Abortion, AIDS, Covid and shifting views on divine judgement

While American society is heavily secularized, it retains a lot of the theoretical framework that has its origins in Christianity.  One of the strongest (and paradoxically most overlooked) is that of Calvinism.

Calvinism (or Reformed Christianity as it's sometimes styled) holds that God's favor can be known in this life by visible, tangible signs.  The Elect or Anointed are there for everyone to see - their prosperity, good looks, life advantages - are proof of God's blessing.  This religious view has been secularized into a "meritocracy" where the people born into wealth and privilege are owed it through their own merit.

There are several heresies involved in this worldview and it is in direct conflict with the traditional (that is Catholic/Orthodox) view that the mortal life is but preparation for what comes after.  Devout, believing and beloved children of God may suffer terribly in mortal life, but that is part of their purification.  To the meritocrats and the Calvinists, there is no benefit to suffering in the here and now.  Bad things happening are instead a call for immediate purification so that blessings can return.

This view permeates our language and our discourse, and right now it is at a fever pitch.

I find it fascinating that abortion proponents constantly speak of women being "punished" with a child as a consequence of having sex.  There is genuine outrage that men don't give birth and have to bear the same burden.  Despite many different and effective ways to prevent pregnancy, there is a fanatical devotion to this secular sacrament, which is seen as the last line of defense for ultimate individual autonomy.

Of course, no one gets pregnant alone, and not too long ago, there was a reason sex was supposed to take place after marriage (or at least after betrothal).  A "ruined woman" was seen as fitting punishment for immorality.

The legalization of abortion was therefore a welcome liberation from the "oppression" of biology.   Women could now be as immoral as the wanted.

Similarly, when the AIDS epidemic swept through the homosexual community, the same people insisted that one could not even think it was divine judgement.  A sexually transmitted disease that was most easily spread through religiously proscribed sexual behavior was simply a thing that happened and enormous resources would have to be expended not only to cure it, but in the interim, the risk-taking behavior could not be curbed.

It's interesting to note that the State of California has decriminalized passing the disease to a sexual partner without their consent.  No harm, no foul.

In both these cases, cause and effect are irrelevant, and all right-thinking people" know that to draw lines indicating how immoral behavior can beget negative consequences is hateful nonsense.

Thus it is interesting to see how one's Covid vaccination status has become a great exception to this belief.  Unvaccinated (or maskless) people who die of the disease are widely mocked as getting what they deserve.

It's divine judgement, and cause and effect are now operative.

My point by the way is not to highlight hypocrisy, but to note that in all three instances, the underlying framework remains Calvinist.  In the first two examples, the goal is to escape punishment, which is presumably not from God but rather from the Devil.  Women not being able to abort children is evil, an infringement on their God-given freedom to have absolute control over their bodies.

Similarly the AIDS epidemic could not be permitted to change the homosexual lifestyle because freedom is the highest value, even above stopping a once-incurably fatal disease.

Yet now the righteousness is on the other side, with anti-vaxxers being justly struck down for their impiety.

While the examples are contemporary, the issue is not new.

G.K. Chesterton's writing reveals that this mentality has been around for a while, chiefly being a function of unprecedented prosperity.  People can draw various philosophical lines on how thought progressed, but the key ingredient was leisure time and increased material comfort.

Evelyn Waugh's dark satires of the Smart Set illustrated the moral bankruptcy, and it was not until his later work that he began to look at how religious people can co-exist in this environment.

I plan on incorporating this into my writing on the spirit world.  As others long before me have pointed out, unbelievers don't necessary lack faith, they simply place it before something besides God. 

Mass unmasked!

Today marked the first time in more than a year that I was able to got to Mass without wearing a face mask.

It was nice, but also a little strange.  Michigan has been "unlocked" for less than a week, and the signs on stores are coming down, though some continue to urge masks as "a courtesy."

Picking up a pizza at my usual store Friday, I was greeted by the staff with big grins on their now-exposed faces.  I noticed the same thing picking up bagels to day.  People walk in, look at each other, and smile.

We're still not all the way there, of course.  The holy water remains restricted and we are yet denied the Precious Blood of the Eucharist.  Still, it is hard not to enjoy the sense of freedom that we have been denied for so long.

I believe that a great many of the policies enacted during the pandemic will, if an honest reckoning is ever conducted, be shown to have been self-defeating if not actually destructive.

Anyone with experience in a role-playing game knows that "percentage resistance" (say against magic or magical effects) may seem impressive at first ("I'm 90 percent immune to spells!") but when tested on a daily basis over more than a year, the protective value effectively falls to zero, and the side-effects of social isolation, restricted breathing, loss of emotional connection, etc. become more pronounced.

I leave that for the future, however.  For now I'm just glad to be able to smile at people again.

Spiritual Warfare

In an earlier post I looked at the beauty of tiny miracles and that in turn feeds into a larger discussion about the spirit realm, particularly spiritual warfare.

The term itself can either ignite a serious conversation or stop it in its tracks.  This is because of the divide I mentioned earlier between the modern rationalists (who may believe in cessationism) and those who continues to see miracles in everyday life.

The lines between who believes in what in this discussion are often confusing - one might even say non-linear.

For example, most diagrams of Christianity's various branches show Orthodoxy (by which I mean both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches) on one end of the spectrum with newer Protestant denominations spreading out and moving farther away.

In fact, this isn't always the case.  The Anglican Church used to be very close to Catholicism in terms of doctrine and practice.   I remember my very Catholic grandfather used to go to the Maritime Sailors Cathedral in Detroit from time to time because the their service was so similar.

The Anglicans have only veered away in the last 40 years or so, and much of that variation is in practice, not dogma.  That is to say that like the United Methodists, the doctrines remain the same on paper, but they're simply no longer enforced by the heirarchy.

Rather than go through the messy (and divisive) process of rewriting canon law, they simply do what they do, knowing that there's no practical way to enforce any of it.

This leads to situations where Orthodoxy - with its traditions and hierarchies - is actually closer in doctrine to free-wheeling congregationalists than more nominally "mainline" Protestant denominations.

The topic of spiritual warfare is a great example of this.  If one buys into cessationism, or is one of the increasing numbers of Protestant pastors who don't believe Christ was bodily resurrected, this belief seems backwards if not downright superstitious.

Telling one of these folks that you've seen an angel will likely get you a condescending look and perhaps a suggestion that you not use so many drugs.  At worst, you might get a psychiatric referral.

However, there are a great many people in Evangelical circles who take this sort of thing very seriously.  Pentecostals, for example, are about as anti-Catholic as any Protestant can be, yet they very much believe in the miraculous.  They may distrust the Church hierarchy, regard the cult of saints as a pagan holdover, but when it comes to the spirit realm, they are fully on board.

Over the last few years, the Catholic Church has been turning back to this sphere.  Our Diocesan magazine has more and more articles focusing on spiritual warfare, and its being mentioned more frequently in homilies.

As the same time, just about everyone I encounter of late has said that something feels "wrong."  They can't put their finger on it, but there is a general uneasiness.  Perhaps after a long lull - which many convinced themselves to mean that spirits didn't exist - the operational tempo is picking up again.


The cruel irrationality of scientism

A common feature of human behavior is for people to take positions that are the exact opposite of their stated morality.

This isn't necessarily hypocrisy because hypocrites are necessarily aware of the contradiction.  The fact that the practicioners of what I shall dub "scientism" are blissfully ignorant of the truth of their position only makes them that much harder to convince.

It should go without saying that science is never "settled."  Science is a process, a method of truth-seeking and its core tenet is taking nothing for granted.  There are endless examples of "settled science" being overturned by subsequent discoveries. 

True scientists are constantly attacking the status quo and never resort to appeals to authority to settle disputes.

As a method of explaining the natural world and solving problems, science has done wonderfully well, but it is simply incapable of being turned into a philosophy or worldview.  When people say they "believe science is real," that's a statement of faith, not logic.

Nothing I'm writing here is either new or original (well, other than my peerless prose styling), and if one goes back a couple of hundred years one finds the Cult of Reason making all these mistakes in Revolutionary France.  Tens of millions of people have died thanks to "Scientific Socialism" in the 20th Century. 

It's interesting that people who blame religion for war seem completely unaware that in so doing, they're making a new religion - which is far more murderous.

I should also mention that "religion causes wars" is garbage warmed over.  People cause wars and they will sometimes use religion to justify their greed, wrath or other sins.   Wars happen because people want and enjoy them.  Violence is fun, as all of recorded history demonstrates.  Having decided to make a war, people will then try to appeal for divine assistance or some other cause.

This is not to say that some wars aren't necessary or justified, merely that picking a single factor as the reason for most of them is either ignorant or dishonest.

It's also unscientific.  To make that statement one would have to have a means of sifting through conflicts to determine the exact degree of religious scruple held by all the (long-dead) participants.

Since science needs extremely reliable data, it's always tentative at best.  Since data can shift, science can never provide a steady moral compass, and it's interesting to see that each generation brings new revelations on the horrors that science can inflict.  In fact, the more we empower science for its own sake, the most extreme these horrors become.

One doesn't need to go full-on Luddite and hate technology to understand that there are some experiments we shouldn't be undertaking.

That lack of any meaningful moral restraint is what makes scientism so scary.  Not long ago, there would have been near-universal horror and massive federal investigations of allegations that abortion mills were doing a thriving trade in infant body parts.  Instead, the investigators turned on the whistleblowers for exposing the enterprise and we were told that such grisly commerce is necessary for science to move forward.

Thus we come to the point where the same people who claim their opponents are Nazis have fully embraced the scientism of the actual Nazis.  History has a strong sense of irony.

An end to our year-long Lent

A year ago I saw the COVID lockdown as a month of Good Fridays.  I now see the past 12 months as a year-long Lenten observance.

The pews at my local parish are filling back up with the faithful.  The social distancing (which apparently has no evidentiary basis but was a SWAG* imposed on a nation), is making it challenging to find a seat, but in time that restriction will also be lifted.

Michigan's restrictions on religious observances were comparatively mild, likely due to the considerable size of the various faith communities and the precarious political balance that exists.

I also credit the leaders, particularly the Catholic bishops, who attacked the problem of restrictions aggressively and invoked sound science whenever possible.  This made it very difficult to claim clearly arbitrary or anti-religious restrictions were based on some sort of science.  The Diocease of Lansing notes with some satisfaction that there are no documented cases where COVID spread through Mass.

My faith has ground throughout the ordeal, as this blog has perhaps illustrated.  What was a "zen room" in our home (a combination exercise/mediation area that used to be a formal dining room) has now been made into a "petit shrine" and filled with icons and Christian religious art.  We even added some holy water for daily use.  We still have the exercise equipment, but the floor mats do excellent service as kneelers as well.

A year ago, Michigan Catholics were reduced to taking "spiritual" communion, and while we can now partake of the Host at Mass, the Precious Blood is still being withheld and the holy water founts remain empty.  Not quite there yet.

But just as winter's grip is inexorably weakening, so are the restrictions.  Schools are coming back into session and I noticed that one-way signs at the grocery stores are gone.  Legacy media are still trying to keep the old panic alive, but no one cares.  Lockdowns didn't stop the spread a year ago, and they won't stop it now.

Lent is almost over, and so I think is the year-long Lent of fear and overreaction.  It brought a lot of stress and hardship, but as with all evils, God ensured that goodness was brought forth that otherwise never could have been.  For that we can be grateful.


*Scientific Wild-Ass Guess. 

When the trends reverse themselves

A few years ago, Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book called The Black Swan that created something of a sensation and established him as the go-to guy for risk management.

The book wasn't long, somewhat repetitive, but it did make important points about human bias and imperfect information.  Basically, we don't fully understand risk and so we don't properly prepare for it.  The 'black swan' of the title was the discovery in Australia of actual black swans - something that exists nowhere else in the world.  In fact, when they were found, it was shocking because of course swans are white.

A "black swan event" is therefore a rare event with significant consequences that no one even thought about, let alone prepared for.  The fact that it is rare doesn't mean impossible, which was his point.  Taleb has gone on to talk about fragility and the ineptitude of the current ruling classes.  His politics are all over the place, but he's brought up important points.

One of them is that trends only last until they change, and it's not always obvious when that will be.  Trend lines themselves are backwards-looking and therefore prone to misleading people if a big change is about to hit.  He gives the classic example of a sudden change in the trend by charting the weight gain (and health) of a Thanksgiving turkey, which shows steady improvement right up until it becomes dinner.

The key point is that the turkey doesn't know when that will happen or even if it will happen.  The turkey just goes on eating and getting bigger. 

So it is with other trends.  For years it was assumed that globalism meant that manufacturing jobs have to go overseas and will never come back.  Then it became clear that this trend wasn't an impersonal force of nature but the result of deliberate policy choices.  Change those choices, and the trend reverses itself.

The Catholic Church has watched with alarm as the number of active priests dwindled over the years.  One argument was that the requirements were too strict for the modern age and the doctrine to antiquated.  Married priests and maybe female clergy were the only options open.

Pope Benedict XVI disagreed and instead focused on stronger doctrine and also raising the standards for clergy, including increased accountability to prevent future abuses.

The result is that more people are choosing the vocations.  Note that I said "people" because women are also choosing to join the holy orders in numbers not seen in my lifetime.  Even before my conversion I recall the closure of various abbeys due to lack of members and yet now new ones are opening up.

Interestingly, the new members wear the traditional habit, a departure from plain-clothes nuns of the 80s and 90s.

Overall, the trend is still downward because it will take years to make up for the 'lost generation' of priests, but it is now moving in the right direction.

My point is that its easy to get locked into a fatalistic approach on so many things and simply assume an outcome is assured based on trend.  A better approach is to look at why things are trending that way and whether it can continue.  I notice housing prices are now even hotter than they were in 2008.  People looking for houses tell me that listings sell the day they go up and people have to bid over the asking price.

That's another trend that can't last forever.


The Lord of Spirits podcast will blow your mind

For the last couple of weeks I've been catching up with the Lord of Spirits podcast.  This consists of two Gen X Eastern Orthodox priests talking about the spirit world - angels, demons, giants and so on.

It's a great listen and quite amusing because our hosts don't shy away from pop culture references in explaining their concepts.

There is too much to summarize in a single post, but one of their most intriguing concepts is that the spirit world not only exists, but is just as active as it was in Biblical times.  One of the difficulties in modern Christianity is reconciling both the worldview and the written record of ancient days with the world we see.

To the Hebrews and early Christians, the world was packed with spirits.  Angels were constantly dropping in to give messages and advice, and demons were running amok possessing people.  Modern secularists will tell us that these were merely natural phenomena turned into supernatural events by ignorant and superstitious people. 

Sadly, a lot of mainstream Christians also think this is true, including a great number of Protestants who reject the notion that there could be more than one spiritual rival to God.  In contrast to the Orthodox (and Catholic) view of seraphs, saints and cherubim, they see only the Big Guy and everyone should just talk directly to him - no need to bother with the receptionist, messenger boys or any of the other heavenly bureaucracy.

Obviously this is sweeping generalization but it is so common as to be the default. 

Opposing the secularist model, the hosts posit a new one in which the spirits are still there, it's just that people are trying to rationalize them away.  "I don't see angels, so there can't be any" seems to be the preponderant view.

At the same time, however, we see people turning to non-Christian faiths that are on far shakier ground in terms of standards of proof.  Neopaganism is a going thing, in part because it also meshes better with our identity-driving world.  If there can be no universal faith open to all (because Christianity is racist), the next best option is updating the old tribal gods.

Consider also the number of shows hyping ghost stories or supernatural event.  These things often feature high-tech gadgets to record distant voices, cold spots, etc. seeking to validate the spirit world in a scientific way.  Yet here again, no reference to religion is apparent - when spirits are encountered, the investigators simply try to talk or merely psychoanalyze them.

I'll have more thoughts on this in later posts, but for now I'll close by recommending that you give it a listen.