Monday, May 21, 2012

...But the mood of the conference was best summed up in the title of the keynote address, by the political philosopher Michael Walzer: “The Strangeness of Jewish Leftism.” What was once a proud inheritance now seems like a problem in need of a solution. For many Jews, it remains axiomatic that Judaism is a religion of social justice and progress; the phrase “tikkun olam” has become a convenient shorthand for the idea that Judaism is best expressed in “repair of the world.”

In his speech, and in his new book In God’s Shadow: Politics and the Hebrew Bible, Walzer offers a contrary vision of traditional Judaism, which he argues “offers precious little support to left politics”—a truth that he recognized would surprise those who, like himself, “grew up believing that Judaism and socialism were pretty much the same thing.” If a leftist political message cannot readily be found in the traditions of Judaism, it follows that the explosion of Jewish leftism in the late 19th century was actually a rupture with Jewish history, and potentially a traumatic one.


Walzer’s reluctance to associate Judaism too simply with leftist politics, or indeed with any politics, represents a break from his earlier thinking. In his influential 1985 book Exodus and Revolution, for instance, Walzer argued that the Exodus narrative had provided a template for generations of revolutionaries and progressives in Western society, offering a model of how to escape an oppressive past and create a better future. The contrast with his new book could not be sharper. In this work, Walzer reads the Bible with an eye to its explicit and implicit teachings about politics and finds that its most eloquent message on the subject is silence. “The political activity of ordinary people is not a Biblical subject,” he writes, “nor is there any explicit recognition of political space, an agora or forum, where people congregate to argue about and decide on the policies of the community.” ...

...Much of In God’s Shadow deals with the ambiguous status of the prophet in the polity of ancient Israel. When contemporary liberals and leftists want to anchor their beliefs in Jewish tradition, it is to the prophets that they most often turn: the scathing denunciations of Amos and Jeremiah, the messianic vision of Isaiah. “We have a picture in our mind of the people described by Amos,” Walzer writes. “They are, so to speak, the local bourgeoisie,” and Amos speaks for the Israelite proletariat.

But if you look at the actual content of the prophets’ message, Walzer points out, its political bearing is not so clear. “Theirs was … a fiercely antipolitical radicalism,” he writes, which had little to say about the power structures of Israelite society. Indeed, one of the themes of In God’s Shadow is that the writers of the Bible were so uninterested in politics that they included remarkably little information about how the Israelites were actually governed on a day-to-day basis—almost everything we can say about the functions of kings, judges, and royal officials is speculative. When the prophets called for justice, they didn’t mean a redistribution of power but a society-wide submission to God: “God’s message overrode the wisdom of men.”

The same thing was even more dramatically true when it came to international politics. Jeremiah, for instance, was active toward the end of the Kingdom of Judah, at a time when that small nation was caught between the empires of Egypt and Babylon. Much of the last part of Kings is made up of the attempts of successive Israelite monarchs to ally themselves with one of these imperial powers against the other. But, as Walzer emphasizes, the prophets simply refuse to accept that this geopolitical problem is a problem at all. If the Israelites trust in God and obey him, all will be well; if God is determined to punish them, nothing they do will avert his justice. “All that he and his fellow prophets have to say in the global arena is ‘the God of Israel, the God of Israel,’ ” Walzer writes, “implying that diplomacy and defense are unnecessary so long as faith remains firm.”

The long-term effect of this usurpation of the public sphere by God, Walzer concludes, was the growth of Jewish messianism. “The secret source of messianic politics is a deep pessimism about the self-government of the covenantal community. … Israel was more often the subject of absolute judgment than of conditional assessment and counsel.” And while Walzer does not say so explicitly, it is easy to imagine what his denigration of messianism means for the modern Jewish radical tradition, which has so often prided itself on holding out for a messianic transformation of human society. If the Messiah is what we demand when we can’t or won’t engage in politics, then the Revolution, too, must be seen as fundamentally antipolitical, a dangerous dream that rests on the abdication of human judgment. The rejection of Revolution as a concept is perhaps the dividing line between liberals and leftists, and Jews increasingly find themselves on the liberal side of that line.

The left’s rejection of Judaism, Walzer concluded in his speech at YIVO, was both “necessary and profoundly wrong.” Necessary, because traditional Judaism did not offer a basis for a social justice movement; but also wrong, because the severance with tradition rendered the Jewish left culturally disoriented and spiritually impoverished.

While a number of speakers at the YIVO conference invoked Isaac Deutscher’s concept of the “non-Jewish Jew”—figures like Trotsky or Rosa Luxemburg, who rejected on principle any definition of themselves or their goals in Jewish terms—both Walzer and Ezra Mendelsohn warned against the idea that identity could be so abstract and universalized. Walzer called instead for a renewed critical engagement with Jewish tradition, including a return to the Jewish calendar and Jewish lifecycle events.
more--and obviously this is an interpretation, which by its nature leaves out some things and emphasizes others, but I found it pretty fascinating and I think many of my readers will want to grab Walzer's book. The Groom's Family, I'm looking at you....
MORE on the problems of meta-emotions!
It is significant for our understanding of the nature of the religion of Israel among the religions of the world that meaning for her is derived not from introspection, but from a consideration of the public testimony to God. The present generation makes history their story, but it is first history. They do not determine who they are by looking within, by plumbing the depths of the individual soul, by seeking a mystical light in the innermost reaches of the self. Rather, the direction is the opposite. What is public is made private. History is not only rendered contemporary; it is internalized. One’s people’s history becomes one’s personal history. One looks out from the self to find out who one is meant to be. One does not discover one’s identity, and one certainly does not forge it oneself. He appropriates an identity that is a matter of public knowledge. Israel affirms the given.
-Jon Levenson, which I found here

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bernard always had a few prayers in the hall and some whiskey afterwards as he was rarther pious but Mr Salteena was not very adicted to prayers so he marched up to bed. Ethel stayed as she thourght it would be a good thing. The butler came in as he was a very holy man and Bernard piously said the Our Father and a very good hymm called I will keep my anger down and a Decad of the Rosary.
-Daisy Ashford, The Young Visiters, found in the comments here!

Friday, May 18, 2012

THE NAME OF THE MIRACLE OF THE ROSE: I was kind of startled that the "Why do you identify as 'gay'?" question didn't come up in Denver. Possibly that's just because I talked way too long, so the q&a was cut short. Anyway my impression is that lots of people, both straight and not-so-much, really want to know about this question. I don't know if I understand the question too well since it isn't one which has ever exercised me--but here's where my thinking is right now, on what some people may be hearing when I say I'm gay and what I'm actually saying. (A previous post on this subject, written in a sort of galumphing-drunken-elephant style, is here.)

First, I think for some people taking on a gay identity is seen as setting up a competing community to the Church, which commands our loyalties in the way only Christ should. It's seen as surrender to something other than Christ. I'm sympathetic to this since I do think our surrender to Christ must be total and unique, and it's obvious that other communities and identity groups can compete with that surrender. The most obvious example for me is nationality: It's clear that one's self-concept as an American can compromise one's identity as a Christian.

And yet when somebody says he's Greek, the response of the non-Greek Christians around him isn't immediately to respond, "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek!" and to assume compromised faith on his part. There's an understanding that national identity both must and can be taken lightly, considered as a part of one's situation rather than a warped lens through which the Gospel is distorted. (The majority of people to whom I describe myself as "gay" view that identity the same way. They don't actually perceive any contradiction--they might see an added and maybe weird difficulty, but not an internal contradiction--in saying that I'm gay and celibate.)

Second, "gay" describes a community (or really, a big, contradictory, feisty tussle of communities) and a relationship to that community, and if you don't have any notable or positive relationship to that community then that is a fact about you which presumably would lead you to identify differently. My sense is that people who have had very little experience with gay communities, or whose experiences have been largely negative, are a lot more likely to identify as "same-sex attracted" and resist identifying as gay. My own relationship to queer communities has been important to me, largely positive, and characterized by belonging, and that's what I mean when I say I'm gay.

But there really are no terms which don't in some way mark out a community. "Same-sex attracted" is identity-jargon too, delineating a specific way of understanding one's eros: a new way, a way which would be as difficult to explain to St. Aelred (for example) as "gay."

I've written before (from a somewhat different perspective than the one I have now) about my coming-out process: that click of recognition, the key turning in the lock. I thought at the time that my alienation was explained by my sexual orientation. "Oh, so that's all it was!" That turns out to be only partly true--my alienation stems really from the Fall, not from being queer, but queerness is one way I've experienced a heightened or stylized version of that universal alienation. That experience was really important to me--and, ultimately, important to my conversion to Catholicism. Explaining it without "self-identifying" as queer would feel really artificial and strained.

Similarly, look, I was a pretty self-centered kid. I don't know how much progress I've made there, but I know that gay and queer communities were among the places where I learned to try to listen to other people, admit my own faults and blind spots, and generally be more giving and less awful. I've said before that I was a better girlfriend to girls than to guys and I expect that's related to my self-identification as well: "Gay" names a place where I became a somewhat better person. I want to honor the people who put up with me.

My sense is that if you're Christian and you've had experiences like these, you're more likely to self-identify as gay, and if you haven't, you're more likely to self-identify as same-sex attracted. (Although for a contrasting perspective, see here.)

Also, notice the real but limited role played by sexual desire in this description. "Because I'm gay" I've been sexually drawn to women; but also, "because I'm gay" I've felt intense difference from those around me, felt recognition and a sort of exhilaration when I found writers and musicians and artists who described queer experience, felt a need to be of service to women, and been a part of various communities which shaped me. Collapsing all of these elements of my "gay experience" into wanting to have gay sex seems to me to be a misunderstanding of eros--and a willful erasure of every possible element of gay experience which might form part of a positive path toward Christ and conversion. It seems like a demand that the path from the gay community to Christ must be a path of rejection rather than reunderstanding.

Christianity has always confronted specific communities which were held together by elements which seemed inimical to the Gospel. One major response has been to identify the "unknown gods" in those communities, the places where their own self-understandings indicated a longing for Christ. The community could then be baptized rather than rejected or destroyed. One reason I really loved Frederick W. Roden's Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture is that he talks about the ways in which the cultures and communities which eventually transformed into "gay culture" had intrinsic affinities for Catholic faith. It's obvious to me how my eros could be baptized, and I've written about that stuff a lot here.

Third, I persist in thinking that the tangle of experiences we've decided to call "being gay" is interesting. I've said, cattily, that I oppose gay marriage because I think homosexuality is interesting rather than banal. A lot of the "don't identify as gay" stuff seems to me to be an attempt to gloss over real differences in experience, to pretend that homosexuality makes no important difference in one's life path as a Christian in contemporary society. That seems to me to be an effort to understand gay difference and gay experience as banal. ("I'm not married, so I have to be chaste too! Our situations are just the same. So why are you acting like you're different and special?" No. Our situations may have important lessons for one another. Your situation may be harder than mine in various ways, e.g. I don't sit up nights wondering why I haven't found a nice girl to marry me. But solidarity requires acknowledgment of difference, not suppression of it.)

And finally, "gay" is a blunt term, a quick tabloid kind of term, garish and in-your-face. I like that in a girl!
"DAN SAVAGE WAS RIGHT": My friend Joshua Gonnerman in First Things.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

THE DEATH-HAUNTED ART OF FRIENDSHIP, PART II: At Catholic Lane. This time, sacrificial friendship in the Bible and in our everyday lives:
How often in Scripture we find violence mingled with love, like water mingled with wine: in the Song of Songs, the watchmen beating the lover as she searches the city for her beloved; in Genesis, Abram’s knife poised over Isaac’s breast. Yet it is friendship that features most prominently in this strange dynamic of love and violence. It is most explicitly and insistently linked to death and sacrifice.
A FANTASY OF SALVAGE: My review of Tim Powers's new novel, at Crisis:
Zombie voodoo pirates. Time-traveling Mossad agents. Djinn in the Cold War. The dark fantasy novels of Catholic author Tim Powers can seem like pure high-concept, and his newest book—a sequel to The Stress of Her Regard, a.k.a. What If the Romantic Poets Were Sort of Vampires?–has the same instant audience appeal. Christina Rossetti fights vampires! A hard-luck ex-prostitute who’s too stoic for her own good might finally find happiness with an animal-loving loner! Tough women, sensitive men, London by gaslight, sinister rituals, and even Boadicea back from the dead: Hide Me Among the Graves seems custom-designed for a cold, rainy weekend curled up under a comforter with the cats.

And yet this thrilling, compassionate book is much more than its concept. Powers excels at a fantasy of salvage: a human-scale, kitchen-sink drama in which characters take what seem like small steps into darkness, only to find themselves in far over their heads. The way out requires terrible physical and emotional sacrifice. The great, heroic actions in these novels are often acts of renunciation, earning no glory.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

GUYS AND LADIES: My post about Damsels in Distress, at AmCon.
THIS IS THE DENVER POST STORY ON MY TALK. Very nice! And I love that their blog is called "Hark!"
IN SCHEMES BEGIN RESPONSIBILITIES: I have a post about the Great Brain books, over at Acculturated!
A SUMMARY OF MY TALK IN DENVER is up at the Spiritual Friendship blog.
About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying
and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened,
there was suddenly such a severe earthquake
that the foundations of the jail shook;
all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.
When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open,
he drew his sword and was about to kill himself,
thinking that the prisoners had escaped.
But Paul shouted out in a loud voice,
"Do no harm to yourself; we are all here."
He asked for a light and rushed in and,
trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas.
Then he brought them out and said,
"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

--Acts; from today's readings. This jailer is one of those startling marginal figures who duck into the New Testament, react in unexpected ways, and then duck back out of sight.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The key to the shop’s comprehensive business plan: offer as many services as possible to any conceivable customer. In the florescent-lit rooms behind espresso machines, walk-in clients can see a notary or submit a urine sample. If that’s not enough, go upstairs to have family portraits taken in the on-site photography studio.

Jimmy Jackson made use of the document-services center last week, printing job applications as he waited to testify in court. He said his brother, whose custody case was pending, had his taxes done during the trial.

“And the coffee ain’t half bad,” Jackson added.

On a normal day, jurors and lawyers mix with criminal defendants, city bureaucrats cross paths with recovering addicts from the nearby methadone clinic — and everyone comes to see Mona Pryor, whose job title as City Coffee’s operations director scarcely hints at her many roles.

“Lawyers are always coming in here to ask me to put in a good word with judge so-and-so, or asking me to introduce them to someone from the other side,” said Pryor. She is the one-woman force behind most of City Coffee’s services, with an associate’s degree in accounting and a variety of specialty certificates.
more (via Ratty)
I’ve recently released a website providing convenient access to the digitized archives of a wide range of periodicals from the last two centuries, most of which have never before been available outside the dusty shelves of research libraries.

Although many of these are generally conservative or rightwing, such as The American Mercury or Social Justice, many others are liberal or leftist, including IF Stone’s Weekly, The New Masses, Encounter, and The Reporter, while the majority are mainstream and relatively non-ideological. ...

Therefore, as a means of publicizing the website, I have announced a Historical Research Competition with a $10,000 First Prize, for the most interesting and important research discovery based on these archives.
"AGAINST THE AMERICAN JESUS": My review of Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Also, I will be blogging at TAC's group blog, State of the Union, mostly talking about arts-and-culture. Look for more on Damsels in Distress later today/tonight.

And come see me tonight in Denver!

Friday, May 11, 2012

"THE DECLINE OF DECADENCE": I wish I had seen Damsels in Distress before its closing night here in DC, so I could tell you all to go see it! It was terrific--funnier and more wide-ranging in its satire than Metropolitan, I thought. In When Sisterhood Was in Flower, Florence King's obvious love for the '70s feminism she satirized made the satire itself sharper and brighter. WSWIF:70's feminism::Damsels:"Beauty will save the world."
...The paradox is that although war is waning in the classic configuration of brigades fighting an enemy on foreign shores, we are not rid of its specter, burdens, threats, costs and restrictions. What should we make of wartime that has the appearance of peacetime?

Mary Dudziak’s new book, War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, is a crucial document. Dudziak, a legal historian at the University of Southern California, argues that we are experiencing “not a time without war, but instead a time in which war does not bother everyday Americans.” Her smooth foray into legal and political history reveals that in not just the past decade but the past century, wartime has become a more or less permanent feature of the American experience, though we fail to recognize it. She doesn’t say so explicitly, but we are experiencing a reverse Orwellian situation, in which the state, rather than elevating war to perpetuate itself, obscures war to perpetuate itself.
"SO WHOSE 'SWAN LAKE' IS IT?" Original Petipa choreography for the position they talk about on page one is obviously much better, yes? (Also: NYClean, so you can read the article.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Perhaps if I wanted to be understood or to understand I would bamboozle myself into belief, but I am a reporter; God exists only for leader-writers.
-Graham Greene, The Quiet American

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

"THE CHILDREN'S SUBLIME." My piece on Maurice Sendak. The New York Times obituary was also quite good. RIP.
I'LL BE IN DENVER! On Monday, May 14, at Theology on Tap, doing my thing. Here's a rundown from the Denver Catholic Register. I hope to meet some of you there!
All aridity of spirit results from sublimations that are badly assumed, from the forced maimings of a vocation that was poorly understood, from a disguised, paralyzing refusal.
-much more here
But the right to revise traditions is not everybody’s right; it has to be won by learning their moral truths as deeply as they can be learned. Those who have difficult vocations to explore need the tradition to help the exploration. The tradition may not have the final word, but it is certain they will never find the final word if they have failed to profit from the words the tradition offers. And if it should really be the case that they are summoned to witness on some terra incognita of “new” experience, it will be all the more important that their new discernments should have been reached on the basis of a deep appropriation of old ones, searching for and exploiting the analogies they offer. No one who has not learned to be traditional can dare to innovate.
-Oliver O'Donovan, Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion

This is a little heavy for me, a bit stolid, especially if it's taken outside the context of Christian Tradition-with-a-capital-T. Traditions can arise from misunderstandings, accidents, and jokes, and yet over the years they can come to illuminate various truths and signal belonging. But O'Donovan's point is basically true and our lives would be vastly more beautiful if what he recommends were standard practice. ...Quotation via CC.

Friday, May 04, 2012

...Think about what you’re putting on the air. There’s no law that requires you to accommodate the police every time they want to flex their muscles on the evening news. In one of the videos linked above, the news team shoves a camera into a woman’s face as she’s stepping into the wagon. The reporter then shouts questions at the woman—this just after the reporter points out the possibility that the woman she’s humiliating and zooming in on may be a sex slave.
10 BEAUTIFUL BUILDINGS INSPIRED BY FAMOUS BOOKS. A lot of these are terrific--and can I just say that I love that the Hobbit one is a motel? My only disappointment is that it isn't somewhere in Lolitaville, USA.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

...They tortured men at military bases and detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, and in U.S. Navy bases on American soil; they tortured men in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe specifically to terrorize and torture prisoners; they sent many more to countries with notoriously abusive regimes and asked them to do the torturing. At least twice, after the torturers themselves concluded there was no point to further abuse, Washington ordered that the prisoners be tortured some more.

They tortured innocent people. They tortured people who may have been guilty of terrorism-related crimes, but they ruined any chance of prosecuting them because of the torture. They tortured people when the torture had nothing to do with imminent threats: They tortured based on bad information they had extracted from others through torture; they tortured to hide their mistakes and to get confessions; they tortured sometimes just to break people, pure and simple.

And they conspired to cover up their crimes. They did this from the start, by creating secret facilities and secrecy regimes to keep what they were doing from the American people and the world. They did it by suppressing and then destroying evidence, including videotapes of the torture. They did it by denying detainees legal process because, as the CIA’s Inspector General put it in a 2004 report [pdf], when you torture someone you create an “Endgame” problem: You end up with detainees who, “if not kept in isolation, would likely divulge information about the circumstances of their detention.”

They managed all this, for a time, through secrecy—a secrecy that depended on the aggressive suppression of two groups of voices.

Over and over again, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, in secret CIA black sites and at CIA headquarters, in the Pentagon, and in Washington, men and women recognized the torture for what it was and refused to remain silent. They objected, protested, and fought to prevent, and then to end, these illegal and immoral interrogations. While the president and his top advisers approved and encouraged the torture of prisoners, there was dissent in every agency, at every level.

The documents are full of these voices. ...

Alongside the dissenters, another group of voices surfaces in these once-classified materials: the men we tortured. Theirs are the voices the entire system of incommunicado detention and closed tribunals was constructed to censor, and it worked: To this day, few Americans can identify more than a handful of detainees by name. Fewer still know how far from the “worst of the worst” the vast majority of those we tortured turned out to be.

Torture dehumanizes. But that only extends a process of dehumanization that must take place in order for abuse to happen: It is impossible to torture those whose humanity we recognize. In joke-filled letters to their attorneys, in frank and vivid testimony in tribunal transcripts, in startlingly naive and in powerfully emotional exchanges with interrogators, images emerge not of the maniacal and monolithic and monstrous, but of distinct and recognizable individuals. To hear these voices is to begin to reverse the terrible dehumanization the documents chronicle.
more (via Mark Shea)
FRIENDS IN NEED: At the pregnancy center, we see how certain norms which are destructive for everyone, but which may make some utilitarian sense from an upper-class perspective, have filtered down to poor women. The most obvious one is the idea that marriage is the final stamp of approval on a life well lived, the last item on the to-do list, to be checked off only once you've achieved economic stability. Marrying before economic stability has been achieved is actively stigmatized, because economic independence and stability are major markers of grown-up status, and the new model of marriage is that you complete the growing-up process first rather than letting your marriage form the bedrock of your adult identity.

You can see how this causes difficulties when economic stability is a far-off goal which may never be achieved. (And which becomes even harder to achieve once you start having kids out of wedlock.) Marriage is simultaneously an immensely longed-for honor and an endlessly-receding finish line.

What I didn't notice until more recently is that destructive upper-class norms of friendship may also be changing poor communities. This study basically argues (this is from memory, so I apologize if I misstate anything) that upper-class friendships are looser, based on common interests and personal compatibility, easier to shrug out of, and less tightly-tied to mutual aid, while working-class friendships are nosy, impose sometimes burdensome obligations, and are based mostly on proximity or similarity of life situation. Looser friendships offer independence, but are prone to atomization and alienation; tighter friendships foster generosity, but are prone to gossip and to resentment when perceived obligations aren't met.

I've been struck recently by how many of my clients are ashamed to go to their friends for help: both material or financial help, and emotional support, the love in time of distress which might be thought of as one of the key purposes of friendship. I've written before about my own struggle with the temptation to keep my troubles to myself and not seek help because I don't want to burden others, so I totally sympathize with this dilemma. But as I'm trying to teach myself, love in a time of need is what you have friends for. St. Aelred's emphasis on transparent honesty with one's friends may be considered an antidote to the shame we feel at exposing our own needs and weaknesses.

One of the biggest tasks at the center, at least for someone with my style of counseling, is to help the woman find the sources of love and support already available to her in her own life and community. I try to help her identify and strengthen those connections. And I've been startled by how often people will identify a friend as a possible source of desperately-needed strength, and then admit that they're ashamed to rely on that friend. "Well, if she were in need, wouldn't you want to know?" I ask, and that helps a bit. But the tight old relationships--not only friendship but the fictive kinship relations of godparenthood and godsisterhood, and maybe even the extended-family relationships of cousinhood--seem to be weakening. A renewal of friendship would be good for everybody, but maybe especially good for the poor.
"You've turned into a log of wood," he commented. "You've not only lost contact with reality and lost all interest in world events, in your civic duties, in yourself, in your friends (and you did have friends), you've not only lost all goals in life, except for winning at roulette--you've even renounced your memories. I remember you at an intense, vivid moment in your life, but I'm certain you've forgotten the best and strongest emotions that you experienced at that time, and your present dreams and aspirations do not go beyond pair, impair, rouge, noir, the middle twelve numbers, and all that. I'm sure of it."

"That'll do, Mr. Astley. Please, don't remind me of it!" I cried with annoyance, almost spitefully. "And for your information, I haven't forgotten a thing. I have only temporarily emptied my head of everything, including even my memories, until I've radically improved my situation. Then you'll see, I'll come back from the dead!"

--The Gambler

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

UNEQUALLY YOKED IS DOING A SECOND ROUND OF THE "IDEOLOGICAL TURING TEST." Talk to her about it here! (I infest the comments box.)
FACES: A PET PEEVE. See also the comment of a friend of mine, after seeing the cover of a new book on Gay Catholic Whatnot, "Oh no--not the bandaged heart!"
LETTING GO AND HOLDING ON: As we walked back from seeing Kid with a Bike, my friend and I passed a car with a bumper sticker reading, "I believe in unicorns, good men, and other mythical creatures." I joked that it was especially appropriate for the movie we'd just seen, a Belgian drama about a boy trying to find someone to parent him. But the movie isn't at all cynical or harsh. The kid is really lost and angry, and it's hard to watch him being rejected by his father, or remoraing himself to a hairdresser just because she was minimally kind to him once. The story is hard, and even the hope in its ending comes through the boy's defeat and resignation as well as through his foster mother's tender acceptance. Very, very recommended if it's playing near you.
SING YOUR LIFE: Recently watched Kiss of Death, a bleak and sometimes grimy little noir about a small-time robber who eventually gives in to the cops and turns state's evidence so that he can go home to his daughters. The story sets out to tug your heartstrings and succeeds (the guy was only robbing jewels at the start of the movie because no one would give a legit job to an ex-con, and his kids needed Christmas presents!); it's much better at portraying misery than joy. The nuns who take in the two little girls are stock characters from the Cath-symp era of Hollywood described in Ross Douthat's new book, and the romance feels very standard-issue as well. What stands out are the casual cruelties--the district attorney and his employees mock their prisoner for being a stool pigeon, even as they're urging him to sing!--and the truly scary performance of Richard Widmark as a Joker-grinning sociopath.
THE MIND ANSWERS THE BELL LIKE A SERVANT: A quick, necessary postscript to my recent long post about conversion--and I meant to say this earlier but got blown off-course by events! Anyway it would be easy to think that if you can become Catholic for reasons as intellectual as the ones I describe in that post, your faith would remain a papery husk, a bunch of moral laws rather than a passionate relationship with Jesus Christ. That kind of faith is certainly not what I was advocating. I think people generally move beyond their initial reasons and motives for conversion; and it's necessary to do so, as we begin to step into the areas of Catholic faith and practice which initially felt the most remote to us. People who accept Catholicism as a groundwork for morality can, I hope, now revisit the music, the prayer practices, the ascetic practices, and the corporal works of mercy, and love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, and strength.

Post title is a nod to this.
And so Morton didn’t get to see Eric grow up. When Eric was 12, he stopped seeing his father in prison. When he was 18, he changed his last name from Morton. That broke his father’s spirit. Fourteen years into his life sentence, Morton hit absolute bottom.

“The things that I was hanging on to in the world, and he was it. When that was gone, I just cratered,” he says. “When you are completely without hope, when you are completely without any avenue of escape, when you’re not sure of any reason to go on, I cried out to God. I said, ‘OK, I’m done. I got nothing.’ “

How was Morton finally freed? His wife’s brother had found the bloody bandanna the police left later that day, and he turned it in. For years, Williamson County fought Morton’s requests to have the evidence in his case tested. Prosecutors ridiculed his efforts and taunted him, saying they’d consider DNA testing the evidence only if Morton would first take responsibility for the crime.
more; and more; comments on the framing of the story and, specifically, the coverage of religious conversion and faith, here, with good comments section as well
But it's striking that the things that therapeutic, God Within religion doesn't seem to have delivered to Americans are the very things that it claims to be best suited to provide--contentment, happiness, well-being, and, above all, the ability to forge successful relationships with fellow human beings. ...Therapeutic religion promises contentment, but in many cases it seems to deliver a sort of isolation that's at once comfortable and terrible--leaving us alone with the universe, alone with the God Within.
--Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics