Category Archives: faith

If it is “go time,” where do we go?

Severian, Morgan, and a few of the emigos had a good email exchange in reply to the attempted assassinations of some Republican congressmen by a violent Leftist. Or – to be more precise – the email chain wasn’t so much about the assassination itself, but of the open and unrestrained celebration of the attempt by a non-trivial portion of the country.* We’re not talking mere fringe kooks, either, but plenty of persons gainfully employed in media and entertainment, who hold themselves out as respectable and conduct themselves as if they, and not their critics, are the reasonable ones.

Naturally, the critics might also be unreasonable, but as CS Lewis pointed out, Hell sends its errors into the world in pairs of opposites, hoping that you will fight the one by turning into the other: fighting sloth with wrath, or cowardice with recklessness. The true solution is to insist on the true thing, with the certain knowledge that it is stronger than any of the twisted copies. Courage is stronger than recklessness and beats it at its own game… but the trick is to be really courageous and to stick with it even at the moment where it seems that wild abandon is about to triumph.

I’m not seeing much of that in society today. That’s to be expected; the pendulum never swings to the middle and then stops there, and we also have to deal with the human propensity to revel in finally getting one’s own back. Given that we’ve been living for decades in a society where courtesy, restraint, and principle have been taking it on the chin, it’s even less surprising that those who have thus suffered find much less use for those things.

As I understand it, the Alt-Right has a pretty simple flowchart: they see that the Left has, without scruple or pity, slowly but surely ratcheted the culture and the law ever-further to their ultimate goal. They see an opponent who has been utterly contemptuous of the many warnings against dismantling the Western traditions and underpinnings of civilization: <i>”When the Devil turns round on you, where will you hide, the laws all being flat? Will you be able to stand upright in the winds that would then blow?”</i> As a result, it’s time to reap the whirlwind, and the Alt-Right plans to be the sickle and thresher… and they’re in no mood for “cucks” and “betas” who insist that the above warnings apply to us as well.

The flaw should be obvious. Just as the Left will not always be in power, neither shall the Right… so ultimately the sickle and thresher will pass to the next party, and they in turn will be in no mood to say, well, now we’ve learned our lesson and we must all play friendly. They’re the ones who would stick at nothing before all this happened – what are the odds that they will suddenly find their conscience while smarting from their fresh wounds? For the Alt-Right’s plans to “work” they basically have to remain in power forever, and the only way to do that is to become in practice the very thing they’re in such reaction against, only without even the pretense of the forms of justice. There’s a reason why totalitarian regimes still have sham elections and show trials; would the Alt-Right bother with that, or simply dispense with the pretenses in favor of a muscular honesty?

I’m reminded of the Justice League episode where the heroes are dragged into an alternate dimension where their counterparts have imposed just such an order. No crime, but also no freedom; the Justice Lords (as they are now called) rule. And what the show could not address (but it would have been fascinating)… what happens when the Lords themselves grow old and die? All of them eventually would, perhaps excepting Wonder Woman. Without the godlike power required to maintain such a regime, it would collapse in devastation and ruin.

And yet… well, practicing restraint when your opponent offers none has gotten us in quite a mess indeed. The Alt-Right have correctly diagnosed the situation of the moment, which is that the rules are only ever used in one direction. And they also correctly recognize that merely wringing our hands and bemoaning the state of affairs doesn’t actually correct them. I’ve written it before: “It can’t happen here” is a fiction. Every other place it’s happened, has been one of those places it could never happen – many individual civilizations have collapsed in ruin, conquered from without or decayed from within, with all the misery and decades to rebuild. Those who’ve gone quisling in the face of a spiteful foe have earned every ounce of the contempt shown them.

So it is necessary to fight back, and not merely complain or mourn – and the question remains, how do we fight?

It should be plain that to simply ignore the rules ourselves is not going to suddenly spawn a newfound respect for rules, either among the vanquished or the conquering. A vaccine only works because it contains a dead or weakened form of the disease your body must learn to fight – if you injected the real illness you would kill everybody.  We are faced with the rise of those who think that lining everyone up for the full dosage will result in robust health all around… or else those who have gone past the point of caring, and want it all torn down.

On the one hand, we have the tyrannical foe… and on the other, we are faced with either becoming their slaves, or their replacements. One way or another, that leaves us holding one end of a chain that binds.

I have no desire to live as an insect in a hive, beholden to the all-powerful State; neither do I wish to live in a kill-or-be-killed post-apocalypse wasteland. It is no good fighting Oceania with Bartertown. Like it or not, if civilization is to endure at all, it has to remain civilized. If there is to be a revolution, it has to be one of law and virtue against mere force. And that takes a conscious effort. One doesn’t drift away from virtue and default to a more primitive, yet still healthy, sense of honor. That state of affairs was itself a long, hard-fought victory against the true default of savagery and horror. We have a society that turns its nose up against the work required to do even that much and yet expects that the results of all that work will survive.

To echo John C Wright in his post here… may heaven preserve us from such folly.

*We have also to deal with their allies who, while not celebrating such things, lay down cover for them in the form of moral equivocations. (“Liberal-conservative vitriol” indeed.) But that is a topic deserving its own post.

Dads and lads

I miss the best conversations over the weekend. Morgan talked about Millennials and masculinity, then Severian had a great take, and now I’m left to play catch-up.

We’re pretty well-saturated with the idea that manhood is not very welcome nowadays. People have been writing books books about it, and starting websites to counteract it. There are memes, and memes, and yet more memes. And on the flip-side of this, there’s the common laments for the coming generation for as long as new generations have come, right back to when Cain struck down Abel.

More recently, Steven Taylor was singing:

“As we watch the family die an orphan choir rehearses
Their daddies left without a goodbye
Will you, my man, buckle under these curses?”

That was in 1993, when Gen-Xers such as myself were just getting through college. So the question is, has the trend accelerated since then – is there a difference this time, or is this something where the skeptics are right and we should really just relax?

Put my checkmark in the “no, let’s not relax just yet” column. I think there are differences of substance between what was lamented in my father’s time, and my time, vs. now…

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This is my answer, nitwits

You all should have fun watching our resident Cuttlers twist themselves into impossible mental shapes in the vain attempt to pretend that two contradictory things are, in fact, identical – and that refusing to go along with this attempt is in fact our mental failure, not theirs.

Perhaps I’m bad and should feel bad for laughing, but I find myself increasingly open to author Sarah Hoyt’s advice: when obvious loonies say obvious lunacies, point and make duck noises at them. Refutation, as you can see, made no difference.

Why am I so on about it despite the Cuttlers’ predictable failure to

  • understand what we’ve said
  • grasp why they can’t grasp it
  • notice the same mistake applies to how they see both the topic and the debate
  • understand basic metaphors or figures of speech?

Because this is really important – not just the topic itself but the process used in turning the innocuous into the poisonous with the willing compliance of the victims. Allow me to indulge, below the fold, in an analogy…

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Getting it wrong

I was offline most of yesterday until late, so I took what I thought would be a quick peek at Twitter over my coffee before work. Heh. I should know better: I saw a tweet go by and felt that old twitch start up, the “shoot off my stupid mouth” twitch.

Alas, I was stupid. And wrong.

Now, it’s been standard practice for Rueters, the AP, et als to get Catholic stuff wrong, often with the classic “accidentally on purpose” method. The earliest example in my adult life was in the early 90s, when the Church was ready to release the latest Catechism. The New York Times went ahead with some pointless verbiage days before the official English translation was even available, and of course it turned out that the Times was talking out its ass.

Further examples are legion. (My well-meaning Aunt emails them regularly.) Therefore I felt no hesitation in scoffing at an AP report (via a Charles Cooke retweet) that Pope Francis had said that violence was understandable regarding Charlie Hebdo’s cartooning.

Mr. Cooke had to put me some blinking knowledge. I had to apologize. I was in error; in fact, it was the same category of mistake as His Holiness made, that of talking off the cuff without thinking. Unlike either of his two predecessors, he seems to make it a lot.

I’m no stranger to shooting off my mouth, but one hopes the actual Pontiff has more restraint than some randomly-chosen Internet-era pontificator.

Still, I am a random Internet-era pontificator. (During our courtship, my wife once offered to buy me an antique wooden soap box, so I could store things in it when I wasn’t up on it.) My measured pontification is that what Pope Francis said was clumsy and inelegant. He ignored the context of what’s been going on in the world for the last several decades.

So, the takeaway from Pope Francis’ interview seems to be that insulting a religion is provocative and you can expect a violent response.

“It’s true, one cannot react violently, but if Dr. Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then he is going to get a punch. But it’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith … make fun or toy with other people’s religions, these people provoke, and there can happen what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. That is, there is a limit.”

Bitch had it comin’. That’s what you might expect from your garden-variety Islamist, hot to trot for the jihad, but not at all what one wants to hear from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rome.

This is what I find somewhat frustrating with our current pope: he doesn’t seem to get that he can’t shoot from the lip without having it all taken as the official word of Catholicism. Like it or not, a lot if the world despises Christ and his Church, and they have invested too much of themselves to give the benefit of the doubt. They aren’t going to draw a distinction between a bull session and an official papal encyclical promulgating doctrine. They lie enough to try to damage the faith without being handed a truth to do it with. This is where one should apply the Scripture verse about being both harmless as doves AND as cunning as serpents.

I want to be fair to Pope Francis. I get about 75% of what he’s saying. The word provocative implicitly understands the chance of a violent reply; else we would use a word like annoying. And like he said, it’s a normal human response to respond with force to certain provocations.

I confess that I can’t watch that clip without cheering for Mr. Aldrin. That guy was a jackass, he actively harassed and confronted Mr. Aldrin, and he got chin-checked on merit. More importantly: any society where that kind of a response is permanently out-of-bounds quickly devolves into a society ruled by the rudest and most ruthless among us. Some bullies and cowards will never get the message unless it’s slapped into them; this actually makes society more polite and courteous as a result, because someone with no moral compunction about haranguing an old man in the streets now has a more visceral reason to think twice. This is a well-known paradox, where trying to enforce the “right” choice actually makes the right choice impossible, while permitting the “wrong” choice makes a world where the right choice is much safer and therefore much more common.

That brings us to the other 25%, which is what turned even the reasonable parts of Pope Francis’ statements into nonsense.

Had His Holiness said that he understands the anger because of the slanders that his own faith endures, and then quoted “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26), then we have a teachable moment that reinforces all that he said about forgiveness during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. More importantly, it would put the blame for murder and mayhem squarely on the shoulders of the actual murderers. There’s a huge difference socking some guy who’s mouthing off and won’t shut up, vs. taking lives because you can’t handle a few insults like an adult.

Because whatever else one could say about the Charlie Hebdo staff and their work, the one thing it doesn’t do is chase you across the street, dodge two people politely insisting you stop, ignore the threat of police involvement, and confront you on camera while you try to mind your own business. It’s beyond easy to shrug off Charlie Hebdo; if one must reply, then one could always do it with words and ideas – much like I’m writing this to counter the careless half-baked statements of my own religious leader. That’s the distinction that Francis glossed over; notably it’s also a distinction that the Islamists do not acknowledge at all. So long as they judge the topic to be important enough, then there is a simple binary test – did you respect it or not? And if the answer is “not” then you may be killed for it.

Under Francis’ logic, I could say with all honesty that he had insulted the memory of the dead victims, and under that provocation I could slug him when he stepped off the plane. On those grounds alone, what he said is provably, logically dumb. And if the jihad took it as an insult, then they would blow up the plane before it landed.

Aldrin didn’t seek out this guy to sock him, even though he’s been preaching for years that the moon landings were faked. He reacted when he was sought out and harassed. Had someone taken copies of these cartoons and stuck them under the wiper blades of every car in a mosque parking lot, and then waited until prayer was over to try to stuff them into the hands of the worshippers, I would neither be surprised nor particularly angry if he got his lights punched out. That very notably is NOT what happened here. Far the reverse – Islamists have been carrying out a constant campaign of murder, intimidation, and conflict simply because such things happen to exist. Charlie Hebdo is not a provocation, but a response to a provocation.

The desire to think of civilization’s struggle with Islam as a mere tussle between brands of the same thing, distinct without a real difference, is morally and mentally blinding. It’s a much more visceral fight – a war launched against civilization itself by a centuries-old enemy, wearing a new costume and waving a new flag of supposed grievances. Giving them any sort of intellectual cover for their operations is a small treason against humanity. Likewise, any mental or moral ammunition to bolster our morale is a boon. In a strange way, those cartoons are more on the side of actual decency and respect than any of the weak-kneed refusals to print them or even mention them. A world where those things are tolerated is a safer and saner world, and using actual death and tyranny to silence them is to submit to the cruel and grim logic of barbarity.

This will never get easier

This is a reprint from eight years ago, part of the 2996 Project to commemorate those killed in the 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington, DC. I ran it on the Hive 1.0.

ALWAYS REMEMBER
This is the page for the 2996 Project. Many of the Pantheon did tributes. I can’t be sure if all of these links work, but please take the time to try to visit them; or else, visit this page to see a list of the many memorials that still remain active, and check them out. 

Michael J Pascuma at the Sheila Variations
Tom Burnett and Michael J Simon at It Comes In Pints?
Sylvia and John Resta at Coalition of the Swilling
Thomas W Kelly, FNDY at Trunk Full O Junk
Benito Valentine at Half a Pica
Jason Michael Cefalu at This Life
James M Roux at Grizzly Mama
Andrea Della Bella and others at A Wandering Confluence
And this general memorial from the Judge Report

I haven’t re-run my tribute before, but I changed my mind this year, primarily because my father-in-law has a Fox News memorial program saved on his DVR that I happened to re-watch recently. One of the survivors (his name escapes me) who worked in the Pentagon that day said that when the victims were brought out, he was stunned to note that they didn’t look injured at all. The shock of the explosion and subsequent fire had simply sucked all the oxygen out of several rooms, suffocating those within. One of them, I recognized at once – my own honoree, Angela Houtz.

Last week, Angela would have been 40 years old.

On September 7, 2001, Angela Houtz joined her family in Ocean City, MD, to make holiday. She had turned 27 the previous day, but work had prevented her from arriving sooner. Angela worked as a senior analyst for the Office of Naval Intelligence. On her birthday she had still been aboard the USS DeWert; the next day she made her way back north from Florida and arrived in time for the celebration.

Her uncle, Sheriff Frederick Davis, was taking office as President of the Maryland Sheriff’s Association that weekend, so there was a lot to celebrate. The family spent the weekend; at her birthday, Angela, as was traditional, wore the family Birthday Hat while she opened her gifts.

Come Monday, she was back at work at the Pentagon. Intelligent and dedicated, in nine short years she had progressed from salutatorian of Maurice McDonough High School, to an English degree from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, to her civilian work in the Navy. Like thousands of others on the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, she was at work when the word came through: first one, and then the other of the towers of the World Trade Center had been struck with airliners.

At the Pentagon, everything changed. Angela joined a meeting in the C-ring with several officials, other analysts, and military officers. They were still there when American Airlines flight 77 skimmed across the lawn and into their wing of the building. She joined many others – financiers, insurers, staff, the cooks and busboys of Windows on the World, the airline crews, firefighters and police and military – suddenly killed while simply about their business; but her business consisted of understanding the nature of the attack and helping to organize a response. Angela Houtz was among the very first to fall in defense of the United States in the current conflict.

She received full honors: a military funeral, the Distinguished Civilian Award of Merit, and a letter of condolence from President George W Bush; more importantly, an outpouring of the great respect and love from everyone who had known her. In an article for VOA News, Commander David Radi spoke about this respect:

“It’s a bond that approaches a brother or sister and although Angie was a civilian, she was a shipmate to us. I was proud to call her that. The way she shined. I put her eventually in a position where we had never had a civilian. It was because the trust I had in her; but more importantly, the more senior people in the Navy had in her. She would stand a watch in the off hours in particular. She would be the eyes and ears of the Navy in our command center. And there could be no better forerunner for that in the civilian world of Naval Intelligence than Angela Houtz.”

The service took six hours. If that had been all that there was to the affair, it would certainly be enough, but her father, Robert Houtz, speaking to the Boothbay Register, told of more: “Angie had had two full-time jobs, one for humanity and one for her country.”

Many remember her now for her life for the country, but those who love her remember her other life: an active young woman, working with her own church and the Salvation Army for homeless relief; a lover of puns, a tutor of children; a joy to her family and friends. She was equally at home taking classes in dance or organizing food drives. And her finest tribute comes directly from Mrs. Julie Shontere, her mother:

“Most important in her life, above all else, was her faith in God. … She gave so much to us all. She continues to teach me through her journals and spirit. … I feel blessed beyond words to have had the honor to be her mom.”

Cmdr. Radi made a point to mention her faith in connection with the position of trust she had earned among the Naval staff; even people who had barely known her were dearly touched by Angela. Amy Moffitt of Washington DC met Angela only twice, and said: “She lived really vividly in everything. She was very present, she was very alive. … There was not a person she met who didn’t go, ‘Wow,’ that was awakened by her presence, because she was so awake, so alive, so there.” All of the quotes about Angela in the sources below reveal the same compassion and the same vitality.

It is just and right to remember and to memorialize the loss that so many shared that day; but it is incomplete unless we can also celebrate the lives that were left behind. Angela Houtz gave joy and dedication that long outlive the events of one September afternoon. Her service to country did not end at the doors of the Pentagon. It is an honor to be recogized at your funeral by a president for your work; it is also honor to be recognized on a concert line by a passing homeless man for your generosity and mercy. Many hunger after the one sort of honor, but the other can only be given to those who pour themselves out in service, who give cheerfully of whatever they have, be it time, money, toil, or just a smile for a sad friend.

In celebrating Angela’s life, we celebrate a woman who knew that joy only grows when you give it away. The lasting image to recall is of her happy family, laughing and snapping pictures of Angela in the Birthday Hat, unwrapping gifts – it is of they that she would be thinking of, and it is altogether fitting to respect her wishes and think of them as well. Today is but the anniversary of one moment; the full life of Angela Houtz endures beyond it, and defeats it. That life is real and lasting, and it abides through the many people she loved to the full.

Her friends and family have established a scholarship fund in Angela’s name; more information is here. The comments section is open for anyone else who has a story or a memory of Angela, or a link to a tribute not mentioned above.

My deepest thanks to Mrs. Julie Shontere, who was kind enough to provide much of the above information first-hand; and also to the following sources:

The Chicago Tribune, for this remembrance
The UMBC Alumni Newsletter, Summer 2002, for
this profile
The Boothbay Register, October 4, 2001, for
this article by Duey Graham
The VOA News, October 22, 2001, for
this article by Betty van Etten
The
Maryland State Archives
The
Defend America Network
The
September 11 Victim’s Memorial

The unholy censors

Severian links through to an interesting (if brief) review and critique by Michael Brendan Dougherty of a collection of essays by Joseph Bottum.

I have not read Bottum’s work, and am only familiar in passing with Dougherty’s – primarily because he’ll crop up on ESPN from time to time writing about sports topics.  (I may have to remedy that, if for no greater reason than that he rocks a Quebec Nordiques t-shirt in his bio picture.)  In any case, I intend to branch off a bit here, because I’m more interested in something Sev wrote in his link-through:

It’s common knowledge among those who notice things that liberals are, on all matters except sex, censorious, moralizing, pharisaical little prigs.

To begin: I know that a good number of folks I chat with on Twitter and such self-identify as liberals, so I want to note something about the use of the term here.  At blogs where Sev and I interact regularly, there’s a lot of debate about whether the term Liberal or Leftist is the more appropriate when discussing the most radical examples of what is commonly called Liberalism or the Blue State Model.  I far prefer “Leftist” as the proper term for a few reasons I won’t go into here; I don’t want to be derailed on a side-issue.  Just roll with the term for now.  But I want to say this much: I know that a lot of you guys are not, in fact, sanctimonious or pharisaical.  OK – good – we’re gonna move ahead – sorry to slow you down –

I submit that the current licentiousness drowning our society is, in fact, an elaborate censorship.

People of this anti-human bent are censorious about sex, like they are censorious about everything else.  To be more precise, they are censorious about the true nature of sex in humans.  And the first truth about sex is that it unites people.

Physically this is indisputable; as one moves through the physical to the mental and spiritual, it becomes easier to hide and mislead on this basic fact, but couples themselves know better.  In fact, sex is often enough the result of couples who catch each other’s attention for other reasons.  In situations where the physical is the primary motive, these other motives for spending time together frequently arise; those couples without these other bonds nearly always dissolve.  Sex also frequently leads to couples preferring each other to anyone else, and both expecting and promising exclusivity – a thing that could not happen if the physical bond were the only one to consider, since there are always times where one or both partner is unavailable sexually.  Also, sexual attraction naturally leads to people pairing off in as beneficial a match to themselves as they can arrange: not necessarily where the greatest sensual delights lie, either.  Nor is satisfaction in a lover’s relationship exclusively gauged by those couples as the greatest degree of physical sensation.  And it all leads to family units that people are willing to defend to the death against all comers.  A happy home is something worth protecting, and not surprisingly people will speak up about and oppose proposals destructive to that happiness – whether the family or the proposal are liberal or conservative.  People with families to protect unite across political and social strata to do it.

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I think I may have found the inventor of glurge

The term “glurge” was invented (if memory serves) over at Snopes.com, to describe the treacly and cloying faux-inspirational stories found in chain emails.  If it’s got angels, wild coincidences (OR ARE THEY???), and a plea to forward the story to 15 people or all your geraniums will die in a fire, then it’s glurge.

Ah, but who invented glurge itself?

Well, before email chains, these were the sorts of sentiments you’d find chain-stitched and framed in the parlors of elderly relatives, or clipped from magazines and taped up on refrigerators or in scrapbooks.  Therefore, I reason that the inventor may have been one of these magazine editors or publishers.

Well, while bouncing around the archives of the blog Tenth Letter of the Alphabet, I came across this post, the wonderful lettering of a gentleman by the name of F.J. Trezise. Turns out that Mr. Trezise was closely associated with a trade magazine called The Inland Printer back around the dawn of the 20th century.  (The magazine still publishes today under the title of The American Printer and Lithographer.) And a lot of the work was to letter the epigrams of one A. H. McQuilken, Editor.

You really should visit the above link and read them in their original published form.  It’s incredible stuff. Not exactly glurge, per se, but there’s a closely-related field, greeting card philosophy, that plagues us to this day.

A search for more information reveals that Mr. McQuilken had previously published something called The Journal of Tuberculosis, “A Quarterly Magazine Devoted to the Prevention and Treatment of Tuberculosis,” at the very close of the 19th century, and that this august work is available as a collected reprint from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  This search also uncovered folks such as Rear Admiral John H McQuilken, who reformed the US Navy in the 50’s; former NFL quarterback Kim McQuilken

…and a certain Dr. Robertson McQuilken, “a man of passion” according to this YouTube video, and the author of several inspirational, Christian-centric books.

One would have to read them to decide if these are glurgy or not.  And of course, there have been plenty of powerful true stories that have been glurged by well-meaning believers, quite without the consent or even knowledge of those involved.  I’m inclined against, based on a bit of reading about the man for the past 45 minutes.  He traveled as a missionary to Japan, for example, and that hasn’t always turned out quite so well.*  And there’s another video that popped up in the sidebar at YouTube that I simply must watch next: “Pat Robertson vs. Robertson McQuilken on Alzheimer’s and Marriage.”  May it fulfill all my fondest hopes and wishes.

* The anime series Samurai Champloo has an entire episode devoted to Japanese Christians, a false priest pretending to be a descendant of St. Francis Xavier, and the practice of “fumie,” where people trampled on Christian icons to prove that they weren’t believers.

So it appears that the title of this post is premature… the search for Patient Zero of Glurge goes on, though Mr. A H McQuilken appears to have a very low degree of separation.  Luckily, it’s a trail that leads through a lot of unexpected and fascinating territory.