Monday, April 30, 2007

Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part IV in a Series)

Yesterday we began to run aground upon the limiting factors for work and its scope for human development. In this, we must make explicit the fact that work cannot be found to be the sole source of human satisfaction and development. Work remains an endeavor for profit and sustenance in its primary form. It is required of the worker that he work in such a way that he fits into the corporate culture in a profitable way first and foremost, although his humanity does, as we have seen, demand something more than merely to be a cog in the large machine. Because of this, it is not intrinsically meant to be the means by which humanity finds all of its fulfillment, as though work could be the only bread upon which we live our lives. It merely remains a part of the larger puzzle of our daily lives, being bound by the limitations which our nature places on all of our activity.

It would therefore be absurd to assert that work must always be gratifying to the individual worker, although it must be tempered by the Law of Love. It means that work must be subservient to the nature of humanity, one which is dual-fold. Gaudium et Spes from the second Vatican Council discusses this fact under the guise of two-fold interiority-exteriority of man. The human person derives his dignity from his ability to reflect in his depths but does not reach his fulfillment there. As we have said in past days, the human person also must derive his fullest growth from his dialogue with other beings. To the extent which work does not allow for this interiority-exteriority for human development , it should allow freedoms for this development outside of the workplace by means of wages and time flexibility.

Indeed, I think it most appropriate to see work as one element among many in life. When viewed this way, it retains its own boundaries but also can become part of an organic whole of our daily activity. When talking to my uncle once, we discussed the fact that work seems very often to intrude on our play and our play upon our work. I think this is wholly appropriate and is a means by which we can asses the quality of our work and life situation.

There is much wisdom in remembering the words of Qoheleth, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” There is a place for work and a place for recreation, making some distinction between everything. However unity is found in the fact that we not only have multiple material purposes in our lives but also a singular, essential purpose for our existence: to love. Therefore, there is also a time for loving at all moments of existence. All things are subservient to this, including the task of human work.
Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part III in a Series)

And so, we arrive now at a point at which we must attempt to define the nature of a good work structure in a positive way. I would argue, of course, that this requires that the work at hand adheres to what American’s hold a central tenet, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” although I would a twist to this and add that these must be upheld precisely because of man’s ontological stature in creation. What separates man from the rest of the created order is his capacity for self-reflection, a capacity which allows for the dialogue of being, namely love.

In many ways, I agree with John Steward Mill’s assessment that it is through choice that humanity defines itself. As a corollary, I would add that the final definition of man is to be found in the freedom to choose Love above all else. Therefore, this requires the ability and room to have choice and self-determination in work and concomitantly requires that work have openness to self-development at best or flexibility which allows for that outside of the workplace at worst. The three realities of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are merely three sides of the same reality, for they are all related to the central principle of the supreme happiness of man, namely Love.

Work must make some accommodation for the deep strivings of humanity in its desire to reach out to the other and develop the self in an other-centered way. While this may only be indirectly possible, it must allow for some relative development of the person and not quash the self-reflection which makes us most radically human. In a very practical way, this can be enacted by means of several methods, although I am not looking to write an exhaustive treatise on this. (Many greater minds would have to come together to truly exhaust this subject which is being briefly treated here.)

Work that allows for the liberty for love and the life well lived could be merely enacted by means of true intra-business collaboration which allows people to work together at their “work bench” in such a way as to not be isolated. Indeed, in order that man be truly happy, he requires ontological dialogue which can never be fed in a cubicle-laden world which is designed thus to provide barriers between workers. At the same rate, liberty does demand that some boundaries be drawn merely to allow the individual to choose those tasks, conversations, and events in which they would like to be involved. Additionally, the greatest strength lies in the removal of iron fists from management (although this does not require disorder or a lack of managed regulation). Perhaps the best means by which to allow the free pursuit of a happy work life is to allow the “breathing room” for collaborative freedom among groups of employees, for this will allow for the freest, most personally-desired acts of self-determination.
Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part II in a Series)
In order to appropriate an answer to this question, we first must ask the opposite, “Precisely what aren’t acceptable systems for work development?” Since the main lens through which we are viewing this problem is that of individual freedom and self-development, I would say that the most appropriate three categories of non-acceptable work systems would be: (1) Socialistic, (2) Totalitarian, and (3) Egalitarian.

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I would find any sort of socialistic schema to be unacceptable for the human person. However, in this age in which socialism is given such saccharine treatment, it would do us well to take a look at its necessary unacceptability. The fundamental presupposition of Socialism is that the individual (to varied degrees) cannot be trusted with his or her self-development without the control of the society. The only way for “social justice” to be enacted is by the socialization of labor and capital, thus making them common goods held by the society at large. In doing thus, the individual is robbed of liberty to choose and therefore becomes merely a cog in the large machine of the given society. For this reason, socialistic systems of corporate governance are insufficient for proper human development.

I don’t think it takes much for someone to admit that a totalitarian regime lacks the elements necessary for dignified work. Since totalitarian systems do not allow the latitude for viewpoints separate from those in power, the individual is silenced in an unacceptable way. Once again, there is little chance for self-expression and self-development in such a system which does not permit differing choices to be made by the worker. Therefore, no matter how soundly structured and efficient, the totalitarian regime remains at best a materialistic solution for the corporate world which ignores the primacy of the spiritual capacities of man.

We come at last to egalitarian systems, a subject which endeared by so many people who perhaps have bigger hearts than I do. I hold nearly equal contempt for socialistic and egalitarian systems, although for different reasons. The fundamental assertion of egalitarianism is that we are all equal in all ways. This assertion plays well to our ears because it is a distorted truth at best, for we are all equal in opportunity and dignity. The individual person, no matter what he or she shares with the human species in general, is also a person of grand contrast and difference in strengths and weaknesses. Egalitarian systems fail to address these differences and therefore level off all of humanity into a single category. This is a double-edged sword of unacceptability. First of all, it remains to be seen who decides what this single category of acceptability is and how low its expectations ultimately are. Worse yet is the aforementioned fact that the assertion that all of us are equally special is tantamount to declaring that none of our free choices are special and extra-ordinary and are therefore unnecessary.

Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part I in a Series)

Well, I have returned after a hellish week of work. I was unable to post on Friday because I was basically bed-ridden thanks to an immune system which was impaired by sleep deprivation.

Since my days as an EDI-programming intern at U.S. Steel, I have thought about the goods and ills of Corporate America, by which I mean large corporations in America. Wheedling away in my cubicle, I remember feeling like a worthless cog in a giant machine that had no major axis, only a direction of profit, although even this direction was somewhat missing from my little corner of the large world of steel production. Coders throughout my area worked on new projects which were guided by those above (although there was doubtlessly some interaction in this process). However, a few “blessed” individuals like me were given the pleasure of merely fixing the mistakes of the past and implementing quick-fix programs which would be here today and gone in three weeks.

In such an environment, self-determination is nearly crushed under the weight of the machinations of the corporation. The true driving force of each day was definitely not the work which I was doing but was instead always drawn from the hope I got in my interactions with those in my work group. I remember many days of drawing from the wisdom and wit of those older than me and also passing on my paltry wisdom of X12 and AISI COMPORD to those who were newer to the institution. These interactions gave me some sense of self-determination, some sense of choice in my actions, and thus unleashed me from what was often a daily routine of coding.

While America has been the context for such big businesses as U.S. Steel, it also remains a tutor for such businesses and offers an important lesson. John Stuart Mill would argue that in choosing man makes himself realized most fully. I will admit that in many ways I cannot controvert this assertion. While Mill was a British philosopher after the days of the American Revolution, his ideas are much in line with the individualism which grew up in America. Concomitantly, his primacy of freedom can speak to the American world of work through the lenses of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” particularly in the term of “liberty.”

To be an American is to assert the dignity of the individual first, but not at the expense of the whole. Indeed, for the American, it is precisely when the individual is so recognized that the whole functions most fully. This means that the individual must have Mill’s idea of self-determination, freedom to choose and actualize their person, a freedom which certainly comes with its own rule of judgment against its abuse. This would mean that stifling environments which exist at times in Corporate America should be improved with systems which are more embracing of American freedom. However, this begs the question: “What are these systems and what makes them advantageous?”

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Soon to Return

I must apologize for my lack of posting these past two days. Because of business commitments and life issues, I will be unable to post until Friday, April 27, 2007. Until then, fare thee well!


Monday, April 23, 2007

Truly Respecting Life

Recently, there was a debate at Saint Vincent College about the fact that President George W. Bush will be speaking at the Commencement of the class of 2007. I must admit that I do not understand the great emotional strife over this issue. I don’t agree with the president on a variety of issues but nonetheless think it is an honor to have the President of the United States of America speak at my Alma Mater. However, I digress from what I wished to talk about.

One of the presenters, a young man for whom I have respect, made a comment about how respect for life must be central to our choices as Catholics. He continued by saying that the President does not have respect for life in other countries, particularly because of the war in Iraq. Now let me preface my thoughts with the fact that I agree that respect for life extends beyond the normal polemical boundaries of abortion and euthanasia. Additionally, let me say that I think that it may be impossible to change the course of relations between Shia and Sunni Muslims by the imposition of Western force. However, misinformation and misdirection do not constitute a direct disrespect for life as an intrinsic part of the war in Iraq. Additionally, this argument seems to presuppose that the death counts in Iraq are directly the fault of America instead of the religious zealots who are perpetrating such acts in the name of their sect of Islam. While the US may have destabilized the region, it is neither strapping bombs to people’s backs nor killing a vast majority of the Iraqis who have died in the recent violence.

Now this being said, there is a profound middle ground which should be struck between “feel good” respect for life and the imposition of democracy by force. Much world poverty is absolutely saddening but also continues in part because of a lack of the structures which have made the West so powerful and wealth-generating. A true respect for life is not merely a matter of fiscal humanitarian aid to the countries which are most needy in the world. Instead, it is a combination of fiscal aid with the more important tasks of working to ensure just social constructs that allow for the vox popoli to be heard and not squashed. It requires market freedom (not absolute but very, very free) by means of which human determination can shine forth to generate the wealth necessary to sustain the poorest nations among us. To this extent, a radically different agenda is needed, one which is not from the standard liberal or conservative play book, although it has elements from each. In the post-industrial world, our respect for life extends beyond our internal issues over the atrocities of abortion and euthanasia; it requires that we pass on that which is best in our culture to those in most need. Only thus to we respect the sanctity of each life in the wide world.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Foretaste is in the Bread

Yesterday, I referenced a lecture which I attended at Saint Vincent College at which Dr. Brant Pitre spoke on the relationship between the Lord’s Prayer and the Exodus. At one point in this lecture, he discussed the foretaste of the Promised Land as found in the Manna in the wilderness. In Exodus 16:31, the bread is described as tasting like honey, an indicator that it was a foretaste of the Promised Land which would flow with both milk and honey in abundance. When he discussed this, several thoughts popped into my head.

I was reading a book by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan called Sabbath: Day of Eternity in which the Rabbi explains that the rest of the Sabbath is not a practical matter of “setting aside a day for God” but is instead a day in which Creation participates in the very being of God, in his immutable eternal being. The exposition of the Sabbath was in the providing of the Manna in the Desert: “See the Lord hath given you the Sabbath, and for this reason on the sixth day he giveth you a double provision.” Rabbi Kaplan argues that it was from the first day when no Manna was provided that the community of Israel knew when the Sabbath was to be celebrated. Therefore, there is a double link here, for the Manna is, as stated above, the foretaste of the earthly Jerusalem but is also the means by which God opens the community up to the participation in His being.

Now, if we look at the Eucharist, in which Christ proclaims, “This is My Body … This is My Blood,” we see much of the same typology. This Bread from Heaven draws on the rich tradition of the Manna (a favorite Eucharistic theme) and has quite the basis to do so. It is here that that the Community, the Church, participates in God’s divine being in its fullness, by receiving His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is not the taste of the bread that matters but instead the participation in the breads very essential change. More importantly, however, it points to the central eschatological argument of Christianity.

The Eucharist, like the Manna, is not merely tasty bread along the road but is instead a road-marker which is an anticipation of its eschatological end. The Manna in the desert was a honey-flavored foretaste that received its character as “foretaste” precisely in its relationship to the Holy Land. The eschatological end of the Manna of the Eucharist is the foretaste of God’s being. Therefore, the eschatological end of the Christianity is not a place or a political plan, but instead it is a Being, it is a loving, human face. In precise terms, it is the Being of Christ, the alpha and omega, the one who is the end point of all history (its last thing – eschaton). Therefore, the Eucharist is an eschatological participation in He who is creation’s eschaton, the Resurrected Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What About Utopia? (Part II)

So we left off yesterday discussing the fact that Christianity does not approach the issue of utopia as such but instead turns our eyes to eschatology, or the study of the “last things.” It is precisely this type of eschatological thinking which was at the center of much of Christ’s preaching, although its actual form was different from those who first heard him. As I discussed earlier this month about Palm Sunday, the general conviction at the time was that Christ was the political Davidic Messiah who would set the peoples free from Roman enslavement and establish the New Jerusalem. To use the language from a lecture I attended last night by Dr. Brant Pitre, Christ was viewed as the New Moses who would lead the people in an exodus to a New, Earthly, Jerusalem.

However, in Christianity, there is a radical shift from what seems like political eschatology to something which seems like nothing other than an aberration, namely a focus on the person of Christ in Christology. To many, this is what is repulsive in orthodox Christianity which still holds the person of Christ as central, far surpassing the moral message of Christ (although the latter is an unquestioned corollary to Christ’s personhood). This begs the question: Has Christology replaced political eschatology or established a new kind of eschatology? Since this entry is not about the defense of this but merely its exposition, let us leave this at the affirmation that the Eschatology of Christ is truly a message of Christology, even during His lifetime (“Behold, the kingdom of God is among you”). This redirection to a person and not a political event makes Christian eschatology one which never finds intra-historical fulfillment. Instead, it signifies that all of creation awaits the return of its Omega Point, in the fullness of time (just as at the fullness of time He became incarnate).

This is important because it answers the problem of the Fall as mentioned yesterday. Eschatology lays one requirement for love at the feet of humanity, namely that love must never secondary to some grand plan to make the world perfect. Instead, love must be an interpersonal encounter which seeks the betterment of the other. It therefore also places a limit on our political powers, although it does not constrict them entirely. Instead, it hones our vision on to the fact that sinfulness will never allow for the establishment of a utopia on Earth. It means that the complete fulfillment of our striving must be the result of an eschatological in-breaking by means of which humanity is ultimately lifted up from the mire of sin to the fullness of human life.

Insofar as it is Christological, the center of Christianity is indeed this eschatological center. It is “the Way” by means of which we experience a foretaste of the eschaton which is only possible when humanity is united without sin, a task only possible in union with him who is called “the Way.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What About Utopia? (Part I)

So often, we hear the word “utopia” used either in hopeful salivation when someone is thinking of the future or in unmitigated disdain by those who strongly assert that utopian ideals cannot possibly be realized. However, the term in and of itself remain something of an enigma to all, for it has evaded full definition and has therefore taken on sundry meanings from being a “workers’ paradise” to a “land of milk and honey.” Nevertheless, I think that we must first consider what is the central matter at hand in a utopia before we cogitate on the possibility of its realization.

In some way, the humanity remains at the center of all utopianism. This may take the form of the whole of human society living a certain way or, on the nearly polar opposite, the unfettered freedom of the people. Nonetheless, since man is the one creating utopian visions, he is also the reference point for those ideas. However, to understand the necessary characteristics and functions of a possible utopia, we need another vantage point, namely an answer to the question “What is the good life for human beings?” This becomes the point at which philosophy and theology enter with their assumptions and arguments. For my purposes, I would like to show that both liberal democracy, as well as Christianity, come to the table with a beautifully-gilded, two-edged sword on the topic of utopia.

Both liberal democratic ideals as well as Christian morality teach that the “life worth living” is one which must be freely chosen. Although the objective content of this life are somewhat different in either one, freedom and free will remain central to their understandings of humanity. For the democratic liberal, choice becomes the moment of actualization of the individual, the moment at which he or she enters time and asserts his or her inner being in the concrete actions of life, actions which in some way must be aimed to the common good. In a way, Christianity takes this and also adds the assertion that humanity’s fulfillment requires the expression and reception of love, something which is wholly impossible without freedom. Therefore these two ideals set out a utopian vision where the individual requires the freedom to choose “the good life” because it is only by means of that choice that they participate in its realization.

However, this sword is two-edged. Liberal democracy also has a separation of powers as well as a continuous affirmation that one group should not rule. More directly asserted, this points to a central reality in Christian thought: The Fall and its continued effects among in reality. Christian doctrine recognizes the fact that people will always sin, that they will always fall short of the complete realization of the “life well lived.” Although it is less direct, liberal democracy has a relationship to this belief that fulfillment comes not in purely human hands. However, Christian revelation and philosophy takes this reflection a step further by redirecting us to eschatology.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Separation, Faith, and Love

Christians often lament that we are “far from the home we love,” that is far from eternal unity with God. My question for you is this: Are you ready for that eternity, and if not, how will you become ready? The answer must, of course be, by means of life here and now. Primarily, I am thinking about the nature of physical and perceptual separation and how this plays into Love.

One of the classic clich├ęs is that “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Thought of practically, this is of course true, for any relationship which lasts a prolonged separation of persons comes out with a special bond. I think of those I know who dated with great success while in college away from their beloved and see now the fruits of their labor shown forth in multifarious expositions of compassion. Even a negative weasel like me finds great solace in seeing this kind of actualized love.

Well, if this is the case for physical separation on Earth, how much greater the case must be in the separation of God from his creation. If undertaken with the proper disposition of the heart, the striving of creation for the Creator is much more intense than any interpersonal love between separated humans. Faith is intense when an employer hires a new employee, even if that person has impressive credentials. How much more so is Faith expressed in those persons who believe in an unseen Creator who nonetheless is involved in the world and who has come to the world in the form of a man?

It doesn’t stop at Faith, though, for Love and Faith are interlocked. Love requires faith in the beloved, it requires a trust in the reciprocity of their love. Since Faith is much greater in that which is neither seen nor experienced directly, Love abounds as well. This distance, because of the great amount of Faith which it requires, enables the greatest amount of Love. The world becomes the “training ground” of the soul by making it truly pine for the Living God beyond all else; it trains us to seek God first with an intense love. While this love may require amelioration in the afterlife, its beginning in this life most definitely prepares the human for an eternal beatific vision.

Of course, this post can’t end there, for we have ended up speaking of Faith and Love; Hope too must enter. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is the realization of hope in another, a choice for an unknown hoped-for. Hope moves to Faith and Faith to Love, and Love is what remains as the center of all our activity. We walk in Hope and in Faith of a better tomorrow, but it is the journey of Faith today that makes that better tomorrow of True Love possible.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Turn the Radio Off

There was a story last week that got lost in the Imus mix but managed to intrigue me enough to remain in my brain until now. Although it appears that the bill will not be passed, there was proposed legislation in Michigan to buy an iPod for every student there “for educational purposes.” Now, all theories of Apple influence in this bill’s promotion aside, this is perhaps the most asinine idea that I have heard in a while (and not because I think they will be used for “non-educational purposes”). Indeed, let’s just assume that these children would utilize these iPods only to get educational podcasts (and also assume that the government doesn’t regulate that selection – now there’s a bogus reality if I ever proclaimed one).

Non-thinking is becoming endemic in our culture as we forget what it is to ponder the mysteries of life. In my opinion, the iPod is quite related to this and only exacerbates the problem. I barely have to fire sixteen neurons to remember images from my days at Saint Vincent College, where I could regularly see people in the gym or merely walking across our small campus with white ear buds in, drowning out the world and themselves. It seemed then (and now) to me that nobody wanted to think or discourse with another human being anymore. The constant din of music stopped thought dead in its tracks.

Now, to call iPods a tool for “educational use” constitutes a radical redefinition of what “education” means, stripping it of its Latin etymology: e-ducere, to be led out. To place the din of Apple’s noise-box into an educational policy makes that education nothing more than a non-ducation. There is no leading of the self anywhere but merely being where one is. “Education” becomes very atomistic, disconnected, and nothing other than the imparting of “facts” from the source being listened to. Ray Bradbury was prescient in his classic work Fahrenheit 451 when he discussed this very issue and how it destroys culture. Silence is necessary for human development, for it gives one time to reflect upon the world and the self. C.S. Lewis once said in The Screwtape Letters that Hell was filled with continuous noise. Given that Hell is nothing more than the radical separation of the self from any others, I believe that noise would indeed be an element of Hell, for continuous noise is most definitely not edifying for personal relationships.

These types of developments do only not affect those in education but instead profoundly play into all of our daily lives. I have often been tempted to purchase an iPod but have always stopped short because there is something that doesn’t jive with me about it. Instead, I realize that I listen to a copious amount of music and radio as it is and often find myself thinking that I should take a look at the world, cogitate, and (in the words of my favorite band, Reel Big Fish) “Turn the Radio Off.”

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tyranny in Many Unspoken-of Styles

Talk radio has been a-buzz with the Imus controversy these past couple of days, and I have basically steered-clear of it until now. I wasn’t too worried at first because it seemed like a classic case of an overly-hyped reaction to a shock-jock on the radio. However, it seems clear to me now that this is not at all the case and has instead become a sideshow of tyranny in oh-so-many different forms.

I would say that what we are seeing in the calls to have Imus kicked off the air is the very essence of the “Tyranny of the Majority.” In so many ways, the ideas of majority-rule and open democracy are absolutely grand ideas. However, it was against this one fear that the Founding Fathers protected us as a nation: that the Majority would no longer seek the Truth in its actions but instead would act in accord with appeals made by relative powers. In practical matters, we often live in a purely democratic way, using egalitarian principles to govern our actions and choices. This includes how we view the media and truly how the ratings in that industry work.

It goes without question that ratings in the media are based purely on democratic principles, for they are driven completely by the amount of listenership/viewership for a given program. As people become disenfranchised with a broadcaster, they no longer listen and thus eliminate that person from the market. In the Imus controversy, many have called for him to be fired. In a way, this is understandable and remains in the prerogative of the employer to actually answer such calls. However, what vocal minorities may do is usurp the majority on purely emotional bases instead of on ones which are completely rational. In effect, what occurs is a Tyranny of the Mass, a Mass which has been usurped by power-mongers.

Now, I have realized through this day that there is hope in this situation and all is not lost. Many (including myself) have thought this could be the death knell of free speech in the media because of the inordinate fear of groups that speech may be misused. Instead, I believe that this will become the impetus of a greater democratization of the media, so long as people are willing to take the time to work as individuals.

Much of contemporary life is full of tales of an individual striking out in a flat world to make a big name for himself or herself. This is where the hope lies. Individuals, holding the means of communication in their own hands, instead of in the hands of corporate or governmental overlords, will speak their minds and be judged by the many with something closer to impunity, so long as their intentions are pure. Where the Truth is abhorred and not proclaimed, people will not go once they see the light. This will weed out the bad seeds from the good ones. However, this hope requires a full measure of light-bearers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Political Correctness and the Fall of the West

Since I love droning on about “the Fall of the West,” I thought it would be appropriate for me to approach this beloved subject once again although from a new, perhaps more pessimistic standpoint. Many tell me I should be quiet and realize that the West has already fallen. I cannot agree with that but will admit that the West is falling. I suppose that I would like to be part of that which supports it during the fall, perhaps being a small voice to keep humanity from losing something great

The overall timbre of my blog as of late has been relatively disparaging of contemporary culture (and should be so). This points, of course, to the singular reality of our day: The West is destroying itself, and we are merely living in its death throes. A massive nail in its coffin is foul Political Correctness. This is the product of much decadence and only stokes the fires of the Fall.

In many ways, Political Correctness is the final product of years of relativism. By viewing pluralism as nothing more than a permissive setting in which everybody’s worldview is equal; relativism has brought us to the point where everybody’s worldview is equally meaningless. This has had two main effects in the culture: (1) Many have become hopeless and live only for instant gratification. (2) Many feel that they should empower their destroyed worldviews by silencing all others by means of cultural stigma. It is (2) which will be focused on in this entry.

Having been born of relativism, Political Correctness stokes those fires with great ferocity, for it cuts off all dialogue under its dark mantle of fear. A great example of this is when one discusses the Founding Fathers of America and the enduring meaning of the Constitution. Relativists who are so ready to be permissive in all things cultural will not bear that many of the Founding Fathers had difficulty with the slavery issue, leaving it for future generations in order to at least start this great nation of America. In this situation, Political Correctness silences all who would defend the founding of America on the grounds that it eventually led itself to the abolition of slavery. Instead, people would rather say that we were nothing more than an imperialist, hate-filled nation from the start. Often coupled with this is the role of missionaries in the Americas. While many tactics used were underhanded, not all was a loss, for a new, more enlightened worldview was brought to the American Continent. Although much could be gained by means of better dialogue, much progress was still made. However, the Political Correctness police will once again step in and silence me for trying to defend something to which an arbitrary stigma is attached (even though I blatantly qualify my statements).

The whole sum of Political Correctness is the silencing dialogue, the very thing it claims to overcome, and this will most definitely contribute to the continued Fall.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An Uncultured Response

Welcome back, my friends! I hope that you had a wonderful Easter and were able to take some time to relax with family and friends. I must apologize for my lack of posting an Easter reflection and an entry on Monday. I too was busy spending time with my family and friends. However, I am back in action in the tiny chair of the Coding Catholic and am ready to pontificate once again.

There is a dynamic by means of which liturgy and culture are linked, a dynamic which simultaneously enriches the liturgy and, more importantly, lifts up the culture beyond that which it could attain on its own. In the past fifty years, we have seen the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church undergo many changes to its liturgical style, many good, and some bad (in my opinion). At the core of this movement, which really had its roots even before the Second Vatican Council (and truly even before the Liturgical Movements in Europe and the U.S.) is an affirmation which has been at the heart of the Catholic Church in the existence of various Rites.

While the structure and acceptance of varied Rites has changed throughout the years, they have remained a vital component to the liturgical formation of the Church as a whole. They have brought cultural experiences (with their profound cultic links) to the Church. Each with its own liturgical and theological style, these Rites truly show how distinct communities, in a specific geographical locations, can contribute to the Church as a whole.

However, we come to America, where the Roman Rite is predominantly the Rite of Catholicism. While one may argue that an American Rite might indeed make sense, I will shape my brief thoughts on the American Church with the larger context of the Roman Rite. In America, there are two distinct (although not unrelated) cultures at play. If America is to help the Church (and world) at large, one must discriminate between these two threads.

Thread one is that of the high ideals upon which America was founded: Government must allow for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, in accord with the dignity of the individual, yet not forgetting the necessity of a degree civic unity at a federal level. Thread two is that of Paris Hilton, MTV, and (to a degree) the ACLU, in many ways that which could be defined as “popular” culture. It is precisely this second thread that frightens me when it comes to the liturgy. I would much rather “batten down the hatches” and completely close the liturgy off from dialogue with a culture that has no desire to dialogue with goodness. I therefore do not see any imperative to mix and mingle the liturgical experiences of the Church with anything which has its core in the decadent portion of American culture. It is only when the pluralism of thread two becomes like that of thread one that we should be willing to have a true dialogue.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Hoping for a Truly Better Future

I was reading Psalm 78 last night and found myself reflecting on the following verses:

Hearken, my people, to my teaching;
So that the generation to come might know,
Their sons yet to be born,
That they too may rise and declare to their sons
That they should put their hope in God,
And not forget the deeds of God
But keep his commands
And not be like their fathers,
A generation wayward and rebellious.

So often we talk about the need “to give our children a better tomorrow” to give them “a better future” and also hope that they will be “better off than we are today.” Usually, this means a variety of things, often including: A cleaner environment, a more just society, a more fiscally responsible country, better work for them. It is not very often that we hear (or – for that matter – say), “I want my child to be more holy than I am. I want him or her to love with more affection and tenacity than I have in my life, for I have been reprobate in my days.” Now, this is implicit in good parenting that this is wished, but it never seems to be given the central location of a truly formed hope for the future, when indeed it should.

I was at a lecture on the administration of healthcare in a crisis situation (like an influenza outbreak, etc). The lecturer briefly spoke about the big scare in 2004-2005 over a possible pandemic of influenza, prompting panic in doctors’ offices across the country as it was realized that there was a shortage of vaccines. Intriguingly, we ended the season with extra vaccines. After all this panic, why was this so? I no small part, it was thanks to the altruism of individuals who decided that they were in good enough health to sacrifice their chance for a vaccine in order to assist others. In this case, the formed consciences of individuals made for a presumably safer tomorrow for the community as a whole. (This can’t be directly proved, for the influenza scare was never realized.)

Hope-language is massively popular in contemporary culture. To use the word “hope” is to be truly caring and truly liberal in your outlook for the world. Perhaps we should take some time to revisit the very obvious relationship between the individual and the community. Perhaps, just perhaps, in the midst of a pluralistic society, we can find the fortitude to assert that Goodness and Truth do indeed exist and can be grasped by individual persons. This fortitude would provide the mortar for holding together society in true, lasting justice. Hope is indeed an audacious affair, for humanity often shows the colors of the Fall with brilliant darkness. However, we are also quite aware that the human person is the locus of the Image of God, the point at which creation is lifted from the biosphere to the noosphere, from the realm of the practical to the realm of Love.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Believing in the Eucharist

Well, today I was thinking of writing on the fallacious connection between pluralism and relativism but decided to spare you that. Instead, I decided that it would make more sense to discuss a subject near and dear to me during the Triduum which begins this evening.

In Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican faiths, the Eucharist stands at the center of all worship. More than mere lip service in remembrance of Jesus’ invocation to “do this in memory of me, the Eucharist is proclaimed as the profound encounter with Christ’s very essence. It is an encounter in which bread and wine are transformed into His most sacred Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. To many, this seems like a matter of blind faith, totally unrelated to reason (and indeed perhaps unreasonable). However, during the past couple of years, I have realized that there are ways to understand as well as believe, although faith is never abolished in such understanding.

I always joke with my friends, saying that I am too simple-minded to really understand the multiple facets of theology and therefore need the lens of “God is Love” in order to understand all theological ponderings. Once again, the concept comes in handy as we look at the Eucharist. Isn’t it the most profound exposition of God’s love that He would give his being to humanity in the Eucharist? Indeed, if one believes in the salvific acts of Christ on Earth, one would have to believe that God would afford a chance to be united with these acts throughout all time. At the final analysis, this is all that the Eucharist is: God’s ontological outpouring which unites us with his death and resurrection. Beyond that, a central point of unification in the Eucharist allows for true Christian brotherhood, for it is a concrete way in which all are united to Christ (and hence to each other).

Now, many spiritualists would argue, “God’s Spirit is the outpouring of God’s life among mankind.” Well, I agree and would say that the spirit works in marvelous, sundry ways. However, the Eucharist is an affirmation of the highest spiritualization of the world. In the Eucharist, we bodily receive Christ, not just in some ethereal spiritual way but in a concrete way which affirms the holiness of creation.

These ponderings by no means blow away faith (as can be seen by their relatively speculative and inductive nature). However, it does beg the question, “Why can’t we just 100% prove the Eucharist and move on?” In its nature, the Eucharist is an act of Thanksgiving and assent of belief. The bodily reality of the Eucharist is not the only side to it. Instead, the bodily serves the higher function of ontological unity in Love, a reality which requires trust and faith. Therefore, the act of faith which is made when the communicant responds “Amen” to the proclamation, “The Body of Christ” is absolutely necessary in order to be fully receptive of the ontological/spiritual reality which occurs in each Eucharistic celebration.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Religion vs. Relationship Diatribe

Alright, prepare for a rather random entry on this Wednesday of Holy Week. I was perusing the profiles of friends on Facebook (a time-wasting affair in which we youth often get embroiled) and came upon the chosen religion for one of my friends. What he had for his religion was “religion without a relationship is meaningless.” Alright, I’m going to concede the point to him but will not let it go there. This subject is near and dear to my heart, for in high school, I seriously considered converting from the Catholic Church precisely because of this argument. It seemed to me that what one needed for salvation was an “intense personal relationship with Christ,” something “not religious.” For someone who wanted such a relationship, the banalities of “religion” with its rigid norms and phariseeisms had to be avoided like the plague.

Of course, in and of itself, religion is necessarily relational, for it is nothing more than a re-ligation of mankind to God. To posit anything on the contrary is preposterous. However, as a Roman Catholic, I think I have an interesting view on this entire diatribe, for the Church is often the great example of Babylon to all “relationship-loving” Christians. To them, we are nothing more than Pharisees in medieval liturgical garb.

Indeed, it is the Liturgy itself which is a major point of contention for non-Catholics, for it seems like the recitation of set prayers in order to move the hand of God to our will. (If they bothered to investigate our beliefs, they would know that such a view is abberant in all good Catholic theology, but alas, they often do not even look beyond the depth of our skin.) From my experiences (which I will admit are limited), it is believed that a relationship is only possible when individualism reigns, allowing the individual, without encumbrance, to experience the divine life, almost like experiencing some sort of divine ecstacy. Because of this, shared liturgical worship is viewed as an abberation, a destroying of man’s capacity for union with God.

I would argue, however, that the Liturgy is the only way by which the Church, the Body of Christ, can truly communicate with God. Proper Liturgy allows for a relationship with the Divine precisely because relationships are never individualistic but are lived out in a network of related individuals. Additionally, if that relationship is truly to be grounded in Love, it requires that the relationship transcend even the barrier of time. Although the Liturgy changes with the passage of years (as it should), it still remains an organic experience of the Body of Christ through the ages. Of course, one cannot speak of the Catholic Liturgy without reference to the Eucharist. In the Blessed Sacrament, we partake in the very being of God, drawn upward by his loving hand toward the fullness of relationship with the Trinity, transcending all boundaries. Indeed, stuffy Catholic religion allows for a far greater relationship than the chumminess of relationship-only Christianity.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Globalization and the Cross

I recently finished Thomas L. Friedman’s book The World is Flat, a text which chronicles the flattening of the world by means of technology (particularly collaborative platforms). While the text is very informative (and in many ways right on target with its analysis of the world of new collaboration), it continually struck me as missing something. Of course, as someone with an interest in theology, I noted the conspicuous lack of religion from the mix of Mr. Friedman’s analysis (except for references to political-religious extremism in Islam). While I realize that the purpose of his text was to investigate and analyze the flattening of the world, I have also realized what is the grain of sand which was vexing me at times in his text.

Forces of collaboration around the world (including the expanded abilities which come with outsourcing, insourcing, and offshoring) are a fantastic set of tools for making the world more technologically efficient. In many ways, they are indeed drawing many people together in ways previously unthought-of. However, there is a void being dug out by these flattening forces, one which is in many ways being filled by a sense of loss of religion. To the massive changes in interpersonal communication and relationships, we are seeing the growth of mega churches, massive communities based on some form of Protestant Christianity. This is merely an affirmation that the economic and political aspirations of man will never fill humanity’s void, for humanity, at its core, desires and needs love.

Yesterday’s office of readings included a text by Saint Augustine in which he said something related. He says (of Saint Paul), “…But he did not say that he boasted in Christ’s wonderful works: in creating…or in ruling the world… Rather, he said: Let me not boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have been drilling this for a while but think it is appropriate. Once again we have here an affirmation that Christ came primarily for the Cross and not for all of his beloved teachings. While they have a place of primacy in the lives of Christians, the first reality of Christ was neither intellectual nor moral but instead loving.

The Cross always stands at the center of Christ’s life as what he came to do and accomplish. With Christ as the head of humanity, the cross must be the lens through which we not only see his humanity but ours as well. The disparate parts of our lives are not able to be united by broadband and efficient supply chains. Indeed, as such technology replaces true, face-to-face relationships, the gains we have had in efficiency will be offset by apathy and depression as people are deprived of the only force which truly matters to them: Love. While great things have occurred as the world has flattened, we must always remember that all hope and boasting must first be in Love. After that, we will have a true foundation for collaboration and unity in the world.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Warning of the Palm

Well good morning, afternoon, or evening, my friends. I know that after the respite of the weekend, you are fully eager to read my latest cogitations. Therefore, without further adieu, I shall begin!

This week, Christians around the world celebrate Holy Week, the most important week of the liturgical calendar, commemorating the final days of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. To open Holy Week, churches and ecclesial communities begin with Palm Sunday, celebrating the triumphant entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. While I was standing at the Cathedral of Greensburg this weekend, palm in hand, listening to the Passion being read, I thought about the significance of the palms in the hands of the members of the congregation.

We are often facilely asked to reflect on “who would we have been during Holy Week.” Would we have been like John and remained at the foot of the cross or would we have denied Christ like Peter? Worse yet, would we have been like Judas Iscariot? We are warned not to assume that because we hold our palms, we are devoted members of Christ’s body, ready to go with him every step of the Way of the Cross. In my opinion, it takes a lot of allegorical removal to even begin to view the palms as a positive sign instead of as a warning.

The events of Palm Sunday of the past, when viewed in light of the death and resurrection of Christ, must always serve as a warning to us. On Palm Sunday, the crowds gathered in a throng, celebrating the new savior of Israel, one who was going to bring Israel from bondage under Rome and establish Mount Zion as the highest of all political hills in the world. Of course, we all know that this vision was dismally shattered, ultimately ending with Christ’s crucifixion.

The lesson of the palm seems to me to be the following: Unless you are ready to make your palms into a cross and bear suffering for the sake of others and for the sake of your union to God, put them away and look no more as though you want to wave them high. There is a new lesson for the world during Holy Week: Ideology is not equivalent to following God who is Love. Love, as the main criterion of true religion, is only possible in interpersonal dialogue, not in group-based mania. The actions of the tyrannous throng of the majority do not affect the salvation of Christ by their palm-laden zeal for him. Instead, these ideologues must learn a lesson in what it means to truly be human: To be united to God in Love and through suffering which ultimately brings us out of ourselves.

And so, holding the palm really should serve as this warning: Are you ready to follow your King, the pantocrator, who proclaims “Love; Above Al l Else, Love” or do you just want to play politics?