Monday, December 23, 2013

Bah humbug: Why are the secularists so mean-spirited?

Ross Douthat recently wrote a perceptive essay in the New York Times about the spiritual condition of American society. Today, Douthat wrote, Americans can be categorized into three groups. The first group is made up of Christians who have a biblical view of the world. They believe God literally entered history in the form of a man named Jesus and redeemed humanity.

Catholics and evangelical Protestants belong to this group, but Catholics believe something more. We believe that Mary is the mother of God and fulfills a unique roll in God's salvation plan for humanity. We also believe that Christ is present in real form in the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

A second group, Douthat explained, has a spiritual view of the world. For this group, "the divine is active in human affairs [and] every person is precious in God's sight." But broadly speaking, people with a spiritual point of view "[don't] sweat the details." For them, religion is "Christian-ish, but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian."

Many Americans with a spiritual worldview don't care whether Jesus was born of a virgin or whether an angel conversed with Joseph. But they ascribe to the Christian virtues; they are kind-hearted, congenial, and generous. And just as importantly, they are tolerant of other world views, lifestyles and cultures

Finally, Douthat identifies a third group of Americans--the secularists. This group "proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory." As Douthat points out, the purely secularist world view is rare among most Americans, but predominates among the intelligentsia--including the nation's political and media elites.

Douthat ascribes moral purpose to this last group--a commitment to "liberty, fraternity and human rights." Indeed, as Douthat points out, although secularists renounce a spiritual meaning to human existence, they "insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th century New England preacher."

Douthat is right to compare contemporary secularists to 17th century Puritans. In fact, the priggish self-righteousness of postmodern secularists is evocative of Cotton Mather. We see this puritanical intolerance exhibited daily in the New York Times and especially in the writings of Bill Keller and Frank Bruni.

And here is where I disagree with Ross Douthat's description of secularism. Unlike Douthat, I do not believe there is any moral center to secularism, any real commitment to human rights. On the contrary, once you scratch the surface of secularism, you find only shrillness, intolerance and mean-spiritedness.

The atheist-sponsored Times Square billboard, proclaiming that no one needs Christ in Christmas, says it all. The secularists are the Ebenezer Scrooges of the 21st century: Christianity? Bah, humbug.

We also see the true nature of secularism in the presidency of Barack Obama, the nation's supreme postmodern secularist. Contrary to the President's rhetoric about hope and change, we see nothing in his leadership but manipulation and hollowness--dished out with an air of self-righteous superiority.

Douthat concludes his essay by asking where the nation is headed. Will biblical religion gain some of its lost ground, he asks, or will the spiritual worldview ultimately prevail? He also asks whether "the intelligentsia's fusion of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism will eventually crack up and give way to something new."

Personally, I don't think the secularists' world view will long prevail in the United States. How can secularists insist they have a moral purpose if they believe that human life has no ultimate meaning? If there is no God, why not turn toward materialism, why not join the empty quest for power and recognition--which in fact is what the secularists have largely done.

I agree with Alexis de Tocqueville's prediction about the future of American religion, which he made in 1835.  [O]ur posterity," he observed, "will tend more and more to a division into only two parts, some relinquishing Christianity entirely and others returning to the Church of Rome." In other words, the day will come when Americans will either be Catholics or nothing at all.

It is a lonely view, I grant you, but I believe that the foundations of Western civilization were laid on the bedrock of the Catholic faith. Eventually, as de Tocqueville has said, Americans will drift into one of two camps--Catholicism or secularism. Although the secularists appear now to be in the saddle, God moves through history in mysterious ways. In God's own time, He will send us new saints who will witness to God's presence in the world and inspire us to return to the ancient doctrines of our Mother Church.

Even now we have the lives of past saints to inspire and guide us: Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Edith Stein, Saint Katharine Drexel, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Servant of God Dorothy Day. And though the secularists may say "Bah, humbug," let us cling to our childlike belief in the Christmas story.

References

Ross Douthat. Ideas From a Manger. New York Times, December 22, 2013, Sunday Review Section,p. 11.

Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America, edited by Phillips Bradley. New York; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1945.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Vaya con Dios, Edward Snowden: Surely most Americans wish you well

         
According to Maureen Dowd, Americans have mixed views about Edward Snowden. Some think he is a "self-aggrandizing creep," some think he is a sociopath, some believe he is a "self-sacrificing crusader," and some would like to see him hanged as traitor.

Vaya con Dios, Edward Snowden
But I disagree with Ms. Dowd. I think most Americans have made up their minds about Edward Snowden. I think most Americans see him as a decent man who exposed grave governmental abuses at great personal risk. Anyhow, that is my belief.

Presently, Mr. Snowden is negotiating with the Brazilian government.  He has offered to help the Brazilians protect themselves from arrogant American snooping if the Brazilians give him asylum.

In an open letter to the Brazilians, Mr. Snowden said American surveillance is not about national security. "These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation."

What if he's right? What if the NSA and its 35,000 employees are not solely engaged in protecting Americans from terrorism.?What if our government is spying on foreign leaders to help certain insiders make money? If Snowden's allegations are true, some people should go to jail, and I'm not talking about Edward Snowden

Personally, I hope Edward Snowden is granted permanent asylum in a friendly country in the Western Hemisphere. He has behaved decently so far and has shown great dignity and restraint.

So vaya con Dios, Edward. Go with God. I know that phrase is expressed differently in Brazilian Portuguese than in Spanish, but you get my drift.

References

Maureen Dowd. Spying Run Amok. New York Times, December 18, 2013, p. A23.

Simon Romero. Snowden Offers Help To Brazil in Spy Case. New York Times, December 18, 2013, p. A.6.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Frank Bruni delivers another unfair attack on the Catholic faith. Is Bruni prejudiced against Catholicism?

Remember those old western movies?  There was often a scene where the cowboys have circled the wagons and are awaiting an Indian attack.  Someone like Harry Carey Jr.  would gaze into the empty darkness and say, "It's awful quiet out there." 

And the movie's hero--someone like John Wayne--would always reply.  "Yeah--TOO quiet."  And five seconds later the Indians would come whooping onto the scene, bent on murder and rapine.

"It's awful quiet out there."
"Yeah, TOO quiet." 
Well, like those cinematic Indians, Frank Bruni has been quiet lately--TOO quiet.  It's been weeks since he's attacked the Catholic Church in the New York Times.  But just like John Wayne in a classic western movie, Catholics knew Bruni was skulking around in the darkness  somewhere like a wild-eyed heathen sneaking up on our wagon train.

And yesterday he pounced again. In an article entitled "The Catholics Still in Exile," Bruni basically argued that some Neanderthal American Catholics were refusing to abide by Pope Francis's recent pronouncements on sexual morality.   Bruni's article contained three basic errors, which I will briefly refute.

First, the title itself--"The Catholics Still in Exile"--may be misleading.  Bruni tells the story of two Catholic school employees who were fired for engaging in same-sex marriage, and his title implies these people are Catholics who were unfairly persecuted. But these people may not even be Catholics.

In any event, assuming Bruni's depiction of these firings is accurate, the employees were fired for failing to abide by Catholic doctrine, which Catholic schools are obliged to enforce. I feel sure both employees were fully aware of Catholic doctrine on same-sex marriage when they went to work at a Catholic school. No one should be surprised or offended when these schools upheld their obligation to uphold Catholic doctrine on same-sex marriage by terminating employees who flaunt that doctrine.

Second, Bruni implies the Catholic schools that fired these employees are renegade outfits that didn't get Pope Francis's "memo" urging Catholics to stop focusing on sexual morality.  But Pope Francis hasn't issued any memo disavowing Catholic doctrine on same-sex marriage.  If Catholic doctrine changes, it won't happen because Pope Francis made an informal comment in a press interview. Catholic doctrine will change when the Catechism changes or the Vatican issues a formal statement or encyclical.

Third, Bruni said that some Catholics' focus on sexual morality has driven a  "wedge between open-minded Catholics and the [C]hurch's hierarchy." But that's misleading. Millions of American lay Catholics--men and women, young an old, and Catholics of every race and color--have striven to lead their lives in accordance with the Catholic faith and the ancient traditions and doctrines of our Church.

Frankly, as a simple lay Catholic who lives in fly-over country, I resent the repeated attacks on our Church by the op ed essayists of the New York Times, with Frank Bruni leading the charge. Mr. Bruni doesn't have to agree with Catholic traditions but it is none of his business what we believe or how we conduct our religious affairs.  As he continues to attack the Catholic church in essay after essay, I am beginning to wonder if Mr. Bruni is nothing more than an anti-Catholic bigot.

If so, Catholics have seen bigots before--the Ku Klux Klan and the Know-Nothing party come to mind. Throughout history, the Catholic faithful have persevered and prevailed against persecution and oppression. Certainly we will not be downcast by Frank Bruni's op ed essays.

But Catholics should remember this. Frank Bruni repeatedly criticizes the Catholic Church because the New York Times, the most influential newspaper in the United States, allows him to do so. The demon of anti-Catholic bigotry now roams through a nation that once respected freedom of religion. Catholics should prepare ourselves for outrages far worse than Frank Bruni's sniping attacks.

References

Frank Bruni. The Catholics Still in Exile. New York Times, December 15, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.


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Friday, December 13, 2013

Making fun of Catholics and doing a selfie at a great man's memorial service: Didn't President Obama's mother raise him better?

Earlier this week, various news outlets circulated a photo of our President using a smart phone at Nelson Mandela's memorial service to take a selfie of himself, England's Prime Minister David Cameron and the prime minister of Denmark. A photographer caught our president looking exactly like a snickering school boy who had just dunked a fellow student's braids in an ink well.


Didn't Barack's mother raise him better?
Photo credit: Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

How embarrassing! And this comes on the heals of his insult to Catholics when he made the sign of the cross to pardon a turkey during the Thanksgiving season. And of course the President was caught lying repeatedly about the Affordable Care Act.

As we say in the South when someone commits a serious breach of etiquette--didn't his mother raise him better? And what is his excuse for such boorish behavior? He can't say he didn't receive a decent education. After all, he was educated at Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

Of course, one doesn't need an elite college education to behave with grace and dignity. I have dozens of relatives in South Louisiana, none of whom went to an ivy league college. Yet not a single one of my relatives would behave disrespectfully at a funeral or memorial service. Not a single one would ridicule another person's religion. And--as far as I know--not a single of one of my friends or relatives is a liar.

Since the founding of this nation, Americans have cherished a vision of an ideal American citizen as a person who behaves with grace, dignity, and courage; a person who respects the values and religious beliefs of others; a person who can solve problems in ways that makes the world a better place. And Americans have always believed that the ideal citizen need not have a fancy education.

We see this ideal reflected again and again in American literature. Owen Wister, a Harvard man, created a fictional American ideal in his novel The Virginian. This man, though not educated, conveys immense dignity, tolerance, and respect for others. "When you call me that, smile," the Virginian says famously.

And John Steinbeck's great novel, The Grapes of Wrath, tells the story of an impoverished, uneducated family forced from their home in Oklahoma to become refugees on the road to California. Ma Joad and Tom Joad are portrayed as people of great fortitude, courage, and generosity.

And of course, James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo, the unlettered frontiersman in The Last of the Mohicans, was shown by Cooper to be more well-bred that the well-born English army officers with whom he was thrown together.

For all his fine education, I doubt whether Barack Obama has read much American literature. I would be astonished if he is familiar with The Last of the Mohicans, The Virginian, The Grapes of Wrath or any of the books that make up the canon of American literature.

I think Barack Obama would serve himself well by studying the American ideal of a great citizen as it is portrayed in our literature--perhaps he could steal some time by playing less golf. Certainly, he does not appear to have been well schooled at Harvard or Columbia. Otherwise he would not make fun of Catholics or act like a child at a great man's memorial service.