from votes, sometimes from violence. No matter how power and control are won, the struggle begins with words and images.
Politicians use words to create images to persuade and cajole voters, to rouse and unify people, to uplift and praise or to condemn and vilify, to propose a vision or to besmirch. But the struggle for power and control always starts with words and images.
The Power Of Negative Speech
Representative Maxine Waters, an award-winning icon of Leftist political and emotional rhetoric, speaks openly of “knocking off” President Trump, words that have several meanings. Mrs. Waters says she does not encourage violence. Instead, she opts repeatedly for impeachment.
Ex-VP Joseph Biden, a life-long political fixture, refers to a minority of Trump followers as “dregs of society.” Hillary Clinton famously spoke of Trump followers as “a basket of deplorables.”
President Trump himself aggravates this contentious climate with his tart, often reckless, tweets, his tasteless name-calling and his cringe-worthy commentaries. Not surprisingly, Mr. Trump is the focus of astonishing, often puerile, rage which psychologists call the Trump Derangement Syndrome.
And there’s more, much more … but you get the point.
Character assassination, the “borking” of opponents and deliberate, coordinated, fact-less destruction of others – this is mean stuff. Harsh words and crude images are not new to American history, but today’s public vitriol sets records for its intensity, and for the extent and frequency of its coverage.
The Longer View
Perhaps it is rash to take all this bitter political speech too seriously. Perhaps it is unfair to draw too many conclusions from these frothy political diatribes. Then, again, perhaps not.
Perhaps, on the other hand, we are really incautious by minimizing the impact of these exaggerations. Perhaps we are gravely remiss by shrugging off vicious words and images as unavoidable facts of life in our contentious culture.
Perhaps we err grievously by failing to recognize what these discrediting words and dissociative images are actually doing to America. Perhaps we should be deeply concerned about the long-term historical effect which destructive words and images of our political cults have already had upon our country. Perhaps we should be far more aware of what grimly righteous people have historically done to the “dregs” and the “deplorables” -- as well as to whole nations and peoples.
Perhaps we should be far more concerned about the sort of societies and governments which emerge from the polarizing discourse, the identity politics and the politically correct dogmas which we now seem, passively and detrimentally, to take for granted.
Perhaps, too, we are gravely remiss not to recognize the murderous parallels which history and common sense offer us.
Or have we Americans abandoned our regard for truth and accepted the virus of relativism as our national standard. In short, what sort of people are we Americans becoming?
History Is Clear
If we take history seriously and if we study the social and moral impact of vicious political rhetoric, a clear theme emerges.
Continued use of derogatory words and demeaning images slowly but surely constructs a piety of political demagoguery and moral destruction, characterized by centralized power and punitive controls. The inevitable consequences are widespread loss of moral rights and brutal dehumanization regulated by atheistic leadership.
Polarization by definition creates a “We-They” dichotomy. “We” become encapsulated in our womb of righteousness, numb to the humanity of the “Other.” The “Other” becomes an inhumane villain bringing havoc and suffering to “Us.”
The Hard Questions
“We” deepen our legitimacy by repetition which deadens our moral acuity. Character assassination, defamation, calumny and detraction, distortion, half-truths and lies becomes our norms. Truth and reality are re-defined according to our power needs. We pound away with words and images which demonize the opposition as “deplorables” and “dregs,” worthy of being “knocked off.” “They” want to put us all in chains, we are told.
BUT --- when “We-They” polarities are sanctioned by elected leaders and media, what outcomes can we logically expect from such deliberately divisive language? What kind of society emerges from aggressive rants, endless accusations and morally numbing rhetoric? What happens to people in this scenario? What happened to Robert Bork? What happened at Nuremburg in 1934?
History offers us ample answers – but the battering rhetoric continues especially from Progressive political persons. Even to this day we see the excessive, distorted Progressive abuse of words and the desecration of truth in service to callous power. We see violent ideological character assassination eclipse evidence, facts, decency, simple honesty and basic morality.
The Dreadful Facts
I have seen -- first-hand -- the outcomes of ideological power and its handmaiden, divisive, condemnatory rhetoric. The two major examples in our lifetimes are Marxist Socialism (Communism) and National Socialism (Nazism). In recent history, these socialist systems started with polarizing words and dehumanizing images which eventually resulted in persecution, slavery and death to uncounted hundreds of millions of innocent human beings.
Both Communism and National Socialism were (and still are) fueled by atheistic zeal, codified by state control of every aspect of society: business and industry, production and distribution, education and leisure, marriage and family. Even abortion becomes politically mandated as human dignity becomes expendable.
Marxist Communism in Daily Life
In 1989 I was invited to present a paper at a conference in Warsaw, Poland. Communism was still iron-firm in Poland. On arrival in Warsaw, foreigners’ passports were closely examined as secret police stood close by.
The skyline of Warsaw was dominated by the Palace of Culture, a ghastly structure built by the occupying Soviets. But the side streets still held the intriguing ambiance of centuries-old culture and glorious architecture, a reminder of Poland’s position at the crossroads of Europe.
Later, as I looked up at newer apartment buildings, I noticed many broken windows. Replacement glass was unavailable; the industrial base of Poland had been looted, stripped of machinery, shipped to the Soviet Union.
I could not walk a city block without seeing construction sites unfinished for lack of materials. Abandoned autos littered every street; no spare parts were available. Drivers simply walked away when their cars stalled and would not start again.
I saw block-long lines of unemployed men, dozens of depressed men -- isolated by their futility, sitting silently on the curbs, feet in the gutter, heads in their hands, wreathed in the reeking smoke of impossibly strong Soviet cigarettes -- without a word being said, without a single exchange of support or a glance of friendship.
But the most poignant moment of my Warsaw stay occurred as I was checking out of my small hotel. As the front desk clerk, a young woman of perhaps 23, returned my passport, she quietly said to me, "America must be a wonderful place." I said yes, it is … and I asked why she thought so. She looked around furtively, eyeing a sour, darkly-dressed man across the lobby, then whispered to me, "In America you do not have to be afraid."
Auschwitz: National Socialism In Action
I then flew to Krakow, a stunningly beautiful city whose ancient appeal and beauty were marred by thick bus fumes and auto smog which swirled around my knees like sticky fog. One day, strolling the city center, I noticed a long line outside a department store. The store shelves were completely empty. The people were not shopping for clothes; they waited to buy toilet paper (two-roll maximum). The toilet paper had the texture of sandpaper.
A few days later, I traveled to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp which opened in 1940. You have probably seen photos of the main gate to the entrance of the administration area. Over the gate, in large German lettering, the infamously cynical words, "Arbeit macht frei" (“work will make you free”) still hover.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau cluster of camps are vast. I spent days walking the gravel paths of Auschwitz. It is an eerie place, silent, exuding sadness and madness and unholy despair. As I realized that almost two million persons were slaughtered here, instinctively I removed my hat -- and I whispered.
At one point, I came across a family gathered silently around an aged woman who had fallen to the ground. She was an elderly Jewish grandmother, weeping helplessly in the dust where she had fallen, so drained was she by her grief that she could not stand. She had once been a prisoner in this wretched place. Now, she was visiting the prison of her confinement half-a-century earlier.
Despite the years, she was still in deep mourning … as she had been all her adult life; still mourning her family who had been murdered here .. but for some unknown reason, she lived. Now, her sobs were swallowed by her grief, stifled by her overwhelming sorrow. She could only rock back and forth, back and forth, heaving in the dust. No sound could break free of her, so thoroughly entwined was she by her grieving.
Her relatives knelt helplessly at her side, attempting to hold her, to embrace her, to somehow comfort her as she mourned the long-ago loss of her loved ones, as grievous to her heart now as then … but she was held fast by her sorrow, by her sorrow so deep that nothing -- not time nor fading memory nor the helpless, futile consolations of those around her -- could possibly ease or lessen it.
Never have I seen such profound sorrow without end.
Later, I saw the workshops of Dr. Josef Mengele. He experimented on children and supervised a series of unbelievable experiments on Jews and war prisoners. Some of his victims lingered in agony for months. I saw some of Mengele’s hand-written records (the Nazi genocidal temperament was much given to detailing atrocities) and photos of his work -- the horror of which cannot adequately put into words.
In the same building, Mengele oversaw torture rooms in the basement. The wooden cell doors were four inches thick. Some doors still bore ridges clawed into the wood by the fingernails of those in torment. One particularly horrible practice was to jam people (some upside down) into a cell the size of a refrigerator, then leave them to suffocate. And I saw the cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan priest who voluntarily substituted himself for another prisoner -- and was poisoned in his stead.
I saw the wooden pillars in the yard to which three prisoners were tied at one time. The first was shot in the head with the intention of the bullet killing all three. The idea was to save ammunition, a perverse, revolting frugality.
In the camp offices I saw walls covered with photos of wide-eyed, terrified Jewish children, some as young as eight, dressed in striped prisoner’s uniforms, their tiny heads shaved to the skull. Beneath each child’s photo was printed the "crime" of which these children were guilty: “Enemy of the State.”
Nearby, floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted rooms were filled with gold teeth and hair and reading glasses and suitcases still unopened, shoes piled to the ceiling; on and on … timeless remnants of so many human beings who had died here so cruelly, so namelessly. I could but wonder and wonder, over and over: who were these persons? Who were they? Could it have been me and my loved ones? Let me not forget…ever.
I saw what remains of the Auschwitz crematoria, the ovens into which countless bodies of people were thrown after being killed in gas chambers nearby; ovens which eventually broke down because of over-use.
Auschwitz is hallowed ground --- and yet it remains a place as close to Hell as one can imagine on this earth. But history tells us that it was -- is -- only one of countless such institutions – the concentration camps and the gulags -- built by Marxism and National Socialism … and by those whose moral identity is defined only by power and ego.
And For Us … What?
Inhumane ideologies and destructive words and deceptive images flourish today, even in our midst. Their outcomes stand as reminders, often unheeded, of what we humans are capable of doing to one another when our harsh words and damning images and mindless assent eventually lead to God-less insensitivity and a chic politics of brutality for power’s sake.
If -- as is happening in America and the West -- we worship only ourselves and everything is relative to only our own whims …..
… and if we continue to embrace the atheistic dogmas of Progressivism and the identity politics of the politically correct Marxist mind …
… and if we accept the dehumanizing principles of the Left and thereby dismiss the reality of our common fallen nature …
… we will again pay a dreadful, toxic price.
History is clear. If we continue to disregard the limits of our created nature and refuse to revere God in humble reality …
… and if we ignore the commandment to love God and our neighbor and refuse to honor life, rather than degrade it …
… and if we ignore divine laws which (whether we like it or not) are intended to govern all our human affairs …
… then we will, once again, create places where misery overcomes all else (except, perhaps, a sense of waning hope).
Evil is a reality. So is Goodness -- but Goodness has many enemies.
Goodness starts with each one of us. Goodness is a choice. Goodness needs us if it is to thrive over evil … for it is we who will eventually choose one -- or the other.
As John Steinbeck wrote, there is only one question at life’s end: Was mine a life of goodness?
19 September 2018
The Gift Of Mothers
Five years ago, a young wife and mother named Chiara Corbella Petrillo died of cancer in a small town near Rome. Chiara and her husband, Enrico, had more than their share of parental heartache. Their first child, Maria Grazia Letizia, lived only 30 minutes. Their second baby, Davide Giovanni, also died soon after his birth due to serious deformities.
Chiara kept personal notes about the pain of these losses. She wrote:
“In our marriage, the Lord wished to gift us with special children, but God asked us to accompany them only until birth. He allowed us to embrace them, baptize them and hand them to the hands of the Father with an unsettling serenity and joy.”
Despite their grief, Chiara and Enrico chose to try for another child. Chiara become pregnant a third time. Five months into her pregnancy, Chiara discovered she had cancer but she decided to forgo cancer treatments to protect her child. She willingly put her own life at risk rather than jeopardize the life of her child unborn.
After giving birth to a healthy baby boy, Francesco, Chiara died from cancer. She was 28 years old.
To those who tried to change her mind, she would laughingly say: “It’s all ok, the challenge, the disease … but if you make these faces I can’t do it!”
One thousand mourners attended her funeral Mass at Santa Francesca Romana to celebrate Chiara who, with a constant smile, gave her life for her child. To this day, people come to her tomb at the Verano Cemetery in Rome to express their devotion to Chiara, an example of Mother’s love greater than fear and death.
Chiara pursued various interests. She loved travel, played the violin and piano. But her family emphasize that everything in her life was sustained by prayer and dedication to God. Her devotion gave Chiara the extraordinary strength as Mother to die for her child.
Dangers In Our Age
The selfless love and self-sacrifice of Mothers such as Chiara are countered by the current spirit of radical individualism and political correctness which have gravely disoriented our nation’s moral compass. Even children unborn and already born are not safe within our morally deranged, yet extensive, culture of death.
For example, my friend and colleague Laurie Higgins (of the Illinois Family Institute) reports that “…Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer advocates killing “rights” for thirty (30) days after a child is born to allow parents to ascertain the health status of their conditionally wanted baby. After all, some imperfect humans may escape all current tests for human perfection and, therefore, may not be wanted…”
Political correctness (Marxist in origin) has initiated a tidal wave of grotesque theories and bizarre practices in regard to human identity and cultural norms. In addition, the plague of radical feminism and its toxic distortions have trashed Nature’s wisdom. Unreasoning zealots eradicate natural distinctions between men and women as tools of sexist enslavement. The natural differences between man and woman have been deliberately distorted far beyond Nature’s benign duality.
These Progressive radicals also preach that Nature’s gift of marriage is nothing but a “social construct” based on white male dominance. Marriage and Motherhood are means of imprisonment. The sooner we banish moral traditions and eradicate common sense, the better.
But wait!! There’s more.
The “social engineers” of radical individualism who promote these squalid principles exceed themselves by their embrace of unqualified transgenderism.
Transgender enthusiasts hold that whatever sex Nature assigns a person at birth can be disregarded. We can become any “gender” we want … or none. A plethora of “gender” labels proliferate with medically devastating and morally corrosive effects. There’s a label to fit any gender-whim (more than fifty - 50 - on Google). We alone choose our “gender.” Nature doesn’t matter; Nature is irrelevant.
If, for example, a male chooses to be a female, that’s it. And when “neo-she” insists on using the girl’s bathroom and shower, who would dare impede her … or him? Some Los Angeles surgeons now perform on-request mastectomies for girls as young as thirteen who feel the need to be “transmale.”
Eons of tradition and history are witnesses to the wisdom of Nature. The undeniable facts -- facts -- of human physiology and biology are clear. Yet many of these people embrace the lie, militantly defy reason, ignore biology, trash tradition, deny history, brush common sense aside, and – with astonishing arrogance -- reject the natural boundaries and dictates of human nature.
The Dignity Of The Mother
Somehow, these corrosive dogmas are now accepted norms in much of our morally-mangled culture. This attests to the extent of America’s rootless irrationality and to the depth of intellectual wreckage which now masquerades as knowledge, truth, fact and reality.
As a result, the inherent dignity of womanhood is often denigrated, even lost. The truth of a woman’s femininity and identity -- i. e., a person with unique emotional, biological and psychological gifts and a life-imparting mission -- is nullified.
Also lost is the personhood of the child to whom woman bestows new life: the person she conceives and later brings forth as a Mother from her own body -- her child, who is a distinct person, a human being.
Is there a human relationship in all of God’s creation more intimate or more intertwined, more sacred or more inclusive, more life-giving and blessedly generous than the relationship between Mother and her child?
Gifts From The Mother
Among the countless gifts Mother gives to her child -- and to the world -- is life itself. Flowing from the gift of life, Mother continues to give her child nurturance of soul and nourishment from her body, beginning at the instant of conception and proceeding forward.
Mother’s fierce loyalty to her child -- a force of Nature in itself -- is the stuff of intense courage, as Chiara’s choice illustrates.
Mother is the first to offer her child correction for wrongdoing. Mother is the child’s first model of goodness, common sense and right behavior.
Mother is the first to protect her child from error and to prevent mishap. She is quick to defend her child against dangerous trends and risky friends who may badly affect her child’s body and mind. And Mother is quick to help her child preserve spiritual integrity and natural order.
Mother gives her child a sense of family cohesion and identity and inclusion … and the most essential trait of all healthy lives, the grateful awareness of being loved.
Mother provides the stable ground upon which the child’s personality and character are formed, the ground on which the child learns who he is. Mother tills the emotional and spiritual soil in which the seed of her child’s sense of responsible moral awareness is planted, the soil in which right and wrong are clarified and life’s finer priorities flower.
Mother As Teacher
Mother provides the first examples of virtue. She models the right attitudes about resolving conflicts and dealing with other people. She teaches her child patience and manners and tolerant, but not subservient, good will.
Mother demonstrates her care for her child through her laughter and her caresses, through the infinite array of words and spontaneous signs and endless gestures which send the child the same unmistakable, defining message, “I love you… you are special to me … I love you always…”
Through all this, Mother is never short on discipline nor slow to correct. Mother is not blind to her child’s transgressions; she does not hesitate to step right up as needed, perhaps to slap firmly a delinquent hand or vociferously wag a finger as the child’s ego stretches the boundaries of allowable behavior.
But Mother also knows that these abrasive moments of irritation and ego-shoving will supply a feast of memories shared in laughter and lightened hearts in years ahead.
And as her child grows in age and grace and knowledge, there is always Mother’s lifetime of caring. There is Mother, the spark of the child’s moral imagination; Mother, the family’s center of gravity and the font of uncommon wisdom. She is always there -- in memory and spirit … in her steady and unwavering, irreplaceable goodness.
The Grand Certainty
The child is also bequeathed a grand, sustaining certainty above all others in life: that the child is loved by Mother, as no one else in his life will ever quite love him again.
Mother quietly upholds her end of a lifetime’s loyal friendship, even as the child grows up-and-away, and seeks his own path beyond his original family. And, at some heart-wrenching time, Mother will have to let go of her child -- but she will never let go of her love for her child, even when the phone does not ring and the mails bring no comforting words and the miles between them are so very far apart … and the child’s love seems frail and forgetful … still, Mother’s love holds firm and steady.
Compassion, devotion beyond conflict, fidelity beyond all else, fearless loyalty even unto her own death, enduring love unrivaled …. these traits offer some small idea of what a gift Mother’s love is truly intended to be … for each and all of us – never to be stilled … even by death.
Yet To Be Human
Of course, all Mothers – like all humans – have flaws and foibles. They make mistakes. They err like the rest of us, and they also bear their silent, searing scars in their hearts for none to see.
And sometimes they fail … and they suffer most from the guilt and remorse they inflict upon themselves for being less of Mother than they know – they know – they want to be. And sorrow sometimes o’ershadows all else …. And yet, they persevere… and they endure….
In my own years, I think with reverence of my Mother now deceased … and my Beloved wife (also a Mother) now deceased … and I think of my daughter of precious and loving presence (also a Mother) -- and in these thoughts do I recognize the blessings and virtues by which the Motherhood of each of these grand women has graced this needy world, and me. And I am grateful…
Beyond moments of self-doubt, beyond the often painful cost of her miraculous gifts of giving and nurturing life, Mother stands as an exquisitely unique person … with God-given, divine gifts which belong only to women.
There are many concerning events and many mean people on this earth who deliberately raise our fears and sow doubt in our minds, people with darkened hearts who thrive meanly on lies, who relish hurtful thoughts and provoke contention for the sake of draining our weary souls and sapping hope from life.
But there are also a myriad of enlightening events and glorious people whose deeds -- everywhere to be seen -- reveal the unseen world of God’s own loving Self.
And when our Faith falters and the beauty of life is dimmed and our gratitude is wounded, Mother still stand as God’s promise of His grace, as a wondrous charism to behold and to love, to be celebrated, to be embraced….
Is Mother special? Of course she is …..
Is she inspiring? To be sure ….
Is she irreplaceable? Absolutely …..
Does her Motherhood give us a vibrant, lifelong glimpse of God’s Heavenly ideal of love-without-limit? I do believe so…..
I most surely do believe so …..
……. and I am grateful………
11 September 2018
Yes, Evil Is Still Around ….. Really!!
Some weeks ago, a young couple (both 29) from Washington, D. C. were cycling through ISIS territory in Tajikistan. They were at the end of a year-long bicycle tour. A car passed them, turned around – and deliberately ran them down. Then, the five occupants, ISIS members, stabbed the cyclists to death, later announcing the murders of these infidels as tribute to Allah.
Days before they were killed, one of the cyclists blogged his disdain for the idea that the world can be a dangerous place. “…You watch the news,” he wrote, “and you read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place ... I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind. No greater revelation has come from our journey than this.”
Moral Evil Exists In This World
Evil exists. It’s naïve, even deadly, to think otherwise. One word defines the ultimate human evil – Auschwitz.
Evil is a choice. It introduces harmful distortions into our relationships with self, others and God. Just as we choose virtue and goodness, so can we choose vice and evil.
The choice between good and evil is clearly a constant human challenge. Danger arises when our consciences are eroded, our moral acuity is numbed and evil becomes the accepted norm. But - let’s face it - this happens every day in our morally untethered culture.
The traditional moral and civic sensibilities of America are daily undermined when we dismiss the small courtesies which uphold human dignity. Moral values are assaulted by today’s avalanche of half-truths, by the coarsening of our language and, worst of all, by our nation’s flippant degradation of human life and the inexplicable celebration of death.
Moreover, the cavalier use of soul-destroying drugs, the twisting of truth, the reckless “sexting” so seductive to the young, the blistering volleys of character assassination in our media and the ascendance of sexual confusion as a human right – these are examples of morality, tradition and common sense turned upside down.
The message today is that there is nothing wrong with doing wrong. In fact, wrong is not wrong any more. Anything anybody wants to do is just fine !!
This is the tragic side … the dark side … of liberty abused, the widespread betrayal of true freedom. Let us make no mistake -- evil does indeed exist!
Evil Debases All Of Us
Moral evil wears many masks. It can be shockingly violent and repulsive, obvious and despicable. It can be subtle and muted, barely recognizable in chic discourtesies and calculated acts of indifference which exhaust the good will of others and exalt evil as glamourous and alluring.
Evil exists, despite the denials of hard-core secular humanists, the Leftist Progressives and the anti-American Marxist-Socialists who dismiss God and the primacy of divine law, and seek to eradicate the Constitution itself.
Today, it is quite rare to hear anyone admit that evil also involves sin, i.e., the rejection of our moral responsibilities to God, to others and to ourselves. Sin is unpopular these days. It’s so dreadfully judgmental, so politically incorrect, but it still flourishes, even in churches -- and some clergy.
Sin and evil arise from our ego-driven, disobedient desire to elevate ourselves at other’s expense, as when we callously seek personal benefit (money, fame, even the petty, sour urge always to be right) at the cost to others.
Evil originates in the sinful actions we do and in the virtuous actions we fail to do. Evil can be seductive and oh-so-charming, persuasive and oh-so-righteous. It’s no surprise, then, that habitual evildoers develop self-soothing alibis and rationalizations, habitual aloofness, a studied indifference and a host of ego-easing self-justifications to deflect accountability and insulate themselves from those who deserve their attention.
Sometimes evil behavior originates in a pathological mindset which defies - but does not nullify or minimize – moral responsibility. In addition, psychotic compulsions and deep-rooted psychological pathologies may also diminish a person’s moral awareness and freedom to choose. But such extremes are infrequent.
Thus, in the real world, pathology masquerading as sophistication or simple ignorance never absolves anyone from moral accountability or responsibility.
Our culture thrives more and more on radical individualism which conveniently reduces evil simply to bad taste or to a criminal offense or to an issue for civil litigation. At our worst, we blithely dismiss evil behavior as mental illness.
Because our politically correct culture dismisses God’s authority, morality has become ponderous, distasteful, archaic, uncool. Progressives emphatically deny the existence of an objective moral standard; anything goes. The mention of evil is presumptuous, unsophisticated, intrusive, unsuited to our upscale, atheistic rationalism.
The truth is that we are all born as moral agents with consciences which differentiate right from wrong. Human nature and human relationships are inextricably rooted to moral norms which originate in divine law. All human interaction rests on moral norms from our Creator.
Conscience and right reason tell us that our duties and responsibilities come before our rights. Our moral identity rests on our attention to our duties and responsibilities to God, to each other and to strangers.
Moral norms – often reflected in ethical codes -- bind all people in business and family, education and politics. Human law itself derives its authority and authenticity from our Creator, as our Constitution declares. The link between the human and the divine is undeniable – until we choose otherwise … and foolishly reject the obvious.
The “D Factor” -- Psychology’s Contribution
To some skeptics who deny these comments, the concept of evil may still seem arbitrary. One thing is certain: the outcomes of evil deeds and the behavior of evildoers are evident and undeniable. They can be studied.
Human behavior brings morality and psychology into cooperation. They share the stage and complement each other’s domains. Evil is a moral reality and it is also a psychological fact.
Human behavior has a moral and a psychological component. Psychologists are now examining various traits – the “dark traits” -- which make up the personality characteristics and behavior patterns of evildoers. These “dark traits” (nine of them) combine to reveal patterns of evil behavior and the motives of evildoers.
These dark traits are summarized under the title of the “D Factor,” i.e., the “Dark Factor of Personality.” The “D Factor” summarizes and examines the common elements in evil behavior, the motives of evildoers, what they think, how they act, what they gain from it.
The “D Factor” is defined as the tendency or readiness to advance one’s interests while disregarding the harm it causes others. Evildoers accept hurting people or malevolently causing harm to others … and they believe they’re justified in doing such harm.
The “D Factor” is composed of nine “dark traits.” Each trait describes a particular malevolent behavior. These traits do not -- do not -- operate separately from one another. They interact and overlap with one another and interweave in various ways to result in greater or lesser degrees of evil.
The patterns are familiar to us all, since all of us are, truth be told, tempted by our own vices and capable of evil by what we do or what we fail to do. But virtue and goodness are always at hand … if we choose.
What Are These Dark Traits?
1. Egoism = I have excessive concern for my own pleasure and advantage at the expense of other people’s well-being. In other words, I win at your expense. Me first; you don’t matter … and I don’t mind.
2. Machiavellianism = I possess a cold, manipulative and callous nature and an unfeeling, calculating outlook. I plan carefully how I can get my way, no matter what it costs you. My goal justifies any means.
3. Moral disengagement = I have no regard for morality nor do I place ethical limits on my behavior. The dictates of conscience or morality are of no concern to me.
4. Narcissism = my ego is my all-consuming motive. It is all about me-me-me … Life centers on me, all the time. Others are expendable; I am not. I am compulsively dedicated to my own aggrandizement.
5. Entitlement = I also have a pervasive sense of my own superiority. I deserve deference and consideration more than others. I am entitled -- and I do not hesitate to let you know that you are not my equal. I associate only with persons of my class. I may even ask a perceived underling, “Do you know who I am?”
6. Psychopathy = I have a profound lack of appropriate emotional responses and exercise calculated self-restraint only when it serves my purpose. I am callous and impulsive but I can hide it when it serves my ends. I have no remorse for the harm I do, no empathy for those I harm, no moral awareness or concern for right or wrong.
7. Sadism = I do not think twice about humiliating others. I have a longstanding pattern of cruel, demeaning behavior even in petty ways. I intentionally inflict physical, sexual, or psychological pain or suffering on others to assert my power, entitlement and dominance - or simply for pleasure and perverse enjoyment of seeing lesser people squirm.
8. Self-interest = I seek personal benefit and recognition, material goods, social status and/or popularity, academic or occupational achievement. My happiness is all I want.
9. Spitefulness = I have a penchant for meanness and have no hesitation about harming others … even if doing so could harm me. My grudges could be social, financial, physical or just inconvenience - but my goal is, “I’ll show them” or “I’ll get even, no matter what...”
As I said above, these dark traits interlace with each other and work along a continuum from pettiness to extreme cruelty. Some traits are more pronounced than others. For example, at one end of the “dark trait” spectrum we might speak casually of someone who is an habitual liar or a boorish braggard. At the weightier end, we might hear a person described as an amoral, egoistic, narcissistic psychopath with a sadistic streak and history of spiteful behavior (“…don’t get on his wrong side…”) or worse.
Finally, research repeatedly reveals extremely high correlations among all these traits. In other words, these traits are the stuff of evildoers … and they are the enemies of virtue and goodness, kindness and humility.
So, What’s The Lesson For Us ?
By looking at the human side of ourselves (i.e., the psychological factors which explain evildoers) we may appreciate the gift of life and humbly ponder the beauty of our divine origin and the available paths to goodness.
When we mess up or make an error in judgment or hurt other people, our first instinct may be to flee from the light of truth, to shelter ourselves from bumps and bruises to our exposed ego. We may dodge or deny, or change the subject or whip up a souffle of shallow excuses to avoid the embarrassment of being wrong.
Ego-survival is a strong and primitive instinct, sometimes too strong, as when we run from accountability, shirk our responsibilities, hide in the dark from the glare of truth about ourselves. But denial and avoidance actually compound error and deepen it anew. By avoiding and denying truth, we actually rehearse irresponsibility.
How do we remedy our urge to hide from reality and thereby undermine our moral character?
The answer is found in perseverance in our search for 1) personal goodness, 2) virtuous choices, 3) a tenacious hold on good will and, 4) the courage to be honest.
To begin with, perseverance in search of good will -- despite out failings -- grants us the gifts of humility and prudence, and the sense to take counsel, to listen to others who are wiser … and to drop our defenses.
Virtue promotes respect for one’s self as well as for the dignity of others. It brings us patience, fortitude against the ego’s whiney excuses, and self-restraint to bear with hope and tenacity the slings and arrows of life’s trials.
With perseverance comes gradual clarity that denial and avoidance (and the fearful arrogance which feeds them) are the heart’s keys to darkness.
Perseverance gradually finds clarity through which the dark potential in our souls, our choices and our behavior, may be brought into Light, then enlivened by insight and renewed by the Spirit of Truth.
Insight opens us to honesty and clarity and, soon, to an appreciation of the mysteries which abound in our own life and the lives of people around us. And insight affords us a humble sense of wonder at the stars above us …
….. and we are able to be inspired by gratitude within us for the blessings from God which shine forth for us in the smile and the loyalty of that special person whom we love above all others …
… that person whose goodness moves us beyond ourselves … the Beloved whom we cannot but embrace and honor, be it our spouse or our child or our Creator.
Then -- as we are gratefully humbled by Truth and brought to know that we are loved – then, for starters, do we find peace and goodness within ourselves and in this world …
….. for goodness is, in fact, everywhere … if we but choose to look … and then to see.
30 August 2018
Failed Leaders And Our Catholic Dilemma:
What Do We Do Now ?
A friend -- a bewildered, depressed Catholic friend -- asks, "Where do we go now, given the astonishing sins and failures of our ordained leaders, our wicked priests and bishops who have betrayed us?"
Where do we go now?
My answer: Nowhere … We go nowhere. There is no need whatever for any faithful Catholic to go anywhere. We remain Catholics, as before…. as always.
We do not abandon our Faith because of troubled times.
We do not abandon our Faith because others do so.
We have not embraced the Catholic Faith all our lives merely because of the bishops, some of whom are now revealed as hypocrites in need of repentance and resignation from office - immediately.
We are Catholic not because of them --- but because of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures and centuries of tradition which define, enrich and enlighten our Catholicism.
We are Catholics because of Christ's redemptive message and His ongoing love and support for us in our struggles to live as He would have us live.
We are -- and we remain -- faithful Catholics because of the moral truths which the Church persuasively reveals to us throughout history.
The Catholic Church makes eminent sense.
The Catholic Intellectual Tradition makes eminent sense.
Being a Catholic makes eminent sense. If evil men cannot recognize the treasure they betray, may God help them.
We Neither Fear Nor Falter
In short, we who believe in our Faith are going nowhere.
We will remain faithful Catholics because nothing of substance has changed. It is the miscreant priests and bishops who need to change profoundly and immediately. But we who believe shall not change nor fear nor fail.
We who remain faithful members of the Church must remember that -- in all truth -- we are the Church.
There is a profoundly traumatic event occurring throughout the Catholic world. We are stunned to learn that so many of our consecrated clergy are liars, abusers and worse. How can this be true? We have been abandoned, betrayed by those we call "Father." Our trust is shaken to the core.
With these present scandals, we (all people, not just Catholic folk, since the failure of leadership affects us all) are brought face-to-face with the reality of our universal nature, our weak and fragile human nature. We see human nature revealed at its worst by those who should live according to the most reassuring message earth has to offer, namely, the Gospels and the Christ-centered Catholic traditions revealed in the theological and moral virtues and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
These dreadful events bring us brutally to the hard reality of life's inherent ambiguities. We are reminded of our precarious existence which so often rests upon external supports and clings to the security we feel when our anointed authority figures benignly lead us, reassuring us along the way that all is well on earth as it is in heaven.
But now, we are stripped of faith's first need, i.e., the moral credibility of our leaders and the spiritual stability of those ordained in authority; those anointed to reveal to us -- and model for us – how to live and what to believe.
Now, our moral exemplars are tragically exposed. Our rage is predictable and natural. It is the same dynamic as when a spouse or a parent dies or when any unexpected tragedy strikes. We feel helpless in heart and soul without the protective forces we have relied on.
So, my anguished friend asks, what do we do?
Substance vs Superficiality
First, preserving as much charitable restraint as we can, we recognize that those guilty clerics have (to say the very least) forfeited our respect. Pray for them, yes. Hope for their redemption, yes. But let them be gone.
More than that. It is now ever-so-crucial that we recognize the fundamental and essential difference between style and substance, between the temporal and the eternal, between the often-grubby natural elements of life and the supernatural elements which sustain us above and beyond the accidents of history and the foolishness of human pretense.
The Catholic Church is divinely founded but it still must wend its way through time and history, offering salvation and common sense to all comers. Yet, like all institutions, the Church has had its share of tragic periods and vile leaders. A few examples: history tells of the wickedness of popes such as Sergius III and his son, 16-year-old John XII; of Benedict IX and of Boniface VIII. Boniface’s evil habits earned him a place in Dante’s eighth circle of Hell.
So, what do we do, as history repeats some of the uglier facts of the Catholic Church’s struggle to honor its mandate and further the love of Christ in our midst?
We go beyond and above the limited value of external authority. We go within ourselves -- and there we embrace The First Authority Himself, Jesus Christ, Who has not left us. It is Jesus, we believe, Who dwells in our very souls. It is Him we honestly seek. It is His Word --- His Word alone -- which holds us to our Faith.
And the traditional place for us to find Jesus renewed upon this earth is where He has always been and always will be … not only in our own hearts and souls but also in the Church. We find Jesus in His Church as well as in our hearts and minds and hopes and intentions. We are part of His Church, part of Him --- and we stand fast in our Faith. We stand fast with Him and with His Church …. and thus do we prevail.
Evidence Is Everywhere
We have ample evidence of Christ's constant reality in this world, ample evidence in Creation, in the infinite universe and in the eyes of children; ample evidence of His reality in one another -- and in His Church.
We are children of His Church, born to seek and find the love of God. The Church overflows with a history of Truth and forgiveness and a divine passion to embrace us with deepest affection and fidelity, despite the infidelity of some leaders, whose behavior emphasizes our need always to keep our hearts and our minds and our souls focused on Him, not on them ... and to keep our Faith firmly rooted in our relationship with Christ alone.
These men were once consecrated but they have made themselves irrelevant to our chosen fidelity to Jesus. Their infidelity will pass. We remain steadfast.
The Message Is Clear
So, the message to us in all of this is, as always, gratitude for life, humility of heart and patient fidelity. Let us preserve our Faith in the face of this present horror. Let us not waver nor miss the point that while their faith is grimly lacking, our faith will not be shaken by their wicked errors.
We have the Truth of divine love and salvation given to us through the Church by Jesus.
We have the Church’s Sacraments to enliven our Faith.
We have the Theological and Moral Virtues to guide us though our daily lives.
Let us live that Truth. Let us live our Faith and be steadfast, strengthened by the knowledge that He will always be faithful to us, no matter what others may choose to be or to do.
Many have lost sight of the Truth. Let us never do so. Let us stay faithful -- yet humbly so, and grateful always for His love for us all.
This is the unchanging core of our Faith and our lives -- and of His Church…..and we are going nowhere…………
24 August 2018
Unavoidable Facts … And The Memory
Of A Good And Grand Man
From Pope to parish, from Vatican splendor to the humblest Catholic hovel, the outrageous scandals now shaking the Catholic Church are beyond tragic. The indefensible behavior of guilty priests enrages even the most forgiving amongst us.
The scandal is further contaminated by the inexplicable passivity of uncounted, morally feckless Catholic bishops. The sins and covers-up by these priests and bishops (and several cardinals) shocks us all. Their failure to act with unwavering moral fidelity does excruciating harm to the victims and deeply erodes the Church’s credibility.
Rightly-critical commentators underscore the profound infidelity of these clerical evildoers. But the fallout upon good priests and bishops who have been -- and remain -- faithful shepherds is dreadful for those who respect the truth, often buried by ponderous headlines.
Weary, furious Catholics and righteous agnostics are likely to forget the vast numbers of faithful priests and religious who shake their heads in anguished disbelief at the evil we behold. But, sadly, these many good priests and religious pay a grim price unmerited.
Truths For Thought
Buried beneath the avalanche of proper outrage are two useful truths. The first truth is this: the Catholic Church is divine in its origin and mandate … but it is unavoidably human, sometimes disastrously so, in its earthly struggle to fulfill that mandate.
The second truth to keep in mind is this: God’s grace (with its inspiriting insights lighting our way and its supernatural energies tugging us toward Goodness) builds upon human nature … but grace does not overturn or supplant, stifle or replace human nature.
Human nature (in each and all of us) retains its powerful urges and its lesser wants, its ego-centric penchants and its self-serving potential for gravely evil choices - as well as its honest search for moral integrity.
Human nature always possesses freedom to choose. Our freedom to choose is at the heart of our humanity. Each of us stands between the Real World and the Ideal World where Goodness awaits. Our choices determine our behavior, define our character and lead us to moral maturity - or to disgrace. We decide what sort of person we will be. We are responsible for our actions and accountable for our choices.
The Moral Call
Catholicism traditionally asks of us what our human nature, by itself, cannot - or will not - give. Catholicism has always declared our moral obligation to seek and to do Good. Catholicism has always told us that when we choose evil, we are responsible, no matter who we are.
Thus, the Catholic Church’s moral guidelines are (and have been for centuries) eminently clear and definitive. And this is precisely why Catholicism is unpopular with many critics, vulnerable to opposition, subject to ridicule and disdain. Following its essential mandate, it asks human nature to be more than it wants to be. It asks human nature to give more than it wants to give, to willingly take less than it is allowed to take -- for the sake of God and neighbor.
Catholicism traditionally confronts human nature’s foibles with aggravating candor. It urges us to choose idealism over selfishness, truth over delusion. Many people find its moral voice abrasive, and this makes it a target. Our culture thrives on moral relativism and oozes cynicism about the value of self-restraint, even as it belittles virtue’s soul-searing command to love God and our neighbor, to seek and do what is Good, even at a personal cost.
Catholicism’s emphasis on moral integrity is simply not “cool.” It’s out focus with the relativist’s moral selfies. It irks many people when it proposes that sin is a reality and that evil is a threat to integrity and love and peace and all that Goodness espouses. It is “uncool” to say such things, unrealistic and politically incorrect. Catholicism can be a real nag.
Nonetheless, the truth is clear: our choices for Good or evil tell us who we are. And, despite our evasions and denials, we are accountable for what we do. We choose to be who we are … and we are accountable. Objective moral laws do exist; they tell us how we should (yes, should) live and how we should (yes, should) treat one another. And when we choose to ignore these laws, we are indeed accountable – to self, to one another, to God.
Humanity And Choice
So, priests and bishops are, first and finally, vulnerable human beings who -- at their best -- seek to overcome the dark energies and demeaning gravity of human nature’s selfish urges. At their best, priests are men who embrace the Divine Ideal, then spend the rest of their lives pursuing it responsibly, honorably and accountably.
Priests and bishops are, first and finally, men enfolded in their human nature, faced with the unending challenges of choosing God and doing Good beyond all other options. This is their Ideal, their chosen calling -- which they betray at immense peril. This is who they should be, always and everywhere: responsible, honorable, accountable -- just as all of us are called to be responsible, honorable and accountable.
Thus, good priests must be, first and primarily, good men, striving always to be at their best. Still, the rough human edges of even the holiest priest are always evident. His personal quirks and oddly-occurring tics, his bouts of restless impatience and his slips in virtue, his idiosyncrasies and his errors of judgment -- his humanity -- are fair game to those who choose to find little else. Even his table manners become fodder for critics … and the word does get around.
In today’s climate of dreadful revelations, of fractured virtue and of morality unhinged, a good man’s choice of the priesthood as his life’s work may seem to be an errant choice; to some, the choice of a sullied state now beyond repair. Yet most priests courageously keep the dignity of their intentions in daily sync with the nobility of their calling – responsibly, honorably, accountably.
Clearly, we cannot -- must not -- excuse those clerics who have sinned so grievously, so perniciously. But we must not thereby be blind to those good priests who grieve with us; those good priests who share our wonderment at such evil; those good priests who seek the Good, responsibly, honorably, accountably.
..… For Example …..
Let me tell you about a good priest who died recently – after more than seventy years of faithful service and many hours of daily prayer throughout his long and honorable life.
He spent much of his priestly ministry as a teacher and a philosopher. In his last years (when I knew him) his homilies were filled with gems of erudition, sagacious bons mots, an abundance of practical wisdom and a grand sense of humor which wisdom often bestows.
But … sometimes … in his sermons, he became entwined in the thickets of his own rhetoric (as we lifelong teachers often do), engrossed in the history and flow of his ideas which were better served by restrained brevity and benign truncation.
On one occasion, after one of his homilies went lengthily astray, I took the risk of writing him to suggest that he shorten his content and hasten to his point with less multi-layered detail. Lesser men might have taken offense, but his reply to me expressed both gracious good humor and a whimsically humble heart. “I thank God for your charity,” he wrote, “and you for your fortitude…”
He included a prayer which, he said, originated at York Cathedral in the eleventh century (“or thereabouts, perhaps, or perhaps not,” he added). This prayer expresses several talents which are rare in our palavered world. I share it with you, as I know he would:
Lord, you know I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject, on every occasion. Release me from the craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it, but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details. Give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips about my aches and pains, since they are increasing and the delight of rehearsing them becomes sweeter as the years go by. I dare not enjoy hearing about the pains of others but I do ask for the grace to endure such chatter with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory but for the growing humility and lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not demand to be a saint (some of them are so hard to live with), but let me not be a sour old person.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, please Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.
This good and holy priest is buried with a number of other faithful members of his Community; buried with other men who held fast for their lifetimes, with men who stayed faithful to their choice to love God and neighbor with the courage to seek and do Good.
So, let us all be clear: it is such good and selfless men who give honor and dignity to the priesthood and to the religious life.
Let us be clear: it is such good men who ofttimes give our frail and flighty human nature a good name, and make this world a better place.
Let us be eminently clear: it is such good men as these, these uncounted, often quiet men of deepest integrity who, by their selfless witness and their courageous yet unnoticed perseverance, represent and live the authentic Catholic priesthood.
Let us be clear – and let us never forget them.
18 August 2018
How My Garden Does Grow
Let me tell you about my garden.
It is a verdant garden, filled with lush, plump plants and tenaciously blossoming ferns which keep unfolding for me over the years, revealing layers of color and depths of shading which often surprise me and always stun me with their richness and variety. Yes, my garden is filled with endlessly subtle blooms and an abundance of plump succulents. Each time I water or prune or simply say hello, my garden greets me with an abundance of welcomes, yet with silence of greatest value.
Indeed, I am ever-and-always struck with incessant wonder and, truth be told, I am infused with a large dose of mystery by my garden’s quiet, relentless fidelity to its call to beauty.
Yes, I do speak to my plants and flowers. I complement them on their vibrancy and, often, I ask them about the mystery of their growth, about the delicacy of their forms, about the purity of their designs.
My garden is good to me. It brings delight to my gaze as I peer closely at the exquisitely formed leaves of flowers, at the bursts of colors they offer, at their uncountable layers of veined petals which often cast shaded graceful shadows across my patios.
And when I touch them, my plants feel luxurious, satisfying to my hands. Some are like velvet, smooth and unruffled, as soft and as delicate as a baby’s ear. And my succulents are of tougher stuff, yet with the firmness of a ripe peach and the panoply of hues, like a rainbow in my hand.
Yes, I do speak to my plants and flowers, to this profusion of green which lightens my soul and brings calm to my heart. I ask them about where they learned to be what they are, about who had such a dazzling imagination as to bring them into being, about how they know what precise course they must follow to become the beauteous creatures I behold.
They are, of course, forbearing of my ignorance, patient with my silly questions, accepting of my endless curiosity. Tolerantly do they listen … but they do not answer my query too quickly. They are, wisely, silent … but still they listen and then they speak to me -- if, that is, I am wise enough to stand, quietly, and listen to their message; if, that is, I am able to clear my mind of my ego’s own cluttered cares; if, that is, I am able to calm my spirit… and then to attend to them as they reveal their secret.
And then they speak to me and they tell me that the answer to all my questions is a mystery. It is really not a secret, but it is a mystery. It is a mystery which is not hidden, not kept in some locked vault, known only to a few.
It is a mystery, profound and yet simplicity itself; mysterious beyond comprehension … yet obvious to the youngest of minds and to the most innocent of hearts.
My garden’s beauty, its enchanting hold on me, is a mystery or, perhaps, it is The Mystery about which there is no secret. It is The Mystery revealed to me every moment of my life. It is The Mystery which is all around me. It is The Mystery revealed to me in my garden and (truth be told again) in my home and in my family and in those I love and those I do not even know.
It is The Mystery revealed in the clouds and sun above me, in the earth beneath me and the inexplicable universe embracing me.
It is, of course, The Mystery of Life and how life’s variety and depth and curious course and divergent themes and infinite realities all come about. And I ask my garden, what is my role in all this Who am I really? Where am I from … and to what goal am I moving?
My garden listens to me, quietly, patiently, with good humor and a knowing nod between leaves and petals, succulents and perennials. They know all the answers. They know the purpose of The Mystery.
And how do they know?
They live it. Their lives are witness to it.
With obedience and fidelity and quiet wisdom, they live the lives they have been given. They reveal their wisdom in their endless loveliness and in their remarkable stamina and in their unrelenting pursuit of their given natures, in their unswerving obedience to health and growth, in their days of exquisite flowering and, inevitably, in the season when death ensues.
And so, this is how my garden grows and flowers. This is how my garden brings my heart to admiration for our Designer.
This is one grand reason why I am, perforce, drawn to frequent and fervent gratitude for my garden; drawn to our Designer … whose affectionate Presence is, as my garden reveals, everywhere to behold.
Everywhere to behold.
5 August 2018
The Man and His Son
Walking in front of me as I entered the post office today was a grey-haired man. He was not much younger than I, and he was pushing another man in a wheelchair.
As I caught up to them I noticed that the man in the wheelchair was a severely disabled adult, physically and mentally. The younger man was obviously so profoundly handicapped that he surely needed full-time care.
I held the door for them as we entered. As the elder man wheeled the younger into the post office, he said, “Thank you,” and then added a small smile. But the man in the wheelchair did not -- could not -- look up at me to exchange small courtesies, so severe was his condition.
Against my better judgment, I said to the elder men in passing, “He is in good hands…” The elder then spoke four words which I shall never forget:
“He is my son,” he said.
Then he moved on, pushing the man in the wheelchair.
I went about my business, sorted my mail, read a short note from the gas-and-electric company reminding me that I use more energy than my neighbor, flipped through a catalog, dumped most of the mail in the recycle bin and turned to leave, when ………
I noticed the father and his son again… and I watched and, God forgive me, I eavesdropped.
As the elder looked at each piece of mail, he leaned down to his son and recited the origin of each piece of mail. The son was completely unresponsive, made no sign of recognition and seemed totally unaware of his father’s voice, but the father read it all to his son.
When he had examined each piece of mail and read each to his son, the father then turned and pushed his son’s wheelchair toward the door.
By now, in my brief watching, I was moved by some sense of union with them both. I felt some weight of personal obligation to these two men, whose names I did not know. I felt an impulse demanding that I be good to them in some small way, that I assist them in any way I might. And then I, too, moved to leave so that I might hold the door for them once more.
The father said, “Thank you, again.”
“It is my privilege,” I said.
I watched the father push his son up the slight incline to the handicapped parking space. I watched as the father pushed his son’s wheelchair up the slight ramp into a van outfitted for the chair. I watched as the father went to his knees so he could set the chair in its proper grooves inside the van, then rise slowly and, in a gesture of quiet victory, stand and straighten his back.
And I watched as the father then reached over to his son and put his hand -- ever so gently -- on his son’s cheek…
…….and then father and son drove off.
Now, hours later, I am compelled to write of this brief moment.
They -- father and son – linger in my heart’s memory, for they both, father and son together, give witness to the goodness of a loving family and to courageous commitment. And I am moved to share this memory with you.
Many of us will ask: why does God visit such hurt upon us and allow humanity to endure such endless pain? To those of us who believe and trust in God, the answers are clear, even if difficult to comprehend for the soul’s earthly ease. But the truth is that there are some people on this earth who love so deeply and so rightly that their care for their beloved is not pain. Rather, such caring is life itself.
To those who refuse to believe that God carries us all, no answers will ever suffice to remove the clouds of doubt which produce an even less satisfying condition of soul.
One answer is evident … to me at least. It is this:
There are on this earth some men and women who do not tarry with questions such as “Why,” when the needs of others are evident.
There are some men and women on this earth who are committed to loving others and serving others. The commitment of these men and women runs so deep within them that they do not hesitate – they do not hesitate for a moment -- to joyfully, with fullness of heart and mind, spend their lives caring for others.
In this instance, the father willingly and lovingly chose to spend his life caring for his child, caring for the life and well-being of his son. By their very existence, this father and son offer us a glimpse into ourselves and present to us a truth about ourselves which only we can deny or embrace.
And if we choose to love as that father does, then we will need no answer to the “Why” question. It will then be a moot question which we, ourselves, will already have resolved.
2 August 2018
In Search of Happiness
In class one day long ago, I asked my students, “What is happiness?” Their responses were both fascinating and fatuous. Here’s a few:
Happiness comes with success, whatever that may be.
Happiness is popularity when everybody likes you and wants to be with you but you can go your own way and they still follow you around and you ignore them.
Happy people are always in control of things.
Happiness is having lots of money, so rich people are the happiest people.
Famous celebrities are happy cuz’ everyone loves celebrities, and their fame makes them happy.
Everyone wants to be beautiful and if you’re beautiful, then you’re happy.
Happiness is winning, no matter what you try.
As you can imagine, my students taught me that happiness has many definitions. I also learned that the word “happiness” is one of the most abused words in our language.
Now, after many decades, I have come to believe that true happiness is found only in peace of mind and heart, in calmness of soul. We achieve such a state only by seeking and embracing our own goodness and by preserving our ability to love and to give of ourselves, even in the face of loss or rejection or misunderstanding.
Peace of mind and calmness of soul are the result of our choices to be persons of love and kindness, persons who choose to persevere in humility and gratitude, no matter what the cost may be ……………
Kindness? Loving and being loved? Peace of mind? Humility? Gratitude? That’s it? That’s it?? As one of my students asked, “Where’s the fun in that??”
Fun Isn’t Everything
To many people, this recipe for happiness may sound simplistic or naïve. In fact, it is the simplest of truths. But it is a universal truth which is often hidden by our eager embrace of false values. It’s a simple truth but it is so often obscured by befuddling moral detours, by our weary addiction to self-delusion and by the unhealthy enthusiasms of towering egocentrism.
Over the years, our awareness and our original, child-like awe can be badly injured; sadly, we take life for granted. Our God-given simplicity becomes sullied by a soporific cavalcade of tinseled allures. Our yearning for life’s simple goodness is gradually diminished by a parade of ingratiating distractions and shallow facades.
How do we recover some of our fundamental sanity and clarity in a self-serving culture which fervently flees from the challenges of humility and dismisses self-restraint?
We start with gratitude for our very lives. We bask in gratitude for our freely-given abilities to breathe and to think, to communicate, to love and to be loved. We decide that gratitude for our Creation will be constant in our attitudes and our actions. We choose to honor love’s impulses which nudge toward goodness. We choose this as the norm for our words and deeds.
It is this response to love’s urgency -- not age nor fame nor the fawning adulation of strangers -- which defines our maturity and refines our character.
And, in the flow of loving others, we are moved to kindness for all, especially those closest to us – no matter what manner of unkindness may scar our hearts, no matter who may painfully deflate or abuse our trust, no matter how many times our hopes and ideals may be bruised by the coldness of others, especially family, to whom we are most vulnerable in our lives.
Thus is our happiness to be found, first and finally: in our constant struggle to be kind and consistently loving; in our efforts to be grateful for our very lives which allow us time to love and to be loved; for our humility to accept love’s sometimes painful price; for our peace of mind which nourishes our soul’s deepest hopes and nurtures the roots of our faith as we seek the Light.
By now, it is a truism to say that our very lives are gifts beyond our control, gracious gifts which bring us happiness when we pursue the dictates of faith and the inspiration of the generous soul.
The Art Of Living
This is the art of living. This is the path to happiness.
Life’s purpose -- and the origins of true happiness – rests in our living according to these values.
This is an opportunity granted to us by our Creator. And when we stray, as we all do, our life then involves our recovery of these gifts. Then do we seek to recover our gratitude. Then do we renew our choice to love and our willingness to be loved. Then do we embrace our spirit of humility, which life’s harsh events can tarnish and which harsh words can stifle. Then does simple courage become us.
This is the work of our creation which defines the art of living. The poet T. S. Eliot puts it this way:
The soul of Man must quicken to creation.
Out of the meaningless practical shapes
of all that is living or lifeless
Joined with the artist’s eye, new life, new form, new colour.
Out of the sea of sound the life of music,
Out of the slimy mud of words, out of the sleet and hail of verbal imprecisions,
Approximate thoughts and feelings, words that have taken the place of thoughts and feelings,
There spring the perfect order of speech, and the beauty of incantation.
The work of creation is never without travail
The visible reminder of Invisible Light.
O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.
Thus, it is in our search, in our gratitude, in our kindness and in our desire to love and be loved that we find happiness.
May we seek the Light, then find the Light and, in life’s good time, uphold the Light for those who yet linger in the shadows of doubt and the darkness of unknowing.
24 July 2018
Do I Have Humility?
Of Course -- Just Ask Me …..
Last time I spoke to a group about the value of humility in work and family, a barrage of criticism - jovial, but pointed - ensued. One chap (with arching eyebrow) wryly summarized the group’s opinion: “Humility? Humility? Are you kidding? Humility in a morally bereft culture filled with suspicion and adrift with reckless leaders … Humility? Be serious!”
Misunderstandings abound. Some folks insist humility is the same as humiliation. It’s not. Some folks say humility is weakness. It’s not. Some say humility is the sign of an inferiority complex. It’s not.
But what is it?
Let me explain the spiritual and psychological sides of humility. Let me also explain why humility makes significant difference in our lives and in our relationships.
Humility Is Living Truth
The word “humility” (from Latin) refers to my possessing deep personal beliefs which are solidly grounded in the rich soil of truth. It means I am firmly rooted in reality, that my character and behavior are inspired by truth ... even when it hurts.
Humility is 1) a source of personal integrity, and 2) a social value which is the foundation of my relationships in family and business, in public and private. It means my concern for other persons is authentic, my honesty is genuine, my words are without guile, my integrity stable and consistent.
It means I am not an ethical corner-cutter, not a moral game-player nor a slick-tongued trickster who waltzes coolly with falsehood and squishes weasly with alibis and excuses.
It means I do not preen pretentiously or over-play my achievements, nor do I under-estimate or down-play with false modesty my inherent human dignity.
It means my self-restraint keeps my words truthful, my actions principled, my motives credible, my fidelity consistent. It means I earn trust. I nurture no hidden agendas nor do I nourish grudges or belittle others to appear above reproach.
In recent years, research psychologists have identified three personal qualities at the core of practical humility. These qualities work together, as a unit. When one quality is active, so are the others.
The first quality of humility is accurate self‐awareness, i.e., the willingness to see oneself accurately, without defensiveness, pretense or ego-driven facades, without evasion or blaming, without lying to oneself or others.
Accurate self-awareness includes acceptance of our limitations and talents. We have an honest, unfeigned, realistic view of ourselves and our capabilities, while admitting our mistakes and accepting our limitations; no histrionics or drama queens. Flawless we’re not – but we accept ourselves and we accept facts and events around us without denial or exaggeration. This, for starters…..
The second quality is appreciation of other people’s strengths and contributions. This quality reveals our (humble) willingness to acknowledge and accept the views of others without seeing their success as a personal threat. We accept truth as our norm. Facts are welcome. No catastrophe exists when others are correct and we are not.
The third quality (for many of us, this is the most difficult) is our openness to feedback from other people and our willingness to learn (our teachability) from them. This involves our listening without quarrel or defensive resistance. This can be painful when feedback is without embellishment and (gasp!!) spot-on truthful. Sometimes reality does have teeth which nip our egos. Still, we are not faint-of-heart when we face truths about ourselves which we prefer to avoid.
But we must also be clear: our openness does not – does not -- mean we are passive when error or wrongdoing is involved.
Spirituality’s Added Value
Finally, research points out that humility is a personal choice under our control. It is a choice we make to regulate ourselves; a choice to overcome denial and avoidance. Humility influences our attitudes and our behavior toward ourselves and how we will treat others. We are not dismissive or arrogantly superior, nor do we use others for our own aggrandizement.
Moreover, humility is an effective social value. It benefits our relationships as well as our personal well‐being. Beneficial social and organizational outcomes result when truth is honored and the tugs of arrogance, excessive ambition, deception and mindless ideology are restrained.
You may ask: If humility is so useful, why aren’t we all humble folk? Unfortunately, our egos sometimes fixate (lock in) on the wrong messages. Maturing stymies. Moral and psychological imbalances result. Although we get older, we do not grow up. How many immature adults do you know?
Consider the following.
Following The Wrong Path
In early years when learning first occurs, our instincts and impulses are primitive and selfish. Our self-centered egos are fragile and fractious. The ego’s job is to defend us against stressful criticism and perceived rejection -- but that is also its potential weakness.
For example, if my immature ego is contradicted and my version of events are threatened, my strongest instinct is to protect myself, to look good to others, to appear right and righteous, to do battle with anyone who threatens my safety and equilibrium.
So, my rickety ego defends me against feelings of embarrassment and humiliation, but it also becomes prone to excess, to fantasy, to whipping up fanciful exaggerations and lies. Maybe I tell myself these are “white” lies, but truth suffers, nonetheless.
Over time, the more my ego distorts reality, the more I become vulnerable to threats which I think - incorrectly - are posed by truth, fact and reality. Even though the threats are imagined, pride and arrogance still begin to dominate my heart and mind; my judgment suffers. The older I get, the more fragile my ego becomes. I am more inclined to instinctively (and irrationally) protect myself, even when threat is unreal.
As this process advances, I become comfortable with half-truths, soft deceptions, cosmetic distortions and downright lies. I start to slather reality with a self-justifying veneer. I stretch truth, pursue alibis, manufacture excuses, explain away errant behavior, deny and avoid what seems to be threatening and disagreeable. I avoid confrontation, master evasions and excel at avoiding responsibility. Often, I blame others and flee accountability. I put up walls to buffer myself from truth.
In time, with practice, a lifestyle results. Eventually, I may rely on falsehoods, spawn injurious rumors, become adept at svelte deception, employ facile distortions, even resort to calumny, detraction and character assassination when situations and persons do not fit my ego-centric scenario -- and I still see nothing wrong. To admit that I am incorrect is unthinkable…… and truth has become an inconvenience.
Human history repeatedly illustrates the fact that truth – whatever it may be – is the first victim when people no longer value their moral traditions and cultures no longer honor civic virtue. But, as the con man says, “…works for me….!!”
What To Do? What To Do??
Enter humility. Humility embraces the truth and thereby alleviates the feckless ego’s reckless need to protect us from appearing to be wrong.
In practical terms, humility speaks to us and says:
“We must tell each other the truth, even when it is difficult for us both. We must listen with honesty, for in the long run, truth unites us, but lies and evasions divide us. If we settle for half-truths or deception, avoidance or denial, then everything thereafter begins to slide toward manipulation and deviance; eventually falsehood and disrespect triumph. Without telling one another the truth, we normalize avoidance and disrespect. Eventually, falsehood becomes our norm. This happens all too often between people who should pay the price to respect and love one another in truth……”
Humility tells us that pretense, denial, avoidance and half-truth jeopardize our attempts to love and trust others. The risk also exists that truth-telling may spark misunderstanding. But if we value the relationship and respect the other person, then we will realize that s/he deserves explanation and clarity.
So, we must be ready to explain our motives, reveal our fears, strive for clarity and push for transparency with the other person. We must be ready to engage in honest dialogue, to discuss our reasons for our behavior, to explain our concerns – and then we must listen.
Some people do not deserve an explanation, especially when we know they are not to be trusted, are not of good will or will abuse whatever we say. But with people of good will, it is a caring and generous act to let them know (as far as we reasonably can) the motives and priorities which inspire us.
Perhaps now we can more readily recognize the value of humility in human affairs, in business and family, in marriage and child-rearing, in religion and education and, assuredly, in political discourse where distortion, exaggeration, bitterness, half-truths, reckless accusations and entrapment are common.
But beyond all this, there is an even deeper reason for us to embrace humility.
By its very nature, humility prompts us to embrace a sense of transcendence in our lives and in our cultures. To every decent person, truth is preferable. Lies corrode the soul and befoul the culture. Lies abet moral chaos which stifles human goodness.
Humility offers us a connection to a larger Reality than the self. And for Christians, humility is a traditional virtue requiring moral strength and courage. It is a deliberate choice to do what is morally right as well as psychologically sound.
For Christians, humility is a virtue which radiates from the Presence of God in Creation, a Truth by which we recognize and accept our dignity and our worth as human beings in this vast and boggling universe.
Awareness and adoration of our Creator is central to all Christians. We are moved by humility to accept the fact of our redemption from the nihilistic isolation which unbelief can spawn. We are further inspired to accept the love which God has for us - as hard as this is for many people to accept.
Thus, as a psychological character trait and as a virtue given to us for the spiritual and moral good of all, humility makes uncommonly good sense ………. if we have the humility to accept the Truth -- and live it….
14 June 2018
Unraveling Truths Of The Heart
The death of a Beloved provokes incalculable emotion which words cannot adequately frame. When we say farewell to our Beloved, our sense of loss can be likened to an invasion of the soul, inexplicable, lingering, transformational in its finality.
Death’s confounding ambiguities move some of us to invoke the consolations of Faith. Our belief in God and in a life hereafter assuage our emotional vulnerability and cauterize the wounds of loss.
Others fall back on resentment and find some value in cynicism. They rage against the dying of the light, driven by disbelief to embrace nihilistic pessimism.
Whichever way we respond, our understanding of both life and death is but a blink of an eye in the overwhelming mystery of creation and our place in it.
Knowledge Is Insufficient
Clearly, our knowledge of life and our control of reality are vastly limited, our grasp of creation simplistic, our hold on history’s lessons precarious, our ability to learn all too shallow.
We want events - and people - to make sense, to be reasonable … like us. We want to live comfortably in logical, step-by-step, cause-and-effect patterns; no fretful detours, no close calls, no demanding intellectual challenges. We want simple, reassuring outcomes. We want to say, "Aha! That’s it. I got it!! It makes sense to me. No sweat; I see the answer clearly and cleanly."
In other words, we want life on our terms. No trouble; no worries or anxieties; no pain, no strain. But any reasoning adult knows that "answers" (what few there may be) to suffering and pain, to anguish and loss are never found solely within the precincts of human knowledge.
What more do we need? What solace suffices? What consolation is enough? What manner of emotional or intellectual support satisfies?
In my judgment, we need the Gift of Wisdom, which is a way of knowing beyond knowledge.
The Gift Of Wisdom
The Gift of Wisdom re-aligns our thinking, eases our wounded hearts and calms the strident wonderment of loss. It does not banish pain but it illuminates our reasoning and opens us to a perspective about the mystery of creation and death -- and all reality -- which is beyond human logic’s limited categories.
We do not naturally possess the perspective or the insight to manage life’s disquieting confrontations. The loss of the Beloved overwhelms logic and stifles reason. We need help beyond our limited human capacity for understanding. We need help beyond the self. This is Wisdom’s first lesson.
Wisdom’s second lesson is that the perspective and insight we truly need arise only out of the experience of personal pain … be it mental anguish, emotional loss, spiritual confusion or physical suffering. The pain we wish to avoid is what we must first accept.
Only personal pain can effectively interrupt the discordant self-absorption and wayward energy of our errant egos. Only personal pain can reveal to us the stark simplicity of human nature’s true condition.
Thus, the Gift of Wisdom’s paradoxical insights begin in our weakness and vulnerability. Wisdom knows that the arc of every life is unpredictable. Rather than curse life’s unpredictability, Wisdom’s next lesson is that we accept – with humility -- our innate fallibility.
We do not rebel nor indulge the fallacious facades of rage. We do not curse the inevitability of pain nor reject the contradictions of ambiguity. Wisdom reveals to us that when we are weak, then can we also find strength – if we look with humility.
In Weakness, Strength
Thus, the Gift of Wisdom requires, and flows out of, the acceptance of fallibility, humility and forbearance which pain and loss foist upon us. These virtues are alien to the puffery of our unrestrained egocentrism, alien to our instincts of denial and avoidance. They mute the trumpeting of faux self-sufficiency. They move us to admit (even in the exhausting silence of persistent grief) that vulnerability to the unknown -- not control or power or strutting pride -- is our true human condition.
And it is in our weakness that our strength resides … waiting.
Wisdom knows and accepts the fact that we cannot control events or people. There are times we cannot even control ourselves as individuals or as nations. Indeed, history reveals our propensities to endless wars and mindless violence, to indulgence and indifference.
Our race has a cavalier disregard for truth-telling. We partake of needless gamesmanship, of chic discourtesies, of disregard and dismissive indifference for one another on a colossal scale. We even put the lives of our children – born and unborn – at politically correct risk … and mask our duplicity and our readiness to kill by calling it a “choice.”
Wisdom’s message should be indelibly clear. Human error and endless self-absorption are testament to humanity’s need for virtuous principles and priorities by which to live.
The Gift of Wisdom instills in us new categories of judgment and new definitions of experience. It inspires in us the ability and the willingness to look at life with the inner eye of Faith even – or especially -- in the midst of pain and confusion.
In the Judeo-Christian view, the Gift of Wisdom arises from our relationship with God -- and from the strength of character and belief which Faith and its moral perspectives promote. Today, however, the mere mention of God or moral self-restraint often elicit a smirk of ego-driven condescension.
The Gift of Wisdom is further inspired and made specific by the life and example of Christ Who Himself felt pain and sought to avoid it. But He also brought a divine perspective and the promise of resurrection to the mystery of death and life renewed.
Even so, our Faith must still struggle to accept death’s painful deprivations. But our struggles are not without a purpose which is, Wisdom insists, greater than our ability to explain or comprehend with tidy clarity.
So, the Gift of Wisdom does not expunge pain or ambiguity, nor meet the demands of reason or common sense. Rather, Wisdom adds the essential gravity of Faith, which includes sanity, stability and a healthy dose of reality.
Wisdom says we always – always – have a choice about how we will behave and how we will integrate our vulnerabilities into the development of our character and maturity. And Wisdom tells us that tantrums, even when they feel good, are for the immature.
Thus, the Gift of Wisdom introduces us to new categories of knowing and understanding ourselves. These categories go beyond pain and suffering… to the core of one’s identity as an individual. Thus, the purpose of pain is to uncover one’s yearning self, to open the quavering, guarded soul within the sufferer, to touch the wounded heart beyond the suffering, to reveal us to ourselves with no cosmetic pretense, to usher us into the reality of who we truly are -- and who we truly can be.
The Gift of Wisdom presents us with a new world-view, with a set of perceptions which transcend our rational limitations so we may gradually penetrate our heart’s facades and respond to our soul’s deepest, now-exposed needs.
And it is here -- in the unguarded borders of heart and soul -- that our vulnerability becomes our strength. It is here that our character is forged; here that a New Moral Reality is revealed; here that Faith becomes not merely belief but a personal surrender to Life Itself – to God, and to the challenges of living with virtue’s choices as our cognitive map.
Nonsense . . . Sort Of . . .
Some deniers scoff at these ideas, dismissively pointing out that nothing exists outside their own choosing. If they don’t approve of something or cannot exploit it to their satisfaction; if it does not please them or suit their particular urges, it has no currency or value, no credibility or importance.
Such a view is contrary to all that is, in fact, logical and rational. This view coronates self-interest while encapsulating the individual in the sterile domain of his Preening Ego. Sophisticates may prettify nihilism and deniers may seem to flourish, but the facades of excessive pride do not have the moral stamina which Wisdom and its principles quietly offer.
Beyond Faith . . . To God
The Gift of Wisdom becomes central to the life of Faith even as pain lingers. For pain causes us to reflect and to learn, to seek to understand and, hopefully, to believe --- and that is its value.
The Gift of Wisdom brings insights into Truth which people who demean Faith simply cannot - or will not – ever understand.
Because the origin of Faith and the source of the Gift of Wisdom is, of course, God. Even if pain lasts and our spirit weakens and we are made numb by the searing realities of loss, God abides. Therefore, we shall abide as we persevere and develop our relationship with God … a relationship enlivened by the Gift of Wisdom, by His Wisdom.
Dealing with God is hard and humbling work. God is not always forthcoming or as readily apparent as we might wish. But as we grow in our relationship with God, we become wiser and humbler and more mature -- about ourselves, about others, about Life Itself, which is always a mystery to us all.
Yet, as we grow in age and wisdom, we also grow in other virtues such as patience and perseverance, fortitude and prudence, hope and love for truth, understanding and generosity … and the courage to be kind to others, but always kind with honesty and humility and truth…. Above all else, truth.
And as we grow, the Gift of Wisdom inspires us, and we are more and more caught up and involved in the cycle of God's mysterious love, which is the ultimate and overriding truth which every believer pursues, the Mystery behind life and death -- and beyond.
Finally . . . .
Years ago, when I was struggling with a crisis, I sought the counsel of a wise elder, a mentor of many years. In desperation, I said to him, “I feel as if I am drowning under the weight of my problem.” He said to me, “Perhaps so; perhaps you are drowning, but let your Faith always remember that God is the sea …”
Despite the loss of our Beloved and despite endless periods of grieving, life still awaits.
This world is a beautiful place, made even more beautiful by the life and love of our Beloved, now part of Life’s Mystery. And as we begin again to live -- as we reach out again to Life and pray for the Gift of Wisdom -- our loved ones can, if we choose, be glorious gifts to our needy souls, ever friends to our striving hearts.
And Wisdom speaks clearly to our good will and says to us, each and all:
“Let us earnestly and humbly embrace our loved ones and tell them they are loved.
Let us be kind to others.
Let us embrace our own lives with the years we have ahead of us --- for, despite travail and pain and the mystery of life itself, living is meant to be a grand and loving event for us all…”
So may it be …. for us all.
7 May 2018
In Sickness and In Health:
In Memory of Our Nancy
Giving and receiving the love of another human being on a permanent basis is undoubtedly the most fulfilling state of life one can experience. But let us understand that by the word “love,” I do not – do not - refer to the commonly abused notion of fluttery feelings which fade with the seasons nor the rush of randy anticipation at a night of quick gratification with a passing hook-up whose name is forgotten with the dawn.
Loving – truly loving someone – and being loved are acts of the will. They are deliberate choices, demanding decisions which sometimes involve painful circumstances which cannot depend on feelings. These circumstances test our depth of sincerity and take us to the edge of our character. More than any other experience, truly loving someone with fidelity and constancy compels us time after time to face ourselves; compels us to be silent and know.
How do we know love is true?
It starts breezily enough. We are attracted to another. We find mutuality: music, movement, a look, common sociability, shared likes and dislikes, good humor. A myriad of subtle cues and powerful urges draw us to that other person. We discover a whirlwind of similarities and shared attractions. We soon feel the velvet nudge of romance, that irresistible draw of anticipation and unquenchable elation. Soon, we are deluged with a singular cascade of feelings which form into our tenuous, quivering hope – and we are finally moved to say, “I love you.”
But the brand of true – really true -- love to which I refer above does not stop there, with a tentative conquest and the embrace of hesitant emotionality.
No, the brand of love I refer to only starts there, then grows and deepens and expands into the mind and soul of the lover. The form of loving and being loved to which I refer becomes transformative for the lover. It crystallizes into his willingness to make any personal sacrifice for the Beloved’s well-being.
This brand of love is called “amor benevolentiae,” i.e., the love of benevolence. It defines the lover’s readiness to give his life for the Beloved over his lifetime. The lover becomes willing to expend himself without reservation for the well-being of the Beloved.
This brand of love is selfless.
Giving and receiving this kind of love is the whole and entire purpose of Christian marriage. And as this love grows, the acts of giving and receiving love meld into a single act, a single decision, a single-minded vision.
Giving and receiving then become inseparable because, by giving to the Beloved, the lover gives of – and to -- himself. He receives the bounty which only generous constancy affords. It is in giving that we all receive, and it is in loving that we become Beloved.
But the act of loving and being loved is also a precarious state of life, a perilous human endeavor.
Such Love Is Not Static
Because the act of loving and being loved is both profoundly challenging and exquisitely rewarding -- but it also involves hits to the lover’s ego and moments of bewilderment. As time passes, a loving relationship often involves words that scald and periods of dark and moody distance, instances of special pain because they are rooted in truths which must lead to decisions which test the lover’s endurance and, most of all, which threaten the lover’s self-image and his defenses.
But if the lover be true, then humility, forbearance and the gift of wisdom will uphold his hope and stymie his urge to flee. And it is in his search for generosity for the Beloved that the lover begins to behold, quietly at first, love’s hidden power.
Slowly, but surely, then, does the lover become able and willing to listen to the Beloved’s truth and curb his rigid defenses. He recognizes that truth does not always wear a comely, flattering face, especially when the Beloved speaks hard truth.
Sustaining the lover and the Beloved through such tribulations is the slowly growing awareness between them that, somehow, their love for one another will pull them through these clouds of doubt and pain. And because they now love one another with commitment to the truth in their relationship and the courage to risk together, they will also hurt one another: hurt will happen. Yet there is no other path with greater value than the truth, even when it is painful.
As time passes, their hurt will lessen because they trust – and, deep down, they know – their love will seek and find that moment when mutual clarity strikes and honesty will provide a redemptive balm. And they know -- they know -- that they have truly found their Beloved in each other. And they know that both of them, now together, have not been found wanting.
Meaning And Living
If we mean it when we say “I love you” – if we truly mean it (and only time unfolds the depth and certitude of our meaning) we then step into a new and unexplored world; a world in which we are no longer alone … but also a world in which our lives are no longer our own. We now inhabit a state of being in which we can no longer think of ourselves as our own independent person. To give up self is to gain.
We enter a state of life wherein we live not for self but for the Beloved, as well. We do not demean or belittle ourselves. Rather, we live for the other, who lives in us. In short, we commit. We commit our lives, our identity, our very selves. In this choice is the union of willing souls to love beyond life.
And the person we have been up to this moment is no longer sufficient for the realities of loving and the gift of being loved. When we commit, of necessity, we must change.
And when the other says, “I love you, too,” we are then drawn into the exquisite habitat of the generous soul. Single-minded altruism and overriding humility and the constancy of giving henceforth become the defining traits of our being.
From now on, there is no end to the measure of our generosity for the Beloved. With the Beloved, we begin a unique human journey – marriage -- which takes us along costly paths and strenuous trails yet unmarked.
It is a journey with demands and riches yet unclear, with uncertainties enlightened only by the decision to give of the self and receive from the Beloved in ways which cannot be planned or foreseen. But it is in giving that we receive, for giving of the self is what lovers do.
Thus, the price of loving the other and the treasures of being loved begin as a journey with this one person, with the Beloved.
Lover and Beloved: we are two who have become one.
Together, we start a journey filled with unexpected revelations and unearned rewards; a journey filled with moments of humbling embrace as well as distressing insights. And at the core of this life-long journey – this mutual enterprise of loving and being loved – we are inevitably compelled to face the reality that only by an unwavering commitment of oneself to the welfare of the Beloved can we – together, united, no matter what -- sustain the mystery of our loving without distraction or deception.
Marriage: this is the call to grace and to virtue. It is the call to love the Beloved no matter what. It is the call to love this one person fully, deeply, loyally, unreservedly … until death -- and even then, beyond.
The Mystery of Ever Loving
Eventually we face a hard and inevitable truth: Death is ever looming in human affairs and will one day, intrude. Death will bring a new reality and lead us to an even deeper confrontation with ourselves.
One day we will learn that it is a dreadful experience to be ever near to our Beloved as she moves closer to the moment of her death. Yet our care for her and our fidelity to her are essential to the fulfillment of our commitment to love her in sickness and in health.
So, we must be even closer to our Beloved as she moves gradually into a quiet place, a place beyond the simple absence of sound; a quiet place of reserve and reverie so deep as to resist any intrusions and dismiss any distractions.
And we hold her and we stay with her as she moves into that quiet place where God awaits, the waiting God whose embrace is now hers; the God who sees the Beloved, now face to face – and He welcomes her, and He embraces her --- and He smiles …
And the lover is also blessed if, as the Beloved finds the peace of Faith, he listens -- and sees her meaning -- as the Beloved says, "Take me home." Finally, the lover knows the Beloved’s deepest needs and says, "Today we go home…. We go home today." And the lover is blessed to see the Beloved smile .... and he knows then that the Beloved is indeed in God’s peace.
And So It Was ……..
And so my Beloved Nancy died, at home and in peace, blessed with the Sacraments of our Faith which bring union with Her Creator, while her children and her lover stood by her bedside.
Some might say that God is cruel to take our Beloved from us. But the graces which God bestows upon us are to be found in the goodness which our Beloved Nancy still shares with us.
In her life, His revelation is to be found. In her laughter and in her generosity, in the constancy of her love for us and in the abundantly colorful art she so carefully created do we recognize the graces of Our Creator which filled the life of our Beloved Nancy.
On the wall above her desk she keeps a poem. Its final message underscores the unquenchable energy of her entire life: “Be at peace with God; keep peace in your soul for, despite the drudgery and broken dreams, it is still – still -- a beautiful world…”
All of this says to her lover that God is indeed kind and good, for in the life -- and in the art -- of our Beloved Nancy do we see God’s Beauty come alive. In the life of our Beloved do we know God’s Kindness …. Her life teaches us all that kindness is also our mandate if we are to honor her and be worthy of such love as she, our Beloved Nancy, has given to us all.
This we believe in Jesus’ name. Amen.
25 March 2018
The Language Of The Soul
I once worked with a physician, Dr. Hohlkopf, a dreary, discourteous fellow who never looked up when anyone spoke to him, never granted others the slightest glance of curiosity or a soupcon of attention. He was always busy-busy, always harried, always impatient with nurses and attendants who vied for his advice or hoped in vain for his vacant attentions.
Dr. Hohlkopf’s unpunctuated motto was “…What is it I‘m busy….” His frazzled, brittle persona sent the intended message that he had no time for anyone; no time to listen or attend to the concerns or accomplishments of others; too busy to engage the intrusive subordinates who were subservient to his whims. No way. He was a busy-busy person, too pre-occupied to honor the simple, but significant, courtesies of life or respect the bedside empathies which so often ease the healing process.
Among the many furtive underlings who worked for Dr. Hohlkopf was Nurse Furchtbar, an assistant known for her medicinal savvy and her energetic penchant for accuracy. Under Dr. Hohlkopf’s impervious facade, Nurse Furchtbar’s performance was sometimes marred by the flutter of her fragile ego and by minor emotional eruptions which bubbled up from her font of anxious tics and mounting frustrations.
One afternoon, Nurse Furcthbar sought to clarify the precise wording of a report Dr. Hohlkopf had distractedly dictated. With visible apprehension, she approached him (for the third time, mind you) seeking his deserved attention. Dr. Hohlkopf greeted her with customary dismissive flippancy: “What is it I’m busy….”
With that, Nurse Furchtbar lost it. Her frayed restraint melted as she tossed a handful of papers skyward, stomped her foot several times and, with quavering tremolo, unloosed a scathing monologue which she’d repressed for ten years.
Nurse Furcthbar enumerated a litany of Dr. Hohlkopf’s insults and the barrage of rebuffs she had endured over the years. She even mentioned his unsavory habit (“disgusting … disgusting habit”) of cleaning his teeth with the nail of his little finger.
Soon, heads were popping out of patient rooms up and down the corridors. On she went. Her voice grew louder as her list grew longer, but her final zinger was most memorable, when she shouted, “You never, ever listen. Damn you, you never listen to anyone. You do not care for anyone…. All you know is charts and money, but you do not have a heart… There is no poetry in your soul ...”
That was many years ago when listening to others with intensity and concentration was new. Since then, I have come to recognize what a treasured moment it is to be truly involved in listening to someone, what a gracious gift to be listened to, truly listened to. And I have come to recognize how absolutely fundamental it is for our mental health and our spiritual good that – somewhere, sometime – someone listens to us, hears us and, hopefully, understands.
As Dr. Hohlkopf would say… “Yes, yes …we know all that, but what’s your point… what IS your point???”
The point is this: The ability and desire to communicate are as deeply rooted in human nature as breathing. I have said elsewhere in these essays that we cannot not communicate. Our need to communicate and to be heard underpins everyone’s search for a responsive listener to whom we may grant our trust and speak our heart. This is the soul’s deepest hope. It originates in our need to form relationships with others to whom we may grant our trust, share our hope and, God willing, express our love.
But, contrarily, we learn early in life to be on guard and protect ourselves. Emotional vulnerability, caution and the survival instinct too soon o’ershadow innocence. Our original preternaturality is too soon blemished by the harsh indignities of thoughtless, self-serving egos.
Language Of The Soul
Nonetheless, our innate desire to communicate endures and we evolve a language which has no rival, i.e., the language of the soul. This is a spiritual -- as well as a verbal – language. Its meanings are often coded in allusions or cloaked in images which carry meaning far beyond our spoken words.
This language of the soul is not bound by the oddities of dialect, the boundaries of syntax or the rules of grammarians. The language of the soul expresses itself in terms which are subtle, nuanced, often hesitant for fear of rejection or judgment. It is often wordless, intuitive and imaginative, endlessly creative, sometimes symbolic and story-filled, given to reflection, to fancy and fantasy, to dreams and memories.
I emphasize “spiritual” because -- after many decades of listening to troubled humans -- I know we do not live, nor are we made better, solely by-and-for our material wants. We are, first and foremost, spiritual beings, born into a material world but not confined by its limiting fears and earth-bound aspirations. Our intimate hopes and deeper needs are never resolved by greater materiality, never fulfilled by the accumulation of stuff, never eased by the envious adulation of those who know nothing about us.
Answers to the needs of the heart are not found in statistics nor in sports, not in profit-and-loss jargon nor bank statements, not in wealth or power, not in the tribal rites of self-promotion or in the selfish rituals of hubristic conquest which still prevail in our culture.
The needs of the heart find no compatibility with the de-personalizing estrangements of electronic gadgetry nor in the pseudo-sociability of Facebook’s fallacious entanglements. We are gifted with spiritual inclinations, virtuous instincts and heavenward ideals. The more we deny this central ingredient of our being, the greater our discontent, the more perplexing our dis-ease, the more nagging our lingering sense of futility in what we seem to achieve.
The Focused Message
If we focus and watch as we listen; if we seek to hear with our eyes as well as our ears; if we listen intently to the messages and the deeper rhythms of another person’s communication (or to our own), we will recognize that the yearnings of our hearts speak to us in that unique language of the soul.
For many people, there is a problem in all this. The language of the soul and the truths it reveals are alien, even threatening, to many people. Thus, these truths are initially difficult to face and discern, even more difficult to translate into action. This is because the act and the art of listening (even to one’s own interior dialogues and the truths they contain) demand discipline, humility, self-abnegation and no-nonsense, hard-core candor. For many people, telling the truth is risky … but hearing the truth, especially about oneself, is fearsome.
The language of the soul involves the heart’s poetic instincts of which Nurse Furcthbar spoke. This opens us to the world of our spiritual selves, to the world of our interior lives, to the myths we devise, the imaginative fantasies we weave, the memories we harbor. Herein do we encounter our unexplored selves, shorn of defenses and exposed to personal truths. It is herein that we hone (for better or worse) our singular vision of reality.
Our imagination easily and often flies freely beyond the constraints of social orthodoxy to create distinct personal visions which can be expressed only in acts of utter originality; interior acts of private creativity and intuition, inspired by the sometimes wacky “what if” and “if only” scripts we devise in the serene comfort of our soul’s blessed introspection.
In real life, we seldom express how we truly feel but when we are alone and our poetic juices flow, the sky’s no limit. And it is here that we will find the roots of meditation and prayer and authentic spirituality, which are our links to Divinity … if, that is, we but look and seek … and listen………
This is poetry at its spiritual roots. Clearly, this poetic language of the soul is deeply personal, idiosyncratic, entwined in the complexity of our emotions which exude nobility or shame, delight or rage, elation or sadness. And, as with so much in life, we always have choices; we can seek goodness or harm, virtue or wrongdoing. We can pursue the salacious or the altruistic, the generous or the punitive. We always have that choice. And it is here that moral awareness and a commitment to the moral life become crucial for our humane development.
Risking The Self
When we attempt to open our hearts and reveal our interior life to others, it is often done without words: by a fleeting gesture, a cautious touch, a tender smile, a sidewise glance returned … all of which speak volumes, yet in declarative silence.
But, as we said above, pain and disappointment can overwhelm the hopeful heart. We learn too soon to use words defensively, to stifle clarity, to avoid truth, to embrace the lie, to becloud meaning, to create distractions or construct deceptive diversions. Thus do we stymie our spiritual selves, and thereby nurture disillusion and cynicism, defining ourselves as untrustworthy.
So, it is with these fundamental sensibilities that the soul announces its uniqueness and the heart declares its dreams … and, through it all, wonders to itself: Is Anybody Listening?
The Long Haul
From our first days on this earth, we grab onto life’s energies and never cease to search for enduring relationships with people who will, we hope, support us and stay the course as true and loving friends.
As we grow in age and, hopefully, in wisdom, we will recognize that others are on the same searching path with us. We will respect the fact that their hearts and souls are also driven to communicate so that they, too, may find spiritual relief and emotional sustenance in a relationship of lasting value, a relationship in which the giving and receiving of love are central -- and safe.
We all seek that leader or that group, that family or that special friend whom we can trust and, in due time, learn to love. But we also learn that we cannot truly love anyone whom we cannot truly trust.
The Love To Which We Are Born
We are born to give and receive love; this divine energy is built into our very nature. Karol Wojtyla, the remarkable philosopher, wrote that human beings “cannot live without love.” In his document “Redeemer of Man” he says that without love we remain beings who are incomprehensible to ourselves; our lives are senseless if love is not revealed to us, if we do not encounter love, if we do not experience love and make it our own; if we do not participate intimately in it.
In the long view, as we search for someone whom we can trust, we recognize that trust is a two-way street, that others seek that same hopeful connection as we do. And we come to realize that trust is more than reliance. We rely on many people for various tasks and services. Real trust takes time and stability and patience and character …. and human weakness always hovers. But weakness also attests to the need for repentance and forgiveness as part of learning to trust, then to love.
Even with superficial acquaintances and in unsavory hook-ups, these universal realities apply, although they are likely to be most easily and quickly abused when the “relationship” is shallow and the cost is cheap.
So, it is a wise person who recognizes and honors the dignity of others which underlies the search we all share. It is the wise person who knows that lasting trust and reliable love are earned, not given carelessly nor granted casually to those who treat the moral life and the needs of the heart with cavalier insouciance.
If properly nurtured with prudence and insight, weighing the values involved, not avoiding the evidence and being honest with oneself, rightly-bestowed trust is the doorway to giving one’s heart to another in true and loving friendship.
Such giving is, of course, a rare and endearing experience. In human terms, it finds grand expression in the solemnizing act of traditional marriage, in the exchange of vows, in the hope of creating new life and in the lifetime of fidelity such generous love foreshadows.
It is within such precious friendship that the language of the soul can be heard … loud and clear, for a lifetime --- and beyond…..
12 March 2018
Faith: The Promise And The Price
My beloved wife recently suffered a severe fall resulting in serious injuries. Weeks of hospitalization followed, and she continues to endure further weeks of slow, often agonizing, physical therapy. Her pain is unrelenting. To those who love her dearly, all of this -- all of this -- seems bewildering, needless, pointless.
And so arises that perennial human quandary: When those we love suffer so much, we cannot avoid the piercing realization that there is so much pain in this world, so much pain and so much suffering; so much senseless pain and so much needless suffering – and now, this…… Why this? Why now? Why ever?
Of course, these thoughts lead to the inevitable question: “Why does God allow this to happen to such good people, to such good, innocent people? If God is good, why does God visit pain upon those He says He loves?”
Such confounding questions raise awe-filled challenges to our limited, faltering logic. Contradictions arise which our minds cannot clarify nor aptly resolve. We are driven to ask, “What’s the point? What’s the point?”
We then confront two options.
The First -- And Obvious -- Reaction
Our first option is an unguarded response to grief and trauma. We are quickly overwhelmed in an unrestrained whirlwind of aggrieved emotions, plunged into the uncensored cauldron of our worst fears. We lose control; our sense of helplessness and our understandable rage at apparent inequities takes firm hold of us and carries us away …. and we believe we simply cannot help ourselves.
As we are increasingly submerged into the darkness of our resentment and anger, righteous bitterness enters our hearts. Far too often, our bitterness is accompanied by an encapsulating sense of self-justified victimization.
For many people, this bitter, cynical option overrides all else and evolves into a life-style. The grip of depression and despair takes hold. People then reject right reason, accept denial and avoidance, and risk surrender to pain’s depressing legacy.
In some circumstances, this adjustment results from extraordinary trauma; PTSD is an example. Even then, a second option exists. It may be a costly option, but a choice does remain, and we must struggle mightily not to let tragedy and discouragement dominate our lives, sour our hearts and paralyze our soul’s yearning to give and to receive love.
The Other Choice
So, we all know that painful events are universal and inevitable. The sweep of cruel emotions thus occasioned is often more powerful than our heart’s hesitant vision. Yet, as we come to grips with tragedy and bewilderment, I believe this second option is the more human option, the choice which wisdom always pursues. I say “more human” because we cannot spend our lives in the stranglehold of distraught emotions without losing a significant part of our potential dignity to futility’s dreary treadmill.
Right reason -- based firmly on solid moral principles and benign confrontation -- is the core of this second option. Right reason is essential if we wish to live a healthy existence which is not tainted by smug bitterness or colossal selfishness.
Right reason is the natural parent of principled common sense, of moral clarity and candor with oneself, and readiness to learn, even painfully. Right reason evolves throughout life and aims at the achievement of wisdom.
Right reason teaches us to accept our human limits, to respond to our needs without self-pity or subterfuge, to seek goodness and to adhere to the truth. It asks much of us, but it leads humanity to its better angels.
Even in the midst of painful loss, emotional upheaval and inescapable ambiguity, right reason offers a better way. Right reason also leads us -- rationally and logically -- to accept the role of faith in life.
Faith of all sorts helps us live sanely and safely as we encounter a series of incalculable daily unknowns. But faith in God reaches far beyond the normal routines to inspire us to moral virtue. It is our faith in God which urges us to seek purpose and meaning in events which our experience cannot explain.
Among these inexplicable events is the pain which our loved ones endure.
To be sure, faith in God may not extinguish skepticism. It surely does not eliminate doubt, caution or the need to know. But rightly reasoned faith in God does make doubt and rage far less overwhelming as we face life’s mundane mysteries and demanding depths. And faith rightly reasoned reveals how limited our knowledge really is, how little we really know or understand about Creation -- and how little we understand ourselves and our own human nature.
Faith’s Fundamental Necessity
As a young Catholic, I was taught to admire (I still do) people who exemplify heroic virtue in their lives. We call them saints. We learned that the sacrifices which faith in God asks of us are often exceedingly heavy, such as the enigmatic suffering of the innocent, as well as the charitable chores which faith asks from all of us.
We also learned that our feelings cannot be the main standard by which we make choices. Making choices according to right reason’s dictates often means overcoming our feelings, putting aside our emotions, seeking virtue and humility over violence, practicing self-restraint and kindness when anger is strong; all these, so that we may stretch for a higher standard than personal satisfaction or the acidic comfort of righteous rage.
We learned that feelings alone are not reliable signposts to virtue and grace. If our feelings -- which are most often subjective and self-serving -- were the supreme “truths” by which we should live, then nothing outside ourselves would have any credibility, any worth or any lasting influence.
The cumulative weight of all this – i.e., the evidence from right reason and logic, from faith and common sense, from universal human need and the incomprehensible mysteries of Creation – all tell me that my belief in God makes so very much sense.
This cumulative evidence long ago persuaded me that God is not only possible but necessary as the Ultimate Reality, as the First of All Realities, so far beyond our comprehension that we can never grasp the purpose to which the suffering of the innocent may lend itself, a purpose far beyond the pious clichés which our ignorance weakly proposes.
In truth, then, we are all so very small and God is so immense – and yet faith in God attests that love is ever there amongst us, within us, moving us, touching us, enlivening our spirits.
It seems that God gives us faith – all sorts of faith, in varying degrees – so that we may muddle through the uncertainties of each day … but lovingly so … as we live partly in the light of faith, partly in the shadow of our ceaseless, unanswered wonder and awe.
The Consequences Of Truth
To persons of contrary disposition, the cumulative evidence I mention inspires them not to faith in God nor empathy for others, but to cynical nihilism and rejection of God. These doubters and deniers often abide in a state of dismissive disgust toward God and, sometimes, toward other people, too.
Nonetheless, all people -- believers and doubters alike -- live by faith a hundred time each day. For doubters, this may be a normal, natural, easy state of living -- except when it comes to God. Many committed deniers deliberately exclude God from their lives. Still, one must ask (without expecting an answer), why so? Why exclude God from one’s exercise of faith, yet have faith in the mechanic who fixes your car or the doctor who tends your ills or the teacher who imparts the ways of knowing to your child?
I admit that my personal faith in God involves me in a set of relationships which keeps my life in balance. More than that, my personal faith helps me realize that my beloved spouse and I are still, and always, upheld in our relationship by God's reality.
I find God’s reality reflected in the marriage we share with one another. I find God’s reality reflected in our knowledge that our few-but-precious secrets are loved and dearly held; reflected in our minds with which we think, in our hearts with which we seek to do what is right and kind for those around us, in our souls which, as Augustine says, are restless until we rest in God.
Thus, our faith in God allows us to live with our doubts, even with our pain and our grieving … and not be overwhelmed by our unknowing.
Our faith in God illumines what we know and what we do not know.
Our faith in God -- and our forgivable doubts about His hidden agendas -- inspires us to believe and to love, sometimes in the comforting light of moral certainty, sometimes in restless shadow. But we do believe .. and love does follow ……..
Even in darkness and uncertainty, our faith in God comes alive in the virtues and in those countless quiet moments of goodness in life, in Creation itself, and in the wounds of our hopeful humanity.
Faith quietly nudges us to love, and gently informs our souls that God is truly our God -- and trust in God is our best response.
Today, as a Catholic elder, I see so many persons who live heroically - but in modest, humble ways, just as my beloved spouse lives, in her quiet faith and in her loving smile.
And I am moved, time and again, to agree with Georges Bernanos when he says that “grace is everywhere ….”
Now, in my elder years, I daily see heroic virtue which I once read about in my youth. But now, that virtue comes even more alive to me in the pain my beloved spouse so nobly bears each moment.
And then I know that God is with us in the faith we hold – and then I know that I am blessed with God’s loving gift of marriage … blessed beyond measure to love and to be loved by such a woman as she.
And then, once again, our faith in God makes even more sense to me --- and God’s grace is, surely, everywhere in our lives.
1 March 2018
Kids Who Kill:
A Culture In Search Of Its Conscience
How do we prevent future soul-searing tragedies such as the Parkland killings? More than that, how do we rescue the soul of America as we strive to save our children from the evils they encounter? How do we lead our children - and ourselves - to virtue and goodness amid the corrosive nihilism which is everywhere ascendant in our nation?
How do we repair the ongoing destruction of our moral heritage which, until recent years, has been our cultural safeguard?
What is happening to America at its foundations?
Round And Round We Go …..
An avalanche of predictable solutions to the problem of armed child murderers rumbles forth from a variety of agencies and agents. Gun control legislation, metal detectors, armed guards and Glock-packing teachers. Closer monitoring of gun sales and a souped-up mental health approach. Oh, yes, let’s demonize NRA gun-nuts and take away their car rental perks.
Talking heads come up with a cavalcade of “solutions” to the escalating problem of youth-gone-mad -- as if this gun problem were the real problem our culture faces; as if the unimaginable evil of child-killers amongst us lends itself to a quick-fix.
Grisly events such as Parkland inflict national, as well as personal, wounds. Such events are a repetitive smack-in-the-face to America; a frantic, stunning revelation that something profound, something deeply fundamental, is desperately missing in our culture, something that gun laws will never heal.
Parkland As Symptom
In desperation, we may adjudge these murdering youth as mentally ill; this is, without doubt, true. But we must not so simply dismiss the issue. We must never, ever, lose sight of the reality that objective standards of right and wrong are at the center of human nature.
These murderous deeds may be rooted in mental illness but these actions are also profoundly evil. Moral evil exists. God, our Creator, judges each person’s deepest motivations and degrees of guilt, but society must firmly uphold objective standards. Certain behaviors are morally intolerable, offensive to human nature precisely because they defy the laws of God – laws and limits which human nature simply must respect, as Parkland attests.
The Folly Of Self-Deification
In our righteous readiness to remedy social ills, we must always remember that the moral choice for good over evil is our greatest human challenge. We err beyond measure when we believe that we can defy God and set arbitrarily limits for the moral universe into which we are born. Our current national practice of selective morality is testament to both our arrogance and our blindness to the God-given limits of human choice.
The gravest moral evil of our time – deliberate killing innocent human beings, especially children, all children – has become a national crisis; Parkland’s horror is part of that crisis. But is it not obvious that this crisis demands unqualified protection for the lives of all defenseless children?
Let us not deceive ourselves: repetitive events such as Parkland are not our nation’s core problem. All the legislation, all the armed guards and metal detectors, all stentorian analyses and harrumphing screeds still do not address our culture’s moral poverty which lies beneath the psychological conditions deforming our child killers. These young murderers stand as the dreadful spawn of America’s moral blindness and cultural insanity. Whatever their motives, their murderous children attest to the presence of evil amongst us.
Our Cultural Malaise
In the last six decades, America’s major institutions have pursued godless individualism and furthered the eradication of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral heritage. We and our children now pay a wretched price for our astonishingly immature embrace of Leftism’s nihilistic, ridiculous, often barbaric, doctrines.
The past is anathema to zealous Leftists, who insist there is no moral cost, no accountability, no cultural damage to anything we choose. We may live any way we wish, they say, without moral restraints or traditional limits. Guilt is passé. There is no greater cause than the self. We answer to no one, not to God, not to Nature nor biology nor reality.
After decades of self-deification, the inevitable outcomes (including children who kill) offer cumulative evidence that we have opened the door to vice and violence, to distortions of fact and abuses of language, to rejection of Nature and to the creation of countless social ills.
After decades of aggressively promoting self-centeredness, it is extremely difficult to raise children as moral agents. After decades of militant Leftism, our country is now awash in the strangling detritus of moral rootlessness.
And nowhere is America’s cultural malaise more glaring than in the arena of fatherless families.
The Pain of Fatherless Children
Enemies of Judeo-Christian tradition debate with callous imprudence the indefensible notion that masculine fathers are irrelevant to the formation of a child’s moral awareness and psychological health. History and common sense are further insulted by the flippant irrationality of those who deny the age-old truth that the man-woman family is the natural foundation of a morally stable society.
Unhinged Leftists have accomplished the eradication of every child’s safest haven, the natural family. We zealously deprive children of the natural balance of a mother and a father (i.e., of a woman married to a man).
Regis Nicoll (https://www.crisismagazine.com/2018/its-time-to-do-something) points out that in the last fifty years the number of fatherless homes has tripled; a third of our children are raised without a father’s influence. Nicoll notes that this does not take into account fathers who are emotionally immature or morally absent.
Furthermore, cumulative data about children from fatherless families reveals the following deeply disturbing facts. Fatherless children are:
- 20 times more likely to end up in prison
- 5 times more likely to commit suicide
- 14 times more likely to commit rape
- 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
- 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
- 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
Our Culture’s Failing Facades
Given this data, one could reasonably infer that the lives of our children are no longer sacred to our culture. Yet, given this evidence, we still maintain the Leftist’s stubborn dedication to cultural suicide and to the eradication of our own citizens, young and old.
With cavalier legality, we now re-define -- and belittle -- traditional family values, including the moral virtues of self-restraint and respect for authority. Indeed, parental authority – the loving insistence of a father-and-mother on the child’s right behavior – often seems in full retreat.
Constitutional freedom of religion has been gravely distorted into freedom from religious values. Freedom of speech is increasingly assaulted. We have removed prayer from our schools and banished from children’s minds all traces of moral formation -- all traces of right and wrong -- as necessary social values.
We have erased the necessity of public virtue in favor of tabloid yammering about collusion and impeachment, while football coaches dare not pray with their teams without fear of retaliation.
Our culture winks at the tsunami of pornography which infects the minds and souls even of pre-teens. We tolerate a climate of soul-withering self-absorption based on the corrosive idea that “All the kids do it, so it’s OK …” In reality, we witness the slow, dreadful abnegation of parenthood and the sickening sexualization of childhood.
The Morally Deprived Child
So, we sputter at events such as Parkland, ignoring the fact that much of America is no longer serious about raising children who believe that doing harm to one’s neighbor is utterly unthinkable, unlawful, intolerable -- and immoral.
Our culture pursues the Leftist’s form of perverse liberality. We battle over “civil rights” with utmost incivility. We demand non-judgmentalism as if our behavior has no consequences. We honor brutality in games and sports as if such programmed violence represented admirable masculinity. Our nation’s leaders indulge in name-calling, hypocrisy and ideological conflict … and call it politics.
We celebrate and legalize the multi-gendered denial of Nature’s limits, applauding ten-year-old drag queens, anointing such a formidable assault on children’s innocence as celebrity fodder. And we refuse to admit that our insults to biological reality and Nature’s laws do not compound the moral confusion of our children.
We morph into a quick-fix culture of diminished accountability, of easy opiates and free condoms and state-sponsored marijuana … and wonder where our children find inspiration for their dystopian behaviors.
Worst of all, we teach our young children that human life has no intrinsic value. When pro-choice advocates speak, we destroy the youngest, utterly vulnerable children and have the audacity to call it a “civil right.”
Thus do we perpetuate decades of casual aborting millions of innocent children. With sickening regularity, we celebrate the annihilation of the unborn as a national norm, protected by law, promoted by government, applauded by celebrities, supported even by some clergy.
What message does a disturbed, morally isolated child receive from such an “adult” culture, from the grown-ups upon whose example he trustingly relies?
America Is A Morally Wounded Culture
In the midst of such moral chaos, Parkland occurs --- and we are startled that a child-murderer steps forth and slaughters his peers. And we are yet again reminded that nothing – nothing – is sacred any more, including the lives of child-victims and the killer’s own sad, barren soul.
How can we … how dare we … pretend shock at our own dismaying moral dereliction, at our “adult” values which so often treat human life as a burden.
It is within these precincts of hypocrisy and the easy denigration of life’s innate dignity that we now raise our children. Is it any wonder that some children inevitably attack the “adult” world into which they are raised; a world without moral clarity or the corrective example of a serious person possessed of virtue and wisdom.
For these lost children, America’s culture becomes a place of intolerable irrationality and endless amorality; a culture of vanished personal accountability which no longer considers the consequences of anything; a culture bereft of moral exemplars; a culture rent asunder by its own fitful, feckless commitment to …. to what?
And these morally deprived children wonder: who cares?
Where Do We Turn?
Schools and psychological professionals may address the specific needs of boys as they grow up … but then what?
Police may arrest twelve-year-old children who threaten to shoot teachers and classmates … but then what?
Teachers may carry automatics tucked neatly into their trousers … but then what?
All the solutions now trumpeted rest on the expectation that another Parkland will surely happen … and, after that, yet again ….. then what?
Denial of painful reality is a universal trait in our morally daft culture; a culture hell-bent on expanding its so-called “freedoms,” no matter what. We avoid hard truth and defend ourselves against candor, but the truth is that by a young age, far too many of our children are sophisticated beyond their years.
Current statistics relating to school-age children with intelligence deficits and mental problems are staggering. Ever so many of America’s children are morally numbed and bewildered, deadened in their souls. For some, their own lives … and the lives of others … have no meaning.
Some of these children (and they are out there) are gripped by cynical fatalism. For some, as time has shown, death is an entirely acceptable, even desirable, outcome. Death is a way to show the rest of us just how darkly empty life can be without faith in a beloved adult who will guide the child’s heart; without hope that someone will show him discipline, empathy and goodness over hopelessness and futility; without some loving hand to bind his childhood wounds, show him the value of virtue and bring light to his lonely, yearning soul, a soul still unformed -- and waiting.
The Search For Moral Wholeness
If we should eventually come to our senses after one of these scalding Parkland events, we would realize that traditional Judeo-Christian morality and the virtues it proposes are the abiding means by which we can develop self-restraint and reverence. It is the moral virtues which make the act of heartlessly harming others inconceivable.
Will the Leftist’s culture of death continue to destroy what once made our democracy unique? Will we return to traditional Christian virtue and moral principles embodied in God, whom we once trusted?
The outcome is surely uncertain.
Many adults vigorously deny the value of religious faith and morality. Furthermore, the Barna Research Group tells us that atheism has doubled among young people in recent years. Political parties grow further apart, polarizing debate, shredding the essential restraints of moral traditions in favor of “freedom” at any price. Legislators push for K-12 textbooks which praise QLBTQ and transgendered personages.
Three out of four black children in America grow up without a father. And in New York City, more black children are aborted than are born.
Raising children to whom empathy, altruism and self-restraint are normal family patterns grows increasingly improbable. We certainly find such virtues in many children, to be sure, but it is most likely that another Parkland scenario will occur. When it does, the debates will again follow, the culture will again scratch its collective head – and a search for solutions will again dredge up more quick-fix formulae.
Until we acknowledge the primacy of God and His moral laws as the core of our Judeo-Christian culture, the tug-of-war which now characterizes America will go on ... and on and on …. and America’s people, children and adults, will continue to be the losers.
We shall see………………………………….
20 February 2018
The Beguiling Illusion of Empowerment
The conscience of the nation is surely awakened by recent revelations of harassment by males-in-power. Countless women report sordid events where fame eclipses shame. It is refreshing to witness women support one another into truth-telling as they seek justice.
This indictment of iniquity is an admirable side of the feminine ethos which speaks to right reason and common goodness. It reminds us that moral extremes cannot be our cultural norms. Our best instincts tell us that all behavior can be either beneficial or detrimental. Yet, too seldom does wisdom guide the choices we make, and right reason is rarely our national default.
For example, I recently watched a debate between two women with differing views of womanhood. As I listened, I was again reminded of the principle that as we think, so do we behave – and our behavior patterns are the best indicators of what we are and what we value.
The debate brought to mind decades of frothy, antagonistic rhetoric by the often-aggressive advocates of women’s liberation and the flurry of hard-core feminist illogic the movement has occasioned.
Empowered …. To What Purpose?
One of the debaters enthusiastically plumped her new-found sense of personal empowerment. She chose to publicly demonstrate her “freedom” by posing (or, more accurately, exposing herself) without a stitch … in a sports magazine. Her new sense of self-liberation inspired her to strip (no doubt, to the ogling delight of countless adolescent males … of all ages).
She spoke proudly of her nudist epiphany and the uplifting urge to reveal her unclad self. Her emancipated ego was ennobled by her cheeky (so to speak) state of undress. She was eagerly passionate about this manner of faux “freedom” but hardly persuasive about the validity of her posturing as a sign of feminine maturity. It is also a stretch to comprehend the contribution such behavior makes to the enrichment of womanhood.
It did not seem to cross her mind that public nudity (even if coyly dictated by the latest fashions) is not a statement of strong feminine identity. By taking it off – equating sex with dignity, defining oneself in blatantly sexual terms -- she strokes the salivating piggishness of errant maledom which so many of her “sisters” now publicly deplore and readily accuse.
Many self-deluding women seem to think that nudity and other seductive ploys are entitlements to respect. They believe nakedness bestows a form of bizarre empowerment ….. but is it not merely a further degree of enslavement to ignorance and self-delusion? Where is our rationality? In our age of selfies, titillation is a game even pre-teens play.
Ah, the brief (as it were) rewards of freedom…………….
Typical But Worrisome
It strikes me that this young lady’s delight in exposing herself is an example of our culture’s toxic, morally immature, psychologically unstable culture. Public nudity, blunt or subtle, hardly seems to be a worthy goal for anyone. Indeed, it is a debasing gesture, an appeal to our lesser selves, made even less human by the self-denigration of women as well as men.
Among other rootless ideas, our culture’s dismissal of self-restraint has led to the moral poverty which infects our nation. History repeats the message that a nation’s balanced regard for public morality determines its future.
Fundamental moral and cultural issues are involved. Many people believe that freedom means 1) the total absence of personal restraint and accountability, 2) moral truth is subservient to individual mood, and 3) the urges and impulses of the ego are the only applicable norms for individual and collective behavior.
If it pleases me, it’s OK. My Body, My Self. If it gets us what we want, let’s do it – even if it is hurtful, vicious, fact-less, irrational and/or illogical. History has no meaning. Religion is a social event. Tradition is irrelevant. Family means what I want it to mean. Virtues – both secular and sacred – are passé. Do what you want. No one cares, anyhow.
Truth-telling Is Unwanted
No formal organization or union of persons (e.g., the family, the society, the nation) is held together by its basest individualisms.
Human nature is fallen, fallible, at war within itself. Without collective morality and personal motivation to virtue, we all tend to seek our own advantage; a ride on any California freeway will offer more than sufficient evidence about the primacy of ego over altruism. Even those who find history alien to their studied rationalizations cannot escape the fact that people are capable of anything, both profound good and profound evil.
Well-reasoned thinking and principled adherence to traditional virtues are increasingly absent in our public conversations and interactions. Many adults are bereft of core moral beliefs. We have become a culture which accepts avoidance and denial as the norms for relationships. Even the natural reality of sexual identity is now a matter of intellectual dishonesty and surgical absurdity.
The intellectual and educational corruption of America, the rejection of faith and reason, honesty and common sense, and the abnegation of moral seriousness are not a result of foreign threats, many though they be. Our greatest national weakness is our pathetic idea that we can do anything we wish without consequence or responsibility.
It is not without reason we are concerned about the credibility of our political leaders who often distort fact for ideology, about our teachers who push for the right of teachers’ unions over learning, about librarians who support porn for children as a form of free speech, about the glaring contradictions which continue to distort the family – thus, the culture -- in the name of civil rights, about the chilling disregard for truth and the chic incivilities which pervade our nation. Even many of our church leaders project a patchwork of secularist rant as religious principle and praise the maladies of political correctness over calls for living lives of virtue and self-restraint.
Such dispiriting themes do not seem to be merely a phase through which our country is passing, only to be saved by the emergence of a charismatic personage.
After watching this decline for decades, one has no hesitation to say .. with alarm and regret .. that America is changing at its foundations. Let us hope that the Constitution and all it stands for will survive.
12 February 2018
I’m Spiritual But Not Religious
I once had a colleague -- Fred was his name -- who was an outspoken advocate for benign nihilism. He believed we have a poor shot at making the best of a long, difficult stretch called “life.” Life, he mused with dreary mien, was just a series of aggravating experiences with boorish people, interspersed with pockets of bad luck.
To Fred, God and religion were humbug, but – contrarily -- he trumpeted his spiritual side. His grumpy bonhomie was littered with references to some invisible “Force;” he often sounded like a Jedi disciple of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was, he insisted, spiritual but definitely not religious.
His casually-ribald rants against religion were seasoned with remarks promoting (what I called) his cosmo-psychism. He considered the universe to be a big consciousness which spread its powers hither and thither. The “Force” (whatever it was; he was not entirely sure) filled the void of space with mystic vibes, endowing crystals and wood nymphs with healing powers. He declared, with Oprah-like certainty, that the universe was awaiting to affirm us. But the idea of a Creator God who loves us, Who sent His Son to redeem us? Nonsense! Christian stuff and nonsense!! That’s the stuff of Christian myth. It was enough to be spiritual -- but not religious. Anyone who is a critical thinker can see that….. Right?
Fred insisted that religion was a power game, an intellectual trap, a cosmic joke perpetrated by Moses and a collective of religious bozos and prophetic manipulators. Religious faith was a mistake. It was foolish to invest one’s belief in anything or anyone but oneself. Belief in a personal God and churchly affiliations were distracting and delusional. He held to the motto, “Get what you can before the selfish people beat you to it.” The Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity were comforting social notions, useful as long as they did not make demands on his time or compromise his business plan. Adults knew better, he insisted, especially critical thinkers like Fred.
He often said I was naïve to believe in a loving and personal God. We are all on our own. We have no need for, nor connection to, God or religion or, in the long run, to each other. This was obvious. Couldn’t I see it? He wasn’t cynical, just pragmatic. That’s the way the world works; that’s the way people are. Didn’t I agree?
At last I saw my opening -- and swooped in ….. and this is some of what I said.
Away I Went With Words
For starters, I pointed out to Fred that faith is a universal, unavoidable and essential daily experience. Every human being exercises some form of faith -- religious or secular, implicit or explicit, comfortably taken for granted or inter-mixed with anxiety. We live by faith a hundred times a day: faith in the dry cleaner to do his job, faith in the teachers who educate our children, faith in the folks who package the food we eat, faith in the doctors who tend and mend us. We set our alarm clock, assuming it will wake us on time. That’s an implicit act of faith, perhaps trivial but still relevant. We whiz up the freeway, steering a weighty vehicle at insane speeds and we think nothing of it. Why? Because we make an act of faith, perhaps unstated but still relevant, that our car won’t go haywire and result in catastrophe.
We make implicit acts of faith countless times each day as we drive or eat or drink, or whatever else we do. Human nature demands at least implicit acts of faith in varying degrees so we can find our way through the uncertainties of life. And when people break faith in harmful ways, many of us go to the law for redress and correction.
Acts of normal, unstated and unquestioned faith are constant and necessary. The weightier the issue, the more control we exert to assure our faith is not blindly given, that the elements are – as far as we can see – aligned in our favor, aimed at our desired outcome, planned and focused toward our goal.
Faith Is A Deep Need In Human Nature
Now, as I revved up, I reminded Fred that faith is our constant companion in life, our psychological and spiritual partner. It runs so deep within us that we rarely think about it or recognize its centrality. Faith is a balancing act between certainty and uncertainty. Faith buffers us against the fears and complexes which arise with contradictory experiences. Faith is such a normal and healthy part of life that we never think twice about it -- except when it involves religious belief in the mystery of God.
Be clear about this, I said to Fred: religious faith validates the fact that mystery is suited to human nature. Life is cloaked in impenetrable mysteries which exceed our rational powers. We do not really know much about ourselves, about our own motives; about our children or our families or our friends. Indeed, mystery runs throughout daily life. Secular faith alone (however benign) leaves us hanging in a state of needless uncertainty and unsettling ambiguity.
So, to get a meaningful handle on life, we customarily look to our personal experiences. That’s how we define our portion of reality. But our personal experiences are merely one view of the greater reality of Creation, which includes billions of other human beings. We all live within an incomprehensible universe. This fact compels even critical thinkers to acknowledge the evidence which says God is possible … nay, probable … nay, necessary as the Ultimate Reality beyond the secular, as the First of All Realities, as the Great Mystery.
By now, Fred was distracted and slightly annoyed ….. but I kept on.
Faith, I continued (as he ordered another beer), keeps life’s mysteries in balance. It helps even critical thinkers realize that the evidence for God's reality is His Creation. God is reflected everywhere: in the life we have been given, in the mind with which we think, in the heart with which we seek to do what is right, in our searching, restless souls. Many of us seek secular reassurance in the “Force.” Others seek our strength -- and our clarity -- in God’s mysteries, with the help of our religious faith.
Mystery, ambiguity, uncertainty: these remain part of human nature’s heritage, for all things are not open to us. That is why the ability to exercise faith in God and in one another is such a splendid gift – even for the critical thinkers amongst us.
Then I said to Fred that faith tells us we are better off -- and wiser -- to respect the yearnings of the heart and the hunger in the soul which tell us that belief in God makes so much sense. Moreover, religion rightly taught enriches whatever understanding we may actually achieve about God. Religion rightly lived eases the rough edges of mystery, the frustrations of ambiguity and uncertainty.
And, as our faith in God matures, we also recognize that the gift of wisdom provides us with further insight beyond secular knowledge. Religion wisely held engages both the soul and the heart of human nature, helping the mind see its limitations, to realize that God’s revelation is not confined to the man-made categories favored by critical thinkers.
Simple Thinkers And Humble Thoughts
Then I reminded Fred that no matter how well we prepare, how thoroughly we think it through, how assiduously we plan and how energetically we endeavor to achieve our desired outcome, there is always -- always -- possibility of error, of something going wrong, of plans going awry, of people disappointing us, of loss and unforeseen disaster. Even with utmost caution, an act of faith inevitably involves vulnerability and risk, however minor they may be.
And when life does go wrong and dreadful things happen to us or to our loved ones, then do the vague and meandering roots of nihilism (however benign) seem parched and vacuous. Then do the chic banalities of nihilism (however benign) seem insubstantial. Then must we look behind the painful events to religious faith, there to recognize that God, our Creator and Redeemer, is beyond all, within all, enfolding us in dire times.
Then – in the midst of pain and loneliness -- can we draw upon the courage and perseverance which religious faith in God provides. For only religious belief reveals to our needy selves the reality of God Who exceeds all mystery and uncertainty and ambiguity.
Then do we wisely embrace the difficult but abiding message of religious faith: that beyond our pain and wonderment and unknowing, the promise of God’s peace awaits; a promise which only our refusal can extinguish.
The Gift Of Simplicity
Fred agreed that my views are common these days. Denial of God's sovereignty is the regnant outlook, especially in many influential academic, media and political circles, where burnished skepticism, jaunty arrogance, rejection of Creation’s mysteries and disdain for tradition are de rigueur. Hubristic subjectivity, a slapdash deluge of political correctness and rootless relativism compete with the gift of wisdom which ennobles humility and celebrates simplicity. Faith’s insightful wisdom begins when we know what we do not know, when we cease pretense and then accept our status as God’s fallible, faltering creatures.
Wisdom which faith imparts is slow to arrive for most of us, mainly because it requires of us growing humility. This involves letting-go of our self-centered demands for ego-gratification and our turning away from our addiction to being right about everything.
Finally, I told Fred that many people never really feel wisdom’s early, gentle nudges, never recognize wisdom’s quiet whispers in the soul, never really learn to listen to wisdom’s voice which so often challenges the limits of their critical precincts.
But when we are truly honest, I said to Fred, we human beings cannot help but realize that all knowledge is fleeting, all facts changing, all creation in flux … but many of us miss the redemptive realizations that God is Unchanging and that Faith, Hope and Charity are the markers of God’s wisdom in us.
When I finished, my colleague Fred glumly studied the stains on his beer glass, then asked cheerily how the Fighting Irish were doing that season.
6 February 2018
The Lesser Angels Of Our Nature
“E pluribus, unum” was the original motto of the United States of America, proposed in 1776 by Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. It means, “...from many, one...” It referred to the belief that “America” is both an ideal and a reality, defined by our ability to meld differences into a unified citizenry. Freedom meant the ability to seek unity and live according to the rule of law, without fear or undue coercion. Differences were the starting point of this unifying reality … but unity as a people was the end and purpose of America as a nation.
Our Hopes For Our Leaders
I reside a continent away from Washington, D. C. Still, neither distance nor distraction buffers me – or anyone else – from the endless stream of conflicting opinions and brittle conflicts which clutter the business of governing our nation.
One theme seems to predominate contemporary political life: antipathy. Antagonism seems to be the staff of life for the ideological burghers who rule in our nation’s capital. Surely, there is much good -- or some -- to be found in many of these men and women who hew out the laws of our land. After all, we trusted them sufficiently to elect them to lead and govern us. We chose them to represent our nation’s best interests which, hopefully, have some common ground.
We hope these elected officials and their appointed colleagues are patriotic people, graced with reasonable intelligence. We hope they believe in America’s need to stay strong in this precarious, bellicose world of ours.
We hope they possess moral probity, and are endowed with a working measure of practical wisdom befitting all leaders.
We hope they believe America is a country founded on the principle that our Constitutional freedoms are God-given, not man-made. We hope they do not believe the state is the most qualified judge of what is best for us.
We hope they see our freedoms as inherent in human nature and, therefore, subject to both legal and moral judgments based on the rules of law and of God.
We hope they will legislate for the common good and are not slavishly addicted to the twisted pragmatics of vote-getting. We hope they debate their differences with reasoned restraint, facts and logic.
We hope they recognize that a moral vision is essential for the stability and cohesion of any human community.
We hope for all this from our leaders … but so often these days, our hopes seem in vain. So often, it seems our leaders scramble furtively into accusatory denial, lest some truth – some biting truth – be known.
Disappointed For Many Reasons
So often, our hopes are upturned, our standards ignored. Ideologies too often obscure concern for facts and attention to history. Issues give way to pre-ordained agendas, and political expediencies become ascendant. Respect for moral principles and stable traditions dissolve into grubby chicanery.
Discourse becomes petty and coarse, and we are subjected to pretentious monologues littered with calumny and detraction – even manipulative lies.
Truth is far too often treated as political playdoh, squeezed into partisan fantasy, pummeled beyond recognition, pressed into the service of repetitive falsehoods, demeaned in ways which dash our trust and diminish our freedoms -- and weaken America.
We witness breakdowns of communication at the highest levels of governance. Eventually, balance is abandoned and good will strangled.
Then is our government divided by partisan priorities, by avoidable fiscal conflicts, by legislative paralyses and by moral chaos.
Then does healthy debate descend into a game of “Gotcha.” Exaggeration o’erwhelms facts; belittlement of the opposition becomes the norm.
Then are our expectations deflated as cynicism taints the credibility of our legislators and our media.
Then do our hopes give way to disgust at the words and behavior of so many in whom we trusted.
Then do our disappointment and aggravation remind us all-too-vividly that some leaders are, in fact, unreliable; motivated more by personal animosity and hostility for their opponents than by simple courtesy, moral idealism or lasting commitment to the common good.
Wonderment And Fragile Reassurances
But there is an up-side to all this: our aggravation should also serve as a reassuring sign to us that our standards still exist, that we do indeed expect much from those who hold our sacred trust, that despair at their antics has not overcome our hopes and ideals.
Furthermore, we can always find remediation at election time and vote the miscreants out of office. That is always a healthy impulse which tells us that our Constitutional system does work … if we work the system.
In the meantime, some of us are still driven to wonder how certain politicians can, with straight faces, stand before us and utter the shallow incongruities and gossamer fallacies which they customarily utter.
It appears that repetition and applause from adherents has the mesmerizing power to normalize the plethora of half-truths which some politicians regularly spout. Their spewing of standardized absurdities no longer startles anyone, especially the subservient portion of the media which roots out – or itself creates – personal scandals and abuses of power, as if these were treasured truffles.
As one listens to the blather of certain political figures, one is drawn to the idea that these politicians have honed the rhetoric of irrationality to such a fine edge that incoherence now replaces shame, confounds common sense, stifles the speaker’s self-respect and triggers cheers where a querulous, incredulous silence should reign.
For example, when a leading political personage such as Representative Pelosi describes the opposition’s ideas as “a bowl of doggy-doo with a cheery on top,” any reasoning adult would be taken greatly aback … not only at the speaker’s inept imagery but at the moral state of public discourse which finds such repulsive statements acceptable and normal and worth a moment’s note.
Troubles To The Soul
One could, with not much effort, detail a litany of similar outrageous -- and inane -- commentaries by a host of public officials.
One might start with the self-serving tweets of our sitting President, whose agenda has regularly included embarrassing ad hominem swipes and personal invective … to what effective outcome for our nation is still uncertain.
By the same standard, one cannot ignore (nor is one meant to ignore) the excesses of Representative Maxine Waters, whose repetitive condemnations of our President are made auspicious by their audaciously degrading nature. One must explore history to find a stream of consciousness as bluntly insulting as are the public statements of Rep. Waters when she speaks about our President. Restraint is foreign to her public persona. Her comments are harshly personal, deliberately degrading, gratuitously demeaning, yet widely accepted and, often, enthusiastically applauded.
Her relentless negativity is truly startling, but she is, by no means, the only elected person who speaks with unfiltered vitriol, to the pleasure of lauding crowds.
American Is Lessened By Such Behavior
The cumulative impact of such behavior on the American scene is that we are lessened as a nation and as people. Our collective intelligence and our moral acuity are demeaned by the absence of self-restraint and by the imprudent, incautious comments of our leaders.
The lack of common decency which characterizes so much public rhetoric by our elected officials makes America weak from within. As we attack one another with such vehemence, we gradually destroy our own future, normalize divisiveness and degrade the purpose of political life, i.e., the solidity and strength of our nation.
In addition, the rancid polarization of political life now substitutes for governance in America. Our current political and moral divisions present us with a further stage in the gradual but ongoing erosion of our internal stability. Political instability threatens us as a union of separate states and as a people who hold – or once held – common ideals and revered a shared sense of honor.
How indeed can we respect those who seem to have forgotten that “e pluribus, unum” is not intended as a witness to diversity and conflict but as an affirmation of our nation’s unity and strength.
How can we respect those leaders who have lost sight of what they should do for us all – leaders who have forgotten that politics originates in the reality of the polis, of the people’s common good?
Respect for those who divide us is increasingly difficult, to say the least. What recourse remains?
Let us remember that November 6, 2018 is not that far off.
29 January 2018
An Elder Ponders The Question:
Why Do We Seek To Live
Cecile Richards announced her retirement this week as President of Planned Parenthood (PP); this, after a dozen years leading America’s largest “life-saving” (her words) abortion provider.
One might (churlishly, to be sure) question whose lives PP has saved during Ms. Richard’s militant presidency … and at what obvious cost?
But let’s move on……………….
From a financial perspective, Ms. Richards has been an effective financial producer. PP’s recent 2016-2017 annual report lists an income of $1.46 billion, a record. But more than half-a-billion dollars of American taxpayer money goes to PP each year. That’s about $1.5 million each-and-every day; a third of PP’s revenue stream comes from our taxes.
People who support the abortion ethos espoused by PP’s culture of death have the anomalous satisfaction of knowing that the organization performed 321,384 abortions in 2016. That’s almost 900 children aborted each and every day. This number is testament to Ms. Richards’ energetic “life saving” mission of aborting children. This number of children aborted seems to enliven those who exalt abortion as a declaration of women’s freedom, as essential health care -- or something like that.
Many of us have an entirely different view than PP’s morally nihilistic approach to children and birth and life. And, in all truth, our hearts are sickened and our souls deeply saddened by PP’s commitment to abortion. But this is made worse by the perverse corporatization of abortion for profit and as a legal excuse for the destruction of innocent lives.
I am of that brand of believing Catholics who are firmly convinced that children are - or ought to be - the natural overflow of love between a man and woman who are husband and wife.
People who believe as I do see children as gifts from God, deliberately sought by faithful, loving parents who want to bring children into this life’ parents who, together, celebrate and embrace these little ones as desired of heart and soul; parents who see children as gifts to be treasured and enfolded in the love of family.
We believe that, from conception, all children possess lives of value and dignity, lives as precious as one's own. We believe parenting is a profound vocation, fraught with personal sacrifices and unexpected challenges and unaccountable risks and disquieting conflicts – all of which are willingly sought and gladly accepted with determination, seasoned by a sense of humor at the unquenchable, not-to-be-missed madness of family life and the antic oddities of those we love (not to mention our own quirky preferences which are, to be sure, the desirable norm).
My generation does not consider children political pawns nor do we define children as disposable undesirables, discarded as we discard withered leaves from a tattered scrapbook.
We believe making personal sacrifices for ourselves and for others is a normal, healthy part of being an adult. Giving of one’s time and attention, and changing one’s life in order to be generously available and involved in the lives of our children are not merely desirable behaviors. They are primary goals of every loving parent’s life.
Planned Parenthood’s advocates will counter by telling us that children demand sacrifices. Of course; they always do. Children also bring pain and cause great inconvenience! Certainly; they always do. Well, parenting is a heavy burden!! Indeed so; it always is.
Facing these challenges is the point of being an adult. gladly and willingly accepting opportunities to love a child as the essence of parental life. Oddly, these simple truths seem lost on the PP mentality. For PP, even adoption is an extreme.
But let’s move on …………………………….
How PP Resolves Pregnancy
According to PP’s report, abortion accounted for 96% of their “pregnancy resolution services.” Prenatal services took up 2.3%. Miscarriage care took up 0.4%. Adoption referrals merited 1.2% of their service endeavors.
Read that again: For every adoption referral in 2016, PP performed more than 82 abortions. Let that sink in for a moment. 82 to 1.
Again, one is challenged to wonder what “life saving” services Ms. Richards has in mind. Indeed, one wonders what definition of “life” Ms. Richards propounds? That questions prompts one to wonder what sort of moral vision abides in the minds of Ms. Richards and her many abortion adherents.
Perhaps people in the highly lucrative business of taking the lives of children do not consider the infant-targets of their abortion “services” humans in any sense. No rational adult could possibly promote abortion and still think of these countless infants as persons of any worth or any God-given value or any human dignity.
But let’s move on …………………………..
Embryos Are Alive
Perhaps Ms. Richards’ adroit inclusion of PP’s “life-saving” activities rests on the belief that the union of a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg produces nothing more than a clump of bothersome cells which are useless, directionless, with no purpose or goal other than to cause trouble or inconvenience.
Human life begins at the instant of conception – as science will attest in a moment. In fact, science now reveals to us -- and to PP -- that every child’s journey in life is inaugurated by Nature at the very instant of her conception.
Nature instantly leads the child into various stages of her development, all of which are directed toward that universal event -- birth – that moment of self-presentation which all children pursue.
PP enthusiasts routinely object that the clump of bothersome cells - the early embryo or fetus - does not look or act like a human being (whatever that may mean). The embryo, they claim, is merely a bothersome clump of cells from which the host – or mother - wishes to be relieved. Lots of doctors and judges and movie stars a whole bunch of smart people all agree: abortion is fine and legal and praiseworthy and not a problem… not a problem. Even leading politicians from one of our political parties (morally errant “Catholics” among them) stand up for a woman’s right to be rid of the clump of bothersome cells, or the bothersome clump of cells … or whatever it is they routinely condemn.
In addition, Ms. Richards has made a career out of persuading America that abortion for any reason is a soothing addition to women’s freedom and is an essential part of women’s health care.
What is not clear to many of us is how abortion-on-demand or PP’s sale of the body parts of aborted children is related to a woman’s Constitutional rights or her medical needs.
Churlish questions, I know … so let’s move on……….
Facts Challenge Honest People
The facts are these:
In 2016 University of Cambridge Physiology research teams (consult recent research by Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and Ana Maria Dumitru) discovered that self-directed growth and goal-oriented movement occur in a zygote (the woman’s sperm-fertilized egg, the early embryo) from the instant of conception. Instantly, human movement and growth and development begin. Goal-directed behavior begins. Human life begins.
Once an egg is fertilized by a sperm, the resulting early embryo (zygote) then divides several times, generating a small, free-floating ball of stem cells (we will not go into the significance of stem cells, profound components of human life and growth).
Then, around the third day, these stem cells gather inside the embryo in a process known as the blastocyst.
The blastocyst, made up of three types of cells, is already revealing a pre-set program for the embryo. Here are the steps in that program which Nature has established and sets in motion without prompt from the child’s mother.
- Some cells will develop into the child’s body; these form the ‘epiblast.’
- Other cells will develop into the child’s placenta and allow the child to attach herself to the mother’s womb.
- Finally, a third group of cells coordinate the development of all bodily organs and provide essential nutrients.
All this, from a “bothersome clump of cells.”
A Human Being, Young and Growing
The process of human growth and development has begun – and the child moves inexorably toward birth and life and the delights and challenges of living. The fact that all this occurs before the child has even implanted herself onto her mother’s uterus is, to believers, astonishing.
Given all this, one must, yet again, wonder why PP and Ms. Richard would have it otherwise? Why is the destruction of any child seen as a human “right” or as a universal health care issue or as politically correct behavior? Why should a single abortion be subsidized by the taxes of those of us who find the entire abortion ethos beyond barbaric?
The Challenges of Living
Planned Parenthood’s arguments for abortion include condemnation of heartless, uncaring persons who ignore or downplay conditions such as rape, incest, Down’s Syndrome and a catalog of wretched medical and family situations which, they insist, justify a woman’s right to destroy the child within, the unwanted child within her.
No one can possibly be blind to, or unmoved by, the myriad of debilitating human conditions and sad outcomes of pregnancies gone wrong. The suffering of others touches the empathy of all decent people. Some childhood illnesses and medical problems assuredly test the limits of human tolerance, challenge medical knowledge and technology, and push people to the brink of despair.
Abortion’s supporters insist that we all deserve to be happy, to be free of life’s undue baggage, not to be burdened with a child whose medical or emotional problems and financial costs will be a load for parents and family and in-laws and educators and medical people. They do not speak of the cost to the child whose life is taken.
Other who resist abortion say that challenges and travail and discontent and discomfort and sacrifice are the essential ingredients of every life. These are the conditions which ignite creativity in medicine and family and society.
The Struggle For Happiness
We are also wise to remember that happiness has nothing to do with ease or comfort or lack of challenge or freedom from burden or absences of pain and stress.
The choice to love others with benevolence and the gift to be loving -- these are the highest ideals of human life. They are best sides of humankind - but they are always tied to pain, always entwined in sacrifice and fatigue and moments of dispirited uncertainty behind which, happiness may await. There is no true happiness which is unmerited, no true happiness which does not rest, first of all, on contentment of soul and peace of heart and a conscience put right.
Human life always involves a personal plunge into the unknown. Life’s constant condition is ambiguity; it is only within that persistent, bedeviling context that varieties of happiness -- some fleeting, some utterly profound -- can ever be discovered. And we know that abortion brings only death, with ensuing misery and guilt to so many women and men who seek some misguided ease through its grim, toxic release.
So ………. if we are called by God and Nature to love one another – as we are; and if we are called by God and Nature to love one another especially in family – as we are; then we are equally and always called to pay life’s personal price for our loving and for our being loved – especially by our children.
If loving one another is the true goal of living, then securing the death of those who depend so totally upon us is not --- and never will be --- an acceptable avenue to our God-given gifts of life and love.
God tells us so.
Nature tells us so.
Can we not listen and hear and take heed -- and let our children live?
If not now, when?
23 January 2018
The Search And The Meaning
I have a friend who recently admitted to me that he is bewildered by his life, burdened by nagging depression and the absence of consolation, kept awake by doubts about himself and his value as a man, a father and a husband. He has slight evidence of God’s care for him, and no sense of God’s benevolence in his life. He rarely feels an emotional high any more. He is plagued with unruly skepticism and finds a yawning vacuum in his soul where Faith and Hope are meant to dwell.
His middle years are increasingly unsettling. His faith is now faint and fading, driven into a far, dark niche where he is too fatigued to go. Worst of all, he added, he has doubts about God’s very existence.
Then my friend asked what I thought about all this.
Time For Candor
Were I a younger man, less familiar with the weight and tenacity of such a spiritual quandary, I might have offered him a wan smile while I hemmed-and hawed, asking myself, “What can I possibly say to this man. How can I help this man?”
Truth be told, I am indeed familiar with his plight, as is every honest believer whose search for Faith is not glibly based on Sunday’s hymn-singing and whose Hope is not without price or test.
So, I responded candidly to my friend, admitting that I, too, have carried the same weary uncertainties often enough in my lengthy years. I told him I have had head-scratching bouts of doubt. And I told my friend that wrestling with the clouded side of my often-frustrated heart has also given me some soul-sustaining insights which I want him to consider.
I have, I told him, learned several personal truths. Here are a few, for starters.
- God does not act on our terms to meet our wants or soothe our wishes. Indeed, God seldom acts in ways we would dictate, were we in charge.
- So, obviously, God does not part the waves nor speak from burning bushes any longer. In real life, the drama of the miraculous has been replaced by the muted graces of the mundane.
- As a rule, therefore, I expect God to remain inconveniently secretive, without fanfare, rarely a’bubble with emotional consolation. But let us not miss the obvious, because His presence among us is downright obvious – if we look and then see – recognize - what is already at hand.
- The fact is that God chooses to reveal Himself everywhere we look. God reveals Himself everywhere in the details of creation and in the nuances of daily life. God is here, quietly, steadily, inherently embedded in us.
- When these truths are lost to us, whenever the weight of doubt and anxiety drags us down -- or we reject the obvious and lose our common sense, then it’s time to seek a trusted soul to talk to. The burdens of life are not meant to be carried alone. Relationships are essential.
- Our ego, our arrogance and our narcissistic romance with ourselves lure many of us into denial and avoidance. We justify our reliance on these barriers, and we avoid hard personal truths because we are, at heart, afraid of these truths, fearful of seeing the work we have to do.
- Thus, we stifle insight and reject personal wisdom. Thus, we flee from those virtues which are meant to speed us on to maturity. Thus, we establish barriers against our best interests.
- Spiritual maturity calls for humility of heart, generosity of spirit and the courage to face our needy selves and our errant egos.
The Freedom Of Uncertainty
Easy for me to say, I suppose. I am older; I have had time to hash out, kick around and weigh the evidence that God is active amongst us. I am old enough to realize that it is us, not God, who has work to do in this life.
Surely it is difficult for many people -- such as my wounded but healing friend -- to accept the reality that God speaks not with thunderous voice but in the routine, often discomforting, complexities of daily life.
God’s voice is not loud, but it is constant. We hear it in the sounds and movements of Nature. We hear it in the presence of others around us. And we hear God’s voice especially in the challenges - and consolations - of our relationship with life all around us, starting with our own lives, with the mystery of who we are, and how we are ... and what we are.
God is Mystery --- and so are we…. and it is the very mystery of life itself which must enliven our gratitude that we are alive to think and wonder and seek.
God is life itself. His language is so common and repetitive that we regularly miss the sameness of His presence. We miss the endearing rhythms of His routine revelations, the customary components of His ineffable, mysterious Life – a share of which He has given to us.
Sounds good … to a point … but to a teetering soul (or anyone else), these ideas beg to be explored.
A Look At The Kindly Unknown
One fact we often miss, I told my friend, is that God works in normal, often humdrum, ways. But these apparently normal ways are also radically ennobling and potentially consoling -- if we allow them to be, if we accept the inherent nobility of life and the power to choose virtue over despair.
We err when we assume that we -- precious bundles of joy that we are -- should always be immune from harsh experiences in life. We should not be touched by difficult, strenuous, painful, frightening events which are beyond our control. We should not suffer; indeed, a good God would not let anyone suffer.
Whatever wonderment we have about God’s ways, whatever doubts we may experience, whatever spiritual ennui or anxiety of soul we may undergo, whatever anger or rejection we may toss back at God in retaliation for His seeming indifference, our lives are never out of God’s Hands.
We may shout and pout. stomp and wail. God hears all and remains God, i.e., the Mystery who sustains us, despite our attempts to withdraw or alienate or dispel the very thought of His Being.
We may resent His failure to prevent pain and loss, may curse him and deny Him for His tolerance of evil … then say He does not exist and, in doing so, make ourselves feel better – but His Mystery prevails. He is God and we are His, still His.
Somehow -- in ways which are known only to God -- we are ever in His keeping, even when He is silent to us, even when we are plagued with doubt and burdened with mean, angry thoughts; even when the clouds of our weariness hover heavily and life is sprinkled with incessant travail; even when uncertainty and negativity prevail; even then, God is at hand. Even then, God is with us … and our lives are His and all the earth, His Creation, is His.
The Familiar Unknown
Then I reminded my friend that Mother Teresa, of all people, spent her entire adult life in precisely such a state of doubt as we undergo. Her "secret" was not her spiritual superiority or her conspicuous holiness. Her “secret” was her guts-it-out perseverance, her simple human tenacity, even when she was riddled for decades with the deepest doubts, even when she was burdened by doubts about God's existence.
Her perseverance took the form of rote Faith and she slowly matured within the routines of her daily life. She went tenaciously through the motions of prayer and endured the spiritual dryness of empty meditations for decades, all the while experiencing no consolation or uplift.
Why was tedious constancy and persistence so crucial for her? Why are these so crucial for us?
Because these routines of our lives are the stuff of reality for us. They are the ingredients of our lives. Honoring each moment, year after year, was Mother Teresa’s simple way of living out her commitment in her relationship with God ... and all the small but crucial details that such a commitment entails. And so must we live. So, too, is God with us.
A commitment to a relationship is most often a demanding act of the will, stretching over decades, testing our soul’s depth and our character and our sense of personal honor and dignity. Living our commitments defines us and ennobles our very life. It is the foundation of our identity.
Mother Teresa’s “secret” was really her commitment to love God and his suffering creatures as best she could – even if her Beloved God seemed fickle and elusive and hard to reach and distant and, at times, uncaring about those to whom He had given life. She persevered. She persevered in her attempts to love and attend to wounded souls in her daily life. She stayed the course -- and so must we.
She persevered. So must we.
Relationship Means Perseverance
Perseverance. This is what commitment means in a relationship: to stay with it, loving the Beloved as best we can, even when we feel like fleeing. We persevere; we pay the price which love always asks in the long run. We sustain our side of the relationship with God and His creatures as best we can, no matter what … even when others do not.
The good news is that our relationship with God has a true and constant basis beyond our weary selves.
God is the driving force in our relationship with Him, not us. Even when we doubt ourselves; even when we waver and are emotionally drained, God is constant and steady and trustworthy. His word is a given, His friendship constant. His relationship with us is unwavering, even when pain and isolation eclipse every other awareness.
How long do we put up with all this, especially when we are fearful and doubting? What does God expect? It sometimes eases our question to realize that Mother Teresa spent more than forty years to finally come to terms with this revelation, but only because she persevered.
Watch Out For Emotions
I told my friend that recurring feelings of alienation are not alien for us humans. Our insistent sense of emotional distance from God is not an indication that God is distant from us.
BUT ……………………. the inevitable tug-of-war between our thinking and our feelings is our weakest link, so let our Faith and our Hope be sustained by our reason, not by our emotions.
Believing, even when we are in doubt, is a choice of our will and intellect, not of how we feel.
Perseverance does not rely on feelings. It is a rational commitment which does not demand or rely on emotional consolation. It is a commitment which we make because it makes sense. Constancy is a deliberate choice, not a feeling.
Our best intentions can be side-tracked by our strong feelings of loss or absence or emptiness or need or fear or loneliness. Our internal dispositions often have to exist side-by-side with nagging doubt.
True, soothing feelings can be helpful. But when we rely too much on feelings, our fragile emotions can weaken our commitment when they falter, can bring us down, debilitate us, cast shadows over our choices, fog our clarity, create deeper doubt, sap our convictions, render us to self-pity, seduce us into victimhood. And the resulting doubt can delude us into thinking that how we now feel is who we are.
When feelings let us down and self-doubt absorbs us, our emotions can then undermine our resolve and cripple our willingness to trust God and persevere.
Perseverance tells us that no emotion is more powerful than commitment, no traits more essential for us than generosity of spirit and humility of heart. We will have doubts, but let no feeling of doubt ever overshadow our choice to uphold our portion of this friendship and persevere.
The Choice To Endure
To persevere is to choose to go forward and to endure. We may burn out badly enough to ask God to stop all this, to let us out of it, to call it a day and be done with it. But then, after expressing our weariness, let us add that single phrase which still rings for us through history: "Not my will, but thine be done."
Doubt and wonderment come naturally to human nature, but faith in God does not come naturally. Having Faith and Hope in God is an act of the will, a choice we make to persevere … even though clarity is missing. Simply put, perseverance is work; we have to work at it. But that is what life is for……
And I told my friend that the best lesson I have learned is this:
Any relationship which has authentic meaning will take us through periods of darkness and doubt and the pain of ambiguity and the wonderment of God's silence.
Nothing of lasting value in this life comes to us except through some measure of pain, except through some period of aloneness, except through some test of our mettle, except through some challenge to our fidelity, except through our dogged persistence, except through our perseverance.
A Final Notion.
Finally, I said to my friend, I hope all this makes sense to you. For some people, it makes no sense at all. They prefer temporary, too-soon dwindling, rewards which dedicated egotism offers.
But for those who are willing to accept periods of doubt while remaining open and patient with God and one’s self, a measure of understanding eventually dawns. Eventually, we begin to see what is not obvious: that perseverance is actually more sustaining than clarity when we pursue our friendship with the Mystery of God. We understand that the key is not what happens to us but how we manage our reactions and how we choose to respond. It is not the events in our lives which define us. We do. We make the difference and persevere in trust.
All persons have doubt -- but not all persons have the insight and courage to persevere, then to believe and trust in our Creator, and to accept the reality that doubt is part of our journey to God.
God's ways are surely not our ways, but we grow in our awareness of God’s closeness to us when we awaken to the fact that God does indeed lead us in Mystery -- but always and everywhere with a steady, knowing hand.
My friend and I are still talking about all this. We talk together with earnestness and candor … and, now, we also talk with smiles as well as doubts. And we agree that our dialogue and our relationship are what it’s all about ….. and we are grateful to be in each other’s lives.
16 January 2018
Freedom From Religion:
Our American Heritage ?
Are the following few words offensive? Do they ruffle our sensibilities as citizens? Do they create a danger to our national security or violate our rights as Americans?
"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.”
In 1962 these few words moved the Supreme Court to rule (Engel v Vitale) that governments could neither sponsor nor endorse official prayer in public schools. This decision was occasioned by that one-sentence generic prayer above. The Court determined that the invocation to “Almighty God” by school officials was legally untenable, a violation of the First Amendment and henceforth forbidden.
These few words, addressed to a generic Deity, were of such provocation to a very few citizens that they filed suit against their children’s school district for allowing this prayer to be said by school officials. Their complaint was persuasive. The Supreme Court thereafter forbade any state government to “prescribe by law any particular form of prayer which is to be used as an official prayer in carrying on any program of governmentally sponsored religious activity.“
Public Education v God
As you can read, no particular religion was mentioned in this prayer. Saying the prayer was entirely voluntary. Nonetheless, the Court held that the prayer did indeed promote religion simply because it was said. Addressing God was/is unconstitutional in public school settings.
Justice Black added that this decision was not intended to be antireligious, merely to be a clarification of Jefferson’s comment about the separation between church and state (a division which is not found in the Constitution). “It is neither sacrilegious nor antireligious,” Black stated, “to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers.“ Thus sayeth Black.
As we know, the issue is, by no means, that simple or clear cut – and never was. But the Engel precedent reverberates to this day. The decision has generated far greater problems than the conflict it supposedly settled. Prayer in certain venues is now the promotion of a collection of religions which recognize the amorphous deity known as “Almighty God.” That mere mention of God violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
No Public Prayer: The American Way
The Engel Decision soon gave rise to a series of further rulings which severely restricted prayer – and the right to pray - in public educational settings. Not surprisingly, the wording of this decision raised countless legal questions. Subsequent Court decisions have elaborated how far this separation of religion from education should go. And, not surprisingly, a cavalcade of unintended social and moral consequences has followed the conclusion that prayer in any American public school setting is a violation of the First Amendment.
But Wait, There’s More
Since the Engel Decision, a string of pronouncements by the Supreme Court narrowed and restricted any references to religion or attempts at prayer – even if the prayer was initiated by students.
The Ten Commandments are now forbidden to be displayed. Some school districts, to protect against litigation, even refuse to allow athletic coaches to pray with their teams. Sex education (sometimes graphic, disturbingly age-inappropriate and simply propagandistic) is, of course, part of many public school curricula across the country. Some districts even refer girls for abortions and birth control devices without parental knowledge or consent, citing the rights of minors promulgated in the Supreme Court’s Decision in Bellotti v Baird.
Bellotti Decision Opens Another Door
The Bellotti Decision and its multiple spawn have produced an outpouring of state and Federal regulations which widen adolescents' access to abortion and contraception --- sometimes without parental consent or knowledge. Indeed, the list of Federal and state “rights” which minors now possess is extensive. In some cases, these “rights” are morally abhorrent to parents who are often helpless before the vagaries of judicial decision-making or the moral vacuity of some judges.
The Cultural and Psychological Fallout
Engel, Bellotti and related Court decisions have had grave impact on America’s public morality, on our collective conscience and our attitudes toward life and family. The moral and psychological impacts on generations of young people -- now adults -- has wrought serious educational, social and political consequences for America.
Over the last half-century, generations of public school children have been subtly – and not so subtly – given the overt message that God and God’s Voice have no import in their lives, no central role in American culture, nothing to contribute to their development or maturity.
Perhaps the most pernicious cumulative, long-term result of these Court decisions has been an historical trend which has moved our nation away from a common touchstone of morality into a culture stripped of moral parameters. Even many churches no longer mention sin.
The ascendance of moral relativism in every area of national life is more than obvious. This exclusion of prayer has perforce also expunged the value of moral inquiry from the normal learning process. Over time, this exclusion has created in countless adults a dismissive, often hostile, attitude toward the primacy of morality and conscience in human affairs. Self-expression -- no matter what the human or social cost, or how bizarre the issue -- has replaced self-restraint as our national marker.
The cumulative effect has been to stifle the fundamental intellectual validity and vitality of moral inquiry as an essential component in a stable society for the maturity of citizens and for the content of their character.
Where Does Character Come From?
The necessity for a nation to be guided by accepted moral principles has been effectively obscured in the hearts and minds of generations of citizens. This denial of religion’s contribution to our national character and identity has significantly abetted the malaise we now face in a morally-rootless America.
In addition, one must wonder how any individual - or any nation - can effectively follow the path of wisdom when moral priorities are divorced from everyday life and learning. Clearly, a society is diminished when accountability to a source greater than oneself is treated as an afterthought, when moral responsibility and character are deliberately separated from the development of a child’s budding intelligence.
How About Home And Parents?
Many people believe religion is a personal, private matter. It ought not be taught or furthered in public schools. Religious belief is for the home and the church. Parents are supposed to do the moral and religious upbringing. Keep the schools secular.
That argument is counter-productive and self-defeating. The message is that what we learn at home has value only at home. At school, our religious beliefs are routinely de-valued and excluded. Religion is a private matter. In public, we can forget about it.
In truth, morality is a public issue because it involves behavior and consequences, right and wrong, good and evil. Every citizen is affected by the moral behavior of our leaders and our businesses and our schools and our government officials. We may differ about doctrinal content, about dogma and creed and theological variants --- but we cannot, and should not, ignore the demands and consequences of moral – and immoral -- behavior.
In the normal process of human development, religious beliefs are the font of public and private virtues which define moral behavior. Prayer is the affirmation of those beliefs, the expression of one’s religious self, the individual and the nation’s Declaration of Dependence. To deny the link between prayer and moral principles insults human nature, denies human need, injures the common good, violates common sense, short-changes the individual and profoundly weakens society.
No Common Principles Unite US
The problem our country now faces is that we have no shared definition of what is morally right or wrong any more, no sense of what moral behavior demands of all of us, no regard for the authority of God, the Author of morality. Non-judgmentalism rules; with it we now behold a vast ocean of moral anarchy -- and some of the most bizarre ideas and behaviors imaginable.
For example, is it moral to lie? Yes, if it gets votes and our agenda is triumphant……… right?
Is it moral to abort a living child? Well, the Supreme Court and some doctors and Planned Parenthood and a bunch of Hollywood stars say it is OK, so it must be OK .…. right? Is it moral for our media commentators to report half-truths and distortions, to assassinate the character of politicians they do not agree with? Yes, if it reflects the Party line, whatever that Party line may be …… right?
Is it OK for my teen-age child to have sex with some boy she likes, as long as they use “protection” and do not put naked photos of themselves up on Facebook? Yes, I suppose so, because everyone does it ……… right?
Is it moral for me to do whatever I want, to do what feels good when I want and with whom I want? Who’s gonna stop me? Morality is what I choose …. right?
Where Are We Going As A Nation?
The separation of religion’s moral insights from public education is now fully accomplished. It started from the top-down with the idea that prayer by government representatives is unconstitutional.
But that separation of religion and moral thinking from learning has not stopped ….. Generations of children have grown into adulthood, disabused of the idea that God and religion have any role in their lives. Many adults seem to get along just fine without a boring old god and stuffy old restrictive rules to cramp their style.
The loss of shared public morality and the absence of a shared public conscience are ailments from which our dystopic nation now suffers deeply. Vulgarity and disregard for human dignity are entrenched and, as we can see, our laws surely do not equate with wisdom.
Standards of public decency once set the limits to our behavior. These standards once bound Americans together as members of a God-centered society in which prayer united, rather than divided. Public morals represented the deepest values which mature members of the community held in common.
Not so today.
America’s historic exceptionalism is woefully in need of a moral awakening to mature self-restraint in our behavior, to humility in the face of technology, to respect for public virtues as the norm. Without regard for traditional virtues (both civic and religious virtues) and respect for the Creator of us all, healthy change for the better in the American public square is not likely.
Time Is Flexible But History Is Not
I agree that sunny optimism is always useful … but it wears thin and becomes counterfeit when history and reality tap us on the shoulder with repeated facts and unavoidable evidence. Then, the truths of the past, the value of lost traditions and the warnings of history-repeating-itself may become nags -- but nags essential for long-term survival.
Since God has become a stranger to our national identity, and morality is excluded from so much of our public behavior, one must wonder how long our democracy can bear such a toxic malaise -- or where we are headed as an historically unmatched but, nonetheless, errant nation?
Time – and history – will tell………………….
8 January 2018
Contemplating the Number 321,384
321,384….. What does this number mean to us?
If it refers to dollars in our pocket, nice!! If it tells us how many miles to the next restroom, bad news!! If it refers to people killed in an earthquake, it’s a terrible tragedy, especially for the helpless lives lost, the broken hearts of so many survivors; a tragedy which highlights our awareness that we humans have so little control over Nature ….. or perhaps we sometimes do have more control than we should, but use it most unwisely.
Life Is Ever So Precious
The older I grow, the more impressed I am by the beauty of life, by the precious value of each human being … and by the number of choices we really do have over our own beliefs, decisions and actions.
I am constantly made aware that we have choices about how we live and who we choose to be, about what values we choose to hold and about how we choose to behave. In fact, we can control many aspects of life, especially our own attitudes values, decisions and behavior. We are definitely not helpless.
Yes, Nature and Nature’s Creator will always be supreme. Therefore, Nature’s laws, limits and functions should guide our thinking, influence our choices and inform our actions. Still, Nature has given us the gift of life and the ability to think and to reason. Thus, we really do have a huge arena of choices about what good we will do - or will not do - with our lives.
The Gifts Of Life And Living
To me, each new sunrise is a starting point for awe and adoration. Each day is a new beginning filled with a panoply of choices.
Each new day is a chance to breathe Nature’s air, an invitation to see and to hear, to feel and – most importantly – to be with my loved ones, aware of the gifts of loving and being loved, aware of the struggle to be worthy of such goodness.
Each day is yet another invitation to embrace the responsibilities I have in life; a gracious chance to be immersed in the profound reality of life – in my life and in your life; an invitation for me to be in touch with the Author of such Life abundant.
Simply to be aware of life is ineffably rewarding and humbly confounding. To be made aware that our potential for kindness and goodness is always within our reach: this insight is quietly inspiring and, at the same moment, provocatively challenging. Life is truly a gift from Nature and Nature’s Creator. Each day is yet another opportunity for us to give and to share the blessings of our lives with others. Each and every life is a gift which is unearned, and not of our making; an extraordinarily precious and mysterious charism, a gratia gratis data, a gift freely given which is never the result of our own merit or achievement. It is a gift.
Our contacts with one another may be brief, but let us rejoice in our shared lives, for each moment in life is a lifetime; each moment is the time of our lives.
That Hovering Number 321,384
But there’s that nagging number 321,384 again. What more does this number refer to?
Planned Parenthood (PP) released its annual report this week. On page 31, that report reveals that PP performed 321,384 abortions in 2014.
321,384. That’s 321,384 babies who will never be held or fed by someone who loves them; babies whose gift of life, a gift from God, was taken away. That’s 321,384 human beings who, by someone else’s choice, will not sing funny songs nor bring smiles to the faces of loving parents by the sound of their laughter or the touch of their hands. 321,384 children destroyed, willingly, in our nation.
One must instantly ask: “Why?”
What threat to the life and liberty of the pregnant woman does a baby in her womb represent?
What was it about that child’s life which was so appalling or fearful as to merit its extinction?
One must also ask: “What moral vision or God-given sensibility allows, encourages and celebrates, the killing of children, even as they are being born into this world? What manner of moral reasoning or logic says that the choice to destroy a child is anything but profoundly wrong?”
The Glory That Is Planned Parenthood
The PP report is intended as testimony to the abundant and essential “medical” care the organization supplies our nation. The report enthusiastically plumps the number of services PP offers women and men. Birth prevention, sex education, mammograms, on and on. The report lists PP’s contributions to the betterment of our nation and the medical well-being of American womanhood. It proudly witnesses to PP’s further contribution to the more-than-fifty-million children killed by legal abortion since Roe v Wade was enacted in January 1973.
Reading the report closely, one realizes that for every single adoption referral, Planned Parenthood performed 81 abortions.
81 to 1. This ratio (at least, in my judgment) is a clear declaration of priorities. Abortion? Indeed so. Adoption? Are you serious?
Abortion is the unquestionable centerpiece of PP’s dreadful existence. Abortion is the jewel in the crown of Planned Parenthood’s grisly claim of service to humankind. Oddly (and offensively to many who value the lives of children), PP is subsidized by half-a-billion tax dollars, while reporting millions in profit.
How Dare You Challenge Abortion?
As Planned Parenthood proudly proclaims its value to our nation, it unhesitatingly dismisses its critics. For example:
I am told that before I criticize I should walk in the shoes of helpless mothers, wed-and-unwed. How can I not sympathize with the twelve-year-old rape victim whose parents bring her to a PP clinic? How can I find fault with the explicit sex education programs PP sponsors for young people?
Before I heartlessly challenge PP’s altruistic abortion of unwanted children, I should have pity on poor, victimized and abandoned women who seek PP’s largess. I should not pay attention to the sale of aborted body parts which violates law and offends every decent person’s sense of moral outrage.
I am told that I do not understand the real issues at the heart of abortion: namely, it is a woman’s right to rid herself of this child. How could I (a man, lacking any bases for empathy) comprehend the necessity for downtrodden and abused women to finally control their own destinies. Women have a right to be free of the bonds of marriage, family values and the crusty dominance of outdated religious beliefs which insist that unborn babies are human beings, entitled to respect. Every upscale modernist knows the fetus is merely some sort of spiritless blob of tissue.
Shame on me for not recognizing that a 21st Century woman’s health is desperately endangered by pregnancy. Shame on me that I voice no concern for the professional woman whose career will be sidetracked if she has to raise the child she foolishly conceived in a moment of regrettable, if avoidable, arousal. I reveal unconscionable ignorance of the risks which a baby-on-board presents to an upwardly-mobile career woman who seeks to break a glass ceiling.
Woe and alas: I am infected with the tedious Christian belief that we have a God-given moral responsibility to respect the dignity of human life, born and unborn. I am churlishly insensitive to question any woman’s right to be rid of the beating heart and yearning soul growing and developing within the body of its mother. And I use the word “mother” because that word defines the specific honor and unique role for which Nature has graced only womankind, i.e., to be mothers of us all … and to us all.
Life’s Value Is Relative; It Depends On…..What?
What motivates PP’s militant readiness to kill children? Planned Parenthood has the support of countless entertainers and politicians, celebrities and clergypersons, jurists and educational leaders. To abort her child is the woman’s right; that’s it!!
We must not speak about the right of a child to be born and loved and sacrificed for, to be allowed to live and to grow and be educated and disciplined and raised with dignity in the human family. Even some enlightened college professors and students argue that killing children for the first two years of life is entirely acceptable.
And why not? They believe the value of human life is arbitrary and debatable. The value of human life (yours and mine and the child resting in the womb) depends on a lot of stuff …. so they say….
We are, so they say, free to destroy any life which we have not created, any innocent life which we do not believe is human. Why not. Life is arbitrary…… so they say ……. This is especially true if a child has an unpleasant “condition” (Iceland now aborts all potential Down’s Syndrome babies) or is the wrong sex (for decades, China has aborted millions of girl babies) or is expensive to raise or is unwanted -- or any other reason .. so they say…..
How can this be?
How have we come to the point in our nation that we defend the convenient killing of our babies with chic enthusiasm coupled with toxic righteousness?
How can we, even for an instant, believe that life - born and unborn - may be blithely extinguished with such astonishing ruthlessness?
How can we (individually and as a nation under God) so cheapen the gift of life as to destroy life, to destroy that soul and, with it, our fundamental link to our own humanity and our survival?
How can this be? From what moral font does such thinking arise?
As individuals and as a nation, what are we thinking?