There be dragons!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Humanae Vitae

Ever have days that you just get a little irate over seeing things too clearly?

Contraception, why not? I reread Humanae Vitae today and thought about that question raised by Paul VI. Why oughtn’t one to engage in artificial contraception? Yet the answer to me seems so very obvious that it becomes a source of frustration.

Look, either human actions do or don’t represent spiritual actions.

  • If they don’t then there is no purpose or point to our action and we are no more than highly evolved apes; the whole of man’s spiritual happiness and nobility of existence being thrown out with one negative.
  • If human actions do represent spiritual actions then either they do or they don’t have specific consequences on the spiritual level.
  • If they don’t then all actions are whimsical bits of relativism, without consequence and one might as well murder and rape from the world all that one desires rather than suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
  • If they do then marriage either does or doesn’t have a spiritual dimension.
  • If it doesn’t then marriage is the one, unique action, materialistic and relative.
  • If it does than marriage either is or isn’t ordered according to natural law.
  • If it isn’t then one must deny that this most fundamental action of our human existence is connected to the natural law which governs every other aspect of our humanity.
  • If it is connected to natural law than natural either does or doesn’t dictate that marriage is twofold; procreative and unitive.
  • If it isn’t twofold (solely procreative or solely unitive) then we deny one aspect of natural law and the marriage act either has no purpose (again, unique among human endeavors) or it becomes nothing more than a unitive or a procreative activity.
  • If solely unitive, the unity eventually fades with nothing to show for such unity (as pleasure and happiness in another person will fade without some project to work on together).
  • If solely procreative, neglect of one’s spouse eventually kills the love and happiness the two share and makes an object of one or the other person.
  • If, then, marriage is unitive & procreative it either does or doesn’t reflect the spiritual reality of unity and procreation.
  • If it doesn’t reflect this reality what then would it reflect? One is left denying the spiritual aspect or seeking some better spiritual aspect for this action to reflect.
  • If it does reflect this aspect then the greatest example of unity and procreation is the unity of Christ and the Church which unites God with the individual soul and produces the fruits, or children, of such union in loving acts of charity.

So either one denies the spiritual aspect of man altogether, or else one denies that this act (of all human acts) has relevance in the spiritual realm, or else one denies that this act reflects this reality of unity and procreation, or one relents and says that indeed marriage does reflect the union of Christ and His Church.

Then, any act that actively denies or prevents one or other aspect of the twofold nature of marriage denies the twofold nature of the union of God and man.

Contraception, why not?

  • If contraception then one either does or doesn’t deny one aspect of the marriage life.
  • If one doesn’t, then the very purpose of contraception is undermined, or redefined by a lie.
  • If one does deny one aspect then doesn’t one have then to justify by denying other realities; namely that there are other realities, or that there is natural law, or that there is a purpose to human action, or that this act corresponds with this reality, or that there is a twofold meaning to the marriage act, or that there must not be any artificial barrier between God and man?
  • And if there is a barrier raised between God and man and the subsequent denial of other realities, a denial necessary to justify the action of contraception, what then becomes of human life? What happens when the artificial barrier fails and the natural course of things occurs as God planned and a little bambino or bambina emerges into the world? Isn’t it a mistake? Isn’t it unplanned? Isn’t it out of one’s control? Shouldn’t one destroy it and keep only those little ones that one judges are worthy of life?

Seems that this is a one way ticket to making gods of ourselves.

Isn’t that obvious?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rewriting Dan Brown

A friend recently sent me a funny article critiquing the syntax of that master of modern literature, Dan Brown. All theological argument aside about the veracity or blasphemy or what have you of the work da "Vinci Code", his writing stinks! So, I took it upon myself to rewrite him. Here are some samples, please feel free to offer your own rewrite:

Assignment: Rewrite Dan Brown’s opening paragraph.

Dan Brown (original): Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

S.E. Hinton: As I stepped out into the shadowy recesses of the gloomy gallery from the brightness of the lobby, I lurched, like some animal, desperately toward the Caravaggio, covered in gold and massive; now my only hope for triggering the alarm and bringing salvation. The canvas tore from the wall with a ripping sound and the twang of snapping twine. The last I remembered as I lay in a heap, the cold, clean tiles pressing against my cheek, was the sound of the resonating alarm and the slow, sonorous approach of my pursuer’s footsteps. Then only blackness.

Hemingway: Darkness. A hallway. The curator moving as men move, men who know death like a lover or a charging bull running in the streets of Barcelona, their ominous hoof tread close behind and the sweat and the terror fast approaching through a whiskey-clouded haze, though now it was fear, not the sweet burning residual alcohol in the throat. Jacques Saunière, seventy-six years old, still capable of fear, knowing what fear was, fearing the unmanliness that it would bring, knowing he could not stop it, clawed with ancient and papery hands at the nearest trifle. There. On the wall. Something like a Caravaggio, or a Monet. With his last strength he exerts all and chances all in a gamble that the silent alarm will bring help or perhaps that the relentless pursuer (no bull this, but a man, dark and menacing) might halt and turn aside at the veracity of the act, or perhaps the heavy frame might come down swiftly on his old head killing this aged curator right out, his last defiant act like a man dying at his own hands and not reduced to womanish weeping and pleading for his own life at the hands of a merciless stranger.

Faulkner: Saunière had loved the Caravaggio. Loved it like a child knowing (in that way that only a long life spent in intimate thought and conversation unhindered by the trivialities of a world in chaos that rushes by without heeding the beauty and immensity of artwork) that one day (though perhaps not this day, “please Lord let it not be this one,” he might say in a moment of agony and they were many at this age) he would leave it (despite all the pills and the exercise and the eating of his creamy purified yogurt new bought from the local health store in the desperate attempt to stave off the years of excess, the gin and the women and the hard living, nights up poring over manuscripts, and the back-breaking strain of living, not just living, but surviving, enduring, unvanquished) or it would leave him (for all that is beautiful suffers at the hands of delineating time which gnaws always at the back of the mind until “Jack!” he might hear “Jack!” the sound of mother at the top of the stairs on that most desperate day “Jack!” calling to him as she struggled to rise up from the ground “Jack!” and he, as if in some dream, running, weeping and running up the stairs, three at a time only to arrive too late and that most beautiful thing in his world, though he could tell no one; how could he? A six-year old boy and his mother collapsing at the top of the stairs; expiring at last from the face of the planet). Now was the time. Now. It would give its life for him, this Caravaggio. It would protect him from the barbarian onslaught, the incessant footfall of strangers, standing in the shadows watching, always watching with a menace and hatred which he, even at seventy six could not comprehend any more than at the age of six. He yanked and pulled at the frame but it would not come free. Dammit! Why now? How often had he had to readjust the frame after a field trip of young, foolish-eyed students had bustled through and (though never touching the picture) had dislocated it through their cattle-like stampede. He needed it to come free; to give its life; to trigger the alarm; that he might live, might escape the footfall he had dreaded ever since that day that she had collapsed at the top of the stairs; coming closer, always coming closer; so that now, at the age of seventy six his hands still shook with a fear and terror of the darkness pervasive like that of a six year old child. He pulled again. There was a twanging noise and the curator let out one sharp, rabbit-like shriek.

Melville: Call me Jacques. Having eluded the pursuit of a stranger –don’t ask me how- I came here at last to this cocoon of sanctity; this womb of happiness which, for so long as if in some dream or nightmare (call it what you will) I had spent so many happy hours alone; utterly alone. Now the womb was invaded; the cocoon broke open and I, pursued as if by some dark fury down cavernous corridors, come at last to my Megiddo. Whence then to run? The looming effigy of that hideous stranger, the whiteness of which I detested more than my own cuticles, threatened even from fifteen feet away. My eyes burned with horror that indeed his immensity, not physically, mind you, but the immensity that some strange characters in the drama of the world, evil men and chaotic, exude by their very ability to escape the ebb and flow of the natural law, might come down upon me, penetrate this womb of joy I had so long known, crush me within its pale marble confines and finally snuff out the life I had lived as curator and caretaker of this place. No. It would not be. I would stab at him from Hell’s heart. For hate’s sake I would spit my last breath at him. With eager, shivering hand, as though in some somnambulant excursus, hindered only by an inarticulate reticence for preserving that thing which constitutes beauty in our world, I reached for the nearest work of art; a Caravaggio, it would happen to be, in the grand, cosmic irony of the universe. This! This would be the weapon. To set off the alarm. To crush his spectral whiteness, blot out his terrifying purity, pierce his inner heart that beat with a whiteness of its own. The snap, then the groan of the wood, then my own piercing shriek as the wood fell onto my aged head, and I? I knew no more. 


Midway along the path of this life’s journey
I woke to find myself too swiftly pursued
Down vaulted shadowy archaic archway,

My terror now increased, now lost, now renewed.
And I, renowned curator, Jacques Sauniere,
With the last remaining manly strength embued

Clasped the Caravaggio frame cutaway,
- Chiaroscuro, Sanctus Petrus nailed prostrate -
The fast approaching stranger's hand to stay

Or perhaps the silent 'larm to activate
And then alarm amongst the watching guard
Spread.  My fears not only to corroborate

But the murd'rous pursuers pursuit retard.
Three quarters and one steps up a path so steep,
My life's sweet pilgrim ascent now stumbling hard,

With no smooth path my footing then could not keep -

The masterpiece toward myself I tore
And collapsed beneath it in a lifeless heap,

A curator to care now nevermore.

Sing, Brown, the terror of Sauniere,
Murderous, doomed that took him down to the house of death.
Begin, Brown, of how he staggered through vaulted archways
Breathless as a wild deer hunted by hounds
Turning now this way, now that, escaping the snares
While the beaters strike the bushes and the horns ring out,
So too did Sauniere, seventy six years of age, run
Through the hallowed halls of the great Grand Gallery
Until he lunged at last on a looming painting
Caravaggio, grapes, a young boy shadowy
Painted on the canvas and surrounded by the heavy gilt frame
A frame which no two men of our day could lift,
But he lifted it easily. It tore from the wall
And the sinews snapped, and the wood groaned forth,
Until it fell to the floor biting the cruel dirt.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Back in the Saddle

A new post, and not about politics (yet). Let's talk instead about sex. (the two of the three things my grandma always said should never be discussed at the dinner table, the third being religion).
"Heartache occurs" ought to be the new bumper sticker. Relationships run afoul of all sorts of things, from sex, to money problems, to differences in opinion. But such ought not to be the way. Indeed, heartache between people is a sign of fallen nature, not of intrinsic evil of the opposite sex and all of us, prone to heartache throughout our lives, must not fall into the trap of thinking of the opposite sex as the source of the problem. To even engage in language that talks of men as stupid, or women as whores, men as worthless, or women as evil, is to encourage a generalization that is neither helpful nor realistic. Some men are stupid and worthless. Some women are evil and act like whores. Perhaps even many men and women are such, but the fact that they exist ought to prompt us to govern more closely our own hearts and involvements.
Eros, the Greeks said, was the most driving form of love. Not the sordid, physical attractions we all experience, either, but this intense longing for the beautiful; a longing which could not find easy solution. We are human, therefore we have heartache, for our very individuality creates a separation from others, from the beautiful, from God himself. Sexuality is a physical expression of this intense longing, but eros is far stronger than just the physical. This is why when we give ourselves physically to another we always are dealing with a religious act; the physical expression is a surrender of self to the other with the trust that they will remain faithful and desirous of our friendship; fellow sojourners on a road towards the good. Thus heartache is intensified by any physical contact with another person should that relationship go sour.
But how we are told we ought to view relationships is that man and woman are one flesh. Marriage is a vow to honor that oneness and seek unity even at the cost of self-sacrifice and endurance of pain. Love finds its greatest expression in the oneness between man and woman working together to seek the good, and until we can give ourselves in a sworn relationship we ought to very carefully avoid the natural bond that develops through physical relationships however much those relationships are based on real love. Above all else, married life must be a friendship; relying on each other, and entrusting to each other mutual respect and admiration.
When seeking a partner for life one must ask "How worthy am I of love? Have I made myself noble and honest, honorable and knowledgeable, beautiful and interesting?" Then in the other we look to see if this person is a friend; trustworthy; honest; strong in their ideas yet able to forgive; seeking the good yet able to laugh; and finally, attractive. But above all else, honor. How a man talks about women to other women, to other men, to himself is vital to how he will treat women. A man without honor, discourteous, crude, betrays in himself an ability for cruelty which the man of honor could never allow himself to engage in. A man who speaks kindly to women, treats them like human beings, avoids wrecking himself through substance abuse and porn, is a man who can be trusted with greater responsibilities that require self-discipline. Find a man who treats you well and you will have a friend for life. Similarly, the myth of the "dirty woman" has to be abandoned. Men are naturally drawn to the dark and dangerous women who flatter them and play with their emotions. But such women are not women of honor and they can betray and wound a man or drive him to the brink of despair. Find a woman who is beautiful but whose beauty is in holding herself to a code of honor with men, other women, and herself. Such honor in people is rare, but very valuable if we hope to avoid the thousand natural shocks which flesh is heir to.
Heartache is a reality of life, and never fully goes away while in this world (and I can't speak for the next, though I hope...), but the heartache that occurs between man and woman is a sadness that is best minimalized by our own courtesy and pursuit of honor.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

My true face.

Here's a candid shot of me snapped by a friend of mine:

I'm getting a bit pudgy around the middle, I think.