Commonplace Book: August 2006 Archives

Reactionary Radicals

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When Mr. Kaufmann typifies himself as a Jeffersonian decentralist, he has me, because that is where my home is (without some of the other Jeffersonian trappings, I might add). Mr. Snyder of The Western Confucian was kind enough to leave a reference to Reactionary Radicals from which I derive the excerpt. Sounds like another book I will have to look into. And while I think it may take Mr. Dreher a little down the line, it certainly sounds along the lines of what Dreher suggests in Crunchy Cons.

from Look Homeware, America
Bill Kaufmann

I am an American patriot. A Jeffersonian decentralist. A fanatical localist. And I am an anarchist. Not a sallow garret-rat translating Proudhon by pirated kilowatt, nor a militiaman catechized by the Classic Comics version of The Turner Diaries; rather, I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn. Like so many of the subjects of this book, I am also a reactionary radical, which is to say I believe in peace and justice but I do not believe in smart bombs, daycare centers, Wal-Mart, television, or Melissa Etheridge’s test-tube baby.

“Reactionary radicals” are those Americans whose political radicalism (often inspired by the principles of 1776 and the culture of the early America) is combined with—in fact, flows from—a deep-set social “conservatism.” These are not radicals who wish to raze venerable institutions and make them anew: they are, in fact, at antipodes from the warhead-clutching egghead described by (the reactionary radical) Robert Lee Frost:

With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new
Look Homeward, America

These reactionary radicals—a capacious category in which I include Dorothy Day, Carolyn Chute, Grant Wood, Eugene McCarthy, Wendell Berry, and a host of other cultural and political figures—have sought to tear down what is artificial, factitious, imposed by remote and often coercive forces and instead cultivate what is local, organic, natural, and family-centered. In our almost useless political taxonomy, some are labeled “right wing” and others are tucked away on the left, but in fact they are kin: embodiments of an American cultural-political tendency that is wholesome, rooted, and based in love of family, community, local self-rule, and a respect for permanent truths.

Obviously, this is something requiring careful consideration, but at least I know of it now to consider it. You have done me a great service Mr. Snyder, thank you.

With respect to Mr. Dreher, I must admit to coming late to the party--but it's the only way that I attend such things. After the furor has died down, I can sit and take my time with the canapes, snacks and leftovers and enjoy the relative stillness to determine finally whether it was a party worth attending. So far in my reading of Mr. Dreher's book, it has proven to be so. I hope that continues.

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Images in Christian Life


from Renovation of the Heart
Dallas Willard

There are many things we need not see and are better off not seeing--thought, if you wish, you have a "right" to see them. Anyone who thinks that if I have a right to do X it is good for me to do X, simply hasn't thought deeply about the matter. Paul's wise counsel, by contrast, was, "Whatever is true, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let you mind dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8)> Make no mistake; this is a fundamental and indispensable part of our spiritual formation in Christ.

Images, in particular are motivational far beyond our conscious mind and they are not under rational control. We must take care that we are nourished constantly on good and godly ones, without necessarily being able to see and say what is wrong with the others. "What is wrong" with them well may be something we cannot bring before our consciousness, but which works in the depths of our soul and body as an instrument of feces beyond ourselves.

Beauty is essential in spiritual formation. Beauty is not beauty without truth and goodness--it is "as an Angel of Light" whose heart is complete darkness. The most beautiful image in the world that denies God only seems beautiful--it is a seed of darkness. This is probably similar to what Savonarola taught the people of his day, only he made the mistake of assuming that anything suggestive of the beauty of the human form was somehow tainted and evil. There are the Venus de Milo La Primavera and La Trionofo di Aphrodite, all of which portray the female body in its splendor without necessarily provoking the prurient. When one approaches works like The Naked Maja and such like, the question becomes more nebulous, and for some of us none of these images in any amount is licit. That is the individual way and path. Nevertheless, it is part of spiritual formation to dwell upon the beautiful because it bypasses the eternal censor and tells us something that mere intellect cannot tell us about God. God cannot be apprehended, much less embraced by intellect alone but only through the union of intellect and emotion that make up the mind of the person. Certainly our senses feed the mind, but it is ultimately the mind that is the primary gatekeeper and the spirit within us that says, "Let it be done unto me," to God. And these things may only happen when we have surrendered all to God.

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Five quotes that describe you or your belief systems from the Random Quote Page

If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity. --Bill Vaughan

I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it. --Groucho Marx

If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. --George Carlin

Those who flee temptation generally leave a forwarding address. --Lane Olinghouse

Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. --Georgia O'Keefe

And then some sundries I just wanted to keep around:

"Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped."Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)

"I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life." J. M. Barrie

"A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers." H. L. Mencken

"The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.'" Aaron Copland

"There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking." Thomas A. Edison (And Edison's own association with and sympathy for anti-semites and proto-nazis certainly goes a long way to proving this point.)

"One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar." Oscar Wilde

"Thomas Jefferson once said, 'We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.' And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying." Ronald Reagan

"If you scatter thorns, don't go barefoot." Italian Proverb

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Evolution--On Ann's New Book


I am no fan of Ann Coulter, just as I am no fan of any detractor. When one ceases to deal with issues and starts to deal with people in disrespectful ways, one ceases to command my attention. I haven't time for it.

However, this review has within it a provocative paragraph that may just go a ways toward supporting Ann's supposed hypothesis.

Rather, a lot of folks apparently like her ravings -- suggesting that, on some level at least, they must agree with her. And this means that the hundreds of thousands of Americans who put Coulter at the top of the best-seller lists see evolution as a national menace.

Well, that's hardly news. We've known for years that nearly half of all Americans believe in the Genesis account of creation, and only about 10 percent want evolution taught in public schools without mentioning ID or other forms of creationism. But it's worth taking up the cudgels once again, if only to show that, contrary to Coulter's claim, accepting Darwinism is not tantamount to endorsing immorality and genocide.

What I want to know is why anyone cares whether or not evolution is accepted as a theory outside of the scientific community. I am a staunch evolutionist (minus the philosophical trappings) and I could care less if all of St. Blogs were staunch young-Earthers. I would advise them to stay out of the fields of genetics, biology, and palaeontology, all of which have a certain necessity for the fundamental belief in the change of organisms through time. But so long as you are not a scientist practicing in one of these fields, why should I care about how you think the world came into being. It is utterly trivial and absolutely none of my business. And I like it that way.

I do not go about proselytizing evolution. I don't care who thinks it correct and who thinks it incorrect. What I do, and will continue to do is correct those who think they understand the matter at its base and then come of saying something like "ID is a better theory because." ID is merely a new smoke-and-mirrors philosophical construct built up around what is patently observable--organisms change through time. If people refuse to accept that empirical observation, I'm also fine with that--so long as they don't advance their opinions on scientific matters in ignorance of the facts. For example, if one wonders about the change of organisms through time, one must examine the cases of anti-biotic resistant bacteria and one must consider the case of ligers, and the many breeds of cats and dogs and horses. I don't want to belabor the point, but most people arguing for ID do so out of fear and plain ignorance of the facts of the matter. ID is not a scientific theory--it is a philosophical and religious construct that is no more subject to the rigors of the scientific method than is the neo-darwinist formulation of evolutionary theory. Both rely upon propositions that at base may be accepted or rejected but which ultimately can be neither proved nor demonstrated. It is no more probable that everything proceeds randomly than that everything is specifically designed and engineered to go the way it will.

In short, I don't care what any individual believes about how life came to its present diversity. It isn't my business, unless someone feels they must make it so, and I would prefer that it remain unknown to me. There are a good many evolutionists, myself among them, who at once hold to the essentials of evolutionary theory and to the complete teachings of the Catholic Church as understood outside of ultra-traditionalist circles. It is not beyond imagining, and it isn't really a problem for the faithful.

The problem is not evolution, nor its teaching, nor any number of other single attributes one might blame, but rather the whole societal synergy toward death. We live in the culture of death and this whole debate is about more of the same. It is a symptom rather than the disease, although, I suppose it gives some comfort to think that if only this evil thing could be rooted out condoms, pre-matital sex, abortion, and corrupt politicians would vanish at a single blow. It isn't going to happen--not by this mechanism at least. Those who think it will attribute far too much power to scientific discourse in the popular imagination of a fairly stringent anti-intellectual culture.

On a side note, this paragraph very aptly characterizes Ms. Coulter for me:

Coulter clearly knows better. I conclude that the trash-talking blonde bit is just a shtick (admittedly, a clever one) calculated to make her rich and famous. (Look at her website, where she whines regularly that she is not getting enough notice.) Her hyper-conservativism seems no more grounded than her faith. She has claimed that the Bible is her favorite book, she is rumored to go to church, and on the cover of Godless you see a cross dangling tantalizingly in her décolletage. But could anybody who absorbed the Sermon on the Mount write, as she does of Richard Dawkins, "I defy any of my coreligionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell"? Well, I wouldn't want Coulter to roast (there's not much meat there anyway), but I wish she'd shut up and learn something about evolution.

One is left to wonder what the quotation taken out of context might mean. The charitable might consider that she is saying the notion of even so arrant a servant of the atheistic agenda as Dawkins burning in Hell is laughable; however, I don't think that my charity extends that far.

But I do agree with the first sentence. Ann manufactured for herself a certain celebrity in her abrasive brashness--she competes toe-to-toe with Al Franken, Molly Ivins, and Maureen Dowd, and I suppose there is some divine justice in leveling the sides in such a way.

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The Chair of Peter

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I don't know what to make of this as I've never been there. But it sounds true enough

from The Devil's Advocate
Morris West

The next step was the Chair of Peter; but this was a high leap, halfway out of the world and into a vestibule of divinity. The man who wore the Fisherman's ring and the triple tiara carried also the sins of the world like leaden cope on his shoulders. He stood on a windy pinnacle, alone with the spread carpet of the nations below him, and above the naked face of the Almighty. Only a fool would envy hm the power and the glory and the terror of such a principality.

I can't speak to the truth of it, but I certainly hope that it is with thoughts like these that any person approaches the Chair. I suppose it's a Catch 22--if you really want the position, you are undoubtedly not qualified for it.

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A Useful Definition of Happiness


from The Saints' Guide to Happiness
Robert Ellsberg

But what if happiness is not subjective, a question of how we feel, or a matter of chance, something that simply happens? What if it is more like an objective condition, something analogous to bodily health? Aristotle took this view. The word he used for happiness, eudaimonia, is not a matter of feelings but a way of being, a certain fullness of life. Happiness, for Aristotle, has to do with living in accordance with the rational and moral order of the universe. It is more like the flourishing of a healthy plant than like Freud's pleasure principle. Because it is rooted in habits of the soul, it is the fruit of considerable striving. But for the same reason it is not subject to the vagaries of fortune.

The Greek-writing authors of the New Testament did not use Aristotle's word for happiness. The drew on another word, makarios, which refers to the happiness of the gods in Elysium. In the Gospel of Matthew this is the word that Jesus uses to introduce his Sermon on the Mount, "Happy are the poor in spirit. . . . Happy are the meek. . . . Happy are they who mourn. . . ." St. Jerome, who prepared the Latin translation in the fourth century, used beatus, a word the combines the connotations of being happy and blessed. Hence these verses are known as the Beatitudes. Forced to choose, most English translators have opted--probably wisely--for the more familiar "Blessed are. . . " The Beatitudes, after all, are not about "smiley faces" or feeling happy. They are not about feelings at all. They are about sharing in the life and spirit--the happiness--of God. In that spirit a disciple (like Jesus himself) could experience mourning, suffering, and loss while remaining "blessed"--happy, that is, in the most fundamental sense.

Happiness, as spoken of in the gospels and in the Bible is not of the moment. It isn't an instant of good feeling. Rather, happiness is the way of living as God would have us live. Outside of God everything is ephemeral, fleeting. Ecclesiastes would tell us that all is vanity, vanity. "If the Lord does not build a house, then in vain do the builders labor."

Happiness comes from what we do, not how we feel. That elation or good-feeling we sometimes experience is a pale shadow of true happiness that becomes apparent only in the light of eternity. Striving after anything else is in vain--only in obedience to His commandments and His word is happiness to be found.

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The One Thing Necessary


delightfully exposed.

from The Saints' Guide to Happiness
Robert Ellsberg

What is the "one thing necessary"? Its form is different for each person, though its content is always the same. It is "to fulfill our own destiny according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be."

Tomorrow, if there's time, I'll copy out the passage about happiness itself.

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and the horror of the disfigurement.

from Hiroshima Diary
Michihiko Hadhiya, M.D.

[From the entry for August 6]

Clad in drawers and undershirt, I was sprawled on the living room floor exhausted because I had just spent a sleepless night on duty as an air warden in my hospital.

Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me--and then another. So well does one recall little things that I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became brilliantly lit and I debated whether this light was caused by a magnesium flare or sparks from a passing trolley.

Garden shadows disappeared. The view where a moment before all had been so bright and sunny was now dark and hazy. Through swirling dust I could barely discern a wooden column that had supported one corner of my house. It was leaning crazily and the roof sagged dangerously.

Moving instinctively, I tried to escape, but rubble and fallen timbers barred the way. By picking my way cautiously I managed to reach the roka and stepped down into my garden. A profound weakness overcame me, so I stopped to regain my strength. To my surprise I discovered that I was completely naked. How odd! Where were my drawers and undershirt?

What had happened?

All over the right side of my body I was cut and bleeding. A large splinter was protruding from a mangled wound in my thigh, and something warm trickled into my mouth. My cheek was torn, I discovered as I felt it gingerly, with the lower lip laid wide open. Embedded in my neck was a sizable fragment of glass which I matter-of-factly dislodged, and with the detachment of one stunned and shocked I studied it and my blood-stained hand.

Where was my wife?

A small memorial to a monumental folly that we still try to think of reasons and ways to justify. We had entered into the age of almost unimaginable cruelty at the beginning of the century, but this marked a new plateau, a plateau that has stayed with us from that day to our own. A plateau that it were better had it never been reached.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from August 2006.

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