The Debt Scandal

debtA merry Christmas to all, in these eight or twelve days of Christmas, depending on how one counts them. Of course, as we learn from the story of the Grinch, and of course the Gospel, Christmas is about giving, family time, offering to others a part of ourselves, reflection on the gifts of God in our lives, shared meals and the occasional drink or few.


However, most of us are, to some extent, wrapped up in the commercialism of the season, and if you bought anything on a credit card, the racking up of debt.


Debt, from the Latin debitum, or ‘something owed to another’, is usually used in English to mean what is owed on a financial level (although we still use the word occasionally to mean something owed in general). Debt is not always a bad thing, even though the name conjures up unpleasant images. After all, we owe our parents an infinite debt for giving us life and raising us up, and that is good and wholesome.


But here, in these joyful days of Christmas, when we soon have to face the music of our own personal debt over the holidays, we should ponder the notion of financial debt, whether good and bad debt, as well as manageable and unmanageable.


Ideally, of course, we should only buy things we can immediately afford. That is the way money should work, as an artificial symbol of wealth. If I have a certain amount of what other people want, and am wiling to exchange some of that for something someone else has that I want, we could, and should, trade. We could decide to just barter, and exchange physical services or goods, but to expedite things, our civilization long ago has invented ‘money’, artificial wealth, to stand for what we might term ‘natural’ wealth, food, chattel, services, that are not so easily transportable. (I recommend Hilarie Belloc’s ‘Economics for Helen’ for an excellent introduction to the basic history and philosophy of economics).


The problem arises, of course, when the artificial wealth (the money) no longer corresponds to the natural wealth (the actual and real goods and services). That is when we go into debt, hoping at some point to pay off what we cannot afford in the present.


Our artificial wealth has become, in the latter half of the twentieth century, even more artificial with the invention of credit, and the nefarious credit cards, which is really debt upon debt. Here, we longer pretend even with artificial wealth, but with the promise of artificial wealth. Who is paying for what and with whose money?


Eventually, when an individual goes into too much debt, reality catches up. They realize at some point that they do not have the artificial wealth, to say nothing of the natural wealth, ever to afford what they may desire. You may live the high life for a time, but then the creditors start calling, the repo men show up, cars are impounded, television sets absconded, houses foreclosed, and bankruptcy looms.


In the ‘old’ days, things were a bit more brutal than today, with debtors’ prisons, where one would not be let out until they ‘had paid off the last penny’. But at least our forebears, ‘poor’ as they were, lived within their means. People today are, I would argue, even poorer, but live far beyond their means. I am always surprised by the number of brand-new 50 grand pickups I see, the 50 inch television sets and the ubiquitous techno-gadgets that even the ‘poor’ have.

pick-up truck i pads

One may argue about the morality of such penalties for debt as prisons and stockades, but the principle behind controlling debt makes sense, for one of the primary tasks of the State is to maintain a solid financial house, so that one’s hard-earned wealth may be secure.


If I asked you to link two concepts together, ‘financial responsibility’ and ‘government’ would not, perhaps, be the first things that come to mind. We are living in an age of grave financial irresponsibility, both in government and in private individuals. In both realms, debt has never, in the entire history of the world, been higher and more unmanageable than it is today.


Here is the thing: Governments ask us to save, yet squanders what money they take from us. They spend like drunken Canadian sailors on leave in the Caribbean (I’m not sure why that image came to mind…perhaps the recent scandal involving a few members of the naval reserve, and the subsequent draconian policy of puritan-level temperance imposed on all Canadian sailors, but more perhaps on that later).


One need only reflect on the recent billion-dollar boondoggle gas-plant cancellation fiasco, and Dalton McGuinty’s clumsy and likely criminal attempt at a cover up, paying an aide’s spouse 10 grand to delete hard-drives in public, governmental computers, like something out of a B-level spy movie.  Is Dalton still receiving his gold-plated pension, I wonder?  I’m kind of hoping he gets to spend it buying cigarettes in prison, but there is little chance of detention for Dalt.

Dalt Debt

This leads to the scandal of debt: Not only does the government offer a bad example, piling up debts that can never reasonably be paid off, but, for those of us who still strive to be virtuous, and save what little money we have, our efforts mean little, for the governmental debt, and the payments required to maintain even the interest on this debt, devalues what savings we, the humble hoi-polloi, do have.


This, dear reader, is a grave evil, and one that we should ponder more deeply as we enter 2015. Here are some numbers for your reflections: 

Ontario, whence I write, is over $300 billion dollars in debt, more than California, with three times the population and ten times the economy. Yet the income of the so-called ‘public sector’, those employed by the government, continues to skyrocket (along with their pensions and benefits), well and truly beyond those in the actual wealth-producing private sector who pay their salaries.


The base salary of firefighters and police officers (not including overtime) is approaching $100,000 (recent arbitration put firefighters in the Kitchener area at $92,000). Both can retire in their mid-forties, with life-long pensions and benefits.


University professors (paid for largely by transfer payments from the federal government) are well above the sunshine level of 100 grand. Many nurses and almost every teacher is at this level now also.


Politicians? The base salary of a member of parliament is $163,700, exclusive of all the expenses they can charge, including funds for an ‘extra residence’ and, of course, their pensions, which kick in after two terms.


Physicians make well into the six digits, with the number of hours they work actually decreasing. Even nurses are now often paid well-above average wages; the days of nursing Sisters, as well as physicians who make house calls, are well behind us.


The myriad of government workers (there are, in Ontario alone, quite literally millions on the government payroll in one way or another, directly or indirectly) are being remunerated with wealth that not only does not exist, but will not exist for many years into the future. Who can pay off a third of a trillion dollars in a province of 10 million people with a stumbling economy? Even the car companies are being propped up by public funds, so now I as a taxpayer have to subsidize someone else’s new car, that I myself cannot afford, as well as their unionized wage, that I myself, and most of us, do not make.


The average household debt in Canada, exclusive of mortgage (and more on them also later) hit a whopping record $28, 853. That’s where all those pick-ups, ATV’s and i-pods come from.


The economic picture in Ontario, and most of the rest of Canada, is almost the textbook definition of ‘unsustainable’, and I am beginning to ponder the morality of receiving such exorbitant public salaries, to say nothing of offering them.


No wonder we cannot afford all the infrastructure required in our fair land. Raillways will not be built, highways will fall into disrepair, and our health-care system will face imminent collapse, unless something is done, and soon.


One may take a pollyanna view, and hide one’s head in the sand, and, yes, governments, as well as large corporations ‘too big to fail’, can kick the debt can down the road far farther than a private individual, who must face the music on a more immediate time-frame (as in, a few missed credit-card payments). This is due to the (immoral) principle that governments can tax many generations ahead, sort of like having a credit card without limit, whose debt passes down to your great-great-great grandchildren. Good for you; not so good for your descendants.


For eventually, someone, sometime, is going to be at the door of those descendants asking for payment, and what will happen when payment can no longer be made? Sooner or later, when the party’s over, ‘we’ are going to be that generation.


On a note of optimism: Our hope is not in this world, but the next, and unrighteous mammon has always been unreliable. So keep your own house in order, for he who is faithful in little things, will be faithful also in much, whether that fidelity pays off in this transient life. Remember the Who’s, who danced and sang even after the Grinch stole all their presents.


So Merry Christmas to one and all, in the true spirit of the season!


December 29, 2014

He will be there…

o sapientiaI try, in some small way, and not, I must admit, very well, to resist the celebration of Christmas before Christmas.  I know this is a weathered lament, but one that merits restating:  We prepare for Christ in the season of Advent, and we celebrate his arrival with Christmas.  The zeitgeist of the age, outside and, to some extent, even within, the Church, is difficult to resist, with everything from social events to advertisements in shops to songs, but resist to some extent we must.  Some application to bodily and spiritual preparation is requisite so that Christmas remains Christmas, and that the celebration does not end the day after Christmas, just when it is supposed to begin.   (Which day, incidentally, is not Boxing Day, but the feast of (Saint) Stephen, the first martyr, as the opening lines of the traditional hymn on Good King Wencelsaus makes clear).


In the Western tradition of the Catholic Church, one of the liturgical preparations for Christmas are the ‘O Antiphons’, seven titles from the Old Testament pointing to the coming Messiah.  The origin of their compilation goes back to the dawn of the Middle Ages, with reference to them in the writings of Boethius (480-524 a.d.).  The seven antiphons, which begin on December 17th, and end today, on December 23rd, are as follows, in their Latin original:  O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix Iesse, O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Rex Gentium, and O Emmanuel.


They are, in their somewhat variable English translations, O Wisdom, O Lord God, O Root (or Rod) of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Sun (or Morning Star), O King of the Nations (or Gentiles) and O Emmanuel.


Each day, these antiphons comprise the basis for the antiphons at Vespers, the universal Evening Prayer of the Church.  Readings also go along with each antiphon, taken from the Old Testament , and making clear how each of these titles allegorically referred to the coming Messiah.


It is a curious phenomenon, and unclear whether intentional, that the first letter in the antiphons, when spelled backwards, makes ero cras, which is Latin for “I will be (there?) tomorrow”.   This could be coincidence, but the mediaeval theologians loved puns and plays upon words, so we may surmise the antiphons were deliberately framed this way, to help us even further in our ‘waiting upon’ the Christ, who would free His people from their sins, and offer the world redemption.


So a merry and blessed Christmas to one and all…


Requiem for a Symphony

london orchestra photoThis morning, the councillors of the city of London, Ontario decided unanimously to deny funding to their symphony orchestra, which was in dire straits financially.  The musicians, twenty nine in total, plus some support staff, had not been paid in recent weeks, apparently, and they needed 300 grand to tide things over for a month or two.


Now, I love classical music, and consider it the basis for all music post-classical (classical itself being derived from the ancient chants, Gregorian and otherwise).  I sing in our local schola, trying to keep real music alive.  So I sympathize.  In fact, though I am an implacable proponent of small and limited government, I could see some role in offering some support to the arts and culture.  Ideally, however, I would like to see individuals in the community keeping their local orchestra afloat, along with other artistic endeavours, drama, poetry, libraries and so on.  The Stratford Festival, specializing in plays by the Bard, is generously endowed by the government.  I guess not enough private support for Shakespeare.


It is a sad testament to our culture that a university city like London cannot support an orchestra, but it is not a surprise.  What used to be our ‘culture’ is being left in tatters.  Even in the supposedly highbrow halls of Western, where the elite go to study (yes, yes, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but I am permitted in this case, since I, sad to say, went there blindly to seek an education).  Outside of the music faculty (and even within it), how many students could tell you anything about Mozart or Bach, to say nothing of Palestrina or Corelli or Vivaldi?  Students may vaguely recognize the Halleluiah chorus from the Messiah, but most would not be able to tell you who wrote it, nor, even, what the whole piece is about.


I wonder who would dedicate their life to music, outside of the rap and pablum on the radio, when there is no remuneration?  What are all those violinists and cellists and oboeists going to do?


Culture reflects what people in society value, and they no longer value much of what we would normally construe as ‘culture’.  Thus, culture must be artificially supported by the coffers of the State; as we saw this morning, in these days of fiscal restraint (well, restraint at least in some areas, and possibly illegal profligacy in others), those halcyon days of cultural funding may be coming to an end.


So, if you love the arts, get out there and attend a concert, an opera, a play even a ballet over this holiday season or in the new year; I think you would enjoy it more than you think, and you would be helping preserve what is best in our past and present.


December 19, 2014

Good and Evil, Darkness and Light

john kerrySecretary of State John Kerry decried the recent Taliban massacre, crying out that all people of conscience should unite in condemning the acts…And, he is right. He also called them ‘mediaeval’, on which point he was not so right. There are not many cases in the middle ages of women and children being slaugtered, and, in fact, warfare back then was engaged in, in most cases, with strict rules.  Of course, there are always exceptions.


However, the evil displayed the other day at the school in Pakistan, was indeed a cold, calculated evil (the gunmen were overheard asking their ‘command centre’ “All the children in the auditorium are dead…now what?”). One recalls Hannah Arendt’s description of the doers of the dark evil of the Holocaust as ‘banal’.


Well, soon after their own banal conversation, and not-so-banal killing spree, the killers themselves were dead, gone to meet their God, Who will mete out justice, along, we may hope, with mercy. We cannot know their fate.  One of their spokesmen justified the attack, saying that their own Taliban people, women and children, had been the victims of indiscriminate killings (one need only ponder the constant drone strikes on targets in the region), so they wanted the killers to ‘feel their pain’.


Ah, yes, as I wrote, an ‘eye for an eye’, but that never really soothes the pain of death, only exacerbates it.


holy innocentsSuch evil is nothing new in the world. A few days after the feast of Christmas, rapidly approaching, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Innocents, commemorating an indeterminate number of boys under two murdered by the order of King Herod at the time of Christ. They were victims of a war of a spiritual sort; Herod wanted to remove what he thought would be a rival claimant to his throne. He could keep his throne, for it wasn’t really his anyway, and would soon be toppled by the Romans. Christ came to found a new kind of kingdom, that would trump any earthly rule.


Yet, even in the Christian era, the evil continues. The same John Kerry, who decried the killing, is also a staunch supporter of abortion ‘rights’. Now, I am loathe to compare the gravity of various evils, since the magnitude of an evil is complex, deriving from the act itself, the intention of the agents, the state of their conscience, and all the circumstances surrounding the act. However, one must admit that if the unborn child is a human being (and what else could it be?), then the thousands killed day in, day out, amounts to a rather great evil.


Need we also forget the atrocities committed in war, even by Western nations? The firebombing of Dresden killed thousands, men, women and children; the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki amounted to at least 200,000 killed almost immediately, again, many, if not most, of them women and children.


We will never likely know the numbers of civilians killed in more recent wars, in the bombs dropped, the drone attacks from thousands of miles away, missiles fired at shadowy targets on computer screens. The ‘pilots’ of such drones, sitting in plush chairs at consoles under the ground in some secret location in North Dakota and elsewhere, are never exactly sure whom they are killing.


These acts are usually justified, even by Christians, by the circumstances and the intent. After all, did (and do) we not have to defeat these evil enemies by any means? Yet these are the same arguments, in essence, that the Taliban and ISIL use. They too are out to ‘defeat their enemies’. We may argue that their acts, killing individual children at close range, requires a greater ‘hardening’ in evil; perhaps. But one could also argue there is great evil also in killing without really looking, and without wanting to know the carnage one is causing.


We may also argue that we have ‘more’ truth on our side. After all, we stand for democracy and freedom. Well, we used to, and to an extent we still do. But both of these elements of a free state are on the decline in the West, as even a cursory look at current laws being passed will evince. True, as a Christian civilization, we also have, or had, more of the truth. But even here, are we so certain of our shared truths anymore? There are professors at Ivy League campuses arguing for the right of parents to murder their unwanted children up to two years of age, and now we want free and easy suicide, carried out and paid for by the State. Is this civilization?


My point is not that the Taliban and ISIL are justified, nor am I advocating pacifism. War is sometimes a necessity. We should remember, however, that total war is a grave evil, and that even in war, some things are never permitted. Far worse than the physical evil of bodily death is the moral evil of a corrupted will, hardened against the truth.


On top of this list of non-permitted actions is the deliberate killing of the innocent, something that can never be done, regardless of one’s intent or the gravity of the circumstances. Once we cross that moral line in the sand, we are already in the realm of the diabolical; after that, it’s just a question of how far we go.


caravaggio-nativityTo end on a note of hope, for there is always hope: Christmas is coming, and in these darkest days of winter, we should look not so much at the darkness of the world, but at the light of the truth Christ brought. For it is only in this light can we truly see evil for what it is.


December 19, 2014

Angels and Demons

pakistan childA word must be said about the killing of children, and innocents in general, in light of the events of the past couple of days, the hostage-taking in Sydney, resulting in 3 deaths, including the gunman, and the massacre at a military school in Pakistan, where over 140 died, most of them children at the hands of Taliban ‘extremists’.


What used to be off-limits in any kind of war is now a daily occurrence.  The concept of ‘total war’, of course, goes back to ancient times:  One need only ponder the command given to King Saul to wipe out all the inhabitants of Amalek, men, women and children, even the beasts, putting them ‘under the ban’.  This, we may assume, was the provisional morality of ancient Man.  Physical death as a punishment for sin.


Yet Christ brought a New Law  of  grace and forgiveness.  Sin need no longer be atoned for by killing, for Christ died for all.  His redemptive sacrifice assumed all other suffering. There will still be suffering and death, of course, that we can offer up in union with Christ, as members of His Mystical Body.  But we can no longer ourselves kill as a punishment for sin.  Whatever provsional morality God permitted in former ages is now gone, forever.


It is a sad fact that various strains of Islam do not get this.  We are no longer to act as God’s agents of retribution; vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, and we must leave all judgement to God.  Further, as we all know, we are bad judges of sin, especially our own.  To paraphrase Christ, we cannot see the beams for the splinters, nor the forest for the shrub in our way.


Yes, many aspects of ‘the West’ are decadent and immoral, but the pride of puritanical tyranny, is in many ways, worse, for such a stance makes us immune to the mercy of God, both for ourselves and others. It is the diabolical sin, to make ourselves God, and mete out punishment in His name as we see fit. We must use reason and dialogue to convert others, as well as the example of holiness (or at least striving for holiness) in our own lives, by the grace and mercy of God…

angry taliban

Part of that grace is learning to laugh at ourselves.  There are no jokes in Islam, so purportedly said the Ayatollah.  No kidding.  In the strains of Islam we see in the news daily, there is a lot of anger, gnashing of teeth, resentment, thirst for revenge, and, apparently, no moral line in the sand for women and children.  Total war it is.  But total war is what they will get in return.  To murder the children of officers in the Pakistani military is not a good idea.  Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth, and as one commentator mentioned, those soldiers, by and large, are not under the same restraints as the military in the West.


Apparently, the Taliban and ISIL do not like life that much, their own or others, which goes along with the loss of a sense of humour.  Angels can fly, said G.K.Chesterton, because they take themselves so lightly.  We may extend this aphorism that devils cannot fly, because they are, quite literally, too damned serious.


I just hope all those children were taken up to heaven, laughing with the angels.


December 16, 2014


Whither Gallantry, Brian ‘Gallant’?

Brian GallantNewly-elected New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant (who bears a passing resemblance to Aaron Ekhart, who played Two-Face in the second Batman movie, also an attorney who does evil thinking he is doing good) as one of his first acts of office, lifted certain restrictions on abortion in the province (having two doctors certify to the necessity of the abortion), to take effect, ironically and tragically, on the First of January, what is celebrated in the Catholic Church as the Solemnity of the Mother of God.  So much for motherhood.


So much for gallantry also.  Ironically, the Premier’s last name means ‘brave’ or, more to our point, ‘chivalrous’, derived from an old French word for ‘merry’.  I wonder if he’s much fun at parties?  Is it chivalrous to make abortion even easier to get?  I suppose if he really thinks abortions are good in some cases, the woman’s desires need not be vetted by two physicians.  But does he really think most women want abortions, and are not at some level coerced into it, either by men or by society’s expectations of them?  Should we not at the very least, even if one is ‘pro-abortion’, allow women some time to rethink such a tragic and irrevocable decision?


But then, need it be said, Mr. Gallant is a Liberal, a brand that seems to grow more despicable on a daily basis.  I will have more to say on them as they grow in power and popularity in this country.  Not least, as I am wont to point out, that they have usurped and distorted the word ‘liberal’, which has a glorious history (from the ‘liberal arts’ to ‘give me liberty, or give me death’).  Yet, they are anything but liberal:  Their Dear Leader on the federal level, Mr. Trudeau Jr., in a bout of, what was that again?, ‘liberty’, has recently decreed that no one in his Party can ever, under pain of excommunication from the otherwise all-inclusive Liberal Tent, question a woman’s ‘right to choose’.


Even if a Liberal member is all gung-ho on abortion rights, he should remonstrate vociferously against this violation of freedom to vote according to one’s conscience and one’s constituents (the first, first, of course).  Any man would demand as much.  But, then, where can we find men anymore?


I would appeal to the principles of democracy, but, as another post will point out soon, we don’t really live in a democracy in this country, except perhaps, to some degree, at the municipal level.  More on that later.


jp iiBut back to the ‘right to choose’:  The vagueness of modern thought never ceases to amaze me.  Choose what, we ask?  Well, to have her unborn child put to death.  Is that really a ‘freedom’?  One may talk of ‘termination’ or ‘ending pregnancy’, but Saint John Paul II in his masterful encyclical Evangelium Vitae, has asked us to avoid euphemisms when speaking of something so grave as life and death.  Call a spade a spade, a baby a baby, and murder, murder.


But we hesitate in our society to do so, for we all want to get along, and, as Mr. Harper has asked, to ‘keep the peace’.  Why rock the boat?  Just repeat the mantra ‘Peace, peace…’, while sitting cross-legged in lotus position while staring a a maple leaf, and leave it at that.


Yet, and yet…What if they cry peace and there is no peace?  To paraphrase Mother Theresa, true peace is impossible in a society that kills its own children.  There are of course an untold number of moral problems in our society, and abortion is one amongst them.  But before we sweep it under the seamless-garment ‘what about the poor and unwanted children?’ rug, we should recall that, at a purely physical level, abortion is amongst the most grave of evils, for how can one get worse than killing a defenceless child?


I wonder why modern Man, typified by Monsieurs Gallant and Trudeau, encumbered as they are by their modern university miseducation and their steeping too long in ‘Canadian values’, cannot see this evil, one that was recognized by every society in history(even if tolerated in some).


Pope John Paul II provides the principal answer:  As he writes in Evangelium Vitae, abortion is motivated by what he calls the ‘trivialization of sexuality’ and the related ‘contraceptive mentality’.  In other words, abortion is a means to, and an effect of, illicit sexual relations.  It is the last, final form of contraception, when other forms go wrong (or are not used at all).


The modern Man, whether consciously or not, deep down perceives this, and is aware that any limits on abortion are really a limit to one’s sexual ‘freedom’.   Without abortion, one would, at least in some cases, be forced to face up to the consequences of sexual licence, as in what used to be called ‘illegitimate births’, with all that now-quaint term entailed.


That, of course, cannot be.  Complete, uninhibited sexual freedom is a shibboleth in our society, a sacred totem, untouchable.


This makes all the talk of ‘woman’s rights’, as well as Trudeau Sr.’s famous quip, ‘keeping the State out of the bedroom of the nation’ something of a red herring.  Abortion is about consequence-free sex, a rather sad and tawdry motivation, an attempt to reduce the sexual union to something inconsequential, like a handshake or a prolonged hug (the ethics of ‘hugging’ may come up later on also).


But, then, as a previous post pointed out, all evil is sad and tawdry at its root, when its mask is removed.


The modern world is not far off the mark in the emphasis upon, yes, its fascination with, sex, for the conjugal union is the closest we can get on this earth, in a physical way, to ultimate happiness, that search for complete self-realization.  Of course, there are many other higher and more fulfilling spiritual and intellectual means of happiness, but these require some degree of work and effort; anyone with minimal physiological functioning can ‘have sex’ and feel ‘fulfilled’, at least temporarily.


With many of our youth by and large unaware of any of these other higher means to fulfillment, our modern Man is loath to tolerate any restriction on his sexual escapades, whether real or imagined, present or hoped-for in the future.  So the State, in the guise of the glib politician, legislator and physician, obliges.


Ah, yes, but what of the ‘right of a woman over her own body’?   Another red herring, for we already have rights over our own bodies (but our society is slowly removing even these), and there is another body there, that is not the woman’s.  With the right to do what we want, we also have the duty to accept what happens when we use our bodies a certain way.  When we join together in sexual union, many things happen, physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and, sometimes, also new life.


We try to deny this, but the truth of hard reality always comes back to haunt us.  As I wrote on sexual consent, only monogamous marriage fulfills what is fully required (not just consent-wise) for conjugal union.  And the fact that babies come into being, even with the ‘best’ of contraceptives, is also a hard truth.  By some estimates, we have now killed 2 billion children by abortion in the past half-century, more than every other catastrophe in the history of the world, combined.


Men, and women, can decide whether or not to ‘have sex’, a fundamental and momentous choice, but that choice is now, sadly, trivialized.  Sex and abortion, however, are anything but trivial. We see the trauma of women both ‘post-non-marital sex’ and ‘post-abortion’.  The two are related, and both harm women and of course children, most.  Post-abortion mothers testify to the sad effects of abortion, not only by snuffing out the life of their child, but the long-term psychological damage it does.  I almost wrote ‘would-be’ mother, but, then, she is a mother already, and every woman ‘with child’, without exception, knows that.

Rob Roy


A final point on the ‘hard case’ of rape:  Of course, here a woman’s fundamental choice is denied her, and such a violation is a grave evil.  I would quote Liam Neeson as Rob Roy, the Scottish highland hero, who declared in a brogue-ish growl after his own wife had been raped, and conceived a child, by his enemy, “It’s no’ the child that needs killin’”.


Now, I advocate here neither the movie nor capital punishment, which both have their limitations, but the point stands, that it is not the child who needs punishing.  Society should use the full force of law where the force of law is most needed, but, sadly,  our politicians, with their noses to the wind, realize where their bread and butter lies, and choose to cater to the darker  side of human nature, and all that implies.  We will suffer the consequences until we, and they, wake up.


December 10, 2014


What We May Be…

220px-Grotte_MassabielleOn the morning of February 11, 1858, a young French peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a luminous vision in a grotto in southern France, beginning a series of ‘visions’ of what the Catholic Church now believes was the Virgin Mary.  When asked her name by Bernadette, the Lady replied in French patois, Que soy Immaculatou Conceptiou, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.   This was four years after Pope Bd. Pius IX declared dogmatically what the Church had always believed, that Mary, the Mother of Christ, was conceived without the ‘stain’ of original sin.  Of course, being largely illiterate, Bernadette had no idea what the Lady meant, and had to ask the priest; so began the ongoing miracle of Lourdes.


This may sound odd to secular ears, to talk of visions and original sin.  I will grant you the visions as difficult to believe from a non-religious viewpoint, but, as John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote, if there is one truth of the faith that is evident to everyone, it is original sin.  Defined by Saint Thomas Aquinas as a ‘disposition of a complex nature towards sin’, every news report, indeed all of our daily interactions with our fellow humans (especially if we live with them!), gives truth to the claim that Man indeed has a tendency towards evil, and that unless he fight against this tendency, by his own free decisions (and, as the Church teaches, the help of the grace of God), he will become ever more diabolical.


After what we historically call ‘the Fall’, when Man rebelled against God, our nature changed, for the worse:  Our minds became proud, our wills ungoverned, and our passions unchecked.  We now resist truth, goodness, beauty, and choose instead falsity, chaos, domination and strife.  One need only watch the behaviour of children who, if left without some moral guidance and discipline, turn into insufferable, spoiled adults or, as have had the sad occasion to witness daily, worse.  We all have some of this chaos with us…


As the English poet John Betjeman wrote:


Does Mum the Persil-user still believe

That There’s no Devil and that youth is bliss?

As certain as the sun behind the Downs

And quite as plain to see, the Devil walks.



The thing is, following Pontius Pilate, we argue about ‘what is Truth’, and, of course, the subsequent question about ‘what is Good’, but deep down, when alone with our conscience, we all know truth and goodness when we see them.  There is a connaturality to what is truly good, and, as Dante and Milton so eloquently described, the wide chasm between the Devil and God.  That is why we enjoy good stories and praise heroes, those who sacrifice themselves for others, why we still listen to Mozart and Bach, and why the Gospels have an eternal resonance in our hearts.  ScroogeThat is also why, to be seasonal, we still, even in our neo-pagan society, still celebrate Christmas, and why the ‘conversion’ of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and the goodness of Tiny Tim, somehow fills all our hearts with joy




The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, that one creature in history was created by God without this primordial ‘wound’, is deliberately put close to Christmas, is meant to give us hope and consolation, that all is not lost, and that this world does not give the full truth of who Man is, or, more properly, who Man is meant to become.  Our Lady is an example of who we were in the beginning, and what we will be in the end.  True goodness is not only what we truly desire, but, with the help of God, eminently attainable.  ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light’, if we but follow the Him Who is the Truth.


December 8, 2014

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Sense and consensuality

Jane AustenThere has been a slate of stories in the past few weeks on the notion of sexual consent, or, to be more specific, the consent required, particularly from the female, for the man to engage in sexual relations with her.  There are the two Liberal (male) Members of Parliament accused of sexual harrassment by anonymous (female) accusers.  There is the avuncular Bill Cosby, who more or less typified ideal fatherhood in the eighties, now vilified by numerous charges of rape, decades ago during his hey-day.  In the case of Jian Ghomeshi, the disgraced CBC radio host, the debate concerning consent also revolved around, shall we say, ‘other activities’ of a more violent nature that I need not recite here.  As Mark Steyn ironically pointed out, Jian’s self-confessed behaviour is curious in a man so committed to women’s rights and an ‘end to violence against women’.  I was always bothered by his too-smooth voice, and his supercilious uber-liberal condescension to anything in any way conservative or traditional.


Of course, every man deserves his day in court, and there have been numerous writers who rightly claim that we should not condemn individuals based on unproved accusations (Mr.Gomeshi’s confessed publicly to his bizarre sexual activities, but the notion of mutual consent, or lack thereof, is yet to be proved).  Public figures, I suppose, have as the nature of their job to live in the limelight, and to have their actions scrutinized more than we, the people, the hoi polloi.  As the actor Johnny Depp once claimed, when one is famous, ‘privacy becomes an expensive proposition’, which is why actors live in gated mansions on large acreages.


The truth wins out in the end, however, or at least at the end of one’s life, but one thing at least that comes to light from all these stories is a clarification of the notion of implied consent.


When is it ‘safe’ for a man to engage in a conjugal liason with a woman?  And by ‘safe’ I mean safe from accusations of some type of sexual assault.  The anonymous accuser in the parliament case claims that she never said ‘no’, but never said ‘yes’ either, and felt, in some way, coerced by the advances of her male, shall we say, ‘paramour’.  What she was doing in his hotel room in the wee hourse of the morning to begin with is left unsaid.  Was she coerced up the elevator?


Even if she had said ‘yes’, would that have been enough?  What would happen if she changed her mind afterward, that her ‘yes’ was not really ‘yes, or was coerced?  Or that she never really said  ‘yes’?  Or changed her mind part-way through?  Would it be her word against his?  Whom would the court believe?


Let your yes be yes, and your no be no, indeed…


What if she had given her consent in writing?  Before at least two witnesses?  Before God Himself?  And accept all of the implications that the sexual act implies, emotional bonding, possibility of children and so on?  Would that be enough?


But, whoa on there, that sounds a lot like marriage, which, as the Church and most every civilization in history until our modern one, has proclaimed the only proper venue for sexual relations (yes, many pagan societies tolerated sex outside of marriage, but tolerated is the key word; sex was seen as proper really only within the matrimonial bond).

wedding holding hands

One unintended consequence of this spate of sexual harrassment cases is that women are waking up to the reality that the freedom of the ‘sexual revolution’ is that men are now ‘free’ to satisfy their lusts upon them.  Some women understand this the easy way, being brought up and educated properly; others learn the hard way, left used and abused after a temporary liason (whether for a night or for years).


And this is not in general reciprocal.  Women do not ‘feel’ sexual desire the same way men do; their attachments are more emotional, long-term, ordered towards the bringing forth and nurturing of new life.  Men are naturally more polygamous, and, outside of the self-constraints of personal virtue (that is, learning by discipline from youth not to be a cad and sexual predator), the male half of  humanity must be externally constrained to monogamy, by custom and, if necessary, by law.


Yes, there still men out there who desire to court a woman honorably with the intention of marriage, and women who are open to such courtship, both saving their bodies and emotions for ‘the one’.  I have had the honour to teach many such men and women, and just received a phone call last night from two of my former students who, after a virtuous courtship, are now joyously engaged to be married.  Outside of the society within which I live (and a few other such ‘societies’ out there), such customs now seem quaint and outmoded, relegated to Jane Austen novels.  Even in the recent past, however, whatever one’s level of personal virtue, one felt constrained by these customs, or at least constrained to accept the consequences of deviating from them.  This was society’s way of controlling the great power of sexuality which, if unleashed from moral constraint, has untold deleterious consequences, not just for the perpetrator and the victim (who may, in some ways, be the same person), but for society itself and future generations (abandoned children, abortion, sexually-transmitted disease, the breakdown of the family, emotionally damaged individuals, and so on and on).


Parliament is now formulating a ‘Code of Conduct’ for its members, but we may presume that CBC also had a similar ‘code’, and this did not apparently do much for them, and will not do much anywhere virtue is lacking.  People will always find their way around a ‘code’, especially when driven by great and unbridled desire.


But I will have more on virtue and publicly funded individuals, especially those chosen, alas, to ‘lead’ us, later…


December 2, 2014


p.s.  I just listened to a small part of a call-in lunch-time discussion on the CBC on when consent is consent, and had to turn it off; not only were the callers tying themselves up in knots (they were mostly men), but to listen to the modern Canadian male discuss his sad sexual proclivities was more than I could handle over my collation.  This is the choice women have?