Friday, December 31, 2021

7 Goals for 2022, Provided the World Doesn't Collapse

As I mentioned in my last post, I've come to peace with the reality that civilization is burning down and there's probably not anything that can be done to stave off a total collapse. I don't know if it'll happen in a year or a decade, but it's coming and it's inevitable at this point. We've just gone too far off the rails. We're too atomized, too fearful, too obedient to the forces that manipulate us for their own ends. 

Too many people are OK with resegregation, with reverse racism, with subordinating biology to feelings, with creating a new class of untouchables and banishing them from society, with the politicization of science to manufacture and enforce specific social and political outcomes and to protect the ideologies and financial interests of our institutions of power, the likes of which we haven't seen since Galileo butted heads with the medieval church. 

Too many people are incapable of independent thought. Too many people hand over their brains to the leaders of the tribes they identify with and the ideologies they're told to embrace. Too many people are too self-absorbed with whatever micro-identity they choose to make themselves feel special in a world that doesn't care about your feelings or how special and unique you are. And we're all compelled to nod our heads and celebrate as others play pretend, denying the evidence of our own two eyes, as if someone can simply identify into manhood or womanhood like they were interchangeable costumes.

We've become surrounded by legions of masked zombies, conditioned to believe that immune systems are a dangerous right-wing conspiracy, who scream at us to respect their pronouns and check our white privilege, while their Woke High Priests threaten to cancel us for violating their dogma, unless we bend the knee, rebuke our wrongthink, and confess our Original Sin of being born white. 

And thus it is, in a culture where everything has to be hyperpoliticized, that logic, reason, individual liberty, personal autonomy, and the right to free thought and free speech are giving way to authoritarian superstition and irrational hysteria, as we sink into a new Dark Age.  

And it's all being accelerated by a sanity-shattering climate in which humans are discouraged from even making human contact, as we're relentlessly conditioned to see every other human as a walking disease -- as if our bodies lack the ability to fight off a respiratory virus with a whopping 2% death rate. 

Had I known a decade ago that the world would go so utterly insane, I probably would have opted for another pet over a child. I dread to think of the world my poor daughter will have to grow up in. So in 2022, I intend to simply do more of what's in my control to do, in hopes of making her life tolerable and our family's existence an act of quiet defiance against the status quo, inasmuch as I intend for us to live as normal a life as possible, in spite of the madness raining down all around us.

My goals for the new year, then, are as follows:

To be as good of a husband and dad as I can. That means hoping my body holds out so I can continue to provide for my family, but also making sure I balance work with personal time. My wife works tremendously hard to keep our house functioning, and I probably don't thank or support her enough for all her selfless dedication. My daughter, meanwhile, needs plenty of dad time. She comes to me to learn, to ask questions, to feel secure, to have fun. She likes playing card and board games, and she wants me to join her in some of her videogame worlds. I need to manage my time so I can do that. I know how much it will mean to her. 

To be a better Stoic. We began exploring the ancient philosophy in 2021, and I think I need to keep at it. I see how angry my daughter gets at the stupidity in the world outside our door. I used to be the same way, just filled with rage at everything and everyone. It's hard not to feel that way. I've managed to find a somewhat better balance by tuning out the divisive propaganda of the 24/7 news cycle. Whatever will happen will happen, whether I complain about it or not. I used to crap all over social media griping about the state of the world, but it didn't change anything. It only served to stress me out. So why do it? No one cares, just like no one will read this blog post. But at least this is my only outlet now, and it's a rare outlet at that. I'd rather focus on what I can control and find the equanimity to tune the rest out, to the best of my ability. 

To be more mindful of personal spending. Because I'm not getting any younger, and you never know what financially trying times lie ahead.

To simplify. We have a big house that's full of clutter. I have a strong desire to purge.

To try to at least maintain my current level of health. Every day is a challenge when you feel miserable all the time, you never know what affliction awaits you next, and you've given up hope that the doctors will ever figure things out. But I intend to hang in there for as long as I can. My goal is to at least see my daughter grow up. 

To indulge my new hobbies of mixology and sartorial peculiarity. We're trying out a new cocktail a day, and I got a drink-a-day book for Christmas. I enjoy experimenting with various flavors and adding a bit of spirits to our meals. I've discovered that I enjoy gin, tequila, and vodka, but not so much whiskey, brandy, and rum. I already knew I enjoyed port wine, sweet reds, and some kinds of beers. So I'm just expanding my horizons to see both where things go and what flavors are out there.

As for the sartorial part, I've taken recently to wearing bow ties. I don't like neckties, but my daughter gave me the idea of trying a bow tie with my Sunday church attire. I like the way the experiment is going so far. I feel a little better about myself when I dress up and figure it might even help me feel less ill all the time, as a good frame of mind counts for a lot. And I've already noticed that people seem to treat you with more respect if you dress well. They're more likely to strike up a conversation. Or maybe it's just the peculiarity of the bow tie that acts as an icebreaker. I guess time will tell.

To continue my spiritual growth. Though I was born and raised Catholic. I've come to terms with understanding Christian teaching in a metaphorical way. It's impossible for me to take any of it literally. I continue go to church because it's comforting and familiar, and I'll probably continue to go to our local Latin Mass until the horrible, petty little bureaucratic bully of a pope that runs the church kills off the traditional Mass once and for all. I may split my time between the Latin Mass and the Byzantine Catholic liturgy, though the Byzantines live over in the jackboot people's republic of Washington, whose proto-fascist governor could at any time declare that papers be shown and useless masks be worn as a condition of entry even into a place of worship. We have none of that nonsense affecting the Orthodox church here in North Idaho, which is like the Byzantine Catholic church in all ways except that I'm not invited to communion with the Orthodox -- and I don't think I have the stamina or the patience to go through the long catechism classes that the Orthodox require before I can partake in what Christ offered freely to everyone at the Last Supper. 

I'll probably continue developing my own theological system that incorporates Taoism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, the Kabbalah, the Sacred Feminine, and a little bit of Hinduism and Christianity, mixed with bits of Jung, Alan Watts, Jiddu Krishnamurti, the idealistic pandeism of Bernardo Kastrup, the notion of a universal consciousness, and more. I have a book rolling around in my head that lays out all the tenets. I envision an intertwined three-part story that involves new scripture, an academic explanation, and an imagined conversation in an abandoned church between the Virgin Mary and Lilith, whom I envision as one of the most maligned and misunderstood characters in all of Judeo-Christian history and legend. I was going to join an online seminary program in 2022, with the end goal of taking holy orders in a few years, with the laying on of hands, apostolic succession through the Old Catholic order, and all that comes with it. I'm already an ordained minister and hold a Th.D. degree, but the idea of being an actual ordained priest holds great appeal. I just don't know if my dodgy health will hold out. Even if I started an actual church as a priest, there are periods stretching for weeks at a time where I can barely get myself vertical. So I just don't know, physically, if I could do it. That's something I need to weigh before I take the next step.

Meanwhile, my daughter, who considers herself a Taoist like her mom, is also thinking she might want to give Wicca a whirl. Being the most spiritually knowledgeable one in the house, I'll have to be the one to get her up to speed so she can properly assess the belief system and see if it's something she'll want to pursue. 

I also plan to keep up our daily Zen habit of drawing ensos, to help us embrace imperfection and spontaneity. And I intend to finally go through with my plans to devote one day a week to being silent, in an effort to remind myself of how much mindless chatter we all engage in, and to cultivate my own mindfulness. I hate talking anyway, so I don't think this will be too hard.


That's seven goals for 2022, and that's plenty. At a bare minimum, I just hope I can stay vertical and sane for another year. 

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

This Is Fine

We're coming up on two years of people acting like Chicken Little over a virus with a whopping 2% mortality rate. I'm pretty sure I've had The Black Plague of Our Time two or three times now. I survived, like the overwhelming majority of people do. 

And yet the world out there is full of media-brainwashed and perpetually enraged people, looking at those of us who haven't forgotten that immune systems exist and blaming us for keeping the world from getting back to normal, when we're the ones who've been saying all along that if you want "normality" back, then stop hiding behind a useless mask and go out and demand it. 

Granted, I imagine that if I watched the daily news and heard nothing but new variants and cases cases cases, absent of any context -- like the astronomically high survival rate, or the fact that heart disease and cancer deaths dwarf the number of C-19 deaths, yet there's no one breathlessly reporting on that every minute of every day -- I'd be in a never-ending panic too. But turn off your TV, and your only reminders of TBPoOT will be when you venture out and see all the obedient mask zombies who themselves have taken their orders from their idiot boxes. 

The problem isn't the virus, or those who resist the narrative and the mandates. The problem, as usual, is those who mindlessly conform. Those who are told whom to blame and obey without reflection. Those who are fine creating an entire class of untouchables over a virus with a 98% survival rate. I look forward to seeing "Unvaccinated Only" lunch counters in the near future as our trigger-warning, safe-space, wear-your-seatbelts, risk-averse, hypervigilant, bubble-wrapped society falls off a cliff in a fit of screaming hysteria. 

At least where I live, and at least for now, people are pretty chill about just living normal lives again. If I'm stuck doing business with our local freedom-loving merchants and being otherwise confined to my house and ordering the stuff I need from Amazon, so be it. I'll wait the world out till it gets this insanity out of its system, if it ever does.

In other words...

Go ahead. Burn the world down. 

I look back on my nine years of blogging now and laugh at how much emotion I invested in political crap I never had any control over. And the current load of crap likewise isn't going to end until the media stops talking about it. 

So go ahead.

Act like you're not a racist when you're the one cartoonishly overrepresenting minorities in advertisements, tokenizing minorities in movie roles and hiring practices, and telling white people to "check their privilege" -- i.e., telling a group of people they don't get an opinion because of their race. 

Please, tell me how your vision of "equity" is not outrageous racism when, instead of seeking equality for all as Dr. King envisioned, you turn old inequalities on their head and call that progress, as if the remedy to blacks to the back of the bus is whites to the back of the bus. Didn't your mama ever tell you that two wrongs don't make a right? Have you even read the Fourteenth Amendment?

Go ahead and tell me how you support women and value science when you insist that men can identify into womanhood just by saying they're women. Tell me about how men can have a uterus and women can have a prostate. Compel me to use "they" as a singular and to call men "she" and "her" when they clearly are neither. 

As long as you're compelling me to play pretend, I'm a 13-year-old handicapped black Japanese lesbian android dog. Prove I'm not, you small-minded bigot.

And as long as we're celebrating body identity disorders rather than telling mentally ill people to get help, let's help anorexics feel good about being anorexic. It's the exact same concept, after all.

Meanwhile, remind me how "male" and "female" are not biological realilites but mere "social constructs" and costumes you can change at will, since all humans are just amorphous interchangeable blobs with different plumbing. Please, please, prevent me from stating the glaringly obvious truth that I can see in front of me with my own two eyes. Don't let me proclaim that the emperor has no clothes. Go ahead. Keep on gaslighting me.

Speaking of womanhood, show us how utterly demented your value system is when you try to cancel "Baby, It's Cold Outside," hearing it as a rape song when its female character is actually being playful and coy, essentially saying to her date, "Propriety says I shouldn't stay, but I actually really want to." And then you turn around and praise the vulgar, degrading porn of "WAP" to the heavens. I'm sure you'll lecture me on feminism anyway. 

And speaking of Christmas, keep on letting tiny minorities dictate what we can do, say, and think. When 90% of the nation celebrates Christmas, please do insist that I say "holiday" instead so I don't run the risk of offending 10% of the population. (Funny how this word-policing never happens at Easter, still mostly a religious holiday, and one that often falls adjacent to Passover, a major Jewish holiday, which Hanukkah is not. But no one said the social-justice warriors acted with logic. In fact, they pretty much run on irrational emotion.)

When a tiny group of people think they're something they're not, you'll compel us all to say "pregnant people" instead of "pregnant women" because a few loose screws think men can actually get pregnant. And please, speaking of "WAP," let's reduce women to their body parts, calling them "people with vaginas," to make the Gender Propagandists and a few deluded people feel better about themselves.  

And of course, force us to wear useless, porous masks and get vaccines as a condition for participating in society over a virus with a 2% death rate.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: Minority rights are one thing. Minority rule is another thing entirely. The former is a hallmark of a free and open society; the latter can only be achieved through bullying authoritarian control of the majority. The last time a minority controlled the majority so thoroughly as we see now, it was called apartheid. That didn't work out so well. Tyrannies never do, whether it's a tyranny of the majority or of the minority.

It's like one wise person recently observed: It used to be that if five people wanted to play basketball and four wanted to play volleyball, the majority won and we played basketball. (And then we might squeeze in a game of volleyball, just to be fair.) Nowadays, if eight people want to play basketball and one person wants to play volleyball, we don't play anything at all, because everything is black and white, all or nothing, and we can't risk offending the non-basketball-identifying person. In fact, let's hold the volleyball fan up as a forgotten hero, struggling under the weight of the privilege of all the evil basketball fans who are oppressing his will.

And oh, do tell me how it's OK to impose your gender-neutrality on a gendered language. That's how you end up with the non-word monstrosity Latinx in place of Latino and Latina. No one asked for your linguistic colonialism, but being the perpetual white savior you are, you're going to impose it on Spanish for the language's own good. You never could shake that habit of thinking you speak for all minority groups, could you? Half a millennium ago, the ignorant Indians needed the Bible. Now the ignorant gendered Spanish language needs Latinx when it never even asked for it or knew it needed it.

You see, Puritanism never dies. It just takes different forms. Now, instead of confessing in a church, we grovel on bended knee before the High Priests of the Woke as we atone for our ideological sins, lest we be excommunicated from our livelihoods. Woe to the one who holds the wrong opinion, for he -- ahem, they -- shall be canceled. But alas, there is no true redemption here, especially for those contaminated by the New Original Sin of being born white. 

Seriously, burn it all down. I don't care anymore, and I can't stop you anyway.

In the midst of all this insanity, I've taken to spending my Sundays at Latin Mass. And even there, I'm happy to say that after years of wringing my hands over finding the right religious/spiritual community for me, I'm OK not believing in a literal sense what 99% of the other folks there do. I believe there's something bigger than us out there, beyond this Earth and this life, and I think all religions are taking their best stab at what that is. They're all certain they've found the answer, and they argue with each other and condemn each other, when no one really knows the answers, since obviously none of us are dead yet. But I found peace in a crappy childhood sitting in the quiet beauty of our local Catholic church, and after all the years of struggle to find a spiritual home as an adult, I find I'm content just to sit in the quiet of a Latin Mass and contemplate the Big Questions silently in my own head. That's enough. And if you take the Bible as a series of metaphors, allegories, and symbols for humanity's quest to struggle with its own shortcomings and find redemption, then the overarching story still holds some value. And Mary can still be my spiritual Mom, the way she always has.

I still prefer the relaxed reverence of Eastern Orthodox worship and its comparative flexibility in regard to individual situations to the overly regimented, rigid, and foolishly legalistic Catholic approach. But having already been baptized and confirmed Catholic, I also don't have to endure a yearlong catechism just to fully participate in the service. That counts for something. Besides, if you present yourself for communion, the priest just assumes you're a Catholic in good standing and a state of grace. It's only the Orthodox who look askance at you as you approach, wanting to know who your bishop is before you'll be administered the Eucharist. Who needs that kind of control-freak drama? 

But either way, I'm not there because I'm obsessed with sin and hell. I'm there because I find church a peaceful refuge from the hysteria and stupidity of the world at large. Besides, Latin Catholics are good political allies to have in these times, at least until Pope Francis shuts down the Latin Mass for good. There aren't many churches you can go to where there isn't a face diaper in sight and no one hectors you to put one on or show your papers, Nazi Germany-style. One of the Latin Mass priests recently made an ironic joke about "freedom-loving Washington" in contrast to Idaho, where the appellation actually fits. I like him. I like the church. Yeah, they're uptight and Pharisaical about proper dress and crying kids and being properly disposed to receive communion, but I would expect no less and find their hyperserious joylessness all kind of a funny affectation. As if Jesus would criticize someone for not wearing a clean, pressed cloak of the finest cloth. As if he'd turn anyone away who sought him out in the Eucharist. 

The rad-trads totally miss the point of Christ's message. But then almost all Christians miss the point in one way or another. The evangelical nutters worship Paul and apparently think Jesus was just blowing hot air when he expected his followers to actually live out the values of the Sermon on the Mount. Just head up at the altar call and say you believe, and then you can act however you want for the rest of your life because your ticket to heaven is irrevocable. "Sin boldly," as Martin Luther once put it. 

Yeah, keep me a mile away from those people. At least the Catholics think your salvation can be lost, so they regularly confess their sins and try to stay on the straight and narrow, which means that at least some of them actually make an effort to pick up their crosses in imitation of Christ. 

And forget the liberal Christians, who reduce Jesus to a feel-good hippie, recoil from any and all theology like it was a flaming pile of dog crap, pretend that the Bible doesn't actually condemn gay people, and worship transgenderism more than they do the Almighty. Also, put on your masks for the rest of eternity, because yay faith and logic alike. Why bother going to a church like that when you could just attend a Democratic Party-sponsored political rally?

 This is fine. 

All of it. 

As much as my health sucks, I don't know how much longer I'll be vertical on this planet anyway. I feel horrible for the garbage my daughter is going to have to endure in her lifetime. But there's not a damn thing she or I can do about it. 

And when you can't do anything about it, you might as well come to terms with the fact that you can control what you control and let the rest burn down.

And then look out at the stupid world and say... that's right...

Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Microsoft Surface Duo: When Being Different Isn't Enough

You won’t see me doing product reviews very often, because I don’t really care about the bells and whistles that those reviews tend to focus on as buying points. I want a product that’s reliable and, if possible, different. That’s pretty much it.

I’ll start this review by lamenting how the vast majority of cell phones today are all design riffs on the same boring black rectangular slab. So when AT&T decided to shut off service to my Moto E4, I had a choice to make. What kind of phone should I get next, and is there anything that breaks out of the stylistic boredom of most phones today? Understand that I wasn’t looking for something different for the purpose of impressing anyone; to the contrary, I hate being like other people so much that I’ll go out of my way to not be like them if I can help it.

There’s also a practical consideration: I break my phones with alarming frequency, and I wanted something that didn’t leave the screen as naked and exposed as most phones do. That ruled out paying up for one of the nice new Google Pixel phones, which come with some impressive specs for a not-unreasonable price. 

You’d understand where I’m coming from if you’d ever seen my old E4. It looked like it’d been through a war zone, with dented edges and a spiderweb crack across about a third of the screen. But by God, it still worked, and I intended to ride that thing till it died.

Well, AT&T beat me to it, turning off my phone service, in October of 2021, because the company plans to end 3G support next February, four months in the future. Never mind that my phone wasn’t even 3G; it worked on our local 4G towers just fine, and the taskbar display always clearly showed 4G. I never even saw the phone register a 3G network. But the phone wasn’t on AT&T’s list of “approved” devices that it would allow to function on its network past February. So whether my phone was actually 4G-compliant or not was irrelevant.

So what else was out there that I could stomach? The first thing to catch my eye were the new-ish foldable phones, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip, and the old Motorola Razr flip phone reimagined as a smartphone. I loved my old Razr dumbphone. I go all the way back to Nokia candy-bar phones, and before that a car phone in a bag that necessitated hanging a metal coil antenna on a rolled-up door window. So when the old Razr came along, I was thrilled with the form factor, that satisfying snap when you shut it, and the fact that my screen had a built-in protector.

But my research left me less than thrilled with the new foldable smartphones. That seam in the middle of the display just spelled trouble in my mind, and sure enough, I saw that lots of people reported cracks from repeated folding, and the cracks ended up blowing out their displays. Surely there must have been a way to make a phone with two separate screens that would butt up against each other when the device was opened, rather than trying to drape one display across a fold. For the four-digit prices the manufacturers were charging for these folding phones, this seemed like an unacceptable design flaw. And I won’t pay that much for a phone on principle, anyway.

Then I found the Microsoft Surface Duo. Now that was a nice-looking phone. It folded like the Galaxy and Razr phones, but it consisted of two separate screens joined by nice, strong metal hinges that let the screens swivel a full 360 degrees. You could situate the screens side by side and run a different app on each screen, or you could fold the phone all the way open, having only one screen face you – good for resting against your ear when taking a call. 

You can run one app on each screen (right, YouTube and Maps),
or you can stretch one app across both screens (left).

Or you could position the phone at pretty much any point in between. You could tent it, or you could set it up on its end like a book, or you could set one screen on a flat surface and position the other one for viewing, like a little baby laptop.

Tented and laptop-ish.

The problem, again, was the astronomical price. These things went for upwards of $1,400 when they first came out. I paid less than that for the laptop I use for work every day. Heck, it’s about 14 times what I paid for my old Moto E4.

But then I saw that the prices had fallen drastically since the Duo’s release. When I saw one for half price, and I’d just received a performance bonus from my client that would cover the cost, I decided to take the plunge.

And boy, was it a pretty little device. It was dazzlingly white instead of mind-numbingly black, with the iconic four-square Microsoft logo situated prominently front and center in an eye-catching reflective silver.

It was no less attractive when opened. Unlike the tall, skinny rectangles that most slab phones are, this thing had a 4:3 aspect ratio with one screen open, and a 3:2 when fully unfolded. Not too big, and not too small. Unfolded, it was nearly identical in its dimensions to my old Android tablet. 

Size comparison versus a Galaxy Tab A.

I’ve always preferred the size of tablets to that of phones, but obviously you can’t stuff a tablet in your pocket. Microsoft seemed to have solved that problem by basically making a tablet that folds down the middle and makes calls to boot! I was always envious of the European markets that seemed to have abundant options for buying nice, big phablets, but good old American corporate greed dictated that you could buy a tablet if you wanted more screen real estate, but the tablet couldn’t make calls. For that, you needed to buy a second device for your pocket. Idiocy. But again, Microsoft seemed to have addressed that gaping hole in the American market with the Surface Duo.

I say “seemed” because Microsoft really dropped the ball on this device. The company could have released something totally amazing, with the potential to redefine the smartphone market. But the thing is just way too glitchy.

For starters, touch responsiveness is poor. You’ll often have to press multiple times to get something to work, and hopefully you can succeed before you lose your patience and start angrily mashing your finger into the display. Not that I’d know anything about that. Call me crazy, but I expect an expensive phone to just work when I give it a command.

Second, things just lag, and sometimes they completely freeze. Apps won’t open or close, or the desired action will follow several seconds after you input the command. On top of that, you never know when, or even if, your display is going to flip from portrait to landscape when you turn the device. It’s a crapshoot.

Speaking of which, the back screen is supposed to go to sleep when you have the phone folded open. But it doesn’t always do that, and you’ll have to reopen the phone until it figures out which display you’re looking at. And then even when you get the back screen to go black, sometimes it’ll reactivate, and you won’t even know it until you’re trying to type something on your active screen and you can’t figure out why the keyboard is unresponsive or disappears. Then you flip the phone over and you realize your palm has been inadvertently interacting with the other screen.

Speaking of keyboards, I don’t like predictive text, and I couldn’t get it to turn off on the stock keyboard, no matter what I tried. Even when I rebooted the phone and went back to check that the switch was indeed turned off, I still got predictive text. The only solution was to download Gboard from the Play Store and make it my default.

One of the most perplexing things of all was the squashed display that the phone gives you for text and call alerts, and for dropdowns. When the screen is so big, why mash the notifications into an area smaller than what my old E4 served up?

There were lots of peculiarities like that. There’s one speaker, and it’s not great. There’s also just one mediocre 11-megapixel camera that doubles as front- and rear-facing, depending on which way you turn the phone.

Then there were the things I could live without but that probably proved a dealbreaker for others. One of the biggest drawbacks for a lot of people, I have no doubt, is that the phone shipped with an outdated chipset and came installed with Android 10, even though Android 11 had just recently been released. In addition, there’s no 5G capability, no NFC for touchless payments, and no option for wireless charging. For the price this phone originally retailed at, you’d expect those things to be a standard part of the package.

The things I didn’t like were the lack of a removable battery, no headphone jack, and no expandable storage options. I realize these “features” are becoming commonplace on phones nowadays, which is another reason I held on to my old E4 for as long as I could.

See, I understand that manufacturers don’t make phones for me. For example, I wanted a dual-SIM phone so I could have a main line for friends and another that could pick up the inevitable spam calls after I needed to give out a number on a form somewhere. But here again, American corporate greed won the day, as the phone providers didn’t want to sell phones on which consumers could possibly give part of their business to another company. Dual-SIM phones are easy to come by in Europe. Here, not so much.

I’m also still holding out for a device with massive internal memory, so that I can take my entire music library with me, in lossless form if I choose. But since most people seem content either handing their data off to someone else’s cloud or pulling song files they don't even own from an app’s library, I doubt I’ll ever find a handheld device with 1 or 2 TB of memory.

I also prefer a physical keyboard to a virtual one, but with the demise of BlackBerry, I’ve completely given up on that option. (Side note: Why do they call physical phone keyboards “QWERTY keyboards”? All keyboards are QWERTY keyboards, whether real or virtual.)

I’d go old school and just settle for a dumbphone, but I tried that with a Light Phone, and it was an unsatisfying solution. I like having a browser to look things up on the go. I like having maps and navigation. And I prefer full-keyboard texting to T9 tediousness. I like having a weather widget, too, though I could sacrifice that if I needed to. But I don’t use apps much, aside from a note-taking app where I’m always jotting down ideas. I’m just not a power user. I don’t use my phone as an entertainment device (though maybe I would if I had a phone with enough memory to stuff all my music on one), nor am I someone who sticks his face in his phone all day posting updates and selfies to social media. The most I’ll do is take the occasional picture when I see something interesting.

Since there’s no viable market for people like me, I don’t expect to ever find a phone that checks off all the boxes I want. So I’m content to settle for good enough, with a design that stands out from the stultifying conformity of the ubiquitous black slab being a nice bonus if I can find it.

But when one of the screens on my Surface Duo developed an aggressive green flicker after about two weeks of use, I couldn’t overlook its quirks and flaws anymore. I’m sending it back for a refund. It makes me sad, because I really like the form factor of this device. I love the size of the screens, and the fact that you can do two things at once on it, and the fact that you can position it pretty much any way you want. A de facto folding tablet that makes calls? That’s amazing. This thing held so much promise, and Microsoft just blew a golden opportunity.

So for me, I’ll be firing up an old Moto E5 Play that I had sitting around. I think I stopped using it when the speaker developed a really annoying rattle. But even with that defect, the thing is still more robust and reliable than a Surface Duo that cost far, far more. It actually has a headphone jack and a removable battery, and I can put up to 256 GB of extra memory in it. It’s not perfect, but at least I know I can rely on it to respond when I ask it to do something, and the display has held out for far, far longer than just two measly weeks.

My problem is that I tend to be an early adopter. I love finding things that challenge the boundaries and push the norms. Back when I still watched television, I had DirecTV when most people still had cable. I also bought a 5-inch Dell Streak, which was more or less the precursor to today's slabs, back in a time when everyone wanted tiny little phones. “You’re going to look stupid holding that massive brick up to your face,” people said — and now everyone is scooping up phones that make the old Streak look dinky, as manufacturers put out bigger and bigger 6- and 7-inch displays.

So I gambled on the Surface Duo, knowing that first-generation technology quite often comes with wrinkles that have to be ironed out in future iterations. But some technologies just fizzle out, regardless of the promise they hold. The Dell Streak was a great idea that was poorly executed, and I think the Surface Duo will end up being the same. The second generation of the Duo adds a better camera, a side display for viewing the time when the device is closed, and 5G and NFC capability. But I’m not convinced it’ll be enough to save the device.

I might try another first-gen Duo, in hopes that the green flicker on my device meant that I just got a dud. I really liked the phone, despite its obvious bugs. But for now, a rattling speaker on a boring $100 black-slab phone will just have to be good enough.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Taste of Life

I've been doing battle with a malfunctioning body for many years, and lately the malfunctions have been winning. In years past, I would have been pacing the floors at night, fretting about things I can't control, wondering why me, and simultaneously hoping for a miracle and trying to figure out why the God of love I was raised to believe in would let people suffer so much.

Now... well, now I feel something that's not quite what I'd call a weary resignation, because the feeling is more one of acceptance than of defeat. It's a foreign feeling for someone like me, but if the past year and a half has taught me anything, it's that I have absolutely no control over anything in this world. And that includes the grinding march of time and the toll it takes on one's aging body.

I recently wrote a 12,000-word essay in exchange for receiving a somewhat honorary Doctor of Theology degree. No one needs to lecture me on online scams and diploma mills: The degrees are conferred by an actual practicing seminary, one that offers holy orders through the laying on of hands, making the recipient an official priest through the Old Catholic line of apostolic succession. I received my minister ordination through this same seminary four years ago; now I want to take the next step and receive my holy orders one of these days. The online program takes about two years to complete, so I guess I'll have to see how my creaky old body holds out.    

The point is that I think of the Th.D. as a reward to myself, for all the years I've spent exploring the world's religious and spiritual paths, in search of something I can call my own. I love reading and researching, and since I'll never have the time or money to attend an accredited seminary school, this is the next best thing for me. Besides, mainstream seminaries will expect you to line up with their theological worldview, and I don't line up so well with what other people want. Fifty years of life experience has taught me that, if nothing else. I take what works, regardless of the source, and weave it into a way of life that makes sense to me. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone else.

That thought stuck with me as I was doing some research for a homeschool project on the pagan Wheel of the Year. I'm the theology teacher in our house, and while I fit in whatever else I can toward our daughter's education, my tireless and dedicated wife handles the bulk of the work. 

Paganism isn't new to me, but I'd never jumped in quite so deep as when I was gathering information for this latest project. I gained a greater appreciation for how our primitive ancestors lived closer to the earth, in rhythm with the seasons -- and it occurred to me that it wasn't because they were nobly enlightened tree-huggers that would put our conservation efforts to shame, but because they had to pay attention to the climate and the change of seasons if they wanted to survive the long, harsh, cold winters. They needed to prepare everything they consumed by hand. All the food supplies had to be safely stored away before the snow started to fly. And there had to be enough to last until the next harvest season rolled around. You couldn't just drive over to the supermarket to buy some bread if your grain stores were depleted. Either you planned ahead or your family starved. So of course they'd try to appease their gods through prayer and sacrifice, in hopes that their crops wouldn't be destroyed by storm, pestilence, or drought. We romanticize their lives, but their lives were hard, and often short. They were only doing what they felt was necessary to push through for one more cycle of the seasons.

In some ways, we haven't changed. It occurs to me, for example, that a lot of humans, even in our modern world, haven't stopped trying to appease their chosen deities in hopes of extracting some kind of favor. I ought to know. I did it for most of my life. With the preacher on TV telling me that all we had to do was ask and we'd receive our prayer request, I can vividly remember being on my hands and knees, tears streaming down my face, begging God to please fix me and make me feel better. And the healing never came. 

The problem is that we're always looking for a miraculous way out of our predicament, when maybe there just isn't one. We treat the Judeo-Christian God like a wish-granting genie, but that's not how the theology works. You can't change God's mind, so they say, and he already knows how your life story is going to play out. So you might as well stop groveling and come to grips with the hand life has dealt you. Prayer isn't going to do a thing. 

So why did Jesus go around performing miracles, then? Well, I think it's important to remember that he never healed people to make them better; he did it to point people toward God so that they would see the miracles the Son wrought and in turn glorify the Father. Because apparently the perfect creator of the universe needs his ego stroked like that. 

Recall that when Jesus found out that Lazarus was sick, he deliberately waited a few days before going to Bethany. Why? So that Lazarus would die first and Jesus would have to resurrect him -- which he says he did so that his disciples would believe in him. Seems pretty sadistic and self-serving to let Lazarus' family watch the poor man die just to prove a personal point, but that's how the Father and the Son roll. They don't do things for our sake. They do them so that we'll fall down on our knees before them and tell them how great and wonderful they are. Seems like a God of love would just heal people because he loved them and didn't want them to suffer. But with this God, there are always strings attached.

If it sounds like I'm angry with God, I'm not, because I don't believe in that God anymore. I find the entire belief system far too absurd, objectionable, and illogical. If a God does exist, it's not the God of the Bible. I still admire Jesus' ethical teachings and the spiritual lessons the Gospels try to teach us, and Mary is still the face of the loving, nurturing Sacred Feminine to me -- but I just can't pretend to hold a literal belief anymore in any of the Bible's supernatural claims.

And then let's compare the story of Jesus and Lazarus with the story of the Buddha and the grieving mother, as the contrast between the two stories illustrates my exasperation with the way Christianity does things with regard to people in need. 

In the Buddhist tale, a woman came to the Buddha, beside herself with sorrow, asking him to please perform a miracle for her that would bring her son back to life. The Buddha said he would do this for her, and that all she needed to do first was to bring him a single mustard seed from a house that death had not visited. The woman traveled from home to home, but everywhere she went, all she heard were stories of sorrow just like hers. Every home she entered had tasted death. Eventually, she realized what the Buddha had been trying to impress on her, that death is a part of everyone's life, and she returned to him with gratitude for the lesson learned.  

Now, which person's solution was superior? Jesus' or the Buddha's? Well, Lazarus is just going to die again someday, and Jesus' motives for resurrecting the man were self-serving; while the Buddha's comparatively selfless and more compassionate lesson was that we all die and that it's nobler to accept that reality than to want to bend the natural laws of the universe just to bring a grieving mother some temporary comfort. After all, her son will die again one day, and it could happen before her time is up, leaving her to grieve all over again.

That's how the Buddha did things. He knew that we all suffer in this life, and he wasn't going to try to give you false hope, or sell you a fairy tale, or glorify himself with some cheap parlor tricks to get you to worship him. All he gave us was an Eightfold Path to follow that he said would minimize our suffering and lead us to peace, if we could only walk the Path with sincerity and purpose. The Buddha was neither a pessimist nor an optimist, but a hard-headed rationalist, pointing us toward what is and what works, rather than what we want the world to be. The world doesn't care about our will. The most we can do is face whatever the world throws at us with equanimity.

You can see the Buddha's approach symbolized in an old Chinese painting called The Vinegar Tasters. In this allegorical scene, we find the leading figures of China's three predominant religious traditions gathered around a vat of vinegar. All three have dipped their fingers in to take a taste. 

Confucius wears a sour expression. To the Confucian mind, if something in life is sour -- and for the Confucian, it almost always is -- that means it needs to be fixed, usually by external force. So when the Confucian sees a world full of messed-up people, he assumes they have no hope of navigating life without being subject to a long and rigorous list of hierarchichal rules and procedures, with the belief that compelling order and obedience will bring about a virtuous society. Notably, this is more or less how the Chinese Communist Party exerts control over the people even today. The Confucians are the central planners, the power-hungry bureaucrats, the micromanagers and control freaks who don't trust the people to make their own decisions. They were the wear-a-mask-and-show-your-papers people of their time.

The Buddha, meanwhile, has a pensive look, as if he's acknowledging the bitterness of life but thinking about how he can apply his own hard-won logic and reason to make life more tolerable for those who are suffering. 

Then there's Lao-tzu, the mythical writer of the Tao Te Ching. He's wearing a broad smile, as he acknowledges that some things in life are bitter and some are sweet, and that the vinegar is doing nothing more than just being vinegar. The nature of vinegar is to be sour, and it would be absurd to expect it to be something other than what it is. You'd only scowl like Confucius if you expected vinegar to not be vinegar.

I think all three characters have some valuable lessons to teach us. You can control life to try to force it to work the way you want it, like Confucius; or you can accept things as they are and try to make the best of them, like the Buddha; or you can grin from ear to ear like Lao-tzu and say, "There is no 'best of it.' There's just it." Who knows what's good or bad? Life happens, and you just ride the waves as they come, and then one day you die and return to nature. The end. 

Lao-tzu's reaction makes me think of Doc Holliday's death scene in Tombstone, when his friend Wyatt Earp comes to visit him in the sanitorium. Wyatt's having trouble letting go and moving on, when Doc, channeling the ancient Taoist sage, asks Wyatt, "What do you want?"

"To live a normal life," Wyatt says.

"There is no normal life," Doc tells him. "There's just life."

In other words, you have to let go of the need to control things you have no power over. Things are what they are, not what we want them to be. So change what you can, and find peace with what you can't. 

This relates to me in the sense that I want to see my daughter grow up, and I'll certainly do what's in my power to make that happen. But at the same time, the autumn season we're experiencing now is a vivid reminder that all things pass in their time, and that the leaf doesn't cling to the tree when its time has ended. It's futile for us to hang on to that limb, yellowed and in decline, having played our part in the pageantry of life, all while praying to be made green and vital again. It doesn't work that way. Old life declines to make way for new life. The pagans know that. The Taoists know that. But our ego fights against it. It wants the nature-defying miracle. Fearing the potential for nonexistence, it wants to live on after our meatsuits give out. 

Had Jesus been a fourth vinegar taster at the well, he would have turned the vinegar into wine, to glorify God through himself, and would have promised everyone eternal life as he handed out the drinking cups. That's who we want to show up. We want someone who will make the bad stuff go away and give us hope of something better. But wishing something to be so doesn't make it so.

Maybe some essence of us does persist after death. Maybe it doesn't. But if that's our focus, we're missing the point. Some people are so obsessed with heaven that they forget their life here on Earth, with all its highs and lows, its rewards and its challenges, its beauty and its ugliness. 

There's just life. So go live it while you still have it.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Find Your Own Truth, Before It's Too Late

Vietnamese C-19 propaganda
By definition, there's nowhere for a person who doesn't follow the crowd and submit to authority to feel at home. It makes for a lonely life, but I can't change who I am. 

I got to thinking about this in recent days, as I see the madness growing and deepening all around me. No one will read this, but it all seems worth saying nonetheless. 

First off, I decided to read some Philip K. Dick before bed last night, and I stumbled on the part of his exegesis where he argues that the universe is actually insane. We think in terms of a benevolent creator or an indifferent Tao, but what if the thing that gave rise to the universe actually was certifiably looney-tunes? It would really explain a lot, especially now as we see the world devolving into a profound mass psychosis. 

I've been working on stitching together my own theological worldview, since I deeply believe there's something "out there," yet organized religion has never really cut it for me. I gave it one more try recently with Eastern Orthodoxy, but I think I've gone as far as I can go. On one hand I find comfort in some of our world's religious traditions, but on the other hand they all leave me wanting in one way or another. They get it, but they don't get it. Which I guess is understandable, since I think whatever the Truth is, it lies far beyond the ability of our feeble mortal minds to ever fully grasp. 

Accordingly, I'm working in fits and starts on a book that lays out my own mash-up of theological ideas. Seems like I always have these Big Thoughts rolling around in my head. They've been in there for years, as I've tried to beat my own path up the Mountain of Truth. And the more I try to make the world's traditional paths -- i.e., organized religion -- work for me in some fashion, at least to the extent that I can use one of them as a foundation and spin off from there, the more I'm reminded of Jiddu Krishnamurti's wise words that truth is a pathless land. No one else can make the journey for you, and in fact it's quite foolish to think that anyone could. There's no avoiding putting in the hard work yourself. 

Relatedly, I plan to enroll in an online seminary next year, with the goal of receiving holy orders to become my own priest, with actual apostolic succession in the Old Catholic line through a laying-on-of-hands ceremony. By then I imagine I'll have managed to fully flesh out my own theory of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Whether anyone will listen, or come to my church, is another story, because I don't imagine my vision of things will resonate with many people. 

See, I keep coming back to a kind of binary system similar to that of the Gnostics, who I think dreamed up one of the best explanations for why the world is the way it is. It neatly explains the Problem of Evil and so many other things for which theologians have had no satisafctory answers down through the ages. My thought, similar to that of the Gnostics, is that most of us have been fooled, by the Great Deceiver himself, into confusing the diabolical for the holy. And boy, after doing a PowerPoint on Islam for my kiddo, believe me, I'm more convinced than ever. Where the Old Testament merely relates stories to us about a malevolent God who commanded his armies to kill everyone, rip open the bellies of the pregnant women, dash their babies on the rocks, and keep the virgins for themselves, the Quran literally commands the reader to commit these kinds of atrocities himself, against all the indifels who won't submit to Allah. It's truly horrifying.

Among the reimagined scriptures that will pepper my book, there will undoubtedly be a verse that goes something like this:

Thereupon Satan, having posed as the Almighty, went to a place of many warring tribes, and, disguising himself as an angel, he told the greatest of all lies to a man taking rest in a cave. These lies united the myriad warring tribes as a single great warring tribe, and they sowed chaos throughout the world in the name of their God, and Satan roared with laughter as the people called it a religion of peace. 

At least for today, I took some solace in the words of the great medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen, who speaks for those of us who have never been content to live by others' truths, religious or otherwise: 
We cannot live in a world that is not our own,
 In a world that is interpreted for us by others.
 An interpreted world is not a home.
 Part of the terror is to take back our own listening,
 To use our own voice,
 To see our own light.
When you think about it, it's kind of the 12th-century equivalent of saying "Kill your TV."

It's scary to step out on your own and have the courage to not live life the way others expect of you. You pay a price for nonconformity, often a steep one. But, paradoxically, I think it's the only way you'll ever find true peace. And maybe at the end of it all, the world will actually look slightly less insane.

Either way, the alternative -- a world where safety and conformity smother freedom and choice -- is clearly untenable.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has for years been talking about the growing culture of safetyism, where every threat is exaggerated and we become more and more afraid to take risks. Seatbelt laws, safe spaces, and trigger warnings are all examples, as are coddled kids whose parents force them to live in a bubble where no perceived harm can ever come to them. 

The state of our current world is the end result of the overwrought hysteria of safetyism. Faced with a virus that the overwhelming majority of people will survive, we have mandated everything from porous masks that do nothing to getting a shot as a condition of continued employment. And now we're reverting to show-your-papers Germany, circa 1943, just to gain access to public events and places. Maybe there will an "Unvaccinated Only" lunch counter segregated out for the untouchables, or maybe you won't be let in at all. But that's where we're heading, and we're doing it at a breakneck pace.

This can only happen when we let fear override our critical thinking and turn over our lives to a tiny cabal of propagandists with lots of guns and money.

The lesson we never seem to learn is that whether it’s a government, a religion, or a multinational corporation, concentrating power in the hands of a few almost always ends poorly. The rights and freedoms of the many are restricted in favor of the few who hold the reins of power. They do it using fear and the threat of punishment. And it works because humans have a hardwired tribal instinct. The average person has a job and friends and social obligations. So most people don't want to be the one who steps out of line and risks alienation. They might hate the conditions they live in, but staying quiet and conforming is much easier and carries little social cost. Just ask Jesus, Gandhi, or Dr. King what it costs to stick your neck out. The tribal leaders leave you alone if you don’t rock the boat. Fear is a powerful motivator, and people in power understand this all too well.

What they fear most is the day when the people come to the realization that we outnumber them. Massively. And that's why they work so hard to divide us, to lessen the chance that we'll ever unite in common cause against them, cast off our shackles, and finally become free people with free minds and free wills.

This, in a nutshell, is why I'm an anarchist. I'm just fed up with everybody's bullshit. That goes for institutional powers as well as for those who empower them by constantly rolling over and exposing their bellies -- and then having the audacity to blame our problems on the people who didn't obediently submit.

But I struggle even to find common ground with others who call themselves anarchists. A lot of them, far too many for my liking, think Marx was just misunderstood and his policies misapplied. And the rest, especially those from the liberatarian wing, labor under the false assumption that government is the sole threat to our self-determination.

Religion, for one, controls a lot of people. Some might say the world would be better off without religion. But I'm not so sure, because people will always fill their religious impulses with something. I don't think religion is inherently bad, so long as we use it to discover our place and ponder our origins in the face of a vast universe. Instead, the religious tend to either hand over their brains wholesale to their priests and pastors, or they let the teachings of their holy books fill them with self-righteousness and hate. The whole point is to tame our egos, not sacrifice our critical thought processes.

Far more powerful, and to me far more worrisome, are today's multinational business interests. Corporations should exist primarily to serve human needs, not to enrich their executives and their shareholders on the backs of what amounts to slave labor in the sweatshops of far-flung dictatorships. Nor should they be able to wield their power to control or compel social or political behavior, especially when it's done at the behest of a government that uses corporations to enact its will by proxy. "Private companies can do whatever they want," goes the tired mantra, but the problem is, whether it's a CEO or your governor enacting a restrictive mandate, you're being oppressed either way. But even if we accept the capitalist apologetics of that argument, then companies should be small and powerless enough that if they do whatever they want, their actions would have no large-scale societal consequence.

Then there are our political institutions. This one is simple: Governments should exist at the smallest and most local level possible -- if they exist at all.

That's the world I want to live in. And I doubt that I'll ever see it. In fact, I think there's a good chance I'll live out the remainder of my life as a prisoner in my own home, looking out my window at a world gone mad. I refuse to submit to this insanity just so I can earn a permission slip to exercise what should be my own inherent freedoms.

If somebody time-warped to the present day from, say, a decade ago, I think he would be baffled at just how easily the entire planet can be propagandized into obedience and submission, and then programmed to blame the people who refuse to follow the script. We're upending our entire way of life over a bug that has more than a 98% survival rate. We're treating as an existential crisis an illness that generates mild to no symptoms in the overwhelming majority of people who contract it. We're being programmed to wear masks with air gaps and with pores 20 to 30 times larger than the virus itself, and then demonizing those who point out the plain fact that masking a healthy person is like ordering people to wear garlic necklaces to ward off vampires -- i.e., rank superstition. We're redifining herd immunity as mass vaccination, ignoring the obvious fact that our bodies generate their own natural immunities. The sky is falling, the sky is falling, and it all truly blows my mind. Either critical thought is in even shorter supply than I ever imagined, or fear really is that powerful of a motivator. Maybe it's both.  

Times like this are exactly why we've taught our child to always question what authority figures tell her to do -- to examine the facts, and to say no even if she's the only one doing it. I'm glad we live where we do, in a pocket of de facto resistance. But I fear the noose will tighten and the propaganda will become so relentless that there will eventually be nowhere left to go.

Whether that happens is up to us. Only we can save ourselves. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

What's in a Name?

This was something I wrote as a Facebook Note -- essentially a blogging function that's been discontinued -- back on Dec. 1, 2010, before either this blog or my daughter was born. I thought the post was lost for good, but I was able to unearth it recently. So I'm reproducing it here, in honor of Miranda Penelope's 10th birthday. And since I think of Eggshells as, essentially, my writing legacy, I wanted to preserve it here in case the archived Facebook version eventually vanishes for good.

Lori and I are thinking about having a kid. (Don't break out the cigars yet; nothing has happened.) Out of all the things I could be thinking about -- prenatal health, things to prepare around the house before the birth, how to change a diaper -- I've been fairly obsessed over names. This is why I work with words for a living. They fascinate me.

Even more fascinating to me are the current naming trends. Looking around online at a lot of baby-naming sites, I've been struck by several things.
  • A lot of people are influenced by pop culture. Isabella and Jacob? Hello, Twilight.
  • "Aden" names seem really popular: Aiden, Jayden, Hayden, Brayden, Cayden.
  • Androgynous names are apparently in vogue, too: Taylor, Jordan, Riley. I even see Peyton mentioned as a girl's name. Am I the only one who thinks of Peyton Manning when I hear that name?
  • For many, the notion of giving your child a "unique" name appears to consist of taking one of the names from the Top 100 list and mangling the spelling. This baffles me. You can spell it Emmaleygh if you want, but your girl is still "Emily" when someone speaks her name. And all you've done is made her life difficult, having to always spell and explain her name to people.
  • Brooklyn? Really? Will she have a brother named Manhattan?
  • People either don't know or don't care that patronyms are totally inappropriate for a girl. The "son" in "Madison" means just that -- "son," not "daughter." Same for the seemingly popular "Mackenzie" (or "Mickinzi" or "Mykynzee" or various other butcherings). "Mc" and "Mac" mean "son of." If Johnny Cash were still around, he could write a sequel to "A Boy Named Sue" -- "A Girl Named Mackenzie." And I guess people missed the point in the movie Splash: When the mermaid decided she wanted to be called Madison, the joke was that it was such a terrible, unfit name for a woman.
That last point is one that really galls me. Words mean things. Before you stick your kid with a name, wouldn't you take the time to research what it means?

Consider "Adrian," if you will. (Even if you don't want to, I'm going to consider it anyway.) "Adrian" has a Latin origin. It means "from Hadria," a town in northern Italy named after the Adriatic Sea. The town most likely got its name from the dark-colored sands along the shores. "Ater" is Latin for "black." That's how, in turn, the name "Adrian" also came to mean "dark one." Suddenly sounds a lot more sinister, doesn't it? That's probably why it was chosen as the name of Rosemary's baby. If you've never seen the movie of the same name, the short version is that Rosemary's son, Adrian, is literally the spawn of Satan.

Contrast that with my middle name, "Michael," which means, rhetorically, "Who is like God?" Well, the Dark One sure ain't, I can tell you that much. So my name is, at best, an inherent contradiction, and at worst, an affirmation that I am far from grace. Like I said, you need to think about these things when naming your kids.

It's even worse in my case, because my biological mother deliberately chose my name, knowing full well the connotations. She literally named me after Rosemary's baby because she hated my biological father so much. To her, I was the spawn of Satan. Further, my middle name is legally spelled not "Michael" but "Mikel." My biological dad's name was Michael, and the nearly illiterate misspelling "Mikel" was, I'm sure, an attempt to humiliate my dad. All my bio-mom ever said was that she named me after my dad, but I think the subtext is clear. Someone in my family (I don't remember who) once tried to tell me "Mikel" was the French spelling. Nuh-uh. That would be "Michel." I took four years of French in high school.

I know this is probably more than you ever wanted to know about me and my fucked-up family and childhood, but I bring it up to make a point: Don't be cruel to your children when you're naming them. If you have an ax to grind with someone, take it out on someone else, not your innocent-bystander kids.

And for anyone who's interested, my bio-mom was a drug-abusing, child-abusing, suicidal schizophrenic who gave me up for adoption to her own parents when I was about a year old, because she was completely incapable of raising me. She eventually died choking on her own vomit, after overdosing on prescription drugs. I've only met my bio-dad once. He took off when I was just a baby, and I've never blamed him for it. But all my attempts to reach him ever since our one meeting have, sadly, gone unanswered.

Anyway, when it comes to baby names, here's what I know Lori and I are not doing:
  • Using an androgynous name. It's a pain in the ass not having people know whether the person they're calling or e-mailing is a man or a woman. Don't you hate it when you're applying for a job and the contact person is, for example, Jamie Smith? And you can't address the person as "Dear Mr. Smith" or "Dear Ms. Smith," because you don't know which one is right? I've dealt with that all my life. I've gotten lots of mail over the years addressed to "Ms. Adrian Rush." (I even once got an invitation to try out for the Miss Teen Michigan pageant. I should have shown up for the tryouts. That would have been a hoot.) Even worse, people frequently misspell my name "Adrienne" or "Adrianne" -- EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW I'M A GUY. It makes me feel bad for all the Jordans and Taylors in the world. They're both fine names, but they're bound to cause a lot of confusion.
  • Using a trendy name. Despite my own love-hate relationship with my name, it was nice to always be the only Adrian, while there were always three or four Johns or Chads or Jennys or Julies in my classrooms. Today, classrooms are probably full of Ethans and Avas. (And Eethyns and Ayhvahs.) When thinking of names, I'm trying to steer clear of ones on the Top 100 lists. If the name isn't in the Social Security Administration's annual top 1,000, even better.
  • Using a virtue name. I can already feel the irony of having a boy named Justice who gets in trouble with the law. And I'm sure a 16-year-old girl named Chastity can come up with lots of creative ways to rebel against her name.
  • Similarly, using a name associated with a single religion. What if a boy named Christian decides to become a Buddhist or an atheist? What if a girl named Dharma wants to become a Catholic social worker?
What we do want to do is give a child a name that he or she will be proud of, and that stands out -- but not in a bad way. Lori says her mom always wanted a grandson named Michael, but I'm going back and forth about that name. For one, it's my own middle name, and as I've mentioned, I have issues with my name. For another, it's so plain. There are millions of Michaels in the world. And finally, it's a Biblical name. I'm not really big on saddling a kid with a name from the Judeo-Christian tradition. My hardcore agnosticism and my issues with many Christians (not Christianity, and not Christ himself, and not all Christians) make it hard for me to want to identify with it in any way.

I also want to give a child a name that's not only cute for a kid, but also suitable for an adult. I understand the temptation to name a cute little girl some adorable little doll-like name, like Kayleey Breeanne, but you're not just naming a cute little girl. You're also naming a grown woman who will one day have her own life and will have to live with that name forever. You're naming someone who will someday have to put her name on a resume and be taken seriously in the professional world. One good test I saw on a baby-naming site was to put your baby name in a context like this: "Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, [name]." Would anyone take Kayleey Breeanne seriously as a doctor or a lawyer? These are all things to think about.

The other thing I'd like to do is give a kid more than one middle name. My hope is that it turns out to be a simple way to make the kid feel extra special. "You only have three names. I have four!"

But most importantly, I want the name to tell a story. And a positive story at that. I think (based on what I've seen online) that some parents just pick random strings of words that they think sound good together. A child deserves better than that. Sure, the name has to be pleasing to the ears (and believe me, I've tried plenty of combinations and considered the flow of the syllables and accents), but it should be special, too, whether the name itself has meaning or whether you're naming the child in honor of someone else.

Lori has focused on the boys' names, while I've been thinking a lot about girls' names. (Yeah, we're a strange couple. We'll both be happy with whatever we have, but I think she'd prefer a boy, while I know I'd prefer a girl.) The boys' names that she's mentioned she likes are:
  • Trevor
  • Sebastian
  • Damian
I like "Gordon" and "Wyatt," too, and I've also been tossing around the idea of "Henry David" after my favorite writer, but I'm fine with her choices. I was thinking of "Ian" until I realized that it meant "God is gracious" (meh) and that it's merely the Scottish version of John (a fine name, to be sure, but there are already enough Johns in the world).

So let's see how this plays out:

Trevor: Two origins. In Welsh, it comes from a combination of "tref" (settlement) and "mawr" (large). So "Trevor" in Welsh is, essentially, "the man from the big town." In Gaelic, the name derives from the name "Ó Treabhair," or "descendant of Treabhair," which means "industrious" or "prudent." Given my Irish heritage (my birth surname was Dooley), I think I'll go with the Gaelic meaning.

Sebastian: From the Latin "Sebastianus," meaning "from Sebaste," a town in Asia Minor (near modern-day Mersin in Turkey). Sebaste, in turn, came from the Greek "sebastos," meaning "venerable."

Damian: From the Greek "damazo," meaning "to conquer, master, overcome, or tame." Yes, I'm well aware that the name "Damian" has its own horror-movie connections. But I don't think that many people make the connection anymore, and we certainly aren't picking out the name to deliberately brand the child as a demon, the way my name was picked out for me.

So Trevor Sebastian Damian is (in one way of looking at it) the prudent, venerable conqueror. Sounds like something that Sun-tzu himself would have approved of.

You suppose Trevor Sebastian Damian Henry David Rush is too much? Actually, I kinda like it. The prudent, venerable conqueror and beloved home ruler. I'll talk it over with Lori.

Now for the girls' names. I'll confess right up front that I adore the name Gretchen. Absolutely love it. Always have. I think it's a beautiful, classic, and woefully underused name. Feminine, yet strong. It's a pet form of "Margaret" in German and means "pearl." But Lori hates the name just as much! So strike that one off the list.

I've been thinking long and hard about girls' names, because so many of them come off sounding so treacly-sweet that they nearly turn me diabetic. How do you come up with a name that's pretty and feminine yet wouldn't make a woman sound like she's a perpetual 3-year-old with little ribbons in her hair? At first I thought it might be best to stick with a traditional name, but the only one I could come up with that I really liked was Anna Marie Theresa. And it automatically had two strikes against it: Anna was my bio-mom's name (technically it was Ruth Anna, but she went by her middle name), and "Anna Marie Theresa" also happens to be the exact name of an ex-girlfriend. So yeah, maybe I can just set that one aside.

Poking around on the baby-name sites, I first came across "Sabine." Not in the SSA's top 1,000 names. A Latin location name ("from Sabine"). Great backstory to the name, too. The Sabine women were abducted by first-generation Roman men to populate their new city. A war ensued, and it ended when the Sabine women threw themselves between the Romans and their own husbands on the battlefield. What a great name to bestow on a girl, suggesting such strength and fearlessness!

But then I got into Greek names. Jackpot. Selena, Iris, Irene, Helena, Lydia, Norah, Phoebe … I loved them all. So I decided to focus on Greek names to narrow down my options. OK, so my surname is English in origin, but there's not much I can do about that.

I finally have it down to my three favorites:
  • Lyra
  • Zoe
  • Penelope
Lyra: A variant of "lyris," in reference to the lyre, a handheld stringed instrument. You see it in lots of pictures from antiquity, and in scenes depicting ancient Greece. I'm a music nut, so having a musical name would be perfect for a girl of mine, yet it's not an ordinary name like "Melody" or "Harmony." Best of all, it's never (best I can tell) been in the SSA's list of the top 1,000 names. I hadn't thought of this name since Lori and I listened to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy on audiobook. Lyra was the heroine of the story.

Zoe: Greek for "life." I can't think of a more positive name to give someone. I love names that start with "Z" sounds, too. My only concern is that the name has become very trendy. At first, I was thinking of Zoe as a first name, but I'm not sure I can bring myself to do it when it's in the Top 100 baby-name list year after year and apparently climbing. So it'll have to suffice as a middle name. I still haven't decided whether to stick a "y" on the end, yet, either. I just know there will be some people who think it rhymes with "Joe." But on the other hand, I don't want to cater to the illiterate. And as much as I like the lovely Zooey Deschanel, that's just going way too far. The double "o" in her name makes me think of the place where you go to see the animals, not of an affirmation of life.

Penelope: The faithful wife of Odysseus, who fends off suitors by saying she can't remarry until she finishes weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law. Every night, she unweaves the shroud and is eventually reunited with her husband. The name seems to be of uncertain origin: The most likely explanation I've read is that it's a combination of the Greek "pene" (thread) and "lepo" (to unroll). So Penelope is the cunning weaver -- faithful and resourceful. I've also read that "penelops" is a reference to a bird in Greek -- seemingly a type of duck that rescued Penelope as a baby. But a majority of baby-name sites simply define "Penelope" as "weaver." That cuts to the chase pretty nicely.

Thus, Lyra Zoe Penelope is (in reverse order) a weaver of life and music.

I tried to think of names that would be tease-proof in school, but kids are both creative and cruel, and they'll find a way to make fun of almost any name. Trevor could have tremors, and Lyra could be a liar. The only big alteration I made to my plans was to abandon one of my favorite name combinations: Zoe Irene Penelope Rush ("weaver of life and peace"). Initials: ZIPR. That might be fine if the girl grew up to be a track star who zips around the course, but I'd rather not saddle a kid with the nickname "zipper."

I'm sensitive to this stuff because I got crap coming and going with my name growing up.

  • "Yo Adrian!" (Every person who says it thinks he's the first one to ever come up with it.)
  • When HIV was discovered, I became "Aids." That was fun.
  • "A drain." From people who apparently can't spell.
  • "Russian." (Harmless, but stupid.)
  • "Do you listen to Rush Limbaugh?" (No.)
  • "I'll bet Rush is one of your favorite bands, isn't it?" (Well, actually, yes. That was just a happy coincidence.)
  • "What's the hurry?" (Thank you, I'm here all week. Please tip your waitress.)
My last name either comes from people who lived near rushes (a.k.a. cattails) or who weaved rushes for a living. Not much I can do about that, though. Before Lori and I got married, we tossed around the idea of both taking my birth name, Dooley, but when my bio-dad turned out to be kind of a disappointment, we scrapped that idea. And she never liked her maiden name, in part because people mispronounced it all the time. So our kids are stuck with "Rush."

The most I can do is not name a boy Howard Evan Arthur Dennis Rush. I'll let you think about that one for a moment.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Off the (Communion) Rails: The Legacy of Catholic "Relevance"

I’m a Generation X cradle Catholic, born a little more than a year after the church introduced a tremendous overhaul of its Mass. I grew up not knowing that the church had ever offered anything other than the so-called Novus Ordo Mass, instituted by Pope Paul VI following the Second Vatican Council. So it never struck me as odd that the priest faced the congregation, like a master of ceremonies, and that we engaged in a kind of prayerful back-and-forth conversation with him as the Mass unfolded.

But there were also things that nagged at me as I got older, like contemporary Protestant-ish hymns led by guitar-strumming cantors, or vapid homilies from the priests who seemed to want to be your buddy more than a mature spiritual leader. Those things seemed to cheapen what was supposed to be a reverent and worshipful event.

It didn’t help that my parents were the first Catholic converts in their respective families. Their Protestant backgrounds often shone through quite brightly, such that I had as much exposure to evangelical theology and attitudes as I did to actual Catholic catechesis. My mom, for example, watched the fire-and-brimstone preachers doing their thing every day on our local religious channel. They’d stalk the stages of their auditoriums, railing about the end times, the need to be saved, and the demonic forces that held the world in their grasp — like, well, the Catholic church.

Meanwhile, a Pentecostal-like movement swept through our local Catholic church. We had a “Charismatic Catholic” prayer meeting every week in the church basement. I went along with my dad and godfather a few times. People would lay hands on the sick and speak in tongues, not all that different from the faith-healing revivals Mom watched on TV.

If that seems confusing to imagine in a Catholic context, well, those were confusing times. I was part of the first generation of kids to be catechized in the Novus Ordo era. The church had undergone a massive shift practically overnight, and I don’t think most people quite had their feet under them just yet, least of all those who were expected to instruct us in the faith. Because what was the faith now? I understood not much beyond the basics of Christianity, mostly things to do with Christmas and Easter. And I was expected to prepare for participation in the sacraments — including confession, communion, and eventually confirmation — yet I can’t remember having anyone ever explain to me, in a meaningful way, what those sacraments meant, least of all in a Catholic setting.

Nor did anyone ever really talk about rosaries, novenas, or any other kind of private devotions that might have helped me understand how Catholicism was supposed to be different from any other Christian church. The nun who ran the day-to-day things at our church gave me a rosary following my confirmation, but I had no idea what to do with it. No one had ever shown me how to pray a rosary.

Long story short, practically everything I know about Catholicism, I had to learn through my own independent study. Doing so triggered my lifelong fascination with theological systems and why people believe what they believe. But even though something good came out of it, I never should have had to figure things out on my own. And I know I’m not the only one from the post-Vatican II years to have had such an experience.

In fact, looking back, I wonder how much of my poor catechetical formation was the fault of my parents, and how much was the fault of the reforms of the Catholic church itself. There’s no question that the post-Vatican II church failed me, and the more I read about those early years of transition, the more I’m inclined to think that that was a feature of the new church, and not a bug.

To understand what I’m talking about, I recommend the book Work of Human HandsIn it, the late Fr. Anthony Cekada, a sedevacantist Catholic priest, lays out a damning case, citing their own words, that the Vatican II reformers deliberately set out to strip away everything mystical and transcendent about the Mass, with the intention of orienting it toward man rather than the divine. In essence, the Catholic Mass was flipped on its head. The Novus Ordo was designed to be everything the Latin Mass wasn’t: pedestrian, contemporary, casual, and focused on the worldly, with many ancient prayers removed and wordings revised to make the Mass more ecumenical — that is, to make it more appealing to non-Catholics and to remove anything that made God sound too harsh or that demanded too much discipline, humility, and sacrifice from the people in the pews.  

To be blunt, that’s what the modernists behind Vatican II appeared to have wanted all along. Modernists had been itching to “update” the Catholic church since the 19th century, and they finally got their way with Vatican II and the new Mass. Defenders of the post-Vatican II church often argue that the council never intended the wholesale reforms that we ended up with. Be that as it may, the modernists used the council as a springboard for the reforms they had sought all along. They infiltrated the church leading up to the council and hijacked it afterwards.

It’s still shocking to me, for example, to know that one Orthodox observer at Vatican II was told by a Catholic theologian that “we’ll get rid of Mariology very soon” — as if reverence for the Mother of God was an embarrassment that the church needed to dispose of. That comment sadly embodies the spirit of Vatican II and its attendant fallout, whether that was the original intention of the council or not. In the aftermath of the council, rosaries fell into disuse and were often actively discouraged. Churches stopped saying the Stations of the Cross, and in some cases the plaques that signified the stations were removed from the walls. I can even remember going to churches that had shoved their Mary statues into closets, as if to confirm what that Vatican II theologian had said about the coming end of Mariology.

Whether the purpose of all this was to deliberately undermine everything distinctive about Catholicism or just to make ecumenical gestures toward other faith traditions, the result was the same: The Catholic church was effectively de-Catholicized. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that it was Protestantized. 

I didn’t realize it until many years later, because I had no context in which to place the changes, but the result of all these reforms was essentially the creation of a new church, one that was now only nominally Catholic. Even if the sedevacantists and other critics are wrong and the modernists had no nefarious motives, even if all the modernists set out to do was to play nice with other faith traditions, the result was that they still watered down everything it meant to be a Catholic. Catholicism was no longer something set apart, something distinct from Protestant culture. It was now just another item on the menu.

Some of the worst post-council excesses were eventually reined in under Pope John Paul II, with his deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, but by then the damage was done. So how did the excesses come to pass in the first place? Well, modernists had long argued that the old Latin Mass the church had used for centuries left the people unengaged in their own faith. The Mass needed to be performed in the local language, they said, and there needed to be more opportunities for active lay participation. For perspective, the old Mass was centered on the priest’s offer of sacrifice to God at the altar. The priest would generally speak the Mass inaudibly, in Latin, with the responses limited mostly to the altar servers. The congregation’s role was mainly to prayerfully observe the priest’s sacrifice of the Mass, and to receive the Eucharist at the appointed time.

Moreover, the priest stood facing the altar and crucifix — i.e., away from the congregation. I don’t like to characterize his posture as “having his back to the people,” as is often said, because I think that conveys a misunderstanding of what was happening. It’s not that the priest turned his back on the people; it’s that he was facing in the same direction as everyone else, leading us to Christ, out front and in control, like a holy bus driver of sorts.   

Reformers were right that there were problems to be addressed. For example, I’ve heard complaints from old-time Catholics that priests were rushing through the recitation of the Mass rather than treating it with due reverence, while many in the pews paid little attention to what was happening at the altar, perhaps praying a rosary or looking at their watches or just zoning out, in effect doing little more than receiving communion. It seemed that something needed to be done and that everyone shared in the blame. Priests needed to treat the Mass with greater dignity, and the congregation needed to be more actively involved.

But instead of making a few needed tweaks, the modernists decided to swat a fly with a sledgehammer.

There was no reason, for instance, to rip out the communion rails in the churches following Vatican II. Having recipients kneel in the presence of Christ, as the priest administered the host, conveyed the holiness inherent in the exchange. In stark contrast, I grew up lacking a deep understanding of the Eucharist. I’m sure someone along the way explained to me the church’s teaching on transubstantiation, but it was certainly never emphasized. I stood to receive communion, only to have the person at the front of the line plink the host into my palm like it was a poker chip. Sometimes the distributor was the priest; other times it was a layperson. It didn’t seem to matter who gave you communion, or in what manner.

The point is that the church’s “reforms” stripped the reception of the Body of Christ of its holiness. In the old Mass, only the priest’s consecrated hands could touch the host; kneeling recipients would receive it on their tongues. Now? The priest dishes out plates of wafers to a small army of lay assistants, and reception on the tongue from the priest is now the exception. Reception in the hand is now expected in many churches, such that you’ll often have some layperson’s unconsecrated hands pressing a wafer into the recipient’s equally unconsecrated hands.

Accordingly, I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that in the 50 years since the Novus Ordo replaced the old Latin Mass, most American Catholics, according to a survey, don’t even know that the church teaches that the bread and wine at communion become the Body and Blood of Christ. Priests don’t emphasize it, catechism teachers gloss over it, and the casualness with which communion is carried out gives people no sense of the importance of what they’re actually receiving.

Just the fact that the communion lines are long while the confession lines are short speaks to the disconnect. It wasn’t until I attended a Latin Mass as an adult that I even heard a priest remind everyone that you must be in a state of grace to receive the Eucharist. In other words, if you have anything to confess, you need to go to confession first. Then, and only then, are you properly disposed to receive communion. I’ve never once been to a Novus Ordo Mass where the priest said that.

Nor does fasting before communion really exist anymore. In the old days, you couldn’t eat or drink anything after midnight of the day you were to receive communion. Now you have to fast for just a measly hour beforehand — and considering Mass lasts about an hour, you pretty much only have to stop eating once you open the church doors. Not really a sacrifice or a hardship.

The problems with the modern church extend far beyond the Eucharist. Another poll reveals that a majority of American Catholics disagree with their church regarding contraception, divorce, abortion, same-sex relations, cohabitation, even having kids out of wedlock. Again, it’s hard to think that the lax modernist attitudes within the church’s leadership haven’t significantly contributed to the situation, especially when you contrast Novus Ordo-goers with those who attend the Latin Mass. 

What I mean is that the way each group does Mass speaks volumes: At the Novus Ordo, a relaxed, almost lackadaisical, casualness in both dress and posture is the order of the day; while folks at the Latin Mass will be dressed to the nines in their Sunday best, women veiled and wearing dresses, as everyone sits, stands, and kneels as one, with disciplined military precision, their attention quietly riveted on the priest. There couldn’t possibly be more of a contrast between the two Masses in the seriousness, gravity, reverence, and dignity with which the respective congregants approach their faith. And there does appear to be a direct correlation between outward appearance and inward adherence to the faith.

Those who prefer the Latin Mass are, perhaps unsurprisingly, very well catechized in what their church teaches. In fact, the differences between them and those who go to the Novus Ordo are so stark, according to one survey — 51% Novus Ordo approval of abortion rights, for example, versus 1% in the Latin Mass — that you might think you’re looking at two completely different churches. And in a sense, you are.

And that’s precisely why arch-modernist Pope Francis wants to shut down the Latin Mass. The same pope who has shown so much tolerance for those out of line with traditional church teaching, the same pope who once famously said “Who am I to judge,” has laid down the hammer on the old Mass. Not because of some defect in the old Mass, but because it holds up a condemnatory mirror to what modernism has wrought on the church, on its members, and on Catholic belief.

Francis didn’t frame it that way, of course. His excuse for placing extreme restrictions on saying the Latin Mass is that it has become a tool of division within the church. Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had removed most restrictions on saying the Latin Mass, correctly pointing out that it had never been banned following Vatican II. So German bishops can be in near-schism with the policies they’re promoting in their churches, the pope can bring a pagan idol into St. Peter’s Basilica, he does next to nothing about the sex-abuse scandals, and he privately praises pro-LGBT activism among the clergy — but letting a small minority of theologically sound Catholics celebrate the same reverent Mass that most of the saints attended for hundreds of years? Well, that’s just a bridge too far. 

And Francis isn’t messing around: His own Vatican secretary of state, his right-hand man in Rome, is reported to have said before the edict came down that “we must put an end to this Mass forever.” So much for the pastoral and compassionate pope who wanted to reach out to people on the margins. But then that’s the way “liberal” “tolerance” usually seems to play out, isn’t it?

Now, I’m not saying I’m 100% on board with the Latin Mass contingent. Nor am I 100% opposed to some of the reforms that Vatican II and the new Mass brought about. But at a minimum, it seems that if you’re going to be part of an institution, you ought to be in line with its teachings. Francis and the modernists, in thumbing their nose at tradition, are turning the Catholic church into something it was never intended to be. The Latin Mass crowd, meanwhile, embodies what it means to live an upright Catholic life, but Francis is correct in suggesting that the old Mass itself has become as much a political statement and an obsession with proper form as it is an embrace of tradition. Francis called out the rigid spirit of those who attend the old Mass — and he’s not entirely wrong to do so.

In fairness, I have no doubt that many, if not most, who attend the Latin Mass are there for good reasons — they find spiritual truth there, it enriches their lives, they see it as a more authentic expression of Catholicism, and so on. But I’ve been to enough Latin Masses and spoken to enough people who attend them regularly to know that there is a triumphal, even Pharisaical spirit among some of the congregants. I do understand why they feel that way, and I have some degree of sympathy for their viewpoint. But I’m not so sure it’s a healthy religious attitude. Standing up for what’s right is one thing, but closed-minded fundamentalism is another. Nor does doctrinal correctness mean much if you lack the fruits of the spirit.

Where I completely agree with the Latin Mass folks, however, is in their rejection of relevance. The Catholic church is in the state it’s in because of its seemingly endless desire to tinker and innovate. Ever since its unilateral addition of the filioque to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed a millennium ago has it been this way. It can’t leave well enough alone. And indeed, Vatican II, for all its purported noble intentions, ended up being, more than anything else, an expression of how to make the church “relevant” to the modern world. In doing so, it has succeeded only in watching its Novus Ordo churches empty out. Its desire for relevance has made it even more irrelevant, in a culture that continues to be openly hostile to its very existence.  

This is one of the biggest reasons Orthodoxy looks more and more attractive to me. Do you think the Orthodox care if they’re “relevant”? If a church is secure in its faith, then the faith and its traditional teachings ought to speak for themselves. There should be no need to cater to popular trends, or to the popular desire to be entertained at church, or to dumb down the faith in any way. Eternal truths, after all, are just that. The culture ought to conform to the church, rather than the other way around.

Development of doctrine, within reason, is one thing. Sometimes the church needs to elaborate on its existing truths to address unforeseen situations. But to invent new dogmas out of whole cloth, like papal infallibility, is quite another. Some wags have suggested that a Catholic from 200 years ago would be a heretic in today’s church. That’s probably true, and that points to a significant problem that the Catholic church needs to come to grips with.  

There’s a reason, after all, that large young families are flocking to the Latin Mass: They want a firm spiritual footing. They’re yearning for goodness, truth, and beauty in a modernist world that only feeds them cynicism, relativism, and confusion. They want something bigger than themselves to hold on to in a culture filled with narcissistic meaninglessness. Francis and his modernism are the problem, not the solution. You can’t have a banal Mass with contemporary music in an ugly modern church building and expect to instill deep faith in people. A casual Mass and casual beliefs feed on each other.   

I’ve always struggled to believe, and I’ll always wonder whether that was because my catechism was so bad and the Catholic churches I grew up in were so… un-Catholic. Don’t get me wrong: the Novus Ordo can be done well. I love the new Mass in big cathedrals with choirs and organs and beautiful, inspiring architecture. The transcendent beauty of such places always seems to affect the reverence with which the Mass itself is conducted.

But the Catholic church isn’t interested in reverence and tradition so much anymore, and the rot goes all the way to the top. The church is so completely infiltrated with modernist heretics (yes, I said it) that I’m not sure it can be saved. I know the church has survived a lot of horrible popes in the past, but the entire edifice seems to be crumbling now. The church no longer holds the massive institutional power it once did. It’s now on the outside looking in, being run by people who want the church to mimic a depraved culture, while the depraved culture just continues to heap scorn on it. 

Meanwhile, too many Catholics are ignorant of their own faith and too accommodating of cultural trends that run counter to traditional church teachings. When I wanted to learn what I hadn’t been taught about Catholicism, I put in the effort myself. Most people won’t do that, if they ever figure out there's a problem with their religious education at all, and the faith will suffer for it more and more with each passing generation. Those who care enough to agitate for change — mainly the Latin Mass-goers and a handful of aging bishops — don’t appear to hold enough power to right the ship.

The church will inevitably continue to lose its institutional power in this post-Christian world, and those who embrace the traditional faith are slowly coming to grips with the reality that they’ve lost the culture wars. Thus is the church entering a period of countercultural witness. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. After all, before the church allied with Emperor Constantine, it spoke truth to power as a rebellious outsider, a continuous thorn in the side of the system. It now has the opportunity to return to that vital role, if it can manage to purge itself of its enemies within and still survive. 

Pope Benedict predicted this future for the church. He believed that the church, falling out of cultural and political favor, would shrink dramatically, but that the church that remained would emerge purified and still able to bear witness to the truth of the faith. This is a little of what he said:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge, a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. […] 

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently, but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Want to guess when he spoke those words? When he was still just Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, in a radio address in 1969 — a few short years after the conclusion of Vatican II, and on the eve of the rollout of the Novus Ordo Mass that would replace the 400-year-old Traditional Latin Mass.

He saw what was coming. And his successor in Rome is only helping it all come true.

(Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino, on Unsplash.)