Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Modern Confusion of Manhood

In modern society, being a man is often conflated with physical and intellectual prowess. The ability to attract women, the ability to beat other men to a pulp, and the ability to defeat opponents in contests of strength or skill or chance – these are all treated as expressions of true manhood. 
These abilities are all positive goods. The ability to defend oneself against other males, to outwit opponents, and to attract women are all things that males should strive to cultivate. 
But they are not the essence of manhood. And the confusion of these positive goods with true manhood is symptomatic of a dearth of manhood in modern society.
For the essence of manhood is self-gift. Man was made to give himself to others, to give his time, effort, abilities, and even his body to serve others and the kingdom of Christ. True manhood is about service of others, not about power.
Manhood, in its truest sense, is most truly expressed when one is able to resist one’s disordered desires, so as to more effectively sacrifice himself for others. Christ, through His total sacrifice of Himself on the cross for others, is the truest man ever to live.
Thus, true manhood manifests itself in ways which are largely scorned or taken for granted, especially in an increasingly feminized society.  
It takes more strength to restrain oneself when every part of one’s body is screaming to be sated (i.e., through food, or through sex, or through TV watching), than to simply give into desire. It takes more strength to hold one’s anger in check and bear injuries patiently and with love, than to lash out at a taunting foe. It takes more courage to stand for a principle that the world denies and mocks, than to simply give in on important issues when expedient.
But it is these basic principles of manhood that modern society denies and mocks. Manhood is instead seen as an expression of power, of exerting physical or intellectual or sexual control over another. True manhood is therefore treated as empowerment of oneself and self-aggrandizement, at the expense of the good of others.
And as a result, men who abandon their posts and seek only their own gratification increasingly grow more common in modern society, as the spirit of self-sacrifice which is the essence of manhood is denigrated in favor of a conception of manhood based on power.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Chess Theory of Understanding People

On occasion, this blog ventures into highly speculative territory. This post dives deep into uncharted waters.
Understanding human beings is like playing chess. Reading humans is as simple as understanding their personality and their goals, and understanding chess players is like understanding their styles of play and skill level.
For humans are predictable creatures of habit, who act in what they believe to be their own self-interest. Push a man in one direction, and he will respond based on what he believes will benefit him. (Of course, what a man sees as his self-interest may actually not be best for him.) After a while, human choices become dictated by previous decisions – the man who goes to college for engineering takes path which after awhile excludes other choices, for example.
Human beings also have very distinct personalities. One particular person might be flamboyant, one might be quiet.
People make seemingly irrational decisions, based on false preconceptions, external factors, or simply honest error.
The comparisons between human beings and chess players are striking.  
Chess players also favor certain openings, certain types of moves, and adopt aggressive or defensive styles of play, depending on their personality. After a while, their moves become dictated by their style of play and the situation at hand.
Chess players are also known to make blunders, based on external factors or their own misreading of situations.
This analogy does not posit that humans lack free will. But habit is very, very strong, and people rarely change their habits without a great deal of effort. After a while, those habits tend to define person.
To cultivate knowledge of another person, one must get to know them. The more skilled the reader of a person, the easier people become to predict. Some have a gift for reading others, as well.
The more one gets to know people, the better one can “read” and understand the personalities of others. Similarly, the more one studies chess, the better one will become as a player.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Our Masks of Personality

Human beings resemble icebergs - much about them remains submerged from the sight of the casual viewer. Most people wear masks that hide their true personalities, and put on a false face for most people to see.
Some people continuously crack jokes to hide sorrow. Others lapse into cynicism, snapping sarcastic remarks to cover up the pain of loss and betrayal. Others mask inner emptiness under a whirlwind of frenetic activity.
To truly get to know a person, one must get him to cast off the masks he wears to shroud his true self. And the masks people wear are often very difficult to remove.
Many humans hate to reveal themselves to their fellows. Our flaws and warts are often so ugly, and our shame in our imperfections is so great, that we don’t like others to see our failings. And so we hide them under the veil of a false personality.
Only among our friends do we drop our guard and show ourselves – and oftentimes not even among them.
Of course, not everyone wears a personality mask. There are two types of people who do not wear masks: insufferable fools and saints.
People without masks are often very irritating to be around. People who have not learned to shroud their personalities can be incredible pains in the neck, because they show their self-absorption. The foolishness, the silliness, the stubbornness of people obsessed with themselves, who fail to mask their personalities can be disturbing to behold.
Saints also eschew masks – but only because they have no need of them. However, they are so in-tune with the love of God that they need no mask to shroud themselves. The translucence of holiness makes them beautiful people.
As Christians, we must strive for ever-greater holiness, so that we have less and less need for our masks or personality. Only then shall our true personalities shine through, and we shall be truly ourselves without shame.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Christianity: An Impossible Standard?

Christians are often accused of hypocrisy by non-Christians; because we preach a lifestyle that we often fail to practice. The ever-present hypocrisy of Christians is used by many to argue that Christianity posits an impossible and/or undesirable standard.  
Because of this, we Christians are told that we cannot and should not preach the Gospel. After all, can a creed be true that its proponents fail to practice? Impossible standards are useless at best and harmful at worst.
Furthermore, those who accuse Christians of hypocrisy are absolutely correct in their assessment. Christians who preach the Gospel are frequently hypocrites, because most Christians fail to live the Gospel to the best of their ability.
But this hypocrisy does not mean that Christians should stop preaching the Gospel. Nor does it mean that the standard upheld by Christianity should cease to exist.
For Christian standards are not impossible. God demands perfection of us (Matt 5:48). If we wish to be perfect, we can be - God never gives His creatures more than they can handle.
However, the Christian lifestyle is indeed difficult - and we as humans often take the easy way out rather than take up the yoke of Christ. It is often "easier" to give into temptation and overeat or lie or gossip or any of a myriad of different temptations, than to face that temptation and overcome it. And being weak humans, we fail to do so.
But the lives of the saints prove that a Christian lifestyle is indeed possible. For the saints actively lived that Christian life to the fullest - and as a result of their fidelity to the Christian code experienced joy-filled, fulfilled lives.
The difficulty of a standard is no reason to ignore it. We do not claim that lying is a positive good because most people tell white lies. Wrongdoing is still wrongdoing, no matter how many people commit it.
So our failure to live a Christian lifestyle is no argument against its validity. Indeed, the knowledge of our frailty should serve as a spur to live that Gospel we preach more fully.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Tide of History

Proponents of a progressive vision of history argue that the “tide of history” inexorably leads to greater tolerance and equality. Those who hold this vision argue that society follows a linear upward progression from barbarism to civility.
The notion of upward linear progress is nonsense, as I have noted previously. But the proponents of this vision are not only wrong – they exhibit their ignorance of scientific knowledge.
Tides do not continuously rise; they rise and fall. (If tides did continuously rise, everyone would eventually drown. But I digress.) If they truly believe that there is a “tide of history,” they should know that the “high tide” of equality and tolerance for all will recede. So the “tide of history,” as it is currently understood, does not exist. 
But in a sense, the holders of this worldview are correct – there is indeed a “tide of history.” However, the tide of history is cyclical, not linear, and reflects change in the human moral order.
The “tide of history” is the story of the rise and fall of human civilizations. Nations rise and fall, empires wax and wane, dynasties form and collapse, based on their fidelity to the unchanging natural law of God.
The Church alone stands timeless, immune to the ebbs and flows of history. Her fidelity to the unchanging teachings of Christ stands forever.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Feminized Society (Part 4)

In previous discussions, we have examined the causes, positives, and negatives of a feminized society. It is time to give a final, overarching assessment of a feminized society.
Men and women are biologically designed to think and act in different and complementary ways. They have different strengths and weaknesses, and complete and complement each other. 
An ideal society should strike a balance between male and female principles, reflecting the complementary natures of men and women.
In an ideal society, men and women would work together, so that both they and those of the opposite gender might be happy. But the natural unity that should exist between both sexes is transformed into competition by fallen humans,  who seek their OWN pleasure and their OWN happiness. Both men and women accordingly attempt to control rather than assist one another.
Women and men attempt to assert control over the other sex in different ways. Men attempt to assert control over women through greater physical strength and aggressive temperament, and women attempt to assert control over men through their bodies.
In modern society, men’s sexual desires are effectively inflamed to the point of obsession by pornography, contraception, and other evils. By contrast, in a modern, technological age men’s greater physical strength becomes unnecessary (except in isolated places like sports fields), and an aggressive temperament is often a liability.
The result is that modern women are often able to easily control men with their bodies, shifting society in the direction of feminization.
Ironically, the weaknesses of women become more pronounced in a world where women dominate, while even the strengths of women are poisoned by the lack of a male counterbalance. For example, the woman’s greater capacity for communication in a feminized society manifests into a slavish devotion to electronic “connecting” outlets that facilitate isolation rather than authentic communication. (An over-masculinized society suffers from these problems in reverse. For example, the directness of man easily devolves into cruelty.)
Simply put, an overly feminized society is a society in peril, just as an overly masculinized society is a suffering society. A society which balances the strengths of men and women, and values the contributions of each, is a healthy society. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Christian Family

The expression “friends and family” reflects the two basic types of interpersonal relationships. These two types of relationships are based in entirely different principles.
Friendship is fundamentally a matter of choice. We come to friendship through mutual agreement; others agree to become friends with us, and we agree to be friends with others.
Accordingly, we do not extend friendship to everyone we meet. Friendships can be broken; they often fade with the passage of time. They are therefore mutable and breakable.
By contrast, familial love is freely given. We are expected to love our families unconditionally, and expect that same unchanging love from them. It is true that people can turn away from their families and reject that unconditional love. (I did for a time – it wasn’t pretty.) But this refusal of love is always scandalous, and reflects a self-evidently disordered state of mind. Family bonds are meant to last forever.
Christian relationships reflect the love of family. As Christians, we call ourselves “brothers and sisters in Christ.” We are all part of one family, joined by our shared faith in our Master.
We may choose which specific members of our family we associate with more frequently than others, of course. The same is true in any family. However, Christian love should be shown to ALL fellow Christians; we Christians must love one other as brethren. Indeed, we have no choice in the matter. Moreover, we as Christians must be willing to extend that familial love to non-Christians, and welcome them into the Christian family as fellow brothers and sisters.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Those Forgotten Sins of Omission

Christians are often tempted to think of Christianity as a set of proscriptions forbidding evil actions. Don’t lie, steal, kill, commit adultery, etc. – these are looked upon as the basis of a Christian life. Avoid committing sins, and you are considered by many to have fulfilled the requirements for being a Christian.
This is an incredibly impoverished view of Christianity. Christianity is not simply a set of rules that one must live by. It is a way of life demanded by Christ. Failure to live in imitation of the Master is itself sinful. Self-induced paralysis is as much a sin as murder.
When we commit acts against the moral code, we commit sins of commission. When we fail to live a Christian life, we commit sins of omission. Both sins of commission and omission are in fact sins.
Sins of omission are certainly more subtle than sins of commission. It is easy to look upon a a lie we tell or a test we cheat on and say that that action is wrong. But the helping hand we fail to lend to a friend in need, the chores or daily tasks we refuse to accomplish, the paper we wait until the last possible minute to finish – these are all sins which we often fail to think about. They are sins, however, and in some ways even more destructive than sins of commission.  
For the truly Christian life is a full and active life. The saints, the greatest exponents of the Christian life, lived lives charged with meaning and purpose. They were always on call for their Master, constantly doing His will. And their full, fruitful, and active lives exemplified this Christian lifestyle.
Today, those closest to service of God are constantly doing His will. Holy contemplatives spend their lives in daily communication with their Master. Holy priests, religious, and single people in the active life spend their days ministering to their fellow man (physically and spiritually), and sharing the spirit of Christ’s love with others. Holy individuals in the married state constantly .
Sins of omission destroy this spirit of service which is the hallmark of Christianity. We are called to sainthood, all of us, and we are called to act entirely in accord with the will of the master. 
But God’s Kingdom cannot be spread by one spending hours staring at a screen, with a TV remote in hand. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Poetry Session: Stressed Out Edition!

This is what happens when you have a pretentious grad student in a bad mood, panicking over finishing his papers on time, yet having a bit of time to himself and in a meditative mood. One who likes talking about monkeys, for some reason. 

I am a monkey on a stick!
Give me a coin, I do a trick!
I grin and clap and dance like child
Give me bananas, I go wild!

My cords are yanked, bonds to my skin,
I gambol for another's win.
A thrall to Master's every whim
I twist and kick and jerk for him.

And now I see with cross-eyed vision
Master smiling in derision. 
I squirm and twist to spare my life,
As my cruel Master pulls a knife!

He cuts my strings, and I go flat,
He drops me, and I go kersplat.
He grinds his heel into my face, 
He turns and leaves me in disgrace. 

And so I lie in deep disgust,
Until he picks me from the dust.
Another dance, another tune
A different ape, the same buffoon.