Wednesday, September 28, 2016

So this blog has been neglected for some time because life is very, very busy (just one example: we had our third baby three days ago!). But I can't resist putting this up.

I love it.

Robert Sungenis lied blatantly about me, slandered me, and refused to retract. He also said, in his "rebuttal" to me, that God had chosen him to save the Church by convincing the world of geocentrism. The guy is a crackpot of the first and worst order, the kind with messianic delusions. So it's always nice to see him get dismantled anew.

I'm getting out the popcorn for Sungenis' inevitable 80-page "rebuttal" and declaration of victory.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Planned Parenthood Performs Abortions

Seriously, these books are awesome.

Anthony here. I received a bad shock, and a deeply saddening disappointment, yesterday. Megan Whalen Turner, who I have said to several people is my favorite living author, and who writes the wonderful, character-based, delightfully subtle Queen's Thief series of books, posted on her Tumblr, "I stand with Planned Parenthood." As explanation, she linked to a blog post by YA author Libby Bray, who talks about how when she was sixteen, after a lot of groping with her boyfriend, she wanted to go all the way, but she lived in a conservative town with parents who thought premarital sex was a sin, etc. etc., and Planned Parenthood gave her the education she needed to own her body. And in fact the newly educated young Libba decided not to have sex after all. The word "abortion" does not appear anywhere in the post.

That's the kind of rhetoric we're hearing a lot of at the moment, and it's very nice . . . except that Planned Parenthood performs abortions.

Human life begins at conception; that’s scientific fact. At no other time is there a qualitative rather than quantitative change. Every other stage of pregnancy, including birth, is a change in degree. Only conception is a change in kind. Human life begins at conception, and so abortion is the killing of a human being.

Now, the common argument is that Planned Parenthood offers many services besides abortion. But that is beside the point. The point is that Planned Parenthood offers the service of abortion. It really doesn't matter what else Planned Parenthood does, or how much of it they do, even if their ancillary services are everything they’re cracked up to be by their defenders. It wouldn't matter if Planned Parenthood only performed abortions very rarely, and the rest the time fought world hunger, brokered peace in the Middle East, and reversed climate change. The fact is, they also provide the service of killing little babies.

You might be thinking, "What a typical extremist overreaction! How can you be so obsessed about a single issue that you ignore the good things they do as well?" But would we applaud any organization today that did a myriad of good things but also offered the service of enslaving Africans? Or, more accurate to the point, killing them? The only reason we ignore the loss of life that happens inside of Planned Parenthood's institutions is because the victims 1) do not have a voice to defend themselves, and 2) are really quite inconvenient.

Or here’s another analogy that Andrea pointed out, and that is perhaps easier to understand: we shouldn’t give Planned Parenthood a pass for providing abortions because they also provide other services, any more than we give Bill Cosby a pass for raping women because he was also a philanthropist. The rape thing is kinda more important. The death of a baby is kinda more important.

Social “progressives” do a good job of portraying those campaigning against Planned Parenthood as out-of-touch bullies, snooping in our bedrooms, out to stifle freedom and oppress women. But if I were ever tempted to buy into the progressives' glittering, utopian world of sexual permissiveness, I would stopped by the knowledge that it leads them, over and over, to defend and support abortion. When sex is your sacred cow, anything that threatens its indulgence must be put down. You must have an escape hatch, a getaway car, a last resort.

Even if a baby has to die.

First trimester abortion.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

UFOs and the Numinous Hole in Our Hearts

Anthony here. I’m something of an aviation buff. One of the most fascinating parts of aviation history is the "black projects": ultra-secret aircraft that push the envelope of aviation technology. The greatest of these black projects have been created by the Lockheed "Skunk Works," a small, brilliant, unorthodox division within the Lockheed company. I don't know what it is like today, but in its heyday the Skunk Works was pretty much the Pixar of the aviation industry, doing things differently and far better than everyone else, driven by the desire to create great technology and free from bureaucratic interference from the main company. The results were three of the most impressive and secretive aircraft ever created: the U-2, the SR-71, and the F-117.

SR-71 Blackbird
The U-2 was a top secret spy plane created with the express purpose of overflying Russia. It was designed to fly higher than any aircraft in the world, high enough to be out of range of Soviet missiles. It was a success for a few years, until Francis Gary Powers' U-2 was shot down over Russia, forcing the U.S. to acknowledge the aircraft's existence. A replacement for the U-2 that could fly even higher was needed. To accomplish this Skunk Works had to shift focus from the slow, ultra-lightweight, glider-like U-2 to a machine that would force itself through the thin air at super-high altitudes at speeds hitherto unseen. The result was the SR-71 Blackbird, at Mach 3.2 and a top altitude of more than 97,600 feet still the fastest and highest flying jet (not rocket) in existence — that we know of. The Skunk Works is also responsible for the first stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, and they created a prototype for the stealth bomber but lost the Defense Department competition to Northrop, creator of the B-2 Spirit.

F-117 Night Hawk
In the book Skunk Works, by Ben Rich, head of the Skunk Works at the time of the F-117's development, I read about how the Skunk Works needed a secluded place to test the U-2, which was a CIA-sponsored project and hence totally secret. Their test pilot took a small plane and flew over the Nevada desert for a few days, looking for a place suitable for testing aircraft. He found the perfect spot at at Groom Lake, a dry lake bed. Dry lakes are the best places to test new aircraft — their flat expanses are perfect for dangerously experimental aircraft to take off and land — and this one was conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. The resulting Air Force base was home to not only the U-2, but also to the SR-71, the Nighthawk, and Northrop's B-2 Spirit while they were tested. The F-117's first operational squadron was based only a few miles from Groom Lake.

A few years ago I was reading something online about "Area 51," the super-secret airbase where, so goes the legend, flying saucers and alien bodies recovered from the Roswell crash are kept. The location of the base was given as Groom Lake, Nevada. I had heard about Area 51 for years — it's part of the zeitgeist for anyone who grew up in the nineties — but that was the first time I'd seen the connection with the Skunk Works' secret airbase. I thought that was hilarious. All this time, UFO nuts who have excitedly reported strange lights and strange shapes (including "black triangles") in the sky were just seeing Skunk Works test pilots tooling around in the latest and greatest example of American aviation engineering. It's fun to think what might be being tested in "Area 51" right now. We know that the stealth drone RQ-170 Sentinel, known as the "Beast of Kandahar" after its
"Beast of Kandahar"
sightings in Afghanistan, was tested there. That aircraft only became public knowledge in late 2011, when Iran downed one. And since the Groom Lake base built new, massive hangers in 2007 and 2014, they're evidently getting fresh business. If the past is any indication there are probably several aircraft in existence that we don't know about.

Most "UFO" sightings can be attributed to government aircraft, both secret and non-secret. Take two of the most famous: the Roswell crash and the Pheonix lights.

Skyhook balloon
Out in the desert close to Roswell at the time of the crash, a Navy group was engaged in "Operation Skyhook," sending high-altitude weather and recon balloons aloft. These balloons had to be only partially inflated at launch in order to survive the pressure change as they ascended, and hence they looked very odd. Often they had a saucer-like bulge where the gas had gathered at the top of the bag. They were made of reflective aluminum, giving them a metallic look. The head of Operation Skyhook used to joke that they could track the balloons by the UFO reports from Roswell. One cargo plane hit the small payload of a Skyhook balloon and reported being attacked by an alien spaceship while the "mothership" — the huge, reflective, and ethereal balloon — looked on.

What crashed at Roswell was most likely a balloon. The contemporary reports seem to indicate such. If it wasn't a balloon, it was probably still a part of a government program. Not far from Roswell the U.S. Air Force had a group of German scientists working on all kinds of unconventional air and space projects, often based on captured German designs from the end of World War II. Take this design for the Zimmerman "flying pancake" wingless aircraft, for instance:

"Would you describe what you saw as a pancake, or a saucer?"
Many of these aircraft worked better on paper than in actuality. It seems possible that whatever crashed at Roswell could have been an experimental and top secret aircraft. Certainly such aircraft explain the UFO sightings at the time that can't be explained by balloons.

The Roswell Incident was accepted as having been a crashed balloon and forgotten . . . until the UFO craze of the '70s. Then Jesse Marcel, one of the men who had been involved in recovering the debris, said that he believed that what he had been gathering up was pieces of an alien spacecraft, and that the government had hushed it up. Of course there is not a shred of evidence to support his hypothesis, but that just proves there was a conspiracy, right?

This is similar to the infamous Bob Lazar Area 51 report: a case of a single individual's proof-less postulations jump-starting a UFO legend. Lazar went to the press in 1986 with an incredible story of an underground base at Groom Lake with captured alien saucers and even captured aliens. He named the Groom Lake base "Area 51" based on an old Atomic Energy Commission map that divided the desert, where they performed nuclear testing, into a grid of numbered areas, and the name stuck. Lazar's credibility was lost when it was discovered that he had lied about being educated as a physicist and so could not possibly have been employed as a physicist at the site, but the legend took off and is still going strong, fed by the base's strict security and the nighttime flying of top-secret aircraft.

The more recent Phoenix Lights of 1997 are quite a funny UFO phenomenon because unlike Roswell and Area 51 there is nothing secret about them. These were not "black" aircraft but Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolts, which flew over Pheonix in formation and dropped flares as part of a training exercise. This gave rise to wild reports of a huge, silent triangular craft and floating lights. The A-10s were in a triangular formation but were interpreted as a single craft, low and close. Since it was so low yet no sound was heard, the craft must have been using some kind of unknown propulsion technology! (A-10s are notoriously quiet. In the first Gulf War they used to scare the blankety-blank out of the Iraqis by appearing out of the night without warning. Their dark green paint scheme and the fact that they were difficult to hear above 500 feet made them almost invisible at night. The Iraqis later identified the plane as the one they feared most in the war.) Still, I doubt the triangular lights would have drawn interest (most people would have dismissed them as planes — indeed, one Phoenix resident pointed his telescope at them and discovered that that is exactly what they were) except for the floating lights which followed, which were beyond the experience of the observers, who had never seen military flares before. The lights floated around for a while before mysteriously disappearing . . . behind a mountain, as it turns out:

The CIA recently declassified one of its internal reports in which it is revealed that the CIA happily fostered the UFO phenomenon. Much of the agency's budget is spent in misinformation, and they were not about to let such a good — and free — cover story for their black project aircraft go to waste! Of course, most UFO buffs claim that it is this story that is the misinformation: that the CIA is just trying to make people believe that there are no UFOs.

A quick search on the internet reveals that many people are seemingly desperate to believe in UFOs. Just look at the comments for the Youtube video above. Common sense explanations are dismissed. Contradictions are overlooked (for example: why in the world would secretive aliens zip around the country with extremely-visible running lights? If aliens are as powerful and technologically advanced as UFOlogists claim, why have they let some of their own languish in Area 51?). The really funny thing is that many UFOlogists scoff at religion, failing to realize that their own belief is pretty much a religion. The X-Files tag line is apropos: "I want to believe." They certainly do.

Actually, the comparison to religion is apt. We all have what C.S. Lewis calls a "sense of the Numinous" wired into us. In the Introductory to his book The Problem of Pain, Lewis explains:
Those who have not met this term may be introduced to it by the following device. Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told "There is a ghost in the next room," and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose you were told simply "There is a mighty spirit in the room," and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking – a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visit and of prostration before it — which might best be expressed in Shakespeare's words "Under it my genius is rebuked." This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as Numinous. . . . A modern example may be found (if we are not too proud to seek it there) in The Wind in the Willows where Mole and Rat approach Pan on the Island. 
"Rat," he found breath to whisper, shaking, "Are you afraid?" "Afraid?" murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. "Afraid? of Him? O, never, never. And yet — and yet — O Mole, I am afraid."
We all have a sense of the Numinous built into us, an awe at something greater than ourselves, something mysterious, something beyond our usual capacity for sense-knowledge. It's why we all enjoy a good ghost story, even if we don't believe in ghosts. When the urge towards the Numinous takes a dark turn it manifests in an obsession with the occult. But it is also a compelling argument for the existence of God that every single civilization ever has felt this awe and most have worshiped imagined deities in response. The thinking is that there must be something deserving of the Numinous for us to feel that way; the pagan ancients just didn't know what it was and had to invent fictional deities to explain it. The Jews and, now, the Christians were and are fortunate enough to have the revelation of the actual God from whom this sense comes (and indeed, it is only the radical Judeo-Christian, Theistic conception of God as Being Himself that really satisfies this odd idea of the Numinous). Yet a modern atheist would counter that our sense of the Numinous is just the remnants of the fear of the unknown which our ancestors had, a fear born of not knowing the true, scientific causes behind events. Of course humans will feel that there is something greater than them when all nature seems to be conspiring against them! But Lewis explains,
Now this awe is not the result of an inference from the visible universe. There is no possibility of arguing from mere danger to the uncanny, still less to the fully Numinous. You may say that it seems to you very natural that early man, surrounded by real dangers, should invent the uncanny and the Numinous. In a sense it is, but let us understand what we mean. You feel it to be natural because, sharing human nature with your remote ancestors, you can imagine yourself reacting to perilous solitudes in the same way; and this reaction is indeed "natural" in the sense of being in accord with human nature. But it is not in the least "natural" in the sense that the idea of the uncanny or the Numinous is already contained in the idea of the dangerous, or that any perception of danger or any dislike of the wounds and death which it may entail could give the slightest conception of ghostly dead or numinous awe to an intelligence which did not already understand them. When man passes from physical fear to dread and awe, he makes a sheer jump, and apprehends something which could never be given, as danger is, by the physical facts and logical deductions from them. Most attempts to explain the Numinous presuppose the thing to be explained — as when anthropologists derive it from fear of the dead, without explaining why dead men (assuredly the least dangerous kind of men) should had attracted this peculiar feeling. Against all such attempts we must insist that dread and awe are in a different dimension from fear. They are in the nature of an interpretation man gives to the universe, or an impression he gets from it; and just as no enumeration of the physical qualities of a beautiful object would ever include its beauty, or give the faintest hint of what we mean by beauty to a creature without aesthetic experience, so no factual description of the human environment could include the uncanny and the Numinous or even hint at them. There seem, in fact, to be only two views we can hold about awe. Either it is a mere twist to the human mind, corresponding to nothing objective and serving no biological function, yet showing no tendency to disappear from that mind at is fullest development in poet, philosopher, or saint: or else it is a direct experience of the really supernatural, to which the name Revelation might properly be given.
Earlier in the Introductory Lewis wrote:
We do not know how far back in human history this feeling goes. The earliest men almost certainly believed in things which would excite the feeling in us if we believed in them, and it seems therefore probable that numinous awe is as old as humanity itself. But our main concern is not with dates. The important thing is that somehow or other it has come into existence, and is widespread, and does not disappear from the mind with the growth of knowledge and civilization."
No, the sense of the Numinous has not disappeared. What has disappeared is anything on which to hang it. Our modern society believes that it can explain everything without bringing God into the picture (never mind that nothing can be explained at all if a prime, uncaused Cause does not exist) and many people have ceased to believe in Him. But because of this sense of the Numinous, if we reject God we must create something else to fill the God-shaped hole in our souls. I saw an interview with a psychologist once who said that UFOlogists get the same kind of satisfaction from their belief in UFOs that other people get from religion. This manifests itself most blatantly in the kind of person who will cheerfully scoff at the idea of a Creator but will inform you that extraterrestrials are behind the pyramids, the Nazca lines, the Bermuda Triangle, and even terrestrial life itself. Richard Dawkins, for instance, is so against the idea of God that he paid for ads on London buses claiming that God does not exist, yet he does not have a problem with the idea of aliens "seeding" life on our planet. This attitude also explains why despite the wealth of evidence that the Phoenix Lights were from a mundane military exercise, people who witnessed them insist on describing them as a "profound experience" that changed their lives, and why Jesse Marcel could come to believe that the debris he was tasked with cleaning up came from something that was not from this earth.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Reality of Marriage

Anthony here. In my previous post I talked about a bunch of great books by Robb White. There’s one I didn’t talk about. It’s called Our Virgin Island, and it’s a memoir of the time when the writer and his young bride, Rodie, bought their own small island in the British Virgin Islands and carved out a difficult but amazing life just prior to World War II. Some of their true-life adventures include encounters with sharks, hurricanes, and crazy natives. But most of all, the book is about them, Robb and Rodie.

Robb grew up with nothing. He made his way by resourcefulness and hard work, including a stint in the Navy. Rodie was the daughter of Southern plantation money. As Robb explains, “To Rodie’s parents money was divided into two distinct, separate, and never-to-be-jointly-considered kinds — principal and interest. Principal is sacred stuff kept somewhere deep under Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Only in the subconscious can you even consider the principal. Interest, on the other hand, is the sole source of money which you can spend. I was helpless against this line of reasoning because I had always believed (and still do) that money is something you work for. It’s to be made and if you don’t make any, you haven’t got any.” Rodie, Robb says, “should have married a man with a ragged, sun-lamp-burned mustache and a Dunhill pipe. A man in tweed, driving a Jaguar; a man with a comfortable unearned income. Instead, she married me, a natural born wandering son of a missionary. A bad tempered, butt-headed, clean-shaven, impractical, broken snouted type who, without any of the easy talents which make authors successful, was determined to be a writer.”
Robb and Rodie's Wedding

Immediately after their wedding the two traveled to the Caribbean, bought a small boat, and rented a miserable little house. Robb spent six hours a day in the little boat, rowed far enough out to be safe from the mosquitos on shore, hunched over a heavy typewriter. One day he came back to find a hulking native standing near the house staring fixedly at his wife. The man, another native informed him, was mad, lived in the bush, and ate dogs and goats raw. Rodie told Robb, in an offhand way, “His name’s Malvo. He’s nuts. He hangs around.” But he ran away if he saw her sweeping with the broom. “That’s the only way to get rid of him. But don’t wave the broom or threaten him with it. Just sweep."

Robb lay awake that night. 

I lay there on the floor (our bedsteads had not yet been made) drowning in sweat while beside me Rodie slept. Moonlight filtered through the thick cloth walls of netting and showed that her face was not peaceful in sleep as it once had been. Her mouth was drawn a little at the corner, a line was dark down her forehead. Her hands were tightly closed.
How in the world had we gotten so far apart that Rodie hadn’t even told me about this insane enormity hanging around her for days, maybe weeks? 
And yet was Malvo more important than the hard, lonely business of trying to make thirteen short stories come out one long story? For weeks — months, actually — I had hardly even mentioned to Rodie a thing that, to me, was big and worrisome. 
I woke her up. For a little while I stumbled around with words. 
She said, "Marse Robb, if I had told you about Malvo you wouldn't have wanted to go so far away in the boat. Then you wouldn't have done any work." 
"But will that broom trick always work?" 
When she answered she said, “I’ve wondered about that." 
I lay for a moment thinking. Some rats or mongooses were gnawing steadily at the food safe. Outside the netting there was a whining hum of mosquitoes. Behind the house dogs barked and growled. The fitful wind brought a wet, hot chill of rotten vegetation and hogs. 
“Rodie,” I said. “Let’s get out of here.” 
She touched my shoulder with her finger tips. "All right.” 
I thought of her house on the plantation. The ceilings of the rooms are 12 feet high with books in glass cases going all the way up. There's a butler named Thomas who brings you hot, good coffee when you come in from the woods. Old bird dogs lie in front of the fire there and old carriages are still stored in the Coach House. If we went there we could have a whole floor all to ourselves. I could have an office, complete with private bath. We could go there and, if we did, I would lose her. 
I asked, "Do you want to go home?" 
The finger tips on my shoulder pressed a little harder. "If we went home now," she said, "I'd lose you, Later on, maybe, I wouldn't." 
I told her then about never having owned anything and the fine feeling of freedom no possessions give you. I told her I didn't want that feeling any more. 
“Marse, let's find just a little bay. A clean beach with clean water and a little piece of land where we can build a house. Not much, not expensive, but ours."

So they did. They found, after a long search, a tiny island named Marina Cay, and persuaded the owner to sell it for $60 (about a thousand bucks today). They built a house with much labor and help from two colorful islanders, and Robb wrote stories and got his book finished and published. The little money it brought went a long way in such a simple life, but things were still often tight. Luxuries arrived on Rodie’s 25th birthday in the form of a battery operated radio from Robb’s parents and a kerosene-burning refrigerator from Rodie’s. They endured a hurricane, hosted a visit from Rodie’s mother (who turned out to be an “indefatigable explorer” but wanted to know what Robb’s plans were for “assured income”). Robb risked a shark attack to save their $12 fish trap. They briefly hosted thirteen Jewish refugees who had sailed all the way from Holland in a little boat and landed on Marina Cay on their way to Cuba. Most of their days were spent with Robb writing and Rodie gardening, cooking, and helping to fish and hunt. 

A couple times in the story Robb pauses and turns the focus fully on Rodie:

Rodie isn’t a chatterbox. Rodie, at a party, doesn’t shine. She creates a little pool of quietness into which, if you want to come, you’re perfectly welcome. She isn’t a show-off. She’s honest and wise and unselfish. Her dignity is so much a part of her that it is warm and charming. When you’re with her she makes you feel more important, more significant, better than you really are.

Soon after the house on Marina Cay was finished
But rather than these few moments of telling us, it’s the interaction between the two, the quiet moments shows so well, that bring Rodie to life. When they were down to two dollars and change and Robb suggested asking her father for some of her trust fund money, Rodie replied, “I would if I just loved you and you were a little weak and you needed my help. But you don’t. I mean, you aren’t.” Robb had moments as well. When Rodie was sick from appendicitis, he swam an hour through the dark night to get help. One of the men transporting his unconscious wife to the doctor in a wheelbarrow dumped her out twice, so Robb, when Rodie was safely delivered, knocked him down.

Unfortunately the British government disputed Robb’s claim to Marina Cay, about the same time as his Naval Reserve status was activated for World War II. They lost the island. (Marina Cay now hosts a restaurant and small resort. Robb and Rodie’s house has been restored, and is the reading lounge for the resort.)

Robb closes the book with these words:

Marina Cay . . . We have never been back to that lonely, lost and lovely island. And yet it is a living symbol to us, a cornerstone. We lost a few acres of land, a house, some boats. They are nothing. For on that little island Rodie and I took love and loyalty, respect and compassion, laughter and hardship, and made a marriage of them. 
We had said these words to each other: ". . . for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish . . ."
From Marina Cay, we brought away an understanding of what they mean.

Losing Marina Cay makes a bittersweet ending to a beautiful book. But the real tragedy is the knowledge that, about ten years after this book was written, Robb and Rodie divorced.

In 1985, Robb wrote a new version of Our Virgin Island, called Two on the Isle. I haven’t read it, because I read that it is “slicker, more matter-of-fact” and omits much of the focus on Rodie from the original book, which often reads as a love letter to her.

What happened? Who knows. But whatever it is, it’s a tragedy, and anyone who has read Our Virgin Island, who has traveled to Marina Cay with Robb and Rodie, who has experienced along with them their hopes and disappointments, their hardships and triumphs, and most of all their love for each other, will be heartbroken.

I don’t think “heartbreak" is too strong a word. I just re-lived that agonizing, sick feeling as I looked through the book to write this post. It feels like a death.

But that’s what it is: the failure and destruction of life.

Divorce is a death.

Marriage is real. It’s not just an idea, or a convenience. “Two become one” is not merely a pleasant-sounding metaphor, it’s a description of a reality. Two people, independent, complete, join to create a new greater whole: the family. They renounce something of themselves, their independence, their time, their ability to follow their own whims. They join together in serving each other and the family they create. In a wonderfully paradoxical way, the more they give of themselves, the more they become fully themselves. And the greater the reality of the family is.

Marriage is hard because any self-sacrifice is hard. We humans are fundamentally selfish. Watch a toddler cry because he doesn’t get the toy he wants at the moment he wants it. We’re all still that toddler, on some level. We may have matured enough to give up that toy, but there are always other things, other wants, other moments of focusing only on ourselves. We are always having to grow up, and growing up means giving up. From “I will let my sister play with my toy,” we progress to “I will wash these dishes to surprise my mom,” to “I’ll go out on a winter's night and pick up my friend whose car broke down," to “I will stay with my wife and love and support her no matter what comes, be it sickness, health, riches, poverty, good times or bad times, or (all of the above) lots of kids." The greatest among us ultimately learn to say “Thy will be done” to God, and mean it.

Self-renunciation is always hard, so yes, marriage is hard. Marriage is also joyful, wonderful, even resplendent. Sometimes that joy is easy to see and experience. But sometimes it is a veiled splendor. Day-to-day work, hardships shifting the focus outside, and countless little worries and business-like interactions can cause us, sometimes, to miss the true reality of marriage. Like a fine wine, that reality doesn’t leap immediately to the forefront of the senses. It has to be considered and thoughtfully experienced. It may be something we have to learn to see, in moments of quiet, in recollection, in humor, keeping always the knowledge before us that it is there, even if we can’t see it.

Someone might say about Robb and Rodie, “Maybe the book was embellished. Maybe it made them appear happier than they were. Maybe it was all rose-colored glasses.” But the book includes many hardships, internal and external to the marriage, even doubts. And beyond that, every marriage is a mixture of times of happiness and times of suffering or doubt. When we look back, we choose which to focus on. This is true of everything in life; it’s why Aristotle said that a man’s happiness could only be evaluated at the end of his days, when he can see all his life laid out and whether it has matched virtue. When you understand the reality of marriage and keep that at the forefront of your thoughts, then when you look back you will see the good, the moments of tenderness, the laughter, the joy, the quiet moments during hardship when you came together to comfort each other, and you will see happiness. And what you see is real! More real (if more subtle) than the hardships, the frustrations, the worries and fears which are all you’ll see if you lose sight of the staggeringly grand reality of marriage. The rose-colored glasses show truth.

My wife and I are moving soon. My job was cut; I’m taking another quite far away. Andrea will have to leave her family. I will have to try to learn and fit into a new job. Both of us are worried, stressed, scared. Sometimes we dump that worry on each other, looking for comfort. Sometimes we are the comforters. I can imagine, in times like this, that some couples turn from each other, no longer seeking to understand, building a hard and cynical shell around themselves. More so, I can imagine couples splitting who endure little hardship but who have lost the thread of meaning in their marriage, who do not understand that marriage is not for their self-satisfaction but is a something greater than themselves that they serve. But as for me, I am glad that I have the most beautiful woman in the world by my side. It is my honor to comfort her, and my privilege to be able share my thoughts and worries with her. She is gallantly following me 1,700 miles from her family, and she is sad and scared so she does not think she is strong, but she is doing it, so she is strong. And we, together, are leaning on God, who is stronger than either of us. We’ll continue to lean on Him all our lives, and our marriage will never die. Not because we are superior to those whose marriages fail, but because we know what marriage is, and with God's help we won't lose sight of that. And when we look back in our twilight years, we will rejoice that our lives were so rich.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Robb White's World War II Adventure Stories - Great Books for Boys

Anthony here, with my librarian hat on. When I was a kid, I loved to read books by Robb White. Out of print even in the nineties, his World War II adventure stories were still on the shelf at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. I loved those slightly musty 1960s hardcovers, with their browned pages and generous margins, their aged dust jackets protected from crumbling by just-as-ancient library covering, secured by fraying book tape.

In those books was a world of adventure, perfect for a young man.

In Torpedo Run, the exec of a PT boat has to try to hold his crew together under a by-the-book new commander whose draconian ways and lack of experience push the boat towards mutiny — a problem that rises to a peak when the boat is disabled and drifting in Japanese waters.

In Up Periscope, a young lieutenant is chosen for a secret mission to steal codes from under the noses of the Japanese at a radio station on a small Pacific island. As if that weren’t frightening enough, to get there he has to travel by submarine . . .

In Surrender, a half-Filipino brother and sister take to the jungles in search of their American naval officer father when the Japanese invade the Philippines.

In The Frogmen, a frogman, a member of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team, braves a Japanese-held channel to learn the secret of their underwater mines, which let Japanese ships through but explode when the Americans try to pass. To do so he must outthink the designers of the mines, who left explosive traps that can be triggered by one wrong move.

In The Survivor, a Naval aviator is chosen to accompany a group of marines on a dangerous mission, and wonders why he’s there and what use he could be. He only begins to find out when their transporting submarine is sunk and everything goes south.

In Silent Ship, Silent Sea, a young ensign on his way to Officer Training School finds himself instead on a destroyer as a supernumerary — an extra number. When he orders “Abandon ship” during a battle, he risks court martial for desertion, and has to regain the trust of his crewmates and prove to the captain that he has what it takes to be an officer.

Some of these descriptions might sound like Hollywood action movie stuff — secret missions behind enemy lines and so on — and indeed, the James Garner film adaptation of Up Periscope is just that. But the books are surprisingly character-centered. White's descriptions of the way people think and act under extreme duress are realistic and intense, and the thoughts and feelings of the main characters are made vividly real to the reader.

Best of all, the characters are ordinary men and boys (and a girl, in Surrender), not action heroes. They are scared — often terrified — and would much rather be anywhere else, but they know what they have to do is worth doing, worth sacrificing for, worth even giving their lives for (literally, in one book). These characters exemplify (sometimes learning as they go) the classic old virtues of courage, duty, honor, and selflessness, the virtues that won World War II for us but have fallen out of vogue in favor of modern “virtues” like non-judgmentalism and self-fulfillment, whatever that means. Far from being “true to themselves,” these characters often have to overcome themselves in order to accomplish a mission that is bigger and more important than their own desires or even their own safety. In a simple, matter of fact way, they do the right thing because it needs to be done.

I’ve tracked down copies of all these books, and I’m keeping them for when Pio and Max are old enough to read them. I even digitized one, and hope to digitize the others someday. I think every boy’s childhood should have stories like these.

And of course, having them available for Pio and Max means I get to read them, too. :)

More on Robb White in my next post.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March 25

Eucatastrophe. n. a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending. From the Greek ευ- "good" and καταστροφή "destruction."

March 25.

On this day in history: the One Ring was destroyed. At the moment of direst defeat came sudden and unexpected victory. Eucatastrophe.

Also on this day in history: at the “yes” of a young Jewish woman, God Himself became a man.

Also on this day in history (so tradition goes): the God-man died. In a horrifying defeat, the very men He had come to save nailed him to a cross and killed him.

Think about this from the Dark Lord’s point of view for a moment. Satan had already messed up God’s plan for humanity by causing Adam to fall. That fall was not intended. God had a different plan for humans, but Satan worked on Adam’s free will, and Adam made his free choice and screwed the whole plan up.

Now, thousands of years later, there’s this man walking around that Satan can’t touch, who resists all temptation, who doesn’t commit even one little sin. Satan knows God has another plan, one involving a Messiah, to restore humanity’s connection to God. A totally sinless man is pretty suspicious. Satan’s not dumb. He figures this guy must be the Messiah, the instrument of God’s new plan.

But this isn’t Adam, willfully choosing himself over God. This man resists all temptation. And he’s preaching, converting, gaining followers. Which is God’s plan, obviously. And Satan can’t touch him.

But that doesn’t mean Satan can’t mess up the plan. God might be omnipotent, but as long as He allows humans to have free will, God’s plans can, and will, be foiled. Satan has done it once already. No reason to think he can’t do it again. This man might be untouchable, but the people around him aren’t. He can’t touch the sinless man? Fine. He’ll just use the people round him to remove him from the picture.

And he does. He incites the people to jealousy and suspicion. He works on their pride and greed. And three days after the sinless man entered Jerusalem to acclaim and triumph, He is hanging on a cross, abandoned by almost everyone, gasping as he slowly suffocates and bleeds out.

Satan is on the cusp of his greatest victory. God’s plan appears to have been foiled, again.

And then the man dies.

And suddenly, the whole universe is different. There is a bridge, a path, between humanity and God. Because a man who is also God willingly offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for man’s rebellion. His humanity allowed Him to represent humankind, and His divinity made his offering infinite — an infinite recompense for humanity's rebellion against the infinite God. And by willingly entering into suffering and dying for humanity, He made even suffering, that natural result of man’s separation from his Creator, contain redemptive value when accepted in imitation of Him. And by offering His life for every human as though there were no other, He made every human infinitely precious.

And Satan realizes: this was God's plan. He himself — Satan himself, the angelic power whose actions had brought about the downfall of the human species, whose pride was that he could spit in the face of his Creator and destroy, destroy, what the Creator had created — Satan himself brought about God’s victory, a victory snatched at the last second from what seemed certain and dire defeat.

And three days later, the murdered God-man walked out of his tomb.


The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” . . . It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. . . . 
I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. 
- J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why I Believe in God

Anthony here. I was in a debate with an atheist not long ago, and he seemed astonished that I believed in God. I tried to explain the cosmological argument to him, but he wouldn’t look at it. He instead repeatedly insisted that I only believe in God because I was indoctrinated as a child, or because I am afraid. He urged me to set myself free.

This got me thinking. Why do I, personally, believe in God? Is it as simple as “the cosmological argument proves it?” Human beings are complex creatures, and unfortunately we aren’t usually swayed purely by reason, especially in big, important, emotionally-fraught decisions like whether or not God exists. But on the other hand, I certainly don’t believe in God because of indoctrination or fear. I would have to say that I believe in God because the idea of God, specifically as Thomas Aquinas demonstrates, is the only thing that satisfies both my reason and my heart. It is the only thing that makes sense of the entirety of my experience as a human being.
It started with philosophy classes in college. My idea of philosophy before those classes was of a lot of mind games with zero practicality. I’d heard of some of the famous philosophical conundrums, like Zeno’s Paradox and Hume’s denial of cause and effect, and I wondered how anyone could actually want to twist their brain up in knots like that until they held beliefs against all common sense. Of course, what I didn't realize was that there is bad philosophy and good philosophy, just as there is bad and good science.

I had to take a survey course in philosophy as a freshman. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave fascinated me. If you remember, Plato taught that there are eternal “Ideal Forms” that gives everything that exists its reality. So, for instance, a tree is only a tree in that it reflects some great Form of tree. And so on for everything. He said that there is an ideal world of Forms, and our own world is only a reflection of this ideal world. He compared our situation to someone who is chained facing a blank wall in a cave. He can’t see anything behind him, but he can see the shadows they cast. He starts to give names to the shadows and thinks they are reality.

That hit me hard, because I've had a sense, all my life, that there’s a greater reality behind what we can see. Now, I don’t just mean my religious belief. That’s a conscious, intellectual thing. No, it’s a feeling, a feeling of weightiness, of the reality of not only the things I see, but something that lies behind and, in fact, underlies them. And it is a longing for whatever ineffable thing that is. C.S. Lewis also experienced this feeling: he called it “Joy” (capital “J”). He also used the German word “sehnsucht” (pronounced “zane-zookt”), which apparently has similar connotations. I’ll use that word for the rest of this post.

Sehnsucht comes unexpectedly, and can’t be predicted or replicated. It lasts only a moment, but can leave you breathless. It is usually, but not always, awakened by some beauty in the world. My wife, who has a different temperament than I do, has said that it happens to her sometimes in interacting with people. For me, it’s more as C.S. Lewis described: “That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of ‘The Well at the World's End,’ the opening lines of ‘Kubla Khan,’ the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”

I have to stress that the feeling is one of longing. It’s a sudden, shattering glimpse of something, we know not what. We can’t describe it. I can use words like “higher” and “greater,” “beautiful” and “perfect,” I can put something in italics, but the words still don’t capture it. Sometimes (and this is the great power of great poets) words can give us the feeling again, another momentary glimpse, but words cannot describe what that glimpse is of. Words can’t even properly describe the feeling itself, as these stumbling words show. 

For the moment that the feeling lasts, it hurts. Your soul groans with the longing. But that longing is so lovely that you would rather experience it again than any having you have ever experienced in your life. 

I can remember a couple months ago driving my car listening to the soundtrack to The Return of the King. Although I’d listened to it over a dozen times, for some reason that time it hit me very hard. I can remember trying to drive the car while tears blurred my vision, and my blood roared in my ears, and my soul cried out for the beauty that I had just glimpsed and just lost. 

The track was called “A Far Green Country,” which is bizarrely fitting because the title comes from Tolkien’s words which were inspired by his own experience of sehnsucht:

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."

And, actually, I just read those words and, I’m serious, I’ve got tears in my eyes right now. Which is wonderful because you can’t predict or control when you get sehnsucht (or I’d probably be a sehnsucht junkie). It doesn’t come when you try for it. It’s rare, and it sneaks up on you.

Anyway, back to my story. As you can imagine, when I was introduced to Plato I got excited. I hadn’t read Lewis yet. I didn’t know the word “sehnsucht.” But the idea of some greater reality underlying ordinary reality was something I already felt strongly.

But Plato wasn’t good enough. His explanation didn’t satisfy. I might see a sunset and feel longing, but I know my longing is not for some Ideal Form of the sun. I might see a green tree on a grassy hill, its leaves moving softly in a fresh breeze, and feel longing, but the longing is not for some perfect Ideal Form of a tree. It seems to point to something more fundamental, something behind not only the sun or the tree but everything else. Plato’s Forms didn’t seem to fit the bill. And indeed, Plato’s philosophy did not seem to be the best system to account for reality in general. 

Fortunately, Plato wasn’t the end. We next studied Aristotle. Aristotle put the forms into the things themselves, rather than supposing some world of ideal forms to give each thing its reality. That made a lot more sense for reality in general, but, it seemed to me, it lost any connection with that strange, powerful longing. And so my opinion of philosophy was largely back to what it had been before college: pointless (if sometimes slightly interesting) conjecture.

But then my world was rocked.

I took a class on Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas took what worked from both Plato and Aristotle and reconciled them. More importantly, I learned Aquinas’ proof of God’s existence, and in the process I learned what God is, and I saw how that connected to that longing I’d been feeling, and POW. ZAP. KABOOM. (Or any other onomatopoeia you choose.) My brain exploded.

Aquinas’ cosmological argument blew my mind. Because it argues not merely that God exists, where “God” means some all-powerful creator like you learn in Sunday school, but that for anything at all to exist there must exist a certain kind of being whose existence and nature are the very same thing, who in other words is Existence Himself. This Being underlies all reality. He didn’t simply create the universe at one point and let it run. He explains why it runs, at every moment. Creation is not merely a moment of time but the continual reliance of all that exists on this fundamental Cause. Every cause and every effect, every natural law, every truth of physics, not only relies upon but its very existence is explained by this Being.

This was profound to me because the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” had been a troubling one for me. Yes, I had been taught as a child that God had created the universe and that God was not created but “always was and always will be.” But I couldn’t understand how God existed. I was hung up on the usual atheist question, “What caused God?” But then again, I couldn’t understand how anything existed. Existence itself seemed completely improbable – nay, impossible – to me. And yet things do exist. Obviously. It was a bit disturbing to be surrounded by things that exist (including myself!) when my reason seemed to tell me that nothing should exist at all.

Existence is weird, man, weird!
See, I’d been used to thinking of existence in terms of natural cause and effect. What I sensed without being able to articulate is that the question of why anything exists at all can’t be answered by appealing to the way things come into existence in nature, since that just means moving the question back without answering it. You can continue to ask, “What caused it?” forever, but if you do keep asking that question forever then you’ve never answered it. And if you’ve never answered it, then . . . how does anything at all exist?

What blew me away is that the cosmological argument took that exact problem and made it a part of its premises. It says that since we know that things do exist, then of necessity there must be something to which the question “What caused it?” doesn’t apply.

To put it a little more technically: there can be no infinite regress of contingent existents (a "contingent existent" is an existing thing that relies on something else to explain its existence), or you have not explained why any contingent existent exists. But contingent existents DO exist. So . . . there must exist some non-contingent existent, something that does not rely on anything else to exist. Something that has no cause. Something for which the answer to the question, “What caused it?” is, “Nothing: it didn’t need to be caused.” Only if you have such a being can you explain why anything at all exists.

Aquinas then goes on to demonstrate that if there exists such a Being, it means that its existence and its nature are identical. In other words, it is being, whereas we only have being. And then he shows that a Being like this has to also be all those things that are traditionally taught about God: singular, omniscient, omnipresent, absolutely simple, pure actuality, outside of time, and so on.

This is all wonderful stuff, and it really satisfied my mind. Many times my jaw dropped as the pieces fell into place, and I could see what the ramifications were, and what must necessarily follow. I can remember driving home after a three hour class in this stuff, pounding on the steering wheel as more of the implications struck me, shouting something like, “But that means that this must be true! And if this is true, it follows that that must be the case! Which explains that other thing! It all fits!” But it got even better. As I continued studying, it ended up satisfying not only my mind, but also my heart.

I was taking two classes at the time, one on C.S. Lewis, and one called Faith and Reason taught by the university president, Fr. Robert Spitzer. By sheer accident I took these classes at the same time, and they entwined perfectly. See, in reading C.S. Lewis I came across the first description I had ever encountered of that deep feeling of yearning which I had had all my life, that sehnsucht. I realized that I’m not the only person who experiences it. And then in the Faith and Reason class, Fr. Spitzer identified five “transcendentals,” five things that human beings long for in perfection, despite the fact that we can’t find them in perfection on this earth. They are perfect beauty, goodness, truth, love, and being (this last Fr. Spitzer also described as "home"). C.S. Lewis also spoke of the transcendentals, and traced a compelling argument for the fact that since everything we naturally desire exists, so there must also exist, somewhere, perfect beauty, goodness, love, truth, and being. But I already knew that they existed in perfection, because at the same time that I read Lewis, Fr. Spitzer was explaining, using reason, exactly what the transcendentals are:

If God is the Uncaused Cause, he is the source and ground of all being at every moment. Everything owes its existence to him. He is, in a sense, the single Platonic Form. It’s not that the tree gets its reality from some Ideal Tree, but that it gets its reality from God, who, therefore, has in some way all the goodness that the tree has, in order to give it to the tree. So in a sense the tree is a reflection of something more real: it reflects the goodness and being of God, who is more fundamental – i.e. more real — than the tree, and who underlies it and gives it its reality at every moment. This has some mind-blowing ramifications when you think of the transcendentals, like beauty. Where does the beauty come from? The ground of all being must also be the ground of all beauty. And if you understand (as far as we are able) the nature of God as the cosmological argument reveals it, you understand that God never simply has an attribute. He is that attribute. God could never not have anything that he has. Everything that he has is necessary to him; it is an inseparable part of his being. So, really, God never has anything; since it is his nature, he is that thing. So God is beauty. He is truth. He is love. He is goodness. And he is, of course, being itself. And so beauty, goodness, love, truth, and being are all, ultimately and at the highest level, the same thing. God.

And so I realized that the greater reality that I glimpse in moments of sehnsucht is God. He is what I long for.

(And that made what I’ve always been taught about heaven – that it consists of the Beatific Vision, the union with and contemplation of God, which had always seemed so boring to me – suddenly make sense. Why, yes, thank you, I would love to spend eternity in sehnsucht. But it’s even better than that, because it is the having where sehnsucht is only the longing. I can’t even imagine it.)

And so, after I have expended so many words on a clunky and stumbling explanation of something I feel so deeply, perhaps you can see why atheism has no appeal for me. Firstly, atheism would contradict my intellect, since the cosmological argument shows that to deny the existence of God is irrational and equates to denying that anything exists at all. It’s not that we can’t explain God. It’s that we can’t explain anything else without Him. The staggering, illogical, impossible idea of existence – of something rather than nothing – is made logical and possible by the knowledge that there exists a being whose existence and nature are identical, a being which is pure actuality with no potentiality, an eternal Now, outside of time and space and cause and effect but underlying them all. 

Secondly, atheism would contradict my heart, which has glimpsed, dimly, its greatest desire. In those moments of sehnsucht I know that I am an exile, and I long for my perfect Home. Atheism would tell me that that Home does not exist, and my longing for it is an illusion. In those moments of sehnsucht I behold not simply a beautiful thing but Beauty itself. Atheism would tell me that beauty exists only in my eyes; it is an illusion, an opinion, not something that actually exists. (Which, incidentally, accounts for all that ugly modern art. Art is no longer an attempt to capture a reality external to one’s self, but a navel-gazing exercise in “self-expression.”) If atheism is true, those glimpses which rip through me, leaving me breathless with longing for a perfection beyond my experience or understanding, those glimpses which feel more real to me than reality itself, those yearnings that I would rather experience than any having I have ever had, are a lie. If atheism is true, there is nothing there. 

If I were an atheist, what would I be free of? I don’t want to be free of sehnsucht, but I wouldn’t be, even if I were atheist. I would just be “free” of an explanation for it. Every time I felt it, I would have to think, “That was an illusion. There is nothing there.”

And the taste of ashes would fill my mouth. 

No, I think I will keep the worldview where everything is explained. Reason is satisfied. Existence is explained. Science itself is explained, why it works, what underlies its laws. And the experiences of my heart are explained. Poetry is explained. Art is explained. Mysticism is explained. That heart-wrenching longing for perfect Beauty is explained. 

Atheism would not set me free of fear. It would deny me beauty.