Sunday, July 24, 2011

Poetry Session!

This is a terrible poem in a technical sense - but it speaks to the state of our culture well.

He’s Coming!

Tom Cruise is coming! Quick, prepare the way!
The heartthrob actor, hot and sexy still.
Oh, what a wonderful and happy day!

No way! Tom Cruise is coming? You don’t say!
The man who feigns so well an iron will?
One side, you stupid people! Make a way!

Hey, guess who’s coming? Dawkins, on the way!
He fights for science with such reckless skill.
Our town is once more honored, here today.

That man of genius, here at last, you say?
His head in realms beyond ours! What a thrill!
I need to see him! Move! Make way, make way!

The President is coming! What, today?
Yes! He has come to push his health care bill.
I’m going! Move, you fools! Out of my way!

The Lord is coming! Bend your heart and will!
The Sacrament divine is coming still!
The Lord is coming! Quick, prepare the way!
Shut up, I’m busy, damn you! Go away!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Gay Marriage," The New "Civil Rights?"

The battle against “gay marriage” in America, as it stands now, is a lost cause.
This unfortunate fact is true for two reasons: 1) because the proponents of “gay marriage” have managed to tie “gay marriage” to the civil rights movement, and 2) because most heterosexuals have accepted the notion that self-seeking pleasure is the purpose of marriage and sexuality.
Opposition to “gay marriage” is considered by homosexuals the cultural elite to be a form of reactionary barbarism – much like racism in the dark days of slavery.
The “civil rights” argument of “gay marriage,” as argued by homosexuals, is simple: I was born gay, I can’t control that fact. Why should heterosexuals who don’t understand me hinder me from engaging in acts which I can’t control and which are natural to me? Who are they to keep me from the person I love?
This argument is specious on many counts. I cannot control who my parents are, the color of my skin, or my genetic background. I can certainly control whether or not I sleep with another man, despite whatever urges I might have. (And so, for that matter, can anyone else.)
Nevertheless, defenders of traditional marriage often fail to make these points, and are usually at a loss when faced with the argument that denying homosexuals the right to marry is tantamount to racism.
The common conservative argument against gay marriage is that it is harmful to society, that it ignores the procreative aspect of traditional marriage, and that it promotes undesirable social behaviors.
These arguments are true, of course. But to a society already wedded to the notion that pleasure is the first principle of life, this argument rings hollow. It is difficult to defend the familial aspects of marriage in a culture in which the vast majority of the population uses birth control, where divorce rates hover around 50%, and where premarital sex and infidelity are rampant and celebrated in popular culture.
The common gay gibe that “heterosexuals have already destroyed the institution of marriage” contains more than a grain of truth. By and large, the scandalous examples of heterosexual divorce, contraception, and infidelity have cheapened the venerable institution of marriage – to the point where marriage today is often a type of legalized and legitimized prostitution. 
The current state of marriage is an easy target for homosexuals to jeer at, and contrast with faithful homosexuals who merely seek to love their partners.  
Heterosexuals who accept and live out modern society’s notion that pleasure-seeking is the highest good, and yet still oppose “gay marriage,” are rightly called out as hypocrites by homosexual activists.
By failing to live up to moral standards, heterosexuals who oppose “gay marriage” feed the ridiculous notion that opposition to gay marriage is based in ignorance, prejudice, and hypocrisy.
And the fight for “gay marriage” will go down in history as a civil rights struggle, where enlightened rights activists fought against barbaric and hypocritical bigots – and won.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On Culture and Chastity

Many people claim that chastity is impossible, and that kids will engage in risky behavior no matter what environment they are put into. Therefore, instead of discouraging premature sexual behavior in children, society should instead limit the risks of behavior through birth control and “safe sex.”
This is ridiculous. Chastity is indeed possible. Thousands of priests, nuns, virtuous men and women within and without the confines of marriage, and young people, live chaste lives – and are better and happier people for doing so.
But it is very hard to live a chaste life when society actively discourages it.
Public schools encourage “safe sex” through sexual education. Movies and books promote the joys of risk-free, joyful premarital affairs. Advertisers use barely clad women to promote products. Society’s message to men is to get laid as fast as possible, and to women that they are ugly and useless if they cannot attract a host of ogling males. Unrestrained pursuit of pleasure is consistently preached to young people as the highest good.
Given these promotions of promiscuity in popular culture, of course it is difficult for young people to practice the virtue of chastity! Encouragement of any behavior will lead to increased practice of that behavior.
But imagine a culture that celebrated modesty, that encouraged purity in literature and film, and that celebrated sexuality within the confines of marriage. Imagine a truly Christian culture.    
Would divorce be a common phenomenon if the family as a unit were celebrated instead of denigrated? Would premarital sex be as high if the pleasures of “risk-free sex” were not taught in the schools and encouraged by film?
Would chastity be more widespread in a Christian society?  
(Rhetorical questions aren’t meant to be answered.)
This is not to say that unchastity would not exist in a truly Christian society. Human nature is still fallen, even in a Christian culture. Back-alley abortions, premarital sex, “shotgun weddings,” and divorces would all still exist.
But such behavior would certainly be much less common. A stigma attached to unchaste behavior discourages people from behaving in immoral ways. Rather than glamorize these social evils, discourage them - and people will avoid them.
So what is the remedy for unchastity? In the short term, turn off the television (or at least switch to moral programming), avoid immoral influences, and find good Christian company to interact with.
But complete avoidance of a corrupt culture is counterproductive. Christ came to redeem humanity and culture, not avoid it entirely. Christians are forced to engage the culture they live in if they wish to win souls for Christ.
What can Christians do in the long term to reclaim culture for Christ?
Simple! Replace it with a truly Christian culture.
Enclaves such as strong Christian colleges and Christian communities provide shining examples of Christian culture – a world where respect for others is encouraged, and sexuality is celebrated within the confines of marriage. Imperfect as these places are, they are shining beacons of awesomeness in a world of ignorance and darkness – beacons of virtue that give the lie to the notion that virtue is impossible.
But Christians are not called to build mere islands of sanity in an insane world; we are called by Christ to “light a fire on earth” (Luke 12:49) – the fire of the love of Christ. And this fire should consume the earth.
So Christians must enter industries where culture is formed, and take them back for Christ.
No less so than living a moral life in a world hostile to virtue.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In Defense of Christian Pessimism

Many people believe pessimism to be the mark of a sorrowful and hateful person. This view opines that the pessimist hates humanity and casts a cynical eye on every good deed.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Cynicism is incompatible with a Christian lifestyle. Pessimism is very compatible with a Christian lifestyle, if understood in the right context.
Pessimism – the attitude of expecting and preparing for the worst, is a form of realism. Christianity recognizes that the world is a fallen place, a “vale of tears,” as one prayer (the Hail Holy Queen) puts it. Because of the Fall and our own propensity to sinfulness, man’s lot on earth is suffering.
Wars, plagues, and disasters warn us that despite our time on earth, man is not called to live forever on earth. Christian pessimists realize that, this world cannot provide happiness forever, despite its occasional  flashes of joy and even ecstasy. Man’s happiness is to be found in heaven, not on earth.
This does not mean that Christian pessimists sit in perpetual inaction and wait for death and their entrance into glory. Christ’s warnings are far too clear for that. 
Nor do pessimists despair of humanity, as many claim. They merely recognize that human nature is fallen, and that the snares of the devil and the sins of fallen man are commonplace in a fallen world. The work of Christian redemption is difficult and requires overcoming human nature – a difficult task.   
But neither do pessimists expect peace and happiness on earth. The flesh, the devil, and the world all conspire to lead humanity into sin and darkness, and Our Lord permits incredible suffering on earth to test and purify fallen men. The Christian pessimist recognizes that these attacks will take place, and is ever vigilant against them.
But optimists expect to find goodness in people and in nature – a goodness that is often submerged by anger and sin. The drumbeat of crime, war, suffering and disease wrought by humans and shown every day on the news is a daily rebuke to the naïve attitude of the optimist, who expects the best of people and consistently receives the worst. Man’s inhumanity to man has proven more than enough to shake the faith of many optimists.
But a pessimist is never disappointed by natural disaster or human frailty. He understands that disasters are common, and that human nature, unredeemed by Christ, is fallen. The road to heaven is narrow, as Christ warns us. Most of humanity refuses to cooperate with God’s grace – and the Christian pessimist recognizes that fact. Many will fall astray.
And when man rises above his fallen nature with God’s grace and does repent or perform good deeds, the Christian pessimist is pleasantly surprised, and thanks God in gratitude.  
This attitude of Christian pessimism – one of prayer and humility in the face of suffering and sin, and one of joy at every rare good deed – is far more conducive to a Christian lifestyle than sunny, naïve optimism divorced from reality.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Incentives, Government, and Politics

Incentives can be defined quite simply as motivating influences. They are vital components in understanding human behavior.
People act in order to benefit themselves. Giving people more reason to do something will make people perform an action more often.
Rewards are a common type of incentive. I am much more likely to buy ice cream or cookies or orange juice or anything if the item is on sale. I am more likely to enter an essay contest if I know that the winner receives $10,000 rather than $500.
Punishments are also a type of “negative incentive.” I am much less likely to drink on a college campus if I know suspension would result if I were caught. A child is less inclined to misbehave if he knows that his parents will take away a privilege (such as TV) in response to his misbehavior.
Just as businesses and individuals offer incentives to promote or discourage certain behaviors, so too does the government.
For example, tax breaks for businesses that promote so-called “green” technologies encourage companies to fund “environmentally friendly” projects are examples of positive incentives. Similarly, fines for littering on the highway or for speeding are examples of negative incentives – the government aims to stop behavior it frowns upon by punishing such behavior severely.     
Many of these incentives are helpful. Tax breaks for newly founded small businesses encourage economic growth. Fines for running red lights increase road safety.
However, government often offers incentives that end up encouraging harmful behaviors.
Sexual education programs in public schools are a prime example of this phenomenon. By educating children how to practice “safe sex” in the public schools, the government actively promotes morally harmful behavior.
Government funding for programs that protect people from the consequences of foolish behavior is counterproductive and wasteful of taxpayer dollars. But even more fundamentally, these types of programs perpetuate harmful behaviors in society.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Politics and Culture in a Democratic Society

Most people consider politics to be the most vital avenue of influence in democratic society today. Politicians make the rules which societies live by. Politicians can make actions legal and illegal. Politicians can direct funding toward whatever causes they choose. Politicians are hounded by people seeking influence, power, and wealth.
The common assumption is that politicians are the most powerful people in the world – the masters of democratic society.
And they would be wrong.
Politicians are indeed important – and indeed, skillful politicians are necessary in democratic society. But in a very real sense, the politics of any society is predetermined by that society’s culture.  
The masters of culture control the direction of a democratic society more completely than any politician could. It is true that politicians make the laws that govern how people live their daily lives. But politicians in democratic society are forced to work within the confines of public opinion, because they are elected by people they represent. A politician without public favor is essentially powerless.
The makers of culture alter the very fabric of society. Admittedly, they do not do so immediately. Rapid, enduring change very rarely happens overnight, because humans as a people are resistant to rapid change.
But over time, measurable change does occur in humans. These changes are brought about in very large part due to the influence of cultural icons – influence which very few, if any, politicians possess (unless they become cultural icons in their own right).
The artisans of culture come in many forms – artists, writers, singers, designers, athletes. But they all have in common the ability to influence masses of people – what they think, what they wear, how they act, how they view the world.
Politicians can pass laws – but no law cannot stand if 90% of the population opposes it. A cultural icon with a great deal of influence, however, can promote causes through a major mass medium – and win over the hearts and minds of people through advocacy.
In other words, politicians can pass laws, but cultural icons can get people to agitate for laws based on their advocacy of causes.
A television show that features a sympathetic gay couple happily living together, in the long term, is more helpful to the cause of homosexuality in the long term than an openly gay representative in politics could ever be. A lone representative will be dismissed as a crank and shunned and ignored by his peers. An oddity on television, however, will eventually become normal in the minds of viewers (if portrayed as that way by writers). And normalcy becomes acceptance very quickly. 
This is not to say that politics is unimportant. After all, just and unjust laws can and do alter the direction of a society. But the power of politics is transitory and based largely on illusion in a way that the power of culture is not.
(It should be noted that some charismatic politicians manage to become cultural icons, and gain a great deal of influence over popular opinion by using their ability to connect with and persuade people through skilled usage of mass media. But that merely underscores the power of culture - politicians must become culturally attuned to gain that type of power.)
An analogy will serve to illustrate the relative importance of politics and culture. Politics can be likened the tactics with which an army fights. The daily battle to shape the governing laws of a nation is fought in the political realm. Important, yes. But wars are rarely won by individual battles alone. Culture can be compared to strategy in military parlance. The slow, long term battle for the soul of a people is fought and won in the cultural arena.
And the current state of American culture illustrates this truth perfectly. The American population, which was built upon the values of honesty, rugged individualism, and honor, is facing a crisis of moral character. An ever-increasing dependency on government, a population and a nation unable to control its compulsive spending on frivolous matters, and the disintegration of the family as a societal unit – all these reflect a dearth of virtue in the American populace.
The moral decline in America has reshaped the political landscape, so that a $14 trillion dollar debt and gay marriage – unthinkable 30 years ago – have been accepted by large segments of the general population as normal and even desirable.  
The rapid decay of American culture is in very large part due to the direct attacks on traditional values waged by many in the major cultural industries – chief among them music, film, and television.
But the same mediums that currently destroy moral values can also promote them – if people with moral values enter the industry. Writers and filmmakers can entertain people with shows that celebrate moral values rather than mock them. Designers can make clothes encouraging Christian modesty. The list could go on and on.
Celebrities and cultural icons who live active and joyful Christian lives (Tim Tebow comes to mind) are signs of contradiction to a world that hates itself and are inspirations to masses of people.
The world needs good people in every profession. Business, farming, manufacturing – and yes, politics too – these professions need people who are willing to live the Catholic life to the fullest within their respective callings.
But culture, because of its inherent power, needs solid, grounded Christians who joyfully live out their faith most of all.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On Blogging

Like most human actions, blogging is morally neutral. A blog can be a source of great good or evil, depending on how it is used.
At its best, blogging is a wonderful vehicle for the sharing of information and a useful forum for debate. At its worst, blogging becomes a forum for the equivalent of intellectual masturbation – the deliberate misuse of the intellect to spew ill-considered opinions for no fruitful purpose. Far too often, blogging is the latter.
Snide commentary, ad hominem attacks, and pointless rambling are antithetical to the purpose of blogging. Good blogging demands a willingness to seek and explain the truth, and exhibits fairness and respect for opposing points of view.