Thomas Aquinas College in the spring

We were privileged to visit Thomas Aquinas College again this month. I attended one philosophy class and two theology seminars, and left greatly impressed with the participating students. One of the children remarked that TAC feels more like “home” than home, and I can definitely see the point. Here are some photos taken by a family friend who accompanied us:

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TACBetsyAmanda

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Breaking the rules

Pope Francis I passes a Swiss Guard as he leaves the Paul VI hall after an audience for members of the media, at the Vatican

This little story about Pope Francis and one of his weary Swiss guards will inevitably charm everyone but the stone-hearted. As it well should. We see in Pope Francis, the Jesuit, a very Latin and Franciscan way of being Catholic.

But let’s be very careful about reading too much into gestures like this. It’s true that rules were made for man, not man for rules. And so when a man-made rule is broken for the sake of charity or necessity, it can be a laudable thing. Our Lord Himself paved the way when, for example, he healed the sick on the Sabbath (a divine law, but deformed at the time by many Jewish accretions).

However, selective rule-breaking is only laudable in the context of general rule-keeping. Let me put it another way: rule-breaking only has symbolic value in a culture where the default mentality is obedience and rule-keeping. Otherwise, breaking the rules symbolizes nothing more than just another individual doing his own thing, his own way, just as everyone else does – because he can.

When it comes to religion and all things associated with Catholicism, I submit that most Catholics don’t need a lesson in charitable rule-breaking or any other kind of rule-breaking. Some of us do, undoubtedly, and if the shoe fits let us wear it gladly. Pope Francis is who he is, and I am grateful for that. But generally speaking, the Christian world is reeling from its contempt for Catholic order and discipline, and is desperately in need of holy examples of obedience. If another pope decided, instead, to commend the Swiss guard on his fidelity and discipline rather than bringing him a chair and a sandwich, such a pope would not for this reason be any less charitable.

The economy collapses on the young

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When I left home at age 17, I almost lived the libertarian fantasy: with no favors, no preferences, no connections, and on the sheer force of a naked resume and a youthful smile, I knocked on doors in the industrial parks of Sacramento until a total stranger agreed to hire me for minimum wage.

I say “almost” because I was nevertheless surviving on the goodwill of relatives, who provided room and board for me while I “made it on my own”. I went to work for a family owned business, even though I wasn’t a family member.

It has long been my dream to be in a position to provide employment for my own children should they ever be in need. The older I get, the more unlikely it seems this dream will ever come to pass. Chances are, my children will have to “make it on their own” too. Increasingly our economy is leaving the young behind. 

” … I wonder how much kids are suffering from the absence of a father who can prevail on personal or business connections to help them find that first job, begin an apprenticeship, or begin a career. Moms can do those things too, of course, but there’s no doubt that the single-parent family leaves kids with one less parent to open doors for them.  And those parents are often younger, and working less stable, shorter-term jobs.  The connections needed to give their children a hand into the job market are less common than they used to be.  A powerful, subtle network that once helped young people interface with the job market has gone offline.”

Indeed. At age 46 – technically a member of “Generation X” – I belong to a transitional generation in which, for some, personal and familial connections still mattered, but for many, the expectation was one of total independence. Radical individualism. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Etc. By the 1980s employment by means of family connections, for example, was widely considered to be “nepotism”. A man working for his father’s business was thought to have been given an unfair advantage, at the expense of workers who may be better qualified.

Fast forward to 2013, and that mentality is thoroughly entrenched. We live in a militant meritocracy – in theory, at least, unless one is in possession of ideological entitlements (e.g., one is female, non-white, a disabled veteran, or homosexual). But if you don’t win the meritocracy contest, and if you aren’t entitled to decent employment for ideological reasons, then it’s tough going these days. Especially for the young. The unemployment rate for young people ages 16-24 exceeds 50 percent.

Insofar as we are to preserve a remnant of Christian civilization in the dark days ahead, we will need to get back to the practice of taking care of our own. Parents who are capable should make every effort to secure employment for their children, meritocracy be damned.

Why the religious liberty argument will backfire

The bishops and most Catholic political activists have made “religious liberty” the cornerstone of their argument against the HHS mandate. But this is extremely short-sighted in my opinion, and is likely to be used against us. In the first place, the concept of liberty is slippery and ambiguous. Consider two possible definitions of religious liberty:  1) the right to be free from legal coercion in religious matters; and 2) the right to be free from social and economic coercion in religious matters. This distinction is critical but is lost on most people. The bishops have definition #1 in mind, but the courts and the general public already think in terms of #2 … and #2 is a trojan horse with great potential to undermine Catholic institutions.

In 2011 a legal complaint was filed against Catholic University of America arguing that Muslim students have the right to their own prayer rooms – along with the right not to be intimidated by Catholic symbols everywhere, such as crucifixes in the classrooms. Religious liberty in this sense means the right of individual Muslims to unfettered religious expression and accommodation, even on a Catholic university campus. And why not? Liberty is liberty. To the extent that religious expression is in any way prevented or made difficult, religious liberty is compromised. Religious liberty, according to this understanding, depends upon the means and opportunity of expression rather than the absence of legal prohibitions. The CUA complaint went nowhere, but the logic is already employed in other contexts, so it isn’t far fetched to imagine all kinds of anti-Catholic mischief being justified in the name of religious liberty.

Furthermore, we really don’t believe in a generic form of “religious liberty” anyway, even in the sense of freedom from legal coercion. Consider the same-sex “marriage” controversy. Some religious denominations believe in it. Don’t their members have the right to religious liberty? Same goes for Muslims and others whose religions allow polygamy. And what about numerous other religious-based practices that ought to remain illegal – take female circumcision, for instance, or smoking pot? Better yet, let’s consider child sacrifice, which is known to be practiced by the adherents of La Santa Muerte.  Does child sacrifice as a religious liberty issue seem far-fetched to you? It shouldn’t. Devotees of this Mexican death cult are already here, as are Americans who believe in the right to kill children yet unborn.  The idea of religious liberty means that people should not be forced to comply with religious values they don’t believe in. Many Americans – including many religious Americans – don’t believe in Christianity’s absolute prohibition of child killing. Don’t they also have a right to religious liberty?

The fact is that any unspeakable horror can be justified in the name of religious liberty. Religious liberty isn’t the issue. The issue is Christian liberty, because Christianity is true and its values are good for society. That might be a harder sell, but it’s an honest one and it will never be used against us. As it stands, I’m afraid the more battles we fight for “religious liberty”, the more ground we cede to our enemies.

Friday roundup

It’s comforting to know that I am not the only Catholic who has misgivings about military service in our time. Clearly the armed forces have need of good and virtuous men – the more, the better. Soldiering is an inherently noble vocation. I have the privilege of knowing a few enlisted men today, all exemplary Christian patriots. But my misgivings grew after a brief attempt to join the Navy reserves twenty years ago and exposure to its morally depraved culture. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that Abu Ghraib was not a surprise to me. Things were going bad then; they are much worse today. Michael Avramovich summarizes my own thoughts quite well.

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“Building a Village of God”, a sermon by Fr. Philip Anderson, Abbot of Clear Creek Monastery:

“Following the Blessed Virgin Mary, the ‘star of the New Evangelization,’ and, on the contemporary scene of this world, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, whose own tranquil faith continues to inspire us, let us construct right here at Clear Creek a small but significant corner of that true civilization of love. Saint Augustine spoke of the ‘City of God.’ May Clear Creek become the ‘Village of God’ and the rugged but beautiful birthplace of a new generation of saints for America and for the world.”

(H/T: Man With Black Hat).

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“Chastity and the Restoration of Catholic Culture”, by Dr. Taylor Marshall, argues for truths long neglected by modern Catholics:

“Our Catholic forefathers believed that a man who could tame his sexual passions was truly honorable and heroic. This is why only celibate men were chosen for the priesthood. Their strong resolve communicated not effeminacy, but manly fortitude over their sexual passions. This power over the sexual appetite was transferred to evangelical ferver, missionary endeavors, and feats of penance. In fact, this produced a healthy spiritual imperialism in the Catholic Church. Moderns turn up their noses to the idea of  ‘imperialism,’ but the Christ of the cross who is the Prince of Peace is the Emperor of this Empire, what’s there to fear?

This spiritual imperialism of Christ was fully appreciated by our Christian forefathers. We, however, have forgotten the ancient feats of strength demonstrated by the monastics of old. For example, the penance of the Desert Fathers would have brought a sense of wonder even to the Roman Stoic Cato. We have forgotten the triumphant Roman martyrs, such as Saint Lawrence who would have kindled awe in the bravest Roman pagan warriors, such as Mucius Scaevolus. As the baptized have forgotten the noble army of martyrs that once fertilized the Eternal City with faith, so also have they lost esteem for Rome’s spiritual dignity.”
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OldTVTime
has resurrected a charming and instructive video series for young people from the 1950s.
Here are a couple of samples:

Logic and virtue

Though I’ve been derailed by a summer cold, I’m looking forward to returning to a class I’m leading with my three older children this semester: Traditional Logic I.  While going through this material and some supplementary sources, my thoughts have been drawn to many of the arguments I have made, heard, and read in recent times.

And something occurred to me: logic is a virtue, and the employment of fallacies is sinful. Logic as a discipline covers much more than fallacies – and indeed some preliminary work in logic is needed before one is competent to evaluate fallacies – but the study of fallacious reasoning is a good example of moral failure in argumentation. Let’s keep in mind that a thought process is only fallacious if it purports to do something it doesn’t do, to prove something it doesn’t prove. The sinfulness lies in the dishonesty. If I claim that a particular belief is traditional and therefore worthy of serious consideration, but do not claim that its being traditional is absolute proof that said belief is true, that may not be a fallacious argumentum ad antiquitatem, but an invitation to consider that said belief has served some human purpose with a measure of success and should not, therefore, be casually dismissed and replaced on a whim.

I have liberally employed all the fallacies myself over the years, and you probably won’t need to dig very far into the archives of this blog to find them. Fallacious reasoning is all too easy to justify. I’m willing to take the medicine. What is disheartening, however, is the fact that so few people seem to care enough about truth to learn how to reason well. Most people, it seems, are utterly without scruples when it comes to constructing an argument. Even more discouraging is the fact that few educated people, whose business it is to persuade, seem to know how to persuade properly without resorting to faulty reasoning. This has been my observation all across the political spectrum -left, right, and center.

I don’t know that formal or informal logic needs to be taught to everyone. A person who is intellectually honest and honorable will be logical enough. The temptation to bad reasoning is a temptation to sin against the truth in order to achieve a desired end (e.g., winning an argument) – consequentialism. Furthermore, although it’s not a danger for most, we shouldn’t cultivate the kind of hyper-rationalism that demands logical proofs for everything. In the first chapter of the text, readers are reminded that the claims of logic are really quite modest. Logic is a tool for deriving one truth from another truth, not for discovering truth in the first place. The truth of premises used in logical argumentation are discovered via observation, experience, philosophy, and religion. Nevertheless, for a nation with a heavily democratic ethos like the United States, the failure to teach logic and critical thinking to our youth is a salient contribution to the crisis that is upon us today.

Singing the Saint Michael Prayer

Paul Jernberg, the new Composer-in-Residence at Thomas More College,  has composed music for the traditional Saint Michael Prayer that is gaining some remarkable traction. David Clayton, also of Thomas More College, tells the story:

“We had a priest who visited regularly and even if celebrating a novus ordo would always lead us in reciting the St Michael prayer after Mass. He used to turn to the tabernacle as he said it. I thought that it would be great if we had an image to focus on, so I painted one for the back wall. Then I then asked Paul if he could come up with an arrangement so that we could sing the prayer. Very quickly he adapted a traditional Byzantine tone to it. In this case there is minimal change musically, because he felt it didn’t need it.

This arrangement has been very popular. The students have picked up on it and completely on their own instigation now sing it in four-parts harmony every night after Compline. Dr William Fahey has asked that we sing it after each Mass in response to the attacks on the Church in connection with the new healthcare legislation. Dr Tom Larson, who teaches the choir at the college is so enthusiastic about it that took this up to his men’s group in Manchester, New Hampshire. Within 15 minutes they learnt it and enjoying it so much they decided to record it on a mobile phone. Next day it was up on YouTube, and this is what you see here. As you listen to it remember that this is a cell-phone recording of an amateur choir of 5 men of varying ability (including myself on bass – right at the bottom in more ways than one) singing it virtually unrehearsed.

Paul Jernberg has just been made Composer in Residence at Thomas More College. He will be composing music for us to showcase and visiting to give master classes in performance and for those who have the ability, composition. One of the things we have asked him to do is to compose a Vespers of St Michael the Archangel and I can’t wait to hear it.”

Anthony Esolen: “So Where’s the Social?”

Although we moved from 20 acres in the country to a house on a city lot, I’m doing a lot more walking here in town. This seems counter-intuitive, but not when you consider that a healthy neighborhood really serves as everyone’s “front yard”.  Like much of Chico, our new neighborhood is supremely walkable. Chico prides itself on being pedestrian and bicycle friendly, and not without justice, although the reality can be a mixed bag. Here on the east side we have quiet, shady, tree-lined streets with cracked sidewalks, gardens peeking through and crawling over old fences, children playing on their lawns and riding bicycles, and a decent variety of modest landscapes all of which make for pleasant and interesting walks. A few days ago my older boys and a friend asked to walk in Bidwell Park after nightfall, because the park is spooky-looking and it was a full moon, and off they went for over an hour, loving every minute. I kept my daughters at home, over-protective dad that I am, but perhaps I’ll relent if we go in a larger group.

This afternoon I met some of our neighbors at a garage sale across the street, a retired couple who has lived there for 25 years. The old gentleman makes birdhouses and sells them to raise money for his grandchildren. We’ve only met a few neighbors thus far: most keep to themselves and seem to like it that way. Is there an invisible community here? My guess is that there does exist a community of sorts, especially among the parents of children attending the neighborhood elementary school, and perhaps among the older residents as well. But I suspect that most of our neighbors are people like us, with the majority of their social network existing well beyond the neighborhood.

Anthony Esolen, with his usual eloquence, refers to the demise of neighborhoods in his latest essay “So Where’s the Social? – Recovering Words and Culture in the Unsociety”. After reviewing an editorial in the September 1955 issue of Town Journal, Esolen reminds us of a few things – assumed by the magazine’s readers and editors in 1955 – that we can no longer take for granted in the “unsociety” of America 2012:

“His editorial presumes that there is such a thing as a town, full of people who know one another and who take pride in where they live.  For the same issue presents a forty question test to see whether you live in a healthy town, with thirty ‘yes’ answers being the standard to shoot for.  The first criterion?  ‘Most high school graduates stay in town.’  Also telling: ‘More than half the church congregations [sic] are under 40.’  Are the streets lined with shade trees?  Is there a recreation center where young people dance?  The Ike-liking editors aren’t laissez-faire economists.  They aren’t the sort of pseudo-conservatives who see devotion to the family as an obstacle to ‘progress,’ whatever that is.  They want the money to stay nearby, so that it will be spent nearby – even taxed nearby.

In other words, these are deeply civic-minded conservatives.  I doubt one could find more than the thinness of a dime between what they assume about civic duty and Catholic social teaching.  For both assume the existence of a society: people who are socii, companions, fellow travelers, neighbors.  Behold another telling criterion for the good town: ‘There’s as much interest in local as national elections.’  That can only be so, if local elections matter, and local elections can matter only if local people feel they actually have some influence upon their common life – and if there is a common life to begin with.

And here we arrive at the great fact staring us in the face.  Romano Guardini, shortly after the war, had already asserted that the people of western Europe no longer possessed a culture.  Such words as culture remain like wraiths, long after the reality they once described has passed away.  Alasdair MacIntyre, indeed, says that that fate has befallen our entire language of morality.  The word society is, I believe, in that same category.  So the riddle we must now solve is how to apply Catholic social teaching to the whatever-it-is we have, the mass of habits inculcated by bad education and worse entertainment–the Unsociety.

It will require a great deal of hard thinking, a deep knowledge of history and of human nature, and patient prayer–just the things that our electoral politics makes nearly impossible.  But it must be done, for the sake of humanity itself, threatened by the collusive interests of technocrats, bureaucrats, mediacrats, and all the other crats who burden us with their wisdom and their insufferably benignant lust for power.

I won’t recommend any particular program here.  I have an innate loathing of programs, anyway.  But any solution must provide people with the wherewithal – economic, political, and moral – to rebuild the social ties we have lost.  Consider, for the sake of argument, a young couple moving to Freemanville, with its thousand or so subscriptions to magazines like Town Journal.  They are, of course, married; notably absent from Town Journal’s questionnaire is any reference to crime or to out-of-wedlock births.  They have, then, already engaged in that most social of all actions, without the corrosive shacking-up beforehand.

The lady down the street, a member of the town’s Welcome Wagon, shows up that week with a couple of apple pies, and asks if they need anything of a practical nature – because when you move into a house there’s always something you forget to bring along, like soap or shaving cream or a broom or a dustpan.  Within two weeks you’ve met a good dozen of your neighbors, and you’ve been invited to church, or to the block party, or to the fireworks display on the Glorious Fourth.  I am not sentimentalizing here.  This is how people lived; or rather, this is how people live, if they but have the opportunity, just as dogs outdoors will run about and sniff things, and cats outdoors will sleep in the shade and hunt mice.

All of these human connections are founded upon, and imply, moral expectations … The teacher, the neighbor, the clergyman, and you might disagree on which road to pave, or which senator is the less dishonest, but your wide moral agreement will make you socii even when you do not like one another.”

That takes us to the heart of the problem: morality. Authentic community depends upon a shared moral consensus. Most Americans can no longer assume that such a consensus exists in their neighborhood, or even in their own families, and so whatever can be had of “community” is necessarily outsourced.

The coming “soft” persecution

I had an interesting conversation with a young Catholic gentleman yesterday while making the 10 to 11 hour trip home from Thomas Aquinas College. We took the long way, up Highway 101, due to road construction on I-5 in the south San Joaquin Valley. He asked about the likelihood of persecution of Catholics in the United States. I responded that persecution was likely in the very near future, but that it would be of the “soft” variety rather than firing squads and death camps.

The persecution will likely revolve around the issues of abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, contraception, and reproductive technology. Already there are many jobs “off limits” to conscientious Catholics. Mrs. Blogmaster is a pharmacist, for example, and unfortunately she can’t just work anywhere. Most retail pharmacies in the cities will not permit her to refuse to dispense objectionable drugs: “conscience” protections are virtually non-existent.

The state of California requires that health insurance cover contraceptives and abortifacients. Therefore, many insurance industry and health care jobs in California are off limits to Catholics who refuse to collaborate with the chemical-induced killing of unborn children. Obamacare’s mandate that all health insurers in the country cover contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifcatients is much more sweeping and restrictive. If not repealed, it will become impossible for thousands to work in the medical and health care fields without directly co-operating with these evils.

Immoral anti-discrimimation laws make working in management and human resources hugely problematic for a conscientious Catholic.

The legal normalization of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage” presents enormous problems. In California, SB-48 requires teachers to introduce “positive” homosexual role models to students in the earliest grades: if fully enforced, this law would result in excluding Catholics from the teaching profession in California, at least in the public schools. When same-sex “marriage” is universalized, co-operation and affirmation will be mandatory throughout society. Already in New Mexico a Christian photography business is being persecuted for refusing to accommodate a same-sex “commitment” ceremony.

Even military service is becoming a problem for a variety of reasons.

In short, it may well become impossible for Catholics and other Christians to simply work in the United States without violating their consciences.

There are many other dangers lurking as well. In 2008, homeschooling was declared illegal in California by a state appellate court. The situation was rectified but could easily happen again in California or anywhere else in the country. Truly, all of our liberties as Christians in the United States hang by a thread, and we are largely dependent upon the good graces of an increasingly hostile government.

So – no firing squads or death camps in the coming “soft” persecution, but the gradual loss of economic livelihood – and increasing alienation from the social, political, educational, cultural, and commercial life of the nation.