Friday, September 28, 2012

The 4 Temperaments Theory, As Explained By Winnie the Pooh Characters

Most human beings tend to fall into four basic personality categories, commonly known as the 4 temperaments. These temperaments (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic) are inborn tendencies in people, which cause them to exhibit certain traits and adopt certain mannerisms.
Now, I could write a long post detailing the specific characteristics of the 4 temperaments. But I’m in a lazy mood, so I’ll just link to this description that explains the temperaments in very detailed language.
But that link, though informative, only provides boring, technical explanations of the 4 temperaments. 
I was feeling creative when this topic came across the radar screen, so I thought... what better way to explain the temperaments than by analyzing the temperaments of the major characters in the children's masterpiece Winnie-the-Pooh
(Depressingly, I am not the first person to make this comparison. However, I believe my assessment is more accurate.)
Christopher RobinAll temperaments
Christopher Robin is a sort of Christ figure in the Hundred Acre Wood. He consistently exhibits common sense, friendliness, kindness, and wisdom, and is never portrayed doing anything wrong. 
Thus, it is unsurprising that he embodies the best traits of all the temperaments - the friendliness of a sanguine, the decisiveness of a choleric, the level-headedness of a phlegmatic, and the reflective nature of the melancholic. 
Eeyore Melancholic
The pessimistic and perpetually sorrowful Eeyore is the epitome of the reclusive, sorrowful melancholic, always expecting the worst from others and from life.
Piglet Phlegmatic-melancholic
In the words of the Genius: “Piglet exemplifies order and decency.” (This is an actual quote.)
Piglet gets along with everyone, is peaceful, and is Pooh Bear’s rock in the storm. But he worries far more than most phlegmatics, displaying his melancholic tendency to overthink matters.
Rabbit likes things done his own way, and trusts to his strong and stubborn will (sometimes, too much) above all else. He also has a melancholic perfectionist streak, as witnessed by his obsessive gardening and his at times reclusive attitude.
Roo displays a laughing streak and an absurd level of happiness which only a sanguine could possibly possess.
TiggerIntense Sanguine
The energetic Tigger wreaks absolute havoc in the Hundred Acre Wood with his spontaneous antics. He is the classic sanguine: a lot of fun to be around, but little self-control and no attention span whatsoever.
All the other animals in the Hundred Acre Wood love Pooh Bear, precisely because he is so easygoing and pleasant to be around. Pooh is content to relax and let stronger personalities or circumstances lead him.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can The World Get Worse?

Some Christians, seeing the horrors of the modern age, seem to hold the attitude that the world is a worse place now than it ever has been in human history, and that the end times are correspondingly near.
Those who hold this position vastly underestimate the human capacity for sin and evil. The world has been, could be, and will be a much worse place for Christians than it is presently.
This is not to gloss over the serious problems Christians face in the modern era. The culture of death is rampant in the West; abortion, gay marriage, aggressive materialism, and other evils are growing in strength and intensity, and now threaten overt persecution of the Church.
In other countries, Christians are imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for their beliefs.
But Christians have overcome far worse evils in 2000 years of history. Christians were officially persecuted and often brutally tortured for the first three centuries of their existence. During the Great Western Schism, Christians weren’t even sure who was the true leader of the Church – even saints were confused as to who the true Pope was.
Faithful Christians have been forced to fight off their backs for two millenia. And the rest of the world, lacking the light of Christianity, suffered worse self-inflicted evils throughout history. Civilizations mandated nightmarish evils such as bloody human sacrifice in Mexico and ritualized suicide in Japan.
We Christians face great evils now, and will almost certainly be undergo greater trials in the years to come. But the sufferings we face hardly compare to those our forefathers in faith have suffered. Our Christians conquered the evils they faced through faith in Christ. We too can conquer them, if we trust in Christ and obey His commands.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Problem with Atheistic Morality

Atheists believe that human beings are moral because of the workings of the evolutionary process. Concepts of goodness and morality, in the atheistic worldview, are behavioral defense mechanisms which keep human beings from harming and destroying one another. 
This notion of morality is a perfectly logical assumption, befitting the confines of atheist philosophy. 
But there is a problem with this atheistic vision of goodness and morality. Strictly speaking, goodness and morality are not rational in the atheist conception - they are innate drives within human beings.
Human beings are rational, and can and do come to the conclusion that morality goes against their own self-interest. 
Unlike other animals, human beings are rational beings – or at the very least, possess the capacity for reason to a degree which other animals do not. Humans also naturally seek what is in their best interest.
But moral behavior often goes against human self-interest, because morality often consists of imposed limits on a man's autonomy and material improvement. For example, a moral man would not steal or sleep with another man's wife, even if presented with the opportunity.
But fulfilling one's self-interest means the betterment of oneself, not necessarily the betterment of others. Logically, if good and evil are merely mental constructs, personal obedience to moral statutes becomes folly if obedience to those statutes is not in one’s self-interest.
Intelligent individuals realize that without a God, obedience to any moral code is folly, and that good and evil are often mental constructs designed by weak individuals to restrict the predatory nature of the strong. Accordingly, if a powerful individual successfully avoids or rejects the confines of morality to gain power, then he (or she) has nothing to stop him from seeking his own self-interest at the expense of others. 
Powerful individuals who reject the notion of God believe they have have no check on their actions, because there is no being or higher power to punish them for seeking their own self-interest at the expense of others. 
This problem is reflected in the lives of several atheistic individuals who attained power. Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Mussolini – all of these leaders were atheists who set themselves above the chains of morality, with disastrous results. 
The problem with atheist morality isn't that evolution precludes morality. The problem is that atheistic human beings are sometimes too rational and too self-interested to submit to the innate human drive for morality.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Evil and Catholic Bubbles

Temptation to evil – including grave evils such as suicide – afflicts everyone, even the most faithful Catholics and the strongest Catholic communities. Even the most faithful Catholics can fall into sin if they are not constantly watchful. 
For the combat between God and the devil is not static; it is a dynamic duel between two powers warring for our souls. 
There is a strong temptation to think of Catholic institutions and communities of friends as “bubbles,” where we are completely safe from harmful influences.
But evil is relentless and corrosive, and Satan constantly seeks to destroy the faith of even the strongest Catholics. Islands of faith and sanity (Catholic colleges, monasteries, meeting groups, etc) are places of refreshment of the spirit, where we must draw strength from our fellows in our ongoing combat for Christ against evil. 
Even the strictest monastery or the most orthodox college is no refuge from the trials of temptation. The man who runs from evil to these refuges will find evil knocking at his door.
Catholics cannot simply retreat to little islands, waiting out the tide of sin and sorrow while the world burns around them. We must fight for Christ, wherever we are - or else we will be conquered.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Teaching Philosophy

So I was asked to compose a teaching philosophy for my graduate school history class at the Catholic University of America. Mine turned out somewhat... different than everyone else's. 

Brilliance is not a happy accident reserved to the fortunate few. It is a way of life, founded upon a spirit of intellectual curiosity and dogged perseverance in the pursuit of knowledge. As a teacher, it is my first and foremost task to inculcate these attitudes in my students, pushing them to excel.

But the task of the teacher is not merely to mold minds to think clearly; the truly excellent educator touches students’ souls as well. If I have not touched my students’ lives for the better through my good example, I have failed them. 
This twofold calling of the teacher – to shape minds and souls – demands knowledge of each and every student and concern for their well-being. To be an effective teacher, I must come to know the likes, dislikes, learning styles, and habits of my students. Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all affair; I must also accommodate my preferred teaching style (lecture mixed with student questioning) to suit my students’ needs.
Inside the classroom, my teaching is designed to engage students, making them active participants in their own learning. In my classroom, each student takes charge of his or her own learning, and participation on the part of each individual is welcomed and appreciated.
My task as a history teacher is to weave past and present together in a way that encourages each student to seek to know more about the past. But for the excellent history teacher, a love for the past is impossible to gratify without an emphasis on the building blocks of history – documents and fixed events. My class demands that students focus on these cornerstones of history, and not construct ideological castles in the air which perpetuate their preconceived notions and ignore the facts of time.
For a German Augustinian monk really did nail 95 theses to a cathedral door in 1517. A Jewish girl hid in an attic and kept a detailed and compelling diary while Nazis hunted to kill her and her family. An American plane dropped one bomb that vaporized that Japanese city of Hiroshima and killed tens of thousands. The interpretations of particular events and documents may change, but the events and documents from which history is pieced together do not. They become the markers of history – guideposts which direct the discipline.  
Without an emphasis on documents and fixed events, history becomes an exercise in systematized fantasy – a playground for the fiction writer or the Marxist to construct alternate realities or postulate absurd theories. Divorced from actual occurrences, history becomes illusion – or worse, propaganda in servitude to preconceived ideology.
But the converse is true, as well. An inchoate collection of events means nothing without an overarching narrative to tie them together. The “teacher” who amasses great knowledge of unrelated events is nothing more than an antiquarian. To master the craft of history, a successful history teacher must weave the documents and happenings into a compelling, plausible narrative.
People with similar narratives coalesce to form different schools of history, which wax and wane like the tides. Political history is in fashion one generation, social history the next. Fittingly, a discipline that analyzes and documents human change over time is itself subject to time’s cycles.
However, there is one narrative exempt from the vicissitudes of time – a narrative which I embrace. Christ, Lord of history, founded a Church whose teaching remains unchanged, even as Her form has changed dramatically over the ages. I view history through the prism of the teaching of the timeless Church, and will educate my students through that lens.
God willing, my efforts will help students to share my love of the past.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Paradox of Christian Weakness

But the foolish things of the world God hath chosen, that he may confound the wise, and the weak things of the world God hath chosen, that he may confound the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)
The poor, the disabled, and the least of the earth are often the strongest witnesses to the Faith founded by Christ.
St. John Vianney was considered a fool by his superiors, yet he became the greatest parish priest in the history of the Catholic Church. St. Joan of Arc was a peasant girl, called by Christ to save France from an English invasion. Many of the apostles were simple fishermen, yet were chosen by Christ to be the very first bishops of the Catholic Church.
Even seemingly powerful Christian saints undergo humiliation and suffering. Louis IX of France was captured by Muslims. St. Elizabeth of Hungary was cast from her throne by her own family. 
Why would Christ allow so many of His followers to be poor and lowly? Surely, would not Christ reward His followers with worldly success and honor?
This seeming paradox becomes clearer when we recognize that Our Master, Christ, willingly suffered intense humiliation. God allowed Himself to be born in a stable, and even permitted His creatures, corrupted by sin, to kill Him with the torturous death of the cross. He who embraced suffering naturally blesses and makes fruitful the suffering of His followers.
It behooves us Christians to remember that we are strongest when Christ allows us to be brought low, and joyful acceptance of suffering is the great power and mystery of Christianity. Truly can we say with the Blessed Mother: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.” We who suffer are beloved of God, and can do incredible things for His glory.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don’t Patronize Opponents Who Have Better Arguments

When participating in debates (or watching other people’s debates), I often see patronizing phrases like “we’ll agree to disagree” and “I respect your opinion, but…” that are commonly used to end arguments without further discussion.
These phrases are euphemisms for the attitude: “I think your argument is nonsense, but I can’t be bothered to debate it further and explain to you why you’re wrong, so I’ll cloak my disgust at your wrongness under a patina of respect.” (The pseudo-Catholic equivalent to these phrases is “I’ll pray for you.”)
This is a toxic attitude to have when debating. For starters, the person using it can’t answer the point, and is simply unwilling to acknowledge the fact. For another, it reflects an attitude of undeserving, prideful superiority: “my argument is inherently better, and your argument is obviously wrong.”
Debate should not be an exercise of establishing superiority. It is about discovering the truth of a matter, and convincing an intellectual opponent (and audience, if the debate is public) of the rightness of one’s position. It is not about running whenever one gets bored or tired of debating a point and making a snarky comment while slamming the door on further discussion of a topic.
Dear users of this tactic: When debating, either finish what you start, disagree on first principles or irreconcilable worldviews, bow out because of a lack of time or energy, or concede defeat. Don’t patronize your opponent who destroyed your arguments. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Corporal Works of Mercy

As Catholics, we must extend what is commonly called “social justice” (namely, respect for all men, even the poor, as "other selves" to be loved and cherished) to all those we meet. Social justice is embodied by the seven corporal works of mercy.
The corporal works of mercy are seven ways in which men and women are called to serve the material needs of their fellow men. The list of corporal works of mercy is as follows:
1)  Feed the hungry. 
2) Give drink to the thirsty.
3) Welcome the stranger. 
4) Clothe the naked. 
5) Visit the sick. 
6) Visit the prisoner. 
7) Bury the dead.
The corporal works of mercy are necessary for our salvation. Six of them come directly from Matthew 25:31-46 which reveals that at the end of time, Christ will ask us if we, as His followers, took care of our neighbors. 
And we had better be prepared to give an affirmative answer.
Future posts will examine corporal works of mercy individually and in greater depth.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Good Relationships are Painful

I was talking with a good friend of mine recently, and this song was brought up. Out of curiosity, I listened - and was struck by the theme of the song.

The relevant lyrics (at least for my purposes) are as follows:

Don’t wanna break your heart
I wanna give your heart a break
I know you’re scared it’s wrong
Like you might make a mistake
There’s just one life to live
And there’s no time to wait, to waste,
So let me give your heart a break…

Like most modern music, the song reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of healthy human relationships. For strange as it may seem, good relationships are involve inflicting pain on others. As Christians, we are not called to give other's hearts a break, per se, but challenge others to greater holiness.
Relationships – that is, serious relationships – often require a willingness to cause pain to others when necessary. People in serious relationships – whether friends or family or lovers – must be willing to inflict pain on those they love in order those they care about to spur maturity and self-growth.
The modern age suffers from an excess of kindness – or more accurately, an unwillingness to cause even necessary pain. And out of kindness, we do more harm to our friends than good.
But strong, healthy relationships require more than kindness to build upon. We Christians MUST want what is good for others, not merely what is convenient or pleasant to them. And often, what is good for people is painful; people must suffer pain that they would rather not face in order to become stronger and better. 
The athlete must undergo physical pain in order to become great. The student must be challenged and confused in order to become learned. The Christian must be tested in order to become virtuous. This is also true in the social realm. Friends, lovers, and acquaintances must tell others painful truths when necessary - even when those truths are painful to hear.
But lovers often hold back what is bothering them about their partner for fear of inflicting pain, until resentment builds and explodes in paroxysms of rage. Friends often watch their friends in bad situations (say, drug abuse) and refuse to say anything for fear of hurting their friend's feelings. Christians often are asked whether a particular activity (say, gay marriage) is sinful, and are afraid to say yes (and tell them why!) for fear of offending their inquisitor.
By refusing to inflict salutary pain, people wound those they care for deeply, by allowing him or her to remain unchecked in free-fall.
As Christians, we are called to remind others of painful truths. Let us be willing to inflict salutary pain on those we care for, if such pain is necessary.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Contrarian Take on Cardinal Dolan’s DNC Prayer

Media outlets went crazy with the "news" that Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave a “conservative” prayer to close the Democratic National Convention. They based this view on the fact that his prayer included calls for protecting life, true marriage, and religious freedom.
I read Cardinal Dolan’s prayer at the Democratic National Convention which caused such fuss, and strongly disagree with the assessment that the prayer was "Republican" or "conservative." Dolan certainly called for respect for those “waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and pursued.” This, of course, stood in stark contrast to the fixation on abortion at the Democratic National Convention.
But Dolan merely reiterated basic Christian principles in his prayer - principles which the Democratic platform rejected. His prayer served as a simple yet elegant reminder to those present of the principles that true Christianity entails, which transcend politics.
As I noted in an article that appeared on Catholic Exchange, the Church is neither “liberal” or “conservative” – the Church is Catholic. The Church is not beholden to either party.
But the Church stands for certain principles, such as the right to life and the preferential option for the poor, that come into conflict with various elements of political platforms. When these principles are attacked, it is the duty of the Christian to offer fraternal correction in a spirit of loving charity, and to remind those who reject those principles of their Christian duty.
Cardinal Dolan’s prayer was a loving reminder that Christianity demands respect for certain basic rights - and a call for those present to reexamine their consciences. It was not a "conservative" prayer. It was a Christian prayer.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Danger of One Solitary Virtue

It is often the case that individuals often have a special affinity for one particular virtue. Some are given a greater capacity for the virtue of temperance, others for fortitude, still others for charity. Individuals with those predispositions are called to especially embody that particular virtue.
But obsession with any one virtue is problematic. Obedience to the exclusion of other virtues is slavery to the will of others; an over-emphasis on justice leads to an “eye for an eye” mentality. To be truly virtuous, a man must possess and practice all the virtues in unison.
This is problematic for me, because my obsessive virtue is honesty. I (emotionally, at least) love honesty above every other virtue, and I loathe people who tell untruths. I hate even the smallest shading of the truth to frame a position in the best possible light, even if the general thrust of a statement is true. Next to God and family, truth is my one love – and I worry that that my love of truth surpasses my love for God and humanity.
Those who are "honest" about following their principles, no matter how evil, win my grudging admiration. For example, I respect Floyd Conklin (the FRC shooter), who acted against "hatred" by trying to shoot up a “hate group.” He, at least, was clear about the nature of the "hate" he believed he was fighting. 
I respect the honesty of Huffington Post contributor Noah Michelson when he writes: "But in my fantasies, we're not gunning for gay acceptance - especially not if the only way we're granted it is by "behaving ourselves" and struggling to fit into a heteronormative mold (which, as far as I can tell, hasn't really benefited heterosexual people very well, either). Instead, I want us to be pushing for queer liberation, which to me, has always meant that when it comes to sex and love, we all get to do whatever we want with whomever we want with whomever we want as we're not hurting anyone (unless of course, that person/those people are asking for us to hurt them)." He, at least, recognizes that the redefinition of marriage means much more that the mere recognition of "same-sex marriage."
Conkin and Michelson started from horrific first principles, but were at least honest about where their first principles led, and were willing to take those consequences of their first principles to their logical end.
Others of their ilk set arbitrary limits on their principles based on discomfort as to their logical conclusion (or political expediency), For example, individuals who support gay marriage often refuse to support the marriage of sterilized incestuous couples, even though there is no logical argument to 
For this same reason, I loathe the hypocrisy of Dan Savage, who screams against hatred and bullying yet stokes it at every turn with his rhetoric. I loathe the behavior of those who claim to be Christian, yet who divorce, remarry, and live a life unworthy of Christianity. I loathe the dishonesty of my own life, when I preach mercy or dignity yet fail to practice those virtues. (And it happens often.)  
But honesty lacking in charity is cold, harsh, bitter, and angry. Calumny is sinful, but detraction (the ruining of another’s good name by revealing something evil about the person, even if true) is also sinful.
One virtue, taken alone and  removed from other virtues, becomes a snare. As Catholics, we must embody ALL the virtues, not just one.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Catholicism in the Public Square

There are many who claim that religion should be removed from the public square in a modern society. A religiously pluralistic society should be secular, where no one should be allowed to impose their religion on others in the public square, since people of other faiths would be offended by the introduction of religion into the public square.
Never mind the fact that this policy effectively imposes irreligion in the public square. (Never mind that irreligion offends me.)
If adopted, such an attitude wages war against the very nature of the Catholic faith.
For Catholicism cannot merely be practiced only on weekends or in silence. Catholicism is a way of life, to be practiced in private AND in public.
Forcing religion out of the public square means that Catholicism becomes little more than a hidden, arcane ritual to be performed every Sunday. This type of Catholicism is a caricature of the Faith.
Real Catholicism is not dead doctrine and arcane ritual; it is living reality. Real Catholicism drives the daily lives of its followers. Real Catholicism demands charity towards neighbors, obedience to a moral code, and first and foremost fidelity to God above all.
And this Catholicism must be lived to the full, informing our every thought, word, and deed. Our lives are to be imbued with the spirit of Christian charity informed by our Faith, if we are to be truly Catholic. And this spirit cannot simply be cast aside in the public square.
There are times when I wish that Catholicism was less than all-consuming demand of service to God and neighbor. I wish that the Catholic religion was merely a ritual people could participate in every Sunday and be done. (I love compartmentalization.)
But deep down, I cannot separate my Catholic faith from my daily life – it is a part of me. If you force me to keep my religion under a bushel basket, you force me out of the public square altogether.
For I cannot – and will not – hide my faith in public. My Catholicism informs my thought processes, defines my actions, and directs my actions. If forced to abjure my Faith in the public square, I will withdraw from the public square altogether. 
Nor can the Church simply give up Her faith in the public square at the whim of the government. The HHS mandate forces the Church to either ignore one of Her moral teachings – or to stop giving charity altogether.
If government seeks to prevent Catholics from living out their faith in the public square, they effectively prevent Catholics (well, real Catholics, at any rate) from entering the public square.