Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fr. Samuel Weber on the Two Things Worth Doing in Life

"There are only two things worth doing in life: to know the truth and to be in love." - Fr. Samuel Weber, O.S.B.

Friday, November 22, 2013

G.K. Chesterton and Austin Ruse on "Gay Marriage"

When I was a freshman in college, I flew to China for my spring break with the chamber singer choir in which I sang for a tour. At the time, there were two homosexual choir members, both of whom I looked up to as singers because they were very talented. I remember as we flew from Shanghai to Beijing, I was seated next to one of them, and we talked for a while on various topics. Eventually he brought up how he had recently gone to some sort of political convention promoting the homosexual cause. He told me how he was sorely disappointed because he had been looking forward to intelligent conversation and meeting other like-minded men but found out that most of the men there simply "confirmed the stereotype about gays," namely, most of them were looking to hook up and have anal sex. My choir friend told me that he felt that such behavior betrayed their very cause because it showed them to be precisely what they're demonized for being: sexual hedonists rather than people who carry intellectual and moral weight. I agreed and still agree.

My father, who did his medical internship in San Francisco hospitals, would tell me stories about how some of the most horrific trauma he would see came from men in the homosexual communities, trauma caused by violent "sexual" activity.

I recently read a fascinating article on the issue of homosexual promiscuity, and I want to quote some excerpts with my emphases:
Lee [a homosexual author] writes about a gay bookstore in Austin, Texas called Lobo’s where if you look in the front window you see bookshelves full of books, gay books certainly but books. In the back, behind a curtain was a section on pornography. No one could be seen among the stacks of books, everyone was in the back room. He said such an arrangement was perfect for the big lie that active homosexuality was normal and non-threatening to any straight person looking in the front window. The reality, though, was that everyone was in the back room with the porn. This was the reality of his life and the lives of gay men....
Lee got a computer and continued his futile attempt to find gay monogamy. He joined a Yahoo group loosely affiliated with Dignity, the “Catholic” organization that affirms gays in their active homosexual way of life. A young man posted a note asking if “any of the subscribers attached any value to monogamy?” He received “dozens of responses, some of them quite hostile and demeaning, and all but one—mine—telling him to go out and get laid because that was what being gay was all about.” ...

Reilly [another author] quotes psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Santinover in Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth that “The typical homosexual (needless to say there are exceptions) is a man who has frequent episodes of anal intercourse with other men, often with many different men. These episodes are 13 times more frequent than heterosexuals’ acts of anal intercourse, with 12 times as many different partners as heterosexuals.”

Reilly goes further. “The most rigorous single study—the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study [1987]—recruited nearly 5,000 homosexual men and found that: ‘a significant majority of these men … (69 to 82%) reported having 50 or more lifetime sexual partners, and over 80% had engaged in receptive anal intercourse with at least some of their partners in the previous two years.’” ...
Dr. Santinover cites a study by two homosexual researchers that found that out of “156 couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity; of the hundred couples that had been together for more than five years, none had been able to maintain sexual fidelity.” They said, “[t]he expectation for outside sexual activity was the rule for male couples and the exception for heterosexual couples.” 
Reilly cites a 1997 Australian study that showed “only 15% of the men reported having fewer than 11 sex partners to date, while on the other end of the spectrum 15% had over 1,000 sex partners. A whopping 82% had over 50 partners and nearly 50% had over 100.”
Source: Austin Ruse, "The Real Lives of Gay Men," Crisis Magazine, November 22, 2013, accessed November 22, 2013,

There is also a great article by Dale Ahlquist that summarizes G.K. Chesterton's take on "gay marriage."

Chesterton shows that the problem of homosexuality as an enemy of civilization is quite old. In The Everlasting Man, he describes the nature-worship and “mere mythology” that produced a perversion among the Greeks. “Just as they became unnatural by worshipping nature, so they actually became unmanly by worshipping man.” Any young man, he says, “who has the luck to grow up sane and simple” is naturally repulsed by homosexuality because “it is not true to human nature or to common sense.” He argues that if we attempt to act indifferent about it, we are fooling ourselves. It is “the illusion of familiarity,” when “a perversion become[s] a convention.” 
In Heretics, Chesterton almost makes a prophecy of the misuse of the word “gay.” He writes of “the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion.” Carpe diem means “seize the day,” do whatever you want and don’t think about the consequences, live only for the moment. “But the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.” There is a hopelessness as well as a haplessness to it. When sex is only a momentary pleasure, when it offers nothing beyond itself, it brings no fulfillment. It is literally lifeless. And as Chesterton writes in his book St. Francis of Assisi, the minute sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant. This is perhaps the most profound analysis of the problem of homosexuals: they are slaves to sex. They are trying to “pervert the future and unmake the past.” They need to be set free.... 
Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a terrible battle.” But compassion must never compromise with evil. Chesterton points out that balance that our truth must not be pitiless, but neither can our pity be untruthful. Homosexuality is a disorder. It is contrary to order. Homosexual acts are sinful, that is, they are contrary to God’s order. They can never be normal. And worse yet, they can never even be even. As Chesterton’s great detective Father Brown says: “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.” 
Marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the order. And the Catholic Church teaches that it is a sacramental order, with divine implications. The world has made a mockery of marriage that has now culminated with homosexual unions. But it was heterosexual men and women who paved the way to this decay. Divorce, which is an abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Contraception, another abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Abortion is still not normal, but it is legal. Making homosexual “marriage” legal will not make it normal, but it will add to the confusion of the times. And it will add to the downward spiral of our civilization. But Chesterton’s prophecy remains: We will not be able to destroy the family. We will merely destroy ourselves by disregarding the family.
Source: Dale Ahlquist, "G.K. Chesterton: It's Not Gay, and It's Not Marriage," Crisis Magazine, February 21, 2013, accessed November 22, 2013,

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Two Portraits of Young Married Women

I want to look at two basic portraits of young married women, the first portrait consisting of what commonly occurs in third-world, or developing, countries, a portrait of violence, abuse, suicide, and sorrow. The second portrait consists of the  practice of marriage in traditional Romania, a portrait of happiness, strong families, and cultural values informed organically by the best of the Christian heritage.

Portrait One: Third-World, Developing Countries.

In many parts of the world, women as young as 7 or 8 years old are being married to men as old as 50. In places, such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, or Nepal, such women will most likely enter into a lifetime of domestic violence, and not a few will attempt to commit suicide. The photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair very powerfully captured this plight in her series Child Brides ( Sinclair notes that in "Ethiopia and Nepal, girls who try to escape their early marriages are often intercepted by brokers and trafficked to brothels where they are exposed to violence and HIV."

Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health states that 95% of all suicides are "attempted by uneducated or less educated female [sic]" between the ages of 16-19. 80% of these attempted suicides are by married people. The average age for a single woman to attempt suicide is 14 years old, and out of all women, 19-year-old women attempt to commit suicide the most. As of September, more than 2,500 women in Afghanistan have committed suicide for 2013, increasing the suicide rate since 2012. On the other hand, suicide by self-immolation has decreased 40%.

Source: Ministry of Public Health, "MoPH Marks Suicide Prevention Day," Ministry of Public Health Website, September 15, 2012, accessed November 19, 2013,

Feministnews, "Women Commit Majority of Suicides in Afghanistan," Feminist Foundation Majority Blog, September 12, 2013, accessed November 19, 2013,

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Afghan women suffer the highest rate of domestic violence worldwide. Here is a quotation of a 15-year-old married girl named Sadat from UNAMA's December 2012 document Still a Long Way to Go: Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan:
I got married to a man in Sawa village of Anjil district five months ago. My husband and my father-in-law had beaten me without any reason several times. The repeated mistreatment had forced me to complain, but all in vain as the prosecutor overlooked my petition and warned me to either withdraw the complaint or face imprisonment.
Source: UNAMA, Still a Long Way to Go, UNAMA Website, December 2012, accessed November 19, 2013,, 1.

Page 23 of the document describes the how the forced and underage marriages in Afghanistan form "one of the most deep-rooted and negative harmful practices." Under-reporting was attributed to the cultural difficulties surrounding such an issue, such as "fear of reprisal, threat to life, and fear of being charged for 'run-away' and adultery crimes."

The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that an estimated 140 million girls under the age of 15 will become child brides between 2011 and 2020, making a yearly average of 14.2 million and a daily average of 39,000.

Source: WHO, "Child Marriages: 39 000 Every Day," WHO Website, March 7, 2013, accessed November 19, 2013,

In this same press release, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin (don't ask me how to pronounce that), the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), commented that "child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects. A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together and end child marriage."

And such young women are statistically "more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later." Complications in pregnancy and childbirth, such as fistula (see Sinclair's Child Brides), "are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-19," said Flavia Bustreo, M.D.

Other interesting statistics: by their 18th birthday, 50% in South Asia and ≥33% of sub-Saharan women are married. "The 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are: Niger, 75%; Chad and Central African Republic, 68%; Bangladesh, 66%; Guinea, 63%; Mozambique, 56%; Mali, 55%; Burkina Faso and South Sudan, 52%; and Malawi, 50%." This discounts India, which due to its population, clearly surpasses all other countries; "in 47% of all [Indian] marriages the bride is a child [i.e. below 15 years old]."

Portrait Two: Romani and the Romanians.

Romania is a bit complicated because there are two groups that sometimes get confused with each other: the Romanians proper and the Romani, who form 2.5% of Romania's population.

Source: Central Intelligence Agency, "Europe: Romania," The World Factbook, November 4, 2013, accessed November 19, 2013,

The photojournalist Maria Sturm came out with a photo series called Be Good (, depicting not ethnically Romanian, married teenagers but those we have commonly called "gypsies," or more properly speaking, the Romani (or Roma) people. This ethnic group is spread all across Europe, America, and even Russia, and they may have come from northwest India.

Source: Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov, "Roma Muslims in the Balkans," Project Education of Roma Children in Europe Website, accessed November 19, 2013,

Isabel Mendizabal, Oscar Lao, Urko M. Marigorta et al., "Reconstructing the Population History of European Romani from Genome-wide Data," Current Biology 22 (December 18, 2012): 2342-2349.

Sturm clarified in an interview,
In our understanding the definition of youth is tied strongly to freedom and individuality; [something] we cannot imagine growing up without. It’s something we see as a [human] right; it’s something we would fight for! Because of this upbringing we can’t understand a different way of life, or at least it is very hard for us. The way we have been taught is the ‘right’ way, therefore we feel pity for those who don’t have our choices. Of course I wouldn’t let my child marry at such a young age, but I didn’t grow up among those traditions....

I was surprised that even among the poorest families not even one person had a materialistic or egoistic wish: they all wished for health, good understanding in their families and that their children will have an easier life....

Individuality is something that doesn’t exist in their society, their language. Imagine a family living together in a house with one room—there’s just no room for individuality to develop. The children and family come first.
Source: Sahara Borja, "Portraits of Married Teens in Romania," Feature Shoot Website, November 4, 2013, accessed November 19, 2013,

For the Romani, underage marriage is common, and because this group suffers from poverty, antiziganism, and outright persecution, much of the criticisms towards underage marriage from the WHO can apply. Consider, for example, the following passage from a news article from 2005:
In the Czech Republic, 79% of respondents to a 2003-04 survey said they wouldn't want Roma as neighbors, according to an EU report released in November. The report also said leaders in the Slovak village of Svinia refused more than a million euros ($1.3 million) in aid because the funding would have helped the Roma.
Source: Mary Beth Marklein, "European Effort Spotlights Plight of the Roma," USA Today, February 1, 2005, accessed November 19, 2013,

The fact of the matter is that for those living in the United States, such concerns are literally most foreign.

But then there is the traditional culture of Romania itself, which is a different picture. The predominant religion of Romania is Orthodox Christianity, specifically under the Romanian Orthodox Church. Civil marriage was not introduced until 1864, and even then, it remains a formality.

Source: Pavel Suian, "Marriage in Romania," accessed November 19, 2013,

After joining the European Union in 2007, the same union obliged Romania to eliminate the illegal status of homosexual relations. Interestingly, homosexuality and radical feminist ideas have increasingly weakened traditional Romanian values, especially in urban areas. The outcry of conservative Romanians is quite similar to Muslims with respect to Western culture in itself: it is a decadent culture. Of course, these two cries are only materially the same, and I would argue that the Muslim reasoning for post-Enlightenment decadence is quite different from the traditional Christian reasoning although some critiques may overlap. One need look only towards the statistical prevalence of actual and severe domestic violence in Muslim relationships, especially in third-world countries, compared to the absence of such violence in even the poorer Romanian village communities.

Marriage in traditional Romanian culture is not an individual ordeal but a communal one, one that is supervised by the family and the Church, and "is assumed by most of Romanians like in the Bible, to be normative for human beings. The responsibilities, duties, and joys of marriage are understood as matters of spiritual significance." It is not a mere human or culturally-created institution/invention, but is for God's glory through the right ordering of man and woman.

Source: Ibid., 200-201.

Polls conducted as recently as the mid-2000s show that between 92-96% of young Romanians consider "marriage and children as their most important goals and achievements in life." And to get a further sense of a traditional culture organically influenced by a living faith, consider that Romanians consider family to be the basis of society, and family is intrinsically related to a "true vocation ot holiness," receiving graces from the sacrament of Matrimony.

According to statistics from the WHO, suicide rates in Romania between 1990-2009 remain around 12%, and 3.5% of those people were female. The largest percentage of suicides committed by women in 2009 were between the ages of 45 and 75+.

Age: Percentage
5-14: .9%
15-24: 2.6%
25-34: 1.9%
35-44: 3.9%

Source: WHO, "Suicide Rates, By Gender, Romania, 1990-2009," WHO Website, 2009, accessed November 19, 2013,

And as of 2009, according to Romania's National Institute of Statistics, the average age of Romanian women getting married is between 20-29, the mean being 27.5 years old. Interestingly, for the past few years, there has been a decline in the marriage rate, and the decrease in urban areas is 2.3 times higher than rural areas. In fact, the birth rate is much lower than the death/mortality rate, leading to a shrinking population.

Source: "Româncele se căsătoresc la 27 de ani şi divorţează la 36. De ce au început să fugă de măritiş," Website, June 30, 2010, accessed November 19, 2013,

CIA, "Europe: Romania."

My Point—Given in a Long-winded Way.

The differences here are not explained so much by location as by living conditions that work together to form a "culture." These conditions include the material and the spiritual. Wealth, education, and faith all work together. What is interesting to me is that organizations, such as the WHO, the UN, and the EU, darken the causes of violence and "bad" practices to vague, and therefore generally agreeable, terms. For example:
Child marriage, which has existed for centuries, is a complex issue, rooted deeply in gender inequality, tradition and poverty. The practice is most common in rural and impoverished areas, where prospects for girls can be limited. In many cases, parents arrange these marriages and young girls have no choice....

Social pressures within a community can lead families to wed young children. For example, some cultures believe marrying girls before they reach puberty will bring blessings on families. Some societies believe that early marriage will protect young girls from sexual attacks and violence and see it as a way to insure that their daughter will not become pregnant out of wedlock and bring dishonour [sic] to the family.
Source: WHO, "Child Marriages."

I find the above analysis somewhat funny because it repeats itself. For example, "child marriage" comes partly from "poverty." It is most common in "impoverished areas." Well, if poverty is the cause of child marriage, then of course it occurs in impoverished areas, and of course prospects for anyone will be limited. Another example: "social pressures within a community...." From where else do social pressures originate? An individual? An ant?

The above quotation as well as the entire preamble for the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is filled with the discourse of the autonomous individual with his (her/its) rights, freedoms, capital, property, choices, equalities. I could start listing random words from this discourse, and you'd know exactly what I'm talking about, perhaps without even being able to say what I in fact am talking about: peoples, union, peaceful, future, common, values, conscious, spiritual, moral, heritage, founded, indivisible, universal, human, dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, principles, democracy, rule, law, individual, heart, activities, citizenship, security, justice, preservation, development, respect.

Source: European Union, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Official Journal of the European Union, March 3, 2010, accessed November 19, 2013,

In fact, the way I generated that list was by going straight through the preamble I mentioned. It goes on, but you get the point.

Now, consider how I have included both third-world and developing in this post. "Developing nation/country" has replaced "third-world" because the popular implication is that the "third-world" is inferior to the "first-world." I found an interesting analysis of the change in this brief essay here: It considers that "third-world" comes from the French Tiers Monde, an allusion to the Tiers état of the French Revolution (where the first state was the royalty, the second state was the Roman Catholic Church, and the third state was the peasants. In other words, the article goes on to suggest that "third-world" is politically incorrect not because of the "sensitive self-esteems [sic] of the impoverished, but because the linguistic powers-that-be are uncomfortable with the idea of" a revolution from the "rural," "impoverished," and backwater parts of the world who continue to justify their continued practices that offend our post-Enlightenment sensibilities. In fact, we, the European Union (in this fantasy dialogue of mine), might get so offended that we might force Romania to legalize homosexual relations even though we respect "the diversity of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe as well as the national identities of the Member States." What, then, is respect but one more manifestation of a discourse signifying nothing?

Now, certainly there is a difference between the abuse that occurs in Ethiopia or Afghanistan and what occurs in rural Romania. But it seems strange that the "developed" nations are the arbiters of what is meant by "undeveloped" (and therefore "uncultured"), and this judgment is based on a way of thinking solidified by Western European, bourgeois philosophers in the 18th-19th centuries.

People who buy into this liberal discourse will probably take offense at my implication that poverty, domestic violence, and gender inequality are not important issues. Of course, in doing so, they would ignore the rather belabored citation of multiple credible sources that bring attention to these very issues occurring in places that your average American would have no clue about (including myself). But yes, I am suggesting that there is a deeper issue, more important than the very grave evils of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and it is the bedrock of human culture itself: the human family and the divine.

As Suian writes,
The advance of decadent ideologies and the incorporation in several UN documents of phrases and so-called "principles" contrary to all major religious beliefs, contrary to all moral values, and based on the wrong way of understanding the idea of human rights and the protection of minorities was possible only because the rest of the world gave up without a struggle....

By accepting the dissolution of the natural family including divorce, same sex marriage, pornography and other such "new propositions" we are forgetting that divorce is not just a legal question, it is not a passing "crisis," but affects the human being, destroys relations among many persons, will adversely affect forever and mark each member of the family, and most of all will negatively affect children....

The truth is that even those who seek religious marriage are not always fully conscious of the religious teaching on the goods of marriage....

The present young generation is raised under essentially the same desire of getting "everything they ever wanted" from their parents and, as a result, they are often unable to give of themselves when sacrifice is required....

Couples could benefit from greater formation in an understanding of permanence as a "process," or as a way of living "unconditionally" mirroring Christ's unconditional love for His Church.
Source: Suian, 206-207.

These portraits are indications that there is a deeper, spiritual warfare going on, and it is away from that reality that we shouldn't allow ourselves to become distracted.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Sex-Full, Love-Empty Individual

An anonymous commenter wrote:
This is the stupidest bunch of bull[****] I’ve ever read. First of all, am I happy that I slept around before I got married? Yes I am. Am I happy that I am sexually active now that I’m divorced? Yes, I am. Why? Because I know what I like, and I know what it takes to please me sexually.
When are people going to learn that love and sex are two separate things?
Source: anonymous, comment, November 14, 2013, on "Abstinence Is Unrealistic and Old Fashioned," The Matt Walsh Blog, November 9, 2013, accessed November 15, 2013,

This comment, following a blog post in support of abstinence until marriage (, was met with many other comment responses in refutation of or reaction to it. But the comment itself is revealing on so many levels.

I might first note that the refutation of the blog post's argument is an appeal to the commenter's present level of sexual satisfaction, which the commenter equates with her happiness. Would that mean, by the commenter's apparent logic, if the commenter was not sexually satisfied in the present that the blog post's argument would be sound?

But the second is that this comment, soaked in individualistic, post-Enlightenment, and libertarian discourse ("I," "happy," "sexually active," "divorced," "like," "takes to please," "love," "separate"), the mentality that fuels and places individual autonomy and rights above everything else, pays no concern to anything other than the individual, and even then, it is the individual on the conscious level. But what about the individual on the unconscious level?

Notice three facts about this comment: 1) it was made anonymously; 2) it was posted; 3) it ends: "When are people going to learn that love and sex are two separate things?"

Both the commenter and the people addressed are left undefined, presumably left to be filled in by context. But in fact, even if the commenter had a name (and pictures and a profile, etc.), we could have no assurance that the apparent identity we see on the web was in fact the true identity of the poster. It's one of the possibilities of the internet that what you see is not what you get. Such falsified identities occur all the time, and in some contexts are systematically encouraged, such as in message boards or online gaming. (A question related to this issue: what does such phenomena do to the individual identity, to the notion of self?) My point being: a comment in the comment box is in most circumstances intrinsically anonymous for the average reader.

The comment is an appeal by an anonymous victim to an anonymous "Other," the Other that instills in us much of our desires and beliefs, the Other that St. John calls the world and the devil.

And what is the appeal? "Learn that sex and love are two separate things."

And what is the woman doing now? Sex.

Which means she isn't getting: Love.

And that is the issue, and no amount of comment responses will show her otherwise. Prayers and acts of love by people striving for holiness alone will show her the truth that abstinence is love, and the sexual act should be an expression of love reserved for the lifelong bond of marriage.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sex Abuse in Different Areas: Statistics, Excerpts, and Highlights

Here's a good article that summarizes the statistics regarding priestly sexual abuse: The link to the John Jay report in the article doesn't work, but you can find it here:

Some highlights:

1. Catholic priests abuse at a far lower rate than the rest of the male population.
2. Most cases of abuse occurred between the '60s and the '80s as a historical anomaly.
3. The handling of the cases reflects the conclusions of psychology in that era, in which the Church trusted as a legitimate source for direction.
4. Reported sexual abuse in public schools by teachers is 100 times greater than the abuse by priests.
5. Between 1950-2010, 5% of all priests were accused of sexually inappropriate behavior.
6. Of that 5% of accused priests, less than 5% "exhibited behavior consistent with a diagnosis
of pedophilia" (John Jay Report, p. 3).
7. The exaggeration of priestly abuse suggests that priests are held by our culture to a higher standard of conduct than men in secular professions or pastors of other Christian denominations.
8. It is important to reiterate that priests who abused behaved in stark contrast with the teachings of the Church, betraying the Church rather than representing it.


In accordance with a requirement of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, in 2002 the Department of Education carried out a study of sexual abuse in the school system.

Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft looked into the problem, and the first thing that came to her mind when Education Week reported on the study were the daily headlines about the Catholic Church.

"[T]hink the Catholic Church has a problem?" she said. "The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests."

So, in order to better protect children, did media outlets start hounding the worse menace of the school systems, with headlines about a "Nationwide Teacher Molestation Cover-up" and by asking "Are Ed Schools Producing Pedophiles?"

No, they didn't. That treatment was reserved for the Catholic Church, while the greater problem in the schools was ignored altogether.

As the National Catholic Register's reporter Wayne Laugesen points out, the federal report said 422,000 California public-school students would be victims before graduation — a number that dwarfs the state's entire Catholic-school enrollment of 143,000.

Yet, during the first half of 2002, the 61 largest newspapers in California ran nearly 2,000 stories about sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, mostly concerning past allegations. During the same period, those newspapers ran four stories about the federal government's discovery of the much larger — and ongoing — abuse scandal in public schools.

Perhaps John Karr will help change that.

"Could JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect John Mark Karr get a job teaching in your community?" asked USA Today. Not any more, of course; but could a creepy pedophile who isn't all over Fox News get hired? Richard Dangel, a child psychologist in Dallas, told the paper, "Only about 4% of offenders get busted," he says. "The other 96% don't." Which means that background checks won't stop the vast majority of sex offenders. [...]

The 2002 Department of Education report estimated that from 6 percent to 10 percent of all students in public schools would be victims of abuse before graduation — a staggering statistic.

Source: Tom Hoopes, "Has Media Ignored Sex Abuse in Schools?," CBSNews website, August 24, 2006, accessed June 5, 2015,


Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg—who is 63 with a long, graying beard—recently sat down with me to explain what he described as a “child-rape assembly line” among sects of fundamentalist Jews. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to be graphic,” he said.

A member of Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidim fundamentalist branch of Orthodox Judaism, Nuchem designs and repairs mikvahs in compliance with Torah Law. The mikvah is a ritual Jewish bathhouse used for purification. Devout Jews are required to cleanse themselves in the mikvah on a variety of occasions: Women must visit following menstruation, and men have to make an appearance before the High Holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many of the devout also purify themselves before and after the act of sex and before the Sabbath.

On a visit to Jerusalem in 2005, Rabbi Rosenberg entered into a mikvah in one of the holiest neighborhoods in the city, Mea She’arim. “I opened a door that entered into a schvitz,” he told me. “Vapors everywhere, I can barely see. My eyes adjust, and I see an old man, my age, long white beard, a holy-looking man, sitting in the vapors. On his lap, facing away from him, is a boy, maybe seven years old. And the old man is having anal sex with this boy.”

Rabbi Rosenberg paused, gathered himself, and went on: “This boy was speared on the man like an animal, like a pig, and the boy was saying nothing. But on his face—fear. The old man [looked at me] without any fear, as if this was common practice. He didn’t stop. I was so angry, I confronted him. He removed the boy from his penis, and I took the boy aside. I told this man, ‘It’s a sin before God, a mishkovzucher. What are you doing to this boy’s soul? You’re destroying this boy!’ He had a sponge on a stick to clean his back, and he hit me across the face with it. ‘How dare you interrupt me!’ he said. I had heard of these things for a long time, but now I had seen.”

The child sex abuse crisis in ultra-Orthodox Judaism, like that in the Catholic Church, has produced its share of shocking headlines in recent years. In New York, and in the prominent Orthodox communities of Israel and London, allegations of child molestation and rape have been rampant. The alleged abusers are schoolteachers, rabbis, fathers, uncles—figures of male authority. The victims, like those of Catholic priests, are mostly boys. Rabbi Rosenberg believes around half of young males in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community—the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world—have been victims of sexual assault perpetrated by their elders. Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. “From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about these abuses are ruined and condemned to exile by their own community. Dr. Amy Neustein, a nonfundamentalist Orthodox Jewish sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, told me the story of a series of Hasidic mothers in Brooklyn she got to know who complained that their children were being preyed on by their husbands.

In these cases, the accused men “very quickly and effectively engage the rabbis, the Orthodox politicians, and powerful Orthodox rabbis who donate handsomely to political clubs.” The goal, she told me, is “to excise the mother from the child’s life.” Rabbinical courts cast the mothers aside, and the effects are permanent. The mother is “amputated.” One woman befriended by Dr. Neustein, a music student at a college outside New York, lost contact with all six of her children, including an infant she was breastfeeding at the time of their separation.

Seven years ago, Rabbi Rosenberg started blogging about sex abuse in his community and opened a New York City hotline to field sex abuse complaints. He has posted appeals on YouTube, appeared on CNN, and given speeches across the US, Canada, Israel, and Australia. Today, he is the lone whistleblower among the Satmar. For this he is reviled, slandered, hated, feared. He receives death threats on a regular basis. In Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers, advertisements taken out by the self-described “great rabbis and rabbinical judges of the city of New York” have denounced him as “a stumbling block for the House of Israel,” “a public rebuker and preacher of ethics” who “persists in his rebelliousness” and whose “voice has been heard among many Jewish families, especially young people in their innocence… drawn to listen to his poisonous and revolting speeches.” Leaflets distributed in Williamsburg and Borough Park, the centers of ultra-Orthodoxy in Brooklyn, display his bearded face over the body of a writhing snake. "Corrupt Informer," reads one of the leaflets, followed by the declaration that Rabbi Rosenberg’s “name should rot in hell forever. They should cut him off from all four corners of the earth.”

When Rabbi Rosenberg wants to bathe at a mikvah in Brooklyn to purify himself, none will have him. When he wants to go to synagogue, none will have him. “He is finished in the community, butchered,” said a fellow rabbi who would only talk anonymously. “No one will look at him, and those who will talk to him, they can’t let it be known. The pressure in our community, it’s incredible.”

The powerful men—and it is worth noting that this community is regulated by men only—who govern the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism would rather their adherents be blind in their faith, their eyes closed to the horrors Rabbi Rosenberg is exposing. Like the Catholic establishment, the rabbinate seeks to cover up the crimes, quiet the victims, protect the abusers, and deflect potential criticism of their institutional practices. Those who speak out are vilified, and the faithful learn to shut their mouths. When the father of the seven-year-old boy whom Rabbi Rosenberg rescued from the Jerusalem bathhouse showed up to collect his son, he couldn’t believe his son had been raped. Trembling, terrified, he whisked his son away to get medical help but was still too scared to raise a formal complaint. According to Ben and Survivors for Justice, “The greatest sin is not the abuse, but talking about the abuse. Kids and parents who step forward to complain are crushed.”

As for Rabbi Rosenberg, when he voiced his concerns to the rabbinate in Israel, he was brought up on charges by the mishmeres hatznuis, the archconservative Orthodox “modesty squad,” which regulates, often through threats of violence, proper moral conduct and dress in the relations between men and women. The modesty squad is a sort of Jewish Taliban. According to Rabbi Rosenberg, the rapist he caught in the act was a member of the modesty squad, which charged him with the unconscionable offense of having previously been seen walking down a street in Jerusalem with a married woman. “But it’s OK to molest children,” he adds.

The abuse and its cover-up are symptoms of wider political dysfunction—or, more precisely, symptoms of socially disastrous political control by religious elites.

“This isn’t a problem about a few aberrant cases or an old-fashioned community reluctant to talk to police about sexual matters,” said Michael Lesher, a practicing Jew who has investigated Orthodox sex abuse and represented abuse victims. “This is about a political economy that links Orthodox Judaism with other fundamentalist creeds and with aspects of right-wing ideologies generally. It’s an economy in which genuine religious values will never really rise to the top, so long as they’re tied to the poisonous priorities that elevate status and power over the basic human needs of the most vulnerable among us.”

Michael, who is completing a book on the topic, noted that the infamous Rabbi Elior Chen, convicted in 2010 in what was arguably Israel’s worst case of serial child abuse, is still defended in public statements by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis. Among other legal and moral crimes, the rabbi forced his victims to eat feces, claiming that this cruelty was necessary to “purify” the children he abused.

According to Ben, the ultra-Orthodox community has never been as repressive as it is today. The repression, as he describes it, stems from the burden of having too many children. Huge families are encouraged: Every child born to a Hasid is seen as “a finger in the eye of Hitler.” Ben also told me that the average family size among Williamsburg Hasidim is nine, and that some families include more than 15 children.

Families saddled with an increasing number of children soon enter into a cycle of poverty. There is simultaneously an extreme separation of the sexes, which is unprecedented in the history of the Hasidim. There is limited general education, to the point that most men in the community are educated only to the third grade, and receive absolutely no sexual education. No secular newspapers are allowed, and internet access is forbidden. “The men in the community are undereducated by design,” Ben said. “You have a community that has been infantilized. They have been trained not to think. It’s a sort of totalitarian control.”

The rabbis, dominating an ignorant and largely poverty-stricken flock, determine the fate of every individual in the community. Nothing is done without the consent of the rabbinical establishment. A man wants to buy a new car—he goes to the rabbi for counsel. A man wants to marry—the rabbi tells him whether or not he should marry a particular bride. As for the women, they don’t get to ask the rabbi anything. Their place is beneath contempt.

Michael told me that current Orthodox leadership, accruing wealth from the tithes of subservient followers, is “drifting to the right, politically as well as religiously.” Many rabbis in New York City have taken up the banner of neoliberalism. “Every English-language Orthodox publication I know embraced Romney during the 2012 elections, decried national health insurance, blamed liberals for bribing the lower classes,” he said. “In Orthodox society, just as in America at large, the financial mismatch between the elite and the rest of us is ominously large.”

Michael also notes that the problem is not confined to the extremists. “The same patterns of victim-blaming, covering up, idealizing the rabbis so that cover-ups aren’t even acknowledged, are found all across the spectrum of Orthodoxy,” he told me. “The Orthodox left was shamefully slow to react to Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s abuse or to the similar case of Rabbi Mordechai Elon.” Rabbi Lanner, a former New Jersey yeshiva high school principal, was found guilty in 2000 of sexually abusing dozens of teenage students over the decades of his tenure. Rabbi Elon, who had publicly denounced homosexuality, was convicted last August on two counts of forcible sexual assault on a male minor, following several years of reports of his abuse of young boys.

“I have children come to me with their parents, and the blood is coming out of the anus,” Rabbi Rosenberg told me when we met. “These are zombies for life. What are we to do?”

This of course is the key question, and no answers are forthcoming. Michael holds out little hope that the situation will change. “If Orthodox institutions continue on their current trajectory,” he said, “I’d say things could get worse before they get better.”

A few weeks after our interview, Rabbi Rosenberg was walking through the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn when an unidentified man rushed up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder, and threw a cup of bleach in his face. He went to the hospital with facial burns and was temporarily blinded. Such is the measure of justice among the Satmar that a once-respected rabbi, now amputated from the community, should find himself chemically burned on a street in a neighborhood considered holy.

Later Rabbi Rosenberg told me a story of being surrounded by young boys in Williamsburg. The boys cursed him, laughed at him, threatened him, and spat at him. He wondered how many of them would end up molested.

Source: Christopher Ketcham, "The Child-Rape Assembly Line," Vice website, November 12, 2013, accessed June 5, 2015,

A website that covers Jewish Rabbi child molesters:


[...] I referred to a Newsweek article which said that “priests seem to abuse children at the same rate as everyone else”.

The fact is, however, that not only is the Catholic Church NOT an endemically paedophile organisation [sic], the evidence is now emerging that, in fact, even Newsweek is exaggerating: it’s not that “priests… abuse children at the same rate as everyone else”: actually, according to Dr Thomas Plante of Stanford University and Santa Clara University, “available research suggests that approximately two to five per cent of priests have had a sexual experience with a minor” which “is lower than the general adult male population” – in which the percentage of those who have interfered with minors “is best estimated to be closer to eight per cent”. In other words, children who have anything to do with priests are between 1.6 and four times LESS likely to be abused by them than by anyone else.

“When,” asks the blog La Salette Journey, giving these and other details, “will the media acknowledge that the sexual abuse of children is not a ‘Catholic problem’?” The fact is, suggests the writer, Paul Anthony Melanson, that “the media are not so much concerned with the welfare of children as they are with unfairly portraying the abuse of children as a ‘crisis in the Church’ ”. For example, the state school system in the US has a considerably higher rate of sexual abuse than the Catholic Church: according to a report prepared for the US Department of Education entitled Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, “9.6 per cent of all students in grades 8 to 11 report… educator sexual misconduct that was unwanted.” This report has been virtually ignored by the media.

But the penny is just beginning to drop. An article by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times reported (April 27) that the New York State legislature is now addressing the fact that child abuse is not only a problem for the Church, but for the whole of society. “Should it be possible,” asks Dwyer “… to sue the city of New York for sexual abuse by public school teachers that happened decades ago? How about doctors or hospital attendants? Police officers? Welfare workers? Playground attendants? … To date, New York City has been publicly silent…. but sees the possibility of enormous expenses.”

Well, join the club, New York City. As Dwyer’s article points out: “Since 2004, Catholic dioceses nationwide have paid $1.4bn to settle claims of abuse, many from acts from the 1970s or earlier… Yet [he continues] there is little evidence to show there is more sexual abuse among Catholic priests than among clergy from other denominations, or, for that matter, among people from other walks of life.”

That’s the bottom line. This is a problem we share with everyone, though actually we are less guilty of it than society as a whole and are doing a lot better in acknowledging such child abuse as does exist. We need to get that, and the evidence for it, firmly into our heads. We have a battle ahead: we all need to be prepared for it.

Statistical highlights:
  • Children are 1.6 - 4 times less likely to be sexually abused by priests than by anyone else (source: Dr. Thomas Plante; cf also
  • 9.6% of all children between grades 8 to 11 report unwanted sexual misconduct (US Dept. of Education, "Educator Sexual Misconduct").
Source: William Oddie, "Now We Have Real Evidence – Sexual Abuse Is Not a ‘Catholic Problem’," Catholic Herald website, August 9, 2010, accessed June 5, 2015,


The Catholic sex-abuse stories emerging every day suggest that Catholics have a much bigger problem with child molestation than other denominations and the general population. Many point to peculiarities of the Catholic Church (its celibacy rules for priests, its insular hierarchy, its exclusion of women) to infer that there's something particularly pernicious about Catholic clerics that predisposes them to these horrific acts. It's no wonder that, back in 2002—when the last Catholic sex-abuse scandal was making headlines—a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent of those queried thought Catholic priests "frequently'' abused children.

Yet experts say there's simply no data to support the claim at all. No formal comparative study has ever broken down child sexual abuse by denomination, and only the Catholic Church has released detailed data about its own. But based on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. "We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others."

Since the mid-1980s, insurance companies have offered sexual misconduct coverage as a rider on liability insurance, and their own studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other congregations. Insurance companies that cover all denominations, such as Guide One Center for Risk Management, which has more than 40,000 church clients, does not charge Catholic churches higher premiums. "We don't see vast difference in the incidence rate between one denomination and another," says Sarah Buckley, assistant vice president of corporate communications. "It's pretty even across the denominations." It's been that way for decades. While the company saw an uptick in these claims by all types of churches around the time of the 2002 U.S. Catholic sex-abuse scandal, Eric Spacick, Guide One's senior church-risk manager, says "it's been pretty steady since." On average, the company says 80 percent of the sexual misconduct claims they get from all denominations involve sexual abuse of children. As a result, the more children's programs a church has, the more expensive its insurance, officials at Guide One said.

The only hard data that has been made public by any denomination comes from John Jay College's study of Catholic priests, which was authorized and is being paid for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops following the public outcry over the 2002 scandals. Limiting their study to plausible accusations made between 1950 and 1992, John Jay researchers reported that about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests active during those years had been accused of sexual misconduct involving children. Specifically, 4,392 complaints (ranging from "sexual talk" to rape) were made against priests by 10,667 victims. (Reports made after 2002, including those of incidents that occurred years earlier, are released as part of the church's annual audits.)

Experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population, but Allen says a conservative estimate is one in 10. Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says her review of the numbers indicates it's closer to one in 5. But in either case, the rate of abuse by Catholic priests is not higher than these national estimates. The public also doesn't realize how "profoundly prevalent" child sexual abuse is, adds Smith. Even those numbers may be low; research suggests that only a third of abuse cases are ever reported (making it the most underreported crime). "However you slice it, it's a very common experience," Smith says.

Most child abusers have one thing in common, and it's not piety—it's preexisting relationships with their victims. That includes priests and ministers and rabbis, of course, but also family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, youth-group volunteers, and doctors. According to federal studies, three quarters of abuse occurs at the hands of family members or others in the victim's "circle of trust." "The fundamental premise here is that those who abuse children overwhelmingly seek out situations where they have easy and legitimate access to children," he said. "These kinds of positions offer a kind of cover for these offenders."

Priests may also appear more likely to molest children because cases of abuse come to light in huge waves. One reason is delayed reporting: less than 13 percent of victims abused between 1960 and 1980, for example, lodged a complaint in the same year as the assault. Two thirds filed their complaints after 1992, and half of those were made between 2002 and 2003 alone. "Offenders tend to be manipulative, often persuading children to believe that this is their fault," said Allen. "As a result, the children tend to keep it to themselves. There are countless victims who thought they were the only one." So what looks like high concentrations of abuse may simply reflect long and diffuse patterns of abuse that mirror those among all males.

Another reason is that the church has historically been bad at punishing (or preventing) molesters, so that many cases might come to light when just one priest is finally exposed. A single predator priest with ongoing access to children might be responsible for an immense raft of abuse cases. (Marie Fortune of the Faith Trust Institute, which focuses on clerical-abuse issues, says Roman Catholics tend "to have many more schools and other programs that involve children." "Plenty of other congregations have these problems, for instance, if they have a youth ministry.") That helps explain the 200 children who were abused at a school for the deaf. It didn't happen because the school was full of rapists; it happened because one man was never stopped. Overall, the John Jay study found that 149 priests were responsible for more than 25,000 cases of abuse over the 52-year period studied.

Allen suggests a final reason we hear so much more about Catholic abuse than transgressions in other religions: its sheer size. It's the second largest single denomination in the world (behind Islam) and the biggest in the United States. (Fifty-one percent of all American adults are Protestant, but they belong to hundreds of different denominations.) "When you consider the per capita data," says Allen, "I don't think they have a larger incidence than other faiths."

Monday, November 11, 2013

St. Thomas Aquinas on Miracles and Virtue

So he sends them as he was sent, to preach. Hence Do penance... and as Jesus had begun (above 4:17): "Do penance,": so he commands them. He had begun: "Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"; "For salvation is far from sinners" (Ps 119:155), but now it is near through the passion of Christ: "With his own blood he entered once into the holy place, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). Hence he says, is at hand, namely, through my passion. So it is established in them by partaking of grace: "The whole kingdom of God is within you" (Lk 17:21).

But they could say: How shall we confirm what we say? Certainly by miracles as he did. So he says, Heal the sick... But if someone asks why the Church does not work miracles now, the answer is given that miracles were preformed to prove the faith, but now the faith has even been approved. Therefore, just as a person who formulated one demonstration to prove some conclusion would have no need for another one, so here. Hence the greatest miracle is the conversion of the whole world, so there is no need for other ones. But just as the other miracles were bodily, so every day spiritual miracles are performed, because the spiritually infirm are cured. For the infirm are those tossed about by sin and those prone to sin: "Welcome the man who is weak in faith" (Rom 14:1), and they are healed by the Lord. But those who consent are dead, because separated from God, as it says in Ephesians (5:14): "Awake, you sleeper, and arise from the dead." Likewise, lepers are cleansed; for lepers are those who infect others, because leprosy is a contagious disease, and sometimes they are cured. In 2 Kings (5:27) it is recorded that the leprosy of Naaman cleaved to Gehozi. Furthermore, devils are cast out; for devils are ones who have already committed sin: "They rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil"(Pr 2:14), and as is said of Judas (Jn 13:27): "Satan entered into him." And these are sometimes cured.

But because the apostles could say: "Now we shall be rich; if we perform miracles, we shall have much." This was the reason Simon Magus wanted to perform miracles. But the Lord excludes this, saying, You received without pay, give without pay. It is great to perform miracles, but it is greater to live virtuously. Hence he removes pride from them, because pride can happen in two ways: either from cupidity or from deserts [sic]. For the highest form of pride appears when a person ascribes to himself the good he has.


Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Matthew's Gospel (Super Evangelium S. Matthaei lectura), trans. R.F. Larcher, chapter 10, lecture 1, verses 7-8;

Emphases mine.


Interestingly, St. Thomas's answer to the question why miracles are not performed today as they were in the past suggests the possibility that the Church may again work miracles in the future if the faith were to come into worldwide question.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Amateurs vs. Experts

As for “the rearing of the young,” which is the education of the very young, this is a job not for the specialist or the professional, but for the “generalist” and the amateur. In other words, for the mother, who Chesterton argues is “broad” where men are “narrow.” In What’s Wrong with the World, Chesterton forsaw [sic] the dilemma of daycare and the working mother, that children would end up being raised by “professionals” rather than by “amateurs.” And here we must understand “amateur” in its truest and most literal meaning. An amateur is someone who does something out of love, not for money. She does what she does not because she is going to be paid for her services and not because she is the most highly skilled, but because she wants to do it. And she does “the things worth doing,” which are the things closest and most sacred to all of humanity – nurturing a baby, teaching a child the first things, and, in fact, all things.

The line, “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,” is not an excuse for poor efforts. It is perhaps an excuse for poor results. But our society is plagued by wanting good results with no efforts (or rather, with someone else’s efforts). We hire someone else to work for us, to play for us (that is, to entertain us), to think for us, and to raise our children for us. We have left “the things worth doing” to others, on the poor excuse that others might be able to do them better.


Source: ACS Research Services, "A Thing Worth Doing," The American Chesterton Society, accessed November 8, 2013,

G.K. Chesterton on Democracy, Idealism, and Tradition

When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: "Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is." Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother's knee at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.

I take this instance of one of the enduring faiths because, having now to trace the roots of my personal speculation, this may be counted, I think, as the only positive bias. I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one's own love-letters or blowing one's own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves--the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.


Source: G.K. Chesterton, "The Ethics of Elfland," in Orthodoxy, Read Book Online, accessed November 8, 2013,

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Deconstructive Impulse

Over the past few weeks, reflecting on what I've read and my own growing habits and means of analyzing the information I come across, I've noticed what could be called the deconstructive impulse. It exists in every human who can rationally reflect and think. It consists in the ability and propensity to take a sign and lay bare its constitutive elements and dynamics, that is, to split apart the signifier from the signified from its grounding or fundamental relation that connects the two and makes sense of the sign at all. The effect, in most cases, is what we commonly experience as irony, sarcasm, and other forms of wit or verbal humor. But it can be put to other use as well.

We see it in fictional culture, such as extended discussions on the credibility of a fiction narrative, whether in print or on screen—that is, whether we can "suspend our disbelief." We see it in politics, especially during campaigning, in which we either establish or disprove the supposed signified purity and integrity of the campaigning politician. Similarly, in modeling and beauty culture, including its underworld of the sex trade, pornography industry, and paparazzi, we obsess over every culturally-conditioned indicator of beauty or its lack. We see it in online culture, where a debate may go on and on uselessly over issues of "semantics" and "axioms" or "first principles." We see it in philosophy and the social sciences when both the experts and amateurs either try to establish a metanarrative or pull it apart and show its falsity, infeasibility, or inadequacy.

The impulse empowers the cynic and critic alike. Young adults and adolescents in particular savor the magic wand of this impulse as they cast off the oppressive, backwater, antiquated notions of their forebears. It is fundamental to our very status as sign-conscious beings, or "rational animals" as Aristotle called it. This impulse is a function of our ability to grasp the sign relationship and the essences of things.

And perhaps it is part of our desire for finality, satiation in the Word, Who is the final word on everything but simultaneously inexhaustible, beyond total comprehension, and in other words, infinite.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Distinction: The Virtuous, Continent, Incontinent, and Vicious Man

[T]he virtuous man is inclined towards good both by his sense appetite and by his (practical) reason, and that he actually chooses good with his will. The continent man is like the virtuous man, except his sense appetite does not incline him towards the good that he knows and chooses, so there is a certain tension within him: he acts against his sense appetite. The incontinent man, like the continent man, is inclined towards evil by his sense appetite and yet is capable of knowing the good that he ought to do through practical reason, but unlike the continent man, he chooses evil. Finally, the vicious man is inclined towards evil, rationalizes his evildoing through practical reason, and chooses evil--in at least one respect he is like the virtuous man, namely, in that there is a certain harmony among his powers, albeit a perverse one.

Source: Francisco Romero Carrasquillo, "Continence and Incontinence, A Handy-Dandy Table," Ite ad Thomam Blog, October 30, 2013, accessed November 6, 2013,

Paul VI on the Artificial Joys of Modern Society

When he awakens to the world, does not man feel, in addition to the natural desire to understand and take possession of it, the desire to find within it his fulfillment and happiness? As everyone knows, there are several degrees of this "happiness." Its most noble expression is joy, or "happiness" in the strict sense, when man, on the level of his higher faculties, finds his peace and satisfaction in the possession of a known and loved good. Thus, man experiences joy when he finds himself in harmony with nature, and especially in the encounter, sharing and communion with other people. All the more does he know spiritual joy or happiness when his spirit enters into possession of God, known and loved as the supreme and immutable good. Poets, artists, thinkers, but also ordinary men and women, simply disposed to a certain inner light, have been able and still are able, in the times before Christ and in our own time and among us, to experience something of the joy of God.

But how can we ignore the additional fact that joy is always imperfect, fragile and threatened? By a strange paradox, the consciousness of that which, beyond all passing pleasure, would constitute true happiness, also includes the certainty that there is no perfect happiness. The experience of finiteness, felt by each generation in its turn, obliges one to acknowledge and to plumb the immense gap that always exists between reality and the desire for the infinite.

This paradox, and this difficulty in attaining joy, seem to us particularly acute today. This is the reason for our message. Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. For joy comes from another source. It is spiritual. Money, comfort, hygiene and material security are often not lacking; and yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many. These feelings sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent carefreeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage. Do people perhaps feel helpless to dominate industrial progress, to plan society in a human way? Does the future perhaps seem too uncertain, human life too threatened? Or is it not perhaps a matter of loneliness, of an unsatisfied thirst for love and for someone's presence, of an ill-defined emptiness? On the contrary, in many regions and sometimes in our midst, the sum of physical and moral sufferings weighs heavily: so many starving people, so many victims of fruitless combats, so many people torn from their homes! These miseries are perhaps not deeper than those of the past but they have taken on a worldwide dimension. They are better known, reported by the mass media—at least as much as the events of good fortune—and they overwhelm people's minds. Often there seems to be no adequate human solution to them.


Source: Pope Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, Apostolic Exhortation on Christian Joy, Vatican Website, May 9, 1975, accessed November 6, 2013,, section 1.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Becoming Truly Great" by Br. Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP

You should not beautify Christianity or try to dress it up: it has waged a war to the death against [the] higher type of person, it has banned all the basic instincts of this type, it has distilled ‘evil’ and ‘the Evil One’ out of these instincts—the strong human being as reprehensible, as ‘depraved’ Christianity has taken the side of everything weak, base, failed, it has made an ideal out of whatever contradicts the preservation instincts of a strong life . . .
So writes the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his controversial book, The Anti-Christ. Throughout much of his work, but particularly in The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche makes the now widespread accusation that Christianity demands of its adherents submission to a morality fundamentally opposed to the fullness of life. Nietzsche contends, Christianity—along with Platonism and Judaism—prevents one from being fully and truly alive for the sake of transcendental doctrines. For example, he claims that the notion of “sin” makes Christians ashamed of instinct and sexuality, while “faith” discourages believers’ natural curiosity and deadens their desire to know.

I think it negligent to simply dismiss Nietzsche’s claims. Some Christians’ bad habits and deformed understandings of their faith too often lend credence to Nietzsche’s troubling assertions. How many Christians brush off questions about the faith and swiftly end discussion by chalking an answer up to “mystery,” a quotation from Scripture pulled out-of-context, or the appeal to some other authority? How many Christians, when presenting the faith, choose to lead off with repulsively rigid articulations of morality? How many Christians, by the example of their lives, appear numbed to beauty or apparently lack joy and zest for life? Nietzsche’s criticism reflects many people’s experience that the Christian life seems narrow and constricting, repressing our natural desires and tendencies in unhealthy ways.
“We Christians weren’t chosen by the Lord to do little things,” said Pope Francis in a recent homily to confirmation candidates. Far from constricting human nature, a thorough examination of the Gospel reveals that Jesus Christ, the Word, “was life and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:4). The graces of the Gospel compel us to seek out the accomplishment of grand things.

Without the Gospel, the lives of many great saints easily conform to Nietzsche’s scathing indictment. Mother Teresa’s dedication to the poor [...] Maximillian Kolbe’s act of self-offering [...] Vincent de Paul’s care for the poor [...] Bonaventure’s years of theological reflection [....]

Authentic Christian teaching confronts this accusation head-on, proclaiming that the Gospel message properly interpreted builds man up rather than constrains man. In fact, St. Thomas is so bold as to say, “There is in man something great which he possesses through the gift of God; and something defective which accrues to him through the weakness of nature. Accordingly magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God.”

The Christian tradition takes hold of magnanimity—the greatness of soul—from ancient thinkers and transforms it in light of the Incarnation. Like all virtues magnanimity disposes us to readily perform good acts. Magnanimity, the virtue which arouses in us aspirations to achieve feats worthy of great honor, can be thought of as a confidence. In other words, true magnanimity inspires man to greatness. Since all the virtues act in conformity with our nature, raising us up, magnanimity perfects us. Understanding magnanimity’s role in the spiritual life helps us to see the place in the Christian life of seeking after greatness.

But are we left caught in an interminable struggle between magnanimity and humility? Hardly. Central to a correct understanding of humility and magnanimity is the idea that both virtues are grounded in seeing things as they really are. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, says humility is simply truth. [...]

Not just a promise for the future or a solace for the weak-minded, the joy and vigor of the Gospel are intended for all people in every time and place. The virtue of magnanimity orients believers to seek and strive after the loftiest of aspirations. Empowered by grace and aided by virtue, great-souled believers become who they were made to be.


Source: Patrick Mary Briscoe, "Becoming Truly Great," Dominicana Blog, November 5, 2013, accessed November 5, 2013,

Voluntaristic Philosophy and Thomistic Anthropology from Br. Pius Youn, OP

Truth escorts us to freedom. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the Jews who believe in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 32:14-15). Christ strengthens us with his promise in these verses. In our daily lives, however, false notions of truth lead us away from the promises of Christ. For instance, there is the drive for success in the American culture. We often hear success stories that promote "positive thinking" influenced by pop psychology, or a well-packaged six-step program for achieving perfect happiness. Can “Just Do It,” a motto by Nike Corporation, set us free? Jesus, of course, has something to say about truth performing that function. Amidst the smorgasbord of conflicting principles our society proposes for our attention, have any freed us? Truth that is revealed to us through Christ is evident in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

The Catholic Church does not dogmatically ascribe to one specific philosophy, but she holds up Thomistic philosophy as the model to be taught in Catholic seminaries and institutions (see Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris; John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, 43-44; and the Code of Canon Law, 252.3). Thomas's"perennial philosophy" had fallen into widespread disuse by the 1800s in Catholic theological circles. Leo XIII penned Aeterni Patris to revive it. [...]

There are many disparate, often conflicting, ways to understand man. Thomistic philosophical anthropology proposes that man becomes more himself as he grows in moral virtue, producing a harmony between reason and emotion within his soul. Thomas, following the Aristotelian tradition, states that human beings have higher cognitive faculties than plants and animals. Due to man's cognitive power, his emotional life is likewise more sophisticated. [...]

There are two mistakes we can make when it comes to the relation of reason and emotion. One is to let emotions fly loose and our passions govern us—this only leads to unstable behavior and unhappiness, since our lives will not be rooted in the truth. If we simply follow our passions as they lead, we will find ourselves more and more unable to make lasting commitments based in the truth. The other mistake is the opposite: to employ our reason as a tyrant over our emotions, trying to suppress them altogether at any hint of their operation. Aquinas offers a different way.

Harmony between reason and will leads to a healthy emotional life, which is essential to knowing who we are as persons. Disorder between them may be the leading cause of why commitments are so often not made in today’s world. The philosophy of "voluntarism" is one way of pinpointing the problem. While a Thomistic approach looks at reason as the supreme faculty that guides will and emotion, voluntaristic philosophy holds up the will as more superior to reason and emotion. Voluntaristic philosophy encourages a person to will the good with self-control and effort, even if a person dislikes doing it. The moral act of willing without the proper use of reason sets one up for irrational decisions. If a person is constantly willing without the guidance of reason, he or she may eventually be bombarded with unstable emotions --- depression, feelings of guilt, obsessive compulsion, etc. [...]

Reason that guides the will and emotions, rather than the reverse, frees people from a gloomy life filled with emotional disturbances. Christ himself experienced emotions such as desire and aversion to despair and fear, but he had virtuous responses to these appetites. For Thomas, continual perfection of the virtues results in stronger passions --- through our striving for a virtuous life, we begin to be more Christ-like. [...]

Popular principles and philosophies have misguided us. Many philosophies, especially the voluntaristic philosophy, have influenced our society with unreliable truths and defense mechanisms in dealing with ourselves. But have these given us truth about man?


Source: Pius Youn, "Understanding Who We Are Through Thomistic Anthropology," To God, About God Blog, November 4, 2013, accessed November 5, 2013,