Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Before we dash off in full follow of our Dante follower's full metal quest to debase a milestone in Western Christian literature into a narcissistic pop-cultural self-help seltzer for the soul, I want to set the scene for all of us so that we can begin with the fullest flavor of our Italian vacation indulgence.
Just visualize me staring at my laptop screen, recalling one of my most beloved Italian memories. No, not Sophia. My Mom, smiling as she opens the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee can herself, microwaving it just right, then lovingly pouring the steaming reddish-brown-and-cream-colored whatever onto my plate before finalizing her devotion by tearing open the cheese packet with her own tiny fingertips and expertly sprinkling it so that every morsel of goodness receives at least one atom of cheesy insouciance. Believe you me, nothing will save you from any sort of lurking cloud of darkness around you like stinging flies like a taste of Italy.
Now that I think about it, though, I might have experienced that experience by watching a commercial on TV Land, but it hardly matters. In either case the important common denominator is that I would have been there.
Where were we? Oh, right. Vicariously off to Italy, the birthplace of Dante and the real Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.
At the bottom of a post longer than the Dante trail itself whose purpose is to inform us that our follower can still get in the door in New York City, we're confronted with a mystery even more profound than those of Orv or Ann and the possum we encountered back when we were reading that book I got at a garage sale together.
Who is "Casella"?
It can't be "the famous James C." unless the C stands for Casella, which would obviously be too easy and besides why would someone already identified need a code name?
No, this is a new mystery companion traveling with Rod as he follows in the footsteps of Dante through the sensuous, enveloping romance that is Italy.
Is Casella a man? A woman? A dog? A mutant combination of all three caused by a freakish industrial accident involving a radioactive spider which has left it with super Dante-following powers but also with a tragic, socially alienating dark side and that ennui that descends like a cloud of stinging flies when waiting too long in the DMV?
These days, as long as it's not some ball and chain making you second-guess your tell-all blogging, does it really matter?
And, so, the game afoot, we're off, following the follower on the trail of the Dante Trail with his mystery companion "Casella" through Italy, where sensuality and spirituality converge.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
I confess I'm obsessed with watching the slow-motion train wreck of the Ed FitzGerald campaign, but my excuse is that I have never seen any train wreck quite like it. Every article points out that he has no money for television ads and so is relying on grassroots and endorsements. Every article about FitzGerald also contains the prepositional phrase "with a woman who was not his wife", but that's old news at this point.
So in this environment, it doesn't help you if the State Chairman of your party makes jokes at your expense. In a New York Times interview, no less. Chris Redfern tells us how he feels in an obvious CYA move:
The party chairman, Chris Redfern, pointed a finger at Mr. FitzGerald himself. “I’ve never met a former F.B.I. agent who doesn’t have a driver’s license,” he said. “It’s akin to saying, ‘Damn, I should have my umbrella’ after it rains.”
Mr. Redfern, a State House member, said no other major Democrats stepped up to run in a primary. As for vetting Mr. FitzGerald, he blamed an outside group that the campaign hired to research the candidate’s vulnerabilities. Mr. Redfern said he would not hire the company “to clean out my bird cage.”
I keep thinking about how Nancy Pelosi maintained in 2010 that Dems would keep the house. That's what you're supposed to do in politics. You know you're lying, but you keep up appearances. Who knows, it might save you from losing worse. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad to see everyone piling on to a fake Catholic candidate who has turned into a huge loser.
Monday, September 29, 2014
A must-read for anyone concerned about the (insurmountable?) pathological problems within the religion of Islam. Excerpt:
Pope Benedict went on to suggest that interreligious dialogue between Catholics and Muslims might focus on these two linked questions. The Catholic Church, the pope freely conceded, had had its own struggles developing a Catholic case for religious freedom in a constitutionally-governed polity in which the Church played a key role in civil society, but not directly in governance. But Catholicism had finally done so: not by surrendering to secular political philosophy, but by using what it had learned from political modernity in order to reach back into its own tradition, rediscover elements of its thinking about faith, religion and society that had gotten lost over time, and develop its teaching about the just society for the future.
Was such a process of retrieval-and-development possible in Islam? That was the Big Question posed by Benedict XVI in the Regensburg Lecture. It is a tragedy of historic proportions that the question was, first, misunderstood, and then ignored. The results of that misunderstanding and that ignorance—and a lot of other misunderstanding and ignorance—are now on grisly display throughout the Middle East: in the decimation of ancient Christian communities; in barbarities that have shocked a seemingly-unshockable West, like the crucifixion and beheading of Christians; in tottering states; in the shattered hopes that the 21st- century Middle East might recover from its various cultural and political illnesses and find a path to a more humane future.
A reader sent me this last Tuesday and I promised to post something about it. Better late than never, I guess.
Are you, too, lost in a dark wood spiritually? If not, here are a number of wonderful stories telling you how you could be if you only tried a little harder. Remember, as Rod has told us over and over, stories are the way to really get your cultural marketing across.
And now, successfully lost lamb, are you ready to be found? The Great One is there to help with another, even more powerful dream story. But what's this?
I had enough self-awareness to know that it was impossible for me to read these books lucidly. The cloud of darkness around me was like stinging flies. What I recall learning from all that was that the Catholic case for Roman primacy was not nearly as airtight as I had believed. I had only seriously considered the Roman claim versus Protestant claims. Orthodoxy was a new thing.
Well, Pilgrim, are you gonna keep trying to get the Devil out of those filthy spiritual clothes over and over with that tired old lard-based soap and a rock, or are you going to try new, improved Orthodoxy the way your Dream Teacher has just laid out for you?
Tax-deductible, of course.
Another reader on the sender's email list then delivered this opinion:
Actually, I wouldn’t mind his far-fetched dream-state Orthodoxy stories so much if he focused on the blessings that Orthodoxy has brought to him. But he simply can’t do that except by comparison to the mean old not-as-important-as-it-thinks Roman Catholic Church (“Did you hear about the Scandal? Huh? Huh?”).
And I find it interesting that the Story of The Great Conversion continues to change over time, just like The Day That Rod Was There. It’s always something new, which means what we’ve been told previously (as well as now) is as likely to be false as true.
I see it just as click-bait. What better way to harvest comments by throwing out FOUR threads for people to bash and tout various faiths.
Here's my initial email response:
I likewise find the lack of focus on Orthodoxy qua Orthodoxy in his writing telling. It’s always “Orthodoxy for the doubting and/or disaffected Catholic”. But there is something else missing. Any kind of serious intellectual apologetic effort. He writes:
....Orthodoxy was a new thing. The Orthodox arguments were making some headway with me, but they were far from a slam-dunk, at least with me. What they did was loosen my confidence in the solidity of the Catholic claim. Yet I was highly aware that my own mental and emotional state was inflamed by anger and distrust, such that I was not sure to what extent my deliberations could be trusted.
What is missing is the details on these Orthodox arguments. The only thing we get is “What they did was loosen my confidence in the solidity of the Catholic claim,” so again, his Orthodoxy is relative to the Catholic faith. It isn’t the Eastern Orthodox Church’s/Churches’ claim to positive moral authority, it’s the negative claim against the Catholic Church. And he never even allows us a peek at those. Instead we get a full 15-minutes of exciting dream-footage in technicolor with spiders and magic prayer ropes.
Those were my initial musings, but I'll expound on them here.
Say a person just became a serious Christian and decided he really wanted to follow Christ's teachings. So he decided to study the claims of the ancient Christian communions. He'd heard that there is a blogger who writes prolifically about his conversion out of one ancient Christian communion (Roman Catholic) into another (Eastern Orthodox). So he decided to check out some of these many posts to discover why.
I don't think this person would find any advice for his own spiritual journey from this blogger named Rod Dreher who, by the way, really does write prolifically about his conversion out of Roman Catholicism. He'd learn that the blogger left the Catholic church over horrible abuse scandals which, the blogger doesn't deny, also exist in his current orthodox communion. He'd also learn that the blogger also left over the sometimes horrible mishandling of the scandals, but that the blogger admits that this mishandling sometimes happens in his present communion.
Not only is there not much of an effort at intellectual apologetics for Orthodoxy, but there isn't really any reference to an outside source for said apologetics which were "making some headway" with him *. I think that the this lacuna is possibly intentional for two reasons. The first is that for Rod Dreher, intellectual effort is completely unnecessary—you either get it or you don't. I think that in this case, prattling on ceaselessly about it is sort of pointless so I don't know why he would bother. But smug people doubling down on smugness quite often should surprise no one who has any worldly experience.
The second reason, and one which is more likely to my mind, is that any intellectual argument for Orthodoxy over Catholicism would present a vulnerable target. If regular readers here attack Rod Dreher's decision to leave the Catholic Church it is very easy for Dreher's defenders to dismiss us by saying "You just don't like him." Fair enough; we don't. But by not presenting foundational absolutes or general principles for why he left the Catholic church, his choice to do so comes across as individualistic, relativistic and circumstantial. He might have presented the idea elsewhere that the small and the particular are virtuous attributes, but in the consequential decisions of life, they don't provide for strong arguments.
This would account for another aspect of his famous conversion which I've noticed from the outset. There is no proportional recruiting effort. If indeed Catholicism is so bad and Orthodoxy so good then he should be trying to pull good people that way. But I think this ignores the particularity and individualistic nature of Dreher's conversion. This choice of Orthodoxy, he always seems to emphasize, was tailor made for him, reinforced by many and diverse subjective experiences including even his own dreams which, we all know, men never lie about except in pick-up lines.
Before I converted to Catholicism in the early nineties, I considered Eastern Orthodoxy. I even read Peter Gillquist's book Becoming Orthodox about a group of Evangelical Protestants at a college campus who all joined the Orthodox Church after studying the ancient liturgy. At the time I remember thinking that it was well-written and very convincing about the liturgy and the sacraments, but there was really no substantive reason why their conclusion couldn't have been to all become Roman Catholic. The year after I converted I remember reading the late Father Ray Ryland's article Evangelicals Who Journey East in the magazine This Rock. In this article, Ryland exposes the fact that at many points along during the journey of these Evangelicals, there was a sub- or semi-conscious desire on the part of the members of the group to steer away from considering the Roman Church. This desire was what drove the decision, not objective inquiry, and it made for an easier way forward for the group that avoided the more rigorous stances taken by the Catholic Church which we have before noted. Ryland demonstrates how they even borrowed arguments from protestantism in order to bolster their newly found Eastern Orthodox belief system.
So this is my conclusion. I believe that in the same way as those Evangelicals under Gillquist had a predisposition to avoid Roman conclusions, Rod Dreher as a Catholic had a desire to get out of the church once the going got tough, and the abuse scandal presented the opening he'd been longing for. He breathed a sigh of relief after leaving with seeming integrity, but, as Father Ryland opined, the "breath was not deep." The lack of depth has proved itself ever since through the ever-declining force of his words in his ever-changing narratives.
* - I realize that he discounts these arguments as determinative by stating "[T]hey were far from a slam-dunk, at least with me.... ...I was highly aware that my own mental and emotional state was inflamed by anger and distrust, such that I was not sure to what extent my deliberations could be trusted." But the fact is that he did leave the Catholic Church and he did become Eastern Orthodox. So it is impossible to conclude that he was not convinced to become Orthodox because that church professes the correct ecclesiology—unless you hold to an opinion that Rod Dreher joined the Orthodox church merely on a pretense. I choose to believe the former; it is the more charitable course. Yet the will is supposed to allow itself to be informed by the intellect. It is not supposed to ignore it.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
According to the latest letter, donors who give over $1,000 to the magazine will receive an invitation to a “semi-annual, invitation-only editorial briefing” phone call with The Little Way of Ruthie Leming author Rod Dreher, the American Conservative’s “theater critic and a solo blogger” Noah Millman, and political science professor Patrick Deneen.
I get to meet Rod Dreher! Like, I suppose you could do better than that. No way! Because it seems to me that he would be a pretty decent guy, I must say. What if we became best friends -- best friends in the so I would just like, phone his house up, and say, "Is Rod there? Just tell him it's me!" sense, now that I think of it. Like, I suppose Rod Dreher doesn't have, like, over a million friends, probably. But then again, maybe he doesn't. It's difficult to say. Oh, this is completely insane!
But, wait! There's more!
Top contributors who give over $25,000 will receive an invitation to the magazine’s annual board dinner.
The annual board dinner! What do you suppose they'll have to eat? With Rod Dreher there it has to be pretty decent, I must say. Maybe he'll even cook for us himself! But $25,000! I could sell my car...yes, and take the bus! And then I could be the one who paid Rod's salary for the year! We'd be sure to become best friends after that! But what to wear? They all sound like they dress just like me, I must say. So I'll fit right in!
But is there more?
“By aggressively utilizing online formats and social media, the American Conservative is reaching younger readers exceedingly well,” wrote Allison.
Social media! Younger readers! That means there'll be girls there! Alt-conservative girls who would be sure to find me a decent fellow, I must say. And I could introduce them to my best friends Rod and Noah and Patrick! And we could all smoke pipes together! With Wick! But does he smoke a pipe? It's difficult to say. He must! They're all intellectuals there...they all smoke pipes - even the girls! But I'll bring an extra one, just to be sure.
Best friends with TAC! Oh, this is completely insane!
Saturday, September 27, 2014
No, friends and readers, the title of the post doesn't contain a redundant typo, it describes the upcoming gratuitously self-indulgent journey we are about to embark on following in the footsteps of Rod Dreher as he follows in the footsteps of the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri, whose footsteps have repeatedly been followed in since sometime after his death in 1321. That's a lot of footsteps following if you ask me.
So since there cannot possibly be anything new and interesting to learn about Dante himself which hasn't already been documented far more richly elsewhere, it's fairly obvious that what we'll be discovering along our journey will be Rod's and, derivatively, my own aesthetic sensibilities as they are variously stimulated along the way.
If you can imagine a Rick Steves food and architecture tour focusing our breathless anticipation on someone like Oprah Winfrey's overstated moment-by-moment account of their overall sensible experience as they bite into a creamy gelato while their bottom explores the contours of an antique Italian chair, I think you'll have a good idea of the excitement to come.
Not only will we be following a follower, we'll also be following the follower's followers as they follow him themselves, giving us the richest aesthetic Moralistic Therapeutic Conservative sensibility experience possible .
I can't wait.
Friday, September 26, 2014
I got married in 2001, so I decided to post this Weezer video. Always liked the guitar lick. Laura Ingraham used to use it as bumper music for her show all the time.