A Plumbline in the Wind

The world is going to the dogs, but I refuse to learn to bark

Psalm 119:155 Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek thy statutes.

A Plumbline in the Wind Paris: Jardin des Tuileries

A class traitor

1 October 2008 · 3 Comments

These days I feel like Yeats’s Irish airman:

Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love

Actually I wouldn’t go so far as to say I don’t love them, but the ones I fight are not those I hate. They are my own people. In all likelihood, the elections will bring to power a regime that will put in place measures that will deprive Catholics and conservatives of freedom of speech and probably result in outright persecution, at least by exclusion from certain kinds of work and inability to carry on institutional existence. And those who are going to be putting that regime in power are my own people. They are my family, who taught me to hate everything I now am. They are my old friends, with whom I still feel the deepest affinity–some of them even friends with whom I have shared the faith. They are those with whom I share an education. I am a traitor to my class of educated, literate people. Those I guard are those with whom I share faith in God and commitment to His truth, and yet among them I feel like one in exile, speaking every day a foreign language, however fluent I may be in it. Like one who longs for the sight of a country to which he can never return, because the revolutionaries who have seized control there will put him to death, l remain a stranger and an alien in my new home, alienated from my old home.

I have become a stranger to my brethren,
an alien to my mother’s sons.
For zeal for thy house has consumed me,
and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me. (Ps 69:8-9)

It is not an enemy who taunts me–
then I could bear it;
It is not an adversary who deals insolently with me–
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to hold sweet converse together;
within God’s house we walked in fellowship. (Ps 55:12-14)

→ 3 CommentsTags: My Life · Politics and society

Full human beings

22 September 2008 · 2 Comments

In a column today, Robert Tracinski faintly praises Governor Palin by informing his presumably liberal audience that she isn’t as bad as she seems. She is not a religious fanatic, he says, however:

The one clear indication we have as to the degree of her religious commitment is the fact that she is opposed to abortion in all cases, making an exception only to protect the life of the mother. And we know she means it because she chose to give birth to her youngest child even though she knew from genetic testing that it would have Down Syndrome, a severe form of mental retardation.

This fact does reveal a profoundly faith-driven outlook, because it illuminates Palin’s implicit attitude toward reason and the intellect. The joy of having a child is watching it grow and develop on its way to becoming an independent adult capable of enjoying a full human life. This is why parents rejoice in every new discovery the child makes along the way–his first steps, his first words, the first time he figures out how to open up and rifle through your filing cabinets while you’re trying to work (but I digress). The tragedy of giving birth to a mentally disabled child is that he will never complete this journey. He will never become an independent adult or develop a full use of the faculty that is man’s essential characteristic: his reasoning mind. To knowingly choose to bring such a child into the world is evidence that the precepts of her faith take precedence over the value of the mind in Palin’s view of the world.

In other words, Mr. Tracinski believes that anyone who values the human intellect will make sure that anyone who might not have the “full use” of that faculty is killed before birth. The value of a human being is in what he can do, not who he is–excuse me, who it is: doubtless the Palins knew from the same genetic tests that Trig would be a boy, but to Mr. Tracinski “such a child” is just a thing.

Mr. Tracinski’s assessment is wrong in so many ways, but it is enlightening to see for a moment this revelation of the underlying worldview of the secular elite. All their talk about compassion hides a brutal calculation of value: if you can’t make it intellectually, you ought not to live. Anyone who values human life for any other reason insults the intellect. If this is intelligence, give me stupidity any day.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Politics and society

A real hero

13 September 2008 · 2 Comments

Elinor Dashwood posts a link to a newspaper story about an old acquaintance who died saving the life of his son. The young man, who has Down’s Syndrome, fell into a septic tank, and the father, just home from Sunday Mass, went in to save him. The son is now in the hospital; the father was taken out unconscious and died soon after. From the story, it appears Mr. Vander Woude died as he lived: his was a life of service to God, to his family, to his neighbors, and to his country. He put the rest of us whiners to shame, and, I hope, has inspired many to live as he did. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed by the mercy of God rest in peace.

I wonder how many readers of the Washington Post, where this article appeared, shook their heads and said to themselves, “What a waste! A healthy man sacrificing his life to save a…” whatever the word is now for someone whom the wise in this age think should have been killed before birth. I hear that some of the defenders of abortion are saying that Governor Palin’s failure to kill her son Trig in the womb will set a bad example and encourage other mothers to bring children with Down’s Syndrome to birth. A few evenings ago I was talking to a friend, a man from my parish who is soon to be ordained as a permanent deacon. His son is a college athlete and aspiring teacher. As part of his education, he was taking a class on special education from a woman who works with the state headquarters of the Special Olympics, which is located in the same town as the college. She told him that they have hardly any Down’s children any more, because so many are aborted. This means, she said, that discrimination against those with this disability will only grow worse, because they will be so much rarer.

My friend knows what he is talking about. His youngest daughter, born a few years ago, has Down’s Syndrome. When she was born, he said, he was bitterly angry with God. “We’ve done the right thing; we’ve been open to life; we’ve had seven kids: and now you give me damaged goods!” He said he struggled with this. Then one day he laid his hand on the child to pray that she be healed, and he heard God say to him, “I’m not going to heal her; I’m going to heal you.” He says the change in him was instantaneous. He no longer saw damaged goods; he saw his daughter. She has been, he says, the greatest blessing in his life. He would die for her, too, I am sure.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Politics and society · Spirituality

The McCain-Palin ticket

29 August 2008 · No Comments

Senator McCain’s picking Governor Palin for Vice President surprised some people. What surprised me was that he would actually do it, not that it would be a good idea. A couple of months ago I saw a column on line (I forget by whom, but linked to Real Clear Politics) advocating her for the ticket, and I’ve been rooting for her ever since. Besides the many reasons cited by, among others, Cacciaguida, I can add a couple more:

  • She is governor of the only state that shares a border with Russia.
  • The Republicans now have a completely lawyer-free ticket.

  • Not that there’s anything wrong with lawyers per se, but it’s interesting that the all the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President since 1984 have been lawyers (or, in the case of Al Gore, whose only real career has been in politics, a former law student). On the Republican side, the only lawyers in that period have been Dan Quayle and Bob Dole. Not only Senators Obama and Biden, but Senators Clinton and Edwards–all lawyers. What does that tell us?

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    History contrary to fact, alas

    23 August 2008 · No Comments

    I recently came across a paper I wrote during my first semester in graduate school, in the fall of 1975. The class was Tudor England; the paper assignment gave a choice of topics, including “What if Henry VIII had had a son?” I took that one and wrote Encomium Henrici: A brief examination of the reign of King Henry IX. I scanned the paper and posted here.

    It is, of course a work of fantasy. The child in question was really born, but in the real world he died immediately after birth. All the other people mentioned, except for Thomas Roper, are actual people, although they did not do some of the things I ascribe to them. St. Thomas More’s Dialogue Concerning Tyndale does contain the suggestion I mention. There are, of course, lots of things left vague, such as developments in the Netherlands and Scotland: I didn’t really have any clear idea behind those hints. One wonders about lots of other questions and how they would have developed, like the roles of King and Parliament, the position of the Protestant minority, relations with Spain and France, and the Irish question, which would have been a question even without the religious issue. Still, it was fun, and even after more than 30 years I still think I did a pretty good job.

    And I did get an A-plus on the paper.

    → No CommentsTags: Literature · My Life

    A human right?

    13 August 2008 · 1 Comment

    A wandering websurfer by the name of BJ “stumbled into” my last post and left a comment. This person thinks I am “off base,” which no doubt many people do, if they bother to think about me at all, which I’m relieved they don’t. BJ, at any rate, thinks I’m off base because I don’t follow the liberal line, although he (or she) ascribes even more conservative views to me than I actually hold. I have answered some of BJ’s comment in a subsequent comment, but there is one piece of it that merits a post of its own:

    Also, isn’t healthcare a human right? Did Christ walk by the leper and say, “well, you should get a job and pay for treatment” or did he say recognize the suffering and and seek to heal? Are we not called upon as Christians to help the weak (pro-life anyone?)

    The phrasing implies that BJ believes three things: 1) That healthcare is a human right; 2) That the actions of Christ somehow support this contention; and 3) That this is somehow tied up in the call for Christians to help the weak. [Read more →]

    → 1 CommentTags: Politics and society · Theology and scripture

    Is that what people should be doing?

    27 July 2008 · 2 Comments

    Why will I never go into politics? Because the whole process appears impervious to logic. It’s not just the proposals that the politicians are making; it’s the so-called problems to which the electorate–taught by its masters in the media–expects solutions. Here is a great example from National Public Radio (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party). The have a program about business, whose Sunday version this afternoon ran a feature they call “The Straight Story.” This means, as far as I can tell, the ex cathedra statement from their economics editor, a Mr. Farrell, on what the lumpenintelligentsia who are their audience are expected to think. This afternoon’s sermon concerned the consequences of recent disruptions in the economy. [Read more →]

    → 2 CommentsTags: Politics and society

    Messianic politics

    27 June 2008 · 1 Comment

    The other day I heard a story on NPR (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party) in which the reporter interviewed a number of college students at some sort of convention or conference in Virginia. The topic was the presidential election, and all but one of the young people interviewed favored Sen. Obama. In explaining their preference, not one of them mentioned Sen. Obama’s principles, or programs, or stands on the issues. They like him because he is exciting, he is young, he is new. He appeals to young people, one young woman said, because he goes beyond the old political debates, which are now irrelevant to the new generation. One young man, who attends a “historically black” college, favors him because, if he is elected President, he will, by some means not disclosed, raise him (the student) to a position of greater importance. Another young man’s loyalty to Sen. Obama was cemented when, at a campaign rally, the Senator descended into the crowd, and a young woman standing near him fainted.

    This is truly scary. Which old political debates are irrelevant to young people? Have war and peace, taxes, immigration policy, or drilling for oil on federal land suddenly become unimportant? Or is it the case that these young people consider all these questions settled, so that there is no longer room for debate, but only for concerted, unified action? Indeed, the fainting girl is a metaphor for the whole approach: Sen. Obama’s followers (supporters is too weak a word) are so excited about him they lose consciousness. They don’t want a politician; they want a Messiah. The belief that a nation should move beyond politics to follow a charismatic leader who will unite the people about his personality has been tried before. In the history business, we call it Fascism.

    I don’t want a President I’m excited about. I want a President who has sound political principles, whose character I can trust, and whose political goals are–at least in the main–ones with which I agree. That sounds rather boring. Boring is good. Boring means you can disagree with him in some ways even while supporting his candidacy; exciting means you support his policies because they are his. Exciting means you consider discussion of the issues a distraction from the real business of bringing us together for change. Boring means that decisions are made by rational discussion, weighing the pro and contra, and compromising when necessary. Exciting means that compromise is bad; only whole-hearted devotion to the point of fainting will do.

    I fear for our country. I fear for liberty. I fear for the republican form of government.

    → 1 CommentTags: Politics and society

    The digital Ministry of Truth

    13 June 2008 · No Comments

    This might seem a strange place to discuss the dangers of the digital age. After all, this is on line; what is written here has no existence other than digital. But that is just the point; it is therefore evanescent by nature, and that is the problem. It’s not the impermanence of what I write that is at issue, but the impermanence of so many other things.

    I first saw this issue raised over twenty years ago, when there was no internet. The article I read (it may have been in Scientific American) dealt with the difficulty of preserving certain kinds of historical sources. Even then, the data from the 1960 census, which had been assembled by computer and was stored in digital form, had become nearly inaccessible. It was preserved on magnetic tapes, and the kind of tape drives that could read these tapes were no longer manufactured. Once the devices wore out, there would be no way to read the tapes, and even if one could read the tape, in time the digital codes needed to decipher them would be unintelligible. The records of the twentieth century would be harder to read than those of the seventeeth. [Read more →]

    → No CommentsTags: Literature · Politics and society

    Look north: you can see the future

    11 June 2008 · No Comments

    If you want to know what the United States will be like under Barack Obama, look at Canada.

    If you want to know what Canada is like, consider the case of Mark Steyn and the Human Rights Commission.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    → No CommentsTags: Politics and society