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Newman on literature by Christians

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This is one of those quotes that's probably been posted on Catholic blogs a bajillion times, but I'd never seen it before, so here it is, 'cuz I like to share:

I say from the nature of the case, if Literature is to be made a study of human nature, you cannot have a Christian Literature. It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless Literature of sinful man. You may gather together something very great and high, something higher than any Literature ever was; and when you have done so, you will find that it is not Literature at all.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, as quoted by Graham Greene, as quoted by Edward Short here.

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Douthat on Dan Brown

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Reading this in the New York Times makes me smile:

Brown's message has been called anti-Catholic, but that's only part of the story. True, his depiction of the Roman Church's past constitutes a greatest hits of anti-Catholicism, with slurs invented by 19th-century Protestants jostling for space alongside libels fabricated by 20th-century Wiccans. (If he targeted Judaism or Islam this way, one suspects that no publisher would touch him.)...


In the Brownian worldview, all religions -- even Roman Catholicism -- have the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It's a message perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized "religiousness" detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.

The polls that show more Americans abandoning organized religion don't suggest a dramatic uptick in atheism: They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional religion's dogmas and moral requirements shorn away. The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal and conservative believers often encounter a God who's too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they're making or how many times they've been married.

These are Dan Brown's kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who's a thoroughly modern sort of messiah -- sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

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One for the wife

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"Outliers" guy on radio show.

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Trifecta

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Me: "Lord Byron famously proclaimed that lobster salad, served with champagne, was the only thing a woman should be seen eating."

She: I hate lobster

Me: You're not a big fan of champagne either.

She: And I don't really like Byron.

The review is actually pretty interesting.

The most gripping moments in Barbe-Nicole's saga occur in 1814 as Russian troops, retreating from battlefield defeat at the hands of Napoleon's armies, threatened to overrun Reims, where the family's then-flailing business was based. Ordering workmen to seal the entrance to her cellars, the widow hoped to prevent the soldiers from raiding her wines, especially those made in 1811, the year of a legendary grape harvest. The cellars were not looted, as it turned out; the soldiers mostly bought the wine, spreading the word of its nectar-like qualities when they returned east. "Today they drink," she said. "Tomorrow they will pay!"
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Let's talk about something else

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For all you ladies who grew up watching The Sound of Music and wanting to find your very own Captain Von Trapp, you probably don't want to read this review of Christopher Plummer's memoir. I did learn, however, that his daughter is "Honey-Bunny" from Pulp Fiction and the axe murderer in So I Married and Axe Murderer.

Also, this one's for Brandon: "A 65th Birthday Tribute to Joni Mitchell."

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The Good, the Bad, and the Deranged

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What I read during my lunch:

  • GOOD:

    Michael Pollan's letter to the next president:

    This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you've inherited -- designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so -- are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food -- organic, local, pasture-based, humane -- are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform. Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that "this is a conservative cause if ever there was one."

    I have a post kicking around in my head on Michael Pollan as one of the most prominent and effective opponents of materialism. Someday I'll find the time to write it.

  • GOODISH:

    John Zmirak on Archbishop Chaput's Render Unto Caesar

    Having elsewhere published a thoughtful review of Archbishop Chaput's book that was mostly positive, Zmirak returns with sharper criticism. The title of his piece -- "Surrender Not Unto Caesar--Resisting Catholic Liberalism" gives you a hint of what he's getting at, but Zmirak is not throwing bombs here:

    In America, by our Constitution as it has been authoritatively interpreted, the State is now relentlessly secular. In practice, it is rigorously relativistic. Altering either of these settled facts in American life would be unthinkably hard. Therefore, any Christian engaged in public life must seek to shrink the sphere of the State, and reduce its functions to their bare, libertarian minimum--in order to leave some room for the practice of Christian life. The bishops' predecessors realized this, when they tapped the meager resources of impoverished immigrants to build an entire, nationwide system of alternative Catholic schools. Instead of trying vainly to Romanize the (then vigorously if vaguely Protestant) schools, they built their own. A very American response to such a problem--and also a deeply Catholic one. Homeschoolers today follow in the footsteps of Abp. "Dagger" John Hughes.


    The Church is officially committed to localism, rather than centralism. Catholic teaching on subsidiarity asserts that no problem should be taken up by the State which can be resolved by private action, and that no local matter should be referred to central authorities unless local institutions are hopelessly inadequate--as they are, for instance, to guard the border against foreign invasion, or prosecute interstate crimes. Empower the federal government to control (as it now does, with bishops' approval) education, social services, health care and retirement benefits, and you guarantee that each of these vital areas of life will be directed according to non-Christian or anti-Christian principles

    After tracing the dissolution of America's once formidable "institutional culture" -- a collapse which had long been stirring, became visible with JFK's embodiment of Catholics' conformity to mainstream American culture and finally exploded with the backlash against Humanae Vitae -- Zmirak notes that the Church's loss of institutional authority has led American Catholics "to depend for what voice she has on the charisma of isolated individuals, such as Mother Angelica, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Fr. George Rutler" -- admittedly a formidable line-up, but no substitute for being formed in the faith by a family, parish, indeed an entire sub-culture steeped in Catholicism.

    Here is where he gets back to Chaput and here is where the article breaks down a bit (hence the "goodish" tag). He makes some useful comments on the temptation of Catholic liberalism to short-sell justice in favor of mercy, but nowhere does he connect this "sentimental liberalism" with Archbishop Chaput except saying that this is a "problem" with chaput's book.

  • BAD:

    A psychotherapist diagnoses John McCain as suffering from brain damage and PTSD without ever having met him.

    I feel compelled to issue a double disclaimer -- I hold no brief for John McCain and feel incapable of voting for either him or Barack Obama in good conscience and I also really, really like American Conservative.

    That said, come on, now:

    As we explore explanations for some of Senator McCain's actions, it is important to bear in mind that any professional who would render a definitive diagnosis on an individual he has not interviewed or tested is prostituting his credentials

    Buuuuuuuuuut...

    That said, I believe it is highly likely that John McCain suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    With the tanking economy effectively handing Barry O the presidency, is this really necessary?

  • DERANGED:

    Hanna Rosin on "transgendered" children and their enabler parents.

    Apparently the growing trend is for parents to allow their children to live as the opposite sex, even giving them drugs that block the onset of puberty:

    It took the gay-rights movement 30 years to shift from the Stonewall riots to gay marriage; now its transgender wing, long considered the most subversive, is striving for suburban normalcy too. The change is fuel‑ed mostly by a community of parents who, like many parents of this generation, are open to letting even preschool children define their own needs. Faced with skeptical neighbors and school officials, parents at the conference discussed how to use the kind of quasi-therapeutic language that, these days, inspires deference: tell the school the child has a "medical condition" or a "hormonal imbalance" that can be treated later, suggested a conference speaker, Kim Pearson; using terms like gender-­identity disorder or birth defect would be going too far, she advised. The point was to take the situation out of the realm of deep pathology or mental illness, while at the same time separating it from voluntary behavior, and to put it into the idiom of garden-variety "challenge." As one father told me, "Between all the kids with language problems and learning disabilities and peanut allergies, the school doesn't know who to worry about first."


    A recent medical innovation holds out the promise that this might be the first generation of transsexuals who can live inconspicuously. About three years ago, physicians in the U.S. started treating transgender children with puberty blockers, drugs originally intended to halt precocious puberty. The blockers put teens in a state of suspended development. They prevent boys from growing facial and body hair and an Adam's apple, or developing a deep voice or any of the other physical characteristics that a male-to-female transsexual would later spend tens of thousands of dollars to reverse. They allow girls to grow taller, and prevent them from getting breasts or a period.

    The whole article is pretty shocking and disturbing. I don't mean to be insensitive, and I'm sure parents who have to deal with this have it rough, but letting your 6 year old decide their own sex is too much.

That's all folks!

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Credit

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What he says:

Goldberg is certainly right when he says that most academics have willfully ignored modern liberalism's progressive-fascist roots, although scholars such as James Ceaser, John Marini, and others (including me) have in fact been calling attention to the progressive origins of modern liberalism for the past 20 years. Liberal Fascism clearly draws from these works but makes surprisingly little reference to them, even in a few instances when the book's observations sound awfully familiar.

What he means:

Where my props at, yo?
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Dante Exhonerated

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I don't know which is the more absurd part of this story -- that Florence's city council is debating Dante or that five of the twenty-four councilmen opposed lifting Dante's exile seven centuries after the fact.

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Liberal Fascism

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I'm no Jonah Goldberg fan and I have no intention of reading his book, but I think he acquits himself surprisingly well in this interview. He's pretty good at avoiding the interviewer's Gotcha! proof-texts about Mussolini, and I much appreciated this (ellipses in original):

Payne also says that a "fundamental characteristic" of fascism was "extreme insistence on what is now termed male chauvinism and the tendency to exaggerate the masculine principle in almost every aspect of activity." How does that fit in with contemporary liberalism, especially Hillary Clinton, who was at one point in the subtitle of your book?

It's a great question. I've actually thought a lot about that, and I wish I had quoted that thing from Payne, because I say at the end of the book that the classical fascisms of mid-20th century were essentially masculine phenomena. They fit in the Orwellian dystopian vision of the future, where you have the strong father figure. ... That was the vision of a more sexist time when leadership was inherently male. I think one of the things that marks contemporary liberalism is that it's much more feminine. And I think that's probably to the better; I would much rather [get] hugs than blows from a billy club.

But there's another dystopian understanding of the future, which we get from [Aldous] Huxley's "Brave New World." That was a fundamentally American vision ... [T]he vision of the Huxleyian "Brave New World" future is one where everyone's happy. No one's being oppressed, people are walking around chewing hormonal gum, they're having everything done for them, they're being nannied almost into nonexistence. That's the fascism in Hillary Clinton's vision. It's not the Orwellian stamping on a human face thing, it's hugs and kisses and taking care of boo-boos. It is the nanny state. That is a much more benign dystopia than "1984," but for me at least, it's still a dystopia. An unwanted hug is still as tyrannical or as oppressive -- not as oppressive, but an unwanted hug is still oppressive if you can't escape from it ... [O]ne of the biggest distinctions between what I'm calling liberal fascism ... and classical fascism, is that classical fascism was masculine and violently oppressive and today's liberalism is feminine and not oppressive but smothering with kindness.

Anyway, it seems to me that his path to tieing fascism to liberalism is by using fascism as a sort of stand-in for statism. That seems problematic to me. Fascists and liberals are both obviously statists, but fascism tended to use statism in an exclusionary way -- "we are the Aryan nation," whereas most progressives are statist in a multi-culti all-inclusive way that tends to transcend the nationalism inherent in fascism. So I guess Goldberg is right that fascism is statist and liberalism is statist, but the uniquely horrible things about fascism had less to do with it being statist than with it being a rallying cry for one group of people to justify hating another group of people. Liberalism at its best doesn't do that. (Though I will note the obvious -- liberalism as practiced publicly is far from liberalism at its best, but then we'd have to say the same thing about conservatism, because people on every side of every debate are tempted to use their cause to rally people in hatred against the other, which sort of leads us to the uninteresting and obvious thesis that slightly fascist tendencies exist on all sides of the spectrum.)

But of course, those are just preliminary impressions based onthe interview and uninformed by the actual book, which I don't intend to read.

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"My books are about killing God"

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Thus says Phillip Pullman.

But, of course, he says you should give the movie a chance.

America Magazine's new blog is discussing it.

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Music-blogging

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First Things

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I just finished perusing the Aug/Sept issue of First Things. Some thoughts:

  • This piece on global warming is one of the best attempt at denial I've seen, and I'd be interested in a rebuttal.
  • I was surprised at some of the negativity of this review of Jesus of Nazareth. It makes sense though - it must be tough to edit the Pope. In the Pope's defense, he did turn 80 this year and one could understand how the pressure to get the thing published would lead to some of the omissions that irk the reviewer.
  • I skimmed Harvey Mansfield's article on politics and it didn't really make much sense. Furthermore, I was so bored by it I didn't go back to give it a closer read. If somebody wants to try to persuade me to revisit it, fire away.
  • Victor Davis Hanson's review of a new book about the Battle of Lepanto is enjoyable.
  • Algis Valiunas' review of a revisitation of Victor Hugo's life and Les Miserables is a charming, adventurous read. There's much, much good in there.
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Timely

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The NY Sun reviews War and Peace.

I kid, I kid. There's a new translation out.

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You had me at hello

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"The Chicago Way" opens in classic style with former cop Michael Kelly sitting at his desk with his feet up, pondering the Cubs' 10 greatest moments.
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For your reading pleasure

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Caleb Stegall half-appreciatively reviews Bill McKibben's Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.

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Hitchens

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I think I've beat this subject to death, but this was too good to pass up. I'm tired of seeing Christians suck up to Christopher Hitchens just because he wants to kill lots of terrorists.

Let's just let this be the final word:

Hitchens also claims not to want to “prohibit” religion, even though he has long praised its forcible suppression, telling PBS that “One of Lenin’s great achievements … is to create a secular Russia. The power of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was an absolute warren of backwardness of evil and superstition, is probably never going to recover from what he did to it.” Of course, what Lenin did to Christianity in Russia was to unleash murder and terror. Indeed, Hitchens told Radar Magazine, in April, that if the Christian Right came to power in America, “It wouldn’t last very long and would, I hope, lead to civil war, which they will lose, but for which it would be a great pleasure to take part.” Hitchens still clings to his Marxist roots, and the urge to hurry History along—by gulags and firing squads if necessary --is always there.

He hates Christians as much as he hates Muslims.

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This is Ri-*******-diculous

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The Boston Globe books section just posted about a dozen articles about H---- P-----.

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World Maintains Semblance of Justice

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Ross Douthat

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More on "The Dangerous Books for Boys"

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The author has an op-ed in the WaPo.

When I had a son of my own six years ago, I looked around for the sort of books that would inspire him. I was able to find some practical modern ones, but none with the spirit and verve of those old titles. I wanted a single compendium of everything I'd ever wanted to know or do as a boy, and I decided to write my own. My brother, now a theater director in Leicester, a city in the midlands of England, was the obvious choice as co-writer. I had dedicated my first book "To my brother Hal, the other member of the Black Cat Club." It was official at last. I persuaded him to come and work with me 12 hours a day for six months in a shed.

We began with everything we had done as kids, then added things we didn't want to see forgotten. History today is taught as a feeble thing, with all the adventure taken out of it. We wanted stories of courage because boys love those. We wanted stories about men like Royal Air Force fighter pilot Douglas Bader, Scott of the Antarctic, the Wright Brothers -- boys like to read about daring men, always with the question: Would I be as brave or as resourceful? I sometimes wonder why people make fun of boys going to science fiction conventions without realizing that it shows a love of stories. Does every high school offer a class on adventure tales? No -- and then we complain that boys don't read anymore...

Finally, we chose our title -- "The Dangerous Book for Boys." It's about remembering a time when danger wasn't a dirty word. It's safer to put a boy in front of a PlayStation for a while, but not in the long run. The irony of making boys' lives too safe is that later they take worse risks on their own. You only have to push a baby boy hard on a swing and see his face light up. It's not learned behavior -- he's hardwired to enjoy a little risk. Ask any man for a good memory from childhood and he'll tell you about testing his courage or getting injured. No one wants to see a child get hurt, but we really did think the bumps and scratches were badges of honor, once.

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