The always thought-provoking First Things website has an interesting article, “Managers, Therapists, and Saving Democracy”, by Dale Coulter. Addressing the question of whether Western society can survive its present moral collapse, he begins with the origins, observing that:
“the scientific method translated into the burgeoning role of the social sciences, particularly psychology, and thus gave rise to the therapist. Human flourishing was stripped of a moral center and replaced with psychological well-being. To achieve such well-being, the mantra of “be true to yourself” reinforced the consistent claims of social scientists that non-conformity was the path to self-realization.”
Coulter offers an excellent perspective, especially about the essential sophistry of the politically-created, agenda-driven “social sciences”. I recommend that you read it. He references several thinkers who have contributed useful analyses. George Marsden, Cristopher Lasch, Reinhold Niebuhr, George Weigel, and the much-missed former-pope Benedict XVI. I would add two others who have done much to make the current collapse understandable: Eric Voegelin and Philip Rieff.
Voegelin wrote (In The New Science of Politics): [In contrast to] “the classic and Christian science of man”, [Max Weber assumes] “a social relation between scientist and politician, activated in the institution of a university, where the scientist as teacher will inform his students, the prospective homines politici, about the structure of political reality.”
And in his Plato and Aristotle, “Philosophy thus, has its origin in the resistance of the soul to its destruction by society…The Sophist proclaims his disease (of the soul) as the measure of human and social order.”
Another interesting perceptive is presented by Philip Rieff in The Triumph of the Therapeutic:
“Freud taught lessons which Americans, prepared by their own national experience, learn easily: survive, resign yourself to living within your moral means, suffer no gratuitous failures in a futile search for ethical heights that no longer exist – if they ever did….The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling, first of all to the cultural elites themselves.
“We believe that we know something our predecessors did not: that we can live freely at last, enjoying all our senses – except the sense of the past – as unremembering, honest, and friendly barbarians all, in a technological Eden.”
Voegelin also noted the inherent dishonesty in all this: “When Weber built the great edifice of his ‘sociology’ (i.e., the positivistic escape from the science of order), he did not seriously consider ‘all values’ as equal…In the absence of a reasoned principle of theoretization he let himself be guided not by ‘values’ but by the auctoritas maiorum.”
The difficulty is that philosophy, “the classic and Christian science of man” with “its origin in the resistance of the soul to its destruction by society,” seems powerless against the present disease of the soul in either its political or its sophistic-scientistic forms. The battle must be waged on moral, religious grounds as well. Plato and Aristotle must once again lock arms with St. Thomas Aquinas. The Catholic Church under John Paul II and Benedict XVI was putting up a good fight; but now we seem to have a Pope who is all too often “guided by the auctoritas maiorum“.
I have found that Maureen Mullarkey often says what many others are thinking. A blogger on the excellent First Things website, she has recently published a searing criticism of what appears to be Pope Francis’ strong predilection for left-wing politics expressed in religious garb. Read it here: “Francis and Political Illusion”. It is appropriate to give a new voice of the church a chance to define himself before we react. But so far Joseph has done little to reassure, and much to worry those who see the Church as the prime bulwark against a world losing all sense of order, morality and purpose. As I have said in the past (on my blog benfiniti.com), for me the first alarm was raised by his relationship with Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras, a classic Latin American Marxist “liberation theologian” (and anti-Semite, but that’s a post for another day) as well as Pope Francis’ close confidant (appointed to head his Vatican Reform Commission).
Maradiaga’s thoughts are clear (and familiar): He rails against “the neoliberal dictatorships that rule democracies” and advises that “to change the system, it would be necessary to destroy the power of the new feudal lords.” He denounces “a world dictatorship of finance capital” and “the small transcontinental oligarchies that hold the financial capital dominate the planet.” He thunders that “The lords of financial capital wield over billions of human beings a power of life and death.” This “Liberation Theology” is actually just a pious-sounding rehash of Marxist Leninism, treating persons only as classes and political revolution as the only remedy. It had its day in the 60’s and 70’s, before being delegitimized by John Paul II (who knew a few things about the proponents of class war). The “LT’s” hold up the banner of justice to conceal their belief that they must, as Maradiaga put it, “change the System…to destroy the power of the new feudal lords”. This is the Marxist, not the Christian gospel .
If Francis disagrees with Maradiaga, it behooves him to say so. On the contrary, Francis’s recent pronouncements on very political issues raise even more suspicion, suggesting that he is a true Maradiagan. So with Marxist Liberation Theology establishing itself in the Vatican for the first time, and with such a man showing clear sign of being the new Pope’s eminence grise (even though he wears red), shouldn’t we all be concerned? I am worried. Not as a Catholic, for I am not one, but as one who recognizes the invaluable role the Church is playing in the defense of so much of value that is now under attack. So, thank you, Miss Mullarkey.
In his recent post [The “BDS” Movement: A 3-Question Test for Antisemitism], my friend Hans Moleman [mistermoleman.com] offers his usual valuable insight into a troubling question. Are the harsh Western leftist critics of Israel (typified by the BDS movement to “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction” Israel for its purported sins in the occupied territories) truly anti-Semites, or are they what they claim to be: fair and balanced human rights activists?
His basic argument is undoubtedly correct: those who single out one unique group, such as the world’s only Jewish state, and subject it to a higher standard, and who ignore the far worse acts of others, are highly suspect in their motives. “Activists” who old one nation to a higher standard than any other, while ignoring far worse behavior by other countries and ignoring the acts of its enemies bent on extermination, are quite simply enemies – not critical friends applying tough love.
But Mr. M makes two errors in his analysis, and they misdirect him to a partly mistaken conclusion. Continue reading →
A common thread of modern leftist anti-Israel anti-Semitism is the claim that Israel has only itself to blame for Jew-hatred. If only they had been “nicer” to the Arab armies and terrorists committed to their annihilation! A preposterous but familiar excuse for leftist racism.
But in another sense, anti-Semitism does indeed have roots in Jewish history. For Israel, in addition to discovering monotheism and the concept of a meaningful history, also invented self-criticism. The first references to Jews as a stiff-necked, materialistic, ungrateful people may be found in the words of the Prophets of ancient Israel, quoted in the Jewish (and Christian) bible.
In a PBS series on Jewish history, host Simon Schama (a respected historian) cited as proof of St. Paul’s anti-semitism his claim that the Jews had often slain their own prophets. Schama seemed unaware that Paul was quoting Jesus, and Jesus was quoting the Prophets Nehemiah and Elijah, criticizing Hebrew ingratitude:
“They were disobedient and rebelled against Thee, and cast thy laws behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.” (Nehemiah 9:26)
“They children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword.” (1 Kings 19:10, quoting Elijah)
Not sure I agree with all of this, but there is an extremely interesting interview with W. Bradford Wilcox of The Marriage Project. It is a web exclusive posted at the invaluable First Things (firstthings.com). Entitled “How Churches Can Bridge the Marriage Divide“, I found it most informative about just how dire the is “marriage gap” between college-educated and non-college parents. (Obviously college education is a marker for socio-economic class, since few colleges teach anything even hinting at the value of the married state.)
Most shocking single statistic for me? 10% of babies born to college-educated mothers are born out of wedlock. Among non-college-educated mothers, the figure is 50%! And of those kids, few will be college-educated themselves.
Anyway, let me know what you think. The “Post a Comment” button is below. (It must be easy, because I get a lot of spammed comments.)
[As usual, my friend Hans Moleman (at mistermoleman.com) has made a good and timely point: in an age when the benefits of motherhood have been scientifically and legally debunked, refuted, and declared non-existent, why do we still celebrate “Mother’s” Day?]
It is time to put an end to this outrage. “Mother’s” Day is an abhorrent, anachronistic vestige of heterosexist oppression. In barely concealed homophobic code, it implies that a child needs and/or benefits from having a mother, and that motherhood is something other than an outdated social construct.
Sure, motherhood may have been revered in the Dark Ages. But as Enlightenment has spread across the land in recent years, social scientists and learned judges have patiently explained to us that “mothers” are now quite redundant.
Wise judges such as Vaughn Walker, ruling that the voters of California have no right to decide so important a question, wrote:
“The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment… The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology…Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”
See? It is “accepted beyond serious debate”. As Al Gore likes to say, the debate is over, we know all we need to know.
The judge did admit that things were different in the Dark Ages: “When California became a state in 1850, marriage was understood to require a husband and a wife.” But, as they say in California, that was then and this is now. (On retiring soon after ruling against Prop 8, Judge Walker said ““I have done my part.” Indeed he has.)
The Iowa Supreme Court was equally patient in dismissing the folly of mother-fixation.
“The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.”
There you have it. This whole motherhood thing is just a stereotype.
And think of the emotional pain inflicted. Every “M-word” Day is a gross offense to the self-esteem of gay male couples who are thinking about raising children.
It reminds one of a heart-breaking episode from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Stan, a young rebel with gender issues, announces that he wants to have a baby:
Stan (also known as Loretta): It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.
Reg: But you can’t have babies.
Stan: Don’t you oppress me.
Reg: Where’s the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?
Well, Reg, modern science has finally come up with effective gestation boxes, so Stan’s dream (actually Loretta’s dream) can now come true. And the courts have said that gay adoption is OK, because all that a child needs is “parents”.
So we can leave this motherhood fetish back in ancient Judea where it belongs.
The obvious thing to do is to rename the holiday. Federal and state governments are quickly replacing the anachronistic “Mother” and “Father” lines on government forms and birth certificates with the more sensitive “Parent #1” and “Parent #2”.
The calendar can and should do the same thing. May 11 is Parent #1 Day, with Parent #2 to be celebrated later. (Don’t get me started on the whole “Fatherhood” outrage. That can wait until P2 Day.)
Boycott Hallmark until they correct this archaic macro-aggression against the differently gendered parent!
Reminder: Did you call your Parent #1 today?
My friend Moleman has posted (mistermoleman.com) an article about the brave Somali feminist freedom fighter snubbed by the cowardly liberals of Brandeis.
It’s worth a look. Moleman is proposing that a monument to Ms. Hirsi Ali be constructed near Brandeis. Good idea.
As I have written below, I have spent many years trying to find God. I have found much Judeo-Christian theology coherent, consistent with reality, and therefore highly plausible.
But I still cannot convince myself that the other coherent, consistent worldview, atheistic materialism, is not also plausible.
Many authors have helped me along; I will list and discuss them sometime. But nothing so far has been quite so compelling as this quote from atheist guru Richard Dawkins:
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
This chilling statement, offered in support of Dawkins’ atheism, is from his book Rivers of Eden, which I found quoted in Francis Collins’ The Language of God. (I recommend Collins’ book highly. He was the director of the Human Genome Project as well as a Christian.)
I expect to be contemplating this for a long time.
I have just read a book that has achieved a rather impressive audience recently: The Swerve, by Harvard Professor of Humanities Stephen Greenblatt. Accurately subtitled “How the World Became Modern”, it is a look at the re-discovery and modern embrace of Roman Epicurean philosopher-poet Lucretius and his epic work On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura).
Little is known of Lucretius’ life. One historian writes that “Lucretius was probably a member of the aristocratic gens Lucretia, and his work shows an intimate knowledge of the luxurious lifestyle in Rome. Lucretius’s love of the countryside invites speculation that he inhabited family-owned rural estates, as did many wealthy Roman families, and he was certainly expensively educated with mastery of Latin, Greek, literature, and philosophy.”
In chapter 8, Greenblatt summarizes Lucretius:
Everything is made of invisible particles, eternal, infinite in number but limited in shape and size, all in motion in an infinite void. The universe has no creator or designer.
Everything comes into being as a result of a swerve [i.e. random motion]; the swerve is the source of free will.
Nature ceaselessly experiments. The universe was not created for or about humans; humans are not unique. Human society began not in a Golden Age of tranquility and plenty, but in a primitive battle for survival.
The soul dies; there is no afterlife; death is nothing to us.
All organized religions are superstitious delusions, and invariably cruel.
The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.
The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.
Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder.