Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How a Budget Can Lead to War, Or, the Next Great Conflict

While we are all distracted with the current economic crisis, there is one thing that we should consider that can have destructive consequences for stability in the international system. Today, the Czech president of the European Union called the U.S. budget a ‘Way to Hell’ and we have heard China state vocally that there needs to be another currency to replace the dollar (yes, these statements are linked). What is the problem with the budget? While most Americans do not know, we have the privilege of being the only country in the world that can simply print money and export the inflationary costs. We have funded the Vietnam War and the current Iraq War by simply printing money. This is an easy process for Americans, because we get to export the costs of our policy choices. Instead of having to pay higher taxes to finance the war, we print money and devalue the dollar reserves held by every other country in the world. We are able to tax the reserves or savings of foreign states, whether they wish to pay the costs or not, by lowering the value of their savings. This is great for the United States because we can fight wars without having to make sacrifices. It is not true that no one pays, it is just that we are able to export the costs to foreign states. This can only serve to alienate us from our allies and provides otherwise neutral governments with a reason to oppose U.S. foreign policy.

The present U.S. budget is designed to stimulate the economy by printing enough money to improve the market. It is ironic that if we are in such dire environment that the American people have not been asked to sacrifice for the greater good of our country. We have not been asked to pay higher taxes for a few years so that our country can recover. Instead, we are asked to continue to enjoy life and not give up anything that could serve the common good and improve our nation’s future. We are living in an imaginary world where our actions do not have any consequences, and as long as we can keep other states paying our bar tab, we remain in a drunken state. This response to the crisis is wholly inadequate for a nation that preserves in a special way the freedom of the world. Our responsibility in dealing with this crisis extends not only to the U.S. population but carries with it the entire world. If we fail to exercise our position on the global state with justice, what will happen when another state succeeds us? It will only be worse for freedom.

Now we have to look at the consequences of our budget to other states and see who will suffer the most. China has systematically undervalued its currency and relied on exports for growth. Through these policies it has accumulated the world’s largest supply of U.S. dollars. What will their response be to the current U.S. budget that seeks to fund the government through printed dollars that will significantly lower the value of China’s greatest asset? A reasonable person can see that this financial crisis has the potential to initiate an international conflict. As an outsider to the offices of government, I have no inside information. There are several approaches China may take. First, it could call our bluff by moving to temporarily lower the value of the dollar as a warning to our government. If we did not react the way they liked, they could reduce the value of the dollar overnight by releasing their reserves on the global market. Second, they could make a military move. I do not know when or where, but this is a real possibility. Third, they could systematically reinvest their dollars in the United States by purchasing everything that was for sale with in our economy. This option would resemble a military occupation except that it would be economic. And the consequences would be that China would own our country. Fourth, China could do nothing and let the U.S. systematically destroy its greatest asset. While this is a possibility, it is the least likely scenario. However, it seems to be the plan that our government is counting on.

We should realize that our budget may be viewed as an act of war by those states that are most affected and our media has not examined why other states view the U.S. budget as a source of conflict. We are passing the costs of our policy choices to other states and such action may produce strong, negative reactions. The risk to us is that we are destroying the value of China’s greatest asset and we think they will be passive and ignore a policy that destroys the currency reserves they have accumulated for decades. The real risk is that we are forcing China to react and their movement will directly oppose us. The conflict that emerges can only worsen our domestic condition and it is unrealistic to think that we will receive no opposition. There is a lot at stake in our current policies and we should not believe that others will passively the costs of running our government.

Stop Pretending

According to an article published in LifeSiteNews today, 43% of French Catholic have declared that they want the Pope to retire and the Catholic Church to change its position on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. Most of the people interviewed have also identified themselves as non-practicing Catholics. Well, can does someone consider himself Catholic if he does not live his faith? Is one Catholic by simply going to Mass at Christmas and Easter? (According to the poll less than 10% of French ‘Catholic’ attend mass weekly.) Are we Catholic if we pick and choose the teachings that are most convenient and most in-line with popular ideas and a liberal lifestyle? Well, this is not what makes a person Catholic, so people should stop pretending.

You are either following the Church and the Holy Father or you are not. There is no in-between. People should not call themselves Catholic if they do not live according to Church’s teaching and do not miss a chance to criticize the Magisterium. If someone does not agree with what the Church represents and stands for, there are many other ‘churches’ that may suit people’s own ideals of what their individual religion should be like. And if one still cannot find the right ‘church,’ the right preacher who tells him everything he wants to hear (it’s ok to use contraceptives; it’s ok to kill unborn babies; it’s ok to have same-sex unions; it’s ok to kill embryos, it’s ok to…), he can always start his own ‘church.’ Being Catholic is not simply attaching a label to your personality to make you feel good or religious. Being Catholic is living the faith as it has been given, practicing the faith in one’s daily life and being a witness of Christ and His Church to the world. If you are not in for this, then you are not Catholic.

Read the Article on LifeSite News, "43 Percent of French Catholic Want Pope to 'Step Down'"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cultural Hegemony and Life

This blog is called “New Catholic Culture” because it sees hope in the future of the Church in being able to generate a new culture for humanity. We hope for a culture of life that will recognize each person as unique and unrepeatable. It arises as we take our faith into the world and respond to our reality with the grace of Christ.
One disturbing element in our civilization is the effort to eliminate the voices of those who disagree with the ‘liberal’ ‘post-modern’ agenda. There is an effort to ‘engineer’ a society that presents only one acceptable view and makes it legitimate by preventing all alternatives to it from being heard. Through this process, the responsibility of parents to educate their children is quietly transferred to the corporate giants that manage popular culture and education. We accept expert thoughts and dismiss our own experience. This allows us to be controlled and also seeks to silently destroy the Church. The people behind this effort truly believe that they are doing the right thing and that they are improving the world. Their intentions may be good, but this does not guarantee a good outcome. An honest examination of human history shows that efforts to produce positive changes for society often create the opposite. In this case, those trying to eliminate the Church from western minds do not realize they are destroying the very civilization they wish to preserve. And yet this is the reality.
The cultural environment in the United States today is dangerous. Many people do not realize that Pope John Paul II warned of a cultural hegemony, parallel to the Gramscian concept, present within our culture. Although the Church totally disagrees with Gramsci’s prognosis, it can learn from his diagnosis. The hegemonic position today is held by large corporations that have total control over the content of our conventional media. Even this blog is controlled by Google and its content can be eliminated at any time if they wish to do so. Our environment buttresses the abortion and homosexual culture by continuously presenting its position through schools, television, radio, movies, books, billboards, and all other areas in our civilization. Although EWTN is allowed to broadcast, this is an exception in our wider culture. The point is that there is a culture around us that is not neutral and that subtly seeks to impose its world view. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to search through our civilization and test everything to retain what is good. The problem is that there is so little that is actually good and there are movements to destroy the good that is left. We must be aware of our surroundings.
The point of this entry is not to despair, but to recognize our reality. If we wish to create a new culture, we may not be able to rely on the traditional means used to reach society. We may need to be creative, as saints have been in the past, and find a way to witness to the reality of Christ to a culture that is being starved of the truth.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Proud to be Mrs.

Recently, the European Parliament has issued a guide for its staff members banning words such as 'Miss' and 'Mrs' (in whatever language they exist) and the use of gender-specific terms like 'policeman' or 'businessman' because they are sexist and can be offensive.

Feminists around Europe (and the world) might be rejoicing now!

I can understand changing, or better expanding, gender specific words that refer to occupations in order to include also women [after all, I would not like to be passed for a man!], but what is the point of eliminating titles that indicate marital status? You are either married or not and if you are ashamed of showing that to the world, well my dear, you probably made the wrong choice in life! Changing a title from Mrs. to Ms. does not change the reality that a woman is not a single person any longer. And if she is married, one would assume is because she chose to, because she decided to share her life with another person, to become one. This does not mean a woman has to give up her femininity [i.e womanliness] and become subdue to the absolute power and will of a husband [if there is such a person, you probably would not want to marry him anyway!]. Quite the contrary; marriage means giving oneself up for the other and in this there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Marriage is the best thing that has happened in my life, after encountering Christ, so please call me Mrs. I am proud of it!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Vulnerability of the West

The Western world is more vulnerable at present than any time in our history. Our leaders have not defended our civilization and we, like children in a candy factory, are consuming and buying foreign goods to an extent that our future way of life is threatened. What is the real problem? We desire material items more than human life. We neglect the vulnerable, the weak, the unborn, and the elderly. We want fancy cars, big houses, and the appearance of something that will give status. In this pursuit we have facilitated the decline of our civilization and aided the rise of the next great power China. One cannot overestimate the power this totalitarian regime has over the U.S. because of its control of the dollar. The surprising thing is that the majority of American citizens are entirely unaware of true situation in the world. We hear speeches from elected officials who speak of our greatness, but no one addresses our vulnerabilities. No leader is discussing our relative weakness and offering solutions. In a way, the time for simple solutions has long passed. There is no simple way that we can stop the transfer of power without facilitating a decline in our standard of living. This drop is not preventable for the time being. What brought these events forward?

Our weakness was in adopting economic reasoning as our cultural norm. We have purchased goods produced by the cheapest labor, partially owned by totalitarian regimes that do not only take away freedom, but have mandated abortion as a state policy. We have not heeded the warning of important people who escaped the global center of communist regimes in the past. For example, on June 30th, 1975 Solzhenitsyn gave a speech that warns the West that Lenin figured out early on how to overcome capitalist economic systems. We would buy the very rope that would be used to hang ourselves. Once our cultural reasoning is understood by those who wish to surpass our civilization, all that they had to do was to supply cheap goods that we would purchase to our own demise. Our cultural norms would be used to facilitate our destruction. Our desire to maximize our wealth seems like a good thing in itself, but when the cost is the destruction of our civilization it is problematic. And which of our leaders have spoken about this? When Solzhenitsyn gave his warning the Soviet Union was a rival power, but now his words are ignored. His warning is has more salience today than it had over thirty years ago when they were written.

Peter Kreeft on the Culture War

Although I earlier wrote that this blog will not feature many links, I wanted to add a simple article featuring Peter Kreeft's observations on the culture war. He describes the desert of modern life where endless distractions weaken our connection with God and our ability to even grasp reality. One can no longer turn on the television and expect to watch a show where faith will not be challenged; rather we can expect to see arguments against truth and a subtle mockery of the Catholic Church. There is not one element in modern life where this attack is not present.

One sad element in Kreeft's description is the condition of Catholic colleges. The same is true of Catholic schools in general. Fr. John Harden once wrote that sending children to Catholic schools was no longer enough to keep them Catholic. In fact, it was a good way for your children to lose their faith. This observation is similar to what Luigi Giussani observes in The Risk of Education, that providing formal religious education that is separated from our daily activities leads to a dualistic understanding of reality and the faith. Fr. Harden had a great solution, he advised parents to educate their children at home. This is something that cannot be done at the college level, so we must face alienation as a necessary condition as we take the steps to acquire a professional job.

The cultural opposition to the Church has grown in intensity as it has become more subtle, and its strength has grown to the point that we need to continually offer our children guidance as they go through the modern culture. Sheltering children is not an answer, but at the same time we have to protect our young from the cultural oppression of their faith. Peter Kreeft observes the same cultural phenomena; we live in a spiritual desert where the water of life is cut off, and those who seek to find it will suffer along the way...

Peter Kreeft on the Culture War

A Brief Reflection on the Academy

While spending time at the academy, I was struck the great weakness that is our failure to educate our young. They are not challenged and, ultimately, their passion for learning is lost. A second observation was that most professors have no idea what they are talking about. George Bernanos once notes that one should never trust anyone with a doctorate until they first proved they were not an imbecile. As an alternative, students need to learn to evaluate theories/ideas with their experience. Only when they have ceased trusting experts will they be truly educated.

In the end, the value of any one study is often worthless. In the world outside of the humanities, one is required to pose the required question, “okay, but does your study hold if…” Academics know the true value of their work and can easily be skeptical over worthless work, but the young today are not given an education that allows them to question their teachers. Usually, the dialogue in class is limited to the banal question where a professor is forced to identify with the political left or right. But students today do not know how to ask questions.

The humanities are a discipline that is suffering tremendously today. After the reforms in the 1960s, it was thought that anyone could teach literature, art, philosophy, or history. Our civilization valued scientific thought above all. While this thought is important, it is not sufficient and, ultimately, once the humanities were destroyed our civilization started to decay. Although the term is usually applied to postmodern thought, our entire civilization seems to be suffering from “pensiero debole” or “weak thought.” We have separated thought from experience and created a cultural dualism that has prevented us from adequately understanding even ourselves.

The reduced focus on the humanities ultimately reduces our self-knowledge and creates a culture where people freely reject their experience to follow 'experts.' Our loss is in the ability to live a life that corresponds to our heart.

Catholic Newman Centers in the West

I have had a rude awakening this week, some undergraduate Catholic students approached me with a question about their faith. Although they attend a state university in Arizona not known for its academic rigor, they are serious about trying to live and understand the Catholic faith. My surprise was the lack of depth about basic catechetical teaching and that they see and understand the Church’s teaching ideologically or even through a Protestant ecclesiology. Their Catholic formation was so weak that they were unable to escape the reduction of moralism; they cannot link their experience to their faith.

The Catholic Newman center where they attend Mass has its problems. In the few times I have attended Mass there, I have seen a Dominican nun deliver the homily on multiple occasions. They have liturgical dancers who do silly dances for the procession, psalm, presentation, and recessional hymns. And I have heard them dismiss things the Church officially recognizes as mortal sins as not serious matters that do not even require a confession. In other words, since they have arrived at campus they have had little opportunity to grow in the knowledge of their faith. But these are not typical students I am writing about, these people really attempt to practice their faith as it is proclaimed by the Church. It is just that in their environment, perhaps the only way they can live the teachings of the Church by reducing them to moral guidelines. For them, everything is thought of moralistically. Prayer, dialogue, faith are external expressions that provide limitations on freedom but do not correspond to the human heart. The freedom proclaimed by the Church is nothing more than a serious of guidelines that they follow to gain salvation. They see no alternative to the practice of the faith other than preventing some action and mandating other works. But it is not a virtue where there is a mean with faults of excess or defect. It is an externality that must be followed and this can have nothing to do with the human heart and it does not correspond to desire.

This is the problem Bernanos noticed in his day that was part of his lament of French Culture in The Diary of a Country Priest. We live in a culture where the youth are vulnerable to all kinds of reductions, but we have not acted in a way to protect our children from the materialistic, ideological, and other cultural pressures. Of course, there is no grand solution that can be proposed to help our youth. It is just sad to see that even among youth that have made a conscious effort to follow the Church, no one has come forward to help them to find their way to live faithfully in the modern world. What have we done to our young?

The Culture of Medicine

Recently, I have been struck by medical doctors who wish to impose their views regarding the legitimate treatment of the human person in medicine. One problem is that the body is reduced to a machine and only certain people should receive treatment. We have forgotten that doctors are technicians, not philosophers, and applying the methodology one would use to decide whether to repair or junk a car does not correspond to the dignity of the person. From my experience, and I have several medical doctors among my siblings, their knowledge of the integrity of the human person is poor. In fact, it is frequently formed by our popular culture (which John Paul II called the Culture of Death). So we have a situation where people with good math skills who are generally recognized as intelligent are in a position to make life and death decisions (or at least recommendations) when they have no basis for doing so. We have to acknowledge that although doctors are well-intentioned, they do not always have the fundamental interests of the human person at heart. Having knowledge of medical techniques does not imply that a professional is competent to judge when this technology should be used. This confusion is common in our culture.

Walker Percy lamented the fact that common Americans dismiss their own experience and follow the opinions of experts who are able to impose a worldview on our culture. We trust bright people even when their suggestions go against our experience. This is a problem and a signal that our culture is in decline. Think about what this means for democratic systems. The ideas and concerns of ordinary citizens can routinely be dismissed. This is particularly problematic in the areas of medicine where doctors are asked to make decisions affecting the most vulnerable elements of society. We employ reasoning that was equally bad when it was practiced in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is always wrong to deprive a person of food and water, this is an ordinary means that cannot be rejected under any circumstance. Human life is a treasure that must be preserved regardless of costs. The distinction between ordinary and extraordinary treatment is valid, however this norm is not practiced in our culture at large. When we do not question experts or judge claims through our experience, we are helping to facilitate the culture of death. We must not be afraid to question doctors. It is not easy, but otherwise we risk losing what is most valuable.

Pieper's Hope and History

Notes on Pieper's Hope and History

Man can hope for temporal fulfillment (eg. good.* . weather)and fundamental fulfillment (salvation). After initially seeking satisfaction through the goods of this world, a man may suffer a collapse of his entire world. He may be confined to a hospital bed with the full knowledge that he will not recover. Yet, it is this situation that frees man and grounds him in the fundamental hope. While he is unable to hope to regain the pleasures he had experienced in his youth, he does not cease to hope. His hopes in the world were ultimately illusionary and not really hope at all. Free from these illusions he is now able to hope in the one true hope, the beatific vision. Separate from this hope no true hope exists. A man who sees the future likelihood of his own nonexistence can hope for fulfillment of his life's plans, but he has not the fundamental hope.

Although the natural world has changed as time has progressed, these physical events in themselves are not history. History always refers to man and necessarily contains the human element (responsibility, freedom, decisions, mistakes, and guilt all have a part). Historical events cannot be predicted (not even by angels as St. Thomas writes) because they are a product of the free action of man.

Modern theologians have examined the subject and have likewise found that history cannot be reduced to a formula that could be used to interpret the past or predict the future. History is not then absurd, rather it is a mystery. The history experienced by individual men finds its meaning in its relationship with the eternal, through this connection man can understand his role in the world.

Pieper challenges Kant's ordering of history by focusing on Kant's assumption that humanity is constantly progressing to the better. Kant's historical theory rests upon this premise by claiming that experience, a particular historical event, mandates it. Kant points to the French Revolution and the sympathy of all mankind for it as the one event. The future can be predicted because mankind is then in a constant state of advancement. Pieper's difficulty with Kant centers upon this assumption, is there really evidence to indicate that man is in this state of advancement. The dangerous reality of nuclear weapons with the possibility of the destruction of man lead us to question whether mankind is indeed advancing. Since Kant's assumption can be doubted, his historical proposal must be held in doubt. Can a philosopher play the part of the prophet and predict the future through use of his reason? Pieper suggests that a better solution to the question of the progression of history is resignation, we do not really know what tomorrow will bring.

As Christians, what can we hope for in history? We cannot wish to know the exact hour of the end of the world or seek salvation through political change. We have hope in the triumph of truth that will come only after evil enjoys its strongest reign. Evil will become entrenched in the world's political systems that will attack the Church, individual Christians, and all people of good will. Hope is not lost in this suffering but endures through to the triumph of the good.

Pieper's argument is simply stated, direct, and coherent. He searches the foundations of various philosophical interpretations of the progression of history and shows that the evidence presented for the theory is weak or nonexistent. A true statement predicting future world activities must rest on a foundation that exists in reality and not merely in the mind. Such a prediction is more difficult given that it must account for all the factors that make the action of man free.

The Gospel calls believers to help the poor although poverty will never be eliminated. Christ said, in he poor you will always have with you... (Mk 14:7)." We may attempt to help the poor escape their situation, but we will never totally abolish poverty. Ideas presented to politicians never seem to understand the totality of poverty and continuously simple programs are proposed attempting to achieve unrealistic goals. Unrealistic political solutions do little more than seek to eliminate the symptoms of poverty while ignoring its causes. Salvation will not come from political activity. Although modern philosophy has adopted the goal of changing the world, what world will come through the changes? What we have experienced so far has left little to hope in.