Saint John Henry Newman

It’s rare that we get good news from the Church these days, so cherish it when it comes! Cardinal Newman, the great English convert of the 19th century, whose return to Rome sparked something of a Catholic renaissance in that noble, yet obstinate island kingdom, is now declared a Saint. 

Cardinal Newman is one of those writers whom I regard as something of a personal spiritual master – though alas, I haven’t read as much of him as I would like – along with St. Francis de Sales, Dietriech von Hildebrand, and Professor Tolkien. What I mean is that his approach to spirituality, his understanding of the world, and his insights are of the kind that fit especially with my own personality and make the most sense to me. This, incidentally, is one of the glorious things about the Communion of Saints: there are so many and they are all so unique that if one doesn’t make an appeal to you, there are always others who will. The transforming power of Christ can be expressed through an infinity of personalities; in one it leads to the recklessly joyful abandon of a St. Francis, in another the intense focus and genius of a St. Thomas, and in still another the energy and regal authority of a St. Lewis.

St. John Henry Newman (not to be confused – though I’m sure he will be – with St. John Neuman, Bishop of Philadelphia) was more of the St. Thomas school; a crushingly brilliant scholar and masterful writer, he found his way into the Church through careful study of the early fathers and church history, along with his perceptive understanding of the flaws in Anglicanism and Protestantism. The account of this journey he laid down in his masterful autobiography Apologia pro Vita Sua, then later presented a fictionalized account of his experience in Loss and Gain: the Story of a Soul, both of which I have read and highly recommend, not only for their spiritual and theological insights, but also for the beautiful portrait of a now lost world of manners, intellect, and peace: the world of the middle and upper class England of the early-to-mid 19th century. Newman was as much a part of that world as St. Thomas was of the Medieval, and his example and ideas of gentlemanly behavior are, perhaps, as important a witness as any other to us today.

Loss and Gain mostly amounts to intelligent young Englishmen sitting around holding intellectual discussions. For me that’s enough to make it interesting, but I suppose it’s an acquired taste (though there is a very funny scene near the end where the hero is besieged by advocates for fashionable new religious communions, apparently figuring that if he’s considering Rome he must be up for grabs). Apologia is definitely worth reading both for the insight into his own life and for the brilliant argumentation on display (it was prompted by a slanderous attack by the Reverend Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho!, who was a virulent anti-Catholic and accused Newman of being secretly in the employ of the Roman Church all along. Seeing the Saint destroy his accusations is a delightful exercise in proper argumentation).

Alas, I’m not in a position to give a really good overview of St. John Henry Newman’s life or works: I’ve read (or listened to) several, but he is a great river and I can’t claim to have explored more than a few stretches. Suffice to say, he is an ornament to the Church, and his kind of clarity and intellectual insight are desperately needed today.

I shall let him have the final word:

“[T]here is no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity, and…a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which it finds itself here below must embrace either the one or the other.”
-Apologia

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on;
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.

So long Thy pow’r has blest me, sure it still
Wilt lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Ora pro nobis.

Realist Catholic Climate Declaration

WM Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, presents the second draft of what a Catholic Declaration on Climate ought to look like. Short, sweet, and to point:

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church has no, and should not have, an official position on the earth’s optimal atmospheric mean temperature, nor on the best rate of change of this temperature. Neither optimum is known to anybody.

The earth’s climate has always changed, is changing now, and will never cease changing. There is no earthly force capable of stopping climate change.

Mankind influences the atmosphere, as does every creature and thing. The extent to which man is responsible for climate change is not known, only surmised.

Extreme caution, even skepticism, is warranted in any statement about global warming given the decades of failed and overreaching forecasts and hyperbole from official and interested sources. Beyond individual prudent stewardship, no Catholic is obligated to support any environmental measure.

There is no evidence any particular global temperature will cause fewer or more souls to descend into Hell. Pray to God and pray for your neighbor, not to the planet.

It is an appalling state of affairs for the Church that the Bishops waste their time on trendy issues like climate change in an age where the very foundations of not only Christianity, but rational human culture itself are under such relentless attack (people are being hounded and losing their jobs for saying that male and female are real categories and you’re issuing statements about the weather). It would be as if, after Pearl Harbor, the US directed the bulk of its forces to prevent a resurgence of the Mexican Empire: ignoring a clear and present danger to guard against a theoretical one that isn’t even relevant to your responsibilities.

There is honestly no excuse for this kind of negligence and incompetence.

‘Skillet’ Frontman Preaches Truth

You know, Skillet is already one of my favorite bands, and I don’t have many favorite bands (my taste in music generally boils down to “I like this song and that song, and I don’t like that one.” I don’t usually get attached to bands). They’ve gone up even further in my esteem with frontman John Cooper’s now-famous post wondering what’s happening to Christianity (words his, emphasis mine):

Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith. I’ll state my conclusion, then I’ll state some rebuttals to statements I’ve read by some of them. Firstly, I never judge people outside of my faith. Even if they hate religion or Christianity. That is not my place and I have many friends who disagree with my religion and that is 100% fine with me. However, when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God.

My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?

I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications? As if they are the harbingers of truth, saying “I used to think one way and practice it and preach it, but now I’ve learned all the new truth and will start practicing and preaching it.” So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.

Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

And lastly, and most shocking imo, as these influencers disavow their faith, they always end their statements with their “new insight/new truth” that is basically a regurgitation of Jesus’s words?! It’s truly bizarre and ironic. They’ll say “I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others”. Ummm, why? That is actually not human nature. No child is ever born and says “I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need”. Those are bible principles taught by a prophet/Priest/king of kings who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard. Therefore if Jesus is not the truth and if the Word of God is not absolute, then by preaching Jesus’s teachings you are endorsing the words of a madman. A lunatic who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” He also said that he was alive before Abraham, and to see him was to see God because he was one with God. So why then would a disavowed christian leader promote that “generosity is good”? How would you know “what is good” without Jesus’s teachings? And will your ideas of what is “good” be different from year to year based on your experience, culture trends, poplular opinion etc and furthermore will you continue year by year to lead others into your idea of goodness even though it is not absolute? I’m amazed that so many Christians want the benefits of the kingdom of God, but with the caveat that they themselves will be the King.

It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.

Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea all the while shouting “now I’ve found the truth! Follow me!!” Brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, influencers...I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape Gods word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths. But rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT. “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8)

 

You know, I was going to add my own comments, but after re-reading this, I realize that’s superfluous: Mr. Cooper says it all. Would that more of our Bishops, priests, and, yes, lay people had half this level of clarity.

I’ll leave you with a few appropriate songs:

Post note: One of the reasons I like Skillet as a band so much is that they seem to me to hit exactly the right balance in that, while Christianity clearly informs all their songs to a greater or lesser extent, and they do make overtly Christian songs, they don’t only do religious songs, and their first priority is clearly making cool, energetic rock numbers. That is, they seem to put the demands and tenets of their particular art form first and only direct it to religious matters as the song itself demands. That is the proper way to make ‘Christian’ art: to make the best art you can, allowing your faith to influence it to the form and degree suitable to that particular medium and work. Basically anyone who likes this kind of music (I assume) can enjoy Skillet, yet their Christianity informs the whole thing. I’d point to them as one example of what Christian artists of any medium should aim to achieve.

Oh, and here’s an interview with him talking more about his post. Man, this guy gets it!

Talking Violence at the Everyman

My latest piece is up at The Everyman, where I share some thoughts on mass shooters and violent crime in general; thoughts that have been percolating one way or another for quite a while.

It is this: back in, say, the 1950s there was comparatively little violent crime in the United States. Oh, there was some, especially in urban areas, but the rates were far, far lower, and mass shooting events were vanishingly rare. Going off of Wikipedia’s list of the 27 deadliest mass shooting events, only one dates from before 1960: the Camden, New Jersey killings of 1949 (the next earliest one is the Charles Whitman murders of 1966).

Today, that is no longer the case and has not been for quite some time; more than half of that list dates from the past fifteen years. Meanwhile the national violent crime rate peaked in 1991 (at nearly five times the 1960 rate) and has been trending slowly downward before rising again in the past couple years, though at its lowest it was still more than double what it was in 1960, according to the FBI crime statistics.

Taking these two facts, there is a single, logical conclusion: something happened between those two periods to change the course of society.

Do you remember those puzzles in children’s magazines which presented two pictures and invited you to spot the differences? Play that game with the two time periods. Between 1958 and 2018, you will find many, many differences. At least one of those differences, and likely many of them, must be why we have mass shootings today.

Read the rest here.

Everyman Piece on Notre Dame

After watching Notre Dame Cathedral burn, I wrote up some of my thoughts, which are running today at The Everyman

We are the heirs of Christendom. We have inherited treasures beyond belief; Notre Dame Cathedral is only one jewel among hundreds of such cathedrals and churches, living prayers in stone and glass, not to mention the great palaces and other architectural wonders of the past. The treasures of Notre Dame are but a tiny fraction of the artistic tradition that has come down to us, not to mention the vast inheritance of learning, manners, morality, and law carried down through the centuries. While Notre Dame was being constructed, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure were teaching theology and studying Aristotle a few blocks away, and St. Louis the king was laying down the principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty.

Most important of all, of course, is the faith which Notre Dame and all the other Cathedrals were built to glorify; the true faith, which God sent His Son to establish upon Earth that man no longer need walk in darkness. We are heirs to the promise and saving work of Christ, of the knowledge that God has been among us and preached His Word to us as a man, and took upon Himself the punishment of our sins.

The Church and Her History in Flames

And what do we do with that inheritance, that unspeakable wealth of centuries? We neglect it, ignore it, and condemn it. In art we celebrate departures from tradition, however hideous or meaningless, as bold and original. In history we speak of the great men of the past as if they were ignorant children to be taken apart and explained by us. In education we dismiss the works of Aristotle, Aquinas, Cicero, Shakespeare, and other giants in order to cling to the latest fashionable turn of thought.

Read the rest here.

A Record of the Past

One way or another, I watch a lot of old films, whether old TV shows, old movies, or even old instructional videos.

It’s informative, and not just in the way the original filmmakers intended. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, consuming work produced in a different time doesn’t just tell you what the work is about, but also how people thought and their basic assumptions about life. The point isn’t that it’s completely accurate to how life was back then, but that it does show what at least some people thought and felt at the time regarding the subject. It also gives a sense of how that subject might have been generally viewed by the audience, depending on the assumptions the creator felt he had to cater to.

For instance, viewing 1946’s Miracle on 34th Street, we can tell that having a woman in a position of authority in a major corporation like Macy’s Department Stores was not considered particularly unusual or surprising at the time it was made, since no one comments on or expresses surprise at Maureen O’Hara occupying such a position, and the film feels no need to provide any explanation for it. We can likewise gather that having a Black day servant was fairly normal for a well-off businesswoman, since again, the film feels no need to explain the character’s presence. On the other hand, the film does need to explain the difference between a hearing and a trial, because it’s not something the average audience member might be expected to know or take for granted, and they might become confused as to what the stakes are and the rules of the proceeding.

A steady exposure to the thoughts of many different ages is an indispensable defense against blindly following the zeitgeist and prejudices of one’s own particular age. Because what you get is actually what was said or filmed or thought at that time; not someone’s reconstruction of it.

For an example, consider the following short. It was intended for a proposed Mystery Science Theater 3000 tie-in CD that never got off the ground. Looking past Mike and Bots’ typical irreverent humor, we see an image of what Venezuela used to be like (sorry for the poor sound quality).

Now, obviously it’s a very positive portrayal, since the film is Creole Oil showing their employees how great it can be to work there, but look at what’s on screen; the clean, busy streets and beautiful buildings of Maracaibo and Caracas (many of them recently constructed, according to the film), the Sears store, the full car lots, the stores crammed with American products. This is, at least in part, what the country looked like in the 1950s, and how an American company interacted with the country.

This is Evil

I’m a little late on this, but in case you’ve missed it:

Amelie Wen Zhao, an immigrant from China, dreamed of being an author her whole life. Then she achieved that dream, selling a three-book YA series to a major publisher. The book, called Blood Heir, was done. It was published. It was slated for release with a strong marketing push, making it one of the ‘most anticipated titles of the year.’ Miss Zhao was ecstatic, sharing her disbelieving joy on her blog:

Three-book deals. Manuscripts going to auction. Offers from the Big 5 Publishers.

These had all seemed like dreams to me. Literally, dreams towards which I could reach yet never even hope to achieve, to cross that yawning abyss in-between. Wishes from the highest star in the skyat which I could only gaze and gaze and gaze.

Until last month.

I don’t think it’s sunk in until this very moment, when I sat down to write this post — that I am going to be a published author.

I AM GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!!!!!

Then all that was destroyed almost overnight because a few people on social media decided to take exception to her book.

You see, apparently her work is about prejudice and slavery, only in the fantasy world that she describes, prejudice is not based on skin-color, but on some other factor (exactly as it is much of the time in real life). This, coupled with the fact that she, a non-Black person dared write about slavery (because it isn’t like any other peoples in human history have ever been slaves), and that, apparently, one of the characters is described as being Black, but isn’t written ‘properly.’

I reiterate that the book is not even released yet; no one in the general public has read it. Yet they condemn it because the premise and some advanced material seems ‘problematic’ to them. So, based on that, these people attacked a young woman for being ‘racist’ and pressured her into pulling her first book before it was even released, effectively destroying her career and her dream in the process.

Do I have to explain how monstrous this is? A handful of damaged souls protected by the anonymity of social media, swarm around an innocent woman, slander her, browbeat her, and destroy her dream because they don’t like the way bigotry is portrayed in a fictional world in a book they haven’t read! Along with a few other insanely petty reasons.

All this is directed at a lady who, based on excerpts from her blog, substantially agrees with them, but only wanted to express those progressive ideas from her own particular point of view. That is enough for these lunatics to destroy her life.

I have no interested in her book; that isn’t the point. The point is that this kind of behavior is evil. This should not be tolerated, and it certainly should not have any influence.

But why is it tolerated? Because it couches itself in terms of opposing bigotry and prejudice. That, in our world, is the all-sufficient excuse: “I was offended,” or “I feel excluded,” or “this is bigoted.” Invoking those sacred terms permits us to destroy lives at will. Just recently, a group of high schoolers were intimidated, slandered, and had their reputations shattered in front of the whole nation in the name of ‘opposing bigotry,’ and even after video proof that they were the victims and not the instigators, we still have people piling on them, because apparently where anti-bigotry is involved, truth has no place.

‘Anti-bigotry’ has long since become, for many people, nothing but a means to control and humiliate and destroy. This needs to stop.

You see, something that we seem to forget (or more likely are never taught) is that a substantially correct idea can be as pathological as a false one. Someone who opposes racism, but sees it under every rock and desires to destroy anyone who crosses their imaginary boundaries with the ardor of John Brown murdering pro-slavery settlers in Kansas is every bit as damaged and insane and evil as the most fanatical Nazi, and ought to be given as little credence and acceptance. We desperately need to learn this.

In the meantime, shame and curses on the “book community” that is responsible for this outrage. I hope, for their sakes and everyone else’s that not one of them ever finds a willing ear ever again. And I hope that Miss Zhao is somehow still able to achieve her dream in the future.

And to my fellow authors: do not permit this type of person to intimidate or discourage you. They are paper tigers at best. Do not try to appease them: that will only make them feel powerful and demand more. Do not engage with them. Do not give them the least attention. I recommend staying off of Twitter entirely, and only using social media to talk with people you actually know somehow. From all I have ever learned, it is a toxic, brutal, loveless environment that soils the soul and fuddles the mind.

Write what you want to write, tell the stories you want to tell, and don’t feel the need to justify yourself to soulless cretin’s hiding behind the veil of a computer screen.

For another take on this, read the Incomparable Larry Correia’s response to this outrage. As always, language warning: when angered, Mr. Correia let’s loose even more than usual.

AMDG