1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Glenn Beck, Nihilist

If you're like me, when you hear "nihilist" you think of someone like Friedrich Nietzsche (as a dapper young man, below), not a radio personality such as Glenn Beck.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/be/1864c.jpg/175px-1864c.jpgBut today I thought of Mr. Beck as deeply nihilistic when I listened to his radio show. I confess to a certain fascination in listening to his show. He puts me in a bit of trance actually, and on some commutes, that's nice.

What's not nice is nihilism.  Without being overly pedantic, nihilism is the philosophical (and religious) conclusion that everything is, in the final analysis, meaningless. Meaningless because there is no substance to reality; only transitory impressions and bodies that carry them, and then they all fade to black.

Atheism isn't really the main point (though it certainly implies atheism and an atheist would need to struggle mightyly not to view reality nihilistically.

Perhaps a film clip would help. Lacking that, there is a bit of brilliant dialogue: In Signs, Mel Gibson's Father Hess (how's that for a pair of opposites!) has concluded that "There is no one watching out for us; we are all on our own."

Life, death, love, beauty, justice, goodness and desire all absurd and destined to die with our deaths. Cheers!

Mr. Beck's Nihilism.

Now I don't know exactly Glenn Beck's religion or particular denominational flavor, but functional nihilism is certainly compatible with a belief in God. Functional nihilism is similar to Pelagianism in the moral life: Jesus is an example for us, but we must struggle mightily (and alone!) to perfect ourselves. Beck seems to takes this view and transpose it to the social and political order.

The nothingness in Mr. Beck's world is indicated by the word "we."
  • We must do this.
  • We must join him now to do that.
  • If we don't do something now, what-have-you will happen.
I get exhausted just listening to him. I'm gratified that Mr. Beck's perspective is not, "It's all about me," but all this talk about we and us is a little ridiculous. Our President habitually slips into the egotistical "I" more often than commentators can count, but the less-than-royal We of Mr. Beck contains the same kind of presumption and encourages a kind of group think that is very unattractive.

Being, not being busy.

Albert Borgmann in Holding on to Reality notes that hyperactivity and sullenness go hand-in-hand. Just watch a teenager after playing 12 hours of Halo or somesuch. Busyness is not just for teens and the emptiness that drives busyness is pandemic in our culture today.

At the heart of emptiness lies nihilism: the conclusion that the alternatives are perpetual stimulation or despair from the yawing abyss inside.  The wonder of nihilism is that one can be infected and not even realize it.

Fortunately or not, the truth is that we (there I go!) can't save ourselves, and we can't give ourselves life. Sorry, Mr. Beck, something deeper is at the heart of reality. When we pay attention to that we become fruitful.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Blue Like Jazz

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-spIK-CkHWDc/TWCQyzy7pzI/AAAAAAAAFPk/Zq6XrwTese4/s1600/leftbehind1.jpgIf you're like me, every time you hear "Christian movie," you reach for a jug of Pepto-Bismol (and maybe some holy water, for good measure). 

With rare exception, most are deplorable. Christ is not glorified, but dare I say, horrified.

If you get the DVD of Blue Like Jazz, you may want to fast forward through the trailers. They are "Exhibit 'A'" of horrendous "Christian" movies.

Thus my expectations were very low when watched Blue Like Jazz, but I was pleasantly surprised. It did what the stereotypical Christian movie can't quite get itself to ever do: stay close to human experience. 
 
You know what I mean: the Christian film that begins with a premise of what life ought to be "from a biblical perspective" (does the Bible have eyes?) and then simply transposes this ideology into the realm of dialogue and wooden acting.
Granted, having good intentions and thinking this is enough to make a good film is not the folly of just Christians (but it seems to "help"): Freedom Writers nearly drove me to violence.
 
Blue Like Jazz does something that is rarely recognized in film (or anywhere else in popular culture). It acknowledges the failure of Christians but insists upon the power of Christ. Now that sounds all pious, doesn't it? But what I mean is that it puts on display evangelical (well, Southern Baptist) absurdities, but in so doing it does not dismiss the religious questions at the heart of religion (the questions of Southern Baptists, too!). 
 
The film suggests that scandal does not dispense one from seeking out the meaning of life.
 
Donny's struggle is any thinking person's struggle: how do I reconcile the disproportion between who Christ is and the radical deficiencies of Christians? The film seems to answer it by saying, You don't. That is, the mystery of sin and evil are not problems to be solved, but are mysteries at the depths of each of our hearts.
 
Living as if God doesn't exist, doesn't solve the problem of sin and evil. As the saying goes, "Where ever you go, there you are."

The film touches upon the themes of scandal, friendship, higher education and meaning. A perfect film? No. But certainly one that can be enjoyed and re-watched. No Pepto-Bismol required.

http://www.reed.edu/reed_magazine/sallyportal/assets/images/BLJ_pope_library.jpg


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

I Dreamt of Jello

I know what you're thinking: "No way! Too far!"

http://rockthecam.de/wp-content/gallery/jello-biafra-radio-onda-20090827/jello-biafra-radio-onda-20090827-10.jpg They say that the raw material for one's dreams comes from everyday experience.

The night before I watched a bit too much of Jello, Ice-T and others on an Oprah episode from way back.

Jello was there with a vengeance in my dreams that night.

I knew it was a dream because Jello was listening to me.

We were at a bar and I was telling him how I credited him with part of my return to Christianity -- Catholicism in particular.

He took it really well.

I thought then (the late 1980s) and still stand by it: punk was asking the right kinds of questions. Sure, the questions generally don't ascend beyond the sociological, but still, in many ways DK was on the right track.


Here's but one example (on the nature of work): "Soup is Good Food"* treats the nature of work and the evils of treating people as disposable. It's a great song, but what's missing? Well, in a word or two: hope, transcendence, meaning. The negative is there (which is not nothing -- in an age where Original Sin is vilified or ignored), but what is the "ought" that ought to be there?

That's why punk ultimately fails. One needs not perpetual cheerfulness but reality. Neither optimism nor unbridled pessimism, but simply the whole truth of the human condition.

He will surely laugh and scoff, but I pray for Jello.

*CAUTION: The song has some naughty words.





Sunday, May 05, 2013

Deliver Us from "Freedom Writers"

http://content.internetvideoarchive.com/content/photos/849/035693_3.jpg Take the Lead
I went into this movie thinking it would be "pious claptrap" about the saintly teacher who selflessly gives of himself to save beleaguered inner city youth. Ugh, another Freedom Writers?, I thought. Or perhaps a film about a cranky old guy who receives a revelation from today's youth in which he ditches his ways for the "wisdom" of youngsters.   
Films of either genre make my skin crawl.

On the contrary! Although it has some "Oh, come on!" moments (alleged spontaneous dance moments that have been obviously choreographed to death, for example), Take the Lead has an amazing performance by Antonio Banderas who is willing to say (and live out the ideal), "Everyone is entitled to a little culture" (which, from his tradition is...ballroom dancing!).
Not only is "white privilege" not mocked nor scorned, but it is suggested that the ancient things just might have a role in education today. Utterly refreshing.

This film is a meditation on the evocative power of beauty, grace and tradition. Yes, you'll have to suffer from a bit of hip hop (or enjoy it immensely, as I don't).

Wow, perhaps adults do have something of value to pass on; something that does not depend on our effort to make everything "relevant" to kids. Some things, the things of the heart, are always and everywhere relevant for those with a beating heart and an open mind.
Summary: somewhat like Stand and Deliver meets Strictly Ballroom.

In praise of ambiguity

It's a curious thing: I'm listening to some music I haven't listened to for years. The curious thing is that what "turned me off" years ago is precisely why I find it so interesting now.

Here's an example from Daniel Amos' album Kalhoun.

(Yes, literate reader, the lyrics are not that ambiguous, but for me, ascending the heights of enlightenment are arduous!)

But this ambiguity also applies to bands like U2, The Call, The 77s and others. It opens a space, a human space.

It is perhaps that becoming an adult means the refusal of fundamentalism? Perhaps.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Holy Legion of Diana Moon Glampers

I came across an article in First Things that lamented the lack of substantive guidance concerning film found on the American bishops' website. For some reason this got me thinking of Diana Moon Glampers (the portly, matronly villain in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron").

This story is common in public secondary schools here in the States, but in case you've forgotten the tale, here's the climax:

Harrison placed his big hands on the girl’s tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.  And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it.

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling.

They kissed it.

And then, neutralizing gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.
 Poor Ms. Glampers! As in her (future) day as today, people so often want the end without a messy means. In this story "we the people" want absolute equality and the enforcement mechanism is a horror.

The Legion of Deceny had the best of intentions: filth ran rampant in film (for the 20s and 30s, that is) and they created a simple rating system that was meant to protect pious hearts, minds and eyes from temptation. What has always made me curious about this approach is the censor (or "guidance counselor" if you prefer): how is he protected from the filth? Is he like an exorcist who has a designated role in which he gets special protection? In other words, doesn't the censor endanger his own soul?

In this I'm reminded of a friend who recounts that the private Christian school she went to had a cheer-leading squad. After each game, the principal and assistant principal (two white guys) would review footage of the girls performance to ensure that their short dresses were of appropriate length as they "reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun." Yeah, protecting everyone's morals, I'm sure.
 
Censors of the soul (and body) are alive if not well. For all I know, they are legion.

Permission granted 

In film, fiction and other areas of creative expression, some look for someone else's permission to view or read certain works. I can sympathize with this at one level: in our hyperactive age, it seems that one simply doesn't have the time to judge for oneself. Alas, the price of the shortcut (trusting in the wisdom of the impeccably safe expert) is alienation. But wait, there's more: you also get absolution from responsibility engaging the world with all of its ambiguity. Disengagement is magically transformed into piety and virtue. I call that a bargain.

Without a willingness to take risks, it is impossible to mature. And maturing is simply the fruit of being edcuated - continually. I have had parents complain that the text I assigned or the film I showed was scandalous or too suggestive or simply "too confusing" for their son or daughter. I think they are often being a bit disengenous when they say this. For all I know, it's true: their son or daughter doesn't "get it," but the punchline is that neither does mom or dad. That's the real problem: mal-educated parents who are unwilling to try to understand.

I should note that in none of these cases did the works appeal to prurient interests nor did they contain an excess of nudity or gratuitous violence. I'm very circumspect in what I share with students.

So, what's going on here? Am I watching the "dumbing down of America" before my eyes?

My pet theory is that there are a lot of good, faithful Catholics who simply want to be spared the drama of interpretation. This is where the censors or gurus or experts come in: they certify content for us. Their slogan could be, "We think so you don't have to!"

T.S. Eliot warns of this pathology:

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good (Choruses from "The Rock").
I don't think that Catholics in America are so obtuse that we need a revitalized Legion of Decency (such travesties can be entrusted to our evangelical friends!); what we need to do is to begin educating ourselves. In no little part, this is why the Church exists for us.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Am I wrong? Am I wrong?! ("No, Walter, you're not wrong, you're just an ...")

Are today's fashions something new? Nah, just recycled from back in the day. Check it: fashun

Finding Emo OR "Have you no sense of deceny, sir?"



This is perhaps the kind of thing one might expect on The Phil Donahue Show (my generation) or Oprah Winfrey or what have you. To see our President use his office as a platform for such emotional pandering is sickening.

Here's the segment.

I don't blame Mrs. Wheeler or her husband. If such evil befell me and mine, I'm sure I want to do whatever I thought might be constructive. Nevertheless.

The basis for political discourse is not "emotionality" (see Sergeant Lincoln Osirus/Kirk Lazarus/Robert Downey, Jr.) but a reasoned conversation. This is precisely the kind of excess of the passions that Socrates feared. In his trial (see "The Apology" by Plato) he refused to bring in his family as part of his defense. He said that to do so would be to distort Justice. He wouldn't pander.

Obviously, not even the "Narcissist-in-Chief" equates himself with Socrates, but he could get a clue from him. If emotionality is what you got, you ain't got much.

It would be constructive to use research, statistics and data in the gun control debate, but we'll see continue to see overblown rhetoric on both sides.

Bedtime for Democracy.

P.S. 

http://media.boingboing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Bedtime..DemocracyReag.50-300x235.jpg

Love him or hate him, gotta LOVE Jello's wry sense of humor

Sunday, April 14, 2013

That which we (good Catholics) don't speak of

In his fascinating study of violence, scripture and culture, Gil Bailie notes that "myth" is related a word that means silence or shut up (see Violence Unveiled). Thus in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, the boogeymen become "Those We Don't Speak Of."  In Catholic circles there are some things we don't speak of. Here's a short list of vexation (emendations and footnotes could certainly be added):
  1. Good intentions are enough (TWDSO: the results are deplorable - in art, music and most every form of cultural engagement). Question: Where are our Walker Percys, Flannery O'Connors and Graham Greenes? Answer: Nowhere to be seen on the cultural stage.
  2. We no longer have an Index of Forbidden Books (TWDSO: we have a cramped version of Catholic orthodoxy that insists only certain authors ought to read; put differently, we [the laity] lack the critical skills to discern good from bad so we outsource our responsibility to "safe" sources).
  3. Social justice has made great strides (TWDSO: we underpay lay church workers and justify it with recourse to a spiritualized justification). Ah, yes, Who Would Jesus Exploit? Hello! The social teaching of the Church applies to the Church herself. Duh!
  4. Education is something we do to / for others (TWDSO: we think we have the answers and that we can thus convert them [da pagans], missing the need for introspection -- not to speak of motes and planks!). How many Catholic institutions are merely secular with Jesus as window dressing? Christ should inform every aspect of our teaching and evangelization efforts. Yet we often revert to a kind of Protestant evangelism (tell about Jesus and let Jesus extract them out of the world) versus authentic evangelization (education of the whole person, in his/her circumstances in life and the tools to be salt and light). I need it, you need it, we all need it.
  5. Scandal is everywhere (TWDSO: much truth is left unsaid and we end up preaching only to "the choir."). The question becomes, "Is it safe?" (a la Marathon Man!) not "Is it true?"
Well, that at least is a start.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fairly imbalanced: the Denver Post on gun control



http://www.pensitoreview.com/Wordpress/wp-content/themes/mimbo2.2/images/still-fox-news-idocracy.jpg Dear Editor,

One continually finds reference to the ominous "gun lobby" in the pages of the Denver Post, but not much is said about the anti-gun lobby. I've wondered why. Then I opened today's op-ed pages and found what might be the explanation: the anti-gun lobby is you, Denver Post. Well, if you are not the anti-gun lobby, you are definitely a key and influential sympathizer.

How else does one explain two op-ed pieces, three letters to the editor and two cartoons excoriating, mocking and demonizing the pro-gun side against one sly pro-gun letter?* 1500 words to a mere 80. This betokens not only advocacy for gun prohibition (yeah, that worked real good before; even “better” than the War on Drugs) but a deep-seated fear. This is America, so you can advocate for whatever you want but hysteria is no way to run a newspaper. Coloradans of all political persuasions deserve better.

*Note: You can find all of the anti-gun pieces on the Denver Post website, but here's a sample.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Political Pitfalls

I've recently becoming engaged in writing my senators and congresspeople (state and federal) over proposed new laws concerning firearms. I'm a bit scandalized that it was this issue that awoke me from my political slumbers, but perhaps we can't choose what will serve as a spark to get us moving. In the process of listening to right and left debate the issue, and watching myself become involved, it has become clear that both sides not only reduce the issue to opposing soundbites, but also reduce the humanity of the opposition.

Here in Colorado, one agitated pro-gun guy left a nasty voice-mail for a female African American representative in which he hoped for her violent demise; on a national lefty talk show, Randi Rhodes opined that gun manufacturers don't care how many innocent people die by the abuse of their product as long as they make a profit.

Emotions are a wonderful thing. They can draw us closer to reality (think of how love allows one to better see the beloved). They can also have the opposite effect: they can occlude reality and make us disconnected from others.

Party of God?

When it came to political activism, Jesus never met people's expectations. In Jesus' day as in our own, there were plenty of “leaders” who had all the answers but misconstrued the questions. In St. Mark's gospel we read of this example:

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and of the Herodians; that they should catch him in his words. Who coming, say to him: Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and carest not for any man; for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar; or shall we not give it? Who knowing their wiliness, saith to them: Why tempt you me? bring me a penny that I may see it. And they brought it him. And he saith to them: Whose is this image and inscription? They say to him, Caesar' s. And Jesus answering, said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar' s, and to God the things that are God' s. And they marvelled at him.

Jesus doesn't give them an answer and yet He does give them the opportunity to face the question in the right way.

In America today, there is no lack of answers, but there is an abysmal absence of thoughtful questions. Democrats and Republicans count of the people's ignorance and sloth to win votes and the media gleefully repackages these political reductions of reality.

From gun-control to education to “sexual health,” seemingly everyone is willing to demonize the opposition and reduce debate to a shouting match. In such an environment, one could retreat to a cozy apolitical ghetto. Or one could decide to be a protagonist.

The recovery of the human

Antagonists and antagonisms are never lacking. The question is not really What would Jesus do? but How do I face the whole of reality? (and this includes the political). This is a personal work that cannot be placed on the shoulders of others – no matter how correct we view their positions. Catholics in America need fewer gurus, not more. Ours is an age of alleged experts and this applies to the ecclesial and secular environments. This does not mean that others cannot be witnesses or guides for us; it simply means we need to take seriously the personal responsibility that being Christian is.

Perhaps what Catholics can bring into the public square is not necessarily better answers, but to see and bear witness to the questions that lie at the heart of our political dis-ease. Of the need for this, one can simply think of how one views the opposition (of whatever sort): are they even human?

Getting back to my vexation over the gun-control issue above, I can assure you that I've had moments of doubt about the humanity of political opponents. In short, it's been quite easy to shift from seeing them as folks made in the image and likeness of God to viewing them as hostile matriarchs and metrosexuals trying to “take ma guns away from me.” But this way of thinking is useless.

For real political progress to occur in America, there needs to be acknowledgment of our human needs and our solidarity with others, regardless of party or politics.

Fr. Julián Carrón recently noted that in Europe politicians are “more defined by party alignments than by self-awareness of their ecclesial experience and the desire for the common good” (La Repubblica, 10 April 2013). Our recent national election bears out that this is true not only for politicians, but for the electorate as well.

We don't need more political parties, but we do need to attend to what is most human in ourselves and in others.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

In defense of the NRA

On the op-ed pages of the Denver Post, the National Rifle Association has become the organization that seemingly everyone loves to hate. Never mind the fact that the NRA is the organization doing the most good in terms of firearms education, safety and training. Ask most any law enforcement officer and chances are that she was trained by an NRA-certified instructor.

 http://www.pulpless.com/images/NRA_Basic_Marksmanship_09141991.jpg


Overlooked in all the NRA-bashing of late is the history of the organization (readily available on their website and from independent sources as well). Most folks don't know that the NRA has supported the regulation of machine guns, tighter restrictions on the importation of some arms and the “insta-check” system now used by federally licensed firearms dealers.

If the NRA seems intransigent concerning new gun laws it may simply be that they have reached the conclusion that (1) we have enough reasonable gun laws right now and (2) that the goal of those pushing for new laws is unilateral disarmament.

Mental defectives, drug addicts and felons are already prohibited from purchasing firearms. These prohibitions did not prevent either James “Bad Hair” Holmes or Adam Lanza from committing their atrocities, nor are new restrictions going to prevent murderous mayhem. We ought to be doing our utmost to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands, but our politicians seems bent on simply passing laws that give the appearance of doing something. As Governor Hickenlooper recently said, none of the measures take anyone's guns away. So, what's the point?

The point is to move slowly toward disarmament. Not for everyone, of course. Just we the people. Cops, soldiers and criminals will keep their guns (as two out of three should). One might say, “Well, that's OK because the police are there to protect me.” But that's inaccurate. The police are responsible for community safety in general, not your personal protection. Unless you are rich or important enough to rate a bodyguard, you are on your own.

The NRA sees what the gun prohibitionists themselves can't quite admit: they want all guns out of civilian hands. If you doubt this, pay attention to their reaction anytime some madman commits an atrocity: if he uses a military-style weapon, these need to be banned; if a high capacity magazine, these need tighter regulation.

Where does it stop with the anti-gunners? Supposing that every type of firearm except single shot .22 caliber rifles were banned, would it stop there? No, for all it would take is some future pyscho to commit a massacre with his .22 and we'd be hearing about the “22 loophole” or some such thing.

In fact, if one takes the mission statement of the Brady Center at face value, one would conclude that their goal is the disappearance of all firearms in the USA:

“We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.” No gun violence means no guns, period.

The Brady crew knows that gun violence is non-preventable to one degree or another (or they are completely delusional). Utopian fantasies to the contrary notwithstanding, gun violence will (as will other forms of violence) always be with us.

It sounds good, this freedom from gun violence, but the simple truth is that it cannot be delivered. What can be delivered is the unilateral disarmament of civilians. For the life of me I don't know how the ACLU ended up on the wrong side of this debate, so that leaves the NRA. Yes, the same NRA that is at times shrill and hyperbolic. Yet looking at the alternatives, the NRA seems most sane to me. That's why I re-joined the NRA: in a society swimming in guns, the unilateral disarmament of civilians is not only wrong, it's downright wicked.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Violent Grace: Flannery O'Connor and the Nature of Art

The following is the "script" followed for the Crossroads Cultural Center presentation, "A Violent Grace: Flannery O'Connor and the Nature of Art" on Friday, March 15, 2013 at the Knights of Columbus Hall (Council #539) in Denver.
Presenters included David Hazen and Matt & Teresa McGuiness
DAVID: Prologue: (On Flannery O'Connor's utter lack of Political Correctness.) In what follows, you may be offended. There are racial slurs, violence against women, violence against men and domestic abuse. In this regard, please listen carefully to the words of Miss O'Connor herself:
What leads the writer to his salvation may lead the reader into sin. (The Church of the Fiction Writer 810)
You've been warned.
I. A SHOCKING INTRODUCTION
A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
MATT (Concise explanation of the story thus far): The Grandmother is traveling with her son and his family. The Grandmother gets them lost and causes an accident. They are set upon by three escaped convicts headed up by a fellar who calls himself The Misfit.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
NARRATOR: Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying,
GRANDMOTHER: "Jesus. Jesus."
NARRATOR: Meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing. As if he agreed, The Misfit said,
MISFIT: "Yes'm, Jesus thown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course, they never shown me my papers. That's why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right. I call myself The Misfit because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment."
NARRATOR: There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report.
MISFIT: "Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain't punished at all?"
GRANDMOTHER: "Jesus! you've got good blood! I know you wouldn't shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I'll give you all the money I've got!"
NARRATOR: Looking beyond her far into the woods, The Misfit said,
MISFIT: "Lady, there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip."
NARRATOR: There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called out for her son as if her heart would break,
GRANDMOTHER: "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!"
THE MISFIT: "Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn't have done it. He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness."
NARRATOR: The Misfit's voice had become almost a snarl.
GRANDMOTHER: "Maybe He didn't raise the dead"
NARRATOR: The old lady mumbled. She didn't know what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her
MISFIT: "I wasn't there so I can't say He didn't, I wisht I had of been there."
NARRATOR: As The Misfit said this he hit the ground with his fist.
MISFIT: "It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady, if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now."
NARRATOR: His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured,
GRANDMOTHER: "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children !"
NARRATOR: She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to clean them.
Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.
Without his glasses, The Misfit's eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking.
MISFIT: "Take her off and thow her where you thown the others"
NARRATOR: The Misfit picked up a cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.
"She was a talker, wasn't she?" Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.
MISFIT: "She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."
NARRATOR: "Some fun!" Bobby Lee said.
MISFIT: "Shut up, Bobby Lee. It's no real pleasure in life."
COMMENTARY: Between GM & DP
MATT: The first time I read this story I was confused but fascinated.
Q. Who out there has read a Flannery O'Connor story?
One way to MISREAD Flannery O'Connor is to stay on the surface. In a letter of 1961, Miss O'Connor pointed out the following to a puzzled reader:
DAVID:
This story [“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”] is, of course, not meant to be realistic in the sense that it portrays the everyday doings of people in Georgia. It is stylized and and its conventions are comic even though its meaning is serious” (LOA, p. 1148).
MATT: On behalf of Crossroads Cultural Center, Aggiornamento and the Knight's of Columbus Council #539, we welcome you to A Violent Grace: Flannery O'Connor and the Nature of Art.

Crossroads Cultural Center was established in New York in 2004 by a few members of Communion and Liberation, the international movement in the Roman Catholic Church that was founded in Italy in 1954 by Msgr. Luigi Giussani. These friends shared an interest in the relationship between religion and culture, more specifically on the ways in which Christianity, by revealing the ultimate meaning of reality, gives new impulse to the human desire for knowledge.

Our goal is to offer opportunities for education, making it possible to look with openness, curiosity, and critical judgment at every aspect of reality. Our ideals are summed up by the suggestion of Saint Paul "Test everything; retain what is good."

In our experience, the mark of a Christian culture is that it fosters interest in the full spectrum of reality, rather than focusing on a predetermined set of “religious” issues.

A sign of its authenticity is the ability, or at least the desire, to encounter people from all walks of life, and to look for and appreciate everything that is true, good, and worthwhile in the various expressions of human life. These expressions include science, the arts, politics, journalism and the media, theology, history, economy, sociology, and education. This openness and desire is the fruit of the education received in the Roman Catholic Church.

Crossroads currently operates in New York, Washington (DC), New Bedford (MA), Houston, Chicago, and Denver!

This is Teresa McGuiness, David Hazen and I'm Matt McGuiness. Together we want to give you a very short introduction to Flannery O'Connor.

Our task tonight is a bit overwhelming. We have an hour to say something profound and interesting about a woman who is one of the top ten writers of the 20th century. In light of the sheer impossibility of our task, I was inspired by something Flannery wrote in this regard:

DAVID:
The writer [or speaker!] learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what is. What is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them” (The Church and the Fiction Writer)

MATT: Within our limited time, we have decided to give you as much of Miss O'Connor as possible and only as much of ourselves as seems necessary. Our selections come from three of her short stories: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “The Displaced Person” and “Revelation.”

Three things about art struck me as I went back and re-read these stories:

1. Art should mostly SHOW not tell (thus art is not pedantic)

2. Art reveals us to ourselves and helps to explain our place in the Cosmos (art is not indifferent to reality)

3. Art, good art, is open to multiple interpretations (so while art can sometimes seem simple, it contains an inner depth or complexity)

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, all three of these artistic factors are at work in O'Connor's “Good Man.”

The next selection is from “The Displaced Person.” The protagonist is a Polish refugee who has survived World War II and its aftermath and is now working on the McIntryre farm. Unfortunately, Mr. Guizac {GWEE-ZAC} has a strong work ethic and has a bad habit of telling the truth. He excites envy and resentment from everyone on Mrs. McIntyre's farm – black and white, good people and trash alike.

At this point in the story, Mrs. McIntyre has finally worked up her courage and has decided to fire Mr. Guizac.


THE DISPLACED PERSON
DAVID: There was a heavy frost on the ground that made the fields look like the rough backs of sheep; the sun was almost silver and the woods stuck up like dry bristles on the sky line. The countryside seemed to be receding from the little circle of noise around the shed. Mr. Guizac was squatting on the ground beside the small tractor, putting in a part.

TERESA: Mrs. McIntyre hoped to get the fields turned over while he still had thirty days to work for her. The colored boy was standing by with some tools in his hand and Mr. Shortley was under the shed about to get up on the large tractor and back it out. She meant to wait until he and the Negro got out of the way before she began her unpleasant duty. She stood watching Mr. Guizac, stamping her feet on the hard ground, for the cold was climbing like a paralysis up her feet and legs. She had on a heavy black coat and a red head-kerchief with her black hat pulled down on top of it to keep the glare out of her eyes. Under the black brim her face had an abstracted look and once or twice her lips moved silently.

DAVID: Mr. Guizac shouted over the noise of the tractor for the Negro to hand him a screwdriver and when he got it, he turned over on his back on the icy ground and reached up under the machine. She could not see his face, only his feet and legs and trunk sticking impudently out from the side of the tractor. He had on rubber boots that were cracked and splashed with mud. He raised one knee and then lowered it and turned himself slightly.

TERESA: Of all the things she resented about him, she resented most that he hadn't left on his own accord.

DAVID: Mr. Shortley had got on the large tractor and was backing it out from under the shed. He seemed to be warmed by it as if its heat and strength sent impulses up through him that he obeyed instantly. He had headed it toward the small tractor but he braked it on a slight incline and jumped off and turned back toward the shed.

TERESA: Mrs. McIntyre was looking fixedly at Mr. Guizac's legs lying flat on the ground now. She heard the brake on the large tractor slip and, looking up, she saw it move forward, calculating its own path. Later she remembered that she had seen the Negro jump silently out of the way as if a spring in the earth had released him and that she had seen Mr. Shortley turn his head with incredible slowness and stare silently over his shoulder and that she had started to shout to the Displaced Person but that she had not. She had felt her eyes and Mr. Shortley's eyes and the Negro's eyes come together in one look that froze them in collusion forever, and she had heard the little noise the Pole made as the tractor wheel broke his backbone.

DAVID: The two men ran forward to help and she fainted.

COMMENTARY: between DP & Revelation
MATT: What does Miss O'Connor show us in this short extract?
Well, here's one of many things: this is what Original Sin looks like:
TERESA:
[Mrs. McIntyre] heard the brake on the large tractor slip and, looking up, she saw it move forward, calculating its own path. Later she remembered that she had seen the Negro jump silently out of the way as if a spring in the earth had released him and that she had seen Mr. Shortley turn his head with incredible slowness and stare silently over his shoulder and that she had started to shout to the Displaced Person but that she had not. She had felt her eyes and Mr. Shortley's eyes and the Negro's eyes come together in one look that froze them in collusion forever.”
MATT: O'Connor doesn't tell us about evil, she makes us feel it. Ouch.
This brings me to something that may be offensive to some. Broadly speaking, it touches upon religion and the artist. More specifically it has to do with us Catholics and our secret expectations about Catholic artists:

DAVID:

I once received a letter from an old lady in California who informed me that when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will lift up his heart. And it seems her heart had not been lifted up by anything of mine she had read. I think that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up” (Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction).

MATT: Ah, yes, pious platitudes. That's what the people want. Or do we? Perhaps we, the “consumers,” of art need to be educated in the nature of art itself. Art becomes something perverse when it is “fraudulently manipulated” in the name of some higher good. Again, Miss O'Connor:
DAVID:
When fiction is made according to its nature, it should reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete observable reality. If the writer uses his eyes in the real security of his faith, he will be obliged to use them honestly and his sense of mystery and his acceptance of it will be increased. To look at the worst will be for him no more than an act of trust in God; but what is one thing for the writer may be another for the reader. What leads the writer to his salvation may lead the reader into sin” (The Church and the Fiction Writer).
MATT: Thus art (literature included) can serve to educate us. My favorite explanation of what education ought to do, comes from Luigi Giussani who stole it from Josef Jungmann, the Austrian theologian:
Education ought to be an introduction to the whole of reality.” [repeat]
Miss O'Connor surveyed the whole of reality of the human: sin, redemption, human destiny. She affirmed the ultimate positivity of reality in the most grotesque of circumstances.
If we are provoked by an artist, we can begin a journey of verification: Is it true? Is it beautiful? Is it good? This is a path toward maturity if we are willing to admit that cheap piety is not what we seek but reality in all it's depths.
Our final selection is from the last story O'Connor ever wrote. It is entitled “Revelation.” In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” the violence is overt, visible. But in “Revelation,” the obvious violence is short-lived; the real violence is a painful interior struggle.
Mrs. Turpin's revelation is a painful discovery of her place in the Cosmos. Painful though it may be for Mrs. Turpin, there is also humor along the way.




REVELATION
TERESA (Mrs. Turpin before Mary Grace):
The Doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs. Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence.
[As she waited, she occupied] herself with the question of who she would have chosen to be if she couldn't have been herself. If Jesus had said to her before he made her, "There's only two places available for you. You can either be a nigger or white trash," what would she have said? "Please, Jesus, please," she would have said, "Just let me wait until there's another place available," and he would have said, "No, you have to go right now", and I have only those two places so make up your mind." She would have wiggled and squirmed and begged and pleaded but it would have been no use and finally she would have said, "All right, make me a nigger then-but that don't mean a trashy one." And he would have made her a near clean respectable Negro woman, herself but black.
MATT (Mrs. Turpin during/after Mary Grace):
[Sitting next to Mrs. Turpin in the Doctor's waiting room] was a fat girl of eighteen or nineteen [named Mary Grace. She was] scowling into a thick blue book which Mrs. Turpin saw was entitled Human Development. The girl raised her head and directed her scowl at Mrs. Turpin as if she did not like her looks.

[This] ugly girl beside [Mrs. Turpin] cast an eye upward at the clock, smirked, then looked directly at her and smirked again. Then she returned her eyes to her book. [The girl's blue eyes] appeared alternately to smolder and to blaze.
There was no reason the girl should single her out for her ugly looks.
This raw-complexioned girl snapped her teeth together. Her lower lip turned downwards and inside out, revealing the pale pink inside of her mouth. After a second it rolled back up. It was the ugliest face Mrs. Turpin had ever seen anyone make and for a moment she was certain that the girl had made it at her. She was looking at her as if she had known and disliked her all her life-all of Mrs. Turpin's life, it seemed too, not just all the girl's life.
TERESA:
Why, girl, I don't even know you.”
MATT:
Mrs. Turpin said silently.
The girl gripped the book in her lap with white fingers.
All at once the ugly girl turned her lips inside out again. Her eyes were fixed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no mistaking that there was something urgent behind them.
TERESA:
Girl, I haven't done a thing to you!”
MATT:
Mrs. Turpin exclaimed silently. The girl might be confusing her with somebody else.
[Surveying the room,] the girl looked as if she would like to hurl them all through the plate glass window.
Mary Grace made a loud ugly noise through her teeth. The girl's face was almost purple.
[pause]
The book struck [Mrs. Turpin] directly, over her left eye. It struck almost at the same instant that she realized the girl was about to hurl it. Before she could utter a sound, the raw face came crashing across the table toward her, howling. The girl's fingers sank like clamps into the soft flesh of her neck.
[pause]
[Later] Mrs. Turpin's head cleared and her power of motion returned. She leaned forward until she was looking directly into the fierce brilliant eyes [of Mary Grace]. There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition.
TERESA: "What you got to say to me?" ...
MATT:
[Mrs. Turpin] asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation. The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin's.
DAVID:
… “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.” …
MATT:
Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target.
[Soon afterwards, the Turpins went home to their farm. Mrs. Turpin thought and thought and thought]
TERESA:
"I am not a wart hog. From hell."
MATT:
But the denial had no force. The girl's eyes and her words, even the tone of her voice, low but clear, directed only to her, brooked no repudiation. She had been singled out for the message, though there was [white] trash in the room to whom it might justly have been applied. The full force of this fact struck her only now. The message had been given to Ruby Turpin, a respectable, hardworking, church-going woman. The tears dried. Her eyes began to burn instead with wrath.
TERESA:
[low, fierce voice] "What do you send me a message like that for?"
"How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?"
[mad] "Why me? It's no trash around here, black or white, that I haven't given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church.”
"How am I a hog? Exactly how am I like them?"
[getting angrier] "There was plenty of trash there. It didn't have to be me. If you like trash better, go get yourself some trash then. You could have made me trash. Or a nigger. If trash is what you wanted, why didn't you make me trash?"
[sarcastically] "I could quit working and take it easy and be filthy. Lounge about the sidewalks all day drinking root beer. Dip snuff and spit in every puddle and have it all over my face. I could be nasty.”
[now yelling] “Go on! Call me a hog! Call me a hog again. From hell. Call me a wart hog from hell!
MATT:
A final surge of fury shook her and she roared:
TERESA:
[shouting] "Who do you think you are?"
DAVID (Mrs. Turpin's revelation):
The color of everything, field and crimson sky, burned for a moment with a transparent intensity. The question carried over the pasture and across the highway and the cotton field and returned to her clearly, like an answer from beyond the wood.
TERESA: She opened her mouth but no sound came out of it.
DAVID:
At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound.
A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire.
Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.
And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right.
TERESA: She leaned forward to observe them closer.
DAVID:
They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away.
COMMENTARY: after Revelation
MATT: THE DRAMA OF INTERPRETATION: Flannery O'Connor lamented the fact that she like so many artists was not understood. This was not her fault, but, if I may be so bold, our fault. The interpretation of art takes hard work and patience; two things lacking in contemporary culture.
DAVID:
Catholic readers are constantly being offended and scandalized by novels they don’t have the fundamental equipment to read in the first place, and often these are works that are permeated with a Christian spirit (The Church and the Fiction Writer, 811).
I don’t believe you can impose orthodoxy on fiction. I do believe that you can deepen your own orthodoxy by reading if you are not afraid of strange visions... Catholics are much given to the instant answer. Fiction doesn't have any. (The Catholic Novelist in the South, 863).
MATT: Artists have their responsibilities. As artists, it is to stay true to the art form that has called you. Another way to put this is to say: tell the truth.
TRUTHFULNESS – THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE ARTIST:
TERESA:
What the fiction writer will discover, if he discovers anything at all, is that he himself cannot move or mold reality in the interests of abstract truth. The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what is (The Church and the Fiction Writer, 808).
MATT: The artist works with what is given. Not only is there a “given-ness” to pen, ink, paper, clay and metal. His audience is also given to him. Yet the audience too has a responsibility. I know, this may sound strange in our entertainment-driven society!
ATTENTIVENESS – THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE READER (VIEWER):
DAVID:
It is popular to suppose that anyone who can read the telephone book can read a short story or a novel, and it is more than usual to find the attitude among Catholics that since we possess the truth in the Church, we can use this truth directly as an instrument of judgment on any discipline at any time without regard for the nature of that discipline itself.
A FINAL WORD:
TERESA:
When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic I cannot afford to be less than an artist (The Church and the Fiction Writer, 808-9).
Q&A...

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Domesticating Violence?

Ah, Colorado! Where the women are armed and the men are generally well-behaved

 http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site36/2013/0124/20130124__ElPasoCrop~p1.jpg


Should domestic-abusers be disarmed? Most likely. Should the Colorado legislators be in a rush to do it? No. Ill-conceived legislation gets struck down by the courts and then valuable time, money and energy is wasted. Senators ought to know this.

Apparently, Colorado state senator Evie Hudak is too busy and harried to let others think about SB 197. This coverage by the Denver Post is very telling:

If Democrats really wanted to do something about domestic violence, Cadman said, they should lay the bill over until Monday. Then Republicans could work with them on it, he said.

Other Republicans complained of an 18-page amendment Democrats added to the bill on the floor and said there wasn't enough time to digest it.

But Hudak said there was no need for more time. She said the amendment was 18 pages only because it repeated the same language in multiple parts of the bill. The changes to the underlying bill were relatively minor, she said, and involved clarifying things such as how someone in jail would be able to surrender their firearms in domestic-abuse cases.

I'm reminded of a song by that good ol' Canadian leftist, Bruce Cockburn, in "The Trouble with Normal":

Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights / What did they think the politics of panic would invite? / Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first" / But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.
Rest assured, no party is above the "politics of panic," and Evie Hudak is simply trying to ramrod this measure through. The idea of disarming those who have no right to possess a firearm under existing federal law has merit, especially if the confiscation extends to felons and known gang-members (for example) and is rationally enforced.

The authorities know who the felons and gang-members are already; shouldn't they be as much (or more) of a priority for disarmament?  Why are they not included? Perhaps because some Democrats fear the ACLU even more than they do the NRA! Now that's something to ponder. If meaningful law enforcement is difficult, this is no reason not to do it.

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Just say No to the politics of panic. Civil liberties need to be balanced with getting guns out of the hands of the wrong guys (and I do mean guys, mostly). This balancing act takes time. If you're not willing to take the time to do it right, Senator Hudak, one must conclude you're not very serious about the reality of the situation, just serious about political appearances.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Thoughts on gun control (1 of ?)

How not to understand gun violence

In Whit Stillman's Barcelona one finds not only an anti-communism, the failures of promiscuity, and the virtues of friendship, but it also offers this reflection:

Spaniard: You can't say Americans are not more violent than other people?
American: No!
Spaniard: All those people killed in shootings in America?
American: Shootings. That doesn't mean Americans are more violent than other people. We're just better shots.

Here in Colorado, Democratic lawmakers would seem to competing with Mr. Stillman's comedy while lacking his insight and sense of irony. There is something profoundly true in what the American in the quotation above doesn't quite get around to saying: the correlation between violence and guns is something mysterious. It is surely not the case that firearms training (e.g., marksmanship) increases gun violence, but it is also not the case that we understand the connection between guns and violence. Violence comes from our sinful nature and anyone who thinks he understands that is a fool or a saint.

The four pieces of legislation proposed in the Colorado House do nothing to reduce the criminal and/or violent use of firearms but they give the appearance of concerned legislators “doing something.” In this they are serving as stereotypical examples of government bureaucrats who look busy but accomplish nothing.

Colorado's freaky foursome

Here's a quick summary of each of the four bills (they may be law by the time you read this).

House Bills 1228 and 1229 do two things: (1) mandate so-called universal background checks and (2) charge the checkee a fee for being investigated. At one level, part of this makes sense, on another, its frivolous and insulting. It is already illegal to knowingly transfer a firearm to a felon or other person barred from ownership/possession of a firearm. I have moral certainty about a host of friends, to whom I could transfer a firearm; they are neither felons nor loons. Why this bureaucratic mandate to verify what I already know (to wit: Uncle Larry is not a felon nor a barking lunatic?).

There are good intentions here, but I think appealing to people's sense of civic duty via public service announcements would be more effective. Ads that had some slogan such as "When in doubt, don't sell." Or how about a non-punitive way of encouraging background checks, such as a fee-less background check and a Starbucks gift card. Can't we be a little creative here? Those crackheads (the non-Starbucks variety, that is) who are trading guns for drugs are breaking existing law.

And the fee? A silly hoop meant to discourage a perfectly legal activity.

HB 1224 limits magazine capacity to 15 rounds (cartridges). Look, I realize Hollywood does a very poor job of portraying the reality of firearms and their limitations (for example, Rambo and his infinite supply of ammunition), but this is just silly. All kinds of magazines in the 20, 30, 40 and 75 round capacities are in circulation. Suppose you did get them all off the street? Mr. Badguy will simply buy multiple magazines. Depending upon the firearm, a magazine change can be effected in 2-3 seconds or less. Criminals may be crazy but they are neither stupid nor uncreative - they'll find a way to kill, period. This bill was crafted by someone who knows nothing about firearms or their use.

HB 1226 designates state college campuses as concealed carry-free zones. Perhaps a better term would be “free-fire zones.” Did Jimmy “Bad Hair” Holmes see those firearm-free signs in Aurora and say, "Oh, my bad, I'll go somewhere else to commit an atrocity" or did he see those signs as encouragement to slaughter innocents? Common sense tells us the answer. All this sort of thing does is tell wackos where they are less likely to face resistance, and hence it encourages them to ply their twisted trade there.

The subtext of these carry-free zones is, “You're in college, you're semi-moronical (probably a frat boy to boot), and we can't expect you to exercise intelligence or restraint.” Wow, and the future in America is in their hands.

I'm the NRA and I choke
We have very solid laws (state and federal) on the books concerning firearms and their misuse. The NRA is always beating this drum, but it is also true: if more time and energy and, yes, money, were spent on enforcing our current (reasonable!) laws, gun-related criminal violence would likely decrease.

I don't care for much of the NRA's “Chicken Little” rhetoric. I detest violence, and yet I joined the NRA for the same reason I've voted for some creepy Republicans in the past: to put a check on people and policies that are worse.

All of this may seem like another diatribe from a single issue guy. Let me open the issue up to what ought to be of concern to all Catholics and everyone of good will: the relationship of gun control and race, and the difference between violence and legitimate defense in our Catholic tradition.

Arms and race

In The Atlantic Adam Winkler credits the Black Panthers with launching the modern gun rights movement. Seriously. Much to the chagrin of then-governor Ronald Reagan, in 1967 the Panthers came to Sacramento armed to the teeth and marched into the state capitol demanding that their right to bear arms be respected (see “The Secret History of Guns,” September 2011). Naturally, they were arrested. What's beautiful about this piece of historical trivia is that it makes everyone a bit uncomfortable. White guys like me are scared to death of fierce African Americans running around like some redneck Idaho militiamen. But it is the gun-control advocates with the leftward sympathies who get the real cognitive dissonance: they're black, they're hip, but they got guns!

The Panthers in a sense were paying whitey back for what had happened in the South after the Civil War. Gun control laws were passed after the war and applied equally to blacks and whites! Well, on paper. Good ol' Jim Crow ensured that blacks were disarmed and whites kept their guns. Imagine the inconvenience to the Kluxers if blacks were armed. Why they would have an unfair advantage over the men in pointy hats. How could the Klan have possibly lynched, raped, murdered and intimated the freedmen if they were armed? No, “gun violence” had to be minimized, and gun violence meant a gun in a black man's hand.

Race is certainly not the only factor is gun control, especially today. But it is a part of the puzzle (just as racism helps explain the wickedness of Maggie Sanger and her present day “offspring”). Black and white, we all are made in God's image and have inviolable dignity.

Equal protection

Cardinal Dolan recently blogged about his support for new gun control legislation. When it comes to Catholic doctrine, I suspect the cardinal and I are in full agreement; when it comes to the implications of that doctrine, well, that's a different matter.

Three quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church are particularly relevant:

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others (CCC 2265).

Violence is never a proper response. With the conviction of her faith in Christ and with the awareness of her mission, the Church proclaims “that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings (CSDC 496).

The right to use force for purposes of legitimate defence is associated with the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression (CSDC 504).

Notice the distinction between violence and legitimate defense. I have a right to protect myself and others. “Grave duty” suggests there are times when I would be sinning in not protecting someone else, and this comports with basic human decency. Yet I have no right to act violently or aggressively. What seems to be the same act at the level of appearances (e.g., discharging a firearm) could be the fulfillment of a duty or an atrocity. It just depends.

Furthermore, this is not England. What is proportionate in stopping violent acts there (cricket bats? a discourse on gentlemanly behavior?), does not apply here. We are awash in a veritable sea of guns. Is it prudent to ask civilians to unilaterally disarm? Criminals won't. What we can expect from unilateral disarmament on the installment plan is a lot of Lenin's cracked eggs to make an omelet: disarmed civilians slaughtered in the name of non-violence and peace. This is no benign paradox but a horror.

The next installment will discuss some aspects of the “world view” of gun-owners and how this helps explain our shrillness.