Friday, August 17, 2012

Man and His Religion

Let's face it:  We're pretty awesome.  You, me, and all 7 billion other folk dwelling here on earth.  There is a sense of the extraordinary surrounding mankind, a sense of unrivaled marvel around our species.  However, our majesty is at great risk; there is a threat to the glory of man, and that threat is man himself.  It is a hard task to find a man who doesn't agree that mankind is great, honorable, and praiseworthy in some sense, but it is extraordinarily easy to find a man who finds mankind great, honorably, and praiseworthy in the right sense.

Most people find man great because he can evolve, because he can change, and most especially, because cause he can progress.  By the popular definition, man is great because he is able to grow, to shed the mistakes of the past and progress into the future, and it is when man is more progressive, he is more fully alive.  Many will claim that when man is most open-minded and most progressively oriented that he is fully alive.  All of these claims are essentially rooted in the principle that man is evolutionary, that our progress as a species is a product of an evolution of sorts, voluntary and involuntary.  This idea rests on the notion that as time progresses, humanity constantly gets better, stronger, wiser, more moral, and ultimately more praiseworthy.  It supposes that our ancestors were ridiculous, that their antiquities hindered them, and that with each new generation of progeny, humanity will shed the stupidity of the modern era.  While is might be true that our ancestors were ridiculous, it is much more ridiculous to assume that we're any less ridiculous then they were.

Each war is different, each war is the same by kevindooley
Human progress isn't what it used to be.
While the human body may very well be subject to evolution, the human soul is much less susceptible.  We may have grown taller, but we certainly haven't grown much wiser.  Our technology has advanced, but the principles behind its creation and utilization have stayed very much the same.  The human soul is not evolutionary, it does not get more and more sensible as history progresses.  A brief look at the 20th century should suffice to demonstrate my point.  No, if anything, we seem to be getting more efficient at enacting the same old evils.  It used to take a sword and a strong swing to kill a man, now a bomb and a politician can kill a hundred, all from the luxury of an corner office.  If anything, the idea of man's progress has cause more regression than anything else.  The Nietzschean idea of the super-man, the evolved, transcendent man, has not lead to a more evolved man at all, if anything, it has given man an excuse to embrace folly and call it progress.

Most dangerous of these notions is the notion that progress requires the transcendence of beliefs, the removal of faith and the destruction of bias.  In the name of tolerance, we've created the greatest intolerance of all:  intolerance of human nature.  By the attempt to welcome all ideas, we've rejected all people who ever held an idea.  By saying that every belief is equal, we've made every belief valueless.  By proclaiming that your views are just as good as mine, we've made your views and mine out to be nothing more serious than the choice between chocolate and vanilla.  We are creatures who believe, we live to believe, and if we're not given something worthwhile to believe in, we'll create something to believe in, and when we believe, we desire to believe so fiercely that our belief is the only thing true.

But why listen to me, why not listen to the immortal words of G.K. Chesterton:

"Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but which has not been debated. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there has been in the past, or will be in the future, such a thing as a growth or improvement of the human mind itself, there still remains a very sharp objection to be raised against the modern version of that improvement. The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded. "

Chesterton dislikes your nonsense.
Man is not great because he transcends belief in his progressive march towards whatever-it-is-that-he-happens-to-be-progressing-towards.  He is great because he embraces beliefs.  Man becomes most human when he builds temples, not because he overcomes them.  Man's greatness lies in his ability to worship eternal greatness, it resides in his ability to commune with eternity.  Mankind is a creator and practitioner of dogmas, and those dogmas allow him access to the realm of the fantastic and spiritual.  Because man is not chaotic, but very conclusive, decisive, and faith-filled, he is capable of eternity.

We become animalistic when we forget this.  When we shun the eternal for the temporal, or eradicate the immaterial for the material, or negate the spiritual because of the physical, we are not discovering our humanity, but destroying it.  Every crime of humanity has come at the behest of this:  That we saw fit to define humanity apart from his relationship to divinity.  Even when we say that man is great in his own right, that humanity is awesome for no other reason than it is human, we have taken the definition of mankind away from a definite, eternal ideal and placed it in the hands of man, making it effectively a non-definition.

Man is great because he is inherently religious.  Even he stands at the podium to denounce religion, or if he marches with a mob to burn down churches and bomb mosques, it is because he has religious zeal against those things.  Many will say that religion is a catalyst for violence, but in reality, it makes no difference whether religion has a part in it or not.  Some of the most violent regimes in the world were irreligious groups, such as the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, and Maoist China.  Men are violent because they are passionate, some about religion, some not.  While our values and structures may be sources of violence, so also is our zeal to destroy values and structures (i.e. the French Revolution).  The demolition of faith serves no purpose to man.  If you leash churches and suppress mosques, man will find another thing worth fighting for, not out of hatred, but out of passion.

A man without religion is a shell of a man.  If a man is stripped of something to believe in, an end to seek, a goal to strive for, he will inevitably fall into indifference and angst.  Man must believe, he must have a goal, a meaning, a value to orient his life around.  Great men are not great in their own right, they are great because they orient themselves to great things.  Mankind is spectacular precisely because it has the ability to pursue this greatness, to make concrete the abstract.  He can take the spiritual and make it corporal, he is the beautiful collision of finite and infinite, and in that potential, he is magnificent.  In that gift, he is infinitely valuable.

If you think this guy is anything less than awesome,
I want to say many uncharitable things to you.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Why My Chicken Sandwich Isn't a Hate Crime

No matter what side you're on, we can
 all agree: these people are doing it wrong.
I usually don't hesitate in addressing controversial topics, but I'll admit, I'm pretty hesitant on whether I want to address this issue, the gay marriage debate, mostly because its moved beyond rational arguments and into the realm of slogan wars, glitter-bombing, and fast-food political statements (I honestly did not see that one coming).  In the modern climate of the debate, there's a lot of hatred (on both sides), miseducation (also, on both sides), and general stupidity (we're all in the same boat on this one folks).  Its pretty apparent why I'm not all super-enthusiastic to throw my 2 cents worth into the fray.  I'm okay with people calling me wrong, or stupid, or just plain antiquated.  But calling me hateful?  That's plain ridiculous.  I'm not hateful, I'm just being rational.  Now, if you can quell that fiery rage that you may be holding for me deep in the recesses of your soul and listen to what I, a sane, rational person, have to say, I will explain why I'm not hateful.

As a Catholic, I can assure you that hatred has nothing to do with it.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358 states rather clearly, "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.  This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.  They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.  These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition." (italics and bold mine).  When I see actions of hatred and discrimination against homosexuals, I'm every bit as flamed.  No human, regardless of orientation, ought to be discriminated against for qualities that are out of their control.  Being gay is not a grounds for dehumanization any more than being black, being woman, being disabled, or any other trait.  (Being unborn? #thoughttrolling).  I see the Westboro Baptist Church protesting on street corners and I'm incensed.  I can't stand the idea of people being hated for something out of their control.

Many people have drawn parallels between the LGBT Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, some claiming that the fight for gay marriage is directly analogous to the fight for desegregation.  I've also discovered that this comparison has swayed a lot of people to supporting the cause for gay marriage, mostly because they don't want to be remembered by history (or their grandchildren) as the 21st century version of racists.  And who would want that stigma on their legacy?  I'd hate to check the history books and see a picture of my grandparents protesting the Little Rock 9.  Who wouldn't?  The comparisons between gay rights and civil rights has been an effective weapon in the hands of the gay rights movement, but I think it has some critical flaws, which I'd like to point out.  First things first, the Civil Rights movement was absolutely necessary.  The systematic prejudice against an entire group of people on basis of their skin color was absolutely wrong, and desegregation was a great achievement of the 20th century.  But LGBT is a little more complicated.  (Stomach that rage, spare me the hate mail, and please keep listening.)

Being a racial minority is an amoral quality, meaning that there is absolutely no choice in the matter.  Emmett Till never chose to be black, thus he had no moral responsibility for being black.  There is no choice, and without choice there is no culpability, and without culpability, there's no legitimate moral consequence.  This can be paralleled over to homosexuality, but we must be careful here.  In most cases of homosexuality, the attraction is inherent, and thus without moral culpability.  Discriminating against a person because they have homosexual attractions is wrong, and must be avoided.  However, there is a moral decision to be made here:  the decision to pursue those attractions.  In the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans did not have the choice to be or not to be black.  It was a quality they had outside of their ability to willfully choose it, and thus, ought not to have been held against them.  In the LGBT Movement, there is a choice, the choice to pursue one's sexual attraction, thus calling into question moral legitimacy.

Is this really helpful to anybody?  Really?
 People can legitimately oppose the LGBT Movement upon the the grounds that pursuing homosexual relations is objectively and morally wrong.  Or at least, they can oppose the LGBT Movement without being hateful parallels of the KKK.  They can enter the debate without the stigma of being hateful, vicious monsters, and instead be sane, rational people with a sane, rational view of human sexuality.  They can eat at fast-food restaurants without vomiting forth hatred with every delicious chicken-y bite.  Are there people that legitimately hate?  Yes, absolutely.  Are the wrong to hate?  Undoubtedly.  Can a person legitimately disagree with gay marriage?  Of course.

Now that I've said that, I probably ought to address the notions of rights and marriage, specifically the large number of people steaming out the ears, foaming at the mouth (exaggeration?  perhaps), demanding how we can deny another human being equal rights on basis of sexual orientation.  A fair notion, perhaps, especially seeing how hot and heavy we are about rights in this nation.  But is marriage a right in the first place?  Did the government create marriage?  Or did it affirm marriage as an institution far more ancient and authoritative than the state?  Marriage is a social institution, far older than civilization, predating history itself.  Governments to not make marriages, but validate social (and religious!) institutions.  I have a hard time believing that all the hullabaloo is merely for some tax benefits and a legal goody basket.  The LGBT movement may want state recognition of same-sex marriage, but merely for the recognition of a social change, for the redefining of the most ancient of social institutions.  This isn't just about a piece of paper, this is a second sexual revolution, and must be treated with the gravity of such.  The first sexual revolution was full of good intentions and had produced a load of bad statistics (for more information, read "Adam and Eve After the Pill" by Mary Eberstadt.)

Redefining sexuality is a grave notion indeed, and ought to be given serious consideration.  Call me old fashioned, but I think that the wisdom of generations past ought to be seriously considered here.  Marriage has been inseparably tied to the success of human civilization since the dawn of history, not simply as two people who love each other, but as man and woman singularly committed to mutual well being and the creation of progeny.  It is this definition that brought us to the modern day, and upon the foundation of this definition modern society stands.  We're now given the opportunity to destroy our cultural foundation and hope that society will stand on its own, (hopefully) wiser, stronger, and more progressive than the generations before it, or reinforce those foundations, recognizing vanity for what it is and reinforcing good cultural institutions rather than blasting them to pieces like a French revolutionary on meth.

"Dismantle all the cultural institutions!"
We tread on uncharted territory indeed, and the stakes are high.  We're rewriting the principles of sexuality as pure preference rather than beautifully necessary function.  Sexuality is so unique and resplendent because it has such a magnificent function, a function that resists fashion and serves to provide the very foundations of civilization from its very foundation.  There is a incredible moral weight to these issues, far outweighing the notion of rights and personal freedoms.  Yes, the government ought to defend the liberties of a society, but in its obligation to legislate, it must also protect society from itself (hence speed limits, bans on drugs, high explosives, and 4oz.+ containers of fluid on airplanes).  If male/female marriage is (and let's be real, of course it is) the foundation of known human civilization, the government ought to very vigilant in its approval or disapproval of changing definitions of marriage.

Rather than letting this debate evolve into a shouting match in which fabricated slogans and witty bumper stickers are slung at opposing movements without any discretion or consideration, let's actually take this seriously.  That goes especially for you, my fellow Christians.  "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" ain't cutting it anymore, and constantly reiterating "God's Plan for marriage" (while theologically true) does not constitute a binding and airtight argument.  Work a little harder, fight a little truer, and for the love of God Almighty, love thy neighbor, even (and especially) if he disagrees with you.  For those of you who are still repressing your rage and indignation, thank you for your patience.  We could use a few more considerate people like you.  Stay classy folks.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Generation of Very Bored People

I'm bored.  Let's face it.  If you've been wondering why my output on this blog has slowed down, its because I'm bored.  I love Christianity, I love Catholicism, and yet, it is a constant battle for me to muster the enthusiasm to spend an hour writing about these things, and how they relate to the very pertinent issues of today.  Nope, I'd rather sit and refresh my Facebook news feed yet again and carefully craft my Pandora Stations until they know more about my musical tastes that I do.  Boredom is a rather nasty situation, and has  some nasty consequences for the human soul.

Most would think boredom exists when we have nothing, but that isn't the entire case.  Boredom doesn't occur in the presence of nothing, it appears in the presence of nothing valuable.  We're bored not because we have nothing and nothing to do, its because we have everything and everything to do, but no convicting reason to do it, apart from instant gratification.  I'm bored because I lack motivation, I lack motivation because I lack stimulation, I lack stimulation because I live in a generation that struggles to value.  My generation, with its redeeming and condemning qualities, is saturated with choices.  No generation has had the opportunity (or is it a burden? #thoughttrolling) to make as many choices as my generation.  It is these choices that fuels our economy, fuels our society, and, to a greater extent than ever before, fuels our identity.  

A hearty " MERICA!" helps too!
Yet, amidst the plethora of choices we have, we're denied the one choice we actually want:  the right one.  We couldn't care less about having all the choices in the world, because we only want the one that will truly make us happy.  When we're faced with decisions, we choose the best option.  However, give us infinite options, and that decision becomes much harder.  This is especially in a society that's becoming more and more permissive.  When we're told that everything is good, that any decision is acceptable, it doesn't make our decision better, it makes our decision more boring.  If being a party animal or a church mouse are ultimately indifferent, the only reason to choose either of them is personal preference.  The moral standard of this generation is just that:  do what you want to, your personal preference is the ultimate arbiter of morality, and the only additional rule is don't step on other's ability to have a personal preference.  Appeasing?  Yes, very.  True?  Absolutely not.

While it seems to be awesome to have the incredible freedom to do whatever the deuce you want to, that freedom is just some smoke and mirrors, a vain dream.  Human beings don't want the freedom to do what we want, we want the freedom to do what we ought.  We crave purpose, we desire it.  Everything must have a meaning, Truth must underlie every corner of the universe.  The desire for Truth has led us to science, the discovery of Truth has led us to religion.  We want truth, we want purpose, we want meaning.  We're creatures of logic, whose minds desire the world to be logical as well.  Thus, while doing what we want might seem nice, we really want to do what we're supposed to do (whatever that might be).  In a culture that praises near-absolute human freedom, proclaiming moral absolutes is frowned upon.  Stating that a lifestyle choice is morally and ontologically (kudos to any non-philosophy major who knows the definition of that word by heart) better than another lifestyle choice implies that freedom is not the golden calf that humanity has made it out to be, but rather, a tool that demands eternal vigilance.  The great flaw of freedom is when we fail to realize that freedom, while good, is not absolute or greatest good.  It is necessary good, a good that must exist in order for virtue to exist.

Got that?  Philosophy spasm there.  Sorry if that was unpleasant.  Where was I?  Oh yes, virtue.  Our society, through implicit ways and subtle means, has been trashing virtue like an elephant in a curio shop.  Virtues are no longer virtuous, vice is no longer vicious, and the only noble cause is the selfish one.  And what does this make us?  Bored to pieces.  When our immediate desires are the only thing motivating us, and our instantaneous cravings are the only valuable thing on which to base our life, we find ourselves so very very bored.

Heaven:  The Universe's Hall of Fame.  
We're being overstimulated by things that are ultimately unstimulating.  Human beings are the one creature that can be provided every physical need and can still experience dissatisfaction.  We're material creatures who collide with the immaterial realm, and it is in that immaterial realm that we must orient ourselves.  We don't want flashing lights, pumping beats, and sweaty grind-fests.  We want goodness, we want truth, we want beauty, and we want them to the infinite.  We want noble causes, true beliefs, and beautiful lives.  When, for whatever reason, we're denied those things, we will become bored, no matter how much fun we seek to have, no matter how much indulgence we partake in.  Man was not made to be bored, he was made to be great in the eyes of God.  So get your lazy rump out of the chair, turn off the computer, and go seek greatness.  Don't settle for less than Heavenly Glory.

If you have any questions, comments, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email them to  and I'll get back to them eventually.  Also, hate mail will only be considered if in the form of a limerick.