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… signs … Jesus … performed … have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Jn 20: 30,31

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Believing or not believing.  Belief in God or belief in nothing.  Theism or nihilism.  We face this proposition more directly today than we have probably in our history.

I have a very dear childhood friend.  He was my closest friend growing up.  We were like brothers – did so many things together.  Shared the same classes and teachers throughout school.  I was like a family member in his home.  His mother treated me like one of her children.  She and my mother were best of friends.

My friend is now in a nursing home.  He is frail.  Spends a good deal of time in bed.  As a child he was bright, friendly, a reader – social, trusted, quite capable.  In his late adolescence he seemed to be at odds with institutions and authority – but more to the point he began to lose interest in the world around him.  He seemed to make a wilful decision to reject this or that – his skepticism began to grow.  His actions seemed to say: life is worthless – this view and his skepticism grew as he aged.

He drank consistently throughout his life beginning when he was a teenager.  His initial adult working life seemed consistent with his abilities.  He had a modest political life and was elected to his local School Board.  His two children were successful.  He seemed at odds with his wife and she with him most of their married life.  She too was a negative person.

His negativity continued to grow – his work history declined as his cynicism strengthened.  He suffered from seizures.  Eventually his downward work trajectory ended when he worked himself out of a janitor’s job, being fired from a government position despite his union membership.  A very hard act to accomplish.  He burned bridges at work and with family members.  He scoffed at religion and those who tried to help him.

If I have to point to one thing that explains my friend’s decline it is this: he became a cynic – lived as a nihilist.  He lived as if to say very loudly – life has no meaning.  Nothing  met his approval – all was more or less rejected.  He lived as if to deny his own existence and existence itself.  

I see his attitude in our culture and politics today.  Those who reject national borders sound like him.  The lapses with the Vatican as to sex abuse, denying law, morality and the Canons of the Church reflect his disposition. The upheaval in sexual mores, in families, in lawless urban enclaves seem to say: “belief in good” no longer holds.   The corruption at the federal bureaucratic level says much the same thing – truth and honesty are not honored in practice.  Drug addictions, suicides, random violence and corporate men preying on women employees – but more indications of decline and decay, amoral behavior – signs of depravity and reasons for serious concern.

All this to say but one simple thing: I do not hear much said about nihilism and the denial of values, morals, conduct – rather, too often, I see others advocating decline and decay – angry people attacking structures and codes of conduct that hold us together and provide a basis for community, peace and prosperity … life itself.

Theism or Nihilism.  Believe in something or believe in nothing.  God or nothing at all.

Shalom.

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Christianity (is) not … a matter of getting … ideas straight but rather of getting (one’s) life straight.

Robert Barron, in The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path

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Ultimately people want to live well, have peace, experience love, be free of troubles, worries, sickness and injustice, be able to laugh, enjoy friendship, and realize the value of their own good work.

Life is about “getting life straight.”  And that is a faith matter.

Yet, in the course of my lifetime, I have seen interest in faith (particularly Christianity) decline and, in the void that is created, I have seen people seek meaning in ideology and satisfaction the prosperity that has come to us mid-last century in a free market economy with peace at hand.

However as to ideology, I am most troubled.

Ideology is a body of ideas reflecting the “perceived” needs of an individual, group, class or culture.  Needs, mind you, of this mortal existence.

Unlike faith, it is earth-bound and reflects the desires of a class of individuals.  Its goal is not the realization of a full life but rather it is smaller than that – it seeks only the self-authored, contemporary desires of a group – often pursued with force so to impose a narrow and self-interested view of life on all others.  Apropos, politics, propaganda and public tantrums are three of their favorite coercive tools.

Ideologues, you see, care only that their views (which comfort them) be forced on others – never time-tested and never challenged.  Totally accepted as totalitarians demand.

Imagine living with someone who, exposed to an idea, assumes (because they like the idea and feel empowered by it) to make of that idea their world view and the “thing” that  governs their world as they experience it – as if this idea is the prism through which all experiences are, and must be, filtered.

I guarantee that living with such a person is close to living in North Korea or a re-education gulag.  This is where we are today as to ideology – in its public and private hues and noises.

Convince a potential ideologue a hammer is a “hat” and that person will spend the rest of life trying to fit that hammer to their head and expect you to do the same.  Yes, they will abandon all reason in favor of foolishness.  Me?  I’ll take faith – you can keep the hammer.

Shalom.

 

 

… within the progressive societies … every last vestige of the ancient human heritage of ritual, morality, and art is in full decay.

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero of a Thousand Faces

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Professor Joseph Campbell was a pioneer in field of comparative mythology.

In The Hero of a Thousand Faces he shows us that the myths of the world have but a limited number of responses to the riddle of life, and he presents in his book the shared elements of that quest to understand life itself.

Critical to quest is in recorded mythology, as the book title shows us, is the story of the hero.

In the final section of The Hero of a Thousand Faces Campbell focuses on the loss of the hero’s story in modern life and culture.  He observes that the systems of symbols which conveyed the hero’s story have collapsed – and in its place is something far less in content and instruction, namely – the self-determining individual sans our accumulated knowledge and wisdom, respect for the truths previously discovered and the traditions, institutions, and beliefs which guided us over many ages.

Losing track of our legacy, we are very much alone, leaderless and much poorer and weaker as a result.  Yes, our stories, and the symbols in them, once connected our conscious and unconscious life.  Today, we lack the insight and stability which that connection provided.

Look about today – those civilians who occupy leadership positions are dreadfully under-accomplished – offering a college degree and “big ideas” but no experience, wisdom or moral acumen.  In the absence of substance, self-reflection or familiarity with our long history they give us increased risk in place of value.  Where we once found meaning in group – we are now very much alone, divided and among adversaries who scorn our identity, our history, and faith – and promote the end to our borders as a way to destroy who we are, and what we have achieved.

I caution you about replacing a successful legacy with nothing as today’s disgruntled, inexperienced, arrogant adversaries demands.

The irony, of course, is this: now more than ever we need the presence of heroic men and women who will help us recover the coordinated, whole, spiritually charged soul we once possessed.  Absent this, the prognosis: chaos, suffering and decline.

Shalom.

Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking.  One but the shadow (i.e., the opposite side) of the other.

Carl Jung, M.D. in “On the Psychology of the Unconscious,” Collected Works 7

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When you look out on the landscape of culture today, it good to have some familiarity with those like Carl Jung who have made a concentrated and sustained life effort to understand the nature of human existence and the path to a healthy and meaningful life and culture.

I supplement the above with these additional quotes from Dr. Jung:

Man is not only governed by the sex instinct; there are other instincts as well … in biology you can see the nutritional instinct is just as important as the sex instinct … in … civilized societies the power drive plays a much greater role than sex … (Dialogue with C. G. Jung, ed. by Richard Evans)

It takes much energy to be in love.  In America, you give so many opportunities both to men and women that they do not save any of their vital force for loving. (Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, ed. by Wm. McGuire and R.C. F. Hall)

These passages make one think of those in power, of the feminist movement that seems driven by the desire for political power and some of their female disciples who seem narrowly focused and limited developmentally as a result – and, of course, these words bring to mind numerous male counter parts.  Yes, it makes me think that power has its GREAT price and that power seekers often have little fullness or balance and as such are very likely NOT the people that you would want to have power and surely not influence over you, your children, others and this nation.

I dare say politics today shows us that far too many people in power (especially those who live their entire adult life in politics and public office and high level government executive positions) seem to be rather unbalanced and possessed by myopic views, narrow insights, and little to no wisdom.

Jung and others, like the late father of comparative mythology Joseph Campbell, are truly a treasure when it comes to explaining how we are, what we see, what we are living and understanding the disorder we experience in today’s exclusively secular culture.  Both Campbell and Jung can impart valuable insight which opens one up to the truths so obviously presented in religious narrative over the ages – an area by the way of which we have grown pathetically ignorant … and done so at enormous and unnecessary cost.

Time to put down the “smart” phone and the i-pad and put the tattoo money to some good books with insights that can shape and save your life and Western culture.

Shalom.

 

As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.

Leonardo da Vinci

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We are a badly divided nation.  We can thank the liberal social critics who have flourished like crab grass in the post-War 60’s through to the present day.

Yes, we are done in by division – by identify politics which by it’s very nature divides and makes one the enemy of another.

Who you asked has done this?  The Leftists who oppose our Founders gift of a Federalist representative democracy and a Constitution that weds liberty with religious belief and  makes us one.

The dividers?  The perpetually disgruntled Democrat Party that cannot but find reason to complain, divide and destroy.  Indeed, look today at the childish displays at the Senate hearings on the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice.  Democrats take adult moments and turn them into childish tantrums – showing adults as snotty preschoolers – Democrat Senators included.  Divide and destroy is their mantra.

This conduct kills relationships and incites conflict, disorder and discontent.

Then there are the university professors and administrators who profess not faith but ideology – Marxism, and totalitarian socialism.  Such talk is painless on “easy street.”

And then we have the race-baiters who see color but not their neighbors and God’s children.  And there are misguided heirs of the 1960’s “sexual revolution” that separates man from women, and diminishes both and family by doing so.  Hedonists to be sure.

And let’s not forget the pagan abortionists who value “choice” more than child.  Life is not sacred for them.  Could anything be more damaging and demoralizing to the human psyche, in the individual and the aggregate, than desanctification of life itself.

Sadly the “sexual revolution” has entered Christ church were homosexual misconduct is hidden, protected and excused.

So too we have wealthy athletes who hold no gratitude for flag or nation, or for those who (unlike themselves) have served in the military, or died in defense of country,  foreign innocents and their fellow citizens.

By God’s design – we are given the impetus to be united – one, One in God.  Faith, first and love of country and others follows.  The division we see manufactured today breeds our destruction.  Build on God’s truth and restore a love of nation – we are blessed.  We need not be mired in division – better to be unified in thanksgiving and love of one another.

When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.

Winston Churchill

We are safer, happier and more prosperous when we are united and our unity begins with God.

Shalom.

 

Socialism … cannot not be brought into harmony with … the Catholic Church … the reason being that it conceives human society in a way utterly alien to Christian truth.

Pope Pius XI, in Quadragesimo  Anno

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With today’s loose talk about socialism, it is wise to ask those who speak in its favor several questions, to wit:

  • What are the consequences (under socialism) to the life of the human person and his and her experience of what it is to be human?
  • What effect does socialism have on the spiritual life of a person?
  • How can the centralization of power in the socialist state keep from crushing the autonomy and sacred nature of the human person?
  • How can socialism fail to concentrate power in the hands of a small and privileged ruling elite while turning all others into mere slaves of socialist policy?
  • How is socialism consistent with the sacred nature of being itself?
  • Why does socialism discredit religion and exile God when it gains power?

Strange as it may seem, Thomas Merton helps orient us to these questions in a chapter entitled “The Inward Solitude” in his book No Man is an Island.

In that chapter he writes of the sanctity of each human being and reminds us as individuals and, by implication, as a society that we are to respect in others their autonomy, their privacy, their loneliness and solitude for there each person is unique and there each comes to know God and themselves – made just as they are by The Divine Creator.

While Merton is talking about one’s spiritual life and psychological well-being, his words are the essence of individual liberty, independence, privacy and sanctity which are all threatened by the centralized socialist state that always and everywhere is at odds with faith, religion, God and economic freedom for the secular, socialist state courts no rival – neither the free and sacred person, economic freedom, nor God.

The socialist state is godless and seeks to separate the person from the Divine.  Aside from socialism’s historically established economic and social failures – it alters the essence of the experience of human life such that it imprisons the Spirit of each who yearns for fullness and for meaning, for God, peace, community and prosperity.

Think about it.  Those who promote socialism are UNABLE to justify its conduct and the barren end it produces.  This is what Pope Pius XI is saying.

To comprehend socialism in practice – look at socialist Venezuela today with its starvation, poverty, state corruption and heavy hand.

Venezuela: a once prospering and wealthy democratic state turned to ruin.  Voter beware.

Shalom.

… a cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there arise … the fundamental questions which pervade human life: Who am I?  Where have I come from and where am I going?  Why is there evil?  What is there after this life?

Saint John Paul II, in On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason

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We are more alike than we are different, yet we let charlatans galore promote things like “identity politics” which divides us from one another and from God.  Shameful, isn’t it.

Yes, Saint John Paul II has identified the four essential questions that lead to one’s full human development – our stability, maturity, wisdom, compassion and the ability to care for self and others.

Yes, these questions help us know who we are and, in that, present the Divine to us, open us to our spiritual identity.  In these questions we become what we are designed to be: both human beings and spiritual beings. 

As Saint John Paul II reminds us these are the questions addressed in sacred writings through the ages – in the sacred texts of Israel, in the Veda and the Avesta, in the work of Confucius and Lao-Tze, “in the preaching of Tirthankara and Buddha” … “in the poetry of Homer and the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles” and the works of Plato and Aristotle.

These questions lead us to meaning and truth.

Make no mistake those who demand your attention, who seek to govern, lead, entertain, amuse, teach, preach, propose public policy and especially advocate fundamental public change ought to be given no quarter unless they display they are fully grown and schooled in the wisdom that is derived from these vital questions.

For too long we have granted empty-headed children posing as adults the privilege of being heard.  Our culture’s decline is evidence of doing so.  No more!

Be discreet.  Expect those who would lead to have grown spiritually, to be humble and wise – facile and clear with words that convey something of their person, their heart and their soul – and be possessed of good humor, sensible insight and frankness – yet encouraging and optimistic despite the challenges of the day.

Shalom.

 

 

A gracious woman attains honors, and ruthless men attain riches.  The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.  The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.

Prov 11:16-18

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HonorMercyRighteousness.  Does this describe you?  Describe those you meet?  Those you admire?  Those you listen to?  Those who have public authority?  Those who wish to lead you?  Those who claim to serve justice?  Those who comment on public affairs?  Those who preach and baptize?

If not, why not?

There is no time in my life that I have seen what I now see: namely, the absence of virtue and the virtuous.  It is as if we have stopped teaching men to be gentlemen and women to be ladies.  More to the point we seem like we emulate Sodom and Gomorrah.  And, it seems that ruthlessness, cruelty and the acquisition of extraordinary wealth and power no matter the cost to our character are just fine by us.

Make no mistake – the human heart longs for what is good, and just, and true and merciful and not what is bad and unjust, false and merciless.

We had best restore the best in us – or bye, bye birdie.

It all starts with you – and it starts now, today!

Shalom.

 

 

Then they set out along the black top in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.

Cormac McCarthy, in The Road

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McCarthy writes of a father and his most beloved son who walk under the grayest of skies in a burned out and broken America.  It is both a compelling book and extraordinary movie.  In both I am struck by the love of the father for the son and the son for the father, and by the grayness of the sky amid the ruin.  The latter reminds me of the verbal and video landscape of the present days where hostility is thick as fog and division seems the only objective of the public voices we hear and where each day brings stories of death, cruelty, hatred and the commentaries of the C- and D+ scribes and talking heads whose range of thought is a tad lower than that of a carnival barker.

In a most extraordinary land darkness has descended.  What was once one is now fragmented into many bruised parts .

He could not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing the loss as well and he thought perhaps the child had known this better than he.  He tried to remember the dream but could not.  All that was left was the feeling of it … he could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was his own ashes.

This father like me had lived a dream – a dream in better times.  I was conceived when the Second World War was near its triumphant end.  My childhood was spent on a street of veterans and their families – remarkable men and women whose childhood commenced in the Great Depression and turned then to World War – its millions dead, others murdered in Stalin’s gulag.

How does one speak of what we had and lost?  How does one make that the known experience of an adult son?  Give him the optimism purpose and meaning I, poor as we were, knew so well?

How do my grandson or my granddaughter gain what had been, but now is so damaged?  How can my ashes live to sign their forehead?

The Road.  Where this father and son had the dark shadow and penetrating cold of a dying orb – they at least had silence.  We have the unstoppable voices and words of those whose lips bring darkness and cold.  They are now our dismal cover.

“You have to carry the fire … It’s inside you.  It always was there.  I can see it.”

So says the father to the son.  So say I to you, this day.

Shalom.

News as Soap Opera – This is where we are in a superficial mass communication, digitized social media culture.  We interview people with no achievement or proclaim and, in doing so, cannot distinguish people of substance from people who have no particular accomplishment.  We are more soap opera than not.  We can no longer tell the difference between depth and shallow, or what is substantive and what is not.  A real astonishing decline.

I often wonder what the world would be like today if some of our modern religions taught that self-knowledge … was the paramount goal of the spiritual path.

Randy Davida

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I might frame what Mr. Davila (the Publisher of The Mastery of Self: A Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom) said a little differently.

I might say that we would all be far better served if we realized that religious narratives address our human development and well-being – that they speak to our full growth – psychologically, socially, emotionally, inter-personally, intellectually and spiritually.

As to our spiritual growth think of psyche (Greek for soul); and I suggest you do too.

Our spiritual growth is growth of our psyche – the deepest form of self.  Religious narratives present a dimension of observation, insight and understanding that enriches us at the very core of our being – in the soul/psyche.

Frankly, far too many people in our culture (and particularly among those who wish to govern us) neglect their full growth and development and present evidence of this daily.

They are as to full human development – lost souls – confined to error, ego, ideology, desire for status, wealth and attention … and, regrettably prone to poor, and even destructive, ideas and policies.  In a word – we are poorly served and poorly led by those who (forsaking religion and religious narrative) have little wisdom and not much of use to offer us.

My “take-away” from Mr. Davila’s words is this – we neglect religion, do not see its narrative as useful and informative in a very fundamental way, and turn our back on the ageless wisdom of our faith and, hence, we face a multitude who seek to lead us without knowing who they are and who we are.

Living without the self-knowledge contained in religious narratives is destined to produce error, ignorance and egotists prone to foolishness and serious mistake.

Each of us would be wise to take only the pulse of those in public life as a way to monitor the state of chaos, calamity and confusion present today – while focusing on our individual acquisition of the wisdom and insight present in religious narrative.  Absent that – the unknowing are led by the unknowing.

Shalom.

Postscript – As some of you know I am trained – in law, government and politics, international relations and American foreign policy, and theology.  I have long been interested in the relationship between faith and secular culture.  After a great deal of reading, thought and experience, one has to conclude that neglecting our religious heritage is a very unwise thing to do – for religious narratives deal entirely in the human person and his or her peace and prosperity – personal, communal, familial, psychological , intellectual and spiritual.  Neglecting religion produces poor results.

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