Friday, August 31, 2007

Buying Chinese

any Catholics (and other people of good will) boycott products made in China. China is a slave state. Chinese products are cheap because the workers aren’t paid. All profits go to the bosses. Unlike in a free country, labor cannot unionize or seek employment elsewhere, so the workers receive no just compensation. Therefore, it seems, buying products made in China means we benefit (through low prices) by supporting a coercive system. Therefore, the moral and just thing to do is not to buy Chinese products. Right?

I don’t think so. As happens with many moralisms, I think the boycott argument avoids one evil without considering the alternatives. I mean, what do the Chinese people get out of our boycott? Personally, I do not believe that the Chinese dictator class is going to change their minds about communism just because we don’t buy their products. I don’t think that’s how dictators think.

That, incidentally, is part of the Church’s argument against economic sanctions. The West loves to “punish” evil regimes—Cuba, Hussein’s Iraq, North Korea, etc.—by refusing, at a national level, to purchase their products. But Saddam Hussein fell from power only when the US military took him down; he didn’t liberalize his regime, despite a decade of sanctions. The regimes of Cuba and North Korea have withstood our economic sanctions for about fifty years now. Boycotts have not convinced these dictators to rethink the economic benefits of totalitarianism. The only result is to add our oppression to the dictator’s, and further starve the people of these countries. That is one reason the Catholic Church is always opposed to economic sanctions.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t care. I’m not denying that these are evil regimes. And I’m not denying that people would starve anyway, simply from the wickedness of the dictators. I’m just saying that boycotts don’t help.

(Incidentally, I’m also not saying that the Church’s political judgment is always spot-on. I think churchmen often take over-simplistic positions on complex political problems. I’m not accepting their argument here based on authority. But I happen to think they are right. I think twentieth-century history supports that judgment.)

have just finished reading an interview with Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, one of the leading Catholic dissidents in Cuba (so I’m told). I was struck by the following statement:

It is true that there is incredible civic and political illiteracy, the fruit of ideological extremism and of the systematic blockage of information other than that provided by the government. But this situation can be overcome only by breaking out of internal isolation, which is worse than the external embargo. There is a need of more information, more openness, more exchange. We need a systematic and deep process of ethical, civic, and political education.

Vaclav Havel (I think) said that the key to the fall of European Communism was more and more people refusing to accept the lies of the regime. But how does that happen if the people are isolated? How does that happen, for example, if Americans refuse to do business with them

I propose that doing business with China is one of the most important ways we can contribute to the fall of totalitarianism there. Because trade is the main channel of contact. In a recent discussion of the China boycott, friends of ours pointed out that the regime puts on displays every time Americans come to visit. If you visit a Chinese factory, for example, they show you the great condition of the laborers. And it’s all a lie.

Fine. Make them put on more shows. Let the Chinese workers know that we are watching, and that we do not approve of the status quo. Let them know that the way things are in China is not the way they have to be, that things are different here. Give China a big financial incentive to have contact with Americans, and to learn English, and to let us wander around their country, and to have them come here. Engage. There is no other way to call their lie.

Trade is the main opportunity for us to talk to them, and to be there, and to see them. Trade is also the main excuse for missionaries, of various kinds. The underground Church needs all the support it can get. I think that Church would receive a lot more support if there were a lot more rich American businessman, and American journalists, and American Catholics in China. China needs secular missionaries too, to tell their students, and their businessmen, and even their ordinary people about free speech, and democracy, and the free market, where a person can get a decent salary for his wage. And we need reporters over there. We wouldn’t know to fight China’s coercive abortion policies if we didn’t have people on the ground there doing the research. Boycotts are not going to convince the totalitarians to let these people in. But business will.

I am proposing, in fact, that business is the bribe that gets us behind enemy gates. The magic of the market is that the bribe ends up savings us money.

ometimes, I think, we let moralism get the better of us. We so want to do the right thing (and it wouldn’t hurt if it were something we could hold over our neighbors) that we don’t think enough about actually helping people.

There’s an important point about Catholic moral thinking here. It’s easy to get caught up in rules, and to go looking for new rules, in order to be moral. Certainly there are rules—or, as the theologians say, “exceptionless moral norms.” There are things that are always wrong, like adultery, contraception, abortion, murder, theft, perjury, blasphemy. But that doesn’t mean being moral is all about rules. These things are exceptionlesss moral norms not because morality is about rules, but because there is never a case where good can come from them. Something like contraception is so inherently contradictory that it couldn’t ever be an act of love. But most of morality is not about rules, because at its heart, morality is about love. The question is, what is loving? Moralism means putting rules above love. Relativism is denying the principle of non-contradiction, denying the fact that there are some things that are inherently contradictory and thus always wrong. But love, looking to how you can actually help people instead of looking for moral purity, is not relativist. It feels to me—tell me if I’m wrong!—like part of the boycott mentality is putting moral purity and the search for new rules above consideration of how we can actually help people. Morality isn’t about avoiding evil—“I’m just not going to participate in that wicked Chinese economy.” Morality is about doing good.

I know boycotts sound very moral. But until I hear how boycotts will actually help the people, and until I hear of something that will empower the Chinese people more than active cross-cultural engagement, I am going to continue to buy Chinese products. And even believe it’s a moral act.

And hey, if you feel guilty about all the money you save, send some of it back to a charity in China! They need it!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Anonymous places

y wife and a very dear friend have been having a wonderful blog exchange about anonymity in the cities. I'm going to throw in my two cents and try a very rough draft of an article I've been thinking about writing, entitled "anonymous places." At the start though, let me say that I heartily endorse everything said in those other two blogs. I'm not sure if I can make my thing come out in obvious agreement with Robyn's, but it's intended to be complementary, not contradictory.

So, recently I had a business lunch with a professor from a small town in Iowa. We were talking about the program where I work in a big East Coast city, and I started going on about how much I love city life. (I grew up in the suburbs, not far from Iowa.)

The professor, thinking that he understood, said, "ah, you like the anonymity, huh?" I don't know what I said then, but I've thought about it a lot since and . . . I think he's got it all backwards.

Cities seem anonymous to tourists, because obviously when you're somewhere new, no one knows you. (Of course, that's as true for a visitor in small town Iowa as for one in Manhattan.) But in the city, you see all those people, and of course they don't all know one another, and you just feel lost in the crowd, as if people don't matter anymore.

ut living in the city . . . I think cities are anonymous only in the most literal sense: you don't know people's names. My wife and I walk to church with the kids every morning. We see the same people every day -- lots of them! -- and we know a fair amount about them: how they carry themselves, how they dress for work, what time they leave in the morning, whether they talk on the phone, or listen to iPods, or space out, or watch people; whether they say hi; whether they put on their socks before or after arriving at work. They know that we walk to church every morning, and have little kids. They see my little boy's wheel chair, my funny hat, my wife's skirts. Now and then we stop to chat with one of these people, and we usually find we've each made a lot of correct assumptions. I think of one guy we finally talked to at a stoplight; I think the first thing he said was, "so you're a professor, huh?" (almost -- just finishing my Ph.D.)

In the suburbs (I'll leave small towns aside, because they're a different thing) it's the opposite. In my experience, in the suburbs you know people's names . . . and nothing else. We used to wave at a lot of people in our subdevelopment -- as we drove by in our cars. And what do you learn in that 1.5 second encounter? You see what they drive and whether they wave, but that's about it. We knew the names of almost everybody on our cul de sac, but mostly we saw them drive into their garages and disappear.

(I should define "suburb." I don't mean "anywhere but in the middle of a big city." Suburb, to me, means subdevelopments--including, most importantly, total separation of home from work, recreation, and shopping--, usually cul de sacs, cars for absolutely everything, and privacy privacy privacy. Our subdevelopment had no sidewalks -- why would it? There was nowhere to walk. Such suburbs are a big deal these days. But a lot of places are in between. Robyn brought up Salem and Beverly, Mass., where she and Susan used to live. They lived, basically, in row houses. That's not really the suburbs. There were some actual "main street" shopping sections, where you could walk to the little market, or church, or whatever. At the least, you had to walk down the block to your car, so there was some requirement of crossing paths with your neighbors. But most things were in strip malls. That's sort of half suburban. Susan's mom lives in "small town" Connecticut -- but the downtown is almost gone. Most of the shopping is in the big strip mall outside of town. Is that really "small town"? Well, sort of. And sort of suburban. A real, traditional small town, I think, is much more like "city" living: work and home close together, walkable shopping, etc. Although a big city, of course, has lots more people.)

Back to the suburbs: At the risk of being salacious, I'd like to talk about teenagers in driveways. For years I have been walking around my big city neighborhood and I have never seen anyone ever making out in their car. (I've seen prostitutes in the park late at night, but that's different.) Why not? Because there are people everywhere! Because, in a word, the city just isn't "anonymous" enough for that kind of behavior. On our cul de sac in the suburban Midwest though . . . oh my. Well, coming home late at night I once saw the girl next door rolling around with somebody--I never found out whom--in some sheets in the grass. Hmm. But of course, only other teenagers were out at night, and I think all of the teenagers on the cul de sac made full use of their driveways for similar--if not quite so lubricious--conduct. Why? Because there is nothing as hidden as a cul de sac. No one goes by. No one sees what you're doing. "Anonymous"? Well, not exaclty. But the point is, you can be totally alone.

Interesting counterpoint: when I see the thug teenagers in our urban neighborhood hanging around outside late at night, the first thing I think is, "at least they're not inside having sex." Whereas in the suburbs, outside the house is the best place, because not even your parents can see what you're up to.

f course, people can be really weird in the city -- much weirder than in the suburbs. But again, I think this is the opposite of anonymity. Visiting our friends in Brooklyn recently, I had to run out to the car late at night in my pajamas (flannel pants and an undershirt), as many fathers do. In the suburbs, it would have been down to the garage. In Brooklyn, it was down a busy city street, a block and a half. People saw me, and they knew just what I was doing. It occurred to me that city life is a little like dorm life. (Though you hope city people are a trifle more mature than college students. By senior year I guess things have usually calmed down a little!) People see you. They know what you're doing. They say, "oh, there's the guy from 1038 grabbing diapers for the kid in the wheelchair." They might not know your name, but they know you, and they know what you're up to. Because a lot less of your space is private. Much more of your life is out in public

I think city weirdness is just about this public-ness. Suburbs are about keeping private. And maybe that expresses itself in how people dress and behave in public: everything is hidden. In the city . . . well, maybe you wear your hair crazy, maybe you put on a red clown nose, maybe you do yoga out on the street. This could be about anonymity: people act weird because they know they'll never be seen again. But it might be the opposite of anonymity: you're used to people seeing you, so you're okay being open, "out there." You behave in public a little more like how you behave in private, because the city is your family. Most people don't make out where they can be seen, because they wouldn't want their family to see them making out. Some people do make out in public, and I think that's not about anonymity at all, but about proclaiming their identity. I am quite sure that many of the young lesbians in our neighborhood are so public about their displays of affection because they *want* to be seen, want to be known. Not because they think they're anonymous and will be forgotten, but because they want to be remembered. They are, I think, treating the city like their family.

This has been kind of a hodge podge. I'll end with a metaphor. We recently moved into a new apartment, our first one with wood floors, which we've always wanted. We've been amazed at how dirty they get. Always dirty. And we wonder, where was that dirt in our carpeted apartment? The answer: it was hidden. I think that might be a good metaphor for city vs. suburb. In the city, all the dirt is out in the open, begging to be dealt with. In the suburbs, the dirt hides, but it is still there -- plenty of it! There are advantages to both. I think you could make an argument that carpets are better, because you don't have to wash them until you feel like it. And maybe the suburbs are better, because if you keep all the weirdness and brokenness of people hidden away, at least it won't hurt their neighbors. But . . . well, I don't know if it's bias or truth, but I sure prefer having the dirt out in the open, where it can get cleaned up, and where it's clear that it needs to be cleaned.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Rationale

aving gotten this blog up and running, and having generated some traffic, I'd like to try to make clear its rationale.

The driving force of civis is theological. Catholic theology hinges on two central doctrines, the Creation and the Incarnation. So first, God made the world. Things are the way they are not by chance, but by the direct decision of God. And God, who is the Word, the logos, intelligibility-itself, creates in wisdom. That means that things not only exist, but exist with reason, with intelligibility.

In short, corollary to Creation is the philosophical doctrine of nature. Aristotle defines nature as "an interior principle of motion" -- in other words, created things have their own interior dynamism: they work in a certain way, independently of how we want them to work. For the Catholic, this is significant in two ways. Practically, it means that we can only succeed -- at anything -- by according with the way things are. If you pour water in your car engine, it won't go; if you pour gas on your plants, they won't grow -- and "casual" sex, which does not accord with the nature of sex, can only lead to human disaster; government policies that don't respect the nature of, say, economics, or cities, or families will not work. All the good will in the world doesn't make an ounce of difference if you do not understand the interior dynamism of things, because the world does not depend on our will. God made it in a certain way, and we can only hope to "succeed" at anything by working with his plan and not against it.

The doctrine of nature has a contemplative corollary, too. According with nature, with the interior dynamism of things, the way God made them, is not only necessary to success -- it is also necessary to seeing God. If we don't respect the order he has implanted in things, we kid ourselves to think we respect the Creator. Again, it's not just a matter of good will, of wanting things to turn out right. Loving God means receptivity, means allowing God to be God, means seeing things as they are, and not trying to mold them into something they're not.

This doesn't, of course, mean passivity. There's nothing passive about putting gas in the car, nothing passive about caring for a child, nothing passive about family life, nothing passive about government policies that concord with the nature of families, cities, economics.

he second foundational doctrine is the Incarnation. God came to restore nature. And how did he do it? By entering in. The Incarnation, the two natures of Christ, says something profound about the world. Because it means God's presence does not negate nature. Christ is not less human -- he's not differently human. He is fully human. He has our nature in all its integrity, with no diminishment of his godhead. Which means, on the one hand, that God's presence is not contrary to things as they are -- a corollary of Creation, but one that we see more clearly in Christ. In other words, being a Christian doesn't mean being less human, or less natural, or human in a different way. It means being fully human. In other words, it means being natural, according with nature, with the natural order that God made.

On the other hand, Christ comes to restore nature. Because sin is not natural. Sin means living in a deformed way -- for example, treating another person as not a person, treating the procreative act as not the procreative act, treating an economic transaction, a kind of equity, as not equity, but a way of stealing. (Those are the fifth, sixth, and seventh commandments, by the way.) Sin is being less natural, and Christ comes to make us more natural. And that doesn't mean just being unnatural in a new way; it doesn't mean now we're lifted up out of the natural order, and no longer care about these things. It means we care about them more.

nd that's the point of this blog. Civis is an effort to correct certain tendencies that mitigate the Christian truths of the Creation and the Incarnation. Much of civis is about politics. I believe that conservatism -- at least the paleo-conservatism for which I shall here argue -- means according with nature. It means, for example, that the government can't provide for people in ways that undermine the economy. The economy has a nature, based on the price mechanism, which regulates supply and demand, and the free exchange of goods. Liberalism is un-"Christian" (please don't misunderstand me) to the extent that it replaces nature with will: if we just try harder, force things a little more, then we'll have justice. Christianity, as I am arguing for it, means our will is good only as it accords with nature. The conservative "movement," at its best, means fighting -- and it is a fight, an act of will -- for government to do what it should, to support the market, not to counteract it. It means an act of will for nature, not against it.

The same goes for cities and families. In my post below on "local politics," my point is that you don't keep a neighborhood safe with big acts of will -- impregnable fences and brash displays of wealth -- but by letting it be a neighborhood, where people talk, and watch out for each other, and make wise decisions. That takes real work -- but not just work, not just will. It also takes understanding of what a neighborhood is.

Let me not be misunderstood. What I am arguing, in a sense, is that human action is most Christian when it is . . . least Christian. That is, it is most Christian when we're not looking for specifically Christian solutions, but when we are looking for natural solutions. That is part of my endorsement, below, of Giuliani: Christianity means reason, means treating things as they are. And that may be better served by one who is not Christian, one who cares for the real world and not for an imagined Gospel. Because ultimately the Christian Gospel means that the world is real.

This is a fine line, and I will surely stumble over it at times: to be truly Christian, we must be careful not to be too "Christian." We may sometimes criticize those who are too specifically "Christian" for not being Christian enough. We must be careful to be so radically committed to our faith that we can argue that our positions are radically Christian without making our positions matters of faith. In fine, we must believe in reason, with passionate faith. Where reason fails, we must be patient, and correct it rationally; but where this quest of reason is abandoned, we must criticize a lack of faith -- without confusing our reasoned positions with faith itself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Suburban Catholics (second draft)

This post has been re-edited. The first edition fell into all the infelicities of blogging: ranting, negativity, extreme statements. This time, I'll try to word it a little better.

I have often argued that the suburbs are not a natural place for Catholics. "We are a tenement people," I believe, meant for communities where we see our neighbors and where work and home are not so radically separate. Yet, my wife often points out, some of the best parishes and dioceses we know are in the suburbs.

We speak from our limited experience. We know Arlington, Virginia, in the suburbs of DC. Arlington diocese, where we lived one year and which we've often visited, is awesome. The people are orthodox, community is vibrant, the priests are great, liturgy is as good as it gets. We've also seen Boston: within the same archdiocese, the city is, for the most part, terrible, while the northern suburbs have some pretty decent parishes. Our experience suggests that the suburbs are better for Catholics.

Here are some preliminary ideas on how to reconcile our city ideals with our suburban experience.

Part of the conflict is probably socio-economic. The last hundred years of urban policy have been hard on our cities -- one of the goals of this blog is to argue for better urban policy. Urban parishes have so much more to struggle with. A solid priest in the suburbs can focus on rosary groups, men's groups, refurbishing the church, and fighting for good liturgy. A solid priest in the city, meanwhile, is often exhausted dealing with homelessness, crime, and poverty. Immigration may play into this, too. In the suburbs, immigrants have their own churches (with their own struggles); we who attend anglo churches don't see this. In the city, it often all gets mixed together, so that one priest is trying to serve not only rich anglos but also poor Hispanics, Islanders, French Africans, Eastern Europeans, etc. These are all things the church should be doing: but it certainly means that suburban parishes can do things that city parishes can't.

There are also some social issues. The suburbs, I would argue, are "voluntary" in a way the city isn't. City life is largely on foot, creating a much greater expectation that you go to your neighborhood church. Suburban life is largely in the car. You expect to drive to the things you like: drive to your favorite grocery store, your favorite restaurant, your favorite mall. Suburban car culture probably makes it seem more normal to go to the parish that fits you. So there are really orthodox suburban parishes and really unorthodox ones. They're all voluntary associations. You might say that Catholicism seems to thrive in the suburbs because it is more like Protestantism, with ideologically "sorted" churches.

In some places, this can even happen at the diocesan level. People who don't like the character of the Diocese of Arlington just cross the river and go to the Archdiocese of Washington. I've talked to plenty of people who do this. So even the dioceses get ideologically sorted.

Perhaps -- this is more of a stretch -- there is also an element of compartmentalization. One of my biggest concerns about the suburbs is that life gets so broken up: you work one place, and live in a totally different place. In the city, even if you commute, your home is surrounded by other people's work. I think there's more of a sense in the city that all of life interpenetrates.

It's possible that suburban churches "benefit" from compartmentalization. I'm pretty confident, from people I've talked to, that many of the pews in "fantastic" Arlington churches are filled with people who are not as fervent as the Church they attend. They are willing to be one thing on Sunday morning, and something else when they get home, just as they are one person at work and another person at home.

This comes out in the typical characterization of urbanites as combative. I think a big part of what people like about the suburbs is not having to fight. You go home to your fortress and what the neighbors are doing really doesn't affect you. In the city, the neighbors constantly affect you -- every conversation, every party, every time they play music -- and so you are used to struggling, speaking up, fighting. I'm not sure, but I can imagine this makes suburbia easier for priests. Possibly, urbanites, used to defending their turf, are also more inclined to fight for their parish, whereas suburbanites are more inclined to shrug their shoulders, knowing that the priest won't follow them home. Maybe.

But finally, there's probably a lot of simple chance. Most of America lives in suburbia (widely defined), and the cities are disproportionately filled with non-Catholic groups: Asians, blacks, Jews. In other words, if most Catholics live in the suburbs, you'd expect to find more good parishes -- and more bad parishes, and more of anything Catholic -- in the suburbs. And I think that's probably about right. Because the suburbs certainly have their share of bad parishes, too.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Local politics

I live in a run-down but reviving urban neighborhood, just down the block from an elementary school yard. At night, teenagers use the school yard for . . . well, you name it: at least drinking, drugs, and gambling, maybe sex, reportedly fighting. A meeting was recently held, with school officials, police, city government people, and neighbors, to discuss a proposal to refurbish the school yard. The proposal recommended a big iron fence, nice football and baseball fields, and a little water park for little kids. I didn't like the proposal. What follows is a letter I sent to my "Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner": the lowest level, most local government official.


Thanks for clarifying the purpose of the next meeting on the school-yard. That makes good sense. You said I should send to you, asap, any "alternate ideas" for the rehabilitation. I do have quite a few thoughts, so here goes.

Matthew's presentation was really impressive and very helpful for showing the progress of the neighborhood. But when it came to rationale for his specific proposal, I think there was just one sentence, on the last page: "Almost without exception," he wrote, "urban areas and property [are] only respected if [they are] maintained and secured." I would take issue with two parts of this statement, and thus suggest an alternate course.

First, he says that areas are only respected if they are "secured," and thus suggests a "tasteful/beautiful wrought-iron fence." I respect the desire to keep bad guys out, but I think his methodology is incorrect. As [Police] Commander Groomes said, you don't make a place safe by keeping bad guys out; you make it safe by bringing good people in. If you look at Capitol Hill [the very nice neighborhood to the South of us], the most beloved, respected places are safe not because of fences but because of people: Lincoln Park, Stanton Park, Eastern Market. These places are cornerstones of the community because they invite people in. Our school yard can be the same.

I respect the need for a fence around the school yard when children are present, so they don't get away. But I think the first thing that needs to be done is to *open* the fence when the children are not present. Right now, the only way onto those grounds is through a parking lot on the alley; I lived on the same block as that parking lot for almost two months before even realizing I *could* go onto the school grounds. What the fence presently communicates is that neighbors are not welcome -- only criminals, who enter illegally, are welcome. If nothing else, the gate at the corner of K and 6th should be open as much as the school will allow, so that neighbors know they can be there. I think it would be better to install bigger, open gates on both 6th and K. The only way to keep that place safe is by bringing good people in.

Along with opening the doors, of course, we need to have things to draw people. I would recommend moving the playground equipment out of the back corner and into the front corner, right out on 6th and K. This would serve two purposes. First, it would communicate to the community that we are welcome to be there -- I don't want to walk my kids down an alley to a playground that seems intentionally set where we can't get to it, and I suspect other parents feel the same way. Second, it would take away the hide-out criminals now have. They hang out on the playground equipment because it is presently set up as a den: a place to sit where no one can see them. Put the playground out on the corner (preferably with a police camera) and they no longer have anywhere to go.

Another way to draw people in is by naming the school yard a dog park. I know that sounds dirty -- but in Stanton Park and other dog parks, people are quite responsible about cleaning up after their pets; and anyway, it's a lot nicer for the custodian to clean up the occasional dog poop than the trash left there every night by criminals. If possible, we might even invite a coffee vendor (Sidamo?) to set up a stand on Saturday mornings, or something to get people onto those grounds. We certainly should put in a big trash bin, so that people who want to use that space don't have to throw their garbage on the ground. Benches would be nice, too. And some vines on the fences would look an awful lot nicer. We should also ask the deaf community how we could make them feel welcome.

(Full disclosure: I do *not* have a dog, and do not particularly like dogs -- but living near Stanton Park for three years, I saw what a positive community experience it was to have people out every morning and night just chit-chatting. A dog park becomes a magnet for community, even for those who don't like dogs.)

Along with security, Matthew's other rationale for his project is that a space must be "maintained." I think this points to a danger in his plan: he tells us the cost to *set up* fields and swimming pools, but he doesn't mention the upkeep costs. Almost all the cost for football, baseball, and soccer fields -- and certainly for a water park -- is in keeping the grass and dirt nice, keeping the lines painted, keeping the water coming. That's a lot of maintenance.

But what good would it do? I think what Matthew was trying to get at is that people -- including criminals -- have more respect for a space that is cared for. But maintaining fields that the community can't use is a pretty ambiguous kind of care. I think the bigger concern is not upkeep -- fancy football fields and such -- but community use. In my opinion, a football field would not get a lot of use. The kind of games that people in the community play are pick-up games that need a field, to be sure, but not a professionally maintained one. Go down and watch at Lincoln Park sometime: people play baseball, football, soccer, and frisbee not because there are fancy fields but because there are spaces where they feel welcome. I think painted lines and well-maintained fields would, ironically, *discourage* community use. They would only be valuable for intramural sports -- teams from outside the neighborhood. So keep open plenty of field for sports -- but don't waste money painting lines that will scare people away. (Incidentally, what do you think elementary school kids are going to do on a big "official" football field? Not much.) The care we need is basic maintenance and lots of community involvement.

We need the school's support on all this, of course. Maybe the school will decide that they don't want the community to use their fields -- but I would warn them that where good people are missing, bad people will fill in, and I suspect they'd agree. With apologies to Sheila, I'd say that family reunions may be loud ("like King's Dominion!") but nobody wants to sell drugs or do any of the other rotten things kids are doing out there if there's a family reunion right next to them. Communities have more power to force out criminals than we realize -- just ask Commander Groomes.

Finally, let me again say that I think we need to attend to the streets outside the school yard. I know that the present project is refurbishing the school grounds -- and, as I've just detailed, I think that's very important and can do a lot of good. But let's make sure that the school, the city, the police, and the neighborhood get together again sometime to discuss things like shattered glass and trash covering the sidewalk directly outside the school yard; drug dealers running a market just outside the school fence; and a store right across the street that sells nothing but malt liquor. These are school issues, not just police issues, and the solutions to these things, in my opinion, are not police solutions but community ones. We can do better, both for our neighborhood and for our school.

Thank you for your patience and consideration. I'd be happy to write a more condensed presentation and present it at the next meeting, if you would be interested.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Catholic Candidate?

Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. He is a fallen-away Catholic who frankly acknowledges that he is "interested, but not involved" in religion. I think he may be a great Catholic candidate for president.

This post will be a preview of many of the themes of this blog.

Now in general, Giuliani is a good candidate because he is a good conservative. He'd be a fine commander-in-chief, he's a solid fiscal conservative, and he's great on law enforcement. He made New York healthier for commerce and small business, and safe for families. Those are big things.

But I like Giuliani for the revolution he represents. I think it's not quite the revolution people expect.

First, Giuliani could mean an end for the "Christian Right." I think Catholics should be cautiously optimistic about this -- because there is a difference between the Christian Right and social conservatism. George W. Bush is a great example of the Christian Right: government based on Evangelical intuition rather than natural law. Evangelical intuition is often right, because Evangelicals are basically decent people. But the difference between George Bush and Rudy Giuliani comes down to the difference between faith and reason.

And government is not a matter of faith. Salvation is. The two are related. Christians tend to be better people, with sounder judgment, because they are not quite such slaves to their passions. Nonetheless, government is not a "Christian" task. The president should rule according to sound principle, not according to Christian intuition. George Bush is a great example of how intuition can go right and wrong. I would like a president who can argue a coherent case, not just say, trust me, I'm a Christian.

Especially on abortion. Rudy Giuliani could be our most forceful advocate against Roe, precisely because he is not a Christian and not pro-life. Abortion is wrong not because the Bible says so and not because Christians just feel it in their hearts. Abortion is wrong because it kills children. Roe is wrong not because it thwarted the Christian Right but because it is incoherent law. We need a president who can say, "look, I support a woman's right to kill her children, but that just isn't in the Constitution. I'm personally opposed [to restrictions on abortion], but . . . ." Because that is what's at issue in Roe; that is the real dispute on the federal level. What we need is a coherent lawyer, not a believer-in-chief. Giuliani is the Catholic candidate because he is a candidate of reason, the beginning of the end of the Christian Right. Giuliani is good on this.

The second way Giuliani would revolutionize the Republican party is by being a man of the city. An exalted friend once said, "We [Catholics] are a tenement people." It is no surprise that Catholics abandoned their faith when they went to the suburbs. In fact, part of the reason Roosevelt so eagerly pushed people to the suburbs was to tear down the urban Catholic communities. (See E. Michael Jones, The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing.) Catholics are a tenement people because we are a communal people. It is not natural, nor Catholic, for work to be so separate from home, or for people to live in total isolation from their neighbors. The suburbs are not a Catholic place.

The Republican party is in thrall to the suburbs. Republicans are terrified of cities -- one of the big "arguments" against Giuliani is precisely that he's from New York City: yikes! (Don't forget that Al Smith, the first great Catholic hero in national politics, was as New York as they come.) A Washington insider recently commented that blacks often use "urban" and "black" as political synonyms: urban concerns are black concerns. The same is likely true of Hispanics, Jews, and all the other ethnic groups who never vote Republican. Because Republicans know nothing of cities, care nothing for cities, hate cities.

Giuliani ran New York City (and was re-elected) as a fiscal and law-enforcement conservative. As a social conservative, too, to be fair: he fought against anti-Christian art, fought to push pornography to the margins, fought for adoptions, and lifted not a finger to promote abortion. Abortions plummeted in Giuliani's New York -- partly due to national trends, partly as a side-effect of other things he did, but I think he deserves a little credit. And all of these things were fights.

Giuliani could be the first Republican president who understands cities and who reforms federal policy to actually help. There is a great urban renewal afoot in this country, and that's something Catholics should care passionately about. We should be looking for a candidate who can fight for conservative principle in our cities. Giuliani might be our man.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Cardinal Lustiger

Cardinal Lustiger has died. George Weigel has up an "appreciation" of him on the First Things blog. It serves as a helpful counterpoint to what I have said below about the Tridentine collapse. (I admit that Weigel's view of Christian humanism has influenced me profoundly.)
Born September 17, 1926, Jean-Marie Lustiger was made archbishop of Paris in 1981 and was one of the most prominent members of the College of Cardinals for more than two decades, embodying precisely the Catholicism imagined by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council: a Church engaged with the modern world; a Church that had opened its windows to modernity; but also a Church that asked modernity to open its windows to the worlds of transcendent truth and love. Like the late Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Lustiger was completely convinced, on the basis of both faith and reason, that being a Catholic and being an engaged, compassionate, intelligent human being, dedicated to healing the world’s wounds and advancing the cause of human freedom, were two sides of the same coin.

Both of these Christian giants believed that . . . the Christian story is the human story, read in its true depth and against its most ample horizon. For Cardinal Lustiger, the "choice of God" was, at the very same time, the choice of an authentic humanism, a truly liberating humanism that could set men and women free in the deepest meaning of freedom: freedom from the fear of final oblivion that has haunted humanity for millennia, but no more so than in our time.

Because he came from a human world outside the worlds-within-worlds of French Catholicism, Jean-Marie Lustiger could see things perhaps more clearly than others. He could see, for example, that both the conventional "left" and "right" options among French Catholics were, in fact, no options, for both imagined the Church wedded to worldly power: in one case, the power of the revolution (however it might be conceived); in the other, the power of the old order. The Church, as Lustiger understood it, was not in the business of aligning itself with worldly power of any sort. The Church was in the business of evangelization, of service, of mission, of witness to the truths about the dignity of the human person on which the rights of man most securely rest. The Church’s public business was forming a culture of authentic freedom that could then form the kind of citizens who can live freedom nobly, rather than meanly or selfishly.

To meet Jean-Marie Lustiger was to meet a man of God: He was a wonderful human being--intelligent, caring, funny in a wry way--because he had been transformed by the power of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. His great desire was that others might share in the gift that he had been given, the gift of faith. That gift led him to read situations in their true depth, often against the grain of the conventional wisdom. And this was another quality he shared with the late John Paul II: the quality of reading the dynamics of history in depth. Like the man who took a great risk in appointing him archbishop of Paris, Lustiger (who took no less a risk in accepting John Paul’s appointment) understood that the most dynamic force in history over time is neither politics nor economics but rather culture: what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; what men and women are willing to stake their lives on.

And at the heart of culture, Lustiger knew, is cult: the act of worship. Everyone worships; the only question is whether the object of our worship is worthy. Jean-Marie Lustiger lived, led, and died in the conviction that the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is true worship, worship that can shape a truly liberating humanism. That is why everyone whose life he touched was the richer for the encounter.

Modernity: What Happened? (Part One)

My Ph.D. is in medieval thought and I've read a lot of modern history, but lately I've been trying to figure out what happened in between. I'll share on this blog a few of the things I've discovered. I'll do this as a series, so the pieces are of a more readable length.

I recently finished The Renaissance: A Short History, by the wonderful historian (and artist) Paul Johnson. The book itself is dazzling, more showing you how much you don't know than actually teaching you anything. But the conclusion is fantastic:
There is a famous story, or legend, that the master of music at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, the composer Giovanni Palestrina(1525-94), produced his Missa Papae Marcelli for a special performance, to show that polyphony could be combined with intelligibility, and that this had the desired effect. Whether the story is true or not, it is a fact that Trent ended without any destructive ruling on music.
It was a different matter with painting. Here the council in its final session ruled that stories about sacred personages that were not to be found in the canonical texts, and saintly miracles that the church had not certified as probable, were not to figure in works of art to be placed in churches or other religious buildings. It was not, strictly speaking, an act of iconoclasm, since it was prospective, not retrospective. Few existing images were removed, as had already been done in countless buildings controlled by Protestant zealots. But it put a stop to any future work of that kind and thus robbed religious artists of one of their chief sources of subject matter. It was the end of the Middle Ages, abolishing at a stroke the swarming inventiveness and labyrinthine imagination that had produced so much delightful art, both in the Gothic mode and indeed in Renaissance works, where Christian and pagan mythology intertwined. It affected not only the great masters working in the big cities but also--and perhaps more--the humble artist-craftsmen of the smaller towns and villages, whose wall paintings, bench ends and shrine figurs had been encyclopedias of Christian folklore, now all forbidden.
Even more influential were the more positive doctrines of the Counter-Reformation, which the final session of Trent formalized. In response to the Protestant cult of the vernacular--of simplicity, austerity and puritanism--the Catholic Church, after its earlier defensive and guilt-ridden response, decided to embark on a much bolder policy of emphasizing the spectacular. With the Jesuits in the vanguard, churches and other religious buildings were to be ablaze with light, clouded with incense, draped in lace, smothered in gilt, with huge altars, splendid vestments, sonorous organs and vast choirs, and a liturgy purged of medieval nonsense but essentially triumphalist in its content and amplitude. The artists--painters, sculptors, architects, makers of church furniture and windows--were to fall into line, scrapping the folklore and mythology indeed, but portraying the story of Christianity, the history of the church, the faith of its martyrs and the destruction of its enemies with all the power and realism they could command. Thus Rome defied the Protestants and bade Puritans do their worst. Catholicism would reply to simplicity and primitive austerity with all the riches and color and swirling lines and glitter in its repertoire, adding new ones as artists could create them.
Whatever the spiritual merits of this policy, it was undoubtedly popular in southern Europe at least, and in the closing decades of the sixteenth century the Catholic Church began to regain some lost ground. However, the Counter-Reformation approach to art was a formula for what would later be called the Baroque. It was music in the ears of ambitious young painters like Caravaggio. But it tolled a requiem for the Renaissance, or rather the attitudes it stood for. The movement was already a spent force anyway, and by the 1560s and 1570s it was dead, as dead as Michelangelo and Titian, its last great masters. . . .
This passage nicely encapsulates some of the main themes in my reading of early modernity. The Renaissance is a departure from the Middle Ages in some senses (especially the elevation of individual genius over communal action), but in the grand sweep of history, it is the culmination of the medieval world, a world where faith and reason deeply interpenetrate, where the local, the mythical, and the remembered are as much a part of reality as the universal, the textual, and the authoritarian. The middle ages were a profound syntheses of all these things -- and that synthesis got difficult as the human, the natural, the ingenius came more and more alive. The Renaissance popes, for all their need of reform, were right to let the Renaissance happen, and to embrace it.

The disaster begins, I believe, when the Tridentine reformers attacked the Renaissance, destroyed the medieval, and launched the Church too quickly into the antagonism of the modern world. This was a disaster not only for the Church, but even more for the secular world -- as the Church increasingly stood against genius and creativity, genius and creativity went outside the Church, creating those horrible deformities: Hobbes, Locke, Kant . . . . I will say more. . . .

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Active Participation

Lots has been said about "active participation" at Mass, arguably one of the prime goals of the liturgical renewal of Vatican II. It is by now trite to point out that "active" does not mean activity: lectoring, ushering, extraordinary-ministering, foot washing, hand holding, etc. So what follows should be a nice restatement (or prestatement) of what is obvious to everyone.

Today I flipped open Divine Intimacy, the pre-Conciliar classic of Carmelite spirituality. The first words I read (the first I've ever read from this classic) were these on "Participating in Holy Mass":
The encyclical Mediator Dei [Pius XII on the liturgy, 1947] exhorts all the faithful to "participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, not passively, carelessly, and with distractions, but with such ardor and fervor that we shall be closely associated with the High Priest." It is not enough to be present at Mass; we must take part, "participate" in it. In Holy Mass, Jesus continues to sacrifice Himself for us, and to offer Himself to His Father, in order to obtain divine blessings for us. It is true that Jesus offers Himself through the ministry of the priest, but the priest makes the offering in the name of all the faithful, and they, in union with him . . . . This means that the faithful also are invited to offer the divine Victim with the priest. . . . On Calvary, Mary did not take a passive part in the Passion of her Son; she united herself with his intentions, and offered Him to the Father. In the same way, when we are present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we, too, can offer the Father the divine Victim who is ours, because He offered and immolated Himself for all of us.
That is active participation: like Mary at the Cross, involved.

(Incidentally, this is also maybe a corrective to the undo, almost substitutionary, passivity of St. Faustina's chaplet. "For the sake of his sorrowful passion," sure, but only to the extent that we are penetrated by it.)