New Sherwood

Fall of Saigon

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Vietnam, to Communist forces. I commemorate this event for its impact on my own life. As a young college student in 1985 I found myself immersed in Sacramento’s exploding community of Vietnamese refugees. We were classmates and friends. They invited me to their homes, their parties, and their magnificent weddings. At school they helped me with math and science, and I helped them with English and other subjects. I remember admiring the Vietnamese engineering students who carried their huge black and yellow calculus books around campus, and thinking to myself “I’ll carry one of those books someday.” Sure enough, after much struggle with mathematics, I did carry one of those books and met my future wife in Calculus-II. Deo gratias.

I learned much from my Vietnamese friends and their families. The men were masculine, the women were feminine, and the children were innocent; they had large extended families and the children respected their elders; they tended to be religious and pro-life; they listened to classical music; they had incredible work and study habits; they were polite, well mannered, and dressed conservatively; they were anti-communist warriors; they loved America and were proud defenders of the West. In short, they provided me with a standard of “normal” where American culture was failing miserably.

Although politically pro-Western, they were deeply loyal to their homeland and seemed always to be plotting a triumphant return to Vietnam. This loyalty of theirs inspired, in me, a loyalty to my own homeland that I had never really felt before. Doan Van Toi, a Vietnamese exile and author of “Vietnamese Gulag”, ended his book with an exhortation for native-born Americans to renew their love and appreciation for their own culture. He, an outsider, could see the beauty and strength of our civilization, but he was disappointed to find that most Americans took it all for granted and seemed dangerously indifferent to the treasures they inherited. I’ve taken his words to heart.

The Fall of Saigon was an unmitigated calamity. The bloodbath was just beginning. After South Vietnam fell, so went the dominos of Laos and Cambodia. A wave of diabolical persecution swept Southeast Asia. Millions perished attempting to escape the fanatical cruelty of Communism. My father-in-law was himself imprisoned for four years in a secret re-education camp where he was severely beaten and tortured. They told him – falsely – that his wife had married a communist official, but he never believed them and his family never stopped looking for him. He was eventually released, but spies were everywhere, his family was in perpetual danger, and he was always in fear of being arrested again. As an officer in the South Vietnamese Navy he had acquired some maritime skills. In 1981 he launched a rickety boat, in the middle of the night, into the South China Sea and sailed for the Philippines with his own family and several others. By the grace of God they were rescued by a Filipino fishing crew before the pirates could get to them.

Above the Buddhist altar in my wife’s family home is a grainy, shadowy photograph of what appears to be a female figure in the sky above stormy waters. This mysterious Lady was observed by thousands of refugees as they sailed across perilous seas. The Buddhists think she is a goddess of some sort, their divine protectress. Not long after the photo was taken, in a crowded refugee camp in the Catholic Philippines, a young Vietnamese Buddhist girl was asked to play the Blessed Virgin Mary in a theatre production of the Nativity. Little did she know …  

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. The dark, evil cloud over Saigon on April 30, 1975, generated a silver lining that now shines brightly throughout the world in the lives of many Vietnamese exiles and their families – especially one family I happen to know, in far-away northern California, whose members are particularly blessed.

April 30, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

What’s Wrong with the World

A promising new web log has been launched, staffed with formidable talent and edited by my old friend Mr. Paul J. Cella, with the following mission:

“‘What’s Wrong with the World’ is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: The Jihad and Liberalism.

We are happy warriors, for our defense is motivated primarily by gratitude for what our ancestors bequeathed to us. We are hardly what the world calls ‘optimists,’ for our sense of the crisis of our age is robust indeed; but despair is among the more fashionable sins today, and our hostility to it, too, is implacable. We put not our trust in princes, but stand on the Solid Rock, against which neither the tyranny of the Crescent nor the blank negations of Liberalism shall prevail.

Jihad is the Islamic doctrine of aggressive war waged with the purpose of subjugating all non-Islamic peoples to the political and legal authority of Islam. It covers virtually all manner of crime with the shield of piety by blessing massacre, plunder, enslavement and treachery if these are judged necessary in the cause of Allah. There is nothing like it in Christian civilization. Its roots lie in the very antiquity of Islamic civilization, and though it is surely true that not all Muslims have committed themselves to Jihad, it is also true that the doctrine is at least latent in all Islamic societies. As such, it stands as an inevitable threat.

Liberalism is a more obscure doctrine to define. Its grounding, we believe, lies in the assertion of Man’s sovereignty over his own nature and destiny, his brazen defiance of God. In political philosophy its mark is the reduction of all things to some strictly materialist standard, whether openly atheistic or more subtly economic. It collapses the mystery of Man’s dualistic nature. Christianity has taught us, in the common maxim, that man is in the world but not of it. Liberalism posits that he is emphatically of it; and by its logic even the worth of human life is made subject to the whims and calculations of worldly interest. The reductionism also issues in a deep antipathy for natural distinctions of any kind; Liberalism in the end renders men incapable of judgment.

All the world is darkened by these terrible falsifications of the nature of Man and the duty he owes his Creator. For solace we look not to the morbid optimism of the world, but to a hope which was ably captured in a statement of the man from whose short book we shamelessly take our own title, who by his great ‘metaphysical intuition of being’ penetrated to the heart of these falsifications. His words were these: ‘The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.’

April 29, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Steps toward restoration

The tradition and restoration discussion must be frustrating for many. It tends toward theory and abstraction and seems to be very light on practical steps. Most of us see the problem in varying degrees of clarity, but once the diagnosis is made we need a program for action. To that end Miss Hilary White once made the following suggestions to a correspondent:

Step one: Become a traditional Christian. Practice that faith in as muscular a way as you can manage. Learn everything there is to know about the Christian traditions. Be Christian on purpose and as forcefullly and energetically as you can.

Step two: Forcefully purge all modernist and postmodern ideas from your mental landscape. (This may take many years, but is a most enjoyable exercise.)

Step three: Quit University immediately if you are in. Run! If not yet in, abandon any idea of going to University. (If you have already gone to University, go to confession and forget all about it.)

Step four: Begin to read the Classics of Western Civilization in philosophy and literature, starting with the Greeks and working your way up through the late antiquity guys, into Augustine then on to the Scholastics. When you get to the end of the 15th century, stop. Skip on to Newman. Stop. Skip again to Chesterton and Dawson. Stop again. Skip to Mortimer Adler and Gilson.

Step five: Stop reading and learn to sing, play an instrument, paint or do calligraphy (only one of these, not all at once.)

Step six: Get married to a practising member of your church.

Step seven: Have a lot of children.

Step eight: Teach them all that stuff you’ve just learned.

Step nine: Make sure you go to heaven and take as many others with you as you can.

I just have one thing to add: you can’t do this alone, in one generation, with your progeny scattered to the four winds. The restoration of Christian culture requires the re-establishment of community and continuity. It is therefore critical to settle someplace permanent and attach oneself to an existing, living, breathing community. It would be good if that community were already Catholic, and even better if it had traditional sensibilities. But that isn’t absolutely necessary. Find a real place with real character and a real history and become a part of it. Perhaps you are blessed with this already: that gives you a head start. “Love your neighbors”, says Wendell Berry. “Not the ones you want, but the ones you have.” The point is to ensure that your great-grandchildren, along with their families and neighbors and friends, are likely to be buried in the same cemetery plot as you are.

April 28, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Liturgy Survey

Inspired by a post over at Disputations, I have decided to conduct Stony Creek Digest’s first survey. The topic concerns the liturgy, and the realization that the words and gestures of the Novus Ordo depart significantly from those of the ancient liturgy (best represented today by the 1962 missal). This radical incongruity really forces us to evaluate the situation and make some kind of decision about it – however tentative. The conflict centers around the question of whether the objective meanings embedded in the competing rites are mutually exclusive, and if so, to what extent should we care? Here are the options as I see them:

1. The words and gestures of the ancient and modern liturgies are mutually exclusive, and the ancient liturgy was right.

2. The words and gestures of the ancient and modern liturgies are mutually exclusive, and the modern liturgy is right.

3. The words and gestures of the ancient and modern liturgies are mutually exclusive, but it doesn’t matter very much so I don’t take a position.

4. The words and gestures of the ancient and modern liturgies might be mutually exclusive, but I’m not competent to decide the question.

5. The words and gestures of the ancient and modern liturgies are *not* mutually exclusive, so there just isn’t a conflict.

Different kinds of Catholics have come to different conclusions. For my part, option #1 seems like a slam-dunk. What do you think?

April 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Ladies in distress

The ladies who wrote the comments below (selected for family-friendly content) are upset. In fact, these ladies are all upset about the same thing. No, there hasn’t been a terrorist attack, a hurricane, an earthquake, a tsunami, an invasion by a foreign army, or a military coup threatening to round up soccer moms and send them to concentration camps. Without peeking, can you guess the source of their distress?

“Terrifying.”

“There are no words … this scares me to death.”

“I’m shocked, horrified, and dismayed.”

“I’m absolutely terrifed.”

“I feel so degraded right now.”

“Oh, dear God. We all knew this was coming, but it’s appalling and terrifying all the same.”

“This is absolutely sickening.”

“It is sobering to know just how much they hate us.”

“It’s just horrifying.”

“This sickens me as well.”

“I really can’t stand it.”

“Dark days, these.”

“I find this whole thing appalling … this whole thing sickens me.”

“What they are doing is condoning murder.”

“This is a complete disgrace.”

“I’m actually crying as I write this. I just can’t believe it.”

“I also nearly cried when I heard this.”

“I cried too. The feeling of living in a country that would blatantly disrespect my privacy, health, and rights like this is sickening.”

“There are more of us than there are of them, babe. We WILL prevail.”

“I am in tears because other women may have to fight to stay alive because of the [bleep] [bleep]ing stupid mostly white men that run this country.”

“I feel so overwhelmed with anger … that I have to call in my closest friends and have them take turns listening to me vent.”

April 26, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Is conversation possible?

As mentioned in an earlier comment, I think we are at a point where the cultural divide is so great that conversation is no longer possible in many cases. The Other Side responds to our arguments with genuine abhorrence: to them, merely to utter something vaguely pro-life is to place oneself beyond the pale. They don’t care what our arguments are, their minds are made up, they simply don’t want to hear it. They react with revulsion rather than reason.

The reaction itself isn’t bad. Some arguments really are repulsive. Some ideas actually do merit derision, abhorrence, ridicule, and contempt. Some things are indeed “beyond the pale”. But here’s what’s interesting: we live in a divided culture where each camp finds the other revolting and intolerable. We are so far apart, for the most part, that we cannot stand one another’s company. We cannot have a simple conversation about fundamental values without going at each other’s throats or storming off in disgust. The abortion debate, for example, isn’t at all like slavery. The arguments for and against slavery were both rooted in a broadly Christian worldview with respect for the same authority and prescriptions. There was enough philosophical common ground to ultimately resolve the question. The same cannot be said for the hot topics of our time. There is no real debate or dialogue happening today: just shouting and emoting. The opposing camps simply do not have sufficient common ground for a rational discussion.

The situation is obviously unsustainable. In the long run it can only be resolved in one of three ways: conversion, political separation, or (heaven forbid) civil war. In the event that it is not resolved – a more likely scenario – the tension will result in persecution at the hands of those with the greatest power and the fewest scruples. Don’t look for scruples in the pro-choice crowd. I leave the details to the reader’s imagination.

April 24, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 33 Comments

Cristeros of Mexico

I’m not ordinarily a fan of beauty contests, but this story is too good to pass up. The militant and evocative dress of lovely Miss Mexico has been making waves today. The skirt honors the heroic Mexican Cristeros (video link courtesy of Hallowed Ground). Predictably, the secularists are furious and have demanded that she “tone it down”. Poor Miss Mexico violated almost every rule in the Universal Handbook of Political Correctness. Just imagine: a modern beauty pageant entry celebrating traditional Catholic piety combined with temporal military strength, and replete with rosaries, scapulars, a full length skirt and no cleavage! (What might look at first to be a bare midriff is actually a brown ammunition belt.)   

I’ll be scarce for a couple of days. See you next week.

April 20, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Devout Life: R.I.P.

Miss Hilary White, one of the best Catholic writers on the net, is shutting down her weblog. No reasons have been given. We must presume that it has nothing to do with scruples about blogging, given some recent statements she has made. I’m trying not to let my curiosity get the best of me. Whatever the reason, she could probably use some prayers – for herself and her dying mother.

As time allows, I am hoping to continue her fascinating discussion of tradition and restoration.

Come back when you can, Hilary. You’ll be missed.

April 20, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“The ultimate motherly act.”

Wow, this is just surreal. Here’s what TimesOnline columnist Caitlin Moran has to say about abortion:

“Ultimately, I don’t understand antiabortion arguments that centre on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. I don’t understand why pregnant women — women trying to make rational decisions about their futures — should be subject to more pressure about preserving life than, say, Vladimir Putin.

However, what I do believe to be sacred — and, indeed, more useful to the earth as a whole — is trying to ensure that there are as few unbalanced, destructive people as possible. By whatever rationale you use, ending a pregnancy 12 weeks into gestation is incalculably more moral than bringing an unwanted child into this world. Or a child that, through no fault of its own, would be the destructor of a marriage, a family, a parent. It’s fairly inarguable to say that unhappy children, who then grew into very angry adults, have caused the great majority of mankind’s miseries. If psychoanalysis has, somewhat brutally, laid the responsibility for mental disorders at parents’ doors, the least we can do is to tip our hats to women aware enough not to create those troubled people in the first place.

In short, while I am now packing something just short of the contraceptive equivalent of Trident, if I ever did have to have an abortion again, I would like to think that it would be something unlikely to provoke a moral dilemma in anyone, least of all me. I would like to see a time when abortion is considered an intelligent, logical, humble, compassionate thing to do. I would like abortion to be considered as, perversely, one of the ultimate acts of good mothering.”

To sum up, she is arguing that abortion is a motherly act because it tries to “ensure there are as few unbalanced, destructive people as possible”. There’s some logic you can run with.

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Another death

What a crazy ride this week has been. We just buried Cici, the mama goat who gave birth last night, a champion milker and the unchallenged queen of the west pasture. She was doing fine when I checked on her last night about 10:30pm. She had expelled the afterbirth, was eating and drinking heartily, and was beginning to nurse her little ones. When Amy checked on her this morning at 3:45am she was lethargic and unwilling to move from her bed in the straw. It went downhill from there. She seemed unusually large, so we thought perhaps there was another kid inside. But there were never any signs of labor after the second kid was born. Furthermore, late this afternoon a friend came over and examined her thoroughly, finding nothing. One hour later she was gone.

April 18, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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