History

Network failures

For the past couple of days I've been unable to get into the site.  This may or may not have been related to the catastrophic computer failures that devastated the travel sector, but it's a reminder that the technology that now seems so vital to us is actually both fragile and still quote new.

I'm in the middle of middle age, yet I can remember burning through paper checks to pay bills not that long ago.  I now keep my ledger on a spreadsheet rather than on paper, but I can go back to it fairly easily.

An entire generation of people have no idea what I am talking about.

For a long time, modern technology increased both society's convenience and resilience.  Telephone and radio allowed for instantaneous long-distance communication, greatly enhancing responses to disasters or public safety emergencies.  Our medical system engaged and destroyed diseases like smallpox and brought polio to the brink of extinction.  

Yet at some point, it all turned sour.  Our communications are now extremely vulnerable to the extent that a backhoe digging near St. Louis a few years back crippled American computer networks.  This latest incident is a reminder that the profit motive can result in tremendous advances but also dangerous weaknesses.

The same is true of medicine.  Where bright minds once battled disease, our doctors now seek to unmake humanity itself, telling troubled children that they can and should be mutilated and chemically castrated in order to make them feel better.  The Covid pandemic demonstrated that modern medicine  is more about asserting authority than healing.

The key takeaway is to look at other networks for support.  Friends, family, community, parish - these are far more resilient and much less prone to corruption and exploitation.


Is American Protestantism inherently progressive?

I came across an intriguing column over at Crisis Magazine discussing whether Protestants are progressives.  I think the answer is "yes," but that it requires some qualification, which is that American Protestantism is different from the European form.

European Protestantism was built around state churches that were formalized as result of the Wars of Religion.  The formula Cuius Regio Eius Religio ("whose realm, his religion") placed the form of worship in the hands of secular rulers, and if the ruler was Protestant, a state church was the result.

What this did was shackle Protestants to the existing order.  It was all well and good to use critical study on the Bible and deconstruct its meaning, but Nineteenth Century German theologians were still tethered to the existing political order.  It was only once that order was destroyed by World War I that more radical interpretations could be given a wide hearing.

Because of the dislocation of the world wars, European Protestantism didn't swing progressive, it simply died.  Yes, the remnants of state churches have embraced female clergy and now sexual liberation, but they're doing so to catch up with society, not lead it.  The Marxist heresy was a much stronger influence that latter-day Lutheranism.  Indeed, I'd say every European country has more practicing Marxists than state church adherents.

American Protestantism, on the other hand, cut its ties from the old regimes long ago.  Only the Anglicans retained any real connection with the mother church.  The other churches gradually lost that connection as the congregations assimilated into American culture.  This happened for three reasons.  

The first was pure logistics - it was hard to keep sending pastors across the ocean to minister to people whose knowledge of the old country rapidly faded.  In time, new seminaries were established in America, but different conditions and social realities pushed them away from the home office.

Add to this the ethnic mixing that immediately took place.  While inter-denominational marriage in Europe between a Swedish Lutheran and a German as possible, it was much more likely in the U.S.  Many of the communities set up shop and (to give a local example) Michigan's Upper Peninsula had Finns, Swedes and Norwegians all lumped together, each with their own church.  In time, intermarriage made remaining in a given liturgy less relevant.

This brings us to the nature of Protestantism to fragment and veer into new and exciting heresies.  As noted above, in Europe, the requirement of obedience to the Crown kept Protestant theology in check.  With that restraint removed, anyone could set up their own independent church, and many did.  Those that wished to cling to legitimacy found it impossible to retain the old ethnic connections, so they created theological unions, albeit on ethnic lines. 

Thus the three main Lutheran denominations in the U.S. still have an ethnic form, but it's entirely overshadowed by theology.  The Missouri Synod is ethnically German, and theologically conservative.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church of American (affectionately known as "Auntie ELCA"), was formed out of the Scandi churches and is very liberal.  The Wisconsin Synod is also German and theologically conservative, but also extremely insular (it refuses to provide military chaplains due its distrust of government and Christian pacifism).

The same process affected other state-affiliated churches of the Reformed or Anglican nature.  For example, the Methodists split from the Anglicans and have been splitting ever since.

I think this is why American Protestants fell so quickly and so thoroughly into the purely political sphere.  It is also why they stopped caring about saving souls and instead busied themselves with perfecting man - and punishing the ones regarded as defective or "deplorable."

This is how we get Yard Sign Calvinists.

The Catholic Church also has its liberal/progressive wing, but it is dying off because the mainstream remains orthodox and there is an increasing focus on this orthodoxy (Pope Francis notwithstanding).

As the article states, there is a movement to try to anchor Protestantism and I agree that the effort is likely doomed to fail.  Once one tries to find immutable, eternal Christian principles to hold onto , Catholicism becomes the natural choice.

 


Avoiding the "scarcity mentality"

Americans are used to abundance.  When we want something, the assumption is that so long as we have enough money, we can get it.

The strange thing about this abundance is that over time, we actually approach things as if they were scarce.  Even though various things may be plentiful, we act as though we have to get them right away because they may go away.

This is fueled by our credit-based economy, which further feeds the need for instant gratification.

Thus, instead of looking at something we want and saying "that looks neat, when I have the money I will get one," we jump to "I need it sooo bad and I need it now," as if it's the last one on earth.  This is the "scarcity mentality."

Sadly, the pandemic has only increased this tendency because we actually did run out of stuff.  If you didn't have enough toiler paper, you had a problem.

Opposing this is the "abundance mentality," which could be regarded as a complacency regarding the availability of things, but I think it also ties in to focusing on all the things you have rather than the things you want.

The best illustration of this is the difference between hoarding and collecting.  True collectors buy things with great discernment.  There's almost a reluctance to buy something lest it taint the integrity of the rest. 

You know you've met one of these people when you suggest something that seems to fit and they stare at you with disgust.  "You think I would want one of those?!

Hoarders are by definition far less discerning.  Heck, some even stockpile their own poop.  They always want more and can't let anything go.  They suffer from a scarcity mentality.

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of that mentality is keeping broken or semi-functional things (often multiples of them) out of fear that they might be needed.  That is to say, they could become scarce.

I'm increasingly trying to embrace an abundance mentality, and in particular focusing on the intangibles, like love, grace, and comfort.  Instead of looking at books I want, I will take a moment to look at books that I have.  

This is particularly useful for me when I find myself in awkward financial circumstances because a bunch of bills or unexpected expenses pile up.  Before lamenting the postponement of future purchases, I find it useful to step back and look around at the things I already have, and how blessed I am to have them.

Some call this "the attitude of gratitude," and I think its an essential feature of well-formed Christians, especially American ones.  We have received unprecedented prosperity, though at the moment that seems to be imperil.  Instead of asking why we must make do with less, why not be glad at all that we have?

Indeed, I think much of our current turmoil is because we've come to take God for granted, and assume that we're entitled to peace and prosperity just because. 

A cursory glance at history shows this to be false, but Americans are often terrible at that subject as well.

 


Catholic Independence Day

American culture borrows heavily from the Puritan tradition, and it's so deeply embedded that even American Catholics have unconsciously absorbed a lot of its assumptions.

This wasn't always the case.  Catholics were once considered outside the American mainstream and targeted for persecution by the Protestant majority.  The "Blaine Amendments" which barred public funding of religious schools were an attempt to cripple Catholic education.  At that time public schools included religious instruction, and it was of course Protestant in nature.

When Catholics began to leave their cultural ghetto in the 1960s, their children quickly assimilated the American Protestant culture and its version of history.

In this telling, the Revolutionary War was about escaping from the sinister power of Rome and the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.  The truth was radically different.

The Pilgrims, for example, were fleeing Anglican persecution, not Catholicism.  The Puritans took an ultra-scriptural approach to their theology to the extent that they banned Christmas because it was not explicitly written about in the Bible.

By the 18th Century, the British government was no longer hunting down Catholic priests and burning them, but Catholic subjects were confined to an inferior legal status.  Catholic Emancipation did not take place until 1829, and while the legal restrictions were removed, their remained (and still remains) a strongly anti-Catholic element in British society.

The Revolutionary War of course predated the Constitution, but many of the guarantees in the later document reflect wartime goals - the principles the Patriots were fighting for.

Thus, the Constitution's prohibition of religious tests to hold public office was a repudiation of current British law.

Aleteia has a timely piece on George Washington's friendly stance towards Catholics, and how - despite being a nominal member of the Church of England - he fully supported Catholic aspirations and even donated to the construction of a new Catholic church.

It was therefore an easy case to make for Catholics to actively support the American Revolution, which promised greater liberties for them than virtually any other group.

This episode not only offers additional reasons to admire the genuine greatness of our first president, but is a useful lesson in political pragmatism.  Instead of debating which candidate is more morally acceptable, it may be wiser to ask which one is more likely to leave you free to live out your faith in peace.

It's worth noting that the chief of staff for the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War was Gen. Vincente Rojo, a practicing Catholic whose armies busied themselves in destroying churches and slaughtering clergy.  Whatever his personal belief, he was actively fighting against the Church.


Star Wars Revisited

Last night I watched the original theatrical release DVD of Star Wars with my grandkids.  The elder was my age when I first saw it (4) and the younger predictably fell asleep (which was part of the point).

After decades of fandom and the current culture war over the franchise, it was refreshing to see the film through the eyes of a child.

She was very impressed, saying "Wow!" during the opening sequence and reacting throughout the film.  By the trash compactor sequence (which terrified me back then), she was sitting in my lap for reassurance.  She loved the battles and cheered at the end.

And - like my generation - she wanted toys from the film.

I think there are several issues wound up in Star Wars and these have concealed the essential greatness of the original films.

Obviously, the dominant issue now is the fundamental reworking of the entire franchise, an action that seems motivated by sheer vindictiveness towards the original fans.

The original films succeeded because they pointedly were set in an imaginary setting and the sides were clearly identified as good and evil.  It's right there in the screen crawl.  There's no need to overthink it or break it down using critical theory.

The characters work because they suit the actors, who had some leeway in how they interpreted their roles.  

There is also the weird obsession of George Lucas with tweaking his films.  It's one thing to digitally remaster something and clean up bits of dust and lint.  It is another to actually recut the thing, splicing in scenes, altering dialog, even switching out actors and voices.  It is said that George Lucas' then-wife (Marcia) and the editing team saved the film with last-minute changes and that because of their acrimonious divorce, George wanted to reverse as much of that as he could.

The "special edition" is a worse film, breaking up the flow, introducing unnecessary special effects and severely compromising the narrative.  Moreover, it has given the new owner, Disney, license to do the same.  The reason the canon remains unsettled is that its creator couldn't settle on one.

In reality, the original theatrical release is the true version - it set the world on fire and created a series of film so popular than fans would camp out in front of theaters in order to be the first in line to see them.

Everything since has been mediocre, graded on a curve because they no longer have to stand on their own merits, but are instead compared to others in the genre.  Basically, Star Wars has created its own ghetto, walling it off from mainstream audiences.

This is the problem with franchises - the bigger they get, the higher the entry costs becomes for new fans.

Put simply, a new prospective fan now has dozens of hours of catching up to do.  From 1977 to 1983, it was 'all too easy' to stay current.

All of which is to say that war over Star Wars has sadly overtaken the quality of the film and its superb sequels.  Adding to this tragedy is the bizarre decision by Disney to trash earlier films in order to excuse their abysmal offerings.

I suggest taking a break from the very online arguments and simply watching the originals as if for the first time, looking over the details, savoring the sound track, immersing oneself in the story.

It helps if you have a kid with you.


Thinking about the Roman Empire (again)

Yeah, it's a meme, but it's also true.  I recently started re-reading Evelyn Waugh's Helena, a small book about the saintly mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (who is revered as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church).

It's a short book, easy to read, and Waugh's central conceit is to treat it as his "smart set" books and have people use the current vernacular. 

Waugh considered it his best book and was hurt by its poor reception and low sales.  It's not uncommon for others to favor their less successful books.  I suppose I'm somewhat of an exception because Long Live Death is both my biggest seller and my favorite work.

I'll do a full review when I finish, but until then I will note that the book has me once more reaching into my Roman reference library and contemplating that long-vanished world that nevertheless left all manner of monuments and important works.

Put simply, if you aren't thinking  of the Roman Empire, you aren't thinking at all.


Reflections on Donald Sutherland

Yesterday I got the news that Donald Sutherland had died and while I've never thought of him as a favorite actor, I own a lot of films with him in them.

The most striking thing about him was his remarkable range and the way he could manipulate his features to fit his role.  He covered the whole spectrum from goofball to intense serial killer.

He was quite the hot property during the 1970s, from M*A*S*H to The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Eye of the Needle, to name just a few.

That's a bunch of iconic roles, and my daughter treasures him as Oddball, the eccentric tank commander from Kelly's Heroes.

I'm at an age where the actors who were in their prime during my youth are starting to pass away.  What makes it doubly sad is that there is no one coming up to replace them.  It's impossible to make a star-studded film like Kelly's Heroes today because there isn't a cast capable of supporting it.  Disney's flagship new show, The Acolyte, has hardly anyone of note, with its top-line actress being killed off in the first episode.  The next most famous person is a Korean actor who was in a foreign-language streaming series that most people never saw.

I can't think of anyone under 40 who is in any way comparable to Sutherland, which is a shame.


Father's Day in a gender-fluid world

Nowhere is the demonic influence on secular society more clear than in the attempt to abolish or pervert all traditional relationships.  The radical trans movement seeks to annihilate motherhood as well as fatherhood as we have known them, and replaced them with arbitrary, pseudo-technical terms that obscure more than they describe.

Yet despite all this, the hard-wiring in our brains remains, and we still default to the norms of human history.

This came to mind while watching The Acolyte reviews.  During the third episode, there was a dispute between the "two mommies" and while they are supposed to be this superior, radically feminist relationship, it was basically a same-sex simulcrum of husband and wife.  The taller, more powerful woman loomed over the shorter one, using her presence to coerce compliance.  When the smaller woman asserted that she ought to take presence because "she carried them" (the children), the other retorted "I created them."  

That's a pretty masculine way of putting things, no?  It's also very strange to have motherhood - which lies at the very heart of the female experience - be denigrated in favor of an ersatz paternity.   Because the big chick held the Force turkey-baster, this made her the superior to the woman who spent nine months carrying twins, went through the painful process of birth, and trials of post-partum depression, and of course nursing them at her breast - which is no mean feat with twins.

The Youtuber Disparu (whose excellent videos I have been following), noted that this seems to be a reference to surrogate pregnancy, and how gays think nothing of the birth mothers because they've done their thing and got paid for it.

Indeed, one of the interesting developments has been a growing awareness that "surrogate mothers" are actually a form of human trafficking.  Women are paid to be impregnated, expected to carry the baby to term (perhaps gender-selected via IVF), and the child is taken from her at birth and bestowed on the purchasers.  I've seen triumphant videos posted on social media, which go viral among religious folks in particular.

It's fascinating how we have this massive health care industrial complex built around teaching best practices in pregnancy and child-rearing and yet none of that applies to preferred groups like homosexuals.

Consider how many red flags are involved in this process.  

First, we have the inherent immorality of the contract.  A woman is being paid to give birth and hand over a human being.  How this is not "involuntary servitude" I do not know.  The entire transaction is fraught with moral problems. Why is this woman doing this?  Is she compelled by circumstance?  Is she a lawful resident?  One can easily imagine trafficked women being forced into this role.

Now consider her mental state.  Instead of treasuring the movements of her growing child, she is instead painfully aware that she will not enjoy the tender moments after birth, holding, feeding, nurturing the child of her flesh.

Post-partum depression is practically guaranteed.  How can it not happen?  She has no solace of holding the child, just money.

Meanwhile the child will not form a proper maternal bond.  A key part of development (and comfort for both mother and child) is the closeness after birth.  The beating of the mother's heart is uniquely relaxing.  That is now gone.

Volumes of research show that breast-feeding is best for both mother and child, yet here it is categorically off the table.

I could go on.

In a consistent, rational world, the people who style themselves "women's advocates" would be up in arms over this, but of course they're celebrating the commodification of babies, just as the celebrate killing them in the womb.

As I said, it's demonic.

The truth is that fathers and mothers are complimentary, each bringing different gifts and fulfilling different needs.  A huge part of the societal strife and breakdown we are seeing comes from the unwillingness of elites to sustain these vital institutions.

On the plus side, the market failure of The Acolyte is encouraging.  Perhaps the tide is starting to turn.


Does Protestant theology even matter anymore?

The other day I was driving around and upon noticing the tendency of Protestant churches to fully embrace rainbow flags (or even the new "trans" variants), I had to wonder: why even bother with different denominations?

The Lutherans had one, as did a United Methodist church as well as the Presbyterians down the street.

Luther's "reform" was supposedly about recreating the "early Church" of his imagination.  I don't think he meant that to include pagan sexual practices.  Similarly, the Wesleyan movement was a reaction against High Church Anglicanism and built upon achieving "personal holiness."  Apparently this now involves intersex threesomes or something.  As for the Calvinists, I suppose they at least can claim that sodomites were predestined, though why a loving, just God would create perverts to damn them defies logic.

All of which is to say, if the big things like sexual morality and the meaning of marriage are up to revision, who cares about the exact meaning of the Eucharist or the form of the worship service?  The core message is the same: God loves everyone, including sinners, and there's no need to repent.  It's really an extreme form of the Baptist approach that being a believer is enough, and its strange that far older denominations should have gone in that direction.

I suppose if that is the centerpiece of your current thought, that would get the most emphasis, and the rest would just be details.

That being said, as the military taught me, attention to detail in little things is important.  There's a clear progression from dressing like a slob to becoming a slob, and the same is true in matters of faith.  If one section of scripture is now irrelevant, why adhere to the other parts?  If, as their digital message boards proclaim: "I am good enough," then why not sleep in?  Why bother to provide financial support?

I suppose it is no accident that the collapse of mainline Protestantism has corresponded with the explosion of trendy non-profits who offer vague promises of virtue in exchange for a cash contribution.

Indeed, this is a huge contributor to Yard Sign Calvinism.  A half-century ago, those denominations were filled with active volunteers who combined faith and works.  Now lip service to the right cause is considered enough.

 


Tiananmen Square and the tragedy of the Catholic Church in China

I know that many of Pope Francis' critics focus on his muddled theology and apparent indifference to the victims of abuse at the hands of the clergy, but for me his treatment of Chinese Catholics is his biggest sin.

Several years ago he agreed to an arrangement whereas Communist Chinese government gained veto power over ecclesiastical appointments.  While some tried to compare it to concordats with various European regimes, the fact of the matter is that China's government is official Communist - that is to say, implacably opposed to the Church.  The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is designed to keep people from Christ, not bring them closer to Him.

A church subject to Communist approval is no church at all, and proof of this can be found in the way that the Catholics in Hong Kong once again canceled their Mass in honor of the Tiananmen Square victims.

Francis clearly has a soft spot in his heart for Marxism, and that's a problem.  I can understand why faithful Chinese Catholics would rather risk the perils of underground worship than receive the Official Government Mass provided courtesy of the CCP.

I also feel that for Francis to lead his flock astray in this way is far more damaging than his flirtations with legitimizing homosexuality or ordaining women.   Those positions are self-evidently heretical, but when the pope legitimizes a Communist bishop, what are the faithful to do?