Sunday, October 12, 2014

Up from Hell: Dante’s Lessons for Millennials

Up from Hell: Dante’s Lessons for Millennials


Dante speaks to a new generation, and what he has to say may save your life.

I was late coming to Dante.  Never read him in high
school or college, and after my formal education ended with my bachelor's degree, why on earth would I have bothered?  As a professional journalist, I read voraciously, but a seven-hundred-year-old poem by a medieval Catholic was not high on my list.
And then, a year ago, I stumbled into the Divine Comedy by accident.  I was going through a deep personal crisis and couldn't see any way out.  One day, browsing in a bookstore, I pulled down a copy of Inferno, the first book of the Commedia trilogy, and began to read the first lines:
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in some dark woods,
For I had wandered off from the 
straight path.
(trans.  Mark Musa)
Well, yes, I thought, I know what that's like.  Like me, Dante (the character in the poem) was having a midlife crisis.  I kept reading and didn't stop until months later, when I slogged with Dante through Hell, climbed with him up the mountain of Purgatory, and blasted through the heavens to see God in Paradise.  All made sense after that pilgrimage, and I found my way back to life.  I was, in a physical and spiritual sense, healed.
That's the testimony of a forty-seven-year-old writer, late to wisdom.  What if I had encountered Dante as a young man and taken the lessons the pilgrim learned on his journey to heart back then?  Would I have had an easier time staying on the straight path?  Perhaps.  At least I would have been warned how to avoid the false trails.

Countercultural Icon
Most readers of the Commedia never go past the Inferno, which is a serious mistake.  It's impossible to understand Dante's teaching without Purgatorio and Paradiso, which tell the reader how Dante, enslaved by his passions in the thicket of despair, finds his way back to light and freedom.
Nevertheless, Inferno is the book most relevant to young adults, most of whom will not have yet made the errors of passion that landed the middle-aged Dante in the dark wood.  The pilgrim Dante must listen to the words of the damned with skepticism, for they are all liars — and, in fact, the chief victim of the lies they told themselves in life.  "Be careful how you enter and whom you trust," says Minòs, the judge of the underworld.  "It is easy to get in, but don't be fooled!"
What's more, the testimonies of the damned reveal precisely the nature of the deceptions to which they fell victim — and to which Dante himself, like all of us, is susceptible.  All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant.  For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.
This is countercultural, for we live in an individualistic, libertine, sensual culture in which satisfying desire is generally thought to be a primary good.  For contemporary readers, especially young adults, Dante's encounter with Francesca da Rimini, one of the first personages he meets in Hell, is deeply confounding.  Francesca is doomed to spend eternity in the circle of the Lustful, inextricably bound in a tempest with her lover, Paolo, whose brother — Francesca's husband — found them out and murdered them both.
Francesca explains to Dante how she and Paolo fell into each other's arms.  How could she have controlled herself?  she says.
Love, that excuses no one 
loved from loving,
Seized me so strongly with 
delight in him
That, as you see, he never 
leaves my side.
Love led us straight to sudden 
death together.
She ends by saying that reading romantic literature together caused them to fall hopelessly and uncontrollably in love — unto death, at the hands of her jealous husband.
To modern ears, Francesca's apologia sounds both tragic and beautiful.  But the discerning reader will observe that she never takes responsibility for her actions.  In her mind, her fate is all the fault of love — or rather, Love.  We know, however, that it is really lust, and that her grandiose language in praise of romantic passion is all a gaudy rationalization.  It's a rationalization that is quite common in our own time, as everything in our popular culture tells us that desire is the same thing as love, and that love, so considered, is its own justification.
For me as a writer, there is a more subtle lesson here, one I wish I had learned before writing so many column inches of cruel, clever journalism in my twenties.
Dante faints at the end of his encounter with Francesca, apparently overcome by the shock of her suffering in eternity for what he would hardly have considered a sin at all.  It's not hard to suspect, though, that Dante's shock came at the recognition that the love poetry she read on her road to perdition included some of his own verses.
Francesca's fate is not Dante's fault, exactly, but that doesn't mean he is not implicated.  The lesson here is to think carefully about the things you say in public, because your words can have unintended consequences.  This is not a warning to avoid ever saying anything critical or harsh.  Sometimes, harsh criticism, even mockery, is necessary.  But it is necessary far less than we think, and, in any case, one should never be deliberately cruel.
In the age of social media, this is even more important to keep in mind.  Words written or spoken in public can have terrible private consequences.  We all live in a narcissistic, confessional culture in which speaking whatever is on your mind and in your heart is valorized as "honest" and "courageous" — just as calling lust love falsely ennobles it by dressing up egotism with fake moral grandeur.

What Disney Gets Wrong
Believe in yourself.  Many graduates hear some version of that advice in their commencement address.  It's as common as dirt and shapes virtually the entire Disney film catalogue.  The pilgrim Dante hears it as well, deep in the heart of Hell, from his beloved teacher and mentor Brunetto Latini, thrilled to see his pupil passing through.
Brunetto suffers in the circle of the Sodomites, though Dante never mentions his old master's sexual activity.  Theirs is a tender meeting, with Brunetto full of praise for Dante's work.  "Follow your constellation," the old man says, "and you cannot fail to reach your port of glory."
It is terrific flattery, and it comes from a Florentine who was greatly admired in his day as a writer, scholar, and civic leader.  Addressing Brunetto with great respect and affection, Dante says, "You taught me how man makes himself eternal."
It's enough to make the reader forget that Brunetto is damned.  If Dante isn't talking about sexual immorality, why is Brunetto in Hell?  It becomes clearer later in Purgatorio, when Dante meets other Italian artists and learns that art pursued for the sake of personal glory, as distinct from the service of God or some other high cause, is in vain.  Brunetto is a vain man, a writer who thought the way to pursue immortality was to serve his own cause in his work — and a spiritually blind teacher who sees Dante's fame as bringing glory to himself.
How much happier would young people be if they began their careers thinking not of the fame, the fortune, and the glory they will receive from professional accomplishment but rather of the good they can do for others and, if they are religious, the glory they can bring to God through their service?  Dante Alighieri's early verse was good, but he would today be as forgotten as Brunetto Latini if he had not written the Commedia, which he composed for transcendent ends.  Few if any of us will accomplish a feat like that, but what good we may do in this world, and what glory may remain after we leave it, will come only if we serve something greater than ourselves.

Tales of Selfish Ulysses
Following one's own constellation can only get one lost — or worse.  This is the lesson Dante learns in Canto XXVI of the Inferno, when he meets Ulysses, the great voyager, suffering in the circle of the False Counselors — that is, those who used their words to mislead others intentionally.
In the version of the Ulysses myth that informs Dante, the silver-tongued Greek cast aside his obligations to his family back home and to his faithful crew, urging them to keep rowing into forbidden waters, in search of discovery.
"You are Greeks!" Ulysses exhorts them.  "You were not born to live like mindless brutes but to follow paths of excellence and knowledge."
Who among us would disagree with that noble sentiment?  Certainly not Ulysses's crew, whose hearts blazed with desire to follow their courageous captain.  Except it was a lie.  Ulysses rationalized wanting to indulge his own boundless curiosity by sailing in uncharted waters, and he led himself and his men to their deaths.
Two lessons here stand out for the modern reader.  First, selfishness that knows no limits, and that tells itself it is pursuing a worthy goal, can have terrible consequences that affect more than just the individual.  Ulysses didn't think about what he owed the old and worn-out crew that served him so loyally in war.  Nor did he think about his own wife and son waiting for him at home on Ithaca.  All he cared for was his "burning wish to know the world and have experiences of all man's vices, of all human worth."
Second, excellence and knowledge are fine things, but they do not justify themselves.  The pursuit of excellence and knowledge must be bounded by moral and communal obligations that rein in the ego and hamstring hubris.  Today we live in an age when science often refuses limits, claiming the pursuit of knowledge as a holy crusade.  The world praises as daring and creative the transgression of nearly all boundaries — in art, in media, in social forms, and so forth — inspiring those who wish to pursue this debased form of excellence to be even more transgressive.
All these damned souls — Francesca, Brunetto, and Ulysses — suffer hellfire because they worshipped themselves and their own passions.  In Dante, egotism is the root of all evil.  Yet this unholy trio would be admired, even heroic figures in twenty-first-century America for their bold passion and fearless individualism.  Love as you will, whatever the consequences, says Francesca.  Follow your bliss and navigate by your own stars, says Brunetto.  Honor that burning curiosity in your breast and pursue knowledge and excellence no matter what, says Ulysses.
For most of my twenties, I more or less believed these things, because that's how our culture catechizes us.  But then, Dante is rarely on the syllabus.  Had I read the Divine Comedy as a younger man and taken its lessons to heart, I would still have been eager to pursue romantic love, achieve professional success as a writer, and explore and know the world — but I would have grasped that these goals can be understood as good only if they are subordinated to right reason, to virtue, and, ultimately, to the will of God.
Dante shows us that you can just as easily go to Hell by loving good things in the wrong way as you can by loving the wrong things.  It's a subtle lesson, and a difficult lesson, and a lesson that is no less difficult to learn in the twenty-first century than it was in the fourteenth.  But it's still necessary to learn.  Happy is the man who embraces this wisdom at any point in his life, but happier is the man who does so in his youth.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Rod Dreher. "Up from Hell: Dante’s Lessons for Millennials'." The Intercollegiate Review (Fall 2014). 
Reprinted with permission of ISI and The Intercollegiate Review. The Fall 2014 issue of The Intercollegiate Review is here
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Friday, October 10, 2014

Real Victims of the Gay Bullyboys

Real Victims of the Gay Bullyboys

Woman Denied Freedom
Her essay at Public Discourse has more than 48,000 Facebook shares and 2,600 Tweets. It is the anguished cry of a woman, a wife and a mother who has been deserted by her husband who took her children with him into that dark gay world.
Janna Darnelle, a pseudonym, tells the story of her ten-year marriage disintegrating when her husband decided he was sexually attracted to men. She says, “In an instant, the world that I had known and loved—the life we had built together—was shattered.”
Janna says she tried to get him to stay, appealed to him as a matter of vows and of honor and of fatherly responsibility. She and her children, though, had become “disposable … being gay trumped commitment, vows, responsibility, faith, fatherhood, marriage, friendships, and community.” We discover later, on a gay website, that her husband was a Christian pastor, but more on that in a minute.
She says the judge legislated from the bench and tried to right all the wrongs against gays historically on the back of her and her children. She says the judge told her husband, “If you had asked for more, I would have given it to you.”
Janna’s husband went on to marry, first illegally, and then legally when her state made same-sex marriage legal. She said in “both cases, my children were forced—against my will and theirs—to participate.” In the second “marriage,” when her husband’s faux-marriage became among the first in her state, USA Today was there to take pictures including of her children. She said she was not allowed a voice in whether her children would be used as “props to promote same-sex marriage in the media.”
The response, as always expected and largely orchestrated, was oh what a happy family this new gay family. How happy they are! See! Janna points out that in any picture of the new happy family that someone is missing and it is the woman who made it possible.
There is not one gay family that exists in this world that was created naturally. Every same-sex family can only exist by manipulating nature. Behind the happy façade of many families headed by same-sex couples, we see relationships that are built from brokenness. They represent covenants broken, love abandoned, and responsibilities crushed. They are built on betrayal, lies, and deep wounds.
She goes on to condemn assisted reproductive technologies used by gay couples to have children. She considers this yet another form of exploitation and that “wholeness and balance cannot be found in such families, because something is missing. I [the mother] am missing.”
Her children were thrust into a deeply gay world. Her husband and his gay lover took the children to live in a gay-only condo where one of the men has a 19-year-old male prostitute “who comes to service him” and where a man in his late sixties has a boyfriend in his twenties, and where her children are taken to gay parties, “transgender baseball games, gay right fundraisers, and LGBT film festivals.”
I had missed this column but was alerted to it because of the great and brave Robert Oscar Lopez, who famously came out a few years ago as a man who was raised by lesbians and how harmful that was to him. He has subsequently become a global leader for children’s rights. On his Facebook page, Lopez said this woman was under attack from the gay bullyboys for something she had written on Public Discourse.
I discovered a cabal of pernicious gay bullyboys who are dedicated to tracking down and ruining the lives of anyone who steps out to tell their own story.
We are often told that we live in a narrative age and that no stories may be discounted. Read the response to Janna and you can see that not all stories are welcome. Most especially unwelcome are stories that do not march in step with this particular brand of sexual anarchism.
The first thing to note is how careful Janna was in her column. She used a pseudonym to protect herself, certainly, also her family and even the privacy of her husband. Among the very first things the gay bullyboys did was to discover her identity and announce it to the world.
Jeremy Hooper, who works with the thugs at GLAAD, runs a site called “Good as You,” went after Janna but the real action was in the comment section. In fact, among the first commenters was the pseudonymous Janna’s husband who promptly told everyone her full name, all the better to stalk her with. He did more than that, he published a photo of him with his lover and his children, obviously at some LGBT event because in the background are other gay men with their lovers lounging on the grass.
When you look at the picture, I think you can see pain in the eyes of their son. He seems embarrassed to be there with his father and his father’s lover and all the gay men around. The girl seems happy enough, she’s smiling. We are told that Lopez and others raised by gay parents also had smiling faces, but their smiles masked real pain and confusion at being thrust into the gay world.
The boys piled on after that. They hung poor Janna from a viral meat hook. One particularly creepy guy named Scott Rose even went onto her company’s Facebook page and complained about her:
This is a COMPLAINT against […], an executive assistant in […]. Under the nom de plume of “Janna Darnelle,” […] has published a horrifying, defamatory anti-gay screed on the website “Public Discourse.” The first problem would be that she is creating a climate of hostility for eventual gay elders and/or their visiting friends and relatives. The second problem would be that in the screed, she comes off as being unhinged. Her public expressions of gay-bashing bigotry are reflecting very poorly on LLC.
This is standard operating procedure for the gay bullyboys. They cannot stand even a single dissent from their march to dominance and punishment. Look what happened to Brendan Eich at Mozilla Firefox. All he did was donate to the Prop 8 campaign and the gay bullyboys drove him from his job. Here is a woman totally unknown to them, on a website that is hardly the largest in the land, and they track her down, expose her identity, besmirch her reputation and try to get her fired.
Someone came to her defense. Yet another pseudonymous writer published a column at Public Discourse explaining what had happened to Janna after she published her piece.
Rivka Edelman is a feminist writer, a scholar, a children’s right activist, who was raised by a lesbian. She rose to Janna’s defense and laid out the tactics of the gay bullyboys and lashed out at their misogyny.
Rivvka writes, “For those of you who avoid the subterranean landscape of online same-sex parenting debates, it is useful to be introduced to Scott “Rose” Rosenzweig, a virulently misogynistic LGBT activist. As soon as Darnelle’s essay was published, Rose went into action, darting from the blog Good As You to other sites in an effort to destroy her personally.” She goes further: “certain wings of the LGBT-rights movement function as all-white men’s rights groups. In our contemporary climate, these men are allowed to do great harm to women and children with impunity.” Hers is a feminist critique that social conservatives will find compelling. Robert Oscar Lopez makes the same arguments.
To gay men, women are no more than breeders to be used or parodied. “Practically speaking, Scott Rose and his compatriots have formed a men’s rights group that seeks to use women as breeders. These egg donors and surrogate mothers supply infants for a bustling market full of same-sex couples, for whom reproduction is naturally and biologically impossible.” Edelman says they are out to erase women.
Guess what happened to Rivka Edelman? They tried to crush her. They say they have found out her identity. Maybe. Maybe not. How they do this is remarkable and frightening, and they want us frightened though it is far from clear that they have found out her identity. After all, the sexual anarchists are known to tell a fib or two.
Let’s say they found out someone’s identity and, like Janna, they want to get her fired. They have dug up some aggressive comments she is supposed to have made in various comment boxes about gays and transgenders in order to show what a vicious bigot she is and how she should be punished for it. They want her. Oh do they want her. The comment boxes are full of vulgar attacks that I cannot and will not repeat.
These women are not only victims in their person lives; one was left by her husband for another man and a lesbian raised the other; they are victims here by the gay bullyboys simply for telling their personal stories.
One must believe that the likes of Jeremy Hooper and Scott Rose and all the nasties in the comment boxes are far from representative of gay culture. One hopes so. We look forward to the day when Hooper-Rose et al are ostracized for their behavior.
Just like marriage is wanted only by a tiny subset of the 1.6 percent of gay men, such bullying can only exist among a small but vocal minority. The problem, among many, is that the radicals tend to chase out the moderates. We see this in the Arab and Muslim world. We see this in many political movements. Moderates are considered sell-outs, soft, also to be punished.
So, the gay bullyboys number only a few, I hope. And they have likely waited all their lives to get even. They were teased in junior high and have not gotten over it. One of the problems is that the gay bullyboys include those at powerful organizations, the Human Rights Campaign, for instance, and GLAAD. Naturally fund-raising has a lot to do with that. HRC needs to raise $50 million a year so they have to find discrimination under every bed.
The few gay bullyboys are going to do great damage to women, children and society before they are done. The only ones to hold them off are the more sensible of the LGBT movement. Where are they? They should step in now to defend these two women who have come under vicious attack.
Austin Ruse


Austin Ruse is president of C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute focusing on international legal and social policy. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of C-FAM.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Telling the Truth About Islam

Telling the Truth About Islam

koran (Reuters : Akhtar Soomro)
Why has it become so maddeningly difficult to make judgments about other people? About the actions especially of people who want to kill us? Indeed, whose stated aim is to bring the Great Satan (i.e., America) to its knees, and then to cut off its collective head? Is it too much of a stretch to imagine bearded men who bellow “Allahu Akbar!” (that blood-curdling “God is the Greatest!” jihadist jingle), just moments before blowing up busloads of women and children, as being animated by a passion for radical Islam? Yet such is the mindset of so many opinion-makers in the media today that they simply will not make the connection.
The problem is not recent. When Newsweek’s Evan Thomas weighed in some years back following the Fort Hood massacre, in which a Muslim by the name of Nidal Hasan murdered a dozen or more people, he positively recoiled from having to identify the obvious origins of Maj. Hasan’s homicidal rampage. “I cringe that he’s a Muslin,” reported Thomas.  “I think he’s probably just a nut case.”
The government apparently agreed, calling the multiple terrorist killings a case of “workplace violence.” This notwithstanding Nidal’s own insistence that he be regarded as a solider in the growing Army of Allah, intent on targeting American soldiers in the name of holy jihad.
That so many journalists and reporters exhibit their skills in traversing these minefields is no doubt due to the long practice they’ve had in perfecting the art of selective suppression. Of which the earliest and still most egregious example is the front-page headline that ran in the New York Times following the arrest of one Mohammed Salameh for his involvement in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center: “Jersey City Man Is Charged in Bombing of Trade Center.”
Imagine a comparable headline reporting the capture, say, of Adolph Hitler, architect of the Final Solution, in which the editors are at pains to avoid any reference to his passion for Nazi ideology, lest it leave in its readers’ minds the invidious impression that ideas have consequences. “Ex-Bavarian Paper-Hanger Arrested for War Crimes.” Would that about cover it?
Perhaps we’re expecting rather a lot from the secular sages in mainstream media. Why should their standards be any higher than the public to whom they pander? Maybe not. But when it comes to the Catholic Church, aren’t the standards supposed to be high? I mean, by the Church’s own admission, she is the keeper of the tablets. And so when Churchmen fall short of the very standards God himself sets—in the authoritative accents of whose Name they speak—the resulting crash of credibility is pretty hard to contain.
Have I someone in mind here? Yes, I do. A whole panoply of people, in fact, who work for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB)—which, incidentally, has enjoyed a shelf life far in excess of whatever usefulness it might once have exercised on behalf of individual bishops. So let’s get rid of it. By year’s end perhaps? What a nice Christmas present that would be to give to the Bishops, who are quite beleaguered enough without the added encumbrance of a national conference co-opting their job as Shepherds of souls.
In the meantime, the paper trail from some of the Conference’s more recent statements do not invite confidence in its capacity either to lead or to think. For example, back in August, a USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (CEIA), chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Dennis J. Madden from Baltimore, released a brief statement on the urgency of continuing the dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. What we need here, he seemed to be saying, is more sweetness and light. And the upshot, of course, is that since we’re all equipped with an equal set of credentials already (after all, asked the authors of the statement, had not “Both Jesus and Muhammad loved and cared for all whom they met, especially the poor and oppressed”?), there’s really nothing to keep us from building still more “networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism, and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims.”
Have they completely lost their bureaucratic minds? Do the authors of such feel-good flapdoodle really not know anything about the religion of Islam? Forget the so-called silent Muslim majority we pretend to ourselves represents the lion’s share of Islam. The fact is, Islam remains fundamentally and unmistakably a religion of violence. The murderousness of Muslim theology is not an accidental or episodic affair, such as from time to time overcomes the better angels of their nature. It is entirely intrinsic to the beliefs all Muslims profess.
How could it be otherwise when its founding document, the Koran, is replete with what can only be described as the poisonous rhetoric of hatred and intolerance? If we are reviled by so much of the Muslim world, it is because the children of the Prophet have been carefully coached to regard everything in the West (except our technology) as loathsome and therefore deserving of destruction.
Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be there home: an evil fate.   (Koran 9:73)
Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.   Know that God is with the righteous. (Koran 9:123)
Is this the message of Shalom? Do we now get to walk hand in hand into the sunset singing Kumbaya?   And there is more. Think of all those timorous souls who still hesitate to strike out at the infidel in their midst. God help them. Islam is utterly unforgiving. Not only of those who happen not to be Muslim, but of their own kind who decline the use of the sword with which to smite the enemies of Allah. Indeed, the penalty for those who dare to deviate from the purity of Muslim doctrine is death. The apostate having placed himself beyond the pale, the task of taking him out becomes a matter of simple justice. When that crazy Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the death of the writer Salman Rushdie in reprisal for his literary sins, there was no outcry from the Muslim world. For those who read and revere the Koran, such things make perfect sense.
So while the disagreements we have with the Islamic world continue to fester in all sorts of politically and militarily unpleasant ways, the root cause behind every dispute is always the same. It is the fact that we inhabit two diametrically opposed universes of faith. “Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran,” wrote Pope Saint John-Paul II in Crossing The Threshold Of Hope, “clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation” (italics in the original). And while it is true, as the pope goes on to say, that among the “most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran,” it cannot finally satisfy because such a God, “is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption” (again, italics in the original).
It is very instructive, I think, and not a little duplicitous, that while the statement issued by the NCCB cites this remarkable book written by the late Pope, indeed, praising its author for acknowledging the prayerfulness of Muslims, it includes none of the sentences quoted above. Such omissions, it seems to me, mutilate its larger message.
So what have we got here but two peoples intractably divided along theological lines. Open the Koran anywhere and see how it bristles with contempt on nearly every page for those whom Allah himself is already bent on “mocking,” “cursing,” “shaming,” “punishing,” “scourging,” “judging,” “burning,” “annihilating.” In upholding the truth of the text divinely dictated through the mouth of the holy Prophet, Islam can do no less than unleash the dogs of war.
Have we the courage to say so? Will our leaders insist, in the teeth of the bloody terrorists who commit evil acts licensed by their religion, that not only are they to be held accountable for what they do, but also for the ideas that justify what they do? “Not to act in accordance with reason,” wrote Pope Benedict in his now famous Regensburg Address (September 12, 2006), “is contrary to God’s nature.” In reminding us of the evils of irrational violence, most particularly in the name of religion, he had dared to put the question in a way that forces Islam to face the dilemma in which it now finds itself. If it be the case that Muslim teaching empties even the Godhead itself of reason, and thus the unfettered exercise of the Allah’s all-powerful will trump even the Logos itself, then if follows that sheer irrationality becomes a category inscribed at the heart of the religion of Islam. There are a billion or more people on the planet at this moment who believe that, as Benedict put it, “God himself is not bound even by his own word, and that were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.” Can we honestly hold dialogue with these people? It will take heaps of grace to move that discussion along. The grace of conversion.
(Photo credit: Akhtar Soomro / REUTERS)


Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and, most recently, The Beggar's Banquet (Emmaus Road). He resides in Steubenville, Ohio, with his wife and ten children.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gluttony--One of the Seven Deadly Sins

Seeking Satisfaction – Gluttony

There is a grotesque scene in the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life in which a hugely corpulent character named Mr Creosote eats a gigantic meal, vomits repeatedly and then, after eating a tiny after dinner mint, explodes. The comedy is completely outrageous, but you can’t miss the explicitly revolting depiction of gluttony.
Being heavy is not always caused by gluttony, nor does one need to be enormously obese to be guilty of gluttony. St Thomas Aquinas (who was himself overweight) defined five forms of gluttony: 1. eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly 2.  eating food that is excessive in quantity 3. eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared 4. eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time 5. eating too eagerly. Gluttony includes any form of addiction. Drug abuse, caffeine or sugar addictions and alcoholism are forms of gluttony, but so is any inordinate attachment to food and drink. Similarly C.S.Lewis (who knew how to down a few pints of beer) points out than being overly fussy about food and drink can also be a form of gluttony. A person who insists on their steak being done “just so” then complains and rejects it is also placing too much selfish attention on food.
We think of gluttony as socially unattractive, but a sophisticated person dining daintily at a fine restaurant may very well be guilty of gluttony because they love their food and drink too much. Indeed, a connoisseur may be a very refined glutton.
Gluttony is a deadly sin not because it is unattractive but because there is a deeper problem. The glutton uses food for something other than its proper intention. Food is given for our nourishment, our enjoyment and for the fellowship of sharing with others. The glutton uses food simply to give himself pleasure or comfort. Think of a baby with a bottle. Not only does he gain nourishment, but he enjoys a feeling of comfort and relief from the warm drink. It’s okay for babies, but we’re supposed to outgrow the need for comfort food, and we shouldn’t need to rely on inebriation of alcohol or the false high of drugs to find the peace and happiness we long for.
To put it plainly, the glutton seeks in food, alcohol or drugs the comfort, and sense of well being and happiness that he should find in a strong relationship with God and a life of true goodness, truth and beauty. That is why the lively virtue that counters the deadly vice of gluttony is temperance.
The seventeenth century poet Thomas Traherne wrote, “Can a man be just unless he loves all things according to their worth?” Temperance is that virtue that empowers us to see the good in all things and to love them without being inordinately attached. Temperance in our consumption of food and drink also helps us to establish temperance in our relationship to other material things in life.
A person who is gluttonous is also likely to be greedy. The person who seeks comfort, peace and happiness in food and drink probably also clings to material things hoping to find security, peace and happiness. By exercising the virtue of temperance in the area of food and drink we will also find victory over our inordinate attachment to our money and possessions.
Temperance is the virtue that allows us to enjoy food and drink to the full, but avoids excess realizing that to abuse the gift is to destroy it. Temperance is therefore gratitude in action. By enjoying God’s gifts in the right proportion and in the right relationship to all things we are saying “Thanks” to God and living in the abundant life he promises.
Editor’s note: This is the second part in an eight part series exploring the Seven Deadly Sins. Check back each Wednesday and read previous articles here

Friday, September 19, 2014

Homosexual Acts Cannot be Approved or Celebrated by the Church – Here’s Why

Homosexual Acts Cannot be Approved or Celebrated by the Church – Here’s Why

girl-praying-over-BibleIn recent years, homosexuality has frequently been in the news. An increasingly nationwide effort to make homosexual acts something to celebrate has gained great ground and sowed serious confusion even among those who describe themselves as Christian and Catholic. Hence, it is necessary once again to instruct on this matter and to reassert what Scripture plainly teaches and why the Church cannot affirm what the world demands we affirm.
An essential fact is that the Scriptures are very clear in unambiguously, uncompromisingly declaring homosexual acts as a serious sin and as disordered. “Disordered” here means that they are acts that are not ordered to their proper end or purpose. Sexual acts are, by their very nature, ordered to procreation and to the bonding of the mother and father who will raise the children conceived by their sexual intimacy. These ends or purposes have been intrinsically joined by God, and we are not to separate what what God has joined.  In the Old Testament, Scripture describes the sinful and disordered quality of homosexual acts by the use of the word “abomination,” and in the New Testament, St. Paul calls homosexual acts “paraphysin” (contrary to nature).
Attempts by some to reinterpret Scripture to mean something else are fanciful, at best, and  use theories that require twisted logic and questionable historical views in an attempt to set aside the very plain meaning of the texts.
Likewise in the wider culture, among those who do not accept Scripture, there has been an increasingly insistent refusal to acknowledge what the design of the human body plainly discloses: that the man is for the woman, and the woman is for the man. The man is not for the man, nor the woman for the woman. This is plainly set forth in the design of our bodies. The outright refusal to see what is plainly visible and literally built into our bodies is not only a sign of intellectual stubbornness and darkness (cf Rom 1:18, 21), but it also leads to significant issues with health, even to deadly diseases.
And we who believe in the definitive nature of scriptural teaching on all aspects of human sexuality are not merely considered out-of-date by many in our culture, but are being increasingly pressured to affirm what we cannot reasonably affirm. Cardinal Francis George recently expressed the current situation in this way:
In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger [1].
Whatever pressures many may wish to place on the Church to conform, however they may wish to “shame” us into compliance by labeling us with adjectives such as bigoted, homophobic, or intolerant, we cannot comply with their demands. We must remain faithful to scriptural teaching, to our commitment to natural law, and to Sacred Tradition. We simply cannot affirm things such as fornication and homosexual acts and reject the revelation of the body as it comes from God.
What some call intolerance or “hatred” is, for us who believe, rather, a principled stance wherein we see ourselves as unable to overrule the clear and unambiguous teaching of Holy Scripture. And this teaching exists at every stage of revelation, from the opening pages right through to the final books of Sacred Writ. The Church has no power to override what God has said; we cannot cross out sentences or tear pages from the Scripture. Neither can we simply reverse Sacred Tradition or pretend that the human body, as God has designed it, does not manifest what it clearly does.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church announces this principled stance with eloquence and with an understanding of the difficulties encountered by those with same-sex attraction:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. 
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC 2357-2359).
We can speak no other way. We do not detest those of same sex-attraction, but we as a Church owe them the same truth we have always proclaimed as coming from God, and out of respect we must  hold them to the same standards of chastity by which all must live.
There can be no sexual intercourse for any who are not in a valid heterosexual marriage. We cannot give approval for it; we do not have the power to do this, no matter how insistent, forceful, or even punitive the demands that we do so become. This will not change because it cannot change.
Homosexuals are not being singled out in this matter. As we saw in yesterday’s post, fornication (pre-marital sex) is also set forth by scripture and tradition as a very serious mortal sin (cf Eph 5:5- 7; Gal 5:16-21; Rev 21:5-8; Rev. 22:14-16; Mt. 15:19-20; 1 Cor 6:9-20; Col 3:5-6; 1 Thess 4:1-8; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Heb 13:4). It cannot be approved no matter how widespread its acceptance becomes. One standard of sexual norms applies to all people, whatever their orientation.
Sadly those of unalterable same-sex attraction have no recourse to marriage. But all of us bear burdens of one sort or another, and not everyone is able to partake in everything life offers. For the sake of holiness, heroic witness is necessary, and many of those with same-sex attraction do live celibately and give admirable witness to the power of grace.
God must have the final word in this. And so I present to you here some selections from Sacred Scripture that clearly teach against homosexual acts. The witness of Scripture in this regard is very consistent across all the ages of biblical Revelation. From the opening pages of Holy Writ to the final books, homosexual acts, along with fornication and adultery, are unambiguously forbidden and described as gravely sinful. In addition, homosexual acts, because they are contrary to nature and to the revelation of the body and the nature of the sexual act, are often described as acts of depravity or as an “abomination.” Some consider such words unpleasant or hurtful. I understand, but they are the words that Scripture uses. Here is a sample of Scriptural teaching against homosexual acts:
  1. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination(Leviticus 18: 22).
  2. If a man lies with a male as with a female, both of them have committed an abomination (Lev 20:13).
  3. Likewise, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah depicts, among other things, the sinfulness of homosexual activity. It is too lengthy to reproduce here in its entirety, but you can read about it in Genesis 19.
  4. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct (Romans 1:18ff).
  5. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6-9).
  6. The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, for those who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.(1 Timothy 1: 8-11).
And this is the testimony of Sacred Scripture. To these could be added other passages, along with a long list of quotes from the Fathers and from Sacred Tradition, with Councils and other teaching documents from the earliest days of the Church until today.
To those who like to object that Jesus himself never spoke of homosexual acts, I would give these three responses:
  1. It was not a disputed matter among the Jews to whom he preached.
  2. Jesus said to his apostles, “He who hears you hears me.” And therefore Jesus does speak through St. Paul and the other epistle writers.
  3. The same Holy Spirit that authored the Gospels also authored the Epistles. There are not different authors or levels of authority in Sacred Writ. What St. Paul says is no less authoritative or inspired than what the evangelists recorded.
The teaching of the Church regarding the sinfulness of homosexual acts, fornication, and adultery cannot change, attested to as they are in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The Church can only offer the truth to all the faithful and to all in this world, along with her promise of God’s mercy to those who seek repentance and who now desire to live chastely. To those who refuse, she continues to give warning and to pray both for conversion and for rescue from the deceptions of the world and the evil one.
Cardinal George summarized well both the reason we cannot approve homosexual acts and the solution of celibacy for those of same-sex attraction: The biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations [2]. Clear and concise. Thank you, Cardinal George.
For more information and support for those who have same-sex attraction, see here: Courage

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Churches---by FRANCIS CARDINAL GEORGE, O.M.I.

A Tale of Two Churches


For many years in America, the state basically kept its original promise to protect all religions and not to become a rival to them, a fake church. That is no longer the case.

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Once upon a time there was a church founded on God's entering into human history in order to give humanity a path to eternal life and happiness with him.  The Savior that God sent, his only-begotten Son, did not write a book but founded a community, a church, upon the witness and ministry of twelve apostles.  He sent this church the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love between Father and Son, the Spirit of the truth that God had revealed about himself and humanity by breaking into the history of human sinfulness.
This church, a hierarchical communion, continued through history, living among different peoples and cultures, filled with sinners, but always guided in the essentials of her life and teaching by the Holy Spirit.  She called herself "Catholic" because her purpose was to preach a universal faith and a universal morality, encompassing all peoples and cultures.  This claim often invited conflict with the ruling classes of many countries.  About 1,800 years into her often stormy history, this church found herself as a very small group in a new country in Eastern North America that promised to respect all religions because the State would not be confessional; it would not try to play the role of a religion.
This church knew that it was far from socially acceptable in this new country.  One of the reasons the country was established was to protest the king of England's permitting the public celebration of the Catholic Mass on the soil of the British Empire in the newly conquered Catholic territories of Canada.  He had betrayed his coronation oath to combat Catholicism, defined as "America's greatest enemy," and protect Protestantism, bringing the pure religion of the colonists into danger and giving them the moral right to revolt and reject his rule.
Nonetheless, many Catholics in the American colonies thought their life might be better in the new country than under a regime whose ruling class had penalized and persecuted them since the mid-sixteenth century.  They made this new country their own and served her loyally.  The social history was often contentious, but the State basically kept its promise to protect all religions and not become a rival to them, a fake church.  Until recent years.
There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country.  It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence.  It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class.  Forms of anti-Catholicism were part of its social DNA.  It had encouraged its citizens to think of themselves as the creators of world history and the managers of nature, so that no source of truth outside of themselves needed to be consulted to check their collective purposes and desires.  But it had never explicitly taken upon itself the mantle of a religion and officially told its citizens what they must personally think or what "values" they must personalize in order to deserve to be part of the country.  Until recent years.

In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered "sinful."  Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church's teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes.  What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval.  The "ruling class," those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone.  We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family.  Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.
When the recent case about religious objection to one provision of the Health Care Act was decided against the State religion, the Huffington Post (June 30, 2014) raised "concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen."  This is not the voice of the nativists who first fought against Catholic immigration in the 1830s.  Nor is it the voice of those who burned convents and churches in Boston and Philadelphia a decade later.  Neither is it the voice of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, nor of the Ku Klux Klan, which burned crosses before Catholic churches in the Midwest after the civil war.  It is a voice more sophisticated than that of the American Protective Association, whose members promised never to vote for a Catholic for public office.  This is, rather, the self-righteous voice of some members of the American establishment today who regard themselves as "progressive" and "enlightened."
The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics.  Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be.  This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god.  It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure.  It takes a deep faith to "swim against the tide," as Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to do at last summer's World Youth Day.
Swimming against the tide means limiting one's access to positions of prestige and power in society.  It means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers.  Nor will their children, who will also be suspect.  Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics.  It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law.
A reader of the tale of two churches, an outside observer, might note that American civil law has done much to weaken and destroy what is the basic unit of every human society, the family.  With the weakening of the internal restraints that healthy family life teaches, the State will need to impose more and more external restraints on everyone's activities.  An outside observer might also note that the official religion's imposing whatever its proponents currently desire on all citizens and even on the world at large inevitably generates resentment.  An outside observer might point out that class plays a large role in determining the tenets of the official State religion.  "Same-sex marriage," as a case in point, is not an issue for the poor or those on the margins of society.
How does the tale end?  We don't know.  The actual situation is, of course, far more complex than a story plot, and there are many actors and characters, even among the ruling class, who do not want their beloved country to transform itself into a fake church.  It would be wrong to lose hope, since there are so many good and faithful people.
Catholics do know, with the certainty of faith, that, when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the church, in some recognizable shape or form that is both Catholic and Apostolic, will be there to meet him.  There is no such divine guarantee for any country, culture or society of this or any age.
His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. "A Tale of Two Churches." Catholic New World (September 7, 2014.)
Reprinted with permission of the Communications Office of the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
The Catholic New World is the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
His Eminence Francis Eugene Cardinal George, O.M.I., is the eighth Archbishop of Chicago. As Archbishop of Chicago, he has issued two pastoral letters: on evangelization, "Becoming an Evangelizing People," (November 21, 1997) and on racism, "Dwell in My Love" (April 4, 2001). His book, The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, is a collection of essays exploring our relationship with God, the responsibility of communion and the transformation of culture.
Copyright © 2014 Francis Cardinal George, OMI