Discussing Changes at Catholic Match

In today’s post at ‘Catholic Match,’ I give advice on when you should ask your significant other to change:

In the first place, let’s be clear that you do have the right to ask your significant other to ‘change’ in some way.

When you enter a relationship with someone, your life is no longer quite your own, and thus what you do affects the other person and hence they are well within their right to ask you to be a certain way.

That is, to an extent. It must be remembered that intentional change is difficult and stressful, and so basic charity requires that it should only be demanded in important cases. If you find one of your girlfriend’s habits to be mildly annoying, or if she occasionally does something embarrassing or silly, then you should really let it go at a comment or two and not insist that she alter it. If you try to get her to correct every minor fault or quirk as it arises, she’ll feel badgered and stressed, and what is worse, she won’t be as inclined to listen if you ask her to change something serious.

Just as human laws do not, as a matter of practicality, cover the whole moral law, so you should not try to ‘fix’ every flaw in the other person. Everyone has flaws, and some flaws you simply have to learn to live with because the cost of removing them isn’t worth the pain and effort.

Read the rest here.

Aquaman and Causation at The Everyman

That review I fisked last week sparked some thoughts in my mind about Progressivism and causation. The resulting essay appears today at The Everyman

First it must be noted that Aquaman is a very successful film. As of this writing, it’s made 265 million dollars in the US and close to a billion worldwide (according to boxofficemojo.com)—and it’s still going, sitting comfortably at number one in the US Box Office, while standing at a respectable 7.5 rating on IMDb. Objectively speaking, it’s not a great film by any means, but clearly people like it. Heck, I liked it, even with all its many flaws.

Now here comes the point: if it had been everything this reviewer apparently wanted it to be—a social justice driven, feminist-environmentalist tale where instructions on real-world politics and ideology served as the main themes—does anyone honestly suppose that it would have been half as successful as it is?

There are no hard and fast rules in the box office, but there are in philosophy, and one of them is this: if you change the cause, you change the effect. Aquaman is a very successful film because audiences enjoyed it, and one of the reasons they enjoyed it seems to be that it was so unabashedly escapist in its tone. If the filmmakers had changed that and instead opted for a self-consciously ‘relevant’ film like, say A Wrinkle in Time or Ghostbusters 2016 or Robin Hood, it almost certainly would have bombed just like they did.

Read the rest here.

By the way, since writing that, Aquaman has officially passed the $1 billion worldwide mark. He’s come a long way since the Superfriends.

At the Everyman, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

The Everyman asked me to tackle the question of salvation outside the Church, following Bishop Barron’s infamous interview with Ben Shapiro. Fortunately, I’d just been reading up some on the subject.

This one’s probably gonna generate some controversy; if you have a comment, please either leave it at the ‘Everyman’ site, or under this post.

The reason for this is inherent in the Christian claim. Christ came to save mankind from his sins, and by His saving death and resurrection He has opened a path to Heaven for those who follow Him. Salvation, in other words, is the exception, not the rule; we are not naturally directed to heaven. “wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and those who enter through it are many,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:13). Christ is not, as His Excellency said, the “privileged route” (whatever that means), He is the only route.

Our Lord is very clear on this: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37), “To as many as believed in Him, He gave power to become sons of God” (John 1:12) and so on.

Christians, amid the heresies and schisms of the first few centuries after Christ, taught from very early on that there was one Church, which alone was the Body of Christ on Earth. Membership in this body is an essential part of following Christ, and hence there is no salvation outside it.

This is a hard saying (though not quite so hard as it seems, as we’ll see), but as with many of the hard sayings of the Catholic Church, it ultimately comes down to the question of whether the Church is what she claims to be, namely, the Bride of Christ and His instrument upon Earth. If she is, then of course there can be no salvation outside of her, since there is no salvation apart from Christ.

Go here to read the rest.

Sticking up for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

So, a few days back, someone posted an attack on It’s a Wonderful Life in the ‘Boston Herald,’ criticizing it, not only as a bad film, but as promoting socialism. It was a very poorly done piece, of the “make a bold claim, then support it with a sarcastic comment” variety, but since the point of view is one that I’ve seen infecting Conservative circles a lot, I thought it needed to be addressed. Hence, today’s piece in The Federalist:

Having dismissed “It’s a Wonderful Life” on a technical level with a single ill-informed paragraph, he proceeds to tackle the film’s message. Graham’s position is that George’s life is “pretty awful” because he endures a lot of suffering, is unable to go to college or even on his honeymoon, and “his kids wear second-hand clothes and get sick from the cold…because George can’t afford nice things for his family.” Graham then claims the film’s vindication of George’s life “fails” because “his life still stinks. He’s not, in fact, rich or even financially secure…and on top of that, Potter gets to keep the eight grand!”

Thus, apparently, Graham’s definition of a good life is one in which we are “rich, or even financially secure,” able to do what we like, able to avoid suffering as much as possible, and perhaps one in which evil people are punished as well. He then rather absurdly goes on to claim that “It’s a Wonderful Life” represents socialist, New Deal-style economics, and that it was intended for “the workers at a Soviet collective circa 1949,” with the message “who cares that you have no shoes? Back to the factory for Mother Russia.”

Ironically, Graham’s view of the good life as defined primarily by material security and wellbeing is far closer to a socialist perspective than anything in the film. The foundational idea of Marxism is that the world is purely material, and therefore creating material security and equality for the most people is the highest good.

Judging by this op-ed, Graham would agree, but only dispute with a Marxist whether socialism or capitalism creates the most good for the most people. One thing with which a Marxist would never agree is that a man’s happiness is far more dependent on family, community, virtue, and so on than by his material well being.

This is a fundamental flaw in modern discourse for both conservatives and liberals: we focus so much on material issues, trying to work out a system that will make, as Graham says, “the best world for the most people,” that we don’t stop to ask what we mean by “the best world” or a “good life.” Both sides are making the exact same mistake even as they draw different conclusions: both accept the same basic philosophy, but disagree on its application.

Read the rest here

It’s a Wonderful Life at Catholic Match

If anyone were to ask what I think the best movie ever made is (understanding there’s objectively no such thing), I would probably say It’s a Wonderful Life. I might do a piece going into why I think this, but in the meantime I get to give some idea of why in today’s piece on Catholic Match. 

I have sometimes thought it a shame that It’s a Wonderful Life is regarded as a ‘Christmas Movie.’

It is, of course (in more ways than one), but if we think of it as ‘merely’ a Christmas movie we risk undervaluing it.

Frank Capra’s masterpiece, of course, needs no introduction. You’ve seen it at least once, and if you haven’t you know the basic premise: an ambitious, gifted young man named George Bailey wants nothing more than to escape his small, provincial town and do something big and important with his life.

But, one way or another, he gives up every opportunity to make good on that dream in order to help the people around him until one Christmas Eve finds him contemplating suicide, feeling he’s wasted his life. A roly-poly, ‘second class angel’ named Clarence then appears and shows him what the world would be like if he had never been born.

The message of the film is usually given as “every life has value.” Yes, but not quite in the way you might think. It is not George Bailey’s intrinsic value as a person that leads to his vindication, but the choices he made along the way.

Read the rest here, and Merry Christmas!

First Post up at ‘The Everyman’

My first post is up at the new Catholic / Conservative commentary site The Everyman, which you definitely should check out. It’s only a week or two old, but there’s some good stuff there.

In our day, of course, telescopic charity has never been easier. We have television and the internet to bring us tales of want and injustices from all corners of the world to stir our heartstrings. Of course, sometimes this brings real help and attention to people who genuinely need it and who would never have received it otherwise. But there is another side to it, and it’s one that I think is too little addressed.

The fact is that modern media creates an illusion of immediacy where none in fact exists. It has a tendency to fixate our attention, whether in sympathy or anger, on people thousands of miles away whom we have never met and whom we in fact have no contact with whatsoever. But, because we so often hear about them and hear them debated endlessly on the news, we can come to feel like we are involved, and that we must show ‘charity’ to one side or another.

But such ‘charity’ typically doesn’t result in any concrete action for good or evil. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in one of The Screwtape Letters, love and hatred for distant public figures or the people we see on the news is largely imaginary; we do not know these people, they are “lay figures out of newspapers.” As private citizens, our scope for doing either good or ill to them is effectively non-existent. Outside those immediately present, not one person out of a thousand is actually going to have any effect on, say, missionary work in Africa or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor does voting or campaigning change this; it may or may not be a good thing to do, but again any one person’s scope of action and consequent responsibility in these matters is so narrow as to not exist.

Read the rest here.

New Catholic Match Post on Holding Doors

My latest Catholic Match post is up, dealing with the subject of holding a door for a lady.

The great ideal of chivalry has, in our time, largely been reduced to things like “hold the door for a woman.”

As it’s largely been stripped of its context, some of us are even questioning this last and least remnant. After all, what does it possibly matter who opens the door? Also, shouldn’t a strong, independent lady be able to open her own bloody door or pay for her own meal? Isn’t it infantilizing a woman to cater to her in this sort of way?

I always found the latter objection especially strange. Apparently, to be catered to and deferred to now implies weakness on your part. By that logic, a king would be considered the weakest and least respected man in his own kingdom, as he is the one who is most catered to.

There is a moment in Ben-Hur where the Emperor Tiberius is preparing to give a proclamation. The servant tasked with handing it to him is momentarily distracted and doesn’t realize that Tiberius is sitting there with his hand held out, glaring at him and waiting for him to give him the scroll. It’s within easy reach, but he is the Emperor; he doesn’t move to meet his servants, his servants move to meet him. No one who valued his head would dare suggest this implied weakness on the Emperor’s part; quite the contrary. His power and authority is shown in that others do things for him, not because he can’t, but because he shouldn’t have to.

This is useful to know if you ever meet the Roman Emperor, but what does it have to do with dating?

Find out the answer here.