Photo by Robert Phelps
12 December 2021
Dreaming Of Reality
I had a dream not long ago. It was a strange dream … about a newborn child, a baby lying asleep in a crib. The child was surrounded by a group of onlookers who murmured about the baby, discussing the baby’s future. The infant’s parents sat silently in the background, shadowed, listening to the comments of the onlookers as each spoke.
One person commented on the newborn’s appearance, how sweet the child looked, innocent and warm, peacefully asleep in his crib. Several other persons inched forward and looked down at the sleeping infant. “How beautiful he is….. how beautiful… how innocent…”
Another adult spoke up in an irritated tone: “Maybe so, but he is just another mouth to feed among so many starving kids…” At this, a youngish-looking woman echoed the irritation, wondering aloud why in the world the baby’s mother would even give birth to this child, when she – the mother – could have easily ended her pregnancy months ago.
“Yes, we certainly could have terminated this pregnancy any time we wanted to … even now,” added an elderly man who stepped into the light. “The law is on our side. I mean, why did the mother ever bother having this baby? Makes no sense.”
“That’s for sure, added another woman. “Her body, her choice. Why bother?”
“Maybe she wanted it,” someone said. “Maybe she wanted this kid… Who knows…”
In my dream, the infant then stirred sightly. At the sound of his movement, the baby’s mother came into the light, smiling. She looked down at her child and her smile widened. She covered his tiny hands with the edges of the swaddling clothes in which the infant was enfolded.
Slowly, she placed her hand on her child’s head. Ever so carefully, she leaned into the child’s crib and tenderly kissed her sleeping infant. After a moment she straightened and looked at each person … and, in a most gentle voice, she said, “Yes, His father and I want this Child. We shall name him Jesus. You will all hear of Him in due time. You shall all know of Him … and He shall know you well, each one of you...”
And, as loving parents so often do, she looked again at her sleeping Child and softly hummed a quiet melody to Him as He slept. And the grace of her love for her Child silenced the adults. They had no more to say … no further advice to offer.
I awoke from this dream with many lingering thoughts:
- What, I wonder, does this Child now think about the rejection which so many of us still express toward Him?
- What did the pain of rejection look like and feel like when it first wriggled wantonly into His small soul?
- Does this Child experience dreadful emptiness when people who should love Him express their distaste for His very presence and make it clear to Him that they could not care less about Him?
- Was He, for a time, dragged into that dark, spirit-draining corner of His soul where - even for Him as, later, in Gethsemane - loneliness and isolation await?
- Does He understand, with forgiving heart, that we human beings are most vulnerable to egregious error when we disown and demean His gift of love … and dare to reject even the most innocent amongst us?
- Does He forgive us, even when goodness and empathy slip away from us so readily and so often; even as indifference invades our souls and cynicism becomes our heart’s pernicious choice?
The Child in His Crib and His parents still beckon us to accept their attitude of loving. The Child in His Crib still yearns to impart His loving Spirit into this world, despite every contrary reason He encounters.
He assures us that in our loneliness and doubt, we need not be isolated from one another, nor walled off from Him by our hesitant disbelief, our haughty pride or stubborn denial, our excessive self-regard or our capitulation to helplessness.
The Child continues to reassure us that we are created not only to express kindness toward one another but also to accept the kindness of others.
He also reminds us that we are created not only to love ourselves but to share our love with others, humbly but resolutely, just as He does … this Child Whose life is ours; this Child Who knows us so very well.
He urges us “to love our neighbor as ourselves.” He does not say, “instead of ourselves” or “less than ourselves.” He says “as ourselves.” He urges us to love one another not with flattering selfies or scads of Facebook friends, but with humility and truth, generosity and gratitude. His message never changes – even if we do.
Patiently, repeatedly, the Child reminds us that we are born to be inspired in heart and formed in soul by His loving power, and then extend His gift of kindness to others. Accepting this gift of His loving attitude is the first step in our search for simplicity of heart.
The Child persists. His loving forgiveness of our trespasses is beyond our making … but not beyond our sharing gratefully with others in our own lives.
And, as our years pass, the Child also wishes us peace as His final gift to each of us … and all of us. As we age, we are evermore His messengers, called to express the Child’s gift of loving and - through our own lives – embody His eventual gift of peace in heart and soul.
That is why we are alive.
That is why we begin our lives as He did, innocent and needy, in a baby’s crib, igniting the love and care of those who bring us forth into life. We are born in innocence and utter dependency. In this way do we learn that loving is the first - and the final - state for which we are born.
The Child in the Crib offers each of us constant choices which may bring us closer to His Father, closer to one another, closer to understanding and forgiving each other - and, ideally, closer to loving ourselves with the dignity proper to the better angels of our nature.
That is why the Child in the Crib chooses still to live amongst us.
It is, therefore, most fitting that we revere this blessed, patient Child in the Crib and carry His message into our ailing world.
It is our privilege and our calling to assist one another to express courageous generosity of spirit; to exemplify - in our words and in our example - the hope and compassion, the sacrifice and faith, the patience and fidelity of the Child in the Crib.
This is why we are here upon this Earth: to accept Him - and all that He stands for - as the best choice in our lives, as our best choice in time … and in eternity.
6 December 2021
Losing Joe: A Personal Tribute
My friend Joe died this week. He was my friend for three score and eight years. We were college students when we decided to enter the seminary. Together, in the summer of our senior year, we traveled by train from Chicago to Jordan, Minnesota and entered what is known as the “novitiate.”
The novitiate is the first step in the long journey to the Catholic priesthood. It’s a year of serious self-confrontation, the beginning of an arduous process intended to enrich the intellectual and spiritual resources of candidates who aspire to the celibate life under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; men who desire to serve as ordained ministers of worship and grace.
Joe and I knew the regimen we had chosen would challenge us; how deeply, we surely did not know. Our apprehensions - and the unavoidable ambiguity hovering - were not eased by the dignity of the role we sought nor the naïve hopes we brought with us.
As we stood in front of the novitiate building that August day so long ago, Joe turned to me and said something no other man ever said to me before - or since: “Let us be friends as long as we live.”
And so it was. And so it remains.
Our seminary years were indeed arduous, more than we had imagined. In that long-ago era, Latin was the language of Catholic worship and training. We rose before the sun each day, muttering a bleary “Deo gratias” in response to the clanging of the wake-up bell. Our lives were rigidly regulated. Silence was constant, even at meals. Hours of prayer and study were core activities. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines - even letters from family - were entirely curtailed. Strict rules governed our existence.
Yet, we persevered - and there were not a few occasions when our dedication to discipline, our struggles with tradition and our own frailty were o’ershadowed by sheer frivolity and occasionally-barbed sarcasms which men seem inevitably to spawn in one another’s prolonged company.
As we progressed through various stages of our training, Joe seldom let pass an opportunity to remind me of my failings and foibles. He would often do so in scathingly candid ways which compelled me to smile, not only at the accuracy of his wry, often critical, comments but at the underlying affection and goodness which prompted him to target my pious pretensions.
I found it impossible to take umbrage at any of Joe’s biting asides. I knew his criticisms were never meanly meant, but were merely the sort of “indoor sport” which is not uncommon amongst young men living in the provocative shadows of intense idealism and life-altering circumstances. I knew his heart was rooted in our ever-friendship which we had voiced that August day, as we stood, together, at the doorway to a wholly different world.
As years passed, Joe and I followed divergent paths. Eventually, Joe served both the Church and America as a Navy chaplain. For more than a quarter century, he proudly wore the Naval uniform and served in Viet Nam at the height of conflict - consecrating, anointing, consoling, sharing suffering, holding the hands of dying Marines. Despite the military honors and accolades he earned, one could only imagine the cost which Joe’s ministry demanded of his good heart.
Eventually, and regrettably, as so often happens, Joe and I lost touch with one another. But in these later years, we once again began to communicate. However, it was clear to me that Joe was, at last, spent from his labors, depleted from the lengthy price of his ministry. His words came with difficulty. His health failed. He lived quietly, hopefully, faithfully. And a few days ago, he died. But, in one of his last messages to me, he once again reminded me of our friendship, of the bond we pledged to honor with one another … three score and eight years ago, when we were so young.
I have been blessed with a few true friends such as Joe in my years upon this earth – a few whom I have come to trust and love. Few friends now remain … but each has left me with uplifting memories, measures of wonderment and awe, and unshakeable realizations which persistently nag at me to give them brief voice.
With Joe in mind, I do so here.
1. I have found that friendship - true friendship - is rare. The word “friend” is often used (or mis-used) in reference to casual relationships and passing acquaintances. True friendship is rare.
2. Friendship is rare because it inevitably deals in risky truths which may demand painful revelation. Speaking truth to anyone without fear of casual betrayal or caustic rejection is an indispensable ingredient in trust. Thus, taking the risk to tell hard truth to anyone is to knowingly expose their vulnerability … and yours. To venture into this arena of mutual human frailty is an act of which only brave lovers are capable.
3. As with all authentic love, true friendship rests on trust. Trust is earned, never assumed. It is demonstrated by who we are and what we do, not what we say we are or what we pretend to be.
4. Good will and good intentions are not solid bases for trust. We may mean well, but if we do not follow through in consistent and trustworthy manner, good will is a hollow excuse.
5. Friendship is selfless when necessary. It seeks no credit or applause. A mature friend perceives the other person’s needs and, when warranted by prudence (not by maudlin emotionality), generously steps up, even at the cost of pain or loss … or, if need be, waits patiently and keeps silent.
6. Friendship affords both persons the extraordinary gift of intimacy. Intimacy is often misunderstood. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with trust, truth and fidelity. It is the natural outflow of truth and trust and must, therefore, be earned.
7. Friendship has the quality of permanence. It is a bond, a spiritual as well as psychological bond based on commitment, not merely on convenience or commonality. It is a life’s work.
8. A wise marriage has friendship, trust and fidelity between bride and groom as its foundations and its priorities.
9. It is most human of us, therefore, to hold fast to those qualities of virtue and character which endure in true friendship, rather than to court smug solace in wayward ideologies, cynical indifference or perpetual flight.
10. Whatever doubts or pain life may bring, the only sensible path to maturity and peace which I have found is perseverance in faith and hope. Many people today abandon religious striving for a blank slate. But we are wisely in tune with human nature’s essential dependency when we strive relentlessly for that day when all ambiguity will be made clear and the Divine Mystery behind all that we dare hope will be made manifest.
11. We cannot force our friendship on anyone, nor can we make anyone love us or trust us. We can only struggle constantly with ourselves to attain moral stability and character, without which there can be no trust. We must struggle so that we may be worthy of trust and love - even if others do not respond as we hope they will.
I am most grateful to God for bringing my friend Joe into my life. I shall miss Joe, but I so value what his friendship awakens in me even to this moment: faith and hope and striving for charity - and my endearing remembrance of Joe, a very good man, my friend still … and always.
2 December 2021
Christmas With The Young and Arrested
Many decades ago, I taught and counseled teenage felons at a Federal prison in Washington, D. C. The official title of the place was the National Training School for Boys. Unofficially it was called “The Hill.” The Hill was operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Among its inmates in the 1950s was Charles Manson, whose dreadful celebrity needs no comment.
The upper age of prisoners was eighteen; most were much younger. I recall inmates who were barely twelve years old. One of these pre-teens, a deceptively cherubic lad, had murdered his entire family - parents, grandparents and sister - with a shotgun.
Among these youthful prisoners was a youngster I shall call Jimmie Joe, JJ for short. JJ had been arrested several times back in Georgia. His first offense was petty theft when he was nine. Thereafter, JJ had been arrested for other crimes. Inevitably, JJ stole a car. A police pursuit followed. JJ drove wildly from Georgia to Florida, police close behind. By crossing a state line in a stolen vehicle, JJ violated a long-standing Federal law, the Dyer Act. He was sent to “The Hill,” where I first met him.
JJ was fifteen - a hard, unsmiling, bitter fifteen-year-old. Half his life was spent in defiant recklessness. To JJ, trust was unknown.
The Dreadful Fathers
One afternoon, I was speaking to a small group of young prisoners about God the Father. JJ listened for a while, then suddenly turned his chair sideways, muttering a commonly-used four-letter word which indicated (shall we say) his distaste for the subject. I challenged JJ and asked, “What’s the problem?”
In every prison, civility and good manners give way to blunt, often punitive confrontations. Verbal niceties are shelved for more immediate, more pressing concerns. So, JJ was blunt:
“You talk about this loving Father God as if he was something special. My father used to beat hell out of me when he was drunk, and then he beat hell out of me when he was sober. He beat my mom, too, and my sister ….. so don’t talk to me about no loving father. That’s all crap to me. It’s all a bunch of crap…”
A Dark JJ Christmas
Later that year – on Christmas Eve – I visited the prison, bearing gifts of candy and cigarettes. We did not then know about smoking’s harmful effects, and cigarettes were among the few negotiable treasures which inmates coveted - sometimes for barter or, sometimes, for forgetfulness.
As I mingled among the inmates in one of the prison’s assembly halls, I noticed JJ on the floor in a darkened corner, huddled in a drab khaki blanket, his forehead pressed forlornly against the cold wall. Like many prisoners, he had no family writing to him, no visitors to cheer him, no Christmas gifts from the outside to give him hope, nothing to remind him of a distant someone’s care that he was even alive.
I had not before seen such incarnate loneliness in my life. So, with the permission of the guards, I took JJ out into the high-walled yard, into the evening darkness. We walked slowly for a long while, in silence. Finally, I asked JJ if I could do anything for him, perhaps even pray with him. It was Christmas, after all.
“I’ll be paroled soon,” he said, after a long moment.
“Where will you go? What will you do?” I asked.
“What will I do?” he repeated. “What will I do?” He drew the drab blanket tightly over his shoulders, hunching against the Christmas cold. But then he straightened his back and took a deep breath of the chilly air. And then he answered my question. “I’m gonna hurt people,” he said. “I’m gonna hurt a lot of people when I get out. I wanna burn down stuff and steal what I can. I wanna hurt a lot of people. That’s what I’m gonna do…. and I’m gonna kill my father….. that’s what I’m gonna do….”
The Unanswered Question
A few weeks later, JJ was paroled to a distant aunt in Georgia. I knew he would soon be amongst his old contacts – and I worried for him and about him … and I spent some sleepless nights wondering what he might do when he was gone.
I never saw JJ after his release. But we had one last conversation the day before he left The Hill. He told me that over the months during which we had our many talks, he had indeed come to trust me, but he also felt sorry because he felt he disappointed me. He knew I wanted him to be better, to be stronger than he was; to be a better youngster than he was, to forgive and to pray and to trust God, the Father, Who was still, to him, a stranger, still a Person he could not tolerate, a distant reality he hated. And JJ told me that he knew I hoped for more for him ... and he was sorry he had not done better. He was, he said, really sorry.
Then we parted. But JJ’s last words to me still linger, six decades later:
“Thanks; thanks for trying…”
Finding Meaning and Seeking God
I do not know what happened to JJ -- or to so many of those teenage inmates whom I knew so many lifetimes ago. I do know some of them went on to adult prisons; several were killed along the years. Happily, some met the right person and never crossed the line again ….. and some became fathers, and kept in touch with me for a long time.
But that cold Christmas Eve with JJ has always reminded me that those of us who have known a loving family in our early years are so very blessed, so truly blessed.
Even as adults, when conflict and estrangement intrude upon our hopes and our needs and our yearning to openly express our affection (which should unite all families) we are still blessed. Despite the hurt we may bear in our hearts, despite the coldness we may encounter, we are still blessed with those moments of being known and seen and accepted just as we are; those moments of innocence when we are cared about and revered by a loving few, by those precious few, by our loyal family members … and by the Father Whom, I pray, JJ came to know.
I still pray for JJ – and for those who had hurt him so profoundly, so early in his young life. I pray that JJ came one day to know Our Father Who is in Heaven. I pray that JJ may even have become a good and caring father to his own beloved few.
But I do know that, despite the uncertainties of JJ’s years and his estranged affection and his overarching need to be loved … he is surely beloved by Our Father.
I hope JJ came one day to know and to believe in his own ability to love - however buried and bruised it was when I knew him.
I hope he learned one day to trust and to love and to be loved well and deeply ….. as the Presence of The Child attests.
And, I still hope, so may we all.
6 November 2021
Are We Listening To History ?
Like many elders, I am often reminded of how swiftly my years pass and how profound are the changes I’ve witnessed.
Change is, of course, a constant. Some changes are essential, even noble. Others can be unhealthy, even toxic, for people – and for nations.
Here are a few unhealthy examples:
- Government now subsidizes and protects illegal aliens who threaten the health and stability of Americans;
- Some schools do not inform parents about their children’s medical issues - including abortions, barring parents from caring for their own children;
- Transgenderism (a disgraceful, unscientific hoax with life-long consequences) is supported by a number of high-risk professionals;
- Our children are schooled in systemic “racism,” pitting youngsters against one another;
- Reverence for the unborn and for the integrity of traditional families are publicly scorned;
- Political discourse is littered with accusations, inuendo and calculated “exaggerations.”
These (and other social-moral conflicts) trouble me deeply because, as an American citizen:
- History - and my lengthy lifetime - have taught me the fragility of governments and the frailty of leaders.
- I know that the tendency to take citizenship for granted leads to precarious indifference (read Victor Davis Hanson’s new book, “The Dying Citizen”).
- I know the cost of our historic heritage of liberty and the irreplaceable role of law and order.
- I have witnessed profound abuses of our freedoms by well-intentioned but ill-informed persons.
- I have seen how inhumanely some people distort liberty - and how telling lies becomes the norm.
- I know how some leaders are so enamored of power that morality becomes a disposable burden.
The Gift Of America
Our liberties and laws in America bestow freedom NOT to do as we please, but to do as we should – to meet our obligations in light of the consequences of our behavior.
True freedom is limited by the common good, which demands legal and moral boundaries. True freedom rests on limits, mutual obligations and self-restraint. Laws exist to remind us of our responsibilities which freedom allows.
Today, there is abundant evidence that the common good no longer inspires many citizens. Our nation faces serious trouble from within. See this link:
So, here are some reasons why I worry about America’s survival.
Our Native Land
1] America is a Constitutional Republic. Every qualified citizen (note: citizen) has a vote, i.e., a voice in running the Republic. Voting is a gift, not a burden.
When we vote, we delegate to politicians - locally and nationally - our right and our responsibility to maintain the health and stability of our Republic and our own lives.
Politicians are supposed to work for the common good, not for radical agendas, social experiments, socialist ideals … or the eradication of our Constitution.
2] So, “governments” are people - like us - who control much of our lives and fortunes only because we choose them. “Government” is not a vague, disembodied entity nor a specter in a far-off swamp. “Government” is people we elect. That’s why we must know:
- What they believe and value about America;
- If they are stable or irrational (e.g., do they want to open our borders, eliminate police?);
- How will they spend our tax money;
- What impact will they have on children and families;
- On and on …
Politics becomes personal. In some instances, it’s a matter of life and death. Common sense tells us to use informed, principled judgment when we decide who shall govern America and where they intend to take our country, our children and our families.
Voting Is A Moral Responsibility
3] Historically, a vote is a “blessing” by which we grant politicians our trust and approval. We bestow upon them enormous power to control our lives, the well-being of those we love and America’s future.
The cumulative impact of voting is clear: We get what we choose. Voting impacts the human condition. It’s a moral responsibility with moral consequences.
Responsibilities come before rights. To claim our rights without first accepting our responsibilities (including voting) erodes America’s stability and abets the eventual collapse of our democracy. That’s why morality and virtue were essential to our Founders. Read this article: Why John Adams – John Adams Center
4] Citizens elect politicians to attend to our nation’s best interests, not to bow to the radical aims of putative “victims” who wish to de-stabilize our Republic.
Politicians should never undermine our traditions. Chaos results. One example is the movement to grant non-citizens the power to vote, a legal and moral absurdity.
Times Change - But What Remains ?
5] Our Republic is officially 232 years old (since final ratification of our Constitution). Our Founders experienced an urgent desire for nationhood. They repeatedly stressed the necessity of moral virtue and intellectual clarity in the governance of our new nation.
The bonds of unity among our Founders were based on Natural Law’s system of values, which holds that liberty is first God-given, not man-made. They expressed this belief in our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
Our Founders possessed a far more realistic perspective on human nature’s patient struggles for liberty than we find in the destructive ideologies of today’s “woke” culture.
John Adams insisted that the survival of our Republic requires a virtuous electorate. In addition, he held that virtue (civic and personal) must prevail among politicians. Otherwise, our Republic’s survival is in eminent danger.
Adams put it this way: “…I sometimes tremble to think that, altho we are engaged in the best cause that ever employed the human heart, yet the prospect of success is doubtfull (sic) not for want of power or of wisdom, but of Virtue.”
6] Today, Adams, Jefferson, Washington and other Founders are demonized by “woke” spokespersons as “white privileged, systemically racist, deliberately marginalizing, heteronormative colonizers.”
Our flag is called a symbol of “white racist hegemony,” our Founder’s Christian principles dismissed as oppressive.
Our Constitution and our historic legal and religious traditions are belittled. Statues of our Founders are removed from view when they offend the “victimized.”
What America Stood For
7] So, from our earliest beginnings as a nation, Americans held a commonly-accepted moral code of right and wrong in civic and religious life.
That moral code originated in our Christian traditions. It honored the Justice and Wisdom of God.
For two centuries, our Presidents spoke openly of God’s Hand in our nation’s affairs, and publicly invoked God’s blessings upon America.
There was a time when every American knew the words to the popular song, “God Bless America.”
This moral code formed our public conscience and exerted unquestioned binding force on every American. It served the common good -- and when we failed to seek the right path, this moral code reminded us that America’s goal was - and is – liberty and justice for all … under God.
8] To be sure, some Americans have violated the rights dignity of other citizens. As in every community, some people are blind - or indifferent - to the harm they do.
Nevertheless, few nations embody a political system which seeks to remedy its own internal offenses, to atone for wrongs committed by its citizens, to strive by statute to achieve liberty and justice, dignity and fairness for all.
The need for beneficial change may be slow to stir the American conscience - and the human heart. But change has occurred. America works…
This is the essence of our nation’s moral and cultural ideals. Despite our failings, America has always sought to follow “…the better angels of our nature…”
Dangers We Face
9] This moral code - this sense of common decency to do what’s right – is still found in the hearts of most Americans and is encoded in our laws. It guides people of good will through periods of cynicism and selfishness.
If we jettison this moral code - with its proven values and lengthy heritage - we lose transcendent insights, the moral glue, which have united us Americans for over two centuries.
This is happening in America today.
10] Much recent research tells us our Founder’s views of morality and virtue are denigrated by “woke” partisans as offensive, confining and outworn; as an enslaving tool of “white supremacists” and “heteronormative” oppressors.
The “woke” deny our historic traditions. Their nihilistic version of human nature regularly excludes God. They promote ideas which destroy our national identity.
When we remove God’s authority and the traditions of our American heritage as touchstones of our society, grave questions arise:
- Without God, who shall reveal the law to us with credible authority?
- Shall we ignore moral limits and common sense, and violate one another with impunity?
- Shall we disregard tragic consequences (e.g., our border fiasco) and accept the erosion of our rights?
Who can take God’s place at the center of our America? Or, better put, who is taking God’s place already?
How does a godless society decide what is morally right or wrong? Indeed, does “moral” have any meaning at all?
From that decision, all else follows.
A Healthy Republic
11] A stable and healthy Republic respects its cultural heritage and moral traditions.
A stable and healthy America rightly expects its politicians to honor the Constitution, show common sense, adhere to truth and exhibit self-restraint.
It will honor traditional marriage and family as the economic and moral centerpieces of cultural stability.
It will respect parental rights and defend parents who protect their young from transgender-affirming predators and destructive creeds, such as Critical Race Theory.
It will repudiate programs which destroy civility and cohesion on personal and community levels.
It will give no credence to those who say white Americans (children, too) are guilty of slavery, gender and class discrimination, racial oppression and sexism.
It will respect our National Anthem … and elected officials will honor their oaths of office.
It will protect our sacred traditions of family, marriage, science, education, the Bill of Rights, rule of law, history, truth itself.
It will not accept intellectual and moral rubbish as fact.
It will be alert to misstatements and lies propagated by media giants and corporations which demean employees and force them to admit to “white guilt.”
The Lure Of Pathology
12] Clearly, we Americans have problems we must face. Yes, we risk seeming negative as we mention these problems --- but they’re facts in America today. We are remiss not to face them … even when it’s burdensome.
Questions haunt and hover:
- What is the seductive appeal of these dangerous ideas, whose folly is evident in history?
- Why are many citizens seduced by slogans (e.g., admitted Marxism of Black Lives Matter) which preach anti-American goals?
- How many citizens are lulled by the fatal idea that "It Can't Happen Here”?
- Why are radical individualism and rootless nihilism so attractive even to intelligent persons?
In the substance of their beliefs and style of propagation, these movements (e.g., transgender mutilation, use of wrong pronoun, abortion as “health care,” to name a few) constitute irrational absurdities and social pathologies.
History and experience tell us that these movements lead only to personal and social chaos. Nonetheless, their widespread acceptance - even by well-intentioned persons - indicates how deep social contamination has become.
A Prayer For America
13] Happily, despite our failings, Americans of good will struggle to honor human dignity and the values which America represents in this world.
This is the essential spirit of America … BUT … we know prosperity is no bulwark against social contamination and cultural pathology, which can devastate any nation. Even intelligent people seek refuge in distraction and denial … and this is how a nation's self-destruction begins. So …
Let us read history and profit from it.
Let us remember the Divine origin of all human rights, the limits of our human nature, and the realistic boundaries which our Bill of Rights expresses.
Let us honestly face these moral and intellectual dangers, and honor the good which American Exceptionalism has bestowed upon this world … at great personal cost to so many of our citizens.
Let us (despite our past errors) remember the goodness which has, thus far, inspired our nation’s historic journey.
And let us pray that we Americans will remember the heritage of Goodness and Wisdom which our Founders bequeathed us … that we will remember who we are meant to be, as individuals and as a nation.
May it be ever so.
25 September 2021
America At Risk: Where Shall We Find Truth
As America began to unite after the Civil War, Lincoln observed: “The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one.”
A century and a half later, many of us now realize that true liberty is not merely about individual freedoms and rights. It’s about social and moral balance in the community. It’s not about me; it’s about us. It’s not about individual “freedom” to act as I please. It always involves limits, mutual responsibilities and obligations before individual rights. This is self-evident, isn’t it?
“Not so,” say today’s “social justice woke” ideologues. They demand freedom to do as they please, even to change their sex. No restraints or limits. Personal rights eclipse responsibility, accountability and moral tradition. Their motto: “Me First…”
Traditionally, true liberty grants us the God-given freedom to do what we must do, not merely what pleases us.
True liberty means we’re unhindered by government or neighbor, free to meet our obligations and responsibilities, even if it they are unpleasant. Liberty is not about pleasure. It’s about character.
True liberty frees us to do what is rightly expected of us, guided by God’s Commandments, society’s just laws and customs, and our neighbor’s valid expectations.
BUT ---today’s social justice “woke’ ideologues disagree. For starters, the mention of God is taboo. When God is mentioned, they cease to listen. They cite the Supreme Court’s 1992 “Casey Decision” which proclaimed that “…at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”
In other words, God plays no role in human affairs. Life and liberty are defined solely on subjective terms. Each person is the origin of his rights and freedoms. Accountability is one-way. Subjective “rights” dominate without regard for moral tradition or oppressive religious norms which stifle individual choice.
In practice, this has come to mean that whatever hinders radical individualism must be - will be - eradicated …
Deny The Obvious
This view contradicts what every mature adult knows: “rights” without personal responsibility and self-restraint create excesses which destroy marriage, family and society.
Without personal responsibility, accountability, self-restraint and objective moral standards, radical selfishness speeds the inevitable demise of community.
Such selfishness is a departure from religious, moral, cultural and social traditions in favor of ideological materialism. It’s atheistic denial of nature’s divine origin. It’s an extreme form of secularism which allows no future beyond what we make for ourselves.
An example is the mantra, “My Body, My Choice,” a declaration that even the death of innocent children is a legitimate exercise of my “freedom.” I will take a life, if I choose; it’s my “right.”
This ideology is, of course, hostile to the belief that moral norms are God-given, not man-made. These norms can be discovered by human reason. Every person - regardless of race, color, ethnicity or personal predilection – has a moral nature.
The formation of character and the “common good” are the immediate goals of objective moral norms in every sane society. Objective moral norms are the bases of civil and criminal laws which serve Justice: they’re universal. Just laws serve the common good, not the whims of tyranny, however benign.
Moral norms give voice to the “better angels of our nature.” They are revealed in the Ten Commandments, then spelled out in the Christian virtues which originate with God, not with the State.
More than that, our God-given rights and freedoms find practical application in our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights and various laws and customs which work for the good of all.
America also has the advantage of our Creator’s central role in our Republic’s founding and throughout our history. America was not founded as a theocracy but our Founders agreed that religion is essential to governance, to the everyday life of citizens and to those whom the people elect.
America’s religious history pre-dates our founding (see the monumental tome compiled by Benjamin F. Morris). Religion has contributed significantly to our identity. James Madison (author of the First Amendment) held that government must remain neutral between various religions but not between religion and irreligion. And Jefferson said that God gave us life and liberty as gifts.
The conclusion? From our beginnings, America has been a religious - as well as a secular - reality. To ignore God is to ignore our roots. Our First Amendment’s protections of religion, free speech and the press (among other rights) were intended by our Founders to validate the crucial need for moral voices in our Republic and - as John Adams often said – to emphasize the necessity of virtue in public life.
These days, the wisdom of our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights is sullied by the ignorance, bad will and hatred for America by ”woke” citizens, media, courts of law, even schools.
For example, despite historic centrality of religious belief, the Supreme Court’s decision (1962, “Engle v. Vitale”) forbids mention of God and prayer in public schools. But many schools now teach racial strife and obscene behavior (also vividly portrayed on children’s cell phones as freedom of expression).
America’s problems are worsened by the avoidant silence of many elected officials. For example, some elected leaders ignore existing laws, allow rioting and vandalism, encourage violations of public safety, defund police, establish sanctuary cities, flaunt immigration laws. They allow unscreened illegals to flood our nation and even transport them to unknown locations. This occurs as the need for vaccinations is preached by officials who, at the same instant, risk the welfare of countless citizens. This inexplicable behavior facilitates the moral breakdown of public life and worsens America’s polarized dilemmas. See this analysis:
The Disaster at Our Southern Border - Imprimis (hillsdale.edu)
International problems add significantly to America’s dilemmas. In addition to preventable crises at our Southern borders, we face constant threats from China, a nuclear Iran, hovering terrorism, strained relations with our oldest allies and, most recently, our wretched behavior in the Afghanistan crisis. See this analysis.
Afghanistan’s Woes Will Haunt America (besacenter.org)
These distressing problems demand strong, forthright leaders. Sadly, government’s current style is avoidance and denial which beget appeasement … and history repeatedly says that appeasement is capitulation delayed.
Given these troubling facts, we would be remiss not to ask:
- What goals now motivate our “woke” government leaders?
- What values now inspire them?
- What moral imperatives now stir their consciences?
- What traits of character now dictate their decisions?
- What traditions do they now honor?
- To whom do they now pledge their allegiance?
- To what standards of moral behavior do they hold themselves accountable – if any?
- Where are they taking our America?
“Tolerance” Of Religious Leaders
In addition to problems of State, the silence of many Church officials about moral abuses further undermines American stability and confounds informed citizens.
For example, some prominent officials proclaim religious affiliation but repeatedly violate doctrines of their church … with impunity, for decades. Theology teaches that silence betokens approval. Thus, morally-errant officials are emboldened when their infidelity is routinely excused by the feeble rubric of “prudence.” This chronic avoidance has only resulted in greater perfidy.
Excessive tolerance by ordained leaders reveals 1) abnegation of their solemn obligation to confront moral decay by those in power, and 2) their failure to act as primary moral voices in our Republic.
Errant tolerance and appeasement by ecclesial and secular leaders encourage moral and cultural decline and facilitate the ongoing loss of American identity and unity.
Citizen Belief Also Diminishing
Beyond leadership problems in Church and State, there’s an even deeper malaise occurring - namely, the decades-long rejection of America’s moral and religious traditions by American citizens.
Extensive research attests to Americans’ increasing rejection of Christian moral values, traditions, religious beliefs and practices which, as we know, are the soul of our Founder’s ideals and the rationale for our nation’s founding.
Here’s an example of America’s increasing radical secularism:
Thus, in addition to troubled leadership in Church and State, we also face diminishing regard for America’s founding principles amongst citizens, neighbors, even families.
Certainly, some Americans have made (and still make) significant historic errors. Yet our history reveals a pattern of amendment and correction based on laws and precedents which detail our constant struggle to do what is morally right for the common good.
Yes, we have sometimes failed. Despite abuses, we have been an extraordinary nation before the world. We have sometimes violated our highest ideals … but our moral resources have kept us accountable to one another and compelled us to amend the injustices committed by some Americans throughout our history.
Therefore, when we reject our Christian heritage, we also reject our historic sources of inspiration and motivation, which have been at the heart of the moral infrastructure in our America.
Dare we risk such a loss? Woke, hostile ideologues say, “Yes. America is an evil nation. We’ll re-make America to our image…”
Dr. Alex Joffe, Senior Fellow at the Began-Sadat Center in Israel, believes America is going through rapid transformation based on our panic especially about race. Beneath our racial issues, he adds, are the problems of increased power and unprecedented control now held by technology companies and left-wing politics, much of it financed by our foreign enemies.
Dr. Joffe believes the outcome of our present malaise will severely curtail traditional American freedoms; social dependency will increase substantially. His analysis is here:
The Europeanized USA (besacenter.org)
The Nation’s Challenge
Clearly, our Republic is beset by unprecedented political and cultural conflicts. We are besieged by moral relativists. Socialism’s smothering facades promise to salve every urge … while true liberty and individual dignity slowly wane. The aggressive intolerance of today’s “woke” ideologies are destroying our nation by 1) radical re-education of children, and 2) hollow sloganeering which effectively seduces countless naïve adults.
Indoctrinating from Cradle to College (illinoisfamily.org)
We already see these results of abnegating our moral convictions:
- Christians who exercise their religious beliefs are openly accused of being “enemies of freedom.”
- Catholics on the Supreme Court are accused of destroying religious freedom and imposing their religion on citizens.
- Immigration laws are ignored as we open our borders to admit everyone, including covid carriers and terrorists.
- Respect for "the natural family" is oppressive and "negative othering" against LGBTQ+ people.
- Man/woman marriage is hateful “hetero-normative activism."
- Christian bakers and florists are fined for exercising their religious beliefs (while atheists freely exercise their atheism).
- Corporations force “Critical Race” programs on employees in what amounts to psychological brainwashing.
- Children’s books celebrate transsexuality and libraries hold gay readings for four-year-old children led by Drag Queens.
- “White” people (systemic racists all, including white children) are born oppressors and must repent publicly;
- Partisan media regularly skew facts, weakening our nation and abusing the First Amendment.
The question now is: Will our nation survive the current craze of self-deified “rights” which eradicate our moral traditions and our American identity?
The Central Dilemma
At the center of our moral malaise is the culture of death, society’s readiness 1) to end the lives of children by abortion, and 2) to “euthanize” young and old, often merely for convenience.
Americans once believed nothing was more sacred than life (e.g., “leave no one behind”). Courtesy and care for one another were common virtues. But legalized disregard for the lives of young and old has dismantled our moral principles and created a huge gap in our nation’s conscience (as we now leave our citizens behind).
The culture of death prevails in our halls of government. Some legislators argue for abortion and euthanasia as “human rights” or “medical care” or “right to privacy.” Democrat politicians just passed the Women’s Health Protection Act which seeks these (and other) extreme abortion goals (Fact Sheet WHPA 2021 revised.pdf (usccb.org)):
- eliminate all state and federal “parental consent laws,” including laws which allow women to view an ultrasound of their baby prior to abortion;
- prevent states from passing laws to protect babies at 20 weeks (as in North Korea, China, Vietnam, which do not protect enwombed babies during later development);
- force pro-life doctors and nurses to lose their jobs;
- deprive Catholic hospitals of all public funds unless they perform abortions;
- erase all limitations on taxpayer funded abortion, and dump the Hyde Amendment, which has saved two million lives;
- overturn all federal and state pro-life laws;
- make it illegal for officials to introduce pro-life legislation.
Finally . . .
Where is our disregard for life and moral principles taking us?
Relativism’s bleak, dispirited universe looms, with its cynical “Me First” mentality and repudiation of freedom’s humane attributes.
Let us not think today’s “woke” ideologues benefit America. They do not.
- They deliberately distort language, history, morality, rationality, reality itself.
- They wage war against nature.
- They seek to destroy our Constitution, family life, traditional marriage, education, religious freedom.
- In short, they seek a wholly different nation.
Every day, moral relativism penetrates deeper into our public and private lives, our families and schools, our government and work, our media, hospitals and churches. Elected officials employ stunning evasions, outworn accusations and risible contradictions. Mature accountability and respect for voter’s intelligence are rarer today than ever in my lifetime.
Where shall we find truth? To whom can we turn for fidelity, insight, candor and wisdom? To our leaders, schools, pastors?
We continue to ponder, to worry and wonder …… and pray…..
5 August 2021
We Always Have Time
Aging is a willful, persistent companion. It will have its way with us. I speak from personal experience: my decades run their course and the number of my years are insistently evident.
For example, these days I am less inclined to sprint across parking lots or climb stairs two at a time. I find railings more useful than in younger days. Standing in line has become abhorrent. Sometimes I chuckle when forget why I came to the kitchen, and it takes a moment (or two) to recall my reasons.
So, it’s clear to me that the years do indeed assert their inevitable grip on body and mind, both of which are, I admit, less nimble than when I was a svelte 50, or a spry and eager 60.
Happily, aging offers benefits. I am no longer concerned about work schedules or waiting in airports. I’ve learned to relish my leisure hours and to enjoy quiet visits to my church nearby. And I am surely much more aware of - and grateful to - the many people who perform the myriad daily services we take for granted.
As I See It
These days, the Spirit often moves me to ask, “What have I learned about myself and about life over my four score and seven years … and what am I still learning?”
And there’s a further question (if anyone should ask): “As a result of my years, what elder’s observations might I share with people who have open, wondering minds and listening hearts?”
Some folks may think me haughty or preachy or presumptuous to pose these questions … or to offer answers. But the benefit of my years has taught me the significant difference between faddish, news-bite “opinions” and time-tested insights of elders whose credibility is bolstered by decades of experience and learning, honed by the informed critique of history, and balanced by the enduring norms of proven objective morality.
Facts, Not Nostalgia
I am of an era when every life - especially the life of every child, born and unborn - was valued and protected. No woman (or her physician) put her career or her putative “health care needs” above the life of her child; this was unthinkable. Today’s sense of personal “freedom” has entirely vitiated such old-school thinking.
I am of an era which held high the flag of our country, even as we struggled to implement justice for all, as we struggled to grow beyond our personal sins and cultural imperfections as a nation of flawed human beings.
I am of an era when elders were respected for their patient endurance, honored for their uncommon Wisdom earned in the crucible of their years. Elders were not seen as disposable citizens, as some agencies and officials now determine.
I am of an era when elders were revered as hopeful exemplars of the human spirit, revered for their humility and their quiet, yet intractable, virtue. After all, elders paid -- and still pay -- our dues and endure losses and face dilemmas which aging demands.
Elders were - are - familiar with life’s basic, soul-centered questions which our distracted, self-absorbed culture rarely considers today; questions such as:
- What motivates you to be quiet and listen to someone intently and attentively, with courteous heart and mind?
- Who moves you to come out of your self-protecting shell, out of your fearful restraints?
- Who inspires you to selfless altruism?
- Who speaks to your heart … when, that is, you are not busy on your cell phone?
- Who - or what - awakens in you willing self-sacrifice and anonymous generosity?
- With whom are you most vulnerable, undefended, open without reservation?
- With whom do you share your secrets?
- Who do you trust?
So, with due respect to those who disagree, I offer a few observations -- working principles, really -- which occur to me in my elder’s reveries. These principles emerge from my belief in God, six decades of “people-work” and my lengthy participation in our human search for abiding meaning and moral purpose in life.
So, for your consideration …
1. Every day we are given countless opportunities to learn about ourselves and the meaning of our lives, and to improve the lives of others, no matter how small our contribution may seem.
Life presents innumerable moments of personal revelation, interior lights about more humane ways of being alive; countless challenges from within; insights about how we may be better persons for ourselves and others.
But the question always comes down to this: When these learning moments are upon us and we know the better course, then what do we choose to do?
Choice is basic to action. Knowing is a start, but doing is crucial … knowing, choosing, doing…..
2. Some people studiously ignore their opportunities and dismiss their challenges. They are disdainful of self-knowledge, afraid to admit the truth about themselves … to themselves.
These insights about ourselves are blessings, actual graces. But people who avoid such truths will miss the point that these truths possess extraordinary value, even (or especially) if they are painfully revealing. And we all know that it takes courage and humility to face painful realities in our lives.
3. Thus, to their own detriment - and with injury to others - some people become adept at avoiding truths about themselves; adept at skewing facts and disowning truth in their lives. They do not listen to others, even to so-called “loved” ones and/or family members, who so often pay the heaviest price for years.
These deniers become untrue to themselves and unavoidably false to others. They become adept at avoiding responsibility, at denying the crucial role of trust and empathy in all human affairs. They become oblivious to how much goodness they could instill in their relationships, blind to how much goodness they miss in their own lives, cynical about goodness itself.
4. So, the tragic, but avoidable, reality is that cynicism and futility bloom in the toxic soil of anger, denial and avoidance.
If people would heed pesky personal truths and resist the ego’s frightened need to run and hide, they would soon become grateful heirs of their God-given dowry.
Yet, for some people, the mere mention of “God” (or any authority outside the elevated self) ignites resistance, rejection and resentful enmity.
5. There is always a price to pay for personal honesty. Yes, we always pay a price for changes we make as a result of facing personal truths. And that’s as it should be, because the content of one’s character is on the line.
Indeed, we must listen to our own experiences, especially the hurtful ones, then embrace - yes, embrace - the price of soulful toil, the price of prudent action and personal Wisdom.
6. These truths are signposts intended to reveal to us who we are meant to be in our lives and how to get there. Our job is to listen to them and take courageous action.
All of this speaks to our innate human vulnerability. No matter how many defenses or evasions we master, it is only when we confront our vulnerable, unpretentious selves that we find inner strength and courage to move beyond the endless futility of our ego’s pretenses and our strenuously-defended self-myths.
Simply put, when we are weak, then do we find strength in ways unforeseen.
7. As the soul grows in the soil of truth, a measure of Wisdom also flowers. Wisdom is the gift of seeing beyond ourselves, beyond our limited knowledge, beyond our learned skills, beyond our ego’s often-errant edifices, beyond the myths we create about ourselves.
Wisdom helps us see with uncluttered discernment beyond our fortified limits. Wisdom instills humble insight, truthful self-knowledge and reasoned, balanced self-love.
Wisdom instills gifts to mind, heart and soul, such as:
- The gift to see that life’s mysteries are all around us;
- The gift to recognize that miracles are common;
- The gift of accepting that the miracle of life begins with us;
- The gift of acknowledging that each and every person is a mystery beyond our comprehension and control;
- The gift of seeing that doubt and fear are merely the first steps into our life’s own mysteries;
- The gift to admit that (despite lives often filled with loneliness and wonder) we are never alone;
- The gift to realize that when our lives are guided by moral virtue, we are on our surest path to redemptive clarity and moral stability;
- The gift to admit that God does indeed exist, that I live in God’s created universe -- and that I am, in fact, not God.
8. Wisdom is a virtue, i.e., a strength of character and soul, a power of mind and heart, evident in our judgment and behavior, in our prudence and fortitude, our patience and temperance.
Wisdom flows from our willingness to learn, to change and to struggle to attain what is of greatest value in our lives; to be rid of what is of little or no value. It is both a strength which increases within us, yet a gift which originates from outside of us.
Wisdom and character - and the peace of heart and mind they afford - are negated by self-absorbed cynicism and a pattern of flight-filled denial. In other words, we can kill any chance we have of growing in Wisdom and virtue and moral clarity. It is our choice.
We are not given the gift of life to reject the truth (in any form) nor to spend our years avoiding opportunities to learn nor to reject Wisdom’s many blessings.
9. We become wiser - and more humane - each time we choose to be rid of the moral detritus of anger and spiteful, petty envies of youth, even as these persist into our adult years, even into elderhood. To persevere is part of Wisdom’s theme.
Some people deeply resent the fact that they need to change for their own sake and for others (especially loved ones). They resist this truth even into their elderly years … when many souls and hearts are finally weary, perhaps deeply scarred, from struggling so fruitlessly for so long.
They forget that we are not meant to pursue chic pettiness nor harbor righteous revenge nor chase after the whirl of fleeting glamour … and we’re certainly not meant to demean others.
10. So, finally … what is the point?
The point is this: We are persons equipped with knowledge and choice. We are meant to hone our character and find God’s own peace as we move through our years into our elderhood.
We are meant to go from subjective doubt to stabilizing faith, from flighty relativism to moral clarity, from instability to maturity, from wonder to Wisdom. We are meant
- to accept the unfolding truths about ourselves,
- to rightly direct our yearnings into generosity of soul,
- to seek and impart benevolence,
- to forgive others and ourselves,
- to be mature human beings rather than perpetual whiners;
- to act with militant gratitude for the benefits we possess,
- to express our needs and our love wisely rather than rashly.
In the last analysis (as Thomas Wolfe puts it) we are meant to become persons “… whose character is of immense and patient wisdom and gentle but unyielding fortitude...''
The Comfort Of Human Universality
It is beneficial to recall that we all experience hope and wonder, fear and isolation. We all possess the want of kindness when we are vulnerable, the hope of reassurance from others that we are, at last, loveable … that we are truly loved … that we are safe with someone in this oft-estranging world.
No matter what else we may accomplish or attain, we are wise to remember that life does not come with the promise of comfort or ease. Suffering is the universal language we all understand.
Therefore, it is good when we are moved to selfless goodness by a beloved spouse or a trusting child; by a feeling of empathy for a needy soul or by a compassionate instinct to protect the innocent.
We are wise also to remember that grandeur is found in small things … that miracles abound around us and within us at every instant. And we are wise to remember that every life is made better by acts of benevolence which we may freely choose.
Presiding over all of this must be our awareness that we are capable of finding meaning and beauty in life simply by 1) an act of our will, and 2) by our choice of benevolent action.
By choosing and imparting benevolence, we bless this world - and we change ourselves.
By our deliberate choice of goodness in our attitudes and our actions, in our words and in our deeds, by our example and by our presence, the world is made better … and so are we. And our opportunities to impart goodness are endless.
Our choice of benevolence is what our time upon this earth is really all about. This is God’s point in giving us life and putting us here.
These are some of the working principles my elder’s years often impress upon me. There are more, many more, to be sure … but, for now, may these suffice….. for now ….
18 July 2021
When Good Intentions Fade,
What Then ??
As a rule, Americans are a tolerant people. We believe everybody has good intentions (well, almost everybody).
As a rule, we believe in fairness, good will and a level playing field (or we used to).
As a rule, we’re reluctant to speak ill of others (or we used to be).
As a rule, we’re open to any “cause” which sounds high-minded and worthy.
And, as a rule, we tend to trust people …..
….. but … our tolerance and openness also make us vulnerable to abuse.
Because vulnerability fosters naivete and gullibility; we can get “hooked” without realizing it. This often leads us to denial and retrenchment. Even if we’re wrong, nobody likes to be wrong.
Trust and open-mindedness can be virtues, but experience also tells us that unscrupulous manipulators will use our naivete to scam us.
Indeed, scams flourish today. For example, how often do you get a call from cheery stranger asking for medical or financial information? Has your credit been compromised? Your e-mail hacked? Your name abused by strangers? Your identity stolen?
Meaning Behind Words
Today, a number of righteously passionate “causes” compete for our support. Banishing “White Supremacy” is a hot one these days. Combatting “Systemic Racism” is another. “Critical Race Theory” is another, and so is “Black Lives Matter, which is all the rage amongst corporate folk and politicos and media stars.”
Who, pray tell, would object to these flag-waving “causes?”
And that’s the problem….. If we look behind these deliberately deceptive phrases, we will discover very dangerous realities concealed therein – and scam artists at work.
The truth is that these “causes” have a hidden agenda – to erase America’s existence, to eradicate our history, our religious and moral traditions and our Constitutional rule of law.
Far too few Americans understand that these “causes” -- with support of many elected legislators -- promote beliefs and practices (scams) which are entirely anti-American, such as:
- the eradication of the traditional family,
- the revision of history to suit a “woke” political agenda,
- the elimination of private property and ownership,
- belief that all white people (even infants) are inherently evil,
- the dogma that minorities are hapless victims of whites,
- control of religious belief and restriction of free speech,
- the belief that America was founded as a slave nation,
- the dismantling of our system of free enterprise,
- total control of public and private education,
- Big Government regulation of everyone’s life.
These are for starters … but there’s much more.
For example, the provisions of HR5, now before the Congress annihilate religious freedom. Take a look at a summary of HR5’s destructive content. Here’s the link: 022321-HR5-Impact-LC.pdf
These movements increase, rather than banish, prejudices of all types – racial, ethnic, gender, sex, age. Yet, they have support from lawmakers and corporate boards, from media and entertainment, even from our children’s teachers.
In fact, the National Education Association just voted to spend $127,600 to publicize information on Critical Race Theory, and to issue a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”
Included in this exhausting litany of victims-and-villains is the goal of displacing parents as first and final arbiters of their children’s lives. Every child becomes a subject of the State, not a member of a family. Classroom indoctrination is central to the so-called educational process. Mothers become “birthing persons…”
Dangers To All Americans
Like it or not, the hard truth is this:
These “causes” are intentionally deceptive. They aim to eliminate Constitutional government, eradicate Judeo-Christian principles and banish - by law - all traditional moral factors.
These goals hide behind self-righteously aggressive rhetoric, behind the language of the victim, behind the patois of revisionist revolution and blatant distortions of history.
These “causes” claim to speak for downtrodden minorities, for black and brown persons, for immigrant, for sexually confused and gender-dissatisfied, for gays, for women claiming abuse by the “system” and by prejudiced white oppressors; on and on.
So, let us be clear: Prejudice (racial, ethnic, sexual, ageist, you name it) does exist and has existed for millennia. It is (as I said in last week’s essay) a wretched, yet recurring, trait of fallen human nature. It is found throughout world history … BUT …
….. to say prejudice and white superiority are built into white American character, into all members of the white race (regardless of age) is absurdly prejudicial and outrageous.
Yet this is exactly what “systemic racism” and its hostile allies teach, not only about race, but about gender and sex and age and nationality ... and more.
This should anger - and alert - any thoughtful American who does his/her homework and seeks facts. But, these days, facts and evidence - even facts of science - are regularly discounted in favor of moral relativism, the tyranny of “feelings” and hatred of America … even by some elected representatives.
Reason Held Hostage
Unfortunately, many Americans accept the irrational rhetoric of these duplicitous causes. For some reason, slogans carry more weight than Truth. But the well-meant naivete of many citizens badly weakens America.
For more than two centuries, Americans have sought a “level playing field,” i.e., an equal chance for all. America’s history records our ongoing struggle to create equal opportunity for everyone. “Follow the rules, work hard, do your best.”
"Equality" means everyone has an ingoing opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of age or color, nationality or race – including yet-unborn citizens.
Equality means everyone has a right to pursue success by using his/her talents, by study and work and perseverance.
The struggle for equality of opportunity has traveled a rocky road in American society --- but it is still the American reality as well as the American Dream. Our Constitutional system still guarantees our rights and protects all of us, no matter what “color” we are.
Today, however, the “woke” community demands "equity," not “equality.” The emphasis of “equity” over “equality” is creating an entirely different nation than what we have known.
Equality vs Equity
“Equity” means equality of outcome, NOT equality of opportunity.
Equity means I get a piece of the pie, your pie, after you have used your talents for your lifetime to achieve your success.
Equity means I get a share of what you have earned. Yes, you earned it, but I get my share - and I have no responsibility to work for my share. Yours will do… and you’ll give it because your oppressive white guilt makes me a victim.
I get a piece of your successes, and I do not have to work for it. My victim status entitles me to a bunch of freebies – and you will pay, one way or another.
Reparations for slavery (which officially ended by law more than 158 years ago) is one example of this radically unjust belief:
“You are not responsible for what occurred, but who cares? You are white; that’s enough. Your white guilt already inclines you to weaken the rule of law (e.g., sanctuary cities).
Chaos at our open Southern border is another result of this “equity” cult:
“You invite us illegals into your country, then supply us with free medical care, free education and a slew of other freebies … and you taxpayers foot the bill …..”
Systemic Racism’s Toxicity
Where does “Systemic Racism” fit into this paradigm?
Systemic racism teaches (among other ideas) that successful people are successful because they are “white” Christian people … white Christian male supremacists … oppressors, all!
These “white supremacists” have run the American "system" since its founding in 1619. White oppressors have for centuries ensured that America is rigged against anyone who is 1) not white, 2) not Christian, and/or 3) not male ….. but there’s more.
These evil white people - these oppressors - have victimized illegal aliens and blacks and Mexicans and other so-called "minorities," including women and gays … you name it. And these victims are still oppressed by the “white supremacist system."
Notice that word “victim” is central to the vocabulary of the systemic racism industry.
“Systemic racism” declares that all American "systems" -- our (white) government and our (white) corporations and our (white) businesses; in fact, the whole (white) victimizing capitalist system – all have plotted “systemically” to be racist.
"Systemic racism" is at work in all (white) school systems and in the (white) entertainment business and in (white) media and certainly in (white) banks and (white) government - even though we had a black president for eight years and have a Black Vice President now.
White supremacy is the basic premise of “The 1619 Project,” an historically-discredited theory which says “systemic racism” is the real reason for America's founding which occurred in 1619 (when the first saves supposedly arrived), not 1776.
Updated Tiresome Marxists
Where do "Systemic Racism" and “Critical Race Theory” and “Black Lives Matter” get their beliefs? Their origin is the destructive ideas of Karl Marx … yes, that Karl Marx.
Simply stated, Marx (an emotionally disturbed man, by any reckoning) originally envisioned human society as a struggle of workers (the “bourgeois”) against owners (the “proletariat”). Inevitably, Marx said, this power struggle is resolved by violent revolution. “Workers” will overthrow “owners," then erect an economic and political Nirvana, overseen by governmental functionaries.
The ensuing Communist state will be the ultimate in godless Socialism … an atheistic paradise, such as we see in Communist Cuba and bankrupt Socialist Venezuela, in China and its decrepit puppet state, North Korea and, of course, in the decades of devastation in Communist Europe under the USSR, which finally self-destructed.
But Marx’s godless “model” of human society still has disastrous application for millions of people … and threatens our Republic.
Marxist adherents are a tenacious, historically demented bunch. They keep tinkering with Marxism’s dehumanizing principles. Marxist revolutionary energies have been re-directed over the last century. “Systemic Racism” and “Black Lives Matter” are actually based on these updated Marxist principles, as we shall now see.
Marxism’s American Facade
The American version of updated Marxism originated in the Frankfort (Germany) School. Marx’s original economic categories of downtrodden proletariat were ineffective in our free enterprise system, with our vast middle class and endless business options and our “level playing field” mentality.
So, Frankfort School theorists puttered, teased and re-molded Marxist principles for decades. Several members of the original Frankfort School emigrated to Columbia University, where they established deep intellectual influence and political roots. Their principles have profoundly altered American culture.
“Black Lives Matter" is a prime American version of Marxist ideology, with its emphases on downtrodden victims of “oppressive white supremacy” and its litany of Marxist goals.
In fact, Black Lives Matter was founded by three self-declared black Marxists (who are, among other goals, intent on destroying traditional man-woman marriage and family life).
One of the founders of Black Lives Matter - Patrisse Cullors - owns a number of expensive residences. She recently raised ideological hackles by her purchase of a $1.4 million home in a secluded section of Malibu, California, even as she eyed pricier properties in the Bahamas.
Do Not Be Fooled
So, today’s re-adaptation of atheistic Marxism teaches that life in America is a struggle of victims (of gender, sex, class, race, age and other categories) against “white supremacist oppressors.”
The white oppressors "systemically" plot to keep minorities in chains, as our present President (who openly supports “equity” over “equality”) said to a black audience not long ago.
What all of this means in practice is, for example, evident even in our public schools, many of which now teach kindergarten kids that the color of their skin makes them evil. White children are taught that 1) they have stolen the “spirits of their black classmates” and 2) should feel guilty for their white-ness. In some instances, white children are instructed to write apologies to their black classmates, then confess their white guilt aloud.
I have been a teacher for decades. I can think of few actions by a teacher more despicable than this betrayal of the trust of children.
The Danger Is Real
Now, if you are not familiar with these facts about the “Racism Industry” or you simply refuse to believe any of this, then all of the above may sound extreme, even absurd.
But the facts are there: "systemic racism" deliberately distorts history, dismisses truth, denies evidence, rejects centuries of tradition and seeks the overthrow of our Republic.
As I said, no one in his/her right mind supports racism or prejudice in any form. But “systemic racism” proponents seek to extinguish our Constitutional freedom of speech and freedom of religion, for starters. And people are now censored by media and by government -- silenced for opinions contrary to the Progressive line. This is an unthinkable violation of our Bill of Rights.
Moreover, it is now difficult to know who among our newscasters and commentators accurately reports the facts. Freedom of the press no longer guarantees the media’s fidelity to truth.
Violent demonstrators topple statues and desecrate churches. Book burning seems the logical next step. After that, what follows? Recent world history offers us dreadful answers when democracies fall to their enemies.
Marxist thought - disguised as righteous social justice militancy – already promotes violations of our Bill of Rights.
It is destroying our court system.
Our police are denigrated and threatened.
Our rule of law is clearly being undermined
Law and order are regularly violated,
Our classrooms and our children are being polluted with anti-American curricula.
Our nation is polarized.
Unfounded outrage inspires civil conflict and destruction of property.
Many cities are run by leaders who allow, even encourage, violent chaos.
Even a recent President of the United States denies American exceptionalism and finds our country no more exceptional than any other. His comment suggests that patriotism and love of country have no role in the American Experience.
This is, to say the very least, entirely unacceptable.
But Enough . . .
Everything I say herein is verifiable historically. Facts are eminently clear … if one will study them, starting with the Frankfort School, where much of this began in the 1920s and carries through to this very day.
But … above all else, let us not fool ourselves. The adage from the 1940s that “we are safe in America” no longer holds.
The idea that we Americans are buffered from history’s truths is naïve, at best. To think we Americans are immune from tyranny’s punishing hand is no longer tenable.
The idea that “it can’t happen here” cannot be sustained.
The erosion of our moral and legal foundations is happening here and now in our America. Our future as a Constitutional republic, as one nation under God, is truly at risk.
So, I pray God will continue to bless America --- and protect us, our children, our grandchildren and citizens yet unborn from our naïve, vulnerable, wayward selves.
God help us, we shall see……
2 July 2021
- Part One -
Systemic Racism? A Statement For My America
Do you remember the 1960s?
- Bull Connor - and non-violent demonstrations by SNCC.
- Marches on Washington and drug store sit-ins by pacifist youngsters.
- Freedom Riders and the Klansmen who stalked them.
- Malcolm X’s formula for black survival “by any means necessary.”
- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s reminder that the content of one’s character trumps the color of one’s skin.
During the 1960s, our nation was painfully reminded each day of its worst crimes and its abiding virtues:
- Overt racism was exposed.
- Racism’s unadorned ugliness was revealed.
- The nation was repulsed by the evils of prejudice.
- Profound changes resulted in our nation’s laws and in the attitudes of millions of people..
It was an era of uncommon virtue commonly lived, of goodness and moral courage as public policy.
The Essential Message
The 1960s also revealed that prejudice has many faces - ethnic, sexual, religious, aging, infants, mental condition, political, racial.
The 1960s reminded us that prejudice is learned. It is NOT a “systemic” factor in our culture … nor is it an inherent trait in our national character.
Prejudice is NOT limited to white folks. It is not, therefore, a product of “white supremacy.”
In fact, prejudice relates to age, color, ethnic origin, sexual identity, political differences. It originates in the human struggle between goodness and evil, between virtue and sin.
This struggle exists in the conscience of every human being and is, consequently, found in the public life of every culture and every society.
The Struggle Renewed
Today, we are beset by “woke” folk who preach that the white race is inherently evil. These “woke’” folks are:
- Enraged about something they term “systemic racism;”
- Deliberately distorting the nature of prejudice;
- Ignoring the consistent recurrence of various prejudices throughout human history and in our culture today (e.g., Down’s Syndrome children);
- Antagonistic to American justice and law, both of which they seek to obliterate;
- Toppling monuments to eradicate American history;
- Undermining existing laws with impunity, which should frighten every citizen;
- Committed to the destruction of the sacred traditions of family, marriage, objective standards of law … and Faith.
“Woke” revolutionaries assign malice to our Founding Fathers, to Catholic missionaries – even to white grammar school kids.
What’s their remedy?
More racism and intolerance, name-calling and violence, and unending condemnation of “systemic racists” (mainly us old white Christian guys, but white school kids are also guilty).
The “woke” adherents teach America is an evil nation, ruled by White Supremacists for 402 years, when America was founded as a slave nation. Indeed, the “1619 Project” preaches that America’s white racist colonies were founded to deliberately, ruthlessly subjugate indigenous peoples “of color.”
The founding of America, they say, had nothing to do with people escaping tyranny; nothing to do with the desire to be free of the heavy hand of monarchy, or to freely practice religion, or to attain God-given rights which our Constitution elucidates.
No … all we Americans ever wanted were slaves.
Systemic racist adherents say 250 years of American history are wrong. We Americans are, at our core, a heartless nation of white supremacists, intent on denying non-whites their lives, liberties and all human rights …. and countless gullible Americans passively accept all this nonsense.
My Fundamental Beliefs
Let me be clear:
I believe the statement that American is built upon, and characterized by, “systemic racism” is historically absurd, deliberately inflammatory, factually untenable, culturally destructive, morally unsustainable, socially polarizing, psychologically unstable, destructively motivated … for starters.
This statement is deeply offensive to those of us who believe in: 1) the Constitutional bases of our nation, 2) the rule of just laws and law enforcement, 3) the value of patriotism and the dignity of military life, 4) the sacredness of our American flag and our National Anthem, and 5) American exceptionalism (despite the offensive disclaimer of a recent President).
I have a number of reasons for opposing the predations of the “woke” folk. My reasons are partially based on:
1) my awareness of the true nature of prejudice,
2) my many decades dealing with human nature’s pull to irrationally distort, even deliberately lie, to achieve a desired end,
3) my personal exposure to atheistic Communism and my interactions with Socialist/Marxist ideology, which now pollutes the minds of many naïve, historically ignorant Americans.
- Part Two -
Discernment: A Memoir
My awareness of the ubiquity of various prejudices and the resolution of its awful consequences began more than fifty years ago. I was then one of a group of consultants hired by a large urban school system to confront black-white racial problems.
Before we (the consultant group) could undertake this program, we first obliged ourselves – wisely - to face our own prejudices.
To this end, my group - two dozen of us, black and white, men and women - assembled days before the program to candidly confront our own prejudices.
For all of us, this experience was deeply painful … and deeply revealing. I learned life-changing lessons about myself and my colleagues. I learned about the nature and depth of the prejudices which existed within each one of us, no matter how adept we were (are) at self-delusion, evading truth or side-stepping candor.
When the consultant group first assembled, we did not consider ourselves prejudiced nor racist nor biased. But we soon realized that every one of us had much to learn.
The subtleties and nuances of prejudice were soon revealed. Our prejudices were there, inside all of us, and quickly laid bare.
Together, we confronted the reality of our prejudices in it racial and ethnic and sexual and religious and political guises.
Individual, Not Systemic
Together, we faced our own inner realities Our minds were pried open and, soon, our hearts followed. And I realized that even credentialed professionals were never immune from the subtle taint of prejudice.
Exploring those subtleties meant exposing our imagined fear of strangers, facing the often-rootless dangers we project into the unknown, confronting myths from childhood, letting go of the need to control, taking down the defensive walls we all build to protect ourselves, becoming vulnerable to truth, being honest.
Within a few hours, we realized that prejudice is the result of a learning process, not an inherent human trait. Indeed, it de-humanizes us by stimulating irrational fears, self-deception and intellectual immaturity and denial.
The Nature Of Prejudice
Racism is neither inborn nor systemic. It is an attitude and a behavior learned early in life, then nurtured for a lifetime, most often without our realizing it.
Prejudice of all sorts (racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, political, aging, children) is the result of an early learning process which is, by definition, a pre-judgment of another person or group, a pre-judgment which is not based on facts or evidence.
It is, therefore, an irrational process, without foundation in objective truth. But it is a process to which we grant great power.
Prejudice is pre-judging before we think about the issue or attend to its meaning or analyze it reasonably or critique it rationally.
We do not get the facts. Rather, our pre-judgment rests on distortions of reality, twisted priorities and lies to which we give the weight of truth.
Pre-judgments rest on hearsay and ignorance. They’re accepted naively, without challenge. Pre-judgments – i.e., prejudices – then become unconscious beliefs, attitudes and values. We passively accept them, and do not challenge them – until we must.
Most often, we learn our irrational beliefs from our family, friends, authority figures, even celebrities – i.e., people who have clout or influence over us.
So … to dispel the evils of prejudice we must:
- Learn to think clearly and respect the evidence.
- Observe the fundamentals of religious faith.
- Invoke critical judgments to find truth.
- Test facts, read history, revere solid traditions of law and justice. Be skeptical of exaggerations.
- Admit and understand the real differences in life without distorting these differences.
- Pursue individual wisdom and insight, and don’t believe everything we hear.
- Listen with empathy – “as if” we were the other person, pay attention to the nuances of language and meaning.
- Remember: what we say is not always what is heard. So, ask if you are understood in the way you intend.
- Critical judgment is an essential skill - but it can become harmful, even unintentionally.
- When in doubt, ask, communicate, clarify.
When I was a youngster, my kid-friends and I quickly learned various prejudices -- ethnic, racial, sexual, religious. You name it, we knew it. Yet, contrarily, we did not think in prejudicial terms.
We regularly used ethnic slurs to slam and pester each other. We called the Polish kid a “Pollock.” We called our Italian classmates “Wops.” We called the awkward kid a “Spaz.” We insulted our Irish friends by calling them “Shanty Irish” (not “Lace Curtain Irish,” which was a lesser insult).
In short, we found childish ways to put one another down – but rarely did anyone take offense or hold a grudge. It was a kid’s game in a kid’s world.
When we started to grow up, however, we learned our lesson. Some of us became targets of taunting labels, and some of our families were the targets of crass, caustic prejudice.
The Papist Conspiracy
For example, as a Catholic youngster, I realized we Catholics were “different.” We were targets of prejudicial words and deeds, marked as oddballs and social outsiders (as, in many ways, we still are).
For example, the Good Sisters taught us in grade school not to fight with kids who teased us. The nuns urged us to “turn the other cheek.” As a result, other kids taunted us with the accusation that we were “hiding behind the skirts of the nuns.”
My Catholic family was called a danger to America because we followed a foreign power, the Vatican. Anti-Catholic advocates repeated the story that the Pope in Rome was going to take over America and kill all Protestants.
For years, rumors circulated widely about a secret tunnel built from Rome to Washington. The Pope would use this tunnel to launch his bid to rule our nation. “Watch out for the Papists.”
And More . . .
In those early years, my father and my elder brother spoke of the times my grandfather, an Irish immigrant, was turned away from work because signs said, “No Irish Need Apply,” or “Catholics Not Accepted.”
Eventually, my grandfather sickened of widespread prejudice. He assembled his friends and started his own company.
My father traveled to different States as a representative of the company. On one occasion, he was identified as a Catholic by local bigots. Within an hour, a crowd gathered outside my father’s hotel with the intention of lynching my father - because of his Catholic religion.
The local sheriff came to my father’s hotel room and swiftly ushered my father to the train station. As the train pulled in, my father thanked the sheriff for his solicitude.
The sheriff replied that, had the sun set and darkness prevailed, he – the sheriff – would have led the lynch mob.
Today, we Catholics oppose abortion, hold to traditional man-woman marriage and stand up for all religious rights. But we are - once again – targets for our moral adherence to Christian truths. In some States, to be a faithful Catholic is to risk legally-imposed fines and jail. Even florists and bakers are targets.
So, prejudice and violence were not unknown to me and to my Catholic family when I was young. The fact that Poles and Italians and Irish were white did not exempt us from insult and social exclusion, even from violence.
So, despite the popular sentiment of the “woke” generation and its mindless followers, white lives also do matter!
Best - And Worst - Of Human Nature
Prejudice is a prime example that human nature is ever-tempted by, and often drawn into, wrongheaded choices.
We choose error over evidence, subjective distortion over objective fact, personal “feelings” and unhinged moral relativism over Faith, reason, logic and objective truth.
We are prone to irresponsible choices over rationality, tradition, history, common sense, wisdom and opportunities to help others.
- Prejudice triumphs when we reject objective truths such as the universal dignity of man and woman.
- Prejudice triumphs when we choose our own subjective “opinions” over the wisdom of ages, the revelations of history and our culture’s lengthy, enduring traditions.
- Prejudice triumphs when allow our errant “feelings” and impulses to replace disciplined morality and intelligent, rational thought.
Prejudice is the dehumanizing rejection of others and the destruction of one’s own best instincts. It’s moral relativism at its worst.
- Part Three -
History Tells All
Racism is found in every age and nation in human history. It is not “systemic” to America or to white persons. To say so is baseless, and worse.
In fact, history reveals that every culture, kingdom, nation and society experienced forms of prejudicial ideology, periods of enslaving others, periods in which certain minority groups lived in “ghetto-like” confinement, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not.
In America’s earlier years (as in every country around the world) our cities became home to various ethnic and racial groups. Every minority (Jewish and Polish, Italian and Chinese, Sicilians and Gypsies, Irish and Mexican, black and white, brown and yellow) strove to preserve its identity, even as it pursued opportunity.
Understandably, these ethnic enclaves became natural centers of culture, religion, language, education, diet, family life – a home, a source of safety and spontaneity and collective survival.
This is the story of our ancestors, of us all, of America’s ability to include many people into one grand nation … slowly but surely.
The Price Of Survival
But survival has a down-side.
Minority groups voluntary avoided the established community - often for good reason. But collective self-isolation became the unfortunate foundation for pre-judgments by outsiders.
These self-isolated enclaves actually accentuated geographical, religious, linguistic, color, dietary and other obvious differences. In time, these differences were actually (if unwittingly) exaggerated.
Thus, the minority’s struggle for survival gave rise to stereotyping and prejudicial labeling by outsiders – and insiders, too.
In other words, the more a sub-culture follows its survival instincts and isolates itself (even for good reasons), the more it stimulates eventual pre-judgments (i.e., prejudices).
This is a recurring process throughout human history.
Today we see racial, ethnic and religious prejudices at work the world over: in Africa, the Middle East, in Asia, in our own polarized society, in our inner-cities where gang members kill one another for a few blocks of concrete “respect.”
The Truth Is …
The truth is that we are not – are NOT -- born as prejudiced human beings. Prejudice is not innate … but our ability to learn is within us all. So, we learn to distrust the outsider, learn to put a label on the stranger, learn to be wary of “them.”
Soon, our distrust spawns fear (even if we deny it) … and we pre-judge or, more accurately, mis-judge others.
Prejudice is ignorance about others -- with fear at its heart.
Certainly, it is natural and inevitable that we notice differences of sex, religion, race, ethnicity, color, height, weight, language, music, history, taste, dress, on and on.
Our problems arise when we magnify our ignorance, label and stereotype others and twist natural differences into harmful attitudes and dangerous myths.
Rather than dealing with differences forthrightly, we stereotype others and attach demeaning labels. Some people revel in crude, witless disparagement and ridicule. Some delight in defaming people of a different religion or language, color or sex, political party or national origin, age or seeming mental condition (e.g., Down’s children).
Soon, prejudice becomes an unconscious habit of mind. We stifle rational inquiry, candor, empathy and altruism. Fear and distrust (or, in some cases, abuses of power) lead to demeaning words, to slander, then to violence in speech and behavior.
Some people feel relieved when they scapegoat others, relieved they are no longer targets, relieved that they have survived.
But, once again, the cycle of ignorance is fueled…. as we see in those “woke” persons who promote the atrocious “cancel culture” … or who abet abortion because a “fetus” is not human, which is a deadly, if common, pre-judgment … protected by law.
Today, we Catholics (and white people, and Jews and Asians, and Christians around the world, and black Conservatives, and God knows who else) are once again experiencing resurgence of public ostracism.
We are targeted for our Faith, or for our hold on tradition, or for “supremacist white-ness” or for our Conservative black-ness or for believing in moral law … or for any other reason.
But today’s avalanche of “woke” blather cannot cancel the fact that it is foolish - and blatantly prejudicial - to believe our nation and its people are “systemically” racist.
This belief contradicts history and logic and hundreds of years of evidence. It is patently absurd to say that only “black lives matter” or that white people are inherently evil.
It is beyond absurd to teach such moral trash to our children – but that is happening every day.
It is also beyond reason to believe our Constitution and the laws of Christian morality no longer apply to our nation. As Frederick Douglass said, “Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” But many Americans today are still enslaved by their own ignorance of America’s historic greatness.
Finally . . .
The origins of prejudice are NOT systemic. Prejudice is, first and foremost, a personal, learned myth.
The resolution of prejudice comes with knowledge to clear our minds and the personal choice to cleanse ourselves of evil. We must then choose to change our hearts and open our souls to the truths which solid knowledge and tradition bestow.
So, nothing is more essential than each individual’s choice of humility before truth, of kindness to others, of goodness in attitude and recognition that every person (no matter color or race or age) is worthy of reverence, dignity and the gift of life unsullied.
The Catholic Church has a prayer befitting this goal:
Father, Creator of all that is good, you have called men and women to work in your world and, by our cooperation with one another, to better the condition of all humankind. Grant that we may always work together as children of your family, and love all persons as our brethren. Through Christ our Lord. Amen…..
May it be ever so ….. and may God continue to bless America.
14 June 2021
The Great Unmasking
With the easing of the covid terror, I often leave my mask on the front seat of my car. Recently, I went to my bank – unmasked. I was greeted by a masked-but-friendly teller whom I have known for several years. She looked at me oddly for a longish second, then smiled (I think) and, in muffled voice, said: “Oh, good morning. I did not recognize you without your mask.”
Without my mask? I ponder her comment. Questions arise:
In what ways have I changed during this covid year? How do other people recognize me when I am masked – or do they? What impact has mask-wearing really had on all of us?
Masks serve several purposes:
- Robbers use masks to hide their identities.
- Greek playwrights used masks to denote emotional states, such as comedy or tragedy.
- Clowns use masks to heighten hilarity and draw crowds into childish tomfoolery.
- Sybaritic revelers wear elaborately detailed masks at midnight balls to increase curiosity and abet passion.
- Masks ostensibly prevent the spread of covid – but not without unintended consequences.
The medical reason for wearing masks has been to protect us from one another. We have all become potential carriers of a potentially deadly virus. We are possible sources of toxic infection to one another.
“You watch out for me and I’ll watch out for you – not in primarily benevolent ways of friendship or as affirmations of charity, but in the evasive, distancing manner of two unidentified lethal objects ….. Oh, and scrub your hands after being around me and others like me ... and I’ll do the same …..”
Some folks feel reassured by masks, despite the dehumanizing, aseptic sameness. They believe masks are a healthy addition to our lives, maybe a permanent aspect of the New Reset in progressively Prophylactic America.
So, vigorous hand-washing and masking are our best protections. But we are now learning that our assumed safety comes at a high price. Serious dark sides do exist.
Born To It
By our nature as human beings, we are communicative creatures. It is inherent in human nature to communicate to one another - and to ourselves.
In fact, we cannot NOT communicate. To communicate is one of our deepest natural instincts. It’s born into us, part of our genetic make-up.
We are not drawn to anonymity. From the moment of conception, we are communicating our individuality to those who care to see us and listen to us. From our first instant of life, we grow and change and move within our mother’s womb.
For those first nine months we continue to announce that, “Yes, here I am, alive and kicking.” We’re letting the world know we’re here. And when we’re born, we announce our arrival with the neonate’s universal aria.
As we grow and mature, we continue to communicate both deliberately and unconsciously (instinctively, often without realizing it). We use sounds and gestures and non-verbal expressions, all of which send messages to the world around us.
Gradually we learn to use words, along with non-verbal messages and body language. Our communication becomes constant through words and gestures, symbols and bodily sensations. Some people (bless their hearts) even talk to themselves aloud.
And there’s more to consider – starting with the face.
The human face is the expressive center of every person’s soul, the source of every individual’s declaration of self and spirit.
Our face is our intellectual and psychological headquarters for our personal communication, the primary vehicle for externalizing and articulating the mind’s endless energies.
Our face is also the seat of our personality. The face speaks for us to the world around us, revealing our individuality and our depth of character. Challenges to character are caught in phrases, such as “face the music” or “face your responsibilities” or “say it to my face.”
Our face tells the world when we are pleased or pouty, weary or worried, happy or harried, involved or indifferent. We may use words to deceive, but our facial expressions exude an array of non-verbal messages which may, at times, be inconsistent with what our words intend.
Our eyes and our eyebrows, our ears and our mouth also send messages. Think, for example, of that unquenchable smile which sometimes edges around the corners of your mouth … or watch someone’s darting, evasive eyes when they’re cornered … or note the small “tells” and “tics” which shrewd observers (e. g., experienced police officers and canny poker players -- and wise parents) quickly recognize. And it is very often these revelatory signs of our inner state which contradict our words … and carry real credibility.
Our mouth and tongue articulate our ideas and needs, aspirations and fears which our nearby brain dictates. Even in deep sleep, we communicate in the language of dreams.
Furthermore, when our mind (i.e., our brain) is troubled, or we become anxious or apprehensive, our body follows suit. Our heart may race, our blood may pulse faster through our veins, our hands may tremble – all in response to the commands of the mind, reminding us that we are designed by God to communicate and to reveal ourselves, even when we deny it – or Him.
The face reveals the depths of a person in dozens of ways. And, in the Christian culmination of our relationship to our Creator, Heaven is defined as “seeing God … Face to face.”
So, each human being is a dynamo of communicative energy. That energy is released - verbally and non-verbally - through the face and the whole body by our words and by a variety of idiosyncratic (personal) movements.
Communicating is of the essence of human nature.
Masks conceal most of this. Masks are designed to hide, not enhance, our individuality and identity, the hallmarks of our personhood.
When we’re behind our masks, we cannot begin to respond to one another as we truly are. We see each other only partially. Our ability to “read” the subtle, but defining, commonalities of our shared humanity is compromised. The customary channels of communication and normal signals of human discourse are truncated, distorted, thwarted, frustrated.
By design, if not intention, masks create social inaccessibility. They heighten mutual estrangement, even indifference. Worse, to emotionally susceptible persons, this perception may (correctly or incorrectly) portray others as physically or psychologically hostile, accusatory or rejecting, even threatening to body and mind.
For decades, research studies have revealed physical and mental costs of isolation and estrangement. Today this includes a rise of instability amongst teenagers, increased threats of self-harm and attempted suicides. These outcomes especially, among young people, are most concerning … but not entirely unexpected.
Even for mentally stable persons, the absence of the smallest normal interactions adds to the cumulative, long-term impact of unhealthy human deprivation. This may seem insignificant to some people. But continuing isolation from normal cues of human life imposes a serious psychological and emotional toll.
Historically, for example, one of the cruelest incarceration techniques is inmate isolation. The prisoner is deprived of the simplest communication, namely, the sights and sounds and normal interactions with other human beings.
We know that ordinary human interchanges actually stimulate the waiting senses and activate the brain. The absence of normal stimuli can trigger severe psychoses. Even monks vowed to silence wisely assemble several times daily as a community to share common prayers, tasks and meals.
Human beings need community. We need one another.
Association with others is essential for mental and spiritual wholeness, even for those who seek solitude. Why? Because solitude is different than isolation.
Coming To Our Senses
There is yet another consideration which deserves our attention. Our five external senses and our internal senses are also geared for communication.
Along with our five external senses, we possess at least four internal senses: 1) imagination, 2) memory, 3) critical thinking and 4) knowledge retention (some add common sense and wisdom).
Our internal and external senses are our indispensable resources for learning, knowing, judging, decision-making, choosing, behaving and communicating.
We use our senses 1) to learn about the external world through the data we receive from the outside, 2) to process that data as we filter it through our internal senses, and 3) to express ourselves in some form of behavior (verbal and/or non-verbal).
All our interchanges with others - even fleeting glances - carry messages which influence our perceptions of threat or attraction. Why, for instance, do we avoid eye contact on the subway? Why smile at a baby or a friendly stranger? Why snub that waiter?
Each “encounter” has a cognitive component and an emotional sub-text. We evaluate the “scene” around us and we judge the levels of pleasure or threat, value or irrelevance therein. Again, we communicate, if only to ourselves.
So, when we wear masks, we conceal social cues which we all rely on for cultural cohesion and for our “cognitive map.” Our senses are deprived of their natural food. And, as experience tells us, human beings do not thrive in emotional vacuums or cognitive voids. We yearn to know. We yearn for communication.
Masks muffle clarity between people. Masks often garble our words and stifle our messages and frustrate the listener.
Masks hide the countless subtle but salient non-verbal signals which reveal our moods and emotions. Others are deprived of personal and emotional cues about our state of mind and heart.
- Think, for example, of the delight in sharing laughter with others. Remember the simple grandeur of watching their faces, and they watching us, as healthy hilarity engulfs us all and, for that instant we are one.
- Recall the pleasure of making faces with a little child, a small joy made impossible by the intrusion of masks.
- Try kissing your Beloved with a mask on. Fuhgeddaboudit!!
Finally, Some Considerations….
Reliable facts are difficult to find these days. Contradictions abound. Accusations fly. People take sides. Get the shots. Don’t get the shots. Rhetoric gets heated. Feelings are bruised. Public officials and medical experts clash daily. We are often sorely tried.
So, what’s to be learned beyond all the huffing-and-puffing? Several fundamental lessons emerge to remind us of life’s basics.
- We are created by God. God gave us life, with the gifts of reason and choice, even in the midst of chaos and wonder.
- Let us neither abuse our reason nor cloud our common sense by preening excess or presumptuous rigidity.
- We are wise to be aware of God’s presence at all times. He can never be replaced by political slogans nor nudged aside by medical professionals or by frothy television anchors.
- Our universal fallibility is the overriding human truth in life. Thus (as my dear Aunt Hortense sagely advises) it’s always wise to “stay on God’s good side and be kind to people.”
- No amount of wealth or prestige, no intellectual attainment or fleeting celebrity protects us from our human vulnerability.
- Since life is our most precious gift, maintaining our spiritual health and moral clarity is how we respect the gift of life.
- Our best response to the gift of life is our gratitude.
- Let us, therefore be ever grateful even for ambiguity. Ambiguity reminds us to invoke the gift of wonder and the virtue of humility; humility, which is really accepting the truth.
- Let us also remember we are deeply dependent on others for survival, for healthy conviviality, life-long learning and to share the heart’s profound need to love and be loved.
- Respect and civility are, therefore, ever essential.
- The idea that we do not need anyone in this world is an absurdity of macho fiction or a badly-educated ego.
- We need facts to think rationally and to choose wisely how we will live benevolently and respect one another.
- Our prudent decisions must be based on facts and evidence, not on the shallow blandishments of celebrities or the precipitous opinions of random “experts.”
- Beyond the hype and ambiguity, one Truth stands the tests of history and common sense, time and experience. That Truth is God. God exists. We are creatures of God.
- That single mystery of Faith – that we are all God’s creatures, come what may – is the first and final point of living. All else exists in the light of that Truth.
So, may God keep us - each and all - healthy in mind and spirit, witnesses to Faith and perseverance in Goodness within our wounded culture; a culture which, especially these days, is so greatly in need of clarity and Hope.
May it be ever so …..
31 May 2021
A Personal View:
Where Has My America Gone ?
The following doctrines now flourish in our culture. These are not merely political ‘isms.” They are (all of them) first and foremost moral issues which have been errantly, often disastrously, politicized in our rapidly deteriorating culture:
- America is a nation of “systemic racism.” Even our President says so.
- The worst offenders are police. They are organized racists and murderous oppressors of minorities.
- American Exceptionalism is no greater than that of any other nation; this, according to a recent past President.
- Our media and educators insist America was founded in 1619 to facilitate the slave trade.
- All white people are born racists, including children who must be re-educated to admit their inherent white racism and accept the guilt of their “white supremacy.”
- All males (especially white males) are oppressors of minority groups. Men are, by nature, evil aggressors.
- Traditional family - female mother and male father – is a Christian fallacy and a hindrance to many civil rights. It takes a “village” to properly raise a child. Family is outmoded.
- Thus, the state, rather than traditional mothers and fathers, must raise children. Traditional parents are impediments to Progress.
- The traditional family must, therefore, be rendered obsolete (as BLM and many Progressive-Marxist groups state).
- Biological sex (male or female) can be surgically and chemically changed if/when a person wishes to be gender relevant.
- Boys can become girls. Girls can become boys. They can shower together because gender is a choice which replaces natural sex. Privacy and modesty are now irrelevant.
- The baby (that “thing”) within a pregnant woman or girl’s body is not a human person. It is only a bunch parasitic cells to be “removed” when the woman or girl wants to be rid of it.
- Young teenage women have the right to choose abortion without parental knowledge or consent.
- Taxpayers must now pay for abortions, an unheard-of government precedent which violates the moral and religious beliefs of millions of taxpaying Americans.
- Long-standing Federal and state laws (e.g., immigration statutes protecting American citizens’ rights, health and livelihood) no longer apply when locals feel like it.
- Support now increases for human embryo research, including chimeras, organoids, genome editing and ectogenesis (test-tube babies). The horror of human experimentation is no long science fiction.
- Christians are seen as “enemies of the state” for opposing gay marriage, abortion, transgenderism, cross-species experimentation and other changes in morality, politics, education, medicine and public policy.
- Judeo-Christian morality is a remnant of a dying era, which must give way to the “woke” tyranny of the “cancel culture.”
- And so forth and so on….
Re-Defining Our National Identity
American history is being re-written daily. A woke” generation has arisen. Their messages focus on the worst aspects of American history. They paint our nation as an evil, white racist, oppressive empire designed to exploit the weak. They’re selling this delusion to media and government, corporations and educators, students and churches … and to uncounted numbers of citizens who are historically uninformed, naïve and gullible.
As a result, America’s finest traditions are threatened from within. Freedom of speech and religion and other Constitutional guarantees are regularly violated by Federal and local officials and “woke” corporations. The Judeo-Christian origins of our country are rejected outright.
Sadly, these changes occur under the authority of the leader of the free world; a man who (truth be told) is so cognitively challenged that he is often incoherent in his public utterances.
Then … And Now
I grew up in a proud, patriotic country which was quite different from present-day America. During my many years as a citizen of this nation, I have never witnessed the widespread acceptance of irrationality and cultural madness which I see today.
Americans were never so morally bereft or so intellectually self-destructive as we are today. For example, we kill our own babies and – insanely – try to convince ourselves that this abomination is “heath care” or a “civil right.” A civil right? Think about that for a moment. We Americans grant our citizens the “civil” right to kill a living human being.
In my lifetime, radical, atheistic secularism has become astonishingly effective in its assaults on common sense, its denial of scientific evidence and its attacks on our fundamental Constitutional protections to life and liberty – not to mention its dismissal of God, our Creator.
We, The People, allow all this to happen. Indeed, we choose these drastic changes either by our voter approval or by our indefensible reticence in the face of what is now called the “woke” cancel culture.
Our “woke” leaders in media, entertainment, business, politics and education distort the language of our culture and sully the meaning of life itself, lest they appear not “with it.” They reject human nature’s role in Creation. They even accuse many of us of foolishness when …
- we adhere to our Faith (clinging, as we sometimes do, to our Bibles and our guns) …
- we uphold our patriotic love of our nation and those who have suffered that we may live …
- we openly honor and repeat history’s clear message that our country - our America - is an extraordinary reservoir of the very best which human nature has to offer.
Reason And Moral Clarity Banished
I remember when we Americans were not deeply at odds about our moral vision. We agreed with our Founding Fathers about the absolute need for objective moral values as guiding principles for our nation; Founders who risked their lives for the sake of justice.
We even knew what a girl is. We knew what a boy is. We did not have fifty sub-categories of flimsy genderisms to enlighten us about the biological rudiments of male or female. We were not plagued by people who called sexual mutilation of the young a reasonable choice for a child to make.
We had absolutely no doubt that destroying a baby in an abortion is an utter abomination – morally, medically, in every way, a murderous abomination against innocence itself.
We were not so intellectually deprived that we considered police our enemies. The content of our character would never let us believe that “civil rights” justifies destruction of public and private property or - even more absurdly - that theft is a form of “reparations.”
We were horrified at even the hint of obscene inter-species experiments on unborn children – a medical and moral horror which is now funded by our government.
In many bizarre ways, we, the American people, have made the pursuit of death our life style and the facilitation of our demise as a Republic our suicidal national priority.
We, The People
When I speak of America, I mean We, The People, citizens young and old. But many Americans are now hardened and hostile to one another more than I can ever recall.
Basic civility and simple courtesy to one another are glaringly, painfully absent. I am sometimes stunned at the pettiness of newly-woke persons who speak angrily in mean-spirited, wildly off-base terms. They tolerate no debate or counter-argument, and accuse neighbors of all sorts of phobias.
I served as a psychologist for over fifty-five years. The careless, ignorant use of the word “phobia” (fear) used to spark a quiet smile … but I would bite my tongue. Today, the pompous, flippant, self-righteous use of the word alerts me to the realization that toxic anger is operating throughout our culture, that psychological GroupThink is upon the land in grievous measure.
A profound moral and social imbalance - a cultural pathology - has emerged in America, obliterating rationality and stifling cordiality, smothering our best traditions and poisoning our souls.
Many “woke” people substitute blind ideological rage:
- for evidence and logic;
- for the dictates of right reason and the lessons of history;
- for the normal limits of courtesy and conscience;
- for basic principles of morality and the transcendent tenets of religious faith.
“Woke” citizens at all levels of our society seem possessed by a rabid zealotry which, in their eyes, justifies disastrous, chaotic destruction, shallow slogans and harsh, dehumanizing tactics.
“Woke” social justice sloganeers voice their goals in virtuous arias intended to justify rank injustice, baseless accusations and condemnation of those who disagree.
The tragic part of all this is that these “social justice” disciples are convinced that lies, denial, anger, violence in speech and behavior are justified by the unmistakable “virtue” of their cause.
Astonishingly, some public officials agree – and our laws are often blatantly ignored as psychological and physical violence reign.
My Beliefs About America
I fervently believe America is an exceptional nation. You are free to disagree, of course, without being carted off to a cell for torture and annihilation. America gives you the freedom to disagree – or used to.
I believe America is the best example in all of human history of attainable human goodness and the human ability to overcome evil deeds for the sake of justice.
There is no doubt that American history is a morally checkered history … as is the history of our entire human race. History reveals periods of heartless brutality in our nation - indeed, in every nation. Suffering occurs in every nation. Saying this is not an excuse; it is a statement of global, historical reality.
Some Americans have been selfish and brutal to others. This does not reflect a radically evil America. It reflects the universal human temptation to evil, which is a constant reality of the human condition. Human weakness and temptation to do wrong are universally inherent in all of human nature, in all of us.
BUT . . . acts of justice and goodness are also universally present in every culture. And the human struggle for justice is central to the origin and history of America and its Founders.
In truth, it is not a “nation” which determines the moral values and character of its people. It is the people who determine the moral character and values of a nation.
Countering The Lies
Contrary to the ugly shibboleths proclaimed by “woke” adherents, American history reveals our nation’s undeniable achievements in law, justice, governance, education, industry and the pursuit of justice at home and around the world.
America’s true history reveals our national struggle to achieve goodness for all citizens. America’s history also reveals the evidence of our successes as well as our woeful, violent detours in prejudice and ignorance.
Most of all, American history reveals our historic struggle to honor human dignity and decency. This struggle for justice has always been the goal and driving force of our American Experiment under our Constitution, inspired by the fundamentals of our Christian ethos. We were founded for justice, NOT for injustice nor slavery nor exploitation of the weak.
- No other nation in world history has worked so diligently for so long to repair the deviant extremes of some of its citizens.
- No other nation has as its stated mission the legal correction of its own wrongs and designed its founding principles accordingly.
- No other nation has attempted for so long or so publicly to ensure that every citizen has the liberty to be responsible for his/her own life without government intrusion.
- No other nation – under God - has upheld the moral and religious freedoms which American law affords its citizens.
America is truly unique in human history.
American Exceptionalism is a reality in the history of our world. No other nation has worked so relentlessly for so many decades to achieve its highest ideals.
No other nation in human history has made such extraordinarily effort for the betterment of other nations - even to the shedding of our children’s blood - for the freedom and protection of millions of strangers.
It is madness to say that America is inherently racist.
It is a lie to say our nation was founded to abet the enslavement of others.
Let us thank God for our country … for America.
Telling The Truth
The truth is that the seeds of evil inhabit not simply America -- but our own human nature itself. Every person is capable of good or evil. The choice is ours.
The truth about human nature is that we humans (each and every one of us) are capable of great goodness and profound evil.
It is our individual choices to do good which make the difference in history and society and culture. It is not - is not - merely our nationality or our race or our “gender” or our sex which matters.
What makes for good people and good behavior, for justice over injustice, for virtue over violence, for truth over falsehood, are: 1) a correctly educated conscience, 2) a morally astute character, and 3) the determination to be a person of virtue – no matter what.
Let us, therefore, be absolutely clear:
The fault does not – does NOT – reside in the conveniently defamed abstraction of “America” about which “woke,” hate-filled detractors speak. Their distorted versions of “America” are profoundly at fault.
The freedom to choose goodness and kindness resides inside each one of us. We are the problem, yet we are also the solution.
It is our responsibility to respect one another in our legal and our moral arenas, in our families and our communities, in our courts and in our schools – always holding to the truth, always seeking the wisdom which leads us to justice.
It is how we treat one another that elevates – or destroys – this nation in which we are ever so blessed to live … our America….
Finally . . .
So, may the lawless “woke” generation finally wake up and open their eyes to the fact that the more they exploit and distort and undermine our laws and traditions, danger increases for us all.
But let those of us who love our country not be naïve. Let us also be aware that, for many “woke” persons, rebellion and revolution and the destruction of America are their goals.
The irrational attempts of the “woke” and the insanity of their cancel culture continue to de-stabilize America. These moral and cultural dangers constitute the greatest internal threats which our country has faced in my lengthy lifetime.
This I do believe -- and because I live in America, I am free to say so …. at least, for now…...
17 May 2021
Pain, suffering, anxiety, loss of a loved one . . . these events take their toll on all of us in body and mind, heart and soul. And, when suffering does come, our character and disposition, our deepest beliefs and life-long values can be severely tested.
Moreover, prolonged pain also produces a sense of impotence, even rage, which can give way to melancholia and other conditions which weaken us even further.
To survive and thrive beyond mere endurance, we must be clear with ourselves how we will make sense of our lives, how we will now offset the imbalances which pain always creates. The crucial questions then become:
“How shall I now manage myself? How can I preserve my dignity and hold onto my hope?”
We Always React
When suffering occurs, some people are ensnared by helpless futility. They become enmeshed in an emotional whirlpool, shorn of self-restraint, without recourse to any assuaging reality, pulled down by woe and, often, despair.
Other people exercise rigid self-control and stern restraint. They are distant, stiffly stoic. They dismiss gestures of consolation and remain emotionally aloof, reluctant to express anguish -- except, perhaps, in isolation.
There are yet others whose management of suffering is tempered by their belief in the promise of the After-Life. Their religious faith sustains them, even in the throes of uncertainty and loss. Their belief in Transcendence beyond themselves serves them well.
Suffering always creates a wellspring of energy which demands outlet. But our style of managing pain should not render us more vulnerable to further problems, such as chronic depression and hopelessness.
Our way of managing pain must not alienate us from our family and friends.
It must not prompt us to reject our sacred beliefs or abnegate self-respect or justify rage with a façade of aggrieved righteousness.
Our way of managing pain must not seduce us into thinking we are hapless victims of Cruel Fate, with no control over our future.
The Hard, Redeeming Truth
When suffering occurs, many of us walk a thin line between courage and self-pity. Our clarity of mind and our will-power are certainly compromised. Nonetheless, we are not programmed into mindless entelechy, like moths fluttering to the flame.
The essential truth – difficult for some people to accept – is that, despite the physical and emotional burdens, we still have the power to make sensible decisions, to seek assistance, to restrain rash action, to take counsel even as pain takes its toll.
Nature has endowed us with extraordinary resilience of body, mind, spirit and soul. Of course, we will always need time and patience as we regain our mental stability and emotional equilibrium. But we remain free agents; we can choose how we shall act, even if grief ushers us to the edge of despair.
We always have a choice, even if choosing is gut-wrenching. In fact, our freedom to choose is one of the several hallmarks of our humanity.
So, the truth is that pain and suffering in our lives are a normal and natural part of human existence. Pain does not permanently deprive us of our innate human resources. We may be temporarily debilitated, yes … but we are not rendered permanently helpless by grief or loss, however weighty our physical or emotional burden may be. Ask a Wounded Warrior…..
To be sure, we need to share our pain in some personal manner, to weep, perhaps, or somehow to express our wearied wonder. We need respite for recovery and catharsis. But sometimes we have to live with permanent suffering in body or heart or mind. And we must grapple with that crucial question:
“How do I now choose to live my life and re-frame my future and not be dominated by my suffering?”
Going Beyond Pain
In addition to our freedom to choose (even when painful), we also possess the ability to reason beyond pain. We have the power to think beyond our suffering.
The challenge is to go beyond our pain so that we will think clearly, logically, rationally … so that we will think beyond the limits which pain imposes. We must think as Nature intends:
- rationally and reasonably, not on the basis of battered feelings;
- with regard for our health and well-being;
- not in an emotional state tainted by suffering;
- logically, keeping heart and mind in sync with certain fundamental realities;
- respecting our limits but accepting our responsibilities to ourselves and others, no matter how painful truth may be.
Nature has not – not - given us the gift of reason and the power to think so that we may delude ourselves with denial, exaggerations and soothing lies.
Pain does not free us from our responsibilities nor allow us to sublimate the truth to our wounded emotions.
Our challenge is to think rationally and go beyond our pain and loss, so that we will avoid the temptation to surrender; so that we conform our attitudes and actions to Transcendent Truth.
- To think beyond our pain is to accept accountability to others, even as we struggle with our own infirmities.
- To think beyond our pain is to embrace Faith - even if we are wracked with doubt. Faith in everyday life is our normal response to countless daily ambiguities. It is entirely fitting that Faith apply to the mysteries of suffering.
- To think beyond our pain is to evaluate and judge our options, then to choose (with clear mind and counsel from those near-and-dear) the best way to proceed.
- To think beyond our pain is to stiffen our moral backbone, face the truth of what we must face, inspired by the knowledge that we are called to live with honor and dignity, no matter what.
- To think beyond ourselves is to recognize that we are also called to serve others by our example of quiet courage and perseverance.
To choose a lesser path is a disservice to ourselves, to our family and to our community.
What Sustains Us ?
What principles will uphold us most effectively?
Wisdom tells us that the best option for ourselves and for others is that we seek to live a loving life; that we strive to be empathic, altruistic persons in whatever ways we can, more than ever before.
To some people, this may sound like a cliché or a cheap slogan or a hackneyed formula. But think about it… lf we examine other responses to suffering, are we better persons:
- If we rage and ululate with tedious regularity?
- If we regale people with our sad tales of woe and spend our days enrobed in victimhood?
- Is it better if we engage others with cynical entrapments or palm off our nihilistic rants as wry humor or behave with stoic indifference?
Are those our better options?
No, our best, most humane option is to live a life of loving others simply because love in its myriad expressions is the healthiest, most exemplary decision we can make.
Some people take a very long time to realize that love - in its small, multiple, daily epiphanies - is the most humane choice of which we are capable.
Let us choose love, not hate; love, not rage; love, not mindless revenge nor disdain; love, not fashionable despair nor self-righteous grumble nor the embarrassing scripts of self-pity.
Our best choice is to be persons who go beyond our pain to interject love in its various hues and forms into this morally needy and deeply confused world.
Love - not revenge nor cynicism - redeems us from our lesser selves. Love does not remove pain but it does lift us out of pain’s clutches and unites us to others, even if in silent prayer only.
Love enriches us far beyond the chic nihilism or self-indulgence of misguided, preening egos.
Love and altruism reveal the better angels of our nature.
Practical Side Of Loving
I recognize this may sound like a tired platitude to some jaded souls. No wonder…. the true meaning of the word “love” is tainted and elusive in our culture. It has been badly abused, overused, misapplied, distorted to the point that (as Aldous Huxley wrote) to use the word “love” has become “…an outrage to good taste and decent feeling...”,
Moreover, it is difficult to live as a loving person in a culture which revels in sex and violence and radical individualism; a culture which now dismisses reason and religious belief while it destroys its own history and heritage, disparages science, disdains facts and worships Godless relativism.
So … what do I mean by the word “love?” What does it mean to be a loving person in our real world?
Love? Be Serious !!
Loving others is the most practical and beneficial choice imaginable. The less loving we are, the more we are mired in the chaos of the heart’s longing and the mind’s fatalistic conviction that nothing and no one really matter.
Loving comes alive in the real world by how we think and speak and act, how empathic and generous we choose to be.
Loving is made real by our intentions, actions and responses to the needs (stated and unstated) of other persons -- right now.
Love’s smallest outcomes are still exceedingly more beneficial for people – especially for ourselves -- than hate or indifference or rejection or other punitive, self-serving choices.
Being an empathic person requires us to direct our concern to the well-being of others – to family, friends, strangers at a distance, even to those we might call “enemies.”
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the highest form of loving is called “amor benevolentiae,” the love of wishing and seeking goodness for others, of doing what we can to see that goodness happens.
Goodness and kindness and courtesy - even a simple smile or a listening ear - are some of love’s thousand faces. And there are many more which the loving person does unselfishly and without desire for recompense.
Goodness is not done to impress or exploit others. It is not motivated by a neurotic need to look good. Loving others occurs quietly, without fanfare, without bragging.
Loving is our choice to infuse time and space with a touch of goodness, to change this world by a small, but real, touch of the divine where it is missing. Even a quiet smile may relieve another person’s isolation or touch the hopeful heart of a needy loner.
We love beyond our own pain because we choose to seek what is better for others – and for us, too. In fact, it is better for our own soul than bitterness or regret or debilitating nostalgia.
Sometimes the urge for revenge or jealousy makes it difficult to choose love instead of wishing misfortune on others. But a loving spirit takes us beyond pain to a realm of goodness and generosity and self-giving where Divinity does indeed abide.
The act of loving occurs in a thousand ways. Some are small, perhaps, but they are ours because we choose it to be so. It is our personal motivation which makes the blessed difference.
Ways To Love
So, as we can see, love inspires many acts of virtue, such as empathy and kindness, patience, civility and courtesy, forgiveness (a tough one), self-sacrifice (also a tough one), fidelity, prudence and candor, perseverance in goodness, self-restraint, comforting the lonely, … and so many, many more which comprise the endless avenues of altruistic action.
The benefit to us?
We become what we think, what we do and what we intend. By extending our thoughtful care and random courtesy and gentle kindness to others (even in secret, even in quiet prayer) we are also changed – for the better.
By loving others in whatever way is available at this moment, we become loving persons. The cumulative effect of kindness is that we become kind. The cumulative effect of wishing good for others is that we become loving persons.
We become what we wish for and what we choose to do.
Love Is Not Naive
However, love is not - is not - naïve or stupid or ignorant about selfishness in the world. Love is well aware of the power of evil and meanness and jealousy and anger.
So, while love seeks to go beyond pain, love is never simplistic or naïve about the hostility and disdain which abound toward goodness and virtue.
Love is not - is not - oblivious to the fact that deception and falsehood are deeply rooted in this world where the dictates of wisdom are so often and so regularly dismissed. But love is not deterred by those who just do not “get it.”
Love is, therefore, not blind.
Choosing love is the hallmark of a soul who seeks to live beyond human weakness and is yet subject to it. But selfless, empathic love is clearly the best path to wisdom -- for it is Wisdom, not mere happiness, which is our goal in this life.
The Better For Us
In the final analysis, we must learn to love ourselves. But we do not love ourselves with narcissistic glee, but by humbly acknowledging the truth of our own sins and errors.
Mature self-love accepts our responsibilities to ourselves and to others by admitting that, without God in our lives - God, our Creator, Who knows us best and loves us most - we are indeed truly without roots in reality … and fully alone.
Suck It Up
For some of us, the experience of our pain becomes a turning point. We begin to appreciate life’s true values of wisdom and insight, altruism and empathy, virtue and generosity of soul. And we move into an arena of gratitude abounding, even as suffering remains.
Pain, loss, suffering, anxiety - all are inevitabilities, reminders of our human vulnerability. But they also provoke us to think and find meaning in the mystery of why we are alive.
To develop our mature, loving selves is to find our significant place – that place which only we can fill -- within the astonishing mystery of God’s Creation.
The abiding truth of all human life is that we have endless choices at our disposal. These choices may seem small gestures, but none are insignificant when it comes to loving our neighbor as ourselves with prudent insight and benevolent wisdom.
My Neighbor ?
And … who, pray tell, is our neighbor?
He is the tired waiter who has not heard a kind word all week or the lonely old man who rarely sees a smile from a stranger, or the First Responder who risks his/her life so I am safe, or the soldier who stands ready to die so that I may live.
Our neighbor may grow old alone or die friendless, without anyone noticing or caring. She may teach our children or sell us groceries, or live across the street with the blinds always drawn.
Our neighbor is that person who, like us, wonders about the mystery of it all and hopes for the mercy of our forgiving God Who makes the rain from heaven fall upon the good and the bad.
Our neighbor may never know our name, but we share the same wonderment and weaknesses, the same hopes and fears.
Our neighbor may also be that petty person who is indifferent to us. She may treat us badly and may not give us a second thought, may rebuff us entirely or be a greedy, self-absorbed gadfly.
Even so, we cannot then say that our benevolent love, empathy and altruism (and, perhaps, a benign confrontation, if it would do any good) are not worth our effort.
And let us not forget prayer for our neighbors, even though they are unaware. Why? Because to pray is to choose love … not for reward but because it is our path to wisdom and peace of soul.
Finally, It Is Our Choice . . .
Yes, some people do choose bitterness, rage and estrangement from self and others, and thereby distort the meaning of true love. Nonetheless, the Great Commandment to love one another as we are loved is still the best prescription for living.
Thus, we are all given by God endless opportunities:
- to accept pain and still go beyond suffering,
- to infuse life with meaning through Hope and Faith;
- to be unselfishly and benevolently loving to others in a spirit of unadorned Charity,
- to live in gratitude to God for the chance to love others in ways no one else can.
Pain and grief and loss can actually inspire us to a life-long choice of giving to others and honoring the Giver of All Life, Whose redemptive, loving sacrifice for each of us is surely The Model for all of us.
And if we are wise enough to choose love beyond our own suffering - and give all credit to God and speak to God with all hope and doubt that is in our wondering hearts - then we get the point of why we have been given the gifts of life and time and space, the gifts of Creation and the power to think and choose … and the opportunity to say to God, “Gladly shall I serve – with love and gratitude to You… !!”
Finally, may all this be clear to us and be of benefit for those we seek to love and those we have yet to love … and those who wait for someone to show them the way.
May we be that someone who chooses to love beyond - and because of - our own pain. May it be ever so.
29 April 2021
Nancy: The Simple Dignity Of Loving
May 1st is the anniversary of the death of my Beloved Wife, Nancy. Nancy died three years ago a few minutes after midnight on the first day of May, a month of prayerful significance.
I miss the infectious delight of Nancy’s smile, her unquenchable spirit of adventure, her risk-taking readiness to try everything. I miss the engaging edge of her humor and the courage of her resilient spirit. I miss moments of laughter and silliness and the exchanges of our secrets, some of which we found poignant, some hilarious.
I miss the rare, life-changing trust which grew between us, and the times of consoling one another when people who knew better were unkind or indifferent. I miss our once-in-a-lifetime friendship which guided our struggle of mutuality and candor which is always at the heart of Godly marriage.
I am so often moved when I recall her quiet strength and resigned acceptance with which she carried the insistent suffering of her later years; years when her character flowered and the depth of her love of life and family matured and gave her - and me - ineffable peace, even as the unavoidable sorrow of parting approached.
I am grateful for the journey we shared as we evolved from playful distractions into decades of getting to know one another … and ourselves. We moved together into our later years, a time of loving beyond our ego’s defenses, beyond the fearful isolation which impedes generous giving of oneself and wholeheartedly accepting the other, embracing the Beloved.
Nancy’s hard-won depth of understanding and innocence was merited by many pain-filled years. Her struggle was summed up in the words of the psalm which she taped to our garden window next to her chair so she could read it many times daily, “Be still…and know.”
Nancy left a grand legacy of love and learning. The lessons I am still learning with her - and from her - began with the realization that to achieve our hopes and ideals together, we must both make the personal changes which our marriage demanded.
Indeed, every honest marriage inevitably faces the realization that personal changes are absolutely essential if marriage is to “work.” Learning and acting upon this simple truth is the cornerstone of every solid marriage.
This lesson is often missed when lovers do not recognize or admit that this truth is hidden in the familiar. This lesson is often obscured by work routines and householding pursuits … and, most of all, by the stubborn defenses we build around our egos.
But it is evident that a marriage which seeks enduring love and trust and fidelity must create sacred moments for mutual candor and reverie. Ideally, in these prayerful moments, we give birth to knowledge of - and deep gratitude for - one another.
The outcome produces a depth of trust which moves us to reveal our hearts … an outcome which affords both of us consolation of our souls, such as we find nowhere else in this lifetime.
This crucible of self-revelation is, in fact, the place where a marriage of mutual trust and dignity may be formed by facing, rather than fleeing, the instinct to avoid truth or the urge to hide.
It may indeed be a painful experience. But an enduring relationship is solidified only when psychic suffering is mutually endured and generous sacrifices made, each for the other. This path is the only reliable means to the ideal marital outcome which all committed lovers seek with their Beloved – for a lifetime.
The hard truth is that loving - truly loving - another always involves a cost to one’s self, ofttimes a very heavy cost; this is inescapable -- but entirely as it should be, as it must be.
So, I remember not only the gifts of mind and heart which we exchanged. I also remember the efforts to truly love one another which Nancy and I invested into our married life. But I am also deeply grateful for the quiet understanding which developed as we learned to give of ourselves to one another.
There arose between us a union borne of her incessant pain and our Catholic faith, enlightened over years with her extraordinary patience and unquenchable, loving spirit – and so much more.
Thus were our lives quietly blessed in the passing of time and in the daily mysteries which slowly opened to us in the small, familiar but often difficult routines of life. Nancy learned through her pain to patiently accept the gradual revelation of God’s ever-present embrace in the familiar. And I was often astonished at her goodness through it all…………………
I used to wonder often (as we all do at some point) why maturity of heart and wisdom of soul are so closely linked to pain. Now, it is evident to me that maturity and pain are two sides of the same hand, a mandate infused into human nature by our Creator. It is a mandate exemplified in His own life on this earth; a mandate many do not recognize because it is so present - in the familiar.
This belief is, of course, part of the mystery of Creation … but like all mysteries, clues to the truth are all around us, ever before our eyes, filling our lives and senses to the brim – in the familiar.
It is not this divine mystery - revealed to us constantly in the familiar - which is inherently difficult. It is our refusal to see, to be still, to know beyond ourselves, to acknowledge the love which abounds, to accept this truth of Creation – a truth which is ever evident in the familiar, all around us.
We would be wise to profit from the grand, ever-living legacy of Nancy and people like her – beloved people whom we are blessed to know and love in this world.
We would be wise to let their love and their example overshadow all else in our lifetimes. Their love and example may, if we allow, animate our lives, even in times of loneliness and great pain … if we have the God-given sense and the humility to see and admit the grandeur of life – in the familiar.
These are a few of the lessons I continue to learn from the grace of my marriage to my Beloved. With the gift of such divine goodness revealed to us each moment, is it not obvious that the blessings which this life holds for us are surely endless and quite real …… all around us – in the Revelation of the familiar.
1 April 2021
An Easter Reminder About
The Point Of Our Being Alive
A covid-weary colleague contacted me recently. He is discouraged after a year of missing intimacies and stifled family affections. He is weary; he needs the reassuring contacts which only time-trusted friends provide.
My colleague concluded his comments with that age-old question (so poignantly present at Easter): “What’s the point of it all? What’s it all about?”
My friend’s need for a reminder about our purpose in life is not uncommon these days. Life’s normal uncertainties generate enough wonderment for us all, especially when we face our innate vulnerabilities. But Easter reminds us that The Good Life always involves personal sacrifice and generously giving ourselves to others, even as the Covid culture makes our shared vulnerabilities more obvious.
The Price For Assumed Safety
The de-humanizing disconnects occasioned by masks and neutering distances force upon us a state of social estrangement and collective wariness. We are deprived of subtle yet deeply reassuring civility and familiarity in our interactions with one another.
This deprivation has created a fitful, unfamiliar dystopian world in which we are now forced to exist. Safety from contamination comes at a very great price to our minds and hearts, to our mental stability and spiritual balance.
Reactions And Reactors
For some people, this disconnect escalates into hopeless, agnostic bewilderment. They feel emotionally lost, without purpose or direction, emptied by it all.
Other people find meaning in aggressive pretense. They disdain empathy and altruism. They exude the intolerant superiority of those possessed by excessive self-regard.
Still others find the challenge of wonderment a spur to deepening their Faith and Hope. For these people, every challenge elicits quiet forbearance and calm, enlightened resignation rather than creeping cynicism or dismissive nihilism.
In other words, they realize that we are, all of us, in the hands of God …. like it or not, believe it or not.
Making Sense: First Principles
So, how do we make sense of it all?
Here are some observations I’ve learned over my decades of stumbling sincerity and grateful wonderment. In good times and in strife, these ideas (I call them First Principles) still afford me considerable solace.
Of course, each Principle has corollaries, and we could quibble about clarity and precision. But these ideas are also the result of many reasoning minds, of hearts thankful for life, and of hopeful souls who strive to honor the intentions of our better angels … beyond the facile facades of a fragile ego, humbled by Easter’s Promise.
So … here are some of the First Principles I have valued for the length of my many years.
What Does It Mean To Be Alive?
1, We do indeed possess an eternal soul. Moreover, we can know we possess a soul. We know we did not create our own soul, nor bring ourselves into existence. Soul is a gift far beyond our human capacity to create.
2. What is this “soul” of which I speak? It is the God-created source of our life’s unique energy in mind and body and spirit; the energy by which we grow and change, develop and survive, think and interact with the world around us. It is the divinely-given origin of life - both temporal and eternal life.
3. Our soul is instilled into us at conception when we become true persons, true human beings. Our growth and change as persons begin at the instant of conception; not weeks or months thereafter, not when our heart starts beating … but instantly. We are persons at conception.
We are also able to observe various stages of human growth. From the instant of conception, the developmental process is visible, obvious, self-initiated and undeniable. The evidence for these beliefs is overwhelming.
4. Thus, the soul is the universal reality which defines us as human beings. We all receive the gifts of soul and personhood which direct our development from conception to death. Our souls also unite us in our common personhood as human beings.
5. Each individual soul is the source of unique identity and individuality. It makes each one of us a distinct human being and is the engine of our specific identity. But we also possess vast individual differences, personal singularities and qualities of appearance, temperament, culture, genetic background and so on.
6. Despite countless individual differences, we share common responsibilities to God, to self and to one another. This mutually-intertwined network of our responsibilities to God, self and others (even to strangers) is the bases of all morality and decency.
7. Our universal responsibilities also identify us as moral creatures. As we mature in our moral lives, our responsibilities to God and one another come before our rights. We may claim our rights only after we meet our responsibilities.
8. Morality means we are responsible for the choices we make … for good or for evil. We are responsible for the impact of our choices and behavior on other human beings and on their rights. We are responsible for what we do and how we do it, since rights are always preceded by responsibilities and accountabilities.
9. As moral beings, we possess God-given awareness (both instinctual and learned) about our responsibilities, about what is expected of us, about what we should do and what we should not do. And, as we develop in mind and body, we learn the spiritual, religious and social and community rules which determine moral responsibilities.
9. How do we learn? Our first teacher is Human Nature. Even young children instinctively know that certain actions are good, some of lesser good, some forbidden. Then, as we grow, we learn primarily from family and friends. Then we learn from our culture and from the agencies therein (church, school, formal and informal community agents). But we learn first from our parents who are, by divine law and human decree, our primary educators.
10. Underlying all of this is the fact that Nature’s Creator has endowed each of us with free will, Free will is our innate ability to choose for ourselves to follow or to ignore [A] Laws of Nature and community, [B] the Divine Will, learned through Revelation, and [C] the dictates of our relationships with God, ourselves and others. Make no mistake: We are bound in Justice and Charity to human laws passed by legitimate authority for the common good.
11. Our knowledge of right-and-wrong (our properly educated consciences) and our informed free will determine the morality of our choices. As we age, our choices (based on moral knowledge and free will) determine the content of our character.
12. The mind, heart and soul’s innate capacity to learn rests in our ability to think and to reason. Our ability to reason accurately, intelligently and logically evolves as we develop in knowledge and experience. Hopefully, we learn to use our Power of Reason in accord with truth and facts as our guides ... for only with logic, truth, respect for facts and a humble heart will we learn to Reason reasonably.
13. As we mature, Right Reason becomes our Organizer of Reality. But Reason can be right or wrong, correct or in error, depending on the sources we use and their coherence with facts, history, Revelation, logic and consequences which are sought or unintended.
14. The requisite conditions for learning Right Reason and moral clarity are [A] our own honesty (not merely sincerity alone), [B] history in all its dimensions, and [C] Tradition. Tradition means the cumulative discernment and practical wisdom - sacred and secular - of our stable elders.
15. We cannot deny the limits of our unaided human thought. We cannot deny our need for a Higher Source of secular and sacred knowledge, i.e., God. Logic dictates that we acknowledge the central role His Revelation plays as the most relevant source of learning.
Disputes and Challenges ?
These few First Principles rest on fundamentals of Faith. Some are also bolstered by scientific facts. Even so, committed cynics find much to fault. Staunch doubters take unsavory delight these days in not only dismissing Faith but also basic science and fundamental logic.
Cynics dismiss Faith and Reason as essential factors in understanding life’s tricky, relentless ambiguities and human nature’s insatiable, often errant, need to know.
Why is there so much insane rejection these days?
Well, for one thing, Faith is a demanding Principle; it’s costly, especially for persons with dominating egos. Faith compels us to admit we are often not in control of anything or anyone, even ourselves. Admitting this requires an aggravating degree of humility, which means facing the truth about self … and that’s always a threat to committed ego-centrists who accept only one form of “evidence,” their wayward, often very immature, emotionality.
Moreover, Faith also makes it clear that, as a race, we humans still do not grasp the dignity of life. We cannot live literally by the words of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's two-edged dictum (rendered gratuitously in the Casey Decision): "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
- We certainly cannot go it alone in this life, nor can we say or do whatever we please, especially when doing so elevates toxic individualism above human life.
- We cannot reject the discipline and self-sacrifices of traditional family life in favor of expressing a mutilated form of selfish “love.”
- We cannot rationally erase the obvious biological differences between men and women which now leads to a plethora of medical, psychological and spiritual tragedies.
- We cannot logically continue to celebrate the slaughter of babies born and unborn, even though our government works to internationalize such madness.
- We cannot reasonably continue to legislate against the religious beliefs of citizens, even though some of our elected leaders seek to do precisely that.
We pay a huge price as we pursue a variety of bizarre “answers” to the questions which are central to our existence: “What’s it all about? Why are we here?”
Finally …. Some Corollaries
How do we discover Faith, Right Reason and the correct standards of morality?
We start with our five senses and behold the wonders and miracles they reveal to us every second.
For example, take a long look at the stars, or study your reflection in the mirror. Approach created reality as a gift, with awe and gratitude and humble wonderment.
Our senses are our starting point, but they’re limited ways for us to further comprehend the staggering mysteries and parade of ever-present miracles which cascade right in front of us at every instant, all around us in Creation. Miracles are always present to us – in ourselves and in one another.
To Thine Own Self Be True
Only if/when we are honest with ourselves and true to our nature’s God-driven desire to know what it’s all about … only then can we be honest with one another.
And if we are honest with ourselves, if we choose to go beyond our own pretenses, then we cannot help but admit that:
- We require more than ourselves to find purpose and meaning, peace and fulfillment in our lives;
- Without knowledge from a Source greater than our human selves, we will have no idea what we are here for, nor Who it is Who watches over us, even when we doubt, even in personal darkness and suffering;
- When we listen only to ourselves and seek to glorify only ourselves, we are prone to selfish action, illogical behavior and hurtful outcomes. Clearly, we need more than ourselves to understand what it is all about, to understand what we are all about.
- That’s why Right Reason demands our assent to Revelation as the further source of our knowledge. We need knowledge from a Source above and beyond human reason alone.
Gifts And Miracles Abound
In the long run, Right Reason reveals that everything we have is a gift, even the light from the trillions upon trillions of stars whose very existence is beyond our imagining without God’s astonishing, miraculous power.
In fact, miracles are as common as the stars above, or the grass beneath our feet … or the soul within us.
In fact, miraculous reality is constantly available to us.
In fact, of all the miracles we behold each day, the most humbling miracle is … our own selves:
- the astonishing way we are formed,
- the manner in which our bodies behave,
- the way we can manage ourselves in a world where we are truly guests,
- the way we can read these words and freely say either, “Help me to be grateful and thank you, God” … or “What nonsense God truly is to me.”
In fact, we should be profoundly grateful for what we have been given. In fact, our knowledge, as great as it is in some areas, also seems so fragile and small before God's power and wisdom.
In the face of all this, Faith and Hope seem most reasonable, logical and honest responses.
And, as we recognize the utility of Faith and Hope in human life, along comes that nagging, one-word Christian message. It is the hardest task of all, the crowning bit of wisdom for the honest seeker to put into action: Charity.
“Love” is a weak word to describe the meaning of Charity … unless we have loved and been loved and have embraced love’s inseparable joys and sufferings, losses and gains, moments of trust and daily risks of self-exposure. These are the inseparable ingredients of true Charity in this life, true giving of self to God and one another. And for the Christian, there’s no other path.
But, happily, Charity is love with a capital L. This means that God is infinite not only in His caring for us … but in His understanding and uplifting of our human nature … and His care for each of us and all of us … for we are His children, like it or not, believe it or not.
God’s particular form of Charity for us is revealed in the story of Christ. By His life, we are called to goodness. If we live accordingly, goodness becomes ours to nurture and cherish through our own life-long call to give love and to receive love as His legacy to us … and to one another.
It is not an easy calling … but it is what we are called to hear and to heed.
These Principles are, I suggest, what life is all about -- for starters. There is, to be sure, much more to know and to attend to, but this seems a good place to start.
What do you think?
8 March 2021
In Regard To Our Pets
We hard-core pet owners sometimes seem a peculiar breed. As a rule, we have an unusually gentle disposition toward our pets. We’re patient with them, even when patience is tested. We’re notoriously sympathetic to them, attentive to their moods and spontaneously affectionate with them.
It’s also true that some pet owners occasionally get carried away when they exaggerate their pet’s amiable appeal. Some even go so far as to dress them in outlandish outfits best suited to slapstick vaudevillians or feckless fraternity initiates.
Nonetheless, we pet owners do indeed relish our pets. In fact, some of us are more at ease with our animals than with people. Given the unpredictable vagaries of human behavior, this preference is sometimes understandable … but I digress…
Nature’s Basic Principles
Nature makes it obvious that all living creatures possess an innate source of life – a source of life called the “soul.” The soul is the innate principle of life. It is the source of growth and change, of behavior and individual identity in all living creatures, not just us humans.
The question arises: Do animals have soul? The answer is yes, they do. Why? Because the soul (human, animal or vegetative) bestows generic reality and specific identity to each and every creature which follows its specific patterns of growth, change and maturity.
The soul energizes the activities and routines of every created, living species. Moreover, each and every animal species (humans included) has its unique, Nature-driven programs of life, growth, change, movement and communication; its own unique source of bodily sensations and emotional experiences, its own sense of community and bonds of loyalty, its own natural flow from conception to birth to maturity to death. Indeed, each has its own “personality.”
The power of soul is extensive and astonishing, without parallel in Creation -- both in terms of entire species and in terms of each individual … for despite similarities in Nature, each sensate creature displays extraordinary individuality.
Of course, significant differences obviously exist between the souls of created beings in the animal world (e.g., Fido) and the world of rational beings (e.g., Fido’s owner). These differences are evident in many distinguishing factors, such as the various kinds of “intelligence” different creatures possess, the complexity of their communication, the range of “emotionality” each species is granted by Nature – on and on.
Obviously, animal “soul” does not possess the depth of cognitive ability (reason and logic) nor the gift of free will which define human nature. Animals act on the bases of instincts and primitive urges … BUT many animals also reveal ability to link cause-and-effect (or stimulus-response, if you prefer) and to relate to us humans in ways which touch our hearts and create lasting bonds of affection, empathy and fidelity within us -- and in them, as well.
And, like everything around us, all of this attests to two humbling realities, the wonder of Creation and the goodness of our Creator Who sustains us.
The Power Of Relating
For decades, I have been (and am) a cat-person. Over five decades, I have had a series of feline “pets” who - it ofttimes seems - have actually adopted me as their doting attendant.
My present cat, Pookie, has a shadowy pedigree. Her somewhat cloying name was assigned to her at the animal shelter where we first met a dozen years ago. Pookie had been badly abused and abandoned before I met her. She still exhibits fear of strangers, brought on by merciless disregard suffered in her earliest years. Yet with me she demonstrates grand measures of trust, attentive warmth and constant chattiness, blended with feline insouciance and pouty bouts of delightful stubbornness. I readily admit I have spoiled Pookie … badly … and shall continue to do so.
I am often amused at Pookie’s insistence that she be brushed with regularity several times daily and fed on schedule. My tardiness merits swift remonstrance and a dismissive swish of her tail – but she is soon again at my side, seeking solace and a reassuring scratch on her ears (her sensitive ears have the delicate texture of an orchid in bloom).
I recall other cats who have shared their lives with me over the decades: Kitty and Buster, Zeppo and Dudley and, now, Pookie. I am very often moved to see them throughout my years as true gifts of God and Nature:
- gifts whose sprightly, insistent presences have opened my eyes and my heart to a benign dimension of life -- and of myself -- where gentleness abides;
- gifts who reveal to me a facet of Creation and unmerited goodness outside myself, an awareness which redounds to my soul’s benefit;
- gifts who have given me the opportunity to be concerned about the well-being of another living creature and, thus, to be aware of the pitfalls of self-absorption and the utter necessity of persistence in kindness for the sake of my own soul.
Bonds Of Fond Memory
There is also an amusing side to the impression a dedicated pet owner gives. We are sometimes perceived by others as a bit “balmy” in our appreciation of our pets, a bit “off” in the way we chat with them and speak about our relationships with them.
In time, as they become part of our family and part of our hearts, we develop a relationship of real affection, an emotional bond of unguarded mutual dependence with them. We come to love them and to be emotionally attached to their innocence and their tolerant stability.
For example, I still recall my feelings of loss when Dudley died. Dudley was a simple, ever-comforting presence, always responsive, ever attentive. He was un-demanding in his wants, uncomplicated in his tastes and preferences, prompt to table, always ready with a purry opinion.
Dudley snored loudly when he napped, but he became animated at the sight of birds outside. He’d chatter excitedly, running from window to window, loudly proclaiming his feline fascination.
He always became calm when I played Mozart and was content to spend hours quietly nestled on the couch close to me, sniffing the air inquisitively or snoozing in that deep state of total slumber which trusting souls enjoy. He was a gem of a creature; I miss him still.
Loonies And Lovers
As I say, we who are fortunate to share our lives with our pets may seem to others an eccentric bunch. To those who scoff at the uncomplicated beauty and who disdain the inherent dignity of all Creation, animals are merely things, with little to recommend notice, an irrelevant appendage to the pursuit of personal privilege or fortune or self-aggrandizement.
To such persons, animals are superfluous diversions whose worth is so often measured in terms of casual slaughter for the sake of brutal, errant pleasure or the inelegant distractions of “sport.”
Such people do not recognize the fact that our pets add a significant dimension to our experience of Creation. Our pets also bring something extraordinarily captivating to human life: they challenge our willingness to recognize and honor the immeasurable gifts which flow from Nature’s God.
Thus, our humanity is vastly improved:
- if we are ready to acknowledge that God is truly revealed through His creatures;
- if we are willing to seek insight into ourselves by honoring Creation’s miraculously diverse flow;
- if we are able to re-align our self-centered concerns with the rhythms of Creation’s mysteries, including our own human nature.
What We Miss
Most (not all) human relationships are, at one time or another, confusing and ambiguous, muddled and messy, strained and inconsistent, prompting us to caution as much as to trust.
Even solid-seeming marriages sometimes falter; trust may be tainted and shaken. Our frail human dispositions and fragile egos frequently put us at entrenched disadvantage with ourselves and one another.
As trust wanes, we become vulnerable to the deepest pain in life. That’s when our innate need to express our love cannot pour forth to our Beloved. When (for whatever reasons) we stifle our loving selves and stymie our divine gift of bestowing affection and expressing concern, we then begin to curdle inside because our souls are afflicted by an unnatural act of deprivation.
But our pets ofttimes buffer us from the worst of this purgatorial isolation. They offer us an outlet (even if it seems slight) so that we may still preserve and externalize a portion of our need to express our love.
Happily, our pets do not mind one bit when we do show them our affection. And we are made better by the mere fact of allowing ourselves to be expressive, loving beings. Indeed, it is our nature to be that person … after the example of Him to Whom we all belong in the first place.
The Gentle Side
Our pets ask little of us but they give back so very much to us. Somehow, they can reach within us and tap into our oft-hidden yearnings. Their eyes can unlock feelings within us which we might never express or even know existed, were it not for their kindly, accepting presence in our lives.
It’s also uncanny how they can read our moods. If we listen to our hearts, we will realize that the magic of Creation infuses these little animals with the power to expose us to ourselves, to reveal to us our own needs … needs which we might otherwise not even recognize or respect.
They do this so often with a simple tilt of the head, or with the gentle tap of a furry paw upside the nose in the early morning chill, or with the inevitable laughter and lingering smiles their erratic energies so often trigger in us.
Yet all they seek from us is a bit of food and a scratch behind their ears and a smidgen of our attention … and for this we are blessed by their presence in our lives.
Surely, loving our pets affords us insights which help us not to remain strangers to ourselves.
Reflections Of Affection
Thus, we if allow it, our pets give us opportunities to reflect on who we are; opportunities to peacefully peer into that area of ourselves wherein our protected hearts and quiet hopes reside.
Our pets afford us an un-demanding look at portions of our own soul. So often do they “teach” us some of life’s First Principles, including:
- how profoundly good it is for us to love one another;
- how essential it is for our mental and spiritual health to express our tenderness to others;
- how grand and generous life is to grant us these little creatures who inspire us to do so;
- how fortunate we are to possess these patient creatures whose simple presence inspires us to befriend ourselves as we befriend them.
Befriending ourselves requires us to be honest about who we are intended by God to be in our lives. We are not born to nihilistic alienation. Conflict is not our default state, and cynicism is a toxic basis for living.
At our best, we are born to give freely of ourselves to others, to infuse our world with kindness beyond measure. In truth, we are created by God to love souls, not things.
Sadly, some of us become enthralled by the ephemeral trinkets and distracting baubles which pull us away from the basic needs and goals of our created human nature.
Happily, our faithful animals are not impressed by our grandiosity or by the arbitrary boundaries we set. Given the chance, they’ll walk right through our defenses and, with wagging tail or plaintive meow, they’ll breach the walls of studied indifference which many of us needlessly erect.
How do they do it?
It’s no mystery -- their power rests in their unguarded simplicity and in their readiness to accept us. Our worst outcome is to teach them to fear us.
Loss … And Hope
If we heed the voices of human nature’s better angels, we will acknowledge that our lives are meant to be never-ending seasons of celebration for the many graces of ennobling relationships. Life is meant to be a time of gratitude with and for others – even when we lose a loved one, including a beloved pet.
Losing a faithful animal can take us aback with painful and lingering intensity because these blessed creatures touch us in very deep ways, revealing in us qualities of heart and soul and goodness which can penetrate our facades and reveal us to be so very human.
We are, therefore, wise to regard their presence in our lives with constant gratitude to God for the gifts they truly are. They return to us a portion of our own souls, as we are exposed by our expressions of true affection.
They “teach” us how profoundly good it is for us to express our love for Creation, our delight for living beings, our humbled attention to life itself. They offer us clarity about how enriching life can be when we choose to make it so.
It is these hopes and ideals of which Pookie and Kitty, Zeppo and Buster and Dudley remind me. I believe this message of gratitude is why God grants us such lovely animals to grace our lives – so that we may learn to see and accept who we are truly intended by God to be, namely:
- men and women who are born to revere all life, especially those creatures who share life with us;
- men and women born to love and to be loved, born to give and to receive the love which defines our nature.
Finally, the true meaning and purpose of every life is not at all mysterious or complicated: we are born for love and fidelity … but if you doubt my words, then just ask any pet ( … and be sure to bring them a treat … ).
10 February 2021
America At Risk
After decades of percolating in our cultural shadows, several powerful social movements have finally emerged to generate major social and moral changes in America.
These changes have enormous impact on the basics of American life, including the words we use in daily conversation and the very meaning of human nature, personal identity -- and life itself.
These changes also have profound – profound -- effect on our children. These changes now dictate the path which America is following into our moral and political futures.
Here are some changes we now behold in America’s daily life:
- Unheard-of censorship is leveled especially against pro-life and religious groups which object to the “normalization” of transgenderism which, through chemical and surgical means, inflicts life-long damage on children;
- Religious denominations which do not support “gay marriage” are labeled “hate groups;”
- Endless comments are now common about the evil “white race” and the “systemic racism of white privilege;”
- Explicit sex education is pushed upon grade school youngsters, whose parents often remain uninformed about race-sex-gender emphases in public education … to the detriment of essential academic curricula;
- Many benefits of citizenship are afforded illegal aliens - a term which itself offends current fads of “equity” (not equality) and “inclusion;”
- Defunding police departments by government officials has furthered disrespect and scorn for established law:
- In the midst of a pandemic and an economic crisis, our revised border policy now welcomes non-citizens:
- Accusations of racism, hate speech and gender warfare are leveled against Christians who oppose taxpayer-funded abortions in America and abroad;
- Banning by sports and entertainment celebrities of our National Anthem as divisive and polarizing.
These are a few of the social, cultural and moral changes which are re-defining the identity and nature of our American reality and the soul of our nation.
Some people greet these changes with enthusiasm. Others see these changes as a death knell for America as we have known it.
The Triumph of Individualism
Many factors - historical, political, philosophical, religious – contribute to the ascendance of these ideas. They were given summary expression by the Supreme Court in 1992 when Justice Kennedy (“Planned Parenthood v Casey” with other Justices concurring) declared that at the heart of our Constitutional liberty is “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
On the surface, this opinion sounds persuasive. We all want to be “happy” and “free” and live on our terms. But, realistically, the exercise of all human freedoms requires 1) objective standards which oblige all citizens, and 2) individual self-restraint which is absolutely necessary to assure equality and peace. This is true of nations as much as it is in family life.
Problems emerge when we pursue “happiness” on our own terms, without reference to:
- clear moral principles, civic virtue and voluntary self-restraint to guide and protect us all;
- mutually-accepted behavioral limits and common purposes to unify us;
- enforced laws to guarantee common responsibilities and rights, and to secure mutual justice for self and others.
Without these safeguards, each person becomes a law unto him/herself. Even babies in the womb and born-alive children are now disposable, as the rule of radical individualism weakens our nation.
A Nation In Conflict
What we see today is a profound moral and cultural conflict. We are involved in the aggressive rise of “woke” beliefs in which words are “weaponized” and civility is jettisoned.
No corner of our society and no law of Nature – not even a child’s right to life or the innocence of our children or our reverence for traditional home-and-family – are now sacred.
Traditions of long-standing are now banished, differences punished. Vengeance has become a political tool. Hostility and hollow accusations are adorned with the hue of pseudo-virtue.
The unthinkable has become our national norm.
Among the significant social movements which have infected our culture over the last five decades is “Therapeutic Ethics.” This term refers to the codex of beliefs and practices which proposes “self-defined individual happiness” as the ultimate goal of life.
Therapeutic Ethics grants individuals the sole right to determine what “happiness” and “creation” and “self” mean for him-or-her. Prior categories of learning and decision-making (e.g., morality, family, school, church, etc.) are obsolete. Belief in divine intervention in human affairs is eradicated.
Only the individual and his/her like-minded colleagues (and, in time, the courts, media, corporate leaders, schools, even some churches) decide what’s real and what’s not, what’s moral and what’s not, what socially acceptable and what’s not.
How has this state of radical individualism been achieved and how is it now being maintained?
Therapeutic Ethics encourages the individual to re-define for himself (or disregard entirely) the validity and relevance of scientific, moral and cultural standards of right-or-wrong, of truth-or-falsity, of fact-or-bother.
Previous cultural restraints and linguistic norms, moral traditions, scientific evidence, religious beliefs and legal limits (i.e., the Constitution, the Ten Commandments, legal precedents, biological facts) are passe, seen as obstacles to individual “happiness.”
Long Time Coming
Therapeutic Ethics has been many years in coming to fruition. It was given a significant boost with the rise and popularity of the so-called “Human Potential Movement” in the mid-1950s.
The Human Potential Movement celebrated the life of the "emotions" and the unrestrained expression of “feelings” distinct from -- even antithetical to -- various cognitive faculties of mind and intellect (including conscience) and millennia of traditions embodied in Western learning and culture, religion (especially Christianity), education and family (these, for starters).
In fact, Therapeutic Ethics validated unguarded expressions (often impulsive and deliberately repressed) of individual feelings and instinctual urges. “If you feel it, say it” was a requirement for a healthy personality: "How one feels defines who one is." Head-trips (i.e., self-restraint, civility and moral conscience) were anathema.
The unfettered expression of personal "feelings" without critical analysis – and, often enough, with the use of mind-altering drugs - has been consistently emphasized. The mantra of "Let it all hang out" eclipsed traditional moral and social restraints, and, as we now see, eventually sapped traditionally-accepted norms.
Radical individualism has even led to the destruction of the traditional family, the rejection of human biology and the abortion of many millions of our youngest citizens.
Some Basic Beliefs
The First Principles of Therapeutic Ethics include these ideas:
- Feelings are good, restraints harmful;
- The individual's freedom to express his needs without being judged is paramount to psychological health;
- If one is restrained by any traditional norms, the norms must be changed or done away with;
- The culture, not the person, must conform to the new morality as defined by “woke” individuals and supportive social agents;
- The process of living emotionally “free” is more important than commonly accepted norms of culture, church and society;
- “Character” is a fluctuating concept, often a moral and social trap meant to confine the person;
- Traditional morality (especially Christian morality) is a conceptual restraint manufactured by religion and society to keep people enslaved;
- A person’s personality has been wounded (often gravely) by parents, church, school and agencies of socialization which stifle our ability to "feel" and express our emotions. “Healing” is essential in order to become one’s “true self.”
- Judging people and holding them responsible for their actions is a manipulative device used by authority figures to invade psychic space of others and infiltrate their unconscious minds with controlling and self-defeating thoughts.
- Minorites (especially Blacks and women) reveal the victimizing impact of traditional family and religious methods of Western, male-dominated, white racial and sexual control.
- Whites are guilty by birth; males are inherently evil.
Whew !! … But There’s More…
The fallacies of Therapeutic Ethics found ready reception in our fluttering society during the 1960s and ensuing decades, particularly during the eras of demonstrations for civil rights and woman’s liberation. As one might expect, distortions, exaggerations, violence and abuses were not uncommon, and the aura of “victimization” became the launching pad for radical notions of “civil rights” and a litany of America’s contrived evils.
At the same time, higher education became the major vehicle for the introduction of atheistic Marxist-socialist ideas into our culture (see the influence of the Frankfort School).
Today, the pattern of destruction for our society occurs along these lines:
- Use the System against itself, as a means to weaken citizen’s pride in their nation and eventually to overthrow it.
- Appeal to victimized minorities – both legitimate and feigned.
- Magnify absurd demands and minor frustrations into sources of human rights deprived.
- Exaggerate the application of just laws (e.g., immigration, the use of “male” and “female”) as examples of racial, sexual and class injustices.
- Sow strife and instill discord under the guise of victimized righteousness, no matter how bizarre (e.g., transgendered “rights”).
- Condemn the constraints which law imposes and accuse police of consistent brutality, even when untrue.
- Heighten the duplicitous validity of anger and resentment as reasons for lawless civil rights demonstrations and “justifiable” rebellion.
- Promote disregard of existing laws even amongst lawmakers and elected officials (e.g., “sanctuary cities”).
… And More …
Over decades, the idea grew that those who inhabit academe (the educational Illuminati) and the political spectrum are the only validly informed agents of social and moral change. Some educators militantly (and erroneously) stated that academic freedom allows educators to act independently of traditional learning content and religious fervor.
Thus, educators could instill generational change without the delusions of religion, outworn patriotism and other traditional and religious concepts encoded in language, law, custom and history.
This practice is, of course, blatant abuse of academic freedom … yet it thrives in American universities and lower grade schools to this day, turning much of education into propaganda.
In addition, various corollaries arose from the First Principles of Therapeutic Ethics. For example, some people preach that:
- Caucasian men (or "the Establishment") are, by their very nature, “white male supremacists” intent on victimizing minorities.
- Churches, especially the Catholic Church, developed moral codes to enslave whole populations. They are the “enemy of the people.”
These ideas are now codified in some businesses, educational institutions and churches, giving added impetus to the belief that accountability is less important than self-expression, and that self-restraint and moral tradition are impediments to achievement, civil rights, freedom and "self-esteem."
For example, in the educational world, many unthinking Americans have mistaken “self-esteem” (a corrupting concept to begin with) for “self-respect.” Some school children advance without learning academic basics or facing the essential realities of healthy competition. In some schools, student are awarded for achieving nothing, lest their tender psyches be bruised by reality.
Still, the Liturgy of the Victim and the Vocabulary of Victimhood are solidly established in the marrow of those who indict America of “systemic racism.”
Indeed, the clamor about everlasting “victimhood” (either from those claiming personal victimhood or those hangers-on in empathic sync) has given rise to the triad of guilt -- race, class and sex/gender -- for which America is now blamed even by an increasing number of our own benighted citizens, including elected officials.
Therapeutic Ethics also gave rise to “non-judgmentalism,” a way of condemning the essential human process of judging others (a form of victimizing) for their behavior.
The corrosive “non-judgmental” myth says that holding persons responsible for their actions harms their psychic growth and happiness. It is wrong to judge anyone for what they say or do … unless the person says something which offends a politically-active minority.
And Let’s Not Forget Politically Correct Dogma
We must also consider “woke” adherents of political correctness who say that judging others for what they say or do is itself a moral evil. They do not distinguish between necessary judgments and fact-less accusations.
Therapeutic Ethics draws much energy from political correctness. To ease the "victimhood" of Blacks, women, homosexuals, transsexuals and any other “victimized” class, politically correct people keep an ever-watchful eye on every corner of our “un-woke” culture in search of victimizing perpetrators.
The politically correct notions of Inclusion without Qualification, Moral Equivalency, Selective Non-Judgmentalism, sanctimonious Selective Rage and the Deconstruction of Language and Moral Meaning are everywhere to be seen and heard. Our public discourse in politics, entertainment and even in informal conversation has become accusatory, often unrestrained, hardened and bitter. Standards of objectivity and fairness are often overshadowed by the condemnatory rhetoric of race, class, and sex-gender. Even family is not a safe zone any longer.
Rather than actually "healing" our culture, we have spawned an extensive, irrational public pathology. One example: consider the plethora of silly, self-descriptive pronouns which now abounds. A person who is dissatisfied with his/her/its gender or sexual identity now chooses from a truly bizarre list of pronouns (“zhi,” “zher,” and many, many more).
In the judgment of many persons, this is a display of narcissistic dissatisfaction with some aspect of self; a travesty of the sanctity of the person, an abuse of individual freedom. It is certainly not “social justice” achieved, nor a “civil right” earned or a “human right” triumphant. It is vandalism of reason and language, a form of self-obsession beyond parody.
Finally . . .
Human beings are given the ability to reason, to think rationally on the bases of facts and evidence. It is tragic when we act contrary to our essence as rational beings or disregard the best traditions of our culture.
Feelings and emotions certainly have definite role in the healthy lives of all of us. But feelings and emotions must serve us in conjunction with, and subservient to, reason and knowledge, facts and evidence, experience and empathy … and, hopefully the virtue of Prudence and the gift of God’s instilled wisdom.
Human nature is not -- is not -- free of innate limits and laws and responsibilities imposed upon each of us by God. It is obvious that when we disregard inherent limits of our created human nature and ignore proven guidelines for social sanity and cultural health, we do indeed unleash the worst within self and society. However, even though human nature has its particular weaknesses, we are not - thank God – condemned by our compulsions or fated to act upon our raw instincts.
Certainly, American history reveals grave mistakes made by our leaders and our ancestors – and ourselves. However, this is not a result of America but of us, of our human weaknesses.
Yes, we are all blessed with reason and guided by natural law, but we are also capable of grave error and sins of selfishness and acts of incalculable unkindness and downright evil. Yet we always have a free choice about which path we shall follow – the choice to seek a better way forward, or to continue to go woefully astray.
America -- as I have known it and loved it in my lifetime -- is the best way forward, even if some of us disdain our nation’s uneven but human struggle for goodness; even if some of us refuse to learn from history and reject the power of our own example.
In our present wayward distress, I pray we shall not seek to destroy what can unite us; shall not seek to poison what can heal us; shall not seek to banish God’s wisdom from our hearts and minds and, in so doing, condemn ourselves to the nihilism which now looms over us with unforgiving ferocity.
I wonder each day when and how – or even if -- we Americans shall ever again embrace and observe the limits of our own human nature and respond in faith and humility to the expectations of our loving, ever-patient God … and realize how grateful we should be to live in this blessed nation. I wonder……
We shall see……………. We shall indeed see…………..
5 January 2021
Asking The Unanswered
Recently, in a beach town nearby, an intoxicated, twenty-two-year-old woman drove her car into another vehicle. A young couple in their late twenties were killed. Their three daughters – five, four and one year old - were injured, but survived.
The intoxicated driver has a previous DUI citation. She is charged with a long list of offenses, including “two felony counts of murder, one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury,” and many more. Barely out of her terns, she faces a possible life sentence.
When anger and shock fade, many people understandably ask: “Why does a so-called Loving God allow such things to happen? Why?”
Searching For Clarity
We have an innate need to understand why such events occur. We struggle to make sense of the senseless, to find a logical "answer" to deeply perplexing questions. We are born to seek knowledge. It is a mandate of human nature to wonder… yet we understand so little about so much in our lives, including the reasons and motives for such avoidable tragedies.
Human intelligence and creativity are astonishing and unquestionably impressive in the ways we unfold Nature’s secrets. We are responsible for successfully meeting a variety of challenges. We have the power to peer into the vastness of the given Universe, as well as the obligation to restrain errant quests. At our best, we have the sense to pursue wisdom, i.e., to nourish the soul’s insight and the heart’s comprehension of truths beyond sensory knowledge.
Still, our desire to know all the answers is eventually encapsulated by the limitations which define human nature. Reason and logic, history and experience, wisdom and simple common sense all tell us that endless realities exist which human nature cannot comprehend and should not mess with.
So, despite our array of human achievements, we so often forget that life – with all its complexities – is a gift; a precious, delicate, paradoxical gift which contains secrets beyond our grasp. Life (all life, including our own) is a confounding reality beyond human comprehension … as is all of Creation, for that matter.
Creation is beyond our control and comprehension. The restraints of human nature should be crystal clear even to the dedicated cynic. Yet, so often we forget that Creation originates with our Creator upon Whose power and sustenance we are ever-dependent … and to Whom we are, hopefully, ever-grateful.
The Limits Of Knowing
Given our limitations, it is eminently reasonable for us to ask:
- At what point does our dissatisfaction with unknowing become excessive?
- At what point in our lives should we reasonably cease our self-defeating curiosity?
- At what point in our lives must a realistic "Aha!!" calm our demand to know-beyond-knowing?
- At what reasonable point in our lives do we accept the established boundaries of our human intellect?
- At what point in our lives to we accept the fact that there are countless realities we will never comprehend?
- At what point in our lives do we give credit where credit is due and admit our Creator does exist?
- Is it not obvious that a steady stream of miraculous events appears before our eyes every instant?
- Is it not clear that every one of us possesses grand, ennobling possibilities, especially in family?
- Is it not clear that responsibilities and obligations to one another are inherent in life and community?
- Is it not clear that we reside as guests in a Universe of amazing complexity and beauty?
- Is it not clear that every moment of our lives is itself a gift and a miracle well beyond our doing?
The blessings of this life should move us to gratitude with every breath we take, with the sounds of children’s giddy laughter, with every leaf we behold, every song we hear, every sunrise which awakens us all over again to life’s grandeur.
Mystery … And Beyond
Some people are unconvinced. They see these questions as a surrender to aging myths or quaint religiosity. They still demand to know: “If there is a God, why isn’t God kinder? Why does He permit suffering at all? And why is He so silent?”
These questions push some people to jaded cynicism or nihilism’s empty larder or atheism’s hapless rejection of our Creator. But if nothing is beyond this life -- no Creator beyond the stars, no God Who made all this -- then we must also ask: “Whence did life emerge? From what source do the laws of Nature arise? Or is Creation a soupy jumble of self-generating stuff – sort of?”
Some people say that trying to figure out God’s reasons is a “Big Mystery” … and that’s true. But this does not satisfy all of us.
In common usage, “mysteries” are puzzles to be neatly resolved. The mind demands tidy solutions to mystery. Solutions restore our mental equilibrium and placate the frustration of unknowing. But when we push the word "mystery" beyond common usage, it becomes a miscue, as if our logic could actually clarify the complexities of Creation.
The overwhelming realities of Creation – including avoidable suffering -- do not fit conveniently into the tight logic of our five senses or the formulaic calculations of human reason. Our freedom to think and to believe are actually confined, not expanded, by reliance on science alone. And human immaturity is so often the preventable cause of irresponsible woe.
If we look only to ourselves and our own resources, then intuition and contemplation, Faith and Hope and Goodness become alien indulgences. In the process of excessive self-reliance, we actually deny human nature and mistakenly equate knowledge with wisdom, a profound, often fatal, error.
The truth is that we are not born to live solely on our own terms.
The truth is that we are dependent on others all our lives -- and they upon us -- from birth through our elder years.
The truth is that we are born into a universe of unknowable realities -- but we are also responsible for much of what occurs.
The need to acknowledge our Creator is our nature’s paradoxical inheritance, the spur intended to propel us beyond knowledge to the realm of the Divine. This is our calling; it is central to our identity.
Admitting this to ourselves – accepting the power and dominion of our Creator - is indeed a surrender to Divine authority … AND a pathway to our own enrichment. It is the act of giving ourselves in Faith and Hope, not losing ourselves in doubt and futility. But it also asks of us self-restraint …
Paradox And Ambiguity
The dictionary defines “paradox” as a “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that - when investigated or explained - may prove to be well founded or true…”
The point? Life’s paradoxes offer us a truth to be found only in our struggle to make sense of the Ambiguity we encounter. Many people see Ambiguity through a darkened lens, as rampant nihilism or as a senseless drudge, without a whit of redeeming merit, as a fool’s paradise.
Others – those who are bolstered by Faith and Hope – see Ambiguity as a call to virtue, i.e., as a source of strength and focus in heart and soul ... as the Virtue of Ambiguity.
And in that context, the Virtue of Ambiguity (by definition) proposes that much of life and reality are surely unknowable … BUT our limitations are actually doorways to a different form of knowing, to a storehouse of redemptive, inspiring knowledge.
What sort of knowledge? The fact that intellectual mastery is less beneficial to human nature than contentment of heart and peace of soul, which are infused by the Virtue of Ambiguity.
At first glance, this may sound naïve and simplistic, as if lack of knowledge and capitulation to passivity are acceptable. Obviously not so. We rightly expect each profession to be thorough in the mastery of its discipline and in its approval of its practitioners. Human knowledge, the scientific method, the technologies of our age – all are powerful . . . and Justice punishes those who feign or demean Right Reason and authentic learning.
Yet somewhere along every line of inquiry, we are faced more with questions than answers. In every field, we eventually encounter that line between mastery and mystery. We encounter the Unknown, be it in science or the arts, in daily life and family – and certainly within ourselves.
And it is at the point of our fallibility and wonder that the Virtue of Ambiguity -- with its core rooted in Faith and Hope - is to be recognized as a gift from God.
The Virtue of Ambiguity becomes a gift of patient waiting and hopeful want; a gift to be accepted with gratitude, nurtured with humbled heart and spirit, as we struggle with the question of why we are so beloved by our Creator as to be granted the gift of life at all.
Freedom’s Shadow Side
We are, of course, always free to resist Faith and dismiss Hope, which are the center of the Virtue of Ambiguity.
We are free to demand our own terms, to pursue power over what we are incapable of controlling.
We are free to remain restless, impatient, skeptical creatures, if we choose.
We are free to deny, even reject, the liberating paradox of the Unknown with our resistant demands to have it all.
We are free to eschew the responsibility of respecting our own calling to goodness, to kick against the consolations of Ambiguity, to pursue denial and avoidance as we travel our own ill-advised path – even if we become lost along the way.
But the inescapable truth of our universal human limitations insists that our wisest path is to embrace the simple wisdom of Faith and the greater freedom of Hope which unaided human knowing can never afford.
The Virtue of Ambiguity is, in fact, the necessary and sufficient doorway to peace of mind and contentment of spirit, the brightest side of the paradox of Life and the truths of Revelation, i.e., of the truths written in Scripture … and in the human heart..
Finally . . .
Consolation in heart and soul is found not merely in the factual clarity of our intellect but in the calm and stillness of the Virtue of Ambiguity and its sustaining foundations of Faith and Hope as blessings we receive from our Creator.
A grandparent does not ask questions when a beloved grandchild nestles in his arms for a nap. He merely holds his grandchild in that loving embrace of stillness -- and gratefully allows his deepest sentiments of Love and Loyalty to fill his heart.
At moments of such genuine awe, we are (if we allow ourselves) immersed in the tranquility of innocence --- for it is we who are then held by our Creator, we who are then embraced by God.
And it is during such moments that persons of good will allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the peace of not having to know anything more than the calm and purity of “now” and the Love of God, which is the Origin of our lives.
Our embrace of Ambiguity - in Faith and Hope - is the best answer to the paradox of our Loving Creator Whom we can never fully grasp solely by human effort or logical means.
We can be sure that we have endless opportunities for goodness. We have responsibilities to one another which we are born to honor. There is no doubt: our choices for goodness are significant to our Creator, Who guides and sustains our lives, and Who has endowed us with accountability for the choices we make and the responsibilities we accept.
We will not solve all life’s mysteries, but we have sure and certain knowledge that Faith and Hope and the Virtue of Ambiguity are our best path to Love.
This we can understand -- if we will only “be still - and know“….