Wednesday, August 26, 2009

End of Summer Doldrums

I have been suffering through a bit of the summer doldrums of late, without much to say of any great interest. That is certainly reflected on this blog, where my last 2 posts have dealt with our own radical cleric/presidential huckster (Mike Huckabee) and a football player, of all things. Luckily, others have written of more substantial fare. A sampling of recent items of interest by bloggers I consistently enjoy are linked following.

Wendell Berry

Owen continues to post the poetry of Wendell Berry, which I find to be simply amazing. I particularly enjoyed the one from from 21 August, ending with these lines:

Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away

Father Stephen on "The Agents of Change"

from Glory to God, here.

We see ourselves as the agents of change – or responsible for the disasters that litter our lives. Those who “succeed” imagine that they are the masters of their fate, or, perhaps the ones who responsibly “chose” God.

For the weak, the addict, the genetically impaired, the myth of choice and the power of freedom are often experienced as a merciless taunt. We not only fail – it is judged that we fail because we have not willed to succeed. Our weakness becomes a curse, while the blessed enjoy their prosperity and their health. Choice is a myth believed best by the young. Old age almost invariably makes a mockery of its boasts.

Father Stephen on "What's the Point?"

from Glory to God, here.

This, I believe, is the great witness of Christianity in the modern world. The challenge will not likely be between Christianity and atheism – but between Christianity-as-true-belief-in-God and Christianity-as-a-religious-option-for-secularists. The latter makes no difference for it is little more than a lifestyle option. It has no point.

Europe vs. America

Rod Dreher raises some interesting questions in his comparison of western Europe with the U.S., here. He links to several recent articles addressing misconceptions Americans and Europeans have of the other, mainly in terms of quality of life issues. Rod highlights one reader who takes him to task a bit:

But an American who thinks continental Western Europeans live better than Americans...I have to say that beautiful architecture and well-kept center cities have little or nothing to do with it. What impresses me about social democratic Europe are 1) universal and effective virtually cost-free health care, 2) the belief that business has social duties (and not, as here in the US, the option of philanthropy) and that the maximization of shareholder value is not something that can be pursued at any price, 3) the right to a month's paid vacation, the absence of which, I would argue, has been profoundly destructive in the US and created the frenetic consumerism that 'stands in' for leisure for people who do not enjoy what they do --- as most people do not and for good reason!, 4) much superior and much cheaper child care, and, lastly, 5) efficient, clean public rail and light rail transport within and in between cities.

Rod responds, and raises a crucial consideration:

Even so, I think the Europeans...have a better quality of life than we do, though we have a better "quantity" of life....In most respects, I think I'd feel more at home in Europe...but nothing matters more to me as a father than to raise children to be faithful to our religion, and I worry that living in Europe would make that substantially more difficult than here in my part of the US. What does it profit a man if his children gain baguettes, but lose their souls? (I'm exaggerating, but you see my point).

Patrick Deneen, in "What I Saw in Europe," here, writes favorable of his recent stay in Bavaria. He finds much resilience in western European to counter their cultural doomsayers:

It is a way of life, an art of living, that I think will be here recognizable still many hundreds of years yet, long after our reckless American "lifestyle" has passed from existence.

The comments are particularly insightful, as well. A Finnish commentor makes this observation of we Americans, finding us long on flag-waving, but with little real depth to our "National Feeling":

Comparing to what I perceive in the U.S. there's however much more of feeling of active responsibility for one's neighborhood, one's town, one's village or region - and for its inhabitants. My conclusion about America is that the National Feeling seems to start with the flag and the constitution and the outer borders of the United States, but doesn't have enough power to reach to the neighborhood one lives in.

And concerning European doomsaying, one of the better recent works of that genre is reviewed here. With a nod to Burke, Christopher Caldwell entitles his recent book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Obviously, the author references the burgeoning demographic time bomb of Western Europe's Muslim immigrant community. He sees significant differences between this development, and say, immigration issues in this country.

Though he's at pains to point out that most Americans oppose continued large-scale immigration into this country, Caldwell also argues that the issues raised by the mass movement of Muslims into Europe are nothing like those connected to mostly Latino migration into the United States. Latinos, he writes, simply speak another European language and bring with them a culture "that is like the American working-class white culture of 40 years ago. It is perfectly intelligible to any American who has ever had a conversation about the past with their parents. . . . [I]t requires no fundamental reform of American cultural practices or institutions. On balance, it may strengthen them."

And like most who immerse themselves in these demographic statistics that point to an increasingly child-free Western Europe, Caldwell finds that the battle is already lost.

As a good Burkean, Caldwell believes in what the great man called "prejudices," which is to say the unspoken authority of tradition, habit, family and shared cultural predilections. In that sense, he believes the clash of civilizations already has been lost in Europe. He also believes that its native peoples must now choose between what Powell called "the tragedy" of American-style cultural pluralism or a kind of quasi-Ottoman order in which religious communities essentially are self-governing within national borders.

The reviewer closes, however, with a caveat in which I'm inclined to agree:

History, though, has a way of confounding both Western historical determinism and its not-so-distant intellectual cousin, the resignation of Islamic fatalism.

Father Jonathan on real liberalism

from Second Terrace, here.

Yes, I am biased toward the Byzantine society. It has had no equal, not even the "high Middle Ages," about which Belloc and GK rhapsodize. And what we hold as the great achievements of that society – let alone its military and artistic skill – is its humane-ness … even what we sloppily and inaccurately call its "liberalism."

Father Jonathan on LaHayean silliness

from Second Terrace, here.

Just to be clear, I will say outright that there is no such thing as the Rapture. The sudden disappearance of Christians from the world is an escapist fantasy that itself is a product of pride, fear, and a loutish rejection of Tradition. The Rapture mare's nest has more to do with the gnostic romanticism of the mid-1800's than with Scriptural exegesis: a 14-year-old pubescent female invented the "doctrine of the secret rapture" in an 1830 enthusiasm-spectacle in England presided over by Rev. Edward Irving (read about it here if you want).

Orthodox Christianity never shies away from entering into Tribulation – and there have been many of those throughout time. At the beginning of today's Gospel (Matthew 24.13-28), our Lord says "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." No one who puts his faith in escape-hatch Rapture theory has a faith that will enable him to endure to the end. A Christianity that does not produce Saints and Saints who can become Martyrs at any moment in history is not Christianity.

Daniel Larison

Why is our Russia Policy so Foolish?, here.

For some time, I have assumed that our Russia policy is so insane because we remain mired in Cold War-era suspicions and hostilities, but I am seeing now that this was not right. To a great degree, our Russia policy is so maddeningly foolish and misguided because our policymakers remain stuck in the immediate post-Cold War period. This is very similar to the way many Iraq war advocates were so certain (or so naive) in their conviction that democratization in the Near East would succeed just as it had in central and eastern Europe in the late ’80s and early ’90s. These represent two colossal errors that a large part of our political and policy establishment have made in the last decade, and both stem from incorrectly applying the lessons of the collapse of communism to entirely new and different situations.

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