NYR: A Weapon for Readers

I’ll be the first to admit.  I can’t stand marginalia, though I am the very first to feel that intensity of pride when I read through my grandfather’s books to read his notations in the margins.

So I’m having a hard time with this challenge, as issued by Tim parks over at the New York Review of Books:

Aside from simply insisting, as I already had for years, that they be more alert, I began to wonder what was the most practical way I could lead my students to a greater attentiveness, teach them to protect themselves from all those underlying messages that can shift one’s attitude without one’s being aware of it? I began to think about the way I read myself, about the activity of reading, what you put into it rather than what was simply on the page. Try this experiment, I eventually told them: from now on always read with a pen in your hands, not beside you on the table, but actually in your hand, ready, armed. And always make three or four comments on every page, at least one critical, even aggressive. Put a question mark by everything you find suspect. Underline anything you really appreciate. Feel free to write “splendid,” but also, “I don’t believe a word of it.” And even “bullshit.”

Those who have perused the Kenney Library know that I rarely if ever even crack the spine of a book.  I’m careful to read them at 90deg angles lest I actually do crack the spine and ruin it for future generations.

Marking them with a pen?  Even for a textbook for class?  Philistine… then again, how many thoughts have escaped for a moment and then fleeted away into the ether because I wouldn’t write it down?

Maybe I’ll start this for classes next semester.  Doubtful… but I may.

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The New Republic Is Dead; Long Live The New Republic


I shall admit it freely.  I am a huge fan of The New Republic.

Of course, we’re talking about a publication that at one time had it’s editor charged with being a spy for the KGB during the Red Scare — a charge that proved to be unassailable when the editor himself admitted as such.  Yet TNR has been a stanchion for American liberalism it its modern form: populist, intellectual, and confident enough to converse about the future of liberalism without resorting to orthodoxy.  TNR was in every respect reaching for what William F. Buckley created at National Review.

Much has been made of this week’s exodus of TNR’s editors in the pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times.  What has captured me in all of this is the focus on TNR owner Chris Hughes, a $700 million owner of Facebook who is an Obama booster from the word go.  From the NYT article:

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An Ontology of Marriage


Over the past decade, the arguments against homosexuals’ desire to have their unions be sanctioned as marriage by the state have revolved principally around defining marriage based on Scriptural premises. And while some proponents of homosexuality have gone to extreme strains and exegeses to show that Scriptural condemnation of homosexuality is an illusion, the Biblical argument largely has become irrelevant.

We no longer live in a time in which accepting Sacred Scripture as an objective standard of morality is de rigueur.  To assert as much has not only lost its quaintness — it has become rather offensive. Therefore, to argue theologically to defend a political or social position has in many ways lost its relevance. That does not mean revealed truths or Sacred Tradition or theology is any less right; however, it does mean that we as its defendants must take great pains to illustrate points of relevance and contact between the natural and supernatural, the secular and theological. This is a feat that too many have, unfortunately, since the late 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant considered impossible.

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Your Three Minutes of Civilization

…this time brought to you by Erik Satie’s Gnossiene No. 1, Lent.

October seems to be the month for classical music, and Satie has just recently been included within my repertoire of finer tastes.

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Down All The Days

Sometimes you just have to kick the tires on the ol’ website.  Of course, on days such as these when it’s been raining all day, songs such as these always stick out.

For one reason or another, it always reminds me of the 90’s — Peace and Love came out in 1989 along with that REM-inspired mandolin sound popular then —  and particularly of Fredericksburg in the rain or what it might have been to be in one of those old studio loft apartments along Caroline Street tapping away, consuming one cigarette after another, dodging the raindrops and grabbing coffee down the street.

Nothing particularly inspiring, political, philosophical, theological, or anything of the sort.  Just an opportunity to kick the tires.

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On Evangelii Gaudium

34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.

Posts such as these take a long time to complete. For one, I am a bit perplexed at the immediate reactions from both sides of the American political spectrum. On the left, it’s amazing to watch as they embrace very specific pieces of Evangelii Gaudium — namely paragraph 54 — while ignoring both paragraph 53 which puts the discussion on “trickle-down theories” in context while ignoring some of the strongest and unequivocal pro-life language in paragraph 214.

Additionally, there is some terrific language in this apostolic exhortation that describes how Catholic parishes need to resume their centrality in Catholic life. Once upon a time, the Church had a missionary spirit, Francis explains. Today, there is no greater need than for the Church to recapture this missionary zeal. This includes a decentralization of charity — perhaps the strongest words ever issued by a pope against the so-called Vatican Bank (more appropriately titled the Institutes for the Works of Religion) and against organizations such as Caritas International and Catholic Relief Services, under intense scrutiny by the Vatican and here in the United States for doing some pretty un-Catholic things with purportedly Catholic donations. Continue reading

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Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

When Pope Benedict XVI was announced as the new pope, I was in a restaurant in Fredericksburg running for House of Delegates — and despite all the media’s protestations, I was elated that Ratzinger had been selected.

I couldn’t talk about it then, because when running for public office, musing on the inner workings and theological perspective of the Catholic Church simply isn’t apropos in our advanced modern society.  Imagine that.

Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy was understood from the beginning: to complete the mission and pontificate of Pope John Paul II.  Benedict XVI’s corpus of writings combined with his Regensburg address in 2006 will remain the lasting legacies of his papacy.

Resigning from something such as the papacy is not something lesser men would do.  Benedict XVI is no lesser man — his humility is an amazing example in modern times where pride and vanity seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

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Long Live the Essay!

Rumors of the essay’s death are greatly exaggerated, exclaims Parul Sehgal with the New York Times:

The essay doesn’t die. It’s too protean. It only grows more indispensable as it learns to mimic, then amplify, our senses. The essay is a way of seeing through language, and in language. It grasps and sifts — recall its cognate “assay,” the distinguishing of base metals and gold. And if we like our art forms promiscuous and free, it obliges. Joan Didion turned it on to doubt in the 1970s, admitting in her collection “The White Album” that writing about her experience “has not yet helped me see what it means,” and an already supple form became even more elastic. The “lavender-scented little old lady of literature” has loosened her stays.

Well worth the read.

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Reflections From The Burg: Have You Had Your “Pearl Harbor Moment”? Yet?

We need to begin building an inheritance for our kids and grandkids! ?One they can be proud of. ?The inheritance I refer to is the blessings of Liberty and Freedom. ?These blessings were purchased at a great price. ?What are you willing to personally do to ensure we bequeath the same inheritance to our children that previous generations bequeathed to us? ?Or will you sit back and allow their inheritance to be used up in your lifetime?

Read it all.

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Bishop Fulton Sheen on Fanaticism

“A Victim of Fanaticism” by Nikolai Pimonenko, 1899

IN A HEATED discussion, the man who cannot argue always wants to bet. It is his way of withdrawing from the field of logic into the area of chance and daring. This is not necessarily a sign of fanaticism, but it suggests the first element in fanaticism — namely, flight from argument, logic, and objective standards of truth. Fanaticism is never primary either in a person or in a civilization; it is always preceded by a breakdown of reason. Any age which denies that there are objective standards of right and wrong, or which says that “one view of the universe is just as good as another,” or that “right and wrong are relative to the observer” has already given up the yardstick for measuring the cloth of truth, and is in danger of becoming fanatical.

THE DECLINE of logic and sound reason brings in its wake the second condition of fanaticism. When truth, goodness, and absolutes lose their value, it is only natural for fanaticism to center itself around certain persons who have the capacity to drag the non-thinking after them. Fanaticism never centers on an idea as such; for example, no one becomes a fanatic about the angles of a triangle being equal to two right angles, but he can become a fanatic about a mathematician who says they may equal three right angles in the stars.

At first sight, it would seem that the fanatics of communism love its dialectical philosophy as such, just as the fanatics of Nazism and Fascism loved the race philosophy and nationalistic philosophy of each system. But it must be noted that when Hitler, who was the symbol of Nazism, and Mussolini, who was the symbol of Fascism, disappeared, so did the fanatics of the two systems, except for isolated islands of insanity here and there.

Communism had its appeal under Lenin: it had its appeal later under Stalin, and presently the locum tenens of both, whoever he may be. The leader keeps the fanatics together. Any fanaticism against Jews or Christians, however abstract it may be expressed, is basically directed against the persons of Jews or persons of Christians.

THE THIRD basic attribute of fanaticism is that the soil in which it grows is the masses. There is a world of difference between the masses and the people. The Constitution of our country speaks of “We the people,” not “We the masses.” The people are persons, each with his own individuality, each guided by his own conscience and determined by some well-defined objectives. The masses are the people without consciences: they are people who become like individual nuts and bolts without reason or self-determination. All their actions are determined by equally irrational forces outside of them. The masses can never be identified: they have no faces; they just have the name “They” or “Everybody” (anonymous). They all read the same books, see the same movies, listen to the same commentators, without ever asking themselves whether these standardized means of communication should completely determine one’s own set of values. They thrive on scraps and shreds of pre-digested ideas in capsule form, find it difficult to read anything without pictures, and would not dare be out of step, even if everybody were walking to a precipice.

FANATICISM is born when all these three are put together: the loss of reason and sense of values, the rallying around a leader who satisfies emotions, and the enthronement of mediocrity in the masses.

On the lower levels, fanaticism wants to bet, instead of appealing to objective standards. On the higher levels, it wants to persecute instead of plead. The fanatics never think of ideas that have to be answered by logic: they only think of the persons who hold contrary ideas, as something to be overthrown and put out of the way. Every fanatic is the enemy of truth because he is the enemy of ideas, the foe of logic. The man who believes in truth will die for it, but he will never hate those who oppose Him. Rather, he will plead for those who hate Him, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Bishop Fulton Sheen Writes – July 16, 1955, On Being Human, page 342-344

(h/t to Guy Stevenson)

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