Friday, April 12, 2019

Can Catholics Still Vote for Democrats?

In 2013, Thomas Tobin, the Catholic bishop of Providence, announced that he’d registered as a Republican. It caused a minor scandal, not because a bishop declared partisan loyalties, but because his loyalties weren’t to the Democratic Party, home of people such as New York's Gov. Al Smith and President John F. Kennedy.

In politics, America’s Catholic prelates are Democrats almost to a man. They’ve denounced President
Trump’s border wall with far more vigor than they ever demonstrated when it would have mattered during the same-sex marriage debate. They spent the entire lead-up to Obamacare trying to sweeten and woo Barack Obama, leaving nuns to fight his birth control mandate by themselves.

Bishops are citizens and have the right to their views, just as you and I do. None of our shepherds will deny, however, that it becomes increasingly difficult to vote for the party of their forefathers.

At one time, Democrats stood on the docks of Ellis Island, singing, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ And I’ll get them registered to vote for Tammany." Today, Cardinal Timothy Dolan admits to feeling “abandoned.” In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last March, the archbishop of New York recalls fond memories of his grandmother warning him, “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.” Alas, this is no longer the case. It’s a “cause of sadness to many Catholics,” Dolan wrote, his eminence, no doubt, included.

Tobin and Dolan pose a valid question, though: Is there a future for Catholics in the Democratic Party?

[Read more at The Washington Examiner]

Roger Scruton for Architecture Czar!

Dismal news over the wire from Blighty: Sir Roger Scruton, the greatest living conservative philosopher, has been dismissed as chair of the British government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission after making a few anodyne remarks to the New Statesman about the Communist Party of China. “They’re creating robots out of their own people,” quoth Sir Roger, “each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.”

Predictably, the Wets and Labourites are offended on behalf of totalitarians over this nonexistent racial slight. Meanwhile, normal people are offended by the CPC’s latest experiment in social engineering, the Social Credit system, which is indeed meant to turn the populace into well-managed and safely predictable automata. To call the Communists’ machinations “frightening” is positively charitable.

Sir Roger also noted that “anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts.” This was, apparently, anti-Semitic. Yet you’ll remember that the Financial Times named Mr. Soros its Person of the Year for 2018, calling him “a standard bearer for liberal democracy, an idea under siege from populists.” To the best of my knowledge, nobody at the FT was sacked for anti-Semitism.

There’s no question that Mr. Soros is throwing his fortune around trying to undermine Viktor Orb├ín and his Fidesz party, just as there’s no doubt he’s throwing his fortune around trying to undermine President Trump and the Republican Party. He certainly isn’t a progressive hero for making billions off his hedge funds. Sir Roger simply holds the improper view of Mr. Soros’s activities, and now faces the wrath of Mr. Soros’s other clients and beneficiaries.

[Read more at The American Conservative]

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Radicalism of Russell Kirk

At last, over the summer, I made my pilgrimage to Piety Hill. Russell Kirk’s red brick mansion lords over the rust-bitten village of Mecosta, Michigan. The original wooden lodging was built in 1878 by his great-grandfather Amos Johnson. After it burned to the ground on Ash Wednesday 1975, he built this curious Italianate thing.

Two flintlock pistols hang over the mantle, flanking a helmet that looks as though it belonged to Genghis Khan. The dining room was built entirely from the scraps of a local parish church; pews were used for the roof, and statues of angels stand in niches behind Kirk’s old seat at the head of the table. He became Catholic in 1963, but the table in the drawing room was used by his spiritualist grandparents during their seances.

My guest house used to be haunted by his great-uncle Raymond (so Kirk’s 11-year-old grandson tells me) until a visiting priest convinced Ray he’d overstayed his welcome. The Sage of Mecosta’s 10,000-volume library, where he wrote the lion’s share of his essays and books, stands in a little ivy-strewn house adjacent to the main campus.

It is, as I said, a kind of holy place for me. I came to Kirk via T.S. Eliot, whose poetry I read obsessively as a freshman in high school. His longtime pen pal Kirk was my first introduction to politics. Ten years later and I remain a fairly unreconstructed Kirkian.

But what, exactly, is a “Kirkian”?

Hopefully one isn’t judging by the tributes that were written for Kirk’s centennial. Magazines from The Atlantic to Newsmax published eulogies for the Sage of Mecosta. Most of them cast him as a bit player in the founding of National Review—an eccentric, tweedy academic who somehow found himself near the vanguard of the Goldwater movement.

Even during Kirk’s lifetime, conservative officialdom began passing him off as a court philosopher in Ronald Reagan’s White House, existing only to cover the Gipper’s agenda with a patina of intellectual sophistication. Kirk liked Reagan well enough (as he ought to have), but he was not a Reaganite. This is clear to everyone who bothers to read his books. The set of principles and policy agendas that Kirk called “conservatism” bears virtually no resemblance to the ideology that exists under those auspices today.

[Read more at The American Conservative]

Monday, April 1, 2019

Is Archbishop Wilton Gregory the right man for Washington?

It’s (almost) official: Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta will be appointed the next Archbishop of Washington, according to Ed Condon of the Catholic News Agency.

The office has technically been vacant since the last archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, resigned in October. Wuerl had been damaged by claims that he covered up sex abuse in his previous diocese of Pittsburgh. He had also maintained – in the face of claims to the contrary – that he knew nothing about the predatory sexual activities of his notorious predecessor, Theodore McCarrick.

Washington is perhaps the most sought-after diocese for ambitious American bishops – but a particular kind of bishop. While the Archbishop of New York finds himself rubbing shoulders with media and cultural luminaries, Washington’s archbishop has priceless access to lawmakers and political lobbyists. McCarrick’s talents as a fundraiser and Wuerl’s masterful diplomacy served them well in the post.

But because Washington is at the very heart of the current sex-abuse crisis, the Vatican couldn’t afford simply to hand the see to the next bureaucrat in line.

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Fatima vs. the New Sexual Regime

My first undergraduate year I spent a semester living in Thurston Hall: the infamous freshman residence at the George Washington University. Variously nicknamed “Thirsty Thurston” or (apologies) “Thrusting Thurston,” It’s consistently ranked among the most sexually active dorms in the country. I didn’t partake myself, for various reasons – not the least that few women succumb to the charms of bow-tied English majors.

Back then, I had no grave moral objections to that sort of thing. I was a fairly traditional Christian (albeit an Episcopalian), so I couldn’t actually approve. But I was also a romantic – or, more properly, a romanticist. I idolized men of deep, brooding passion: Yeats, Beethoven, Rossetti. The hundreds of fragile, passionate loves that burned hot for a week or day or hour were only more beautiful because they were fleeting.

Yeats’s muse, Maude Gonne, once told the poet that she couldn’t return his love without destroying his genius. No doubt she was right. The romanticist doesn’t have the stamina for true romance. He’s the new, bright flame that can’t catch on the oak-log, and so demands more and more kindling.

Auden, the great anti-romantic, caught a glimpse of this:

The greater the love, the more false to its object, 
Not to be born is the best for man;
After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle,
Break the embraces, dance while you can.

The poem is called “Death’s Echo,” and so often this is what these episodes seem to be: a flight from despair into base pleasure and hollow sentiment.

I’m a Catholic now, and a romantic instead of a romanticist. I take seriously the warning of Our Lady of Fatima that “More souls go to Hell because of the sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” We assume she’s warning against sexual incontinence, and she certainly is. We often take sex too lightly. But there’s another, more recent temptation, which may be even more harmful: taking sex too seriously.

[Read more at The Catholic Thing]

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Smoking Like a Man

My recent article on William F. Buckley generated more controversy than I anticipated—including one disapproving comment from the former publisher of National Review. Well, very good! Journalism isn’t a lucrative profession, and I don’t think I’m compromising any trade secrets by saying so. A writer must be satisfied in knowing that his work is read and weighed by his readers. This one, at least, seems to have been.

A smaller controversy focused on my calling Buckley’s own 2007 column on smoking “manly.” One commenter wrote that “it just doesn’t really seem masculine or feminine in any identifiable way. Is it just that you agree with it?” Quite the opposite, in fact. It has nothing to do with my agreeing or not, but rather Buckley’s disagreeing with himself.

The opposite of “manly” isn’t “womanly,” we know, because Man and Woman are complimentary, not antithetical. A better antonym would be “neuter”: de-sexed, genderless, disembodied. This is what Russell Kirk meant when he called John Stuart Mill a “defecated intellect”: he’d purged himself of his humanity in order to become a creature of pure, objective reason. One who hates the body and delights in the mind we Christians call Gnostic.

This is a charge commonly brought against libertarians by conservatives and progressives alike. Their ideology seems cold and unfeeling: indeed, inhuman. But the solution is not the progressive’s humanism, which reduces the humane (that is, human-ness) to yet more neutered sentiments that don’t correspond to our nature. The humanist may be kind, but Man is magnanimous and Woman is sweet. The humanist is empathetic; Man is protective and Woman nurturing.

The libertarian is a defecated universalist; the progressive is a sensual universalist. We conservatives, however, are Christian particularists. We have no desire for a mind that transcends the body; neither do we seek for a body that transcends the mind. I’m a 25-year-old Catholic Bostonian of WASP and Irish extraction; it’s not for me to tell a 60-year-old medicine woman on the Great Steppe how to run her yurt.

[Read more at The American Conservative]

Friday, March 15, 2019

Catholic schools, same-sex couples and an admissions furore

When the Obama administration tried to mandate that employers provide contraceptives as part of their health benefits package, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, declared that this would leave Catholics with only two choices: either to drop health coverage, or to violate their consciences. And the latter was unthinkable: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” His message was clear: an institution that doesn’t conform to Catholic doctrine isn’t Catholic.

Obamacare was eventuallly modified, but similar challenges to Catholic institutions continue. On March 8, St Ann Catholic School sparked outrage after refusing to admit the child of a same-sex couple. Fr Craig Maxim, the pastor of St Ann Parish, said he was only complying with the policies of the Archdiocese of Kansas City.

“Our schools exist to pass on the Catholic faith. Incorporated into our academic instruction and spiritual formation, at every grade level, are the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the archdiocese explained in a statement. “It is important for children to experience consistency between what they are taught in school and what they see lived at home. Therefore, we ask that parents understand and be willing to support those teachings in their homes.”

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]