Friday, November 28, 2008

Being Catholic

 The esteemed economist Dr. Thomas Sowell states there are two types of questions in life, objective and subjective. He illustrates his point using the building of a football stadium. There is absolutely no question as to the dimensions of the field, how it is to be laid out, and marked. Those are objective questions for which 100% positively correct answers can be found in the NFL rule book. The question as to where to build the stadium, how it will be paid for, and who should benefit financially, those are subjective questions. Subjective questions are questions for which no definitive answer exists. Objective questions are based upon science, empirical evidence and cold hard facts. Subjective questions are based upon emotional appeal. One should be very careful to identify a question as objective or subjective prior to proceeding.
Does God exist? It can not be proved nor disproved. There is no way to know for sure, at least not in this world. It is a subjective question. The ancient Greek stoic philosophers figured that out some time ago. Their simple solution was since there is no definitive answer, its a waste of time to ponder the question. So they closed the door on the subject and went on to other issues. For some of us though, it's not that simple. For some of us, the question can not be closed like a door. For some of us, we feel compelled to try to open that door up. I'm one of those people. Ancient theologians have struggled with the question for centuries. One train of thought yields that the mere fact that humans can ponder such a thought, in itself proves something. Think of it as the old philosophical thought 'I think, therefore I am.' Other theologians opined this ability to ask the question is a residue or an echo of the divine. Before you laugh, that's what scientist have been doing for decades to prove the Big Bang theory, scanning the solar system and beyond for an echo or residue it. Ancient Hebrews declared this "echo" of God was so pure and so holy, that even attempting to discuss it in human terms sullies it. That's why they didn't even have a word God. In the Torah they mention the presence of God by using a string of constants that translate in English to YHWH, so it could not be promounced. When the Greeks translated the Torah to their language, they thought Hebrews were nuts and misspelled it. So they added some vowels and it changed to Yehwah. When it was translated again to Latin and then to English, the Greek and Latin letter "Y" makes a "J" sound, so they changed it to Jehovah. But I digress. I've done a lot of research into the origins of the Bible and religion in general, so yes, I'm showing off. I was raised in an extended Catholic family, who's particular branch wasn't overly religious, so we attended Church mostly because cousins, aunts and Grandma did. When I was in fifth grade we moved out of walking distance, so I was off the hook! I never gave Church much thought after that, proudly illustrating my superiority by stating I believed in God, just not organized religion. I was so smug. I did later rejoin the Church in order to become my niece's Godfather. The sum total of effort included cutting my Dad a check for six months worth of collection envelopes, which he would take care of, twice a year.
Fast forward about five years, and I was a father, who's fiance wanted a big church wedding. I decided I was only going to go through this once, so if she wanted it, then lets go for it. I learned the Church takes the vow 'till death do you part' quite seriously. So in order to be married in the Church, we had to attend a pre-marriage counseling session called Pre-Cana, after the site of Jesus' first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. I was quite nervous, but it turned to be a pretty fun day long session. The second to the last item on the agenda was a stern talking to by the Parish Priest. Basically he laid it all out. We were not simply putting on a
fancy dress up party. We were committing to marriage, and doing so not just in front of family and friends, we committing to marriage in front of God. Then came the knock out punch. Most people who wed do so planning to have children. (I had a 3 year old daughter.) And then the
Priest said that if we do have children, the only way they would know anything about God or the Church is if we taught them. No amount of Sunday school could fill the void. They would be missing something, an awareness of a relationship with religion and God. They may or may not
even realize it. Some adults pick up religion later in life, most don't, so if we, as parents, didn't make an effort, it would not happen. Pow, right between the eyes. I had a duty to my child. Head slapping moment. I know there's no way I can force my daughter to believe in God. That will be her decision. But what I could do is make sure she was educated in religion, the Church and God. I reasoned I could ensure her decision would be an educated one. So off to Church we went to learn about religion! I was surprised how much of my early experiences came back. When to sit, when to stand, when to kneel. I even remembered the Nicene Creed by heart. Then, after a few weeks, something very surprising happened. I started paying attention to what was going on. I started listening. I started learning. My pastor was a kindly old gentlemen who Baptized my daughter and married my wife and I. From time to time he would start a Homily with the line "One theologian has pondered...." and then he would launch into the most thought provoking ideas. It blew my mind. Just a short example, in the Gospel reading about the miracle of loaves and fishes, no where does it say Jesus waved his arms, spoke some magical words and the food suddenly appeared. It says Jesus told the Apostles to take what food they had, put it in the baskets and pass them around. And when it was done every one had eaten and there twelve baskets left over. Where exactly did that food come from? One theologian has pondered that among all the followers that day (5,000 men plus women and children), some of them had brought food with them. And when they saw Jesus giving away everything they had, they were inspired to do the same. Remember, this was the Middle East. Now that's a miracle I can believe in!
Over the years I came to realize that I was learning a lot more than just religion. I was also learning how to be a father, a husband, a man, a parishioner, a member of the community, as well as learning about God, the Church and religion. Basically the Church's mission is to help
us hairless monkeys live peaceful, productive, happy lives. They have an entire curriculum built into their worship and traditions. From birth through penance, redemption, communion, confirmation, marriage, illness and finally death. Then it starts over again with your
children. You can pretty much break it down to a list of ten or so thing you should or should not do. Don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, don't covet other people's stuff, honor your parents. Now where have I heard that one before?
The Catholic Church is set up as a mirror to the nuclear family. God is the Father, the Church is the Mother, and we are all the children. They rightly believe the basic family unit is the first building block of western civilization and society. So you can see where a lot of their beliefs stem from. From there I moved into the history of the Bible and the Catholic Church. I reasoned, this may be the word of God, but some one decided what was the word of God and therefore what wasn't. I wanted to know who and why. I also learned about the history of the Church, and let me tell you, most conventional wisdom on the Church is flat out wrong. I've read the reason the Dark Ages lasted so long was because that's how long it took the Church to teach the Germanic barbarians to wait in line, fill out forms, and basically behave. They invented the university system that trained most of the great scientists of the renaissance period. They invented the public health system and hospitals. Among the ranks of the Jesuits are some of the greatest
mathematicians in history. They invented the solar calendar, they created the academic disciplines of archeology and seismology. And far too many things to mention here. The Church basically built western civilization. Too bad so many people only know about the bad things and
have no idea on all the wonderful things the Church helped create. All in all, they have a lot more check marks in the positive side than the negative. No question about it in my mind. There are aspects of the Catholic Church that I disagree with, some times strongly. There are aspects I find down right silly and mostly ignore. If that's enough to get me excommunicated, then so be it. But I doubt it would. The Church is not some organization tasked with enforcing a strict set of rules, ready to rap your knuckles with a wooden ruler every time you slightly stray. That's not the correct mind set to approach religion or God. It's not an adversarial relationship, it's symbiotic. It's easy to approach religion and the concept of God with the mind set to prove it invalid, anyone can do that. It's a subjective idea, not objective, it's impossible to prove. The hard way
is to approach it is from the other direction. What can we both benefit from this relationship? I learn from Catholicism, and Catholicism (at the Parish level) learns from me. And together we try to make the community, and the world, a little better. And I think we do. I don't see a down side.
Its been said that morals are the guard rails of life. If you work at it, morals show you in detail, what is right and what is wrong. Occasionally we get to near to them, they help nudge us back on to the road. Occasionally we ram through them and plunge off the cliff. But that doesn't mean they are wrong, it means we are wrong. The Church helps us define what those guard rails are. The Church teaches us, it guides us, it leads us, occasionally it disastrously heads in the wrong
direction. It's there to help props us up in times of need. And at times, it needs us to prop it up. And when we screw up, it teaches us how to ask forgiveness, but even more importantly, it teaches us to forgive. And that is the most important virtue of all. Saying you forgive some one who's wronged you, and then, just let it go. We could all use many more lessons in that. This is what I've learned about and from the Catholic Church. How to survive in this world to the best of my moral abilities. That is by sacrificing my time, my wealth, my energies, and myself in service of our fellow humans. One can find great joy and relief in the service of others in greater need than we are. When we have no rules or guidelines, the possibilities are endless. There's a certain fear associated with the unknown, its part of human nature. However there is also great freedom to be found in narrowing down the possibilities to fit within moral guidelines. One of the great ironies I learned through the Church, complete freedom can be an extremely heavy burden, while submission to a higher authority provides great freedom. I don't have to worry about what to do, I already know the answer. Help those in need of help. It's my responsibility to come up with my own definition of God. I find the Catholic Church's definition, a pretty darn good
starting point. It's not the ultimate answer, but it's a very well researched place to start looking for the answer. What would I do if I were Pope for a year? That's easy. I believe the Pope has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. He's charged with staying true to the original teachings handed down from Jesus to the Apostles, from the first Pope St. Peter, down through the ages.
It's called Apostolic Succession. Protestants believe possessing the Word (i.e. the Bible) is enough to make ones way in the world. The Catholic Church's position is the Word is not enough, its true meaning is as important, if not more so. They are the keepers of the original truths. The Pope's job is to make sure that stays in place. But also, he's tasked with keeping the Church relevant in modern society. He is the leader of the world wide Church. He is a moral example to the
world. His job is to use the Church as the anchor in today's fast paced society. Every thing changes, except their 2,000 year old message. The only tougher job I can think of is to lead troops into battle, where lives are on the line. Of course, being a member of the Church is
putting your life on the line is many parts of the world even today. If I was the Pope for one year, I'd tell all the vice Pope's who spend all day escorting me around, that I needed to use the little Pope's room. I'd tell them I had fourteen wiener schnitzels for lunch, I'd be a while, so good ahead and I'd catch up with them in a later. Then I'd go to the rest room. I'd ditch the hat, the robes, the Pallium, toss them all in the corner. I might keep the ring as a souvenir, after all each Pope gets their own. Then I'd slip out the window and run as fast and as far as I can to get the heck out of there. I would never want to have that kind of responsibility. I would never want that many people around the world watching every thing I do, depending on me to lead them. I wouldn't wish that kind of pressure on an enemy. Maybe I'd take a shot at farming. That seems like a nice, quiet, peaceful life. Then I could get back to learning about the Bible.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Laughing at the wolves before they come to eat you

At this point of a presidential campaign, it no longer matters if the Obama/Farrakhan connection even exists, much less is significant. The multi-billion dollar PR machines are cranked up to overdrive on both sides. We are now in full-scale political theater mode. Everything you hear from anyone in the Political/Media industrial complex is geared towards worshiping their guy and demonizing the other. The time for reasonable discussion is over. It's war.

Now is the time to watch what they do and ignore what's coming out of their mouths. [Editor's note: Why just now?] Why these people say what they do is much more interesting than joining in the giant chorus of "You Suck, We're Great!!!!!" I mean that about Democrats and Republicans alike. People who are dedicated to a party are no longer reasonable.

I predict the main attacks will come from non-affiliated 507(c), so the campaigns have plausible deniability. They will be mean, brutal, mostly false, but occasionally contain enough of a thread of truth to something that might be worth following up. But it doesn't matter because the other side (at this point the terms Democratic party and Republican party are pretty much interchangeable) will always be wrong, mean, rotten, racist, sexist, fascist, and any other insult they can find on Wikipedia.

Last week was a perfect example of what I mean. Obama basically gave the convention to the Clintons. They get prime-time two nights, she gets a nomination call, and I've read somewhere her people got a plank reworded to slightly suggest the "glass ceiling" is what kept her from the nomination.

Obama supposedly has the nomination clinched, which mean he owns the democratic party. He's even moved the DNC to Chicago so his people can take over. If he's in control, forget about listening to his proclamations of how proud he is to give all these perks to Clinton, the
interesting question is why? Because I certainly don't think its his soul-searing respect, love and respect for the Clintons.

To figure it out, stop listening to the PR machine, and watch them in action.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Rush Limbuagh: Congratulations on Twenty Years of Broadcast Excellence!

One of my greatest joys in life these days is pointing out to my liberal relatives, friends, and acquaintances just how right Rush Limbaugh is. Nothing gets under a liberal's skin better than El-Rushbo. Today Rush celebrates 20 years of excellence in broadcasting, with loads of fun, frivolity, analysis of societal evolution, and talent on load from God (half of that talent tied behind his back just to make it fair).

My editor thinks I'm a bit overboard, so he's asked for an explanation on why it means so much to me. Allow me to explain why I think it's such a big deal. So here it goes. Why do I enjoy Rush Limbaugh?

First and foremost, he's funny. Call him a talking head, a political pundit, a party hack, whatever you want, but first and foremost, above all else, he's a top rate comedian. The first time I
heard him play the EIB Gospel Singers belting out "Thank the Lord Rush is on the EIB" I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. He understands humor, he dissects jokes; whereas Sean Hannity is like a bludgeon, Rush is a scalpel, deftly inserting wit and humor wherever and whenever he can. As an amateur comedian myself, I fully appreciate his sense of humor. If he wasn't funny, I'd never have kept on listening. Rush understands to succeed in his profession, he has to be primarily entertaining. Rush gets an 'A+' from me on this one.

Second, take a look at his career. Anyone who's listened to his program long enough has heard his litany of career missteps and downright failures. I think he's been fired from 13 or so jobs. At one point he was reduced to selling vacuums door to door, to keep a roof over his family's head. And today he's the undisputed king of AM radio. That is success. That's more than success, that's proof to me that not only does the American dream still exist, it's possible, not just for a few, but for everyone. Today's program started with an on-the-air phone call from George H.W. Bush, George Bush, and Jeb Bush. All this week he's been airing audio congratulations from the Vice
President, a Supreme Court Justice, and two of the most intelligent people in America today, esteemed economists Dr. Thomas Sowell and Dr. Walter E. Williams. Now that is impressive. As Rush likes to say, he wishes his parents were still alive so they could see all this. They would be stunned that their college drop-out son, who terrorized their community with his practical jokes as a kid (and he's pulled some great ones), is rubbing elbows with the highest elites in American politics and academics. Not too shabby for a door-to-door salesman.

Thirdly, he's leading the fight to destroy the old time, liberally biased mainstream media. Over the years I've come to despise the MSM. They sit in their corner offices, in skyscrapers, deciding for us, the unwashed masses, not only what we should know but how we should
interpret it. That burns my ass. What's the news? What the MSM says is the news. If they're wrong, doesn't matter to them, tomorrow's always another day, another paper, another show. I was stunned when I started hearing the stories the MSM dropped and Rush picked up, jaw on the floor stunned. The old-line MSM works from the point that the natural order of life in America is liberal democratic control. Anything that deviates from that position must be
suppressed. I can't wait till they've been laid low, nothing but smoldering cinders. Then We The People will be able to determine what is news and what is not, what is right and what is wrong. The Media is Dead! Long Live the New Media! And as I stated, Rush is leading the charge for freedom of information.

And lastly, and most importantly to me, Rush Limbaugh has won his success, and he did it the hard way, he did it his way. The reason the Rush Limbaugh Show and the EIB network even exist is because Rush couldn't keep a job. He kept pissing off his bosses. One anecdote he related, he was called on the carpet by the news director of a station he worked at. They wanted to know what the hell he was doing on the air. He said commenting on the news. He asked what the problem was, Tom Brokaw did the exact same thing. Shortly after, he was out on
his ass. In this respect, I admire Rush as I do the Grateful Dead. When they couldn't get a record deal, rather than buckle under and play by other people's rules, they formed their own label and did what they wanted to do anyway. I have great admiration for people who refuse to
play by the rules, and instead, make the rules change to suit them. Many do try, and the vast majority of them fail. But once in a while, you see someone win. It reminds me why I have faith in America.

So there you have it in a nutshell. Its not that I'm smitten by Rush, or any kind of adoring fan. He's a great comic, provides a wonderful service, and all I have to do is put up with the
commercials. He's got the old mainstream media on the run. He broadcasts information that 20 years ago would never have seen the light of day. He's got the democratic party quaking in their shoes - the democratic senate has even tried to take him out, and they failed miserably. In other words, he's a thorn in the side of the powerful establishment, and in the course of his career, he's rewritten the rules for talk radio.

Congratulations Rush Limbaugh on 20 years of excellence, and I look forward to 20 more!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Patriotism is not black or white (or red all over)

There's been an awful lot of trees (and brain cells) killed recently on newspaper stories covering Senator Barack Obama's big speech the other day on patriotism. Naturally Obama clearly, and unequivocally, pronounced that he would never question another's patriotism (of course not, he's got Wesley Clark for that), and he would accept no criticism of his own. One wonders if that proclamation is enough to stem the famed and fabled Republican Attack Machine (as if the Democrats don't do the exact same thing, see above reference to Wesley Clark).

I've read several analysis and opinion pieces recently, not only on the speech, but also on the concept of patriotism itself. The American Left has had issues for decades concerning their patriotism. After all, what's burning a few flags, spitting on a few returning Vietnam vets, and meeting with America's enemies to discuss how rotten America is, between revolutionary friends? I mean, come on, how could any one consider the Weather Underground to be unpatriotic? After all it does require a few broken eggs to make an omelet.

And believe me, I understand the confusion. Having been born, bred, and raised to be a true blue liberal, I can remember the lessons of the radical counter-culture wars of the 1960's, even if I was a tad too young to do much more than get the stuffing beaten out of me during grade school gym class dodge ball. Ah, those were the days.

Even though I no longer can remember the rational or logic that stitched their philosophy together, I do have faint vibes on the subject that were beaten into my brain as a child and teenager. I also believe the main reason I don't remember the rational and logic was because there wasn't any. Rather than detailing their reasoning, the left was more apt to use slang, or codewords to define the finer points of their ideology. Terms like "Distrust the man" and "Down for the struggle" seemed sufficient. Phrases like "Don't trust anyone over 30" don't seem to make as much sense when you're 45 as they did when you were on the upside of that long march. And to be quite frank, other than my nieces who've I've known all their lives, I'm not sure how many people under 30 I would actually trust. Read the police beat in your local newspaper. They don't seem all that bright. If life has taught me anything, it's that just because the state says you can vote at 18, it doesn't mean at 18 you're an adult, capable of reasonable, logical thought. That's why the drinking age is 21.

And yet the left, for all their actions, programs, pogroms, projects, movements, teach-ins, die-ins, protests and and marches, still is bewildered by the great American Center's inability to see they are the true patriots, still fighting to fulfill the dreams of the Founding Fathers (even though the radical Left now considers them racist, murderous thieves. Note to the Left, this isn't helping). So this presents me with a quandary. I was once a card-carrying liberal, and in the midst of all that churning and caterwauling, I certainly didn't feel like I was unpatriotic, even while I was reading the Essential Works of Marxism and plotting the overthrow of my government from the confines of my Beatles poster-filled teenage bedroom. Rest assured dear readers, I never got closer to actually doing anything other than wearing John Lennon buttons and insisting how much I was against "the man".

So where does this sense of patriotism come from for a political ideology that thinks the most American thing to do it to replace America's self rule government with a half-assed copy of the USSR?

Here's my theory: the two party system. I believe the left is completely taken in by the two party political system used in America. If the two party system is indeed the ultimate political system of all time, then it's only natural that all issues affecting everyday Americans can be addressed by the two party system. All daily struggles, injustices, and downright bad luck, all part of the human condition, can be addressed and solved by using the two party system,
even though anyone with an ounce of intelligence and wisdom could easily point out you can't outlaw personal tragedy. Or, to put it more simply, when you live within the "box" of the two party system, its harder to think outside that box.

Inside that box, the rules are simple, us versus them. Thinking outside that box causes headaches, trauma, pain, realization, etc. And that takes work, hard mental work, and liberals don't like that. Liberals like things straightforward; nice, simple, easy, in other words, inside the box. Inside the box, logic and reason don't matter. All that matters is they come down on what they consider the morally correct side of a two sided argument. Pepsi or Coke. Hamburger or hot dog. Democrat or Republican. Liberal or Conservative. Voting booth switch "A" or "B". Make your decision, stick with your people, and then stop thinking about it, and get back to the real important decisions,
Miller or Bud, American Idol or The Bachelor, and Burger King or McDonalds.

There is a downside to this kind of thinking too. When you think inside this dichotomy, then you only are able to view issues as black and white and you miss all the color.

So if there are only two sides to every issue, and you're on the right side of said issue, and it doesn't seem to be gaining traction with the American public, it doesn't mean there may be more involved than the liberal brain can handle, no siree Bob! What it means is it's time to change the rules in the box. Your opponent isn't some outside force that should unite you with your fellow American. No, not at all. It means your opponent, your enemy, is your fellow Americans, who won't let your side win the fight inside the box. 9/11? It's the other guy's fault. It's not Al Qeada, it's the American Right.

And if you can't beat the American Right at the ballot box? Then the Right has to go. And so they become the enemy. Not the people from other nations who are getting better at killing your fellow citizens, but your neighbor. And since both the left and the right think inside the box of the two party system, it's as easy to define your enemy as it is to define who's the good guy and the bad guy in the champion wrestling match.

And what's more patriotic than taking down your enemy?