Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

D-Day, Justice and Absurdity

Yesterday is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Just to provide some historical context: by 1943, the Germans had dominated most of Europe. They had conquered most of Western Europe in a series of military campaigns between 1939 and 1941. Between 1941 and 1942, Germany also turned on its ally to the East, the Soviet Union, and successfully conquered parts of the Soviet Union. Although the Germans were turned back by the Soviets in a series of successful Soviet military victories – such as in the Battle of Stalingrad (taking place in late 1942 and early 1943) and the battle of Kursk (taking place in the summer of 1943), the German military presence in the East was not entirely defeated. Likewise, most of Western Europe remained under German control, except for those countries that were neutral, Germany’s ally Italy, and Britain (which, nonetheless, was still subject to German airstrikes). As early as 1942, the Soviets proposed a military strategy in which the British and American forces invade Germany from the West, while the Soviets invade from the East. This would divide the military personnel and resources of the Germans, thereby making it easier for them to be defeated. While British and American forces believed that such a strategy would likely work (though there were some reservations among the British chain of command, and even Churchill himself), the act of agreeing to such a strategy and working out its details was frequently delayed due to other military campaigns fought during this time (such as the invasion of Italian forces in North Africa). A series of different military plans were developed building on this strategy, mainly by American military leaders, but the one that took effect – Operation Overlord – was agreed upon by a series of meetings between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt in 1943. Combined American and British forces would sail across the British Channel and land on the beaches of Normandy northern France. If they could successfully defeat the German soldiers there, it would be easier for them to work their way into France and drive out the German occupation, which would, at the very least, serve as a major setback for the German attempts to occupy Western Europe. This operation was carried out a year later. Between April and June of 1944, in preparation for the invasion itself, a series of British and American planes bombed the bridges and train tracks leading to the area to be invaded, which would thus isolate the German troops stationed there from the rest of the German military presence in France. At 6:30 in the morning on June 6, British and Canadian forces landed Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach, and shortly thereafter American forces landed on Utah Beach and Omaha Beach just west of the Anglo-Canadian forces. Shortly before the attack, Hitler figured out what the Allied plan was, and increased the number of mines on the beaches and the number of tanks in reserve. Thankfully, the Allies managed to counteract this. British anti-tank gunners managed to keep the German counterattack at bay. Within a day after the initial landing, most if not all of the beaches in Normandy that were under invasion had been captured by the Allies, and by June 12 (six days after the initial invasion), American forces had worked their way 15 miles inland, and retook the French city of Carentan. Throughout the Summer of 1944, battles between the Anglo-American forces on the one hand and the Germans on the other were intense. German forces stationed in and near the city of Caen initiated a series of counterattacks, some of which were successful. The Germans defeated the British in a battle taking place on June 13, as well as in a battle taking place between June 25 and June 29. Further, much of the military infrastructure built by the British and Americans just off the coast of Normandy was severely damaged or destroyed due to unfavorable weather. This caused some within the Allied chain of command to become doubtful of the chances of success. Thankfully, the Germans were also becoming emotionally worn, and their supplies were running low due to the battles. On June 28, the Allies retook the city of Cherbourg. Cherbourg was the last major German stronghold on the Cotentin Peninsula (the Peninsula on which the invasion took place). Within a month, the British and American forces were quickly heading southwards. Hitler devised a counterattack, but when Allied forces intercepted the plans, they were able to quelch the German attack. Some American forces stationed in the west near Brittany eventually met up with British and American forces from the east near Caen, and with this led to a stronger and more unified Allied front.  They began to move southward at an even faster pace, and Hitler, realizing that his forces had little chance at success, withdrew his forces from Normandy. More and more the Allies took northern France, and quickly headed towards Paris. Since Paris is in northern France, the German defeat in northern France led to a decline in the German military presence in Paris. On August 19, supporters of the French Resistance rose up against the few remaining German forces there, and were eventually joined by American and British forces. On August 25, German forces surrendered, and the capital of France was freed.


The liberation of France from then on out was now inevitable. Meanwhile, the German forces in Eastern Europe began to weaken and retreat. Within a little under a year, Allied forces were invading Germany from both the east and the west, resulting in the German surrender in May of 1945.


Such a victory was not without a high price. Within the first 24 hours of D-Day, 1,465 American troops died, 1,928 went missing, and 6,603 were injured. According to German estimates, between 4,000 and 9,000 German troops were killed, wounded or went missing. Between 11,000 and 19,000 civilians were killed during the pre-invasion strikes. Over the course of the entire period of French liberation, 200,000 Allied and 300,000 German soldiers died.


Now, as good as it is to remember those who died defending their country, especially if they fought in just wars, how does this effect the average, everyday Catholic in their spiritual development? Now, a lot of my Catholic readers may tune me out even upon saying this unspeakable name. He is the one Protestants who makes the Catholic Answers crowd break from their ecumenism – an ecumenism which really is just a delicate attempt to “reach across the isle,” so to speak, without falling into the liberal, “Let’s sit around the campfire and sing kumbayah” mentality – and speak with the same level of vitriol that Catholics spoke against Protestants in the 16th century. This because this man sometimes speaks with the same level of vitriol towards Catholics. But, this doesn’t negate when a person makes a good point.


James White, the famous Reformed Baptist preacher and apologist, recently published a livestream on YouTube commemorating D-Day. During the course of the livestream, he brought up two interesting points. The first is that those soldiers or veterans who spend a lot of time talking about their war memories are usually not the ones who did a lot of fighting. Yet, those who did the most fighting usually tend to be the ones who talk about it the least. Why is that? Out of a sense of humility, perhaps. A lot of soldiers fight not for the sake of glory but because of a sense of duty. Yet, a large reason is also because of the trauma experienced as a result of battle. And this leads to a second point: White sees a correlation between the Second World War and the social decadence and decline in religious devotion that marked the following generation. Commenting on the immense destruction of the Second World War – how some military campaigns or battles, taken alone, were sometimes more destructive than entire wars prior to that point – he notes that “a nominal Christianity can’t survive that.” The average European did not have a deep faith, and thus their trust in God was shattered by the destructiveness of the war. Without a living faith, and living, spiritually robust faith communities to support them, their ability to come to terms with the immense evil and destruction surrounding the war was pushed to its limits. This created a sense of jadedness which culminated in the cultural revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, which abandoned mainstream organized religion as something that was perceived as impotent to actually help man with real spiritual or moral dilemmas, and in fact was an obstacle to progress.


Whether or not this is true is something that can be debated and proven or disproven through further research. But, White does have a point: unless our gazes are set firmly on God, it is easy to see the struggles and hardships of this world as merely a meaningless absurdity.


There is some sense in which conflict – at least within the context of war – is absurd. Millions of people died in a conflict caused by an egomaniacal dictator who idolized his race and culture, who idolized the pursuit of power – all of which is born out of the idolization of the self, which is the cause of all sin, no matter how minuscule. How can one not see the moral and existential absurdity there? Yet, this absurdity speaks more to the reality of existence in its fallen state than to the nature of existence as such. The absurdity of human sinfulness – which expresses itself one way through war and conflict – is absurd precisely because it flies in the face of what it means to be human.


If you accept this, then you accept that there is justice. Something can’t be wrong unless it is a deviation from or a failure to attain what is objectively right. The term “justice” is derived from the Latin term jus, which literally means “right.” This is reflected in words derived from this: juste, an adjective that means, “correctly,” “rightly,” or “properly”; justitia, an adjective meaning “uprightness” or “justice”; and justum, a noun meaning “that which is just, right or proper in and of itself.” Justice always implies right order. It can, as it is most commonly used, refer to right order within relationships; yet, it can also refer to right order on an ontological level. Thus, there is a concept within Catholic thought called “original justice.” Original justice is a state in which man’s being is rightly ordered: man’s lower desires are ordered towards reason, and reason has its sights firmly fixed on God. Yet, sin negates such as state. This is the traditional definition of original sin: not as the inherited guilt of a particular sin, but rather as the negation of original justice.


Right order within man was thus offset by sin. This is why there is a certain amount of absurdity to life. Yet, God has not abandoned us; God calls us to a life of holiness, a life of justice, love, peace, chastity, purity, reasonableness, selflessness, and even in our fallen state gives us the means to live accordingly. It is easy for one without faith to see intense and destructive conflicts as a sign that life is intrinsically absurd. Yet, for one with faith, they see violence, hatred and conflict as absurd not because it is a reflection of the true nature of existence, but because it is a violation of the way things ought to be. There is an objective way things ought to be, and there is a God Who, in His grace and Providence, is restoring such a state. Thus, war is a sign of human fallenness; yet, fighting against the forces of evil that make war necessary, resisting evil and standing for justice, is only meaningful if it presupposes that life is not absurd, but meaningful.



  1. To read more about the history of D-Day, visit: https://www.britannica.com/event/Normandy-Invasion; https://www.history.com/news/d-day-casualties-deaths-allies; https://www.historyonthenet.com/d-day-casualties; https://www.thedailybeast.com/romanticizing-d-day-ignores-thousands-of-civilian-deaths
  2. To see James White’s livestream, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3nh9_LYUTo
  3. “The White Latin Dictionary (Latin-English and English-Latin): New Edition”, by John D. White, D.D. Oxon. (Follett Publishing Company, Chicago, 1938), pg. 828-820
Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

False Compassion = False Mercy

Compassion is at the core of Catholic ethical thought, precisely because it was at the core of the ethical teachings of Jesus. Yet, in today’s world, compassion is often emphasized at the expense of such things as theological orthodoxy, regular Mass attendance, obedience to Church authority (at least, whenever it suits you), and actually taking the time to read and understand the fullness of Scripture (that is, apart from the small handful of nice sounding verses floating around on the internet).


I’ve known people who exemplify this attitude to an extreme. There are people I have met who, while identifying as Christian, refuse to explicitly say that non-Christian religions are false, since they see it as somehow uncharitable. To condemn another person’s beliefs or way of life is unloving. Yet, these same individuals have also known some pretty shady or messed up people in their lives, and have a difficult time coming to forgive them.


Part of me understands this: it is difficult to forgive those who hurt you. There is a whole psychological process involved in being able to come to terms with the harm these people have caused. At the same time, with the notion of “love” or “compassion” being on the lips of most people today, you’d think that forgiving others, even our enemies, would be not too far behind. Scripture is even clear that forgiveness and compassion go hand-in-hand. St. John writes, “And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11) St. Paul speaks very similarly: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Through sinning, we make ourselves enemies of God. God is the Sovereign Lord of all, and thus is not obliged to forgive us. God is omnipotent, and thus is not in need of us. God has nothing to gain from creating and redeeming us, and nothing to lose from our non-existence. In fact, God has every reason to NOT forgive us, for all good things come from God, and yet we repay Him with sin. This is the ULTIMATE manifestation of ingratitude, for it is an offense against an All-Good God Who does nothing but love us. By our sin and ingratitude, we have made ourselves enemies of the All-Good God. God has NO reason to forgive us, and every reason to not to forgive us. Yet, God chose to forgive us anyway. What is more, we are only worthy of the things of God insofar as we remain pure of sin. When we are in a state of sin, we are worthy of God’s wrath, not His gifts. When God chooses to take us out of our sin, reconciling us to Himself and making us once more worthy of Him, at the time in which that happens, we are still in our sin. It is not until the moment God chooses to forgive us of our sins that reconcile us to Himself that we become worthy of union with God and all that results from that.


The fact that God could have mercy upon us, even though, through our sin, we have estranged ourselves from God and made ourselves deserving of His wrath, should overwhelm us. No love can be so great, so profound, as that of God having mercy upon sinners. And ALL of us were in need of God’s mercy at some point. And this is the point that John is very explicit about: once we realize that God has loved us in such a way, it should overwhelm us to such an extent, fill us with such a sense of gratitude, that we are moved to love others in a similar way.


Thise can be seen in the words of Jesus Himself: in Matthew 6:9-15, Jesus reveals the Our Father. The second to last line is, famously, “…and forgive us of our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” (Matthew 6:12). After teaching His disciples this prayer, Jesus then comments on this verse: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others of their sins, your Father will not forgive you your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Being filled with God’s love moves us and strengthens us to love in a manner that imitates God’s love for us. If we fail to love others – say, by failing to forgive one another as God has forgiven us – we cannot be fully receptive to God’s love and forgiveness.


Jesus gets even more explicit. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus says that all people, even sinners, have the drive to love those who love them, to love those they get along with, and to hate their enemies. Yet, God loves all people. Perfect love, a love imitating the love God, thus involves transcending the desire to love our friends and hate our enemies, but to love ALL people, both enemies and friends, and it is only in THIS that we can be perfect as God is perfect.


To love or forgive your enemies doesn’t mean to approve of what they do, it doesn’t mean not holding them responsible for their sins, it doesn’t mean letting their negative influence enter into your life. In fact, if you love your enemies, you will hold them responsible for their sin, you will call out for their sinfulness, because only then is it possible that they may change, to grow closer to God and become a better person. And that’s what love us: the classical definition of love is to desire the good of the other. If you love your enemies, you desire that they change their ways, that they get right with God and stop acting like your enemies, because THAT’S what’s good for them.


Yet, when you push most people to speak about how they view love, or even examine how their views speak through their actions, it is this “I’m okay, you’re okay” sort of attitude. It is getting along with people, being friends with people, and of course living peaceably with others, being their friend, involves, to a big extent, being compatible with them, and thus, to some extent, not having a problem with their personality, with their views, with their way of life – or being so fond of that person that any personal differences don’t matter. And, of course, if this is love, then why would you love sinners? Why would you love those you don’t like, whose lifestyle or worldview may not only not be to your liking, but may also be intrinsically evil?


Yet, fondness and getting along with others is not love. This thus explains why so many people these days speak of compassion, but have a difficult time learning to forgive: they have an incomplete view of love. Love must be guided by the truth in order to fully express itself, but the view of compassion held by most people is an incomplete understanding of love, one rooted in denying the fullness of the truth.


This reminds me of a quote I once heard from the famous French theologian Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange: “The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are intolerant in principle because they do not believe, but they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”


What this means is that faithful Catholics cannot accept, endorse, or even be open to every idea, because not every idea is the truth. We are committed to the truth, and one cannot claim to love the truth but also be open to falsehoods. But, because we are guided by the truth, we have a clear view of what constitutes true love. Adherence to the truth will, for the one open to God, lead to a growth in love. Yet, the enemies of the Church, the enemies of Christ, reject the Church as being close-minded. They have a single-minded devotion to be open-minded, to looking at things from multiple perspectives, to being nuances. Yet, this is just a means to an end; the purpose of these things is to actually figure out what the truth is. But, because they do not have a strong commitment to truth, they cannot properly know love.


When our love is not guided by the truth, it gives birth to false compassion. And false compassion cannot give birth to true mercy. False compassion leads one to be compassionate until or unless one is wronged, at which point one will hold a grudge, since false compassion could lead one to believe that love and compassion is ordered towards ones friends alone, rather than to friend and enemy alike. False compassion leads one to believe that mercy means excusing one’s behavior. To point out false beliefs or sinful behavior is not uncharitable or unmerciful, but is could be considered an expression of mercy par excellence. False compassion may lead one to desire to help others, to show mercy on the others, but not actually move beyond their comfort zone to do so.


Compassion, when not guided by the truth, is false compassion, and false compassion cannot lead to true mercy.

Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

On Abortion and Worldviews

There is a school of thought popular among some apologists, particularly in Evangelicalism and Calvinism. This school of thought, known as presuppositionalism, states that one cannot develop a rational worldview without presupposing the existence of God. One good example of presuppositionalism would be in a speech given by the Presbyterian minister and scholar of theology Greg Bahnsen. In that speech, he said that our fundamental presuppositions shape and shade our view of any given evidence, arguments or information we see in a debate. It is for this reason that a Christian – or anyone who believes in God – can look at the evidence for God’s existence and conclude that God exists. They already presuppose the existence of God, and thus are receptive to any evidence demonstrating His existence. Atheists and agnostics, on the other hand, presuppose that God does not exist, or that we can never know for sure that God exists, or that the existence of God is impossible. Because of this presupposition, they have a tendency to explain away any evidence for the existence of God as being either nothing more than an unexplained natural phenomena, a fraud, or as inconclusive. In order for arguments on God’s existence to move forward, we need to examine the underlying presuppositions of either side, and see which ones are the most sound, for is one’s underlying presuppositions are weak, so is the larger worldview built up around it. Bahnsen then goes on to demonstrate how presupposing the existence of God is a more rational starting point than atheism, particularly of a naturalist variety.


There is much debate on the validity of this method of apologetics. But, I believe that presuppositionalism points out an important truth: namely, that all people have presuppositions which they begin with, and the entirety of ones worldview is shaped by these underlying presuppositions. Conversion experiences, and even the mere act of changing ones mind on an issue, often includes changing ones fundamental presuppositions.


We see this in the abortion debate. Abortion seems to be on display a lot recently. On January 18, the March for Life took place in Washington, D.C. A few days later, on January 22, America commemorated the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. On that same day, New York state further expanded upon abortion rights. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into effect the Reproductive Health Act. Although the state of New York legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade [1], according to previous New York law, abortion was only allowable for the first two months of pregnancy. Yet, the new law states:


A healthcare practitioner licensed, certified or authorized under Title 8 of the education law, acting within his or her lawful scope of practice, may perform an abortion when, according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health. (Bill A-21 [Reproductive Health Act], §2599-BB, 1) [2]


What this means is that any medical professional with the competency and legal permission to perform an abortion may perform an abortion if someone asks for it in any of the three situations: (1)The mother is within two months (24 weeks) of pregnancy; (2)The child is not viable (incapable of surviving outside the womb); or (3)The pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s life. It is thus theoretically possible for an abortion to be procured up until the moment of birth.


Not only was this something that was publicly celebrated by many activists and politicians in New York – including Governor Cuomo himself – but Governor Cuomo is not satisfied with the Bill itself. Earlier this month, Cuomo said during a speech at Barnard College that he hopes to make the rights enshrined in this law a permanent part of New York law by adding an amendment to the New York state constitution allowing for abortion. [3]


Proponents of the Pro-Life movement may feel the initial desire to respond with shock and moral condemnation. This is 100% called for. Yet, vague moralizing will not move the conversation forward. To connect this debate to the larger point raised at the beginning of the post: all ideologies are based on a certain set of presumptions, and the strength of a worldview or ideology is based on the strength of the presuppositions, or how well you can apply them to this situation. In the Bill itself and in the immediate aftermath of its passing, the underlying presuppositions were on full display.


In the beginning of the Bill, when describing the legislative intent, the text says that “comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, is a fundamental component of a woman’s health, privacy, and equality.” It repeats this again when introducing the actual content of the Bill itself: “The legislature finds that comprehensive reproductive health care is a fundamental component of every individual’s health, privacy and equality. Therefore, it is the policy of the State that: … [the text of the law is then described]” [2] Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, during a series of speeches given in celebration of the passing of the Bill, said, “We’re saying here in New York, women’s lives matter. We’re saying here in New York, women’s decisions matter.” [4]


For many Pro-Choice advocates, the push for abortion is a matter of “health, privacy and equality.”  Many Pro-Choicers want to avoid undo government regulation on one of the most intimate and private affairs for women as individuals, and, in many cases, for married couples as well. It is a matter of health as well. It is safe to assume here that Pro-Choicers are thinking not of a woman waking up one day and choosing to get an abortion because it is inconvenient to  be pregnant. They are thinking of the “hard cases” – instances where pregnancy is somehow connected to, either directly or indirectly, some sort of medical complications on the part of the mother. In these instances, the mother has the right to protect her health. Since reproduction is unique to women, and pregnancy and childbirth is a delicate process that could easily go awry, reproductive health is a fundamental part of women’s health. The right to deal with such a fundamental part of her health, and the right to be free from undue government regulation, is important to establishing women’s equality to men in society, since the intimate parts of men’s lives, and the right of men to deal with health issues unique to them, is something that society accepts and preserved.


Why is it that, as Steward-Cousins says, the mother’s life and the mother’s choice takes precedent over their unborn child? The reason why is explicitly stated in the text of the Bill itself:  in order to justify abortion, the definition of homicide is changed. The definition of homicide, according to New York state law, was any intentional action or inaction that resulted in the death of another person. New York state law, up until a few days ago, recognized an unborn child who is past the second month of development as being apart of the list of those who could be potentially subject to homicide. Therefore, first-degree abortion was placed in the same category as murder, first and second-degree manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide as one of the actions that fell under the definition of “homicide.” The definition of homicide was changed in the most recent law so that abortion was no longer considered a part of the definition of homicide. This was because the definition of “personhood” was changed in order to preclude unborn children from the definition of personhood. This is because homicide can only be considered homicide if it is against another person. This bill redefined personhood as such: “‘Person,’ when referring to the victim of a homicide, means a human being who has been born and is alive.”


Thus, for Pro-Choicers, the right to privacy and bodily autonomy are inviolable rights. The reason why these rights could be used in certain circumstances to justify abortion is because the unborn child is not a person, or only a quasi-person at best, without any rights. Therefore, the mother’s rights take precedent over the fetus’s right to live, which is non-existent.


This is the underlying set of presuppositions found in Pro-Choice ideology. It is evident, both from this law and from the general cultural ethos it was born out of, that the Pro-Choice movement is gaining traction quickly on a legal or political front. If Catholics, and Pro-Lifers in general, hope to stop this trend, one path to take is to demonstrate these presuppositions to be shaky. If one can demonstrate that these underlying assumptions about when life begins, about the nature of the human person, about the nature of how rights and personal bodily autonomy play a role in interpersonal relations, are not sound, then one can demonstrate that the whole ideology built up around this is unsound. This is not the only thing we need to do in order to bring about conversions, but this will play a role in convincing those who have thought through their Pro-Choice ideology.


The opposite is also true. To convince the vast majority of Pro-Lifers, Pro-Choicers must prove the invalidity of the following assumptions (which Pro-Lifers must defend in order to demonstrate the validity of their ideology): 1)Life beings at conception, and therefore a fetus is a person; 2)All persons have equal rights; 3)Women do have the right to bodily autonomy, a right to privacy, a right to chose when and with whom to have children, but since all persons have equal rights, one person does not have the right to exert their rights at the expense of another person. It is from this that Pro-Lifers conclude that abortion is never allowable or allowable only in extreme circumstances.


Debating these points, challenging Pro-Choicers on these fundamental concepts, is the main way to counteract the spread of the demonic ideology which threatens the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable among us.




  1. “New York Dems Flex Muscles, Pass Reproductive Health Act.” Published on the website of CBS New York, January 22, 2019. Accessed on: https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/01/22/reproductive-health-act-new-york-legislature-gov-andrew-cuomo-roe-v-wade/?fbclid=iwar2izklszfudxp1gs7r68iybhypywbta4f9eu_xxeux0qla0pzdswhhjobg
  2. Bill A-21 (“The Reproductive Health Act”), passed by the Legislature of the State of New York, January 22, 2019. Accessed on: https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2019/A21
  3. “Cuomo Pushing To Add Abortion Rights To NY Constitution.” Published on the website of CBS New York, January 7, 2019. Accessed on: https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/01/07/cuomo-pushing-to-add-abortion-rights-to-ny-constitution/
  4. Caitlin O’Kane, “New York passes law allowing abortions if mother’s health is at risk.” Published on the website of CBS News, January 24, 2019. Accessed on https://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-york-passes-abortion-bill-late-term-if-mothers-health-is-at-risk-today-2019-01-23/
Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

A Blog Post Made Up Of Three Unrelated Rants

Well, the topics are not completely unrelated. I will pull them together at the end.


The first thing I would like to talk about is how time is seemingly going by faster and faster. As cliched as it sounds, it seems like only yesterday that we were ringing in the new year, and the year we were all looking forward to was…2018. I’ve been speaking of this to friends and family because, over the course of the past few weeks – possibly even longer – not only have I noticed that the end of the year has approached quickly, but this is the first time in which it seemed or appeared to me as if time flew by. I’m beginning to understand why older people complain about how there is so much to do but too little time to do it.


This, for me, shows how much of what we see around us is limited, finite, and impermanent. All is passing. And this got me to thinking: people often neglect the things of this world because they act as if these things – and even they themselves – will last forever. Yet, when people are truly taken aback by just how finite, fragile and passing the things of this world are, it is possible become overly-sentimental, and overly-attached to the things of this world, to desire too much the things of this world or to be too sad about their loss. There are some things that we should be extremely sad at their loss, or have a great desire for their acquisition; yet, the amount we desire it, or the amount we mourn its loss, should be proportionate to the extent to which it has the nature of a good, or the extent to which its loss of an evil – no more, no less. A warped understanding of the nature and necessity of the things of this world could lead us to desire something or mourn its loss too much or too little.


Another thing I have been thinking about lately is a conversation that I had with some relatives on Christmas. One of my relatives spoke of a Christmas message from a local Catholic clergyman in which he placed much emphasis on Jesus’ lowliness, Jesus’ humanity. Another relative repudiated this, claiming that an over-emphasis on this point was, in essence, a failed attempt to make Jesus more relatable. Yes, Jesus was a man, but we should never forget what lie just out of view: namely, that Jesus was more than just a man, that He was also God.


To both views I say: YES! There are two sides to the Incarnation. Much to the chagrin of Ancient Greek thought, God is outside of the created world, and is thus unlimited and utterly transcendent, but God in no way remains unconnected or unconcerned with the created world; what is more, to the protestations of Jewish and Islamic thinkers, God is not only involved with His creation, He ENTERS INTO CREATION, without ceasing to be God. Even devout and pious ways of speaking of Christ found among Christians focus in on Jesus’ Divinity to such a degree that they fall into a quasi-Nestorian or quasi-Doceitist view – i.e., Jesus’ humanity was simply a puppet or a vessel for His Divinity, or we can just out-and-out ignore or severely water-down His humanity. Catholic spirituality demands of us that we take seriously the completely scandalous claim that the utterly transcendent, all-powerful, all-knowing God became like us in all things but sin. He looked no different than most humans; He acted no differently in His day-to-day life (other than not  sinning), and by that we mean He felt happiness, sorrow, pain, sleepiness, hunger, thirst, and distress, He had family members and friends, lived within a certain culture and historical period, and was even tempted by the devil himself, and subjected to religious laws (laws of which He Himself was the author) – as all other humans do. That God would take on such limitations is, for the lack of a better word, mind-blowing. But, what is more, Jesus became man without ceasing to be God, and this is asserted much to the chagrin of many non-Christians and atheists, who may be willing to acknowledge the existence of a historical figure named Jesus, but who are unwilling to acknowledge Him as God. There was more to Jesus than meets the eye. Yet, this feeds into our prior point: in opposition to the warped (though well-intentioned) piety of many Christians, the glory and majesty of God is found precisely where one would not expect it. It is found under the guise of its opposite. During the Christmas season, we acknowledge the lowliness within which God manifested Himself, and in doing so celebrate His majesty, without watering-down either.


On a similar but distinct note, in the days following Christmas, in my conversations with friends and coworkers, I’ve frequently asked them how their Christmas was, and how they chose to celebrate it. Some said that they had very low-key celebrations of Christmas, made up of little more than small get-togethers with a tiny group of family members and friends. One coworker said that she spent most of Christmas at work, and later returned home and spent the rest of the day doing a lot of nothing.


Part of me feels that it is not my place to tell people how to celebrate Christmas. Outside of Mass attendance, the Church mandates no specific way in which to celebrate Christmas. If one chooses to spend time with others or spend time alone, if one chooses to have large parties or smaller social gatherings, it doesn’t matter, so long as it provides an occasion to reflect upon the meaning of the birth of Christ in a spiritually meaningful and fruitful manner. Yet, there is a difference between having non-liturgical – i.e., family-based or folk – celebrations small and having no private celebrations and treating Christmas like any other day. It is easy to fall from the former to the latter. The giving of gifts and the holding of feasts on Christmas is a good thing, a tradition that should be continued; yet, in today’s materialist society, it is easy to take the attention away from Christ, and thus these traditions become less of a celebration of the Incarnation and more of a celebration of self-indulgence. Christmas has thus become, for many, a burden. This is because the feasts and the reminiscing and the gift-giving and the folk practices have been divorced from that which inspired them, and replaced it. It’s difficult, emotionally-draining, and costly to arrange or prepare celebrations, buy gifts, and deal with that one annoying relative. If one can have the day off from work and not have to deal with all the hard work and stress of hosting or preparing for a party, then one has hit the jackpot. One can have a true vacation. But, if you have to work on Christmas, well, you gotta do what you gotta do.


Albeit gift-giving and Christmas parties aren’t a bad thing, and there are some circumstances in which one can obtain a dispensation from one’s religious duties for reasons relating to work. Yet, people become obsessed with gifts, and most people are not working intense jobs that require round-the-clock labor (i.e., military personnel [who, by the way, still have military chaplains] or farmers [who, especially in the world of modern transportation, can often still find a way to get to Church or have a priest come to them]). Thus, if people are placed in situations where they are essentially threatened to lose their source of financial stability for taking time out of work for the sake of their obligations to God, or if they become obsessed with buying gifts (i.e., Black Friday), then is it any wonder that people have no strong sense of religion, or are spiritually lazy, or don’t understand the liturgy, or barely have time to read and study the Bible. People are reduced to workers and buyers, consumers and producers, not as spiritual agents who must foster a relationship with God.


What unites all of this. Either neglecting or clinging too much to the things of this world; allowing a consumerist mentality to distract us from our obligations to God; not seeing the glory of God shine through in the lowliness in which Jesus lived – all of this is a sign of thinking with the mind of man rather than the mind of God. Man, due to sin, has forgotten how to order the things of this world towards God; man thus fails to live out his obligations to God and His fellow man. To save us from this, God initiated His plan of salvation, which reached its epitome in the Incarnation. For those who remain in their sin, it is easy to either deny anything beyond the immediate here and now, the transcendent, especially if it is Divine in nature, or to say that such things have no connection to the things of this world. For the true Christian, though, God’s plan of salvation, the Christmas season in particular, is a sign of God lowing Himself to our level so that we may be taken up into the things of God. We are thus given the ability to use, order, and view the things of this world correctly, neither loving them more than God or allowing them to distract us from God, nor neglecting them, but rather ordering them towards God, so that they can be used by God to point towards Him.



Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

The Spirit of Christmas vs. The Spirit of Consumerism

We’ve just completed the first week of November. As of yet, I’ve heard no Christmas music, but I have seen at least 3 or 4 Christmas commercials, and my local mall seems to be experiencing an internal emotional conflict as to whether it still wants to decorate for Halloween (and fall more generally), or whether it wants to jump the gun and start decorating for Christmas.


One year, back a while ago (I believe I was in middle school or high school, possibly even earlier), I remember one radio station started to play Christmas music the week of Thanksgiving, and stopped playing Christmas music on Christmas day itself! For a while, I thought that was extreme; but, back a few years ago, that same radio station began to play Christmas music the day after Halloween, but stopped either later that day or the next day, before resuming to their normal schedule of delaying the Christmas music until late November/early December.


A lot of people get peeved by this. Probably because it makes it seem as if the Christmas season is too rushed, as in the case when they play Christmas music really early and stop it relatively early as well; for others, it makes the Christmas season drag out, and turns what should be a happy, joyous time of the year into overkill; or it may simply be that it is a lot of work to prepare for Christmas, and people don’t like being rushed into it before they’re ready.


All valid reasons. But, I think there is another reason to get angered at this: the battle between the spirit of consumerism and the spirit of Christianity. Now, this isn’t some anti-capitalist tirade, so just hear me out: if by “capitalism” you mean an economic system based on the private ownership of property and the free exchange of goods and services, then there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It does not contradict the Bible or Church teaching, and several Magisterial documents have upheld the right of individuals and private groups to own property, and how all economic exchanges should be entered into freely and equitably. But, the problem is one we have seen dominating American culture since the middle of the 20th century – namely, consumerism. By consumerism I mean the reduction of people to merely consumers and producers. The ability to mass produce goods, or to create an ever increasing diversity of products, is not the issue: it’s rather the ethos it creates. “You just haven’t lived until you’ve bought this new product.” “How did you ever get by without this new gadget?” “Think about how much better your life will be with this new cheaply manufactured, ‘Made in China’ or ‘Hecho in Mexico’ waste of time!” Consumerism, intentionally or unintentionally, makes the production and accumulation of goods the highest good that man can attain. We allow proximate goods to take precedent over ultimate goods.


The liturgical life of the Church, too, has been subjected to this sort of logic. Christmas has been, to use a Marxist term, commodified. (Again, this is not meant to be Marxist propaganda; Communism, while criticizing some of the abuses of capitalism, itself fell into the same unsound spiritual and moral dilemma, namely of reducing man to the material realm, and even going as far expressly pushing aside religion as the tool of the bourgeoisie.)


Yes, people hold celebrations on Christmas, as they should. And they will need people to sell them decorations, food, presents, etc. There is nothing wrong with that. But, it has almost become a stereotype (a stereotype, unfortunately, employed by the same people who commodified Christmas in the first place to distract you even more from the meaning of Christmas) that people get so caught up in the craziness of preparing for Christmas, the awkward and uncomfortable feelings brought about by being with your in-laws, and being so consumed by the act of giving and receiving gifts, that we forget the real purpose of Christmas.


And what is the real purpose of Christmas? “It’s about family!” No, not really. Spending time with your family is a good way to celebrate Christmas, but it’s not the purpose of Christmas. You spend time with your family on the two major holidays surrounding Christmas (Thanksgiving and New Years’). If Christmas is only about spending time with your family, how is Christmas different than these other holidays? “It’s a celebration of giving!” Good, getting ever so slightly closer. But wrong. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can begrudgingly force out of them a short, meek little, “It’s about Jesus, I guess.” That’s good, but there are a little over 50 Sundays in the year – that means, 50 different times of the year when we have to go to church and think about Jesus – plus feast days throughout the year specifically commemorating different aspects of Jesus’ life and identity, including feast days commemorating the Jesus’ circumcision, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, as well as the Last Supper, the Wise Men visiting Him on the first Epiphany, and feast days commemorating His Presence in the Eucharist and His Kingship.

You may then hear someone tepidly saying, “It’s about His birth.” DING DING DING!!! WE HAVE A WINNER!!!


Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy spending time with family, getting gifts, and the food. While some of the secular Christmas music can be tacky, it still never ceases to get me in a good mood. So, on a subconscious level, I associate all of these things with Christmas, and that’s part of the joy I associate with Christmas. And I’m sure this is true with many of you, too. But, when was the last time you ever heard anyone discuss in depth, or seen anyone contemplate, the notion that Christ became man to save us from sin? When was the last time people centered the Christmas season around reading the infancy narratives, or the beautiful meditation upon the Incarnation found in John 1, or St. Athanasius’ statement that “God became man so that man could become god”? Is it commonplace to see Christians in the West use the Christmas season as a time to contemplate the newfound union between God and humanity that has been made possible by the coming together of human nature and the Divine nature in Jesus? Considering that only a little over one-third of Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox Christians, and only about half of Evangelicals go to church every week, and also considering that religious literacy tends to be low among Americans, including and especially among Christians – I doubt this is the case for anyone outside of certain devoutly religious circles.


And therein lies the problem: the Christmas season has been stripped of its very essence. It’s been deprived of much of its spiritual meaning. And, what more are we to expect from a culture that, for the most part, has a very sterile spirituality? Religion, particularly Christianity, as played a major role in American culture no doubt. But, over the course of the past few decades, we’ve seen the coming together of several different trends: the rise of consumerism, the decline in involvement in organized religion – which was only made worse by the rise of certain ideological trends which have certain anti-religious currents [feminism, relativism, secularism, the gay rights movement] or certain more general behavorial trends which have only fanned the flames of anti-religious sentiment [i.e., the increase in the use of contraception or out-of-wedlock sex]) – much of which is exacerbated by the fact that religious education programs have dropped the ball in teaching the past two or three generations, and the fact that religion has often attempted to appeal to the lowest common denominator to attract more followers. This has lead to the rise of a lot of shallow, feel-good theological and spiritual systems, and has made atheism – while still a tiny minority – much more influential than it once was.


What we see now is a culture made up of a lot of people who don’t know a lot about religion, and who don’t really care – or, more precisely, they care enough to, at some point, ask questions about religion and spirituality and to have some sort of opinion on this matter, but who are not really involved in religious organizations, who aren’t invested enough in religion to actually act upon their religious obligations on a regular basis, and who don’t like being told what to do or what to believe by institutions – but, for some reason they want to celebrate Christmas. Maybe it is because they have fond memories of it from childhood. Maybe it’s the result of living in a culture that still has some semblance of a Christian ethos. Maybe it’s just a matter of them being attracted to the general feel of that time of year. I don’t know. But what we are left with is a society of people who, for the most part, desire to celebrate Christmas, and have some understanding of why they celebrate Christmas. Due to their lack of proper education, what little they do know about the Christmas spirit is reduced mostly a vague, fuzzy set of ideas we call “the Christmas spirit.” This is then bogged down by the spirit of consumerism, which, seeing Christmas celebrations as an opportunity for profit, direct our attention away from the truth behind the Christmas spirit and towards the gift-giving, the food, the celebrations, which become an end unto themselves.


Let’s take, by contrast, the Jews. I don’t know how things are faring within the Jewish community when compared to the Christian Church, but there is some evidence that things aren’t much better: according to the survey linked above, only 19% of Jews as of 2014 attend weekly religious services, even though, like with Christianity, this is something that is mandated in their religion by virtue of Divinely-revealed precept.  Within Judaism, you also see shades of adherence to the traditional way of doing things: from the very liberal Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism to the more moderate Conservative Judaism to the traditionalist Orthodox Judaism, and even within the latter movement there exist degrees (from those with very traditional spirituality and worship but who otherwise are very assimilated into mainstream modern society, to the Hasidic movement, to fundamentalist or borderline-fundamentalist sects with separatist tendencies). Modernism has with Judaism, as with Christianity, plagued numerous and untold numbers of faith communities. (There is just as much of a “cultural Jewish” phenomenon as there is a “cultural Catholic” or “cultural Christian” phenomenon.) Nonetheless, go to any Jewish individual or family with even a modicum of involvement in or education about their faith, and they can tell you the reason why they celebrate the Passover, or Hanukkah, or any other major celebration. And there are certain mechanisms in place to ensure this: during Passover celebrations, it is a practice for families to engage in special meals, during which the head of the household recites a series of ritual prayers and, at some point, summarizes the Biblical stories surrounding that laid the basis for the Passover. Hanukkah, to provide another example, really makes no sense without understanding the larger historical events that laid the basis for it.


Now, part of the reason why Hanukkah or Passover has not been commodified, at least not to the same extent as Christmas, is because Jews are a tiny minority within the United States. But, could another reason possibly be because it is more difficult to commodify these holidays? Could it be that Jews have sufficiently kept their gaze on the deeper spiritual basis for these holidays, something which Christians have forgotten? This would require an in depth analysis of the current spiritual state of contemporary Judaism, as well as unfounded hypotheses concerning what the Jewish community would have been like had, let’ say, Judaism and Christianity swaped places. But, I think it’s a possibility.


And we as Christians need to do the same thing. We need to refocus our attention on that which lays the basis for our faith, lest our faith become merely a cultural phenomenon devoid of any spiritual meaning. The concept of the Eternally-Begotten Word of God assuming flesh in order to save us from sin so that we may be reconciled to God, and thereby spiritually renewing mankind so as to become by grace what the Son is by nature, namely sons and daughters of God, inheritors of the Kingdom, and partakers of the Divine life – that can’t easily be commodified. But, gift-giving and celebrations, when separated from their deeper spiritual meaning, can be more easily commodified. And this brings us farther and farther away from the true meaning of Christmas, and that which is meant to elevate our minds towards God and His salvific plan becomes nothing more than an opportunity to indulge the passions. Something meant to celebrate our salvation becomes an occasion for that which we were meant to be saved from.