Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Personal Reflection on "Catholic" Education (Part 5)

"The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right." - G.K. Chesterton

I couldn't attempt a solution without Chesterton's help. I'm certain that he would agree with me about the condition of the Catholic schools, though he would be far more optimistic about them than I am; and I further believe that he would agree with many of the solutions that I shall attempt to offer herein, though I rather think he would humbly protest that there are far better things for people to read than any of his books.

The solution, as I see it, is twofold. First, teachers at Catholic schools have to be Catholics; the more sincere, the better. Now, it's not imperative that the math teacher can quote Chesterton, although a certain quip about triangles comes to mind which would delight many a math teacher; but they should have a basic grasp on their faith, as all adults should. More importantly, they should have that personal relationship with Christ without which are faith is null, and which produces the love which is often a better witness for the Gospel than the most well-written apologetic.

Second, the teachers should have a good idea about what the Church thinks concerning their particular field of study. This presents an impressive task for the religion teachers especially, but hardly an insurmountable one. While it is impossible to read everything ever written by Catholics, to say nothing of the wonderful writings of the pre-Catholic pagans and Jews, and the many partially good things written by non-Catholics, especially in the years since the Reformation, it is very possible to attain a good grasp of the matter. A religion teacher may not have read all of, say, Newman, but one would hope she would have heard of him; he can be forgiven for being unable to get through The Summa, but he had better have heard of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The problem with the former has been touched on already. Sanctity is far too scarce in this fallen world. As to the latter, I believe that the reason our teachers didn't touch on the Catholic giants of the past is that they were honestly unaware of them. Poorly educated people make even poorer teachers; the cycle of mis-education is self-perpetuating.

The solution, then, involves people who received good Catholic educations, or autodidacts like myself, should try to give back, becoming teachers in the Catholic schools--and before you ask, yes, I'm considering it. One more mediocre teacher isn't going to do much to degrade an already bad situation, but one good teacher can help immensely. Once one has heard of, say, Hopkins, one isn't likely to forget about him.

Which leads me, quite readily, into another point: Catholic teaching should in no ways be confined to religion classes. There is no reason the English classes--to take only one example--shouldn't similarly provide an immersion in Catholicism. As Mark Judge points out in God and Man at Georgetown Prep:

"The Catcher in the Rye is indeed a wonderful book, and I have no criticism of its inclusion in any high school curriculum. What I now find disturbing is that the book was not balanced by a curriculum that included great Catholic books--The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton, the space trilogy by C.S. Lewis, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. From The Catcher in the Rye we went not to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings but to Lord of the Flies, another book about juvenile delinquency." p.63

I personally think The Catcher and the Rye, which we also read, is overrated, and it's a bit unfair to lump Lewis with the Catholics, but Judge's suggestion is worthy of a hearty second. Brideshead Revisited is an amazing novel, and it is a shame it is not read oftener, especially among Catholics.

The word catholic means universal; far from entering a smaller world, the Catholic universe is exquisitely rich and inexhaustibly large. In fact, the difficulty in composing a curriculum for Catholic schools, is not in figuring out how to plug a few Catholics into it, but in deciding on which authors to pick and how much room to leave for non-Catholics. Glancing at my bookshelf, I notice a large number of books written by Catholics--no surprise there. But if anyone would suggest that this has narrowed me, I need but hand them a reading list. You may think all sorts of things about the Catholic Church, but it really is "the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man; even the respectable man", to quote Chesterton, and nowhere is this more obvious than in a survey of the various Catholic men--and women--of letters from the last two millennium. Any church big enough to contain Hilaire Belloc and Oscar Wilde is an impressive church indeed.

I thought about ending this with a recommended reading list of sorts, composed by myself. But Fr. John McCloskey has outdone me. And thank goodness, too. Any list I composed would be far too short. Catholic schooling is only the beginning, for as Fr. John points out, the reading list should last a lifetime. Upon finishing, one would hardly have begun to mine the rich treasures of the Catholic Church, and come no nearer to plumbing the infinite mysteries of God. Ultimately, it is too God that such an education should point, and it is a task of tremendous worth to point the young in His direction. As always, the harvest is many, but the laborers are few. May the master send more laborers for the harvest.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Faith and "logic"

As always, ask and ye shall receive. A friend from college asks:

My question is, where does your "logic" leave off and religion begin? Are they the same thing for you, or do you believe your faith is seperate from your logic? Is there a point where you say to yourself, "this is where my faith picks up, and my logic just doesn't matter"? I've never understood how somebody could have "faith" because one of my beliefs is that faith is something anybody can have about anything, and so faith in one thing is equal to faith in another thing. Anything that isn't based in logic or fact has equal weight to any other thing that is not based in logic or fact. So then I think, well, what use is faith then if I can have faith in anything? I think the hard part would be having faith in the first place and having the faith embedded in you enough (I'm not nessisarily talking about it being pounded into you by your parents/etc though often times I think that's the case) that it's just there and always will be. If that makes sense.

This is an all too common mistake. I tried to get at this with my column on the importance of science and religion, but looking back, it was a scattered effort, and probably less beneficial than I would have hoped. Hopefully revisiting the issue will help.

What my friend calls logic, comes from the Greek logos. Students of Scripture know that this is precisely the Word St. John uses to start his Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

It's usually a terrible idea to bring the Bible into a conversation with someone who views the Bible, at best as a farrago of some good poetry and fairly wise sayings, and at worst as a collection of rubbish. But it's instructive here because from the earliest days of Christianity--John wrote his Gospel towards the end of the first century AD--John is making it perfectly clear that the Good News is not irrational. This does not mean it's not fantastic, absurd, or implausible; but it is clear that logic cannot be contradicted by the Word Himself.

Many people mistakenly assume that religion is illogical or irrational because its claims cannot be proven. This misconception is usually coupled with another: that science proves things all the time, many incompatible with religion; and that rational men must thus believe, not in religion, but in science. We'll handle these one at a time.

First, the claims of religion, like the claims of science, are falsifiable. Finding the body Jesus Christ would disprove the Resurrection, and hence, all of Christianity. Discovering skeletons that are hundreds of thousands of years old, disproves a literal account of the first chapter of Genesis. On the other hand, some of the prophesies of the Bible are also falsifiable, at least theoretically. The emperor Julian, the apostate, famously tried to rebuild the temple after its destruction, foretold by Christ, attempting to nullify Christianity in the process. A pagan historian wrote that the workers were scorched by flames in the attempt, causing Julian to give up the effort. I could go into other fulfilled prophesies, but I see little reason to belabor the point. Religion is falsifiable, whereas parts of its truths can be confirmed.

The same holds for science. Science doesn't so much prove things as it disproves their contrary. In this way, we can use logic to come to scientific law. This is useful, but it has much less to do with religion than might be supposed. The best example of a conflict between the two involves the very silly Young Earth Creationists and the rest of us who doubt a literal account of the (first) creation story of Genesis. I've always thought that the fact that there were two creation stories should give one pause to take one or the other literally. In any event, it would be absurd to let a few wayward fundamentalist serve as one's guide to religion.

People also point out that evolution in general is not compatible with Christianity. Within certain boundaries, this is a false perception. Moreover, it overstates the extent to which evolution must be accepted by the logical or rational man. Certain facets of evolution have been demonstrated; but macroevolution is still only a theory, a possible explanation of the given facts, or at least our limited understanding of them. On the subject of consciousness, science can help us little, Julian Jaynes's quixotic attempt notwithstanding. More importantly, evolutionists will never be able to explain where matter came from, or why it exists at all.

Which brings me to the most important point regarding faith: human existence requires it. I did not say man must believe in God, but he must believe in something. The first thing a student of philosophy learns is that we can know very little. We exist; cogito ergo sum. After that... it's a matter of choosing among very plausible, but ultimately unprovable, assertions. I can't even prove that my friend exists. This could all be one tremendous mind game. Absurd? Undoubtedly. But not necessarily any less logical than its alternative.

If I had to succinctly explain why I have faith, I would say because it is necessary. If I had to explain why I believe in the creed professed by the Catholic Church, I would say that it makes as much logical sense as the fact that my friend exists. I'm not attempting to be trite. A number of things point to both conclusions. I can't prove either, but I can offer a summary in defense of both.

Maybe some day I'll explain why I believe, but I'm afraid it would be a rambling and largely incoherent collection of seemingly unconnected things. For now, I will add only this. Insofar as I am logical, it is because of the Church, and because of God's grace, which gave me the Faith to believe. Chesterton once described the Church as a map, with all of the bad roads of human thought clearly marked. In this way, the Catholic can avoid the heresies of the past, which are, not thoughts which the Church doesn't like, but thoughts which are not in accord with the Truth, at least not completely. Insofar as I've been able to avoid--Chesterton again--"the degrading slavery of being a child of [my] age", it is because, not in spite of, the Church.

I hope that helps. I wish my friend all the best of luck in his search for Truth. Seek, and ye shall find.

Monday, February 18, 2008

EP vs. Vox

Going up against an Internet superintelligence isn't always a good idea, but I'm with the weaker horse in this debate as Equus Pallidus takes on Vox Day. The topic: the Reformation.

The fingers of Protestantism have given more ammo to the atheistic community. They can now legitimately say, which version of Christianity do you believe. Even the Devil knows there is only one truth and that truth is the Roman Catholic Church and its authority.

I don't think EP makes his case completely--it's a fairly short post--but he quotes from Hilaire Belloc's How the Reformation Happened which Vox, and anyone who wants to understand the Reformation, would do well to read. Alas, it, like all of Belloc's books, suffers from lack of footnotes.

I'm very interested to see what Vox--a Southern Baptist if memory serves--has to say to my fellow Roman Catholic, EP. I may even have to hop in there myself and join the fray.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Personal Reflection on "Catholic" Education (Part 4)

I've been dreading writing this one for a while. It's not so much that I don't know what to say--when has that stopped me before?--as that I know that whatever I write will be woefully inadequate to the subject at hand. This isn't a change either; but whereas I usually inadequately wax of things I know little about, these things are usually--thank heavens--of little worth in the grand scheme of things. Granted, for the sake of the argument, that all of my talk of politics is wrong, as Troutsky so often hints, I think I may be pardoned because the political is of so little consequence, especially in comparison to that which I will eventually turn to speak.

At the center of the Catholic life, is the Mass, that most perfect of prayers, the Eucharist. To outsiders, the differences between Catholics and Protestants may seem insignificant. When one is more discerning, differences appear. Catholics do not "worship Mary", though we do ask her to intercede for us. And while it is true that reverence for Mary is distinctly Catholic, I think the Eucharist sets us apart from our Protestant brethren even more. As a good friend likes to tease, "Catholics eat Jesus". As a matter of fact we do. Transubstantiation is a bit confusing, and I'd rather not get into it too deeply at present. Suffice it to say that belief in the Real Presence is a nonnegotiable article of faith for the Roman Catholic.

Anyway, concerning the Eucharist, The Catechism has this to say on the matter:

1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."

1325 "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."

1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.

1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking." (Footnotes removed.)

Forget, for now, the mystery of the Eucharist. The point is that the Eucharist should be very important to Catholics. In keeping with the theme of these posts, the degree of disrespect which greeted the Eucharist by my fellow students was embarrassing. Two explanations present themselves. The first is that Catholic education no longer instills in her children any respect for the Eucharist. The second is that, well, I'd rather not consider that.

One could claim that no Mass filled with hundreds of teenagers could possibly be reverent; but the multitude of Masses offered by Pope John Paul II at the various World Youth Day events would belie that fact. The inescapable conclusion is that Christ is not treated by respect in what passes for Catholic schools. Or, at least in the high school I attended.

I'm hoping that what I witnessed was just the effects of the hangover from the 60's--what kind of hangover lasts that long? Then again, an argument could be made that this is all a hangover from the Reformation. I'm rambling.

Things in the Catholic schools, I am told, are getting better. Pessimists aren't the type of folks who notice those sorts of things. Based on my limited observations, Catholic school isn't a place Catholic parents should be looking forward to sending their kids. Home schooling strikes me as a better option.

Once I recover from the malaise, I'll try to offer some suggestions for improvement.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I don't get Obama

My guy is staying in the race. He's almost certainly not going to win, but he was never exactly given much of a chance by anybody. Libertarians are plenty used to losing elections. The important thing about the Paul campaign was the message. Sure, the sorts of irascible malcontents who voted third party in '04 had heard of limited constitutional government, but to many, the message was new. It wasn't really new, of course, as Paul's foreign policy is built on the thoughts of men like Washington and Robert Taft. But when the Republicans took us to war, and the Democrats failed to take us out of it again, and Paul began to question the policies that lead us into such senseless wars, people sat up and listened.

They also gave money, which allowed the Pauline message to percolate through the masses. Only a small percentage of people have been receptive thus far, but the campaign did better than expected. And since there was never a huge chance that Paul would win, his campaign was focused on getting the message out to as many people as possible. Once you've realized that there is an alternative to the Big Government Interventionism of the Republicans and the Bigger Government Interventionism of the Democrats, there's no way you're going to vote for McCain, Hillary, or Obama.

Which leads me to my question. If someone asked me why I support Paul, I would explain, in no little detail, the positions for which he advocates and with which I agree. I like his fiscal policies, even the bit about the gold standard; I like his foreign policy, especially the part about bringing all of our troops home. But I'm not sure why people support Obama. Sure, he's for hoping--with audacity--and change, but these aren't policies; they're senseless platitudes.

I accept that Democrats who don't like Clinton would lean toward Obama. I have qualms with voting for someone one is only mildly enthused about, but that's a separate issue. I'm talking about the people who think Obama is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The passion of the Paulites is understandable. Libertarians don't usually get this much press, and I'm just as likely to follow closely the next one who manages to do so. But why the passion for Obama? John Derbyshire, a fellow Paulite, is wondering the same:

Is O'Bama's the Campaign About Nothing? If the guy is not an empty suit, he's been playing a l-o-n-g game. Several bloggers have been digging into his legal/academic career in hopes of turning up some paper he published, some forthright opinion he committed to paper. So far, next to nothing. For someone with O'Bama's résumé, this is wellnigh incredible.

Either O'B made a long-strategic decision very early on in life that he was going to climb the political ladder, and that therefore the less of a trail of opinions he left behind him, the less trouble he'd get into; or he really is a quite exceptionally empty suit. Which is it? Which is scarier?

Now, unlike Derbyshire, I see little reason to be frightened by Obama. He exhibits fascist tendencies, to be sure, but all of the candidates running are totalitarians, of various degrees. I've been reading Jonah Goldberg's excellent Liberal Fascism, and I was just itching to throw out both words, the latter an invention of Mussolini which he applied... to himself. I'm not scared, then, not because I think a Hillary/Obama/McCain presidency would be benign--I think all would be extremely harmful--but because it makes very little sense to be afraid over that which we cannot control.

One of the reasons I've blogged so little as of late is that I have so little interest in the upcoming election. The only possible conservative defense in voting for McCain is that he will get to nominate strict constructionists to the Supreme Court. But that's not the sort of thing McCain has made his mark doing. It's probably a moot point since he's not going to win, but if dealt a Democratic Congress, he's going to compromise with the liberals like he's always done. It's worth mentioning, at present, that the Supreme Court is filled with seven Republican appointees; yet it's still divided.

I wasn't intending to go on an anti-McCain rant, not today anyway. Instead, if there are any Obama supporters of the gung-ho variety, who could help explain their candidate to me, I'd be eager to listen. The other day, I saw one of his ads on television, promising to save $2,500 per family on HealthCare costs, while managing to cover everybody. I listened for details, but I didn't hear any. If they exist, I'd love for someone to point me to them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How'd they miss me?

I don't write primarily to cause a racket; it's merely a delightful side effect. Most of my columns failed to generate a significant response, even on my small campus. So how on earth did one of my fellow writers get so much attention?

Feministing picked up an article by John Bustrak. The paper has since removed the link--cowards--so I can't read the whole thing. Nonetheless, I quote therefrom:

This day and age feminism has gone too far. I have several female friends whose greatest ambition is to be a wife and mother, but feel social and cultural pressure to go to college and get a prestigious job simply because it is expected.

Since feminism is supposed to be about freedom of choice, there's nothing untoward so far. But feminism isn't really about choice, so the writer thereupon starts to rant, in the sarcastic but unfunny style angry womenfolk always use:

Poor, poor women. Because of feminism, they feel like they have to go to college, instead of following their much more natural urge to pick up Bustrak's dirty socks.

This is because men, who have somehow managed to invent just about everything, can't manage to pick up their own socks. I know, we men were privileged; we used our inferior intelligence to create a male-dominated society which lasted for centuries, and will continue once egalitarianism retreats.

What escapes the attention of every feminist, is that without children, societies no longer exist. This is, quite literally, the only thing a society must do. Technology, indeed, civilization, is nice, and most of us wouldn't last long if they were to go, but a society which does not reproduce goes the way of the Shakers. This is also why egalitarianism must eventually retreat. A society with a centralized state depends on a larger number of worker bees in every generation. The mass importation of Mexican migrants will stem the tide for awhile, but one envisages a future republic in which women will be forced to breed, for the good of the state of course.

It should go without saying that I'm opposed to any forced breeding, but I'm opposed to most state action. Not desiring something to happen doesn't make it implausible. It might strike the reader as ironic that feminists would thus seek the state to do their bidding, but feminists have never been terribly rational, so the criteria for irony is not met.

This is because feminism is an evolutionary dead end. It's not impossible to have a job and a family, but if you put your career goals ahead of your familial ambitions, you'll find that it's hard to start a family. All the men will either be married, or completely disillusioned with the prospect thereof, and our liberated women will be confined to her wonderful little career making power points in cubedom--though her cats will comfort her.

I note in passing that a large number of Catholic women have sacrificed the married life, not so they could reach self-fulfillment in careers, but so they could teach arrogant fellows like myself, and bring the love of Christ to hearts, desperate for the love that only He can bring.

The problem with feminism is that it's ultimately narcissistic. The perceived happiness of the individual is not the measuring stick whereby the goodness of particular good should be judged. It is telling that a movement which ostensibly seeks to liberate women from the bonds of the patriarchy has tried to make women guilty for wishing to raise children--not pick up their husband's socks--instead of "working". Worse, the liberation has come at the cost of some 45 million dead, at least in this country.

As Vox Day once pointed out, "In the end, it's not that hard to understand. A little girl who is not born will never vote, work or raise a little girl of her own."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I'm not dead

Even if I'm not exactly getting better.

I plan on continuing the series on Catholic education, but I'm moving into an apartment and taking a brief vacation, so it my be awhile before I get to it. In all likelihood, no one cares, but I would be remiss in my responsibilities if I didn't explain the rationale for the long delay. Look for a new post in about a week.

It occurs to me that every time I say this, something big happens, whereupon I return to regular blogging. Consider yourself doubly warned.