Friday, 25 January 2019

Desert Day

I have a day off from normal journalistic duties to think about them. It's a kind of Professional Development Day, or PD Days, as we called them in Toronto in the 1980s when our elementary school teachers had them.

This PD Day as usual I'm going to see my priest for confession and spiritual direction.  Sometimes I write to someone about my work: a nun friend or a young person interested in journalism. Sometimes I read a book about doctrine or a book about journalism. Sometimes I get a massage and ask the masseuse to concentrate on my arms.

One thing I do not do is read the news: we're strictly forbidden to read the news on our Desert Days. We're also not to use the day to catch up on housework.

Hilary White used to write about how sad it was to write about pro-life and Church news all the time and how she'd rather write about marine biology. It certainly can be sad; it's important to find the happy stories, too. There are lots of happy pro-life stories for those who want to read them. I really enjoyed reporting on the young man with Downs who made such an impression on "The Greatest Dancer."

Happy or sad, it's also important work.  Incidentally, I would never permit a child to watch television or use the internet unsupervised. Never, never, never.  I know homeschooling parents who will pop a 100% safe children's film in the DVD player to get a break, but that's as far as I would go myself. Yes, I know that that would be a sacrifice. Yes, I know how tiresome children can be. However, the number of girls whose reaction to hitting (admittedly horrible) early puberty is to seek sex change "therapy" is skyrocketing, and they get the idea from online chatrooms and youtube channels. Allowing a 12 year old girl to place herself before the internet is like sending her into a village teeming with bubonic plague.

I definitely hated early puberty. And when I was 13 or 14 I had my hair cut as short as Annie Lennox in the "Sweet Dreams" video, and dressed up as a boy for Halloween. That's as far as that went, though. Oh wait--no, it wasn't. I also had a crush on a female summer camp counsellor, and I adopted a male persona in a writing project. Although it is decidedly unfashionable to use the expression, it was a phase. What a very good thing no adult came along to interrupt my phase or turn it into something else.

Boxing in my late 20s wasn't a phase, however. It was an interesting pursuit and taught me a lot about women's athletic capacities and our physical limitations. I learned that getting punched in the face by a man won't necessarily kill you. It could, though, if you're very unlucky, so avoid it if you can. However, chances are that a single punch--especially by a 130 pound or less non-boxer--won't kill you, so if you can't run away, stand your ground and put up a fight, that's what I say.  Don't submit to violence like a sheep. Take a self-defence class. Keep your chin down and protect your head.

Incidentally, women should never get into a contact sporting contest with a transgender athlete. If the transgender athlete is genetically female, she's taking testosterone, which should be banned. If the athlete is genetically male, he's probably had all the permanent physical advantages that come with having been a teenage boy. Although a female athlete could leave a male non-athlete in the dust, competing with male or testosterone-using female athletes is a whole other boxing match.

Uh oh. Look at the time. I have to go. Talk to you later, and stay rooted in reality.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Was I born for this?

I should at least apply. I am putting the news here so I don't forget where to find it.

Love is Stronger Than Death

What a day! New restructuring at my husband's work, the oven isn't working, the plumbers have been in and said our boiler pipe is rubbish ... and it's just gone noon.

But a moment of quiet in the midst of the storm now to remember my Canadian grandmother Gladys, who was born on this day over a hundred years ago. The love of her descendants for her should outlive her for at least forty more years, I hope--perhaps fifty.

It may seem odd to refer to the Song of Songs when contemplating one's grandmother. However, the Song of Songs is about love, and of all family and friends who have died, the one I loved best was Gladys. Perhaps because I saw her at least once a week until I moved away from Toronto, she was also the family member I knew best.

A not inconsiderable piece in the puzzle of my Christian hope is the chance of seeing my grandmother again. It also is, incidentally, the taproot of my affection for Protestants and the hope that despite error having no rights, etc., all will be well with them.

One should celebrate love with great gusto when one's loved ones are alive because the grief when they aren't doesn't entirely wear off. I burst into tears on Christmas Eve, thinking of my grandmother. I'm sure I'm not alone in that sort of thing.

My grandmother was a quote "unplanned pregnancy" unquote, and my great-grandmother left Scotland to have her quietly in Canada. Given my current publisher, that is important to mention although I'm afraid my grandmother would have hated that fact to be widely known. It was a scandal of unmentionable proportions 80 years ago, let alone 100 years ago, of course. She referred to her mother as "Auntie" until the day she died, and indeed when the rest of us have cause mention my great-grandmother, "Auntie" she remains. In the long roll call of family prayers,  that name was wedged in between her daughter and me.

Anyway, whereas Auntie was a Modern Woman, a single woman who "adopted a child" out west before joining her family in Toronto, and embarking on a Career, Gladys was a cheerful mid-century housewife who sometimes worked behind the counter at the local "smoke shop" for pin money. She was a classic example of an Old Toronto person, the kind of woman who greeted, chatted with and then thanked bus drivers, and when people (including Anthony Bourdain) belittle that sort of mid-century Scottish-Canadian Torontonian, I go out of my mind with rage.

This is because I am rather more like my red-haired grandfather than like my placid grandmother, which is too bad, really. My grandfather had a temper, my mother had a temper, and now I have a temper. Instead my grandmother had Nerves, which I inherited, so I have both a temper AND Nerves--a dangerous combination.  But I do not sit at the kitchen table, lost in my thoughts, smoking, however.  Nor do I stay up all night reading trashy novels. ( Gladys: "They're not trashy. They're family sagas.")

One of my nephews once innocently remarked that when I am away in Scotland, it's as if I didn't exist.  He was only seven or eight when he said that, so no hard feelings, although obviously it froze my soul. I'm sorry I can't be a steady, cheerful, cookie-bringing presence like my grandmother. However, I am very grateful that I had my grandmother so long, and that an enduring childhood memory is rushing to the sidewalk in front of our house on Sunday afternoons, to see if she was coming yet.

And there she would be, beret on head, high-heeled sandals on feet, vinyl shopping bag in hand, very happy to see her grandchildren running to meet her on the last leg of her walk from her house to our house.

Love is stronger than death.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

A Winter Walk

One of the nice things about living near Edinburgh is that it doesn't take us very long to get out into the countryside. There are all kinds of river walks and disused railway lines that have been turned into bicycle and walking trails.

Today B.A. and I went for a long country walk, ending up in the town of Dalkeith. Unfortunately, I spent the first two miles or so having a meltdown about double-taxation. We are hoping to pay off the mortgage early and invest for retirement with my salary, but so far my salary seems to be subject to the taxes of two countries, plus National Insurance contributions for them both.

My meltdown was caused by B.A.'s tax statement, which said that both he AND his employer had contributed to the National Insurance, the combined sum being larger than his taxes. As my North American employer, obviously, doesn't contribute to the British NI, how much NI am I going to have to pay?

It makes me frightened and angry and sure something must be wrong. Canada and the UK have a tax treaty, apparently to prevent people like me from being taxed twice. I got an (expensive) accountant to cope with the UK tax laws, and now I think I'll have to get a (guaranteed less expensive) tax firm in Canada to wrestle my money back from Revenue Canada.

Meanwhile B.A. swears up and down that the UK National Pension will not disappear when we are old and that being a pensioner is not the same thing as being on "benefits" (i.e. welfare). "We're paying into the system, and it's our money," he says.

B.A. clearly has never tried to draw on unemployment insurance, which I used to believe was "our money". I have, in Canada, and it was an utterly humiliating experience. I also worked in a Canadian welfare office, and I probably signed a confidentiality agreement*, so all I'll say about that is that you never, ever, ever, want to be dependent on The State for food, warmth, and a roof over your head.

Meanwhile, ending up in a nursing home can also be very unpleasant, not only because of neglect but also because of this.

Anyway, B.A. begged me to stop ruining our country walk with catastrophic thinking, so I turned off that part of my brain. Naturally I wish I hadn't stopped caring about money when I went to theology school, but regrets don't reduce taxes.

It was cold, but the countryside was nevertheless green and beautiful, for this is Scotland after all, and eventually I cheered up. We reached Dalkeith (chipped but charming to Canadian eyes) and looked around for somewhere to get bacon rolls. Greasy spoons being absent from the High Street, we investigated the in-store cafe of Morrisons, which is a national cut-price grocery chain. Result! Morrisons was serving breakfast items (like bacon rolls) until 3 PM.

We got our bacon rolls, a pot of tea, and a mug of cappuccino for the low, low price of £7.60 ($13 Canadian), which might not strike you as a low, low price, but this is the UK. And the amusing thing, when we looked around, was the large number of couples also amiably munching on breakfast items and drinking from mugs. Many were old, but some were middle-aged, and it struck us that this could be the Saturday afternoon "dating" venue of choice for the married denizens of Dalkeith.

I didn't think it was a particularly tasty bacon roll, but I did enjoy the idea that married couples can contentedly eat out as cheaply as possible whereas dating people have to stick to sophisticated joints, so as not to look cheap, or indeed like the sort of boring people who will end up eating bacon rolls in Morrisons.

(Incidentally, the next-door-neighbours, who are long-term renters, are loudly singing pop songs again. It must be Saturday night.)

Anyway, as B.A. says, we have at least another 20 years of employment before us, so I should not worry about being taxed into poverty or sexually assaulted in a U.K. nursing home before I am inevitably euthanised.  Also I admit that getting the old-age pension from the government cannot really be like collecting Canadian unemployment insurance benefits because nobody chivvies the elderly to go back to work ASAP.

Bus fare home was £3.40 (£5.80 Canadian).

*Update: Worst memories from working in welfare office:

5. A  male cop supervising cheque day told me that one of our clients, a pleasant woman, used to be a "crack whore."

4. A man I knew was on trial for murder that day showed up at my window. (Manager: "So why do you need a break now?")

3. Realising that the shell of a woman at my window was the mother of a famous murder victim.

2. A formerly employed, formerly solvent woman, now very ill, saying over the phone, "But that was my nest-egg" after learning that as a dependent on the state she wasn't allowed to keep it.

1. A female cop screaming at a lunatic to "apologise to these ladies" for his bad language when we had the situation well at hand, thank you very much.

We dealt with homeless people, mentally ill people and actual crooks all the time, but the only client who upset me as much as those two cops was the killer. (He was acquitted--to the shock of almost all involved--minutes before he arrived at my window.)

Update 2. The killer suddenly died a year to the day of his acquittal, I have just discovered.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Professor Stephen Lewis on why he assigned "The Kingdom"

If you read about the Franciscan Blasphemy Scandal,  read Professor Lewis' essay in First Things and post it far and wide.

Postcard from Caligula's Court

Cuminia Marcia, scribe, to Iosephus her father, Secondus her brother and Anna the bookseller her mother, hail!

I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I offer great sacrifices that you may be preserved from the misfortunes that are befalling our hapless people. I think often of childhood when the virtues of our ancestors and the Republic were honoured by almost everyone, and the shamelessness I now observe at court was accounted as something unknown or never to be mentioned by the pious.

O, our Rome! It seems to me that the nightmares of madmen have infected all the people of the city, the senators in their purple as well as the tradesmen who in times past were as pure and homely as wheat bread newly baked and fresh water from the fountains.

Here you may now find parents of no mean origin who allow their young sons to go through the streets painted and bewigged and even to dance for men late at night in the lowest of the taverns.

Here too you may find also, even in the temples, young men taking each other as wife and presenting as their child to the gods an infant one or the other has begot, through devilish means, upon some poor woman hired to breed, like a cow brought to bull. So shameless are these men that as the child is  growing in his nameless mother's womb, they describe themselves as pregnant. A mother's love for her baby, and his for her, is set at naught today in Rome.      

But enough of this, for although it is my poor lot to record all this for my employer the illustrious historian, it is not my wish to think on it from the first vigil to the fourth.

If you are well, I am well.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Gillette Ads

I'm actually working, but I thought I would drop in to say I checked our medicine cabinet, and B.A. uses Bic 2s.

Whereas I suppose some women buy their husbands razors as part of a weekly shop, I don't remember my mother ever buying my usually clean-shaving father razors.

This leads me to wonder how many men prefer to buy toiletries (and other things like shirts and shoes) for themselves.

The best (albeit only other) razor ad I ever remember seeing (let alone writing about) was the one in which a middle-aged son shaves his infirm father in a nursing home. I cried. America cried. Everybody cried.

That was a good ad.

Naturally as a wannabe Eco-Trad, I would be better pleased if B.A. used a hipster-type razor with replaceable blades, but that's his business.

"Why would a TV advert cause such a fuss?" I hear you asking. "Why care?"

Clearly American men have become fed up with negative stereotypes about American men and the demonisation of things they like, like barbecuing meat in the backyard (if they have a backyard) on a warm sunny day, oblivious for a precious moment to fighting children.  (Frankly, I don't remember any fighting in our backyard without my Dad yelling "You kids cut that out. Cut it out or I'll paddle you!")

Also it's interesting when a company that caters to men starts preaching to men instead of selling them a product. A bit of a commercial gamble?

In possibly related news, I also came across articles today about young "feminist" women who are sexually fascinated by serial killers and aren't afraid to say so on Twitter.  Jeepers.

I spend hours a day trudging through the word-sludge of human sin, and I must say that anyone who thinks at this point that Western-women-in-general are somehow morally superior to Western-men-in-general is intellectually dishonest.

Finally, I am looking forward to B.A. grilling things on the barbecue in our new-to-us back garden. It is fun to see him do stereotypical man stuff. The men in my family do a lot of stereotypical man stuff when they're not watering plants, playing Chopin on the piano, or studying German. All of it involves being useful or becoming stronger, and none of it is oppressive by any stretch of the imagination.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Marriage Prospects

Once upon a time, any young woman who did not have to work for her living was kept on a relatively tight leash until she was married (or went into a convent, I suppose). If she married a nice man, she could then breathe a sigh of relief and take advantage of whatever freedom her position in society afforded.

The logic behind this was to foster the young lady's marriage prospects, since it was believed that the the surest route to happiness and fulfilment for a woman was marriage, children and grandchildren.  Anything that messed up a woman's chances of making a "good marriage" was seen as catastrophic.

As a matter of fact, marriage, children and grandchildren is still an excellent (if not foolproof, obviously) path, and that followed by the richest in society, you may have noticed. Poor people tend not to marry anymore. Rich people still do. People in the middle waver. There aren't a lot of supports for marriage, and divorces can be financially ruinous. If I were a young man looking for a wife, my question wouldn't be "Has this pretty 26 year old been chaste her whole life?" My questions would be "Would this pretty 26 year old divorce me when life got tough, poison my children against me, and take me to the cleaners?"

By the way, we are probably living in the first time in history when young men were so sexually jaded, they were unmarriageable. Thanks to the  internet, an unprecedented number of men are now regular consumers of porn, and thus more men than ever "have sex with themselves" as a matter of recreational course. It's incredibly sad, and not only does it eventually render men uninterested in "real" women,  it is a major factor in contemporary divorce.  So really, I suggest parents should now be as careful for their sons' chastity as most parents used to be for their daughters'.

But let us posit that there are millions of eligible young men out there who have not been psychologically castrated by their electronic devices, hundreds of thousands of them Nice Catholic Boys who want to find a Nice Catholic Girl, get married, have some kids, and come home to the same  sofa every night.

These Nice Catholic Boys might not write out long lists of essential features they hope for in Nice Catholic Girls, but they generally do not want a girl who has serious problems with men as the Future Mrs Them.  Therefore, if you are a Single Catholic Woman who has serious problems with men--you hate your bullying father, for example---the best thing you can do for your marriage prospects is to wrestle with those problems in private.

Fortunately for Your Humble Scribe, I got over my adolescent resentment of men by the time I started blogging. Obviously I am alarmed by male violence and exploitation like everybody else, and I wish fewer men lied about what they have read. (SO annoying.) I also wish working-class Scottish boys did not enjoy driving their Ford Fiestas up behind middle-aged women walking along thinking deep thoughts and shrieking "YEEEAAAAAA" in our right ears as they pass. But apart from that, men are quite obviously a Good Thing, and if you want to get married, you have to communicate subtly that you know this.

It is therefore incredibly irresponsible of Catholic older women mentors to encourage their Catholic unmarried former students to publish passionate diatribes expressing their hatred for their fathers and of the "non-physical" violence meted out on the family by their fathers, and of the wonders of feminism, witchcraft and whatnot. Writing this stuff out for an hour a day every day on a cheap notepad and then setting the paper on cathartic fire would be excellent and therapeutic. But publishing it can be murder on your marriage prospects.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Radical Feminism of John Paul II

This was first published in the Toronto Catholic Register in 2012. I was looking for it today. As cynical politicians and others depend on our shortened memories, it is important to witness to events and people one remembers. I believe it is going to be very, very important for devout Catholics to remember whatever they can of Saint John Paul 2, the good and the bad, study his works, and fight for his "Gospel of Life" legacy. Here's what I wrote about his respect for the dignity of women.

The Radical Feminism of John Paul II 

I’ve been invited to give four talks to Polish women on retreat at the Redemptorists’ retreat centre in Krakow. One of my topics is “John Paul II and Mulieris Dignitatem,” and if you are wondering if the thought of giving a talk—in English—in Polish women in Krakow about Blessed John Paul II is intimidating, the answer is “Yes.”

Canadian Catholics know how beloved John Paul was and is to his fellow Poles. What we might not remember is how much respect he had for women. When I was a child—and a teenager—and a young adult—I constantly heard muttering of how John Paul II didn’t like women. Even Catholic women complained about the Pope’s lack of concern for women:  this usually meant the Pope’s refusal to magically declare that it was now okay to ordain women priests. Thus, when I finally got around to reading John Paul II’s theology of women, I was blown away by how radical it really is. 

The major sources for John Paul II’s theology of women are Love and Responsibility, Mulieris Dignitatem (“On the Dignity of Women”) and his 1993 “Letter to Women.”  Love and Responsibility is associated more with sex and marriage and, of course, has touched off a huge “Theology of the Body” industry.  As such, it does not interest me as much as Mulieris Dignitatem and “Letter to Women,” which are more about women in ourselves. The key to John Paul’s theology of woman can be found in his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows that his motto “Totus Tuus” (“All Yours”) refers to her. And it is not a surprise, either, that someone who lost his earthly mother at the age of eight might adopt our Lady so totally as his mother and guide.  And it is significant, of course, that Mulieris Dignitatem was published on the Feast of the Assumption during a Marian year. 

John Paul begins his reflections with a meditation on the Annunciation.  A woman was asked to be the means through which God would send his Son to redeem the world—but not just as means, but as a mother. And thus, of all the human race, it is a woman who “attains a union with God that exceeds all the expectations of the human spirit.” As a human being, Mary represents the humanity that belongs to all human beings, men and women.  And she is a model for both men and women because she said “Yes” to God. As her Son would later identify himself as a servant, so Mary during the Annunciation also calls herself the “maidservant of the Lord.” It is the dignity of both women and men to serve. 

Service to God and others is fundamental to John Paul II’s theology of what it means to be a human being in union with God. And he notes, both in Mulieris Dignitatem and in his “Letter to Women”, that women seem to have both a special genius for receiving the Word of the Lord and in serving others. Following the work of Saint Edith Stein, he asserts that all women, not just women with children, are called to be mothers. It involves “a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one’s range of activity.” It involves being open to each and every person. And this is not proscriptive, incidentally, but descriptive.  John Paul is well aware of the many ways in which women have always poured themselves out for others, ways that have not always been as respected as they should be.

And that’s where things get radical.  Moving beyond St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Edith Stein, who both believed that woman was made for man, to be the companion of man, John Paul asserts that woman was made for herself, as the human being—male and female--was the only creature made for himself. Woman is called to be the companion of man, but man is also called to be the companion of woman. All humanity is thus “a unity in two.” Again and again John Paul repeats that men and women are equal in dignity. Masculinity is no more important than femininity.  He lists and deplores the way in which discrimination has hurt women since the Fall.  He interprets Saint Paul’s thoughts about married life as a call, not for wives to be subjugated to their husbands, but for “mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ.”

John Paul offers our Lord Jesus Christ as a model for how men should treat women. He notes that our Lord behaved in a counter-cultural way by how he spoke with women, healed women, included women amongst his followers and friends. The Gospels are full of stories of women of age and condition, all of whom our Lord treated with kindness and respect. Men who do not treat women with kindness and respect sin both women’s dignity and their own.   

Self-Expression vs Contribution

I am feeling rather less embarrassed about this rudderless blog now that I have read a few Patheos articles. Apparently there are writers on Patheos using the site simply as a public diary, as I discovered when one of them weighed in on the Steubenville scandal and I clicked around to see what else she had to say. Whereas I ponder anew the prudence of making intimate thoughts so public, I now feel a little better about have a blog with no clear theme. "Seraphic Singles" had a clear theme. Financial Investment for Early Retirement blogs have a clear theme. How to Learn Polish blogs have a clear theme.

Themed blogs take a lot of time and energy, though. One thing about being a full-time journalist is that I no longer have time to blog. Major questions of the day also absorb time I could be spending on  housework, Polish, and German. Also, I've been sick off-and-on since Boxing Day.

That said, I managed to keep all the plates spinning until the Franciscan U. Blasphemy Scandal, which has obsessed me ever since it broke. It reminds me so much of the Mohammad Cartoon Crisis, except that nothing has been set on fire and no-one has been killed. Also, it is confined to a sliver of the world: those who think Franciscan University of Steubenville is important.

FUS is clearly important to Church Militant media, and Church Militant is clearly important to FUS. If FUS didn't know the media habits of its base last Wednesday, it sure knows them now. I think the most poignant part of the scandal was a potty-mouthed FUS graduate writing that her (hated) father had wanted her to grow up to be Christine Niles. The poor girl, whose struggles are on Patheos for all to read, then encouraged the venerable Niles, probably the most famous woman in American Catholic broadcasting, to become like her.

Sad, really. And I really, really, do not think that students should be forced to read Rabelais as part of a Roman Catholic Great Books program. One of the things I learned from reading and thinking about the Mohammad Cartoon Crisis is that the ability to take blasphemy in one's stride is not cool or sophisticated, it's cowardly and lazy. And one of the things that I have learned from being edited by American Catholic publishers is that American Catholics really dislike profanity.

This hatred of profanity is something American Catholic converts and foreign Catholics have got to understand about American Catholics if they want to assume any kind of leadership in American Catholic circles. It is also useful to know that American Catholics will not tolerate in Catholics many things they tolerate in non-Catholics.

Anyway, I am hoping today to pull my brain away from the grip of the Franciscan U. Blasphemy Scandal. If you read the comments box for the original LifeSiteNews story, you can read my advanced thoughts on the topic. I hope they are real contributions to understanding the issues involved.  And I hope I have not erred by giving the professor every benefit of the doubt. If there are influential adults at Franciscan University trying to subvert, rather than develop, Catholic virtue in highly impressionable teenagers--by, for example, telling them that interest in erotica is a mark of sophistication and a necessary part of a truly Catholic enjoyment of life--then that needs to be dealt with.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Professor and the Book

Even more updates at the end.

I was sorry to discover last night that Professor Stephen Lewis of the Franciscan University of Steubenville is no longer the Chair of the English Department, thanks to the scandal that erupted this week.

If you don't know the story, last spring Professor Lewis assigned the translation of a critically acclaimed French novel that was all the rage in French and then English literary circles to a class of five senior students. The author, Emmanuel Carrère, is an ex-Catholic atheist who--as many writers do--turned to the New Testament for inspiration and rewriting after getting some other novels under his belt.

"Under his belt" is apropos, for Carrère included in his novel a lot of pornographic salacious trash about holy people---including Our Lady. If you've ever read Saint Thomas Aquinas on blasphemy, you might recall that he thought the correct response to it was to have the writer executed by the state. I found this out when I was at grad school thinking hard about the Mohammed Cartoon Crisis, thirteen years ago.

Someone at Franciscan U tipped off Church Militant this week about the controversial course material, and Christine Niles had the unhappy task of reading and reproducing one of the worst passages, which I have carefully avoided reading. It is ironic that CM introduced to the general public what Professor Lewis introduced to five senior literature students, but let's not get into that. I'm just happy LSN didn't go that route. Meanwhile, CM did due diligence by asking FUS about the story, and here is what their PR man said:

"Franciscan University challenges students intellectually, helps form them professionally, and engages them spiritually. This includes arming our students with the knowledge and wisdom to confront the challenges of a coarse modern culture, which often runs contrary to Catholic teaching. Heresy, and sinful acts such as murder and adultery that go against Catholic teaching, are addressed at Franciscan to help to strengthen students’ faith and prepare them to engage with today’s culture. While this happens through the study of literature by authors such as Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare who portray many sinful acts, it can also happen when they grapple with significant challenges to Catholic faith by contemporary writers. Franciscan students learn through critical comparison to consider multiple sides of an issue or argument, led by professors who always promote Catholic spiritual and moral perspectives. Thus, our students graduate better prepared to solve problems and engage with integrity in a world that desperately needs to hear the truth. Where would we be, for example, if Catholics were unable or unwilling to engage with and push back against calumny such as The Da Vinci Code or against worse heresies and dangerous heterodoxies? Franciscan University promotes an authentic and vibrant Catholic faith—inside and outside the classroom—that helps students succeed spiritually, morally, and intellectually. We remain firm in providing the integration of faith and reason that will give them the best chance at lifelong success."

I've spent two days asking myself on-and-off if I buy that. My initial response, which I tweeted to Christine Niles, was that in "real life" nobody makes you read pornographic blasphemy. I added that I got two degrees in English Literature from a "world-class secular university" without having to read pornographic blasphemy. Only later did it occur to me that as a student I read very few novels written after 1950 and that I got my MA in 1997. For all I know secular university literature departments are awash in blasphemous pornography these days.

The biggest insult to Our Lady I came across as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto was a photograph of a statue of Our Lady with a banana balanced on its head. It was published on the front page of a tabloid-style student newspaper--probably The Gargoyle---and I was absolutely furious.

I was so angry, I scooped up as many copies of the newspaper as I could find when I was alone and threw them into the trash. When I told my father, a professor of English Literature, he mildly observed that this was both stealing and censorship.

"What about the Index?" I asked, thinking of the handy Church blacklist done away with by V2.

"The Index was wrong," quoth Dad, or words to that effect. (It was almost thirty years ago, people.)

My father, incidentally, never misses Sunday Mass and was the parent who dragged us kids off to Confession periodically.  Thus I was forced to think seriously for the first time about the best way to respond to blasphemy. Apparently throwing things in the trash or setting them on fire is not universally held to be the contemporary solution.

And that, readers, was over just a puerile black-and-white photograph of a statue with a banana on its head, not a disgusting novel by a fashionable French atheist.

To return to 2019, after the CM story broke Steubenville was inundated with angry messages by CM readers, including tuition-paying parents and donors, according to CM's next report. FUS responded within 24 hours with a massive apology and, within 48, by demoting Lewis as department chair--unless he resigned, of course.  That bit of the story I discovered on social media very late last night.

As I've said, I've been thinking about the scandal for two days, and I did some digging. There are so many questions. Who at Franciscan U. contacted CM over a book read last year by five students,  and why now, not then? Why did Lewis assign that particular anti-christian "new New Testament" novel, not another? Why did the Chair of the English Department assign the translation of a French book?  What is Lewis' specialty? Do Franciscan U grads actually get into PhD programs in English Lit? Should Franciscan U grads spend 5+ years of their lives in PhD programs in English Lit?

I found out that the dirty book is/was indeed considered very "important" and "brilliant" (etc.) by literary critics. I learned too that Lewis is the English-language translator of an important French Catholic philosopher, a phenomenologist named Jean-Luc Marion who was a student of Jacques Derrida of all people. I did not know Steubenville reached such academic heights: ortho-Catholic gossip characterizes Steubie as the Hufflepuff of the new, sound Catholic universities.

I also found out that while many of his colleagues were willing to go on record to CM and/or LSN to condemn the book Lewis assigned, they won't go on record to condemn him. And through social media I heard the same story several times from Steubie grads and people involved in American Catholic academia: Professor Lewis is a serious scholar and a good Catholic who would never introduce a dirty book to students to corrupt or amaze them (unlike Somebody Else).

That's what I would have written had I been assigned the story. I wasn't, so instead I made the following comment in the LSN combox when a commentator misread something in the LSN article:

Putting on my English Lit hat here to make a small but important point: the professor has an interest in "the erotic" not "erotica." Professor Lewis is the English translator of an important French Catholic philosopher, and in a philosophical and theological context "eros" is the inner impulse to reach outside oneself to something or someone else. It can be good, like falling deeply in love, or it can be bad, like succumbing to the lure of internet porn or high-stakes gambling. 
Did the professor ask his five senior students to examine critically a dirty (if fashionable, highly-acclaimed-by-literary-critics) novel? Yes. Is the professor a dirty person? His colleagues and Steubenville alumni rushing to defend him in social media say No. Did the professor make an error in judgement? His colleagues and Steubenville administration say Yes. Were his motives base? His colleagues and Steubenville administration say No. 
The most charitable but still intellectually honest assumption, given all this data, is that the professor simply wished to assist his students in confronting and effectively critiquing anti-Christian novels, so that as future Catholic scholars they could themselves combat the disgusting trends in contemporary literature. 
As Professor Hahn noted, however, there is a line that cannot be crossed. The novel's author treated our blessed Mother in a disgusting fashion, and no-one should ever be expected to read or discuss a work that contains pornographic trash about one's own mother, let alone the Mother of God.

I'm writing about the scandal here, too, because I'm sorry I got caught up in disgust and doubt when the CM piece first came out and tweeted without considering all the facts. Blasphemy (and porn, for that matter) whips past reason, straight to the passions. I think when Muslims say they love Mohammed more than their own mothers, I will pay more attention from now on.

My conclusions are that it is possible to hate the book and to believe that Professor Lewis made a mistake in judging it worthy of attention without needing also to believe that he had base motives in introducing the text to his five senior students. That is FUS's revised position, and I see no reason to doubt that.

As for forces of evil and secularism trying to turn FUS into the next CINO college, I am not qualified to comment or judge. But I do know something about poisonous academic politics, and if at the bottom of all this is an envious colleague trying to take down a more talented man, I hope Lewis is offered a tenure track position at Columbia with a massive increase in salary.
Update: By the way, sorry I've been late in okaying comments. I'm so busy these days, I forget to check.

Update 2 (Jan 13): It is becoming clearer that the book may not be dirty throughout although it has disgusting passages. As I should have done much earlier, I have been reading reader reviews. I was startled this morning to discover, via JDFlynn on Twitter, that the work was reviewed by First Things:

Update 3 (Jan 13): It is also becoming clearer that the book and the author really are important enough not to be ignored by a literature department: see this New York Times Magazine piece. And this brings me to another point of interest: what is Franciscan University of Steubenville for?

Does FUS want to create a new generation of Catholic scholars, or does it want to avoid that and merely equip generations of American Catholic youngsters with the minimum education they need to be employable nurses, computer engineers, and other useful occupations?

I'm treading carefully here because a man's livelihood is on the line, but if FUS does not want to produce Catholic scholars who have read influential works (like, for example, Lolita) and therefore will be able to contribute to their fields of study, then maybe it is not the place for a serious scholar.

But that could lead to a problem. Unless we are all going to retreat from society, Catholics need intellectual leaders who will fight for Catholic philosophical positions in places of influence, and the Academy is quite obviously a place of influence, as millions of young people pass through it every year.

Update 4 (January 14): As more and more people chime in, I begin to see why FUS professors may be freaking out out over FUS professors. Nobody forced me to read Rabelais in the University of Toronto English Department, and when I left the University of Toronto, I didn't thing reading sexually explicit, anti-Catholic texts was a mark of sophistication, a necessary rite of human passage.

For more insight into the FUS story, better see this. I'm afraid it's a bit of an own-goal for the author because I was shocked. I had been wondering what other texts the FUS profs had been worried about, and now I know. There are good ways to present these texts, and there are bullying ways to present these texts. I was saddened by the girl crying over Aristophanes, not because she was such an innocent, but because losing one's innocence is  sad.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Quiet of Good and the Glamour of Evil

I have been in bed with either the flu or food poisoning for two days. Too wretched for most of Monday to do anything but sleep or  stare at the horrible lampshade on the ceiling (which came with the flat) by evening I felt briefly well enough to watch something on Netflix.

Netflix is a morass of evil dressed up as entertainment, I concluded after B.A. and I watched Anthony Bourdain drag himself around the world to hang out with local chefs, curse and eat too much. In the end, Bourdain committed suicide offscreen, and it might have been the flu talking, but I concluded it was the show itself that was to blame. Apparently Bourdain was exhausted, so why didn't he just lock the door and sleep for three days? Or check himself into the hospital? But I suppose a production company can't sue a dead man.

Anyway, sick in bed but feeling somewhat (if temporarily) better, I scrolled through Netflix moaning, "Why isn't there anything Catholic?" At last I found Moonstruck, which is the Christmas go-to film for many of the women of my family. We can quote from it extensively ("Chrissy, bring me the KNIFE!"), but I hadn't see it for a while.

It started off well, and as B.A. was now home from work, I nudged him whenever a holy picture, pinned up in several Italian-owned Brooklyn shops, was in shot. I got quite teary eyed over that. The weak part of the film is, of course, the scene-chewing of Nicholas Cage ("HUH, sweetie?") and the evil part is Cage telling Cher (e.g. Loretta Castorini, surely a heroine for single/widowed women aged 37) that he doesn't care if she goes to hell as long as she gets into his bed.

Cage, as Ronnie Cammareri, makes an odd little speech including the idea that we aren't on the earth to love "the right people": "We are here to love the wrong people, to break our hearts, and die." That is a dangerous and stupid philosophy, and ridiculous in this context as Ronnie is clearly not at all the "wrong person" for Loretta for several reasons. She even knows his family, for heaven's sake, although, yes, it's inconvenient that she's engaged to his brother.*

The film ends well for the Castorini and Cammareri families. I, however, was suddenly and violently and disgustingly ill, so I stayed in bed another day and eventually binge-watched Sherlock.

The contemporary Sherlock is cleverly photographed, written, and acted, and if Sherlock is to be believed the best and most love-worthy women are high-class hookers and paid assassins. The sweet pathologist with her heart on her sleeve is a loser, and the respectable-looking landlady is a retired stripper. Yes, I see that it is good TV to overturn viewers' expectations, but the endless nudge-nudge, wink-wink, "everybody's bent" message is worst than wearisome, it's wicked.

I was frankly relieved to find myself having an instant message conversation with two theologate classmates, a priest and a married mum of four. The priest (who was eating supper) dropped out soon, but the mum kept on and thanked me for the work I do for LSN. This was quite heartening because it is actually very difficult to wade through the sludge every work day, scooping for the most harmful pieces of sludge, so I can say to the reading public, "Look, here's the sludge you really need to worry about."

And families really do need to worry about the sludge, as this column by Rod Dreher illustrates. The sludge is waiting to come into every house via the television or the computer or the radio or the child's homework assignment. Some Catholic families still have little stoups of holy water. The original idea was to ward off any demons who might leap onto you after you leave your holy Christian house and expel any demons who clung to you when you came back in. Whereas I do believe in real, take-possession-of-foolhardy-people demons, I think the average person is much more in danger of tracking, or inviting, really bad ideas into the house.

And the horror of the really bad ideas is that they cause mass suffering. Compared to the 19th century, for the western world, or to 1980, for everywhere outside the western world, we are all so materially rich, and yet there is so much unhappiness. White American men are committing suicide in droves, for example, apparently thanks to the sexual revolution. And yet insane numbers of girls have decided to have their breasts cut off and become white American men. What?!

All this evil and all this unhappiness is terribly exciting, but the truth is that happiness, like goodness, is rather quiet. The other day I had the good fortune to eat lunch with a traditional Catholic family. This is Scotland, so the fact that they live in an Arts-and-Craft neo-mediaeval cottage is not particularly notable, except that it added to a very timeless scene: a young mother and father and their many children of different sizes all gathered around a stone hearth, watching the flames after a good lunch. Apart from the fact that everyone was healthy and clean and the mother's and my skirts ended mid-calf, it could have been any year after the invention of the standard chimney (in northern Europe, 11th or 12th century, apparently).

There was a Disney cartoon playing in a different room, and the children drifted in and out, apparently torn between the video and interest in what the adults were doing, which was not very much: just talking, holding or feeding the baby, and looking at the fire. And I was struck by how very peaceful, happy and good this all was, and how very rich in all the important ways this family was.

Gainfully employed man + patient woman + healthy children + roof + hearth = happiness.

The children are homeschooled, by the way; the sludge I wade through for work and entertainment is kept well away from the beautiful A&C doors and windows. I really am not sure of how much of a chance other parents have of passing on such a quiet, happy and good life to their children without homeschooling and keeping the internet, trash-music and trash-TV out of their homes. However, I suppose everything I write these days has the potential of inspiring one more parent to say, "Enough. We're homeschooling from now on" or "Enough. We're not going to allow Netflix to turn our kids into zombies."

Naturally I was a little sad that my home doesn't have a fireplace, let alone any children, in it. My generation was told in a million ways that being a stay-at-home mother was the waste of a life and that homeschooling was a sure sign of "religious mania." Now, of course, I can think of no vocation for women more important than that of the homeschooling married mother--unless, of course, it is the prayers of cloistered nuns keeping the end of the world at bay.

*Since I haven't mentioned this for some time, I will repeat that the whole point of the story of Romeo and Juliet was that the only reason their marriage would have been inadmissible to their families was their fathers' dumb feud. They shared the same religious faith, the same culture, the same class, and even the same town. Shakespeare's point was not that there is "unity in diversity," but that personal feuds are harmful to society. My own philosophy of marriage is that if husband and wife share the same core values (which may not be shared ethnic and religious identities, but very often are), then they will probably be happy.