Archive for January, 2005

Strength In Numbers

Columnist  Ellen Goodman, who has always seemed to me to be the worst sort of
liberal secularist, recently addressed an issue that rarely comes up in public

Some of her friends noted that while they–liberal, enlightened
secularists–either had foregone childbearing or had on average one or two
children, religious people were having much larger families. They were worrying
out loud, in light of polls showing growing prolife sentiment among younger
people, that this phenenomenon was having a cultural effect.

Ms. Goodman hastened to reassure her concerned friends that this was no
threat, in essence suggesting that the world, the flesh, and the devil will lure
away the children of the religious yahoos that her friends saw as such a threat.
Of course she didn’t put it anything like this, my Catholic interpretation of
her words.

While I have no illusions about the resurgent religious movement in
this country, which with few exceptions ignores or disagrees with both Catholic
social doctrine and the (especially Wesleyan) evangelical movement of social
reform of the last two centuries, I think it is true that Ms Goodman’s friends
were on to something. Whatever their shortcomings, the religious people having
large numbers of children (aside from the Mormons) affirm the doctrinal truths
of the Christian Faith. And they affirm the tradition of respect for unborn life
that flows from that Faith. From the personal perspective of one who has
observed a number of large Catholic families over the last twenty five years or
so, I have seen that while the children of these families may experience varying
degrees of adolescent unrest, by early adulthood nearlly all of them end up
embracing their parents’ values.

The ramifications of this are, indeed, revolutionary.

I thought of this last summer when we attended the wedding feast–"reception" seems too tame a word–of our friend Sia Hoyt, daughter of
Caelum et Terra contributor Will Hoyt and his wife Drew.

The Hoyts left Berkeley around ten years ago, transplanting their five
children to a farm in the hills west of Steubenville. Will is a convert to
Catholicism, and Drew a returnee. They both have a countercultural background,
like many CT writers, and when they embraced Catholicism they embraced
the whole of it, social doctrine and all.

The feast was a taste of Catholic culture, and a foretaste of heaven: a
couple of large tents on a hilltop, Celtic music, a local bluegrass band, the
bride’s grandpa crooning a jazz tune, fine food, wine and laughter flowing
freely, a clear blue sky, folk dancing, and a tangible joy shining from the
young couple and reflected in the crowd of people surrounding them.

And the crowd: the friends of the bride and her groom Justin were
mostly the children of converts and returnees, mostly homeschooled, from large
families. Some of them, now wed , carried babies of their own in their arms or
in their bellies. I doubt any of them use contraceptives. Most intend on having
large families of their own.

I realize this experience of joy and beauty represents only a little
corner of the world, and even only a little corner of the Church, but for the
first time in a long time I felt hopeful.

The contraceptive culture, logically, doesn’t have a future. Indeed, it
is the negation of the future, the product of hopelessness. Perhaps, if there is
time, we can simply outnumber them. Maybe the best thing one can do to
contribute to the renewal of the world is to have more babies.

It sort of gives the old hippie adage "make love, not war" a whole new
meaning, doesn’t it? Perhaps the Civilization of Love will be effected, not by
political struggle (an increasingly depressing prospect) but by the momentary
ecstasy and suffering of lovemaking and childbirth, and the longer, more arduous
task of raising children in the Light of Christ.

Daniel Nichols


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Read This Blog Or…

If you had known that the continuation of this blog past the end of January would be determined by the amount of traffic it drew, would you have visited it more? I like to think some people would have. I toyed with the idea of an entry along the lines of the famous National Lampoon cover: "Buy this magazine or we’ll shoot this puppy."

But rest assured. Though the site has not been in any danger of exceeding its monthly bandwidth allowance, it’s had a respectable amount of traffic, enough for me to allow my 30-day TypePad trial to roll over and to maintain the site. I think I will even spring for a few more dollars per month and upgrade the account so that I’ll get a better choice of templates, and spruce the place up a bit.

I’m suffering somewhat from Internet overload, and concern that starting this blog would make that syndrome somewhat worse has proven to be well founded. Accordingly, I am not going to try to greatly increase the frequency of posting, but I will try to keep something new appearing every few days or so.

Thank you for reading. I have an interesting post from Daniel that I should have up later this evening (I’m in Central Time, and it’s currently about 7:45). And to the several people to whom I owe email, I’ll be catching up on that, too.

Note the new sub-title above. "Squabbling toward a Catholic culture" was a late-night off-the-top-of-my-head thing, and while it’s amusing and accurate I thought I’d be a bit more serious, at least for a while.

Maclin Horton

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My last two Sunday Night Journal entries are about the reluctance, or refusal, of so many to acknowledge that the so-called sexual revolution has been pretty much a disaster and to admit that what we need as a society is a change of direction, not continued fiddling with a status quo that assumes sexual license to be the norm: January 16: The Confidence of Fools and January 23: Change, Liberal and Conservative . Scroll up for a nice picture of a fool.

Maclin Horton

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Essays by Tom Storck

Former C&T contributor (and behind-the-scenes mainstay) Thomas (Tom) Storck sends a link to several of his essays . The first one, "Ideology as Religion" is about the very clear and present danger (for American Catholics, at least–I don’t know about others) of letting one’s political ideology predominate over one’s Catholic orthodoxy.

For many years, whenever anyone would tell me that he was a conservative Catholic, I would generally reply, "No, don’t say conservative, say orthodox.
We’re orthodox, not conservative." But just lately I have come to
realize that I was wrong. Very many of those people who describe
themselves as conservative Catholics are in fact conservative
Catholics. That is, although to some extent they may be orthodox, their
religious faith, to a greater or lesser degree, is a function of a
socio-cultural ideology. It is not their primary loyalty. It is
derivative. (click here for the whole essay)

Tom goes on to observe (among other things) that the opposite of "orthodox" is not "liberal", it’s "heretical." Quite so, although for my part I often find myself using "liberal" this way because I can’t quite bring myself to call people heretics except for very flagrant denials of indisputably core elements of the Faith (e.g. the Trinity).

Several other essays by Tom follow this one. I haven’t read them but the last two appeared in C&T and I remember particularly liking the one about Old Western Man.

Maclin Horton

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Totally off-topic

And I mean totally, but: how bad a sense of humor do you have to have to think this is funny? (Yes, I do.)

Maclin Horton

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The C&T Guilt Trip

I’ve had several comments from people who read C&T while it was in print (see comment by Abigail on the intro post below) and who feel a regret bordering on guilt that they were not willing or able to live the kind of life that C&T tended to hold up as an ideal. That was a vision that could probably best be summed up as Catholic hippie: move to the country, raise children, animals, and gardens. Although it should go without saying, let me state explicitly that I am not including the drugs, sexual immorality, etc. that went along with the hippie thing. Some years ago I referred to a lay Catholic community in these terms ("Catholic hippie" or something to that effect) and they raised cain about it, feeling like I had slandered them, which was the last thing I had meant to do.

As a matter of fact there was not then, and has not been since, a single one of the original group that conceived and produced C&T who lived that kind of life. For my part I always felt slightly hypocritical on that score, because even at the time we began the magazine in 1990, my wife and I were pretty much past any possibility of actually doing such a thing. I was a middle-aged software developer with a bad back, for goodness sake. My wife actually might have made a pretty good farm wife, being more down-to-earth and practical than I, but I would have been a terrible farmer.

We did have one writer, Eric Brende, who spent some time trying to farm among the Amish, with, at least as far as his story was related in the magazine, a striking lack of success, although he was able to parlay the experience into a book, of which you can read an excerpt here. And there was the Fahey family, who were doing it seriously and successfully, but they weren’t that interested in writing about it (or were too busy). And I think Daniel (Nichols, the editor) had some friends who at least semi-farmed. But in general the sad fact is that most of the people who had anything to do with the magazine were bookish folk who were more interested in (and more suited for) discussing agrarianism as a philosophical and theological ideal than in actually taking up the plow.

To what extent should agrarian life even be held up as an ideal today? I’m not sure what the answer to that is. I still think there is a lot to be said for such a life, but the obstacles to it just seem to get bigger all the time, so that even families who have been in it for generations find it hard to keep on, and only  heroic souls are going to take it up fresh. And heroic virtue doesn’t guarantee that they will be able to feed their families. And every time I think of this I think of my co-worker who actually grew up on a small family farm in Indiana and who tells me emphatically of how as a teenager she couldn’t wait to get away from the drudgery and the constant anxiety and uncertainty. (Actually my family lived on a farm when I was growing up, but it was a rather large one, and my father worked in town as an engineer, while one of his brothers ran the farm.)

Anyway, no one should feel guilty about not living up to some C&T ideal. Most of us have no choice but to lead a more or less typical American life, trying hard and with mixed success to cope with the spiritual dangers of all sorts that it puts in our way and which seem to get worse every year. But that leaves me with a question: what place is there for the specific thing that distinguished the outlook of C&T, which was a conviction that the separation from nature in modern life has grown to a point where it is unhealthy, fosters a hubristic illusion, and makes Christian virtue seem quaint and anachronistic? I confess I don’t have a good answer for that.

Maclin Horton

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I have a weekly column-sort-of-thing called The Sunday Night Journal on my website (which I resolutely resist calling a blog) . A few months ago I decided that every 2nd Sunday the subject would be music, mainly just because I enjoy writing about it and thought I would make it a habit. This week’s is a bit off-topic–although it’s about John Lennon’s "Imagine," it’s more about the political views revealed in the song than about its artistic merits. If that interests you, please check it out.

Maclin Horton

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To expand a bit more on the question raised by f in the comments: what does the phrase "culture of death" really mean? Is it anything more than a partisan catch-phrase used by the pro-life movement?

I really ought to get out my copy of Evangelium Vitae, or find an online copy and link to it, and quote from JPII. But I have some other things I need to do tonight, so will limit myself to a couple of comments:

I think there are two main aspects to the cultural tendency we’re talking about here. One is in fact the increasing willingness to take innocent ife for utilitarian reasons: abortion and euthanasia. War and capital punishment obviously have some relevance here, too, but are not exactly the same thing, in that these at least in principle distinguish the innocent from the guilty, whereas guilt and innocence in their ordinary senses have no place in the thinking that justifies abortion. No need to belabor those; I think most people understand the moral issues involved there.

The other is more subtle and has to do with a increasingly widespread belief, which is pushed with evangelical fervor by some people, maybe most egregiously by that Singer fellow at one of the Ivy League schools–Princeton, I think: the belief, mentioned in the previous post, that human life is nothing special, no different from any other form of life. This can be seen, with reason, as a kind of death wish, a desire to have done with the moral and spiritual burdens we all carry by pronouncing them meaningless, mere illusions generated by the activity of our brains. Personally I think this is nonsense, but it can be argued very plausibly on purely intellectual grounds (like so many other dead-end skepticisms, e.g. Hume’s).

If there is in fact no such thing as the human, except perhaps in an elemental biological sense, then there is no reason to go to any particular trouble to save human lives that are unproductive or troublesome, and no reason not to–for instance–develop ways of manufacturing humans suited for specific tasks. It would be no more an ethical problem than breeding bloodhounds or bird dogs. I have heard such ideas propounded with an obscene enthusiasm.

The death of the human is the death of the moral.

Maclin Horton

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As I prayed the Magnificat last night, I thought of the intellectuals mentioned below.

He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

Could there be a better description of the state of many of our brightest minds, busily sawing off the metaphysical limbs upon which they sit, painting themselves into metaphysical corners?

Why not assume that consciousness does not play a role in human behavior?

I always want to ask people who raise what they obviously believe to be bold questions such as this one: why assume anything? Why assume that you actually exist? Why assume life is better than death?

Many years ago I ran across the phrase "a weariness with the striving to be men," and it has stuck with me. A commentor in our first post below asks what is meant by the phrase "culture of death." Well, one thing it means is the spirit which believes there is at bottom no such thing as human life.

A weariness with the striving to be men…

Maclin Horton

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Some contemporary gnostics

Very interesting NYT article about the answers of a number of "scientists, futurists, and other creative thinkers" to the question "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Many of the answers involve elaborate speculations about the nature and evolution of life and consciousness. What really strikes me about these is the confidence of the speaker in the ability of human intellect to get to the bottom of all this–most are things which the speaker fully expects to be proved eventually. There really is an air of gnosticism about the discussion, with a few of the participants sounding more than slightly enchanted with their own intellectual powers and a little disdainful of those who are not as bright. And a strong sense of the inevitable march of progress away from the ignorance of the past, a sense that the speakers expect some kind of power to attend the acquisition of this very esoteric knowledge.

In short: smart people, little wisdom. But there is one Christian in the bunch, and the unprovable belief of the first guy quoted, a psychologist, is that people can be relied on to make irrational choices. Nice caveat for the rest.

The NYT piece is only a sample of the survey, which can be found in its entirety at www.edge.org. The answers get rather tedious–here’s one I picked at random: "Until proven otherwise, why not assume that consciousness does not play a role in human behavior?" Yeah, that’ll get us on down the road to the bright-n-shiny future.

I wonder how one gets to be a "futurist".

Maclin Horton

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