Thursday, July 9, 2009
George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic has served as an excellent addition to my summer reading list. His reflection on Chartres Cathedral in France explicates the human yearning toward beauty, found in its highest form in God Himself. Weigel writes, “Beautiful things and beautiful music draw us out of ourselves and into an encounter with a truth that’s beyond us, yet accessible to our senses.” His words articulate the purpose served by Byzantine icons, an integral component of Eastern Orthodoxy. Says Weigel, “…We don’t merely look at icons; we look through them and discover ourselves engaged with the Truth the iconographer has written.”
This summer has brought about the death of another sort of icon. I refer to Michael Jackson. Taken in a different context, the term “icon” describes a man who experienced simultaneously the height of fame and fortune and the depths of loneliness. Whether the word can be used aptly to describe such a figure as the King of Pop is an enigma. According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons serve as a direct link to the heavenly realm, a method of communication with the Divine. Perhaps no connection can be made, without blasphemy, between the moving, nearly sacramental experience of iconography and the fanaticism underlying devotion to “icons” like Jackson.
However, one has only to go back once again to Weigel’s letters. His description of beauty as a guide to a “truth that’s beyond us, yet accessible to our senses” shows us that icons draw us outside ourselves. The existence of something not fully comprehensible to the human mind is both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Yet it is only by reaching towards that which is greater than our understanding that we progress on our journey towards God.
I do not suggest that Michael Jackson’s music be categorized with Byzantine icons as a form of true Beauty. However, the musical pieces of Jackson and other cultural icons could be considered attempts to grasp the incomprehensible. Unfortunately, all too often those attempts are misguided, leaving us with the body of a tragically twisted former pop star buried without his brain (http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/2009/07/05/michael-jackson-to-be-buried-without-his-brain-115875-21495043/
A commentary guaranteed not to bore you is here.
I'm not qualified to comment on it, but do have one thought worth sharing.
I'm glad to see that we've had recent discussions going on, and am indebted to Nathancontramundi for the reminder that we missed a big one here. Interestingly, the very way the encyclical is written has an important reminder to those of us Catholics who are divided into warring camps:
Caritas in veritate is [also replete] with correlations of faith and reason, charity and knowledge, rights and duties, subsidiarity and solidarity, constantly reminding us of the Catholic "both-and."
This 'both-and' has been a critical part of my theology work lately. Is 'the Kingdom of Heaven' now or after death? It's already but not yet. Are we members of the City of God or the City of Man? Well, both, actually, and we have responsibilities to both. The person *and* the common good, the soul *and* the body, faith *and* works ..
But so long as divisions between us remain, Augustine reminds us 'in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity; in all things, charity.' One of the things I've most gained from my time abroad has been seeing firsthand just how much 'social conservative Catholics' have to learn from 'social justice Catholics,' and vice versa -- as well as how much all of us, regardless of what labels we'll use for ourselves, have to learn from those we completely disagree with. (Pope John Paul the Great is said to have thought by taking each issue and examining it from every possible point of view, taking what can be learned from each and thereby ascending as if upon a spiral staircase, drawing closer to the Truth with each step. It's a frustrating and challenging way to go about things, but what worth having in life is easy?)
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
We spend so much time talking about democracy…but democracy, a well-functioning society that promotes liberty and equality and fraternity,
does not just depend on going to the ballot box.
The scenario the president describes above, one in which something is democratic in name but not in practice, is a legitimate concern. In fact, it describes the reign of recently ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya to a tee. Although elected through elections in 2005, Zelaya has proceeded to trample upon the democratic foundations of Honduras, attempting to defy the nation’s constitution in an effort to seek an explicitly forbidden second term in office. This Hugo Chavezesque power-grab failed after the legislature voted overwhelmingly for his replacement and the supreme court rightfully had Zelaya forcibly removed.
Perplexingly, Obama resolutely supports the exiled president solely because Zelaya was democratically-elected almost four years ago. He has ignored Zelaya’s recent ploy, which is clearly a gross affront to Honduras’ constitutional democracy. Obama should revisit his earlier statement, which chastises assuming leaders are ruling democratically simply because they were elected, and reshape his position on Zelaya accordingly.
The above article is a modified-version of a post that appeared on the Heritage Foundation's blog, which you can view by clicking here.
In his appendix to Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell recounted, “Words which had once borne a heretical meaning were sometimes retained for the sake of convenience, but only with the undesirable meanings purged out of them.”
As I attempted to settle on a topic, I realized that much of much of what we complain about today has been brought to us by doublespeak. I can’t pinpoint when our words lost their meaning. I can’t describe how our language got this way. And, I can’t say who orchestrated their dilution. But, I will say that, among others, the words Freedom, Diversity, and Equality are on the verge of losing all meaning.
Henry Ford once wrote that "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." This is precisely the type of freedom we proclaim to have. If you aren’t yet convinced, look at the following choices I made in the past month:
- To work for more than $6.55 an hour
- To wear my seatbelt when I drive
- To not smoke when I am in a restaurant
- To drive a vehicle that gets more than 20.7 miles per gallon
- To use a jetski no later than one hour prior to sunset
Now, am I free because I was able to do everything I wanted to do? Of course not! The lion at the zoo isn’t free simply because he can eat and sleep as much as he likes. The point is so simple it has been forgotten: it is meaningless to have the freedom to do something unless you are also free to not do it.
Freedom can be personal and well as political. The sexually “liberated” individual can only be sexually free if he is capable of living chastely. The alcoholic cannot freely choose to drink until he can say no, as well as yes, to the next drink.
Freedom allows us to be different. That is the great part about our country. The founding fathers realized that freedom means being able to worship however you like even if it seems foolish, being able to say whatever you like even if others disagree, being able to live wherever you want even if others would rather have you live elsewhere, and being able to choose any occupation you like even if the public doesn’t need another artist.
When laws are passed mandating where you can live, what contracts you can write, what cars you can drive, what schools you can attend, and how you can practice religion, your freedom to be different is gone. With it, true diversity is gone. Real diversity fosters the growth of cultures. Amish villages, Native-American communities, Buddhist temples, the
“The modern world seems to have no notion of preserving different things side by side, of allowing its proper and proportionate place to each, of saving the whole varied heritage of culture. It has no notion except that of simplifying something by destroying nearly everything.”
Why doesn’t our society tolerate such diversity? What is wrong with it? Well, consider two of your friends; one will be taller, one younger, one smarter, one faster, and one more attractive. When you have two different things, groups, or people they cannot be equal in attributes or they wouldn’t be different.
Now wait a minute, isn’t equality a founding principle of our country? If we are to ensure equality, we can’t have differences. We will have to redefine diversity to mean every basketball team must have one Caucasian, one African-American, one Asian, one Hispanic, and one Indian. Who cares if individual cultures can no longer exist – we will have one assimilated nation! Diversity will no longer be a measure of how Catholic a university you are amidst different universities but rather a measure of how many different religions you can include at your school.
Under the goals of modern “diversity” every neighborhood, school, and church will someday be identical. In his work Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury prophesied the effects of diversity and political correctness run amok,
"Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, as the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, for the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.”
I think it is safe to assume we don’t want to live in a society where books are illegal nor in a world under the eye of big brother. Yet, both Bradbury and Orwell have warned us that our current trajectory leads to dystopia. What has gone wrong?
Our concept of equality has been entirely corrupted. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that “All men are created equal” not that “All men are equal” nor that “All men ought to be equal.” Thomas Jefferson understood that governments ought to guarantee an equality of opportunity. The only way to ensure that all men are equal is to ensure that all men are the same. No one is naive enough to believe that 300 million people freely making their own choices will always be equal. Therefore when someone claims they want all men to be equal, they are implying that they will force them to be equal.
In legal terms, this naive desire for equality is represented by the principle of disparate impact. This principle holds employers liable for using neutral tests to promote employees if it will benefit one group more than another. When we begin to hope for this sort of equality we are forced to redefine diversity, making every group the same. Sure we may be happy with this scenario. We may all want to make the same decisions, but unless we have the option to be different we will never have true freedom.
Abraham Lincoln once asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” We can complain about the state of our neighborhoods, society, or government all we want, but as long as we continue to talk about five-legged dogs we will remain just as crippled.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Yet, as Joushua Muravchik in his Wall Street Journal op-ed writes, Obama’s foreign policy has abandoned democracy promotion. Obama’s disturbing approach cannot be written off as simple neglect or an effort to distance his policy from Bush’s. Instead, the new Administration is actively downplaying the significance of this definitively American precedent.
The Obama Administration’s disapproval of democracy-building and human rights promotion are widespread, from Tibet to Egypt and from Darfur to Russia. It was readily apparent in Obama’s unwillingness to denounce the sham elections in Iran. Even in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, where the seeds of democracy are already in bloom, the Obama Administration has abandoned support of democratic developments.
Additionally, Obama has stated democracy is “mere form,” secondary to results, while Secretary Clinton said concerning ourselves with democracy-building is “so yesterday.” These remarks go well with the Administration’s apparent disregard of American exceptionalism, as well as their painstaking efforts to point out U.S. shortcomings at every turn, all playing into Obama’s subscription to the doctrine of global relativism and moral equivalency.
While some argue that Obama should avoid stepping on toes as he establishes himself internationally, this couldn’t be more misguided. Obama should use his global popularity to champion democracy as a solution for developing counties’ problems. Instead, he seems content to provide aid to people while chumming up with the authoritarians who oppress them. Like continually applying Band-Aids to a gaping wound, his efforts will only bring temporary relief while also perpetuating these states’ reliance on U.S. resources and involvement. By securing democratic institutions and free-elections, these nations can begin to heal internally, relying on their own determination and initiative.