For religion all men are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King. This fact has been quite insufficiently observed in the study of religious heroes. Piety produces intellectual greatness precisely because piety in itself is quite indifferent to intellectual greatness. The strength of Cromwell was that he cared for religion. But the strength of religion was that it did not care for Cromwell; did not care for him, that is, any more than for anybody else. He and his footman were equally welcomed to warm places in the hospitality of hell. It has often been said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.
G. K. Chesterton wrote in his 1908 classic Orthodoxy, “The unpopular parts of Christianity turn out when examined to be the very props of the people.” The outer crust of Christian reality is a moral sternness that seems ugly, but makes possible “pagan freedom.” Neo-pagans wishing to excise those outer morals have brought on themselves “despair within.”
This is one of the central paradoxes of Mary Eberstadt’s new book “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.” The sexual revolution made possible by modern, more reliable contraception came with promises of a world that was emancipated, free-spirited, and happy. Instead, everywhere embraced, the revolution has brought a shrinking, aging general population, scores of abused, abandoned, and aborted children, and unhappiness for men and—most strikingly—for women. The despair is within, but its ugly fruits are everywhere to be seen in anecdotal form and even in the hard data of thoroughly secular social scientists.
Even Pope Paul VI did not make that last argument in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, reiterating Catholic teaching on contraception. But he did make four specific predictions: lower moral standards in society, more infidelity, less respect by men for women, and coercion by governments to get people to use reproductive technologies. In all four cases, the Church was right.
Eberstadt brings to this book not only a comprehensive knowledge of social scientific research and a discerning eye for popular culture, but a wicked sense of humor that helps one laugh a bit at the data that would otherwise brings tears. She also brings an eye of sanity that is surely connected to her experience as a wife and mother of four (her husband, demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, is also a serious Catholic scholar). This book is a must-have for those who want arguments to use against people who think the sexual revolution a grand thing. It is also useful to give to Catholics and other Christians who want to reject the more outlandish aspects of the revolution but keep contraception. Eberstadt shows it is, after all, a bitter pill. And she has the data of social scientists—who don’t necessarily like the Church that teaches this truth—to back her up.
The American’s a hustler, for he says so,
And surely the American must know.
He will prove to you with figures why it pays so
Beginning with his boyhood long ago.
When the slow-maturing anecdote is ripest,
He’ll dictate it like a Board of Trade Report,
And because he has no time to call a typist,
He calls her a Stenographer for short.
He is never known to loiter or malinger,
He rushes, for he knows he has “a date” ;
He is always on the spot and full of ginger,
Which is why he is invariably late.
When he guesses that it’s getting even later,
His vocabulary’s vehement and swift,
And he yells for what he calls the Elevator,
A slang abbreviation for a lift.
Then nothing can be nattier or nicer
For those who like a light and rapid style.
Than to trifle with a work of Mr Dreiser
As it comes along in waggons by the mile.
He has taught us what a swift selective art meant
By description of his dinners and all that,
And his dwelling, which he says is an Apartment,
Because he cannot stop to say a flat.
We may whisper of his wild precipitation,
That it’s speed in rather longer than a span,
But there really is a definite occasion
When he does not use the longest word he can.
When he substitutes, I freely make admission,
One shorter and much easier to spell ;
If you ask him what he thinks of Prohibition,
He may tell you quite succinctly it is Hell.
G. K Chesterton (c. 1920’s), A Ballad of Abbreviations
Ithink that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly clothed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the dregs of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
These are two of the sharpest and potentially most effective tools that the preacher has at his disposal. Yes, I know, they are also potentially disruptive and destructive weapons that can wound the rather than heal the heart. An ill-chosen word can inflict great emotional and spiritual pain upon the hearers; a thoughtless word can damage a relationship, ruin a reputation and undermine a person’s self-confidence or trust in the speaker.
Thinking about preaching as a social event, I’m struck by the power that is inherent in the preacher’s role in a community. Ideally the preacher is faithfully communicating the Word of God but sometimes he just doesn’t. In the former case, his words have a prophetic character—and he is worthy of a prophet’s reward—in the latter case they show him to be if not exactly a false prophet, a negligent servant or a mere hireling.
So with pastoral and personal stakes so high, why does the Apostle Paul so often make use of sarcasm and irony as he does in his epistle to the Church at Corinth and other places? Continue reading →
More and more I think that, on Christological grounds, we can’t proclaim the Gospel if we absent ourselves from the Public Square. St Matthew, for example, is clear. The birth of Jesus has political implications. The Person of Jesus Christ—and the proclamation of His Gospel—is necessarily and rightly a direct challenge to Caesar’s authority. This is how the Orthodox Church expressed the matter in her liturgical life:
When Augustus reigned alone on the earth, the many kingdoms of mankind came to an end; and when you became man from the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed; the cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one single Godhead; the peoples were enrolled by decree of Caesar; we the faithful were enrolled in the name of the Godhead, when you became man, O our God. Great is your mercy, Lord; glory to you! (Vesperal hymn for Christmas)
The many kingdoms of this world have come to an end. Their power has been broken and they too are accountable to God. They are no more free to violate His commandments then is the individual. Continue reading →
Where Freud is wrong, he is spectacularly wrong; where he is right however, he is as right as any thinker I’ve read. This all came to mind recently when I read a post by the personality theorist and president of Hogan Assessment SystemsRobert Hogan. He writes that while it has become “very popular” for its ability to help us understand “how people behave in specific situations—for example, as members of a jury panel or eye witnesses to a mugging” social psychology only tells us “how people behave in carefully defined contexts. “ To be sure, especially if I am concerned with people in these social contexts, this information is of great interest to me and may even be very helpful. Continue reading →
Though it is counter-intuitive to say so, one of the central reasons that parish stewardship campaigns fail so is because we ask for money. Why this is, is the theme of this post. In a later post I explain how, in a practical way, a parish might want to go about meeting its financial needs. But for now I want to talk about why asking for money so often fails.
Again, I know that saying we fail because we ask for money is counter-intuitive–after all, the parish needs money to stay open, right? Yes but saying this begs the question: What is money? Because we don’t know the answer to this question, our attempts to begin a parish stewardship program invariably end up generating much less support–financial and otherwise–then they should.