About DBreitenbeck

David Breitenbeck is a professional freelance writer currently living in Southeast Michigan.

History and Compromise at ‘The Everyman’

My latest post at The Everyman is up, comparing our present world to Austria in the 1930s. It’s depressingly apt.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

A virulent ideological movement is spreading through a nation’s institutions. It presents itself as the wave of the future, elevating those who have been beaten down, and as a long-overdue correction of past injustices. It pretends to regard any attack on its mission as an attack on the people it claims to be advocating for and any check on its momentum as the cruelest of tyrannies. Those who oppose it are condemned as being motivated by hatred, base personal gain, or because they are beholden to entrenched interests. It is supported by student radicals who, encouraged by their professors, use protests and organized violence to silence dissent. It employs racially charged rhetoric, condemning one group in particular on account of their real or supposed past crimes. People suddenly find old friends and family members cutting ties, turning on them, or uttering shockingly brutal rhetoric. Riots and violent unrest become increasingly common as the supporters of the ideology seek to impose it upon their neighbors.

Meanwhile the Church (with a few exceptions), either mostly dithers or is complicit by focusing on the superficial points of common ground rather than the fundamentally anti-Christian nature of the ideology. Instead, the movement is chiefly opposed by an energetic, highly controversial political leader who couches his battle in terms of the nation’s historical ideals and identity.

Sound familiar?

As you probably guessed, I’m not referring to America in 2020. I’m referring to Austria in 1934. It has become gauche and tedious to make Nazi comparisons, and for good reason. The analogy has become so abused, misapplied, and overused that it now means practically nothing. And the worst of it is that we always seem to miss the real point of that sad episode of history, a point that really deserves to be brought into greater clarity.

One of the most fascinating accounts of the Nazi conquest of Germany and Austria is the memoir, My Struggle Against Hitler, by the great German philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand. In it he recounts his flight from Nazi Germany and his life of exile in Austria, where he used a journal called Der Christlich Standestaat (The Christian Corporate State), to wage an unending philosophical battle against the Nazis until Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria in 1938 forced him to flee once again.

What strikes me again and again in reading Von Hildebrand’s words is how willing so many people were to go along with the Nazis and how extensively and aggressively the Nazi ideology was pushed, compared to how hesitant and diffident most of the opposition was. Nazism really was the popular, dynamic, progressive ideology of the day. Those who opposed it were condemned as hating Germany and Germans, or at best considered quaintly backwards and Quixotic, since Nazism was obviously the way of the future.

The narrative then was “we have to find a way to work with Hitler” or “there are many points of similarity between Nazism and Christianity, such as value of the nation, of authority, and so on.” Or else “yes, but the Jews really are deplorable. They really do need to be taken down a peg.”

Again, this should all sound familiar (“many Communists have a truly Christian ethic” etc.), but again, to liken the American Left, or Red China, or any other evil ideological movement to the Nazis is not really the point here. For, as these examples themselves indicate, points of likeness can nearly always be found if you care to look for them. That in itself doesn’t mean much.

My point is that the rise of all these movements serves to illustrate the same lesson taught repeatedly in Scripture: that no man can serve two masters. Neither a person or a nation can hold to two contradictory ideologies. Nazism and Christianity, as are Christianity and Socialism, are essentially contradictory. This fact makes all compromise and all accommodation impossible. Worse, any such attempt to do so will mean actively damaging Christianity and Christian culture by obscuring its real character.

Read the rest here.

Patriotism

You know what makes me the most angry, looking back? The fact of being told so many times that I shouldn’t be.

I should be sad. I should be aware of the complexities of the situation. I should have sympathy for those in other countries. But I shouldn’t be angry. I shouldn’t feel it personally.

No one I knew died that day. In the years since, my political views, and my views of America as a country, and even the very concept of the modern nation satate have changed considerably (Or rather, have clarified).

None of that makes a difference. Because whatever I may think about it, America is part of me, as much as my own hands and feet, my own blood. It is something I have inherited, not something I have chosen for myself, and nothing can change that. I owe it piety simply on account of the fact that it is my country, just as I owe my parents piety simply because they are my parents.

That may mean criticizing it, lamenting over it, praying for its reformation, but it can never mean being indifferent to it. It cannot mean standing back and taking a ‘nuanced’ view when the country has been attacked. To do so would not be to show reason or balance or open-mindedness or any of that nonsense. It shows a cramped, ugly little soul trying to hold itself aloof from its duties. It is a mark of that atomistic individualism that accepts benefits and denies responsibilities, that imagines itself to be wholly self-created, self-ruling, and self-sufficient.

But this, it seems, is the kind of person we are expected to be. Patriotism has been despised, deconstructed, and ridiculed with ever increasing vehemence for generations. Now it has practically been marked as a secular sin. We are gleeful to tear down our own country, to dig up its sins and failures, to spit in the faces of its heroes.

No one lives in a vacuum. No one can be without a tradition, without a culture, without a country. Broad-minded cosmopolitanism, ‘multiculturalism’, that seeks to sympathize with all nations and none at the same time, only ever means impiety toward your own.

Piety to country, to heritage, is part of traditionalism (for want of a better term). Again, that doesn’t mean ignoring or papering over past or present crimes; it means recognizing that this is where you come from and this is who you are. A German is a German, a Frenchman is a Frenchman, an Englishman is an Englishman, and that doesn’t change because they can all look back and see horrible things done in the name of Germany, France, and England. It is your duty, in such cases, to seek to redeem its name, to at least ensure that such things shall not be done by you. That you, at least, shall honor its name by your life, whatever your brothers do or have done. But the duty of piety towards one’s country simply because it is one’s country is never lessened.

That means being angry when it is attacked.

And so it is that this day every year brings back those painful memories of being struck hard by an enemy. And of subsequently having half my fellows preening themselves by evading the term ‘enemy’ and turning the event around into yet another impious attack on their own nation.

BREATHES there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
-Sir Walter Scott

Catholic Match: What to do When You have a Difficult Personality

I get to quote The Lost World in this one:

This is not something that is going to go away, or that is a matter of simply building confidence in yourself (though more on that in a bit). Your personality will make your dating and married life harder for you than it would be for someone else. Such things are a part of life and it is better to face and acknowledge difficulties than to try to evade them. Be aware of your oddities, recognize how they affect your interactions with people, and as far as is possible or prudent, try to account for them.

This means acting according to what you know about yourself, not according to how ‘normal’ people act. That may mean abstaining from certain pleasures or avoiding certain situations. You don’t engage someone in conversation because you know how hard it will be not to call him an idiot. You don’t stay long at family gatherings because your temper shrinks as your boredom rises. It is no different from abstaining from alcohol because you struggle with temperance. What you cannot cure you must mitigate.

More specifically, when you come to form a relationship, find ways to compensate for your oddities so as to make them less irksome, or at least to give the other person sufficient reason to put up with it. If you must give the whole of your attention to your work most of the time, make sure that she gets it the rest of the time. If the ‘normal’ pattern of a relationship is not open to you, then you must work extra hard at the one you have. In short, you should go beyond what you think is necessary to convince her of how much you value her.

Read the rest here.

RIP Chadwick Boseman: The First Fallen Avenger

Really shocking news; Chadwick Boseman, most famous as T’Challa / Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe passed away on Friday August 27th from colon cancer at the age of 43. Apparently, he’d been battling the disease for four years. Which means, in retrospect, that most of his involvement in the MCU was done while he was dying.

That demands respect right there.

From all I can tell, Mr. Boseman was a genuinely good guy who took his role as a superhero seriously. Anyone who takes on such a role has to understand that it is more than just a performance; you are associated with that character in the eyes of the fans for life and, in some ways, will have to keep playing it even off screen. Apparently, he used much of his massive earnings on charitable works, particularly helping people in Africa.

If you’ve read my Marvel Recaps, you know I don’t think much of Black Panther the film. You also know that I love Black Panther the character as played by Boseman, particularly his riveting performance in Civil War. But what I think doesn’t really matter at the moment; the important point is that Mr. Boseman was an exceptionally talented actor in his prime who left his mark on one of the most important franchises of contemporary Hollywood. He was also, it seems, a kind, courageous, and generous hearted man. His presence on the silver screen will be sorely missed.

The Avengers have suffered their first casualty.

Eternal Rest grant unto him, Oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Talking Confession at Catholic Match

My latest Catholic Match post is up, talking about why you need to go to Confession:

This brings us to the second point: besides your eternal salvation (if anything can be ‘besides’ that), Confession, along with the other Sacraments, conveys a very useful lesson. Namely, that we do not get to set the terms of our relationship with Christ.

This is particularly useful for us moderns, as the whole tenor of our lives runs counter to it. We are surrounded by choices and the continual message that we and we alone can legitimately make them, often causing us to fall into the habit of thinking that the world can and ought to conform to our own wishes. We even extend this to God, saying things like “oh, I can find my own way to serve Christ.”

Jesus does not play games like that. He is the one in authority here.

You have sinned against Him, and He is offering a means of forgiveness. If you don’t like the means offered, too bad. That isn’t your call to make. The repentant soldier doesn’t get to tell the king what conditions he will accept for being readmitted into the army. As long as he is doing that, he is still in rebellion.

Read the rest here

RIP John Saxon

At the same time that the last leading lady of old Hollywood passed away, another veteran actor joined the great majority.

Most people probably don’t recognize the name John Saxon, but I guarantee you know some of his films. Saxon was one of those reliable character actors who throve in the world of B-pictures, with nearly 200 film and TV credits to his name in a career spanning from the 1950s (when he played supporting roles to likes of James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, and Debbie Reynolds) to the 2010s. He’s best known for his roles as Nancy Thompson’s skeptical police chief father in the first and third Nightmare on Elm Street films (he then played himself in the meta-horror New Nightmare) and as the gambling addict Roper in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon (John Saxon was a skilled martial artist in his own right).

He also had roles in the horror classic Black Christmas and the action-horror cult-classic From Dusk Till Dawn, plus appearances on just about every notable TV show of the 70s and 80s. Fans of MST3k, meanwhile, will remember Saxon from the classic episode Mitchell, where he played the slimy villain of the B-plot opposite Joe Don Baker’s titular detective (though the cut of the film used on the show inexplicably left out the resolution of his plot line, causing Joel to wonder “Wasn’t John Saxon in this movie?”).

Mr. Saxon never rose high in the film industry, but he was a reliable, professional, hard-working actor who was always a welcome presence in his many, many films. I always have a fondness for that kind of working character actor: the ones who will never headline a blockbuster, but who simply show up, do their job well, and leave the audience glad for their company.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

John Saxon in Enter the Dragon (1973)
“Like you said, there’s a point I won’t go beyond.”

The Last Star has Gone Out

Olivia de Havilland, star of Gone with the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and dozens of other classic films, has passed away at the age of 104. She was Errol Flynn’s chief leading lady — they starred in eight films together, including his star-making role Captain Blood — one of the principle leads of Gone with the Wind and one of the great beauties of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

She was also the last one. The Golden Age of Hollywood is now officially consigned to the history books. John Wayne, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Katherine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, John Ford, Frank Capra, Cecil B. DeMille, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland; they’re all gone. Whatever might be said of that vast cast of filmmakers, writers, actors and actresses, whatever might be said of the studio system that they worked for, they produced some mighty fine stories; stories that remain meaningful, entertaining, and uplifting even when all those who made them have passed away. That, I think, counts for something.

In any case, that era is now over. The last star of Hollywood has gone out.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the soul of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great, is passed away
.

Sunday Thoughts: The Treasure in the Field

Deconstructing fairy tales is like deconstructing a ming vase; it’s easy to do, but it says more about you than about the subject itself. When some wag sniffs at the ‘love at first sight’ trope, or writes smarmy novels about Cinderella realizing how shallow her love for Prince Charming really is, it only shows the narrowness of her own mind.

Remember, narratives are always inadequate to the reality. You are always going to miss something. The question, then, is what elements of the real thing are you going to portray and why, with the goal being to convey the true, complete nature of the thing as much as possible.

Love at first sight, leading to an unyielding desire to possess the object of ones affection, is not how things usually play out day-to-day in real life. It is, however, the true pattern of an ardent love; you recognize the other for the thing you desire and you put all on the line to win her and keep her. In the context of the real world, that recognition likely takes place over the course of a good deal of time and, since we’re flawed beings, may be imperfect. In any case, there will always be elements about her that could lead you to think that you may have made a mistake at some point. But the pattern holds good; success comes in finding what you want and committing wholly to it.

As you will notice, this pattern is itself a copy of the greater pattern that Christ speaks of in today’s Gospel readings: the man who found a treasure in a field, then went and sold all he owned to possess it, or the merchant of pearls seeking one of great price who, when he found it, sold everything he owned that he might have it.

The point both here and in the fairy tales is that the hero discovers something that is worth making the baseline of his life; the thing to which all else can give way because its value exceeds them all. It is the thing that gives context and meaning to all else, and thus takes precedence over all else. It is your purpose, your destiny. Lose that, it won’t matter what else you have. Achieve it, and you achieve all.

It used to be that this pattern was repeated on earth in a minor key. And it still is in less noticeable measures; the desire to serve a noble cause and a great leader is baked into the heart of man. In legend, a young knight would consider it the highest honor to be in service to King Arthur or Charlemagne, and would endure anything for that opportunity. More recently, hundreds of men signed up to serve with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and many were disappointed to be turned away. The chivalrous spirit has, as an essential part of it, unyielding loyalty to one’s master and cause: to the Faith the knight defends and the King who serves that faith. In practice, it wasn’t so much important that the king be a good king; it was the unyielding loyalty, the submission of the self that matters. David, one of the prototypes of the Christian Knight, continued to serve King Saul even while Saul was seeking to murder him.

The virtue of devotion must be practiced in an imperfect context – to King, to country, to wife – because that is the one we know and see and thus can’t fool ourselves over. If we say “I’ll be loyal to Christ because he is perfect, but not to my country because it’s imperfect,” then we probably won’t be loyal to Christ either if He ever asks us to do something difficult or something we don’t understand. Indeed, how often do we hear people today saying things like “I love Jesus, but I don’t think he cares about my sexual habits, or about usury, or about whether I go to Church.” Because we don’t have the habit of devotion, of serving the imperfect, we have instead the habit of ‘serving’ only as we see fit. Which, of course is not serving at all. A soldier who only follows orders that he himself judges to be correct and sensible is claiming the rank of a general; a knight who only obeys his king when he would have done the same thing is claiming the rights of a king. If we have no experience of actually serving, how will we know to serve God? “He who is loyal in small things will be loyal in great ones.”

Hence, the narrative pattern of giving all for the desired object; the princess, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price. Hence the pattern of the noble knight who wants nothing more than to serve the good king. These are, in fact, the correct way to look at life, despite slurring over the details.

Christ, our Lord, our maker, our redeemer, is the foundational value; the base from which all other value proceeds. To be of the Kingdom of God — to be ‘in service’ to Christ — is the supreme glory of the human person and ought to be our greatest desire.