The Secular Utility of the Cloistered Contemplative

What are monks good for, anyway? Why do we allocate scarce resources to their activities of prayer, liturgy, and the odd bit of gardening, or apiculture, or brewing?

We could ask the same question about priests, and about church buildings. Sure, they do lots of good and valuable work – teaching, nursing, and so forth – but their strictly religious activities would seem to be a complete waste.

But not so. People do better – are braver, more resilient, and happier in the face of life’s ineliminable vicissitudes both small and great – when they can see that their personal struggles signify in the larger struggle of good with evil for the redemption of the whole world. They do better when they can see how their small efforts to be good contribute weal to the side of the angels in the Wars of Heaven. If earthly life is throughly pointed toward some utterly transcendent and wonderful Good, then it can all be worthwhile. Otherwise, it just can’t, and is utterly vain and meaningless, so that despair is the  only apposite response to life’s utter futility.

As for people, so for their families, their enterprises of all sorts, their tribes and nations. If these are formed by a shared understanding of their important roles in the wider struggle of God with his enemies, they are more likely to prosper and prevail. Otherwise, they are more likely to dwindle and fail. The demographic collapse of our merely secular society – more and more obviously nihilist – shows how irreligion plays out.

Continue reading

Real Tradition Must Be Sacred Tradition

We can jaw till the cows come home about how to reform the social order so that it works better, and in so doing improve our own understandings, and those of our fellows, so that we jointly decide matters in such a way as to restore a more humane, realistic and successful social order. Such discourse is not only edifying, but can nerve us to action. We could even implement a lot of quite sensible reforms – indeed, it is within the realm of possibility that all the outward forms of an ideal traditional society could be implemented, sometime after the Collapse of the Liberal Order, when men are casting about for a better way. That would be good!

Political acts can truly make the world a bit better, at the margin, than it would otherwise be.

But in the absence of a fairly widespread metanoia, a spiritual awakening and change of heart, all the clever and salutary reforms in the world will not secure for us a robust and durable traditional society, that reliably supports true human flourishing. They might slow the rot, but cannot heal it; cannot procure for us a healthy body politic.

A merely secular order, that does not consciously refer its ends, forms, and significations to the ultimate source of all order and meaning, has severed itself from the root of all things, and must therefore soon err, and stray, and perish.

Continue reading

Talking about talking about the Gospel

Courtesy of Catholic World News:

A homosexual activist group will march in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade next year, with the tacit approval of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. …

Cardinal Dolan, in a statement responding to the organizers’ decision, noted that the archdiocese was not responsible for decisions about which groups were included in the parade. However, he said, “The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee continues to have my confidence and support.”

Well, but that’s not entirely true, because the Archdiocese is certainly responsible for at least one group’s participation in the parade: its own.

What are we to conclude when a Cardinal, who previously applauded as a good thing a minor celebrity’s identification with sodomy, doesn’t even blink at the inclusion in the parade (which he is personally leading!) of a group of homosexual activists — not merely people who struggle with same-sex attraction who are marching in good faith as Irishmen or as Catholics, but people who are marching as proponents of that lifestyle, in support of what Robert Oscar Lopez called an “engine of world-historical evil“? The obvious conclusion would be that he doesn’t think it especially compelling to oppose such moves or even really to talk a lot about them. And why not? After all, Pope Francis changed all that, right? Whether or not that conclusion is true of Cardinal Dolan, a person who reached it could hardly be accused of thinking unsoundly.

But wait! chimes in the servile ultramontanist suck-up who thinks the only sin we can judge is that of thinking prelates capable of acting imprudently. Cardinal Dolan is merely setting the stage for a bold proclamation of the Gospel and a witness to the New Evangelization and so on! If that’s the case, then I await with great anticipation his homily at the St. Patrick’s Day Mass, rebuking the sins of the age to all those assembled, urging them to repent of their sins and to profess the divinity and Lordship of Jesus Christ and to receive Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and calling on them to “save yourselves from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).

But we won’t hear that, because we’re not really allowed to talk about sin or repentance, either, are we? Because neither do those things “set the stage for a bold proclamation of the Gospel,” we are always told. As usual, it’s talk, talk, talk: talking about talking about the Gospel, a crutch against which to lean our refusal to actually talk about the Gospel.

Concreteness, Corporeality & Responsibility

English makes it easy to refer to a whole group of things as if it were a substantial entity in its own right, whether or not it really is. It then allows us to assign such things as motives, plans, and behavior to that merely notional entity. Thus, e.g., “Baseball been very very good to me;” “The Wehrmacht has taken Paris;” “Godless Communism killed 100 million.”[1]

It’s handy. But difficulty can ensue when we take our shorthand references to such groups as if they indicated something concretely real. The game of baseball can’t do anything, nor can the Wehrmacht, or Communism. Clemente was treated well by actual people involved in baseball, Paris was taken by German soldiers, and the victims of the Communist holocaust were destroyed by real men and women. It’s a category error to blame or credit merely notional entities. AN Whitehead called it the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. It arises when we treat ideas as if they were actual and concrete. Concrete entities do all inherit ideas from their past, embody them, and propose them to the future. But without a concrete entity to do the inheriting, embodying, and proposing, nothing happens with the ideas. Ideas don’t have themselves.

Ideas are indeed causes, to be sure; the final, formal and material causes of events are all ideas, in the final analysis. But the inputs to an event are not yet the event. Only agents can respond to the ideas that are their factors. It behooves us then to remember to assign responsibility to natural persons, rather than to movements or schools, to philosophies or merely legal persons.

Continue reading

Socialization of Costs is Moral Hazard

It seems that whenever I start thinking about or discussing economics, I soon start going on about moral hazard. I think it tremendously important, and too little talked about or understood.

A recent short post on the facilitation of nihilism’s incipient historical suicide by prosperity and high technology was no exception. It provoked a long exchange of comments on quite a different (albeit related) topic: latter day capitalism versus distributism. As usual, I mentioned moral hazard:

If the moral hazard created by perverse policies – not of this or that administration, but often deep in the guts of the law – were purged, my guess is that … the size of the average enterprise would drop precipitously. Why? If for no other reason, there would be far less incentive to get big so as to be able to take big risks. Eliminating moral hazard means allowing people to suffer in their own bodies the risks of their actions. When the cost of a bad decision about risk on the part of your enterprise redounds immediately to your own personal situation, you are a lot more careful, a lot more circumspect. You dare less, and you want to have really good information about and control over the projects you take on, so as to control your risk. So you are less ambitious. And that means you grow much more slowly, and that your growth (all other things held equal) is healthier.

Which would result in a less volatile economy, greater average wealth, greater overall wealth, greater average prudence, and any number of other pleasant and salutary things, in the process leading society toward a distributist economic order.

In his response, regular commenter Ita Scripta Est said in passing:

And yet capitalism never quite seems to operate this way. The costs are socialized while the profits somehow always remain private.

He is exactly correct, and precisely nails the problem with latter day capitalism – and every other sublunary social order, whatsoever.

Continue reading

Heaven is the Theosis of Nature

That a phenomenon seems to be wholly explicable in natural terms does not, of course, mean that it is not due to an ingress of Divine Grace. Thinking so is a common error of the naturalist bent – or rather, what it is more accurate to say, of the bent naturalist. But natural explanations do not rule out supernatural explanations. There is, indeed there can be, no conflict between natura and supernatura; natural explanations are all in the final analysis also supernatural explanations, because natura presupposes supernatura.

Continue reading

Behavior Presupposes Theism

Behavior as such is predicated upon the orderliness of the world. The acts of organisms are avowals of confidence that the acts themselves are appropriate to the world; that they make sense in terms of the way that the world is ordered. My walk to the store is an effectual assertion that there is indeed still really a store, that my path will still take me to it, that it usually offers for sale the items I need, and so forth. Likewise for a cow heading home to her stall from the pasture. Likewise even for the phototropism of plants. Behavior is a commitment to the truth of an idea.

Continue reading

One God, many peoples III: false prophets and merely obnoxious ones

The existence of liberal Christians is an important piece of evidence in the neopagan-neoreactionary indictment of Christianity, but such people are in the obviously anomalous situation of rejecting their own tradition to follow novel doctrines invented by explicitly anti-Christian groups.  What are we to make of them?  Our own JMSmith, among others, identifies them with Puritanism, whose essence he identifies with “sanctimonious browbeating“, the ideological justification for the Puritan’s self-righteousness being accidental.  We’re all familiar with this phenomenon, but I’d like to fill out the picture.  Since nobody calls himself a “Puritan”, that word’s use is mainly polemical rather than neutrally descriptive, or at least that’s how someone using it will be understood.  I like to let people define and label their own beliefs.  What do liberal Christians call their program?  “Prophetic“, of course!

In my years as an Episcopal activist, I duly read all the “progressive” magazines and newsletters and press releases and sat through dozens of “progressive” sermons, lectures, press conferences, and literally weeks of General Convention meetings, covering the debates both of the house of bishops and the house of deputies (which included clerics and laymen both). I was surprised, after a while, to notice not only how often the progressives used the word “prophetic,” but how un-ironically they used it.

“Inclusive” language liturgy was Prophetic! and “gay marriage” was Prophetic! and support for illegal immigrants was Prophetic! and legalized abortion was prophetic and so was that and that and that! Nothing they said or did was non-prophetic. Nothing, or almost nothing, was just a good idea or the right thing to do or simply useful or helpful.

Continue reading

Talk, talk, talk

Courtesy of the USCCB:

The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reasserted their commitment to dialogue with other religions and Muslims in particular in a statement developed between October 2013 and its release August 19. The committee, which is chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore, listed tensions between Christians in Muslims in different parts of the world as a primary reason for reaffirming the need for dialogue.

“We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad,” the bishops wrote. “Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment—acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten to disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.”

And that harmony, the fruit of 20 years of interreligious dialogue which must not be disrupted no matter what, has given us (they claim with wonder) “documents on education, marriage and revelation” — documents which no one outside the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has read (I’d certainly never even heard of them until just now) and which in no way impact the lives of ordinary Catholics or Muslims. It’s theological realpolitik, but worse than that, it’s talk talk talk, talk as an end in itself, talk with no visible fruits, talk in the interests of which the speaking of actual truths (including the charitable correction of errors and forceful denunciation of outrageous abuses) is far too often made to defer. It’s mere chatter and noise to fill the silence and desolation created by the modernist’s much-vaunted doubt. One begins to wonder if this isn’t all just a makework scheme to enrich otherwise-unemployable Georgetown graduates.

Oh, and then there was this:

The bishops expressed sadness over “deliberate rejection” of the call to engage in dialogue with Muslims by some Christians, Catholic and not. They noted that the call to respect and dialogue comes from the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) and has been reaffirmed by subsequent popes.

Why are people still talking about Vatican II? Who cares what it had to say? The ecumenical dynamic which it inaugurated was a product of the facile optimism of the 1960’s, hardly applicable or relevant to the brutal and dark postmodern world of 2014.

Get with the times, guys!

The Ultimate Integration

God is Omega in that all things achieve their final integration in him, and by him – not just at the eschaton, but always. It is by virtue of this integration that creaturely events are in the first place coordinated so as to form any coherent world. Thus the integration of the Omega is the forecondition of Creation. That’s why Omega is coterminous with Alpha.

Continue reading