When I was trying my hardest to convert to atheism there was always a tenuous balance between a romanticism with the “impossibility-and-yet-happening” of my sitting here enjoying a cup of coffee and the existential dread that no cups of enjoyable coffee will ever “mean anything” today or 4 billion years from now. All the coffee did was allow me momentarily to forget the dread. That – or at least it was for me – is what is so awful about existentialism. Existentialism made me hate everything I had loved or enjoyed.
Existential dread can be very hard to shake, even for those of us who now know this “valley of tears” ultimately leads Elsewhere.
When the dread – mercifully rare these days – tempts me, I know the answer. Say what you will, but the Roman Catholic Church puts her money where her mouth is. And the salve for that dread is the Blessed Sacrament. This bread right here and right now that can be picked up and touched and tasted – this thing just is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Omnipotent Infinite God. And – to most – that sounds literally insane. Almost as insane as getting PO’ed at a cup of joe.
This is no Pacal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager always sounded like a fancy pants way of forgetting and forgetting and forgetting that the cup of coffee is meaningless. The Blessed Sacrament commands a decision: and if it’s true there is no existential dread. There cannot be. None of this will convince an unbeliever. That comes about by other means. But it can help to recall all this when our own demons come a knocking. The scandal of scandals is that the coffee does mean something. Oh, how very much it means.
– H/T great post and comments at Bonald’s.
Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.
It is understandable to look at the modern Roman Catholic Church with a bit of dismay. And that’s just the Catholics. Non Catholics who are regular social conservative type people are routinely scandalized by the Church. It’s hard to fault them.
But we must fault them. We must tell them that scandal – as understandable as it may be – is blinding them from Him. They don’t see that He is sacrificed on the altar for our sins. They don’t see Him patiently waiting for them in all the Catholic tabernacles of the world. They don’t see Him forgiving the damned soul in the confessional.
But in a spirit of ecumenism, I welcome the fact there is plenty of fault to go around. The most wretched of folks are those Catholics who are also scandalized into ridiculousness. Scandalized into a big ole freak out conniption that leads to nothing but trouble. From Luther to Dreher (and others before and in between), their prayer remains: “Lord, give me Catholicism just not Roman Catholicism!”
We look to fruits to judge the prophet here and now. And we may judge a religious faith by its fruit as well. But judging a faith by its fruit is the long game. Judging a faith – particularly a millennia old one – by the fruit it’s been growing since last Tuesday is stupid.
Oprah Winfrey went full out mic dropping barn-burning during some acceptance speech or other at the recent Golden Globe awards. And apparently some people are considering the implications of a President Oprah Winfrey. “President Oprah Winfrey” kinda sounds to me like the resulting Rosemary’s baby if Lululemon and Satan had relations.
My dad says things like, “It just shows how strong this country is that it can survive President George Bush and President Barack Obama.” A President Oprah would dial that up to eleventy. Regardless, it is fairly remarkable – considering A President Winfrey – that liberalism can seemingly go on cruise control for a bit. A cruise control beneficial for both driver and car. I guess the cruise control “works” so long as the audience just keeps smiling and applauding. “Let them eat free cars.”
Maybe cruise control has taken us towards a final lap. Maybe we have believed the lie too long that authority need not exist so long as the right pieces of paper and machinery are in place – so we might as well “be inspired” in the meantime. But I doubt it: Some saw the election of President Trump as a return to sanity. “Bout time,” they say. But for a very, very large number of people (likely even the Trump supporters), what the election has really accomplished is to further entrench us in the optimistic belief that if we just put our heads down and trudge through – if we keep applauding – surely a good President will come along and Make America Great Again. Part of liberalism’s resilience is that liberalism (despite the streets of blood occasionally needed to assert its supremacy) is generally very serious about protecting its leaders. I imagine if Oprah Winfrey had been queen of 15th century England, England would have more than likely endured. But more than likely, Queen Oprah would have not.
As a follow up to my previous post, I wanted to offer some personal anecdote (with all the caveats surrounding the soundness of personal anecdote). My comment regarding bollards was, admittedly, concerned with such a fraction of the overall (and often complex) issues of bollards, bombs, terrorism, counter-terrorism, Islam, etc., etc.
However, everyday I actually wade through bollards – a whole heaping helping of them. And even in this largely effeminate, wackadoodle Babylon I call home, salt of the earth type people are angry at the site of those dang bollards. And occasionally, the sentiment can be heard: “We wouldn’t need those stupid bollards if we would finally just go wipe those Muslims out of existence. I say we give the women and kids 48 hours to evacuate and them bomb ole Mecca into glass.” I’m not trying to setup a straw man; rather I just want to illustrate a sentiment that is not all too uncommon.
Now, I really have no firm ideas about how best to prevent Muslim atrocities. And given that terrorists identify less as nationals and more as religionists makes discussion about initiating war and combating war in this setting complex. However, there is a temptation – and I wonder if it will only become a stronger temptation in the future – from those bollards to bloodthirstiness. And I wonder if our bloodthirstiness is attributable to decades of moral complacency in the face of peculiarly American bloodthirstiness. Time is not the 8th sacrament – either for individuals or nations. Historical unrepented national sins have a way of seeping into our society and blunting our moral barometers. Just as unrepented sins can do on the personal level.
And that is why the bollards are worrisome to me. If the carnage continues those bollards will cry out for vengeance, and our society will not have the moral standing or sanity to face and fight our bloodthirsty temptations. Until we go back and repent our former sins, until we make a firm purpose of amendment, until we reset our moral barometers, it is true that the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.
Commenter Laura Wood over at the Orthosphere commented regarding the ever present bollards in cities that they represented “psychological warfare” against Americans. I don’t think “psychological warfare” is accurate, and as I noted that term brings in a whole host of unshared assumptions. But my own experience talking to people who daily weave and bob through bollards is that these bollards do represent a temptation. A very serious temptation.
The bollards are real attempts to protect against real terrorism. It gives some normal type people some comfort – like hiding under one’s school desk during a nuclear fallout. The prudence of all that is debatable. The psychological reason why terrorism occurs is debatable. What the ultimate “Peace Plan” for the Middle East war which manifests itself occasionally in American sky scrapers and nightclubs and Madison Avenue sidewalks is debatable. The reality of dead humans at the hands (occasionally attached to a steering wheel) of a Muslim terrorist is not debatable. Consequentialism is evil – whether practiced by Americans or Muslims.
The problem with those bollards is not, at root, psychological warfare. The problem is the wicked consequentialism that tempts Americans to think – as they inconveniently wade through the bollards – “good on us for killing all those Muslims in that desert.” Islam is evil. Terrorism is evil. American bombing of children and for that matter whole hosts of other unjust war practices is evil. But I don’t think labeling bollards psychological warfare is particularly helpful – that term is carrying a LOT of unshared assumptions about the situation at hand. But they do represent a temptation. To me their psychological temptation is a bit like the typically American conceit that if we romanticize Pearl Harbor enough its ok to drop atomic bombs on people. Like a never ending arms race between two armies of consequentialism.
“Conservative Christianity” is to the Altar
What right-liberalism is to the Throne.
I think a lot about St. John the Baptist. I probably think too much about St. John the Baptist. It’s one thing to write pseudonymous opinionated posts about controversial topics. It’s quite another to refuse the boss’s Christmas party because of his public and on-going adultery. Particularly when one likes and professionally respects his boss. And it’s even further down the road to vocally declare that the reason for refusing the party is becasue of the public on-going adultery.
I’ve always been more comfortable with the Damascus Road experiences and the calling out of religious hypocrisy by St. Paul than with the witness of St. John the Baptist. The occasional Modern has no issue, really, with a religious experience and righteous indignation. But, dude, what does religion have to do with a Christmas party?
It’s possible the mark of the Beast will be branded by hot pokers on our foreheads and palms at the hands of the anti-Christ as we all go merrily into his temples to worship. And it’s possible the mark of the Beast is some champagne and cake at a Christmas party. We are all called to be saints. We are not all called to be St. John the Baptist. Is it wrong to take comfort in that? Because I doubt I’ll be eating crickets for Christmas. I’ll have my share of cake and champagne. St. John the Baptist makes me uncomfortable. Good. I probably think too much about St. John the Baptist.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us to make straight the path to Christ.