Thursday, December 01, 2005

Europe's Tangled Economic Web

Another professor today let slip his anti-American tendencies in class, subtly circulating them into the material he was teaching. What made this experience even more irritating than most is that he attempted to weave a correlation between President Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol and the string of hurricanes that struck the United States this past summer. Hence, America got what it deserves because of Bush. I finally aired my views and reminded him that Bill Clinton too, could have signed onto Kyoto, but fortunately he didn’t, and with good reason. It’s the same song for the radical Leftists of the world, whenever something bad happens in the US, certain corners rejoice. To take a line from Rush Limbaugh, bad news for America translates into good news for the rest of the world. I fault this particular professor, among others, not so much for disagreeing with me, as for their lack of originality and inability to think maturely outside the framework of their Socialist infested borders. Americans are constantly criticized for being ignorant, narrow-minded, etc., but please find me a European that thinks “outside the box” of Marx’s Manifesto and the political heresies that flow from his pen. Walking through a Border’s or Barnes and Noble back in the States, one can find books of every political persuasion, but peruse the selection at Feltrinelli, Italy’s answer to Barnes and Noble, and one sees only propaganda of the most radical Leftist uniformity up and down the shelves. Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and Al Franken are among the more popular selections offered, as they cater perfectly to what their Socialist cousins across the pond want to hear: America is greedy, Bush is stupid and evil, (before Iraq, he was just stupid) 9-11 was carried out by Washington for oil, the list goes on and on and on. More irritating than the actual lies spewed from incurables such as Moore is the fact that so many people here in Europe are taken in by them, regardless of evidence to the contrary. This is the recipe for ideology, and the lifeblood of ideology is not the truth, but sophistry. Socialists care more about advancing their agenda than truth. For the Left, Rush reminds us, “it’s not the nature of the evidence, but the seriousness of the charge” that matters. Whatever the accusation, or whether or not it’s true, is irrelevant. As long as the charges jibe with what they want to hear, they will believe it. Europeans will swallow anything that supports their biases, no matter how outrageous or contrary to reality it may be. They want to believe it, so it is, period. I know many good people here who are not Socialists, but are taken in by the same lies and calumnies. But what’s to explain for this phenomenon? Why do such hostilities toward America permeate European air? I think the principle reason is rooted in economics, and Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises reminded us that economics is the study of human action and behavior. Many have the idea that economics has more to do with undecipherable charts and confusing numbers than with philosophy and human choices. The debate between those advocating a free-market and those arguing for Socialism is nothing less than a battle between two competing visions of the human person and society.
The free-market encourages personal responsibility, hard work, specialization, cultivation of talents, and competition. All of this is dependent on a government that, more or less, maintains a hand’s off policy. The less power the government has to impose burdensome taxes and meddle in the affairs of citizens, the less powerful that government will be. As a result, the individual has more freedom to do as he wishes with any surplus wealth, whether to invest it, donate it, or spend it. Obviously, if the government can rob more than its just amount through taxes, it will swell to become a Leviathan monster. As Thomas Jefferson so accurately phrased it, “the government that is powerful enough to provide everything will be strong enough to take everything away.” The hands of the individual will be more tightly tied because his choices will be limited as a result of having less of a surplus. The free-market is also accompanied by a realism that avoids utopian dreams of creating the “perfect” society on earth. The correct definition of equality merits great attention. Advocates of the free-market agree that all persons are equal in dignity. No one is inherently “worth” more than another. However, we are realistic in recognizing that people are endowed with talents and abilities that differentiate them from one another. This inequality in ability fosters the need among individuals for interdependence within the community. People will specialize in what they are naturally gifted in doing. Goods are exchanged based on everyone’s ability to specialize in various fields and create the best possible product.
As we look at Socialism, we must understand equality strictly in material terms. The pivot on which humanity either progresses or falls back is based solely on a materialist philosophy. Everything about the human person is defined and understood in the context of a misconstrued notion of egalitarianism. The existence of natural inequality in talents and ability is scorned by Socialism. It goal is to stifle specialization and competition, as it falsely characterizes the two as catalysts to inequality and social injustice. Competition, according to Socialists, is fueled by greed. It becomes the responsibility of the government therefore to impose material equality, top-down. It is seen as unfair that others have more (again, equality is limited only to the material) so it’s the “just” thing for the government to force material equality through overtaxing the “wealthy.” The State thus assumes the persona of a benevolent father and redistributes wealth according to its arbitrary but absolute determination. Precisely what income level constitutes the wealthy class is, of course, defined by the State. Moral responsibility is transferred from the individual to the government, and politicians will use the façade of implementing “social justice” to reap exorbitant amounts of money from the citizenry. In government nowadays, the goal is power. Money translates into power, and power leads to influence.
The United States is seen as the world’s most powerful exporter of free-market principles and as a result is scorned by the Socialist-entranced countries of Europe. The Kyoto Protocol is nothing but an anti-free market scheme crafted by rabid Socialists bent on crippling the American economy. The guise of wanting to save the environment is a smokescreen meant to conceal the true agenda of Socialist intriguers. It’s the “social justice” rational all over again. Countries that would fall outside the restrictions and guidelines of the agreement, China and Brazil principally, would be allowed to continue producing unregulated amounts of toxins that would eventually surpass the output of such gasses currently attributed to the United States. As it is, America has one of the most well constructed systems for guaranteeing that contamination is kept at a minimum, we have our laws and they’re actually enforced, which is more than can be said for many of the worlds sadly run, pageant-governments. Much of the rhetoric impugning the United States for wreaking havoc on the environment is just that, rhetoric. The economic damage that would result from signing the Kyoto agreement would be enormous. President Bush is right not to sign it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Liberals of Oz

Emboldened by fickle polls that reflect a troubled presidency, Democrats have grown increasingly critical of President Bush in recent weeks. In all fairness to the minority Party of America, at least now they are starting to act like the liberals they’ve always been, a hodgepodge cadre of anti-American, anti-military, anti-free market Socialist sympathizers with a peculiar hostility toward Christianity. Americans once again can see the Left’s true colors. For quite some time, liberal Democrats had been masquerading as moderate conservatives, offering stale rhetoric in support for the President’s decision to go to war in Iraq and America’s broad agenda to fight the war against terrorism. Ever since the attacks of 9-11, liberal Democrats had been feigning enthusiasm for the military (an institution the far-Left has always despised, in favor of effeminate “peace” organizations comprised of aging, drugged-up hippies). Liberals were caught in an awkward position as a result of the public’s overwhelming support for President Bush. It was a most bitter pill for them to swallow, forced to heap praises upon the two things they most hate, the military and the President in exchange for the chance of remaining relevant in American politics. They were deeply terrified that, if ever their treasonous track record of anti-military scheming were fully exposed before the public’s eye, it would inflict a fatal laceration on the jugular of their political body. As a result of this threat, liberal Democrats have put together an impressive yet deceptive pantomime of mimic support for the president in style, all the while maintaining obstinate obstruction in substance. They calculated that if, in the very least, they proffered the mere semblance of conservatism to the people through talking (though not acting) tough about the fight against terrorism, the American public would be duped into thinking the Democrats could be trustworthy and maybe eventually be elected back into power.

Things have changed somewhat in the fortunes of liberals due to the widespread perception of an enfeebled President. As a result, the political nerves of the far Left have been stimulated into reasserting their true agenda, always cloaked though never extinguished. The continual harping by the principle political bombasts on the Left, who relentlessly accuse the administration of “misleading” the nation by manipulating pre-war intelligence, is deeply perilous to the objectives of the military stationed in Iraq and elsewhere. The potential psychological wounds these calumnies may inflict upon our troops are enormous. Such rhetoric will sow seeds of doubt in the minds of our young soldiers, already heavily burdened by extremely harsh circumstances, that will mature into suffocating weeds of discouragement, resulting in a sense of wasted sacrifices and lost hope. Anyone who has spoken to soldiers stationed in Iraq knows how important moral support from back home is in terms of a soldier’s ability to carry out his or her mission well. The world’s strongest military can be made impotent and then cut down by even a small prick in the center of its heart, resulting in a gradual, drop by drop bleeding of its reservoir of determination. The irresponsible attacks carried out by conniving Democrats, taking aim at the Commander in Chief, will no doubt take a toll on the minds of those who serve under his command. From the point of view of the terrorists, the Left’s divisive vitriol is welcome news and bolsters them in their belief that, if they couple persistence with patience, they can succeed in slaying the American juggernaut by allowing it to cannibalize itself from within. Terrorists will continue to attack our troops abroad, all the while working in coordination with the Left, who will handle the battle on the home-front, whittling down the nation’s desire to fight via their poisonous, vituperative lies and calumnies about the Commander in Chief.

Ever desirous to see the hated American military defeated and an even more despised President humiliated, the Left will stop at nothing to accomplish its malevolent, Machiavellian goal of regaining the levers of power. Hope is found in the candor and integrity of the average American who has the ability to shine rays of light and truth on the shadows and obscurities of liberal political intrigues and pull away the curtain that conceals the sphinx-like Oz of liberalism.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Europe Still Doesn't Get It

After witnessing the latest in a series of Socialist-inspired demonstrations here in Italy, I can only put my pen to paper and hope that, by unpacking my thoughts, an explanation will reveal itself as to what went wrong here. The most recent demonstration was particularly nauseating: disgruntled, ragtag teenagers with too much time on their hands took to the streets en mass to protest what they perceived as abuses in the education system. I will be the last to defend the perilous predilections of a public education system, but there was clearly more on the agenda of these youth than just education reform. Wrapped up in all the heresies of Socialism and anarchy, the young marchers gloried in their sheer hatred for America and the free-market and their infatuation with dead, irrelevant, Socialist rabble-rousers like Che Guevara. The obvious question is why? Why, after so many failed attempts and millions either dead or hopelessly impoverished have the empty promises of Socialism remained in vogue in Europe? How has Communism helped the people of Cuba, burdened under the heavy shadow of a fossil-dictator? And yet America, the prime recipient of the far left’s most poisonous hatred and vitriol, remains the Promised Land for millions around the globe seeking opportunity, hope and freedom to pursue their own dreams guided by their God-given talents.

To the Socialist, the very thought of someone pursing his or her own interests for the purpose of establishing security and independence is construed as avarice. Everything is seen through the prism of continuous class warfare, us against them, rich against poor. Equality, from the point of view of the Socialist, is understood strictly in material terms. It is the function of the state to redistribute the earnings of the people, often by force, making certain that no one accumulates more than what the state determines to be a just wage, regardless of demand for the good or other rules of economics. This way, the “rich” will be cut down and the “poor” elevated and equality realized. Open competition is also scorned as one of the many side effects of the free-market system and is thus stifled. What Socialism fails to realize is that individuals who have their talents straight-jacketed by an omnipotent government will naturally lose the incentive to work since they are being denied the just reward for their labors, and as a result, the overall level in quality of the goods will fall. Who does anything well once they’ve lost their motivation to do the job?

Profit is another frequently misunderstood and misconstrued term. A company’s profit is indicative of its positive or negative correlation to the needs of the public. There seems to be a popular myth that all profit is hoarded by an avaricious chief or by a select clique in the highest echelons of the company while the rest of the employees slave away under the harshest of conditions. The truth is that a large percentage of a company’s profit is normally injected right back into the company to improve the all around standards of the business, which include the hiring of new employees, salary increases, promotions or better health care plans. It’s in the best interest of the company to ensure that its workers are taken care of to avoid a high turnover rate among its employees, which would certainly reflect poorly on the company’s image. If everyone is allowed to earn a just profit from the sale of his or her product, apart from government meddling, society at large will benefit as a result, in addition to the individual. The average citizen will have more money in his or her pocket and will be able to put that money back into the market or perhaps a voluntary association or church.

Most people prefer goods they know are of dependable quality. Businesses that recognize that customers have a choice when selecting a product will work hard to improve their product’s quality. Customer choice and competition work together as natural obstacles to poor quality and corrupt scheming by a company. The freedom of the consumer to choose is a blessing to the hard-working corporation driven by a solid work ethic, but a curse to the underhanded company seeking to cheat the customer by crafty shortcuts. Similarly, if someone has a choice either to come to the United States and market his or her talents, or to remain shackled in Cuba, he or she will most likely select the former. This isn’t greed but common sense. How many Americans do we read about risking their lives to immigrate to Cuba? Isn’t it the other way around? Not many people interested in making a living say “I’m off to Cuba.” The simple truth is that governments lust after power and expansion, as Jefferson realized acutely. “The government that is strong enough to provide everything is strong enough to take everything away.” Politicians will offer the excuse of wanting to help the poor or remedying a host of other social problems, that are best left in the more competent hands of private initiative, as a rational to steal from the citizens, toss some pennies to programs for the poor and pocket the rest. Machiavellian politicians will pander to minorities, who seem to love playing the role of the victim, and the poor who are generally less educated in the intricacies of economics and history, all the while making wild promises of a new life via a boundless flow of federal handouts. It’s a particularly shallow way of accruing votes, taking advantage of the less fortunate for the purpose of climbing the ladder of power. One can see how most Communist takeovers have succeeded, especially in Latin America but also elsewhere, via this type of manipulation of the poor.
With the singular exception of Poland (thank you John Paul II!), all this common sense economics falls on deaf ears here in Socialist infested Europe. The promise of Utopia has become for the youth of Rome, a kind of religion. They’ve traded in their rich religious and cultural heritage for the political heresies of Marx and Stalin. From the American’s perspective, the most frustrating thing about the average European’s political and economic foibles, follies and naiveté is the certainty that if Europe gets itself into another self-made crisis, (WWI, WWII, the Cold War, etc.) the continent will once again be salvaged from its own self-cannibalization by the United States, and America will still be the bad guy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Media Scandal in the Making

I think it would be fair to posit that the recent conduct of the mainstream media with regard to the hurricane coverage borders on the scandalous. It’s such a huge panorama of folly and error that it’s difficult to know where to even begin. A connection can, without a doubt be drawn between the media’s coverage of Iraq and the situation in Louisiana. Both are similar in that the media has relentlessly tried to graft their slanted and skewed interpretation of what’s happening on the psyche of America. Both are aimed to portray the two situations (Iraq and Louisiana) as chaotic, and most importantly, that Bush is directly responsible, that he’s incompetent at best and a murderer at worst. I think the parallel between the media’s coverage of Iraq and Katrina is remarkable.

As time affords a more realistic perspective in assessing the aftermath of Katrina, it is becoming more and more clear that the situation was not nearly as dire as the media was reporting. There was no mass raping or murdering going on in the Superdome or at the Convention Center, as was reported. There were not piles of corpses stacked in the freezers of the above mentioned locales, as was reported, there were not the ten thousand dead that the media had been predicting from day one. And last but not least, black Americans in the Superdome were not being forced to cannibalizing the dead in order stay alive, as was reported. With regard to the criticism unleashed on Bush, the facts show that the Federal government gave more to Louisiana in the first five years of Bush’s administration than Clinton’s administration gave in his last five years in office. What Louisiana did with this money is anybody’s guess. Maybe someone should as the Democrat mayor and the Democrat governor. The race baiting calumnies are so foolish that they do not merit serious discussion. Those engaging in such speculation reveal their own frustration, desperation and lack of interest in reality. They are slowly sinking in the quicksand of ideology. In Iraq, of course, the reporting is virtually hysterical; “Civil war,” “chaos,” “What’s the pull out plan?” This is all meant to undermine the president’s plan, which he always stressed, would take time and cost lives. There’s room for criticism, of course, but the media’s downward spiral into outright inaccuracy and wild speculation is stunning. What we’re seeing is a subtle, or rather, not so subtle attempt to force the rest of the country to see reality through the media’s prism of the 1960s and anti-Bush hatred.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hamilton's Legacy

"A host within himself" Jefferson on Hamilton

George Will, an editorialist for the Washington Post, wrote a fascinating article on the life and legacy of John Marshall, the Supreme Court’s most influential chief justice. Will quite correctly laments that far too few Americans seem to be aware of the impact this erudite justice had on the young nation. While justifiably deserving of the praises heaped upon Marshall by Will, I think he goes a little too far in accrediting Marshall as being “the most important American never to have been president.” Will’s acclamation of Marshall goes further in claiming that, "his historic importance is greater than that of all but two presidents-George Washington and Abraham Lincoln." If I may humbly submit that I believe another American of the same period is even more deserving of these tributes, someone who, like Marshall has been overshadowed by the other gods in the American pantheon . This American is Alexander Hamilton.

Joseph Ellis, today’s preeminent historian of the founding era, accredits Hamilton as “the most brilliant” of the founders. Hamilton fought bravely along side Washington in the War for Independence, and became one of Washington’s closest friends. After the war, as America tried to forge its new destiny, Hamilton played a no less important role in the events of the day. In a stunning six hour speech at the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton laid out the basic framework, plus or minus a few important elements, for what was to become the United States government. Gifted with prodigious energy and talents, he wrote the bulk of the Federalist Papers, fighting tooth and nail to get the Constitution ratified. He saved the great state of New York from everlasting shame as the sole signer among the three delegates hailing from that state attending the Constitutional Convention. The Federalist Papers remain the undisputed best source for explaining American political theory. As the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton single handedly laid the framework for what was eventually to become the behemoth American market economy. He was an economic prophet and saw generations beyond the somewhat naïve and limited Jeffersonian vision of America remaining an agrarian nation. His exhaustive letter to Washington, arguing for the constitutionality of the national bank, provided the framework for the more liberal reading of the “necessary and proper” clause that Marshall later advanced. His own contributions to American law are so impressive that John Marshall stated that, next to Hamilton, he felt “like a candle held up to the sun at noonday.” Perhaps the most remarkable tribute to Hamilton came from an unlikely source, Thomas Jefferson. “Hamilton is really a colossus to the anti-Republican (Federalist) Party. Without numbers, he is a host within himself.” It is my opinion that, after Washington, Hamilton is America’s greatest statesman. I agree wholeheartedly with Will’s assessment of Hamilton, “There is an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton. However, if you seek Hamilton's monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton's country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Importance of an Authentic Culture Today

The Church, since the Second Vatican Council has placed an increased amount of emphasis on the need for the defense of authentic culture within society. Throughout his life, Pope John Paul II always stressed the importance of culture in the world as a healthy expression of human transcendence. The existence of authentic culture, he believed, is evidence of the spiritual dimension of man's nature. There has, over the past several decades, arisen a sort of cultural crisis within the Western world. John Paul II spoke repeatedly of the existence of a "culture of death" and its detrimental effects on the human person. There is an urgent need to reexamine the nature and importance of culture in light of the Holy Father's contributions toward a new understanding of culture. In addition, one must be aware that today, there exist real threats to culture. Such threats would include policies that attack or undermine the dignity of the person at the expense of material gain, temporal progress or even seemingly positive medical advances, as evidenced most recently in Congress’ attempt to loosen the government’s tight restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research. The relationship between culture and faith cannot be passed over and ignored. The former is never at odds with the latter. Rather, faith serves to enhance and perfect culture in light of the revealed truths it professes. Lamentably, the tendency today in certain circles is to set traditional religious values at odds with a "progressive" and "modern" culture. The truth is that "development" properly understood should never exclude growing in virtue or be defined simply in materialistic or utilitarian terms. This was the error of Marxism, since it viewed “progress” through the narrow prism of stifling materialistic categories. Authentic development, or progress, must include moral growth and an eternal vigilance over the dignity of the human person. Defenders of culture should voice their concern over this attempt to debase such important expressions of the human spirit.

Pope John Paul II perceived the importance of culture within society in a unique way. As a young man living in Poland under the Nazi occupation he came to appreciate the importance of his native literature, music, and language, the essential components of any culture. Since the goal of the Nazi invaders was to obliterate every vestige of Polish culture, schools were closed and professors and priests were sent to death camps, he viewed it as his mission to save Poland's memory. He accomplished this by meeting in secret with his friends to recite classic Polish literature and music. At the risk of being caught and deported to Auschwitz, these young renaissance outlaws formed a clandestine theatre group for the explicit purpose of preserving the very culture and heritage the Nazis were attempting to eviscerate. These experiences gave Karol Wojtyla a unique perspective on the vital role culture plays in the day-to-day life of a people and nation. Culture gives society an identity and purpose for which to live. It provides the keys to answer the primordial questions of human existence: Who am I as a person? Who are we as a society? Culture flows from the fountain of transcendent human expression and freedom. For this reason, the repression of culture is a grave offense to the dignity of the person.

The human person, created as a free agent in the image of God, expresses himself as person through culture. The person is also created, not to be in isolation, but to live in communion with others. Through his writings, John Paul II emphasized that when a person interacts with another, he arrives at a greater self-realization and an increased awareness of his own inestimable dignity. Culture is thus the fruit of human interaction and expression on the great stage of human society. There is a strong and inseparable relationship between culture and religious truth. Cardinal Dulles explains it as follows: "Culture is inseparable from religion, inasmuch as God is the author, sustainer, and final goal of human existence." He goes on to say, "The Gospel can make a unique contribution to culture because deep in every culture lies an impulse towards its own fulfillment through the reception of revelation, which liberates it from its involvement in sin and ambiguity." In other words, the light of truth found in faith serves to cut through the build-up of the world's wickedness and purifies a culture of its impurities.

Whenever authentic culture is suppressed or attacked, an identity crisis results in the person and in the society at large. Since the fruit of cultural expression is a greater awareness of self though interaction with the "other", the "culture of death" logically results in confusion regarding the meaning of human existence, isolation and alienation from self. The “culture of death” is really an anti-culture, a diabolical perversion of true culture. In it, the transcendence of the human person is compromised and cut down at the expense of material gain, usually determined arbitrarily and authoritatively by those in power. Convenience is given precedence over the dignity of the person under the guise of a false understanding of “progress”. Recent debates surrounding human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, abortion and euthanasia underscore the urgency of defending the correct meaning of progress and development and their relationship to culture. Anyone advocating these procedures would like to advance their own deification of science at the expense of the inviolable rights of the person. Any so-called progress that undermines these rights recklessly chips away at the very foundation on which authentic human cultures rest, namely the dignity of the person.

John Paul II understood, perhaps better than anyone given the tumultuous experiences of his youth, the vital role culture plays in the life of a healthy and free society. While always respecting and defending the legitimate autonomy that exists between Church and state, he stressed the need for free religious expression in society. It is precisely this expression, this search for truth, and the insuppressible yearning deep in man’s heart for the Truth, which reveals the indelible image of God in every person. The barrier protecting all the fundamental rights of man from violation can only be seen once the truth about the human person is recognized and defended in the public sphere. Once a culture denies knowledge of objective right and wrong as regards the person, the door is opened up to the “dictatorship of relativism”, to which Pope Benedict XVI has so often referred. Our culture today has already been poisoned heavily by relativism, hostility to God and the dignity of the person. Proponents of this culture of death seek to extract transcendent truths from the domain of culture, relegating religion and subsequently God, to at best, a private matter of irrelevance in relation to the public square. As the vital life-breath of society, our culture, our heritage and our faith must be shielded from the noxious fumes of the culture of death.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Dilemma of Diversion: Pascal's Relevance in Today's World

"The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion."

This observation, by the famous French philosopher Blaise Pascal, could apply to the human person in any period of history. It is part of the human condition to create diversions in order to prevent oneself from facing the inevitable. I believe however that this statement of Pascal's is particularly relevant for today's society. Communication today is vastly easier today than it was one hundred, fifty, even twenty years ago. E-mails, Blackberries, cellphones and the like have made keeping in touch so much easier. Despite the apparent improvement in communication it is my contention that people today are less in touch with each other and, perhaps more alarming, less in touch with themselves. Aristotle's defining man as a "political animal" implies that, as persons, we have an intrinsically social dimension to our nature that requires us to live in relationship, or in communion, with other individuals. Personalism and Christian humanism broadened this understanding of our nature in that through this interaction with others, the human person comes to a greater appreciation of his own dignity and self. Thus, through authentic human interactions, the person comes to a greater awareness of his own identity and destiny. Answered through this realization are several important questions: Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What is my ultimate end? When the person lives a life of communion, the answers to these questions are eagerly sought after. There is a strong desire to face reality and to know one's self. The modern world seems to be permeated with a "noise" that makes facing these realities all the more difficult, if not impossible. These noises are precisely the diversions that Pascal so brilliantly elucidates as the problem with man's lack of self-realization. This lack of self-knowledge leads one to a false understanding of communion that has, at its base, a false understanding of the human person.

As Americans, we are known the world over for being and living "on the go." What does this phrase really imply? How is this way of life better than, or worse than, the way of life in the past? Even the meals we eat are catered around this "on the go" theme. It seems that the once valued and sought after "peace and quiet" has been replaced by "on the go."At the end of the day, when there is finally some time to ourselves, we turn on some music or pop in a movie. Throughout the day we are occupied with various diversions, and when we take care of those, we immediately create more with which to occupy ourselves. Rarely will one encounter silence in the average American household on a typical evening. By silence, I do not mean some kind of void or vacuum in which there is no sign of activity or life. Rather, silence understood in the contemplative sense that fosters healthy reflection on the part of the individual. On the contrary, there are usually televisions blaring, music blasting or video games dazzling. All these things together in such excess prevent us from facing that which we fear more than anything, namely our own state of being in the big picture of life and death. In reality, we love the daily little hassles we encounter and about which we complain. They keep us marvelously distracted from the important things. We don't want to reach the end of our pursuits, for inevitably, this will bring us to a halt. What we do want is the very pursuit, the means, without the end. All the while convincing ourselves that the end will make us happy. As Peter Kreeft, citing Pascal, depicts it: "His (Pascal's) penetrating question here is: What does the gambler (symbolically, all of us) want? a) Not just the winnings, and b) not just the playing, but c) the self-delusion that comes from "the if-only syndrome"; the false faith that winning would make him happy."

It is indeed a remarkable indictment of our frail and elusive human condition. We're all guilty of this at one point or another. A remedy to this sickness is to make time in our lives for silence in our daily lives. Only in silence can we hear ourselves calling for aid.

As human persons, we face real needs at every level of our existence, physical, intellectual and spiritual. Today, it is clearly the spiritual dimension that is at a sore disadvantage. To some extent, the physical and intellectual are being over-fed to the neglect of the spiritual. Pascal commentator Thomas Morris, in reference to the spiritual realm says, "Access to this reality, or to this order of reality comes through what Pascal metaphorically called 'the heart.' It is the realm of charity, piety, and true communion with God." One can read from this the importance of a correct relationship with others. Christianity teaches that within a correct understanding of (and relationship with) God is a proper relationship with those around us. We seem to have lost, to a troubling degree, the importance of communion with God and with the "other." Despite the fact that communication has become so easy, at the personal level it seems to be quite superficial. How can we come to know others if we fail to know even ourselves? This failure to know ourselves is the result of the diversions with which we surround ourselves. Often, while out to dinner at a restaurant, I glance around and observe people talking at length on their cell phones while sitting at a table with someone else. This common occurrence underscores a trend in our society. Even in a crowded room, many people feel a deep loneliness. There exists a kind of detachment from many people that has at its source, I believe, a detachment from self. If we can't take the time to get to know ourselves why should we, and how can we, take the time to get to know others around us? Pascal describes well the state of man trapped in this scenario. "Boredom. Man finds nothing so intolerable as to be in a state of complete rest, without passions, without occupation, without diversion, without effort. Then he faces his nullity, loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness. And from the depths of his soul, boredom, gloom, depression, chagrin, resentment, despair." To escape boredom, the solution for such an individual is to create diversions and call them relationships. Many of these relationships turn out to be, as stated before, quite superficial and asinine.

In order to fix this malady, we must return to a proper understanding of our own identity. Pascal is adamant that only through the Person of Jesus can our lives make sense and it is only through Him that our lives are complete. Pascal says it thus: "Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or ourselves." Thus it is impossible to come to a complete understanding of our own identity and existence apart from the Person of Christ. The reality of the Incarnation, of the Word becoming Flesh, sheds a beam of light on the meaning of human fulfillment. Pascal reminds us to "consider Jesus in every person, and in ourselves." Human fellowship can only come through the realization of a common bond in the Person of Christ. The first step for the individual person is to encounter Christ within the silent corridors of our souls. This personal encounter with Christ, of which Pascal spoke of so beautifully, is the summit and purpose of human existence.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The End of the Bush Era?

President Bush has been pummeled this past month with relentless attacks and aspersions. Anti-American leftists, hiding behind the flag in order to conceal their glaring shades of red, have been attempting for months to whip up a significant number of anti-war and anti-Bush protests across the country. In this, they have failed. Their pathetic demonstrations number in the hundreds on a good day and even their limited success can only be accredited to their willing accomplices in the media, giving them far more attention than they deserve.

The climax of this onslaught of vitriol came in the aftermath of the flooding in New Orleans. Despicable calumniators on the left accused the president of intentional negligence, ultimately rooted in hatred for black people. Blind hatred for President Bush has always been, and remains, the prime fuel for the radical base of the Democrat Party. Unable to debate civilly in the arena of ideas and philosophy (and subsequently losing repeatedly at the polls) liberals have resorted to unparalleled scare tactics in a last-ditch attempt to weaken the president in the eyes of the American public. At the first taste of blood, the Left rejoices as the president’s approval rating has fallen to an all time low. Certainly, the countless poisonous arrows fired at the president have taken their toll. With Bush on the ropes, and the Furies of the left taking aim at the jugular, editorialists, dipping their pens in venom, are gleefully chanting the funeral dirge signaling the demise of the “Bush Era”. Despite the political rapture of the left at the weakened state of the president, this is hardly the mortal wound some may be hoping for. While the left is obsessed with and distracted by fickle polls and busy planting seeds of racial discord, the president is deftly remolding the judiciary, arguably the most powerful and influential branch of government, in his own image. The political impact of his appointments will no doubt be enormous and the influence of the Bush era appointees will extend decades after Bush leaves office. Already presented with the opportunity to fill two vacancies, and speculation is swirling that one more will follow next summer, the down-but-not-out-president is flexing his political muscles and reminding all skeptics that he is still a force to be reckoned with in Washington. The left has become so clouded by their own delusions and wrath that they cannot see this simple reality. Perhaps they do see it and choose to ignore it. Whatever the case, the left is fooling itself if it think that it can rise from the ashes of Bush’s supposedly moribund presidency. The president sees in the long-term, while the left is trapped in the limited prism of the past. At the present, the president may be wounded politically and in this respect the left has the advantage. Seeing a battle won, they refuse to recognize that they’re losing the overall war against conservatism. While the press would have Americans believe that President Bush’s agenda is DOA for the remainder of his term, time and history will prove that the president has more than enough strength to deliver a homerun for conservatism in the judiciary.
Judge John Roberts

Sunday, September 18, 2005

"Under God" Under Attack

George Washington in Prayer

The “under God” phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance is once again under attack by an atheist named Michael Newdow and a renegade, unelected Federal judge. Both are hiding behind the specious argument of a violation of the First Amendment. It would be helpful to revisit the opinions of our nation’s fathers and ask; Does Michael Newdow’s understanding of the nation’s founding fit in with the original intent of the founder’s vision of America and the role of religion in public life? Below is a list of quotes from the father of our country, George Washington, the father of our Constitution, James Madison, the father of the American government, Alexander Hamilton, and the author of our Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson. Noteworthy are Jefferson’s remarks, since he is the figure most often quoted by those who resurrect and misconstrue his famous “wall of separation” letter.

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness.” –George Washington

“It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors.” –George Washington

“The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn on from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it.” -George Washington

“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.” –Thomas Jefferson

“Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.” -James Madison

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.” -George Washington

“Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” –John Adams

“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” –Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In the Eye of a Hurricane

In the aftermath of one our nation's most devastating natural disasters, a political storm is already gathering strength and has the potential to be as far reaching culturally as Katrina was geographically and economically. President Bush acknowledged that the initial results of the relief effort were "not acceptable". Certainly there is legitimate room for criticism when looking at the response to this unprecedented destruction caused by the force of this hurricane. Considering the ninety-thousand square mile area of destruction, it is easy to see how any government, even ours, could initially be overwhelmed when confronted with the question of where to even begin. It is interesting to note that Louisiana is a state with a Democrat governor, and that New Orleans is a city whose population is overwhelmingly Democrat, with a Democrat mayor. Of course too, prior mandatory evacuation warnings should have been taken more seriously by everyone, but state and local officials bear the brunt of responsibility in terms of the state's preparation, or lack thereof, for such disasters as Katrina.

Anyone tuned into the news this past week witnessed the tens of thousands of people, enduring virtually unimaginable conditions patiently waiting for relief. That the overwhelming majority of these victims at the Superdome and Convention Center were black did not go unnoticed by the nation's elite, infamous and far left-leaning pack of African-American politicos and entertainers. Not able to see human suffering as human suffering, regardless of the color of skin, this race-baiting band of misfits parsed a deeply human tragedy into an issue of race warfare, thus doing an immense injustice to the enormity and extent of human misery. Eager as ever to stoke the flames of racial conflict and division, societal luminaries such as the increasingly irrelevant Al Sharpton, the South American dictator-embracing Jesse Jackson and last but not least, the churlish adolescent-trapped-in-a-man's-body rap star Kayne West joined in the chorus, whipping up Bush hate rhetoric. In a profoundly thoughtful statement on live television, West stated, "George Bush doesn't care about black people". Right...Bush doesn't care about black people. My great and everlasting consolation when faced with such shocking exhibitions of hollow minds is to remind myself that, every time such ludicrous comments are made, Bush becomes more popular in the eyes of the everyday American. Let West revel and self-destruct in his own irrelevance and narcissism. He will one day be forgotten, while Bush will be remembered in the volumes of American history for his sturdy, unwavering convictions and compassion.

Judging by the force of their raging tantrums, individuals such as West and Sharpton seemed far more eager to hurl countless invectives against President Bush than to investigate how they themselves might be able to assist the seemingly endless mass of distressed and displaced souls in New Orleans. Someone ought to whisper into the ears of these bombastic characters that the most constructive thing they could do is to shut their mouths, open their checkbooks, and contribute something other than their counterproductive, feckless hyperbole to the host of organizations that are actually doing something in the relief effort. Americans from coast to coast, whether black, white, Hispanic, or Asian see this misery and suffering on the faces of their fellow Americans in the South and will rally to their aid. This is not a black or white tragedy, it's a human and deeply American tragedy that will no doubt be overcome by the strength of the American spirit.

The Left's irrational and unparalleled hatred for President Bush has once again manifested itself in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Most Americans are utterly disgusted by such poisonous vitriol. Despite losing election after election, and with their grip on power slipping with every election cycle and new court appointment, the Left refuses to come to terms with its own detachment from the majority of Americans. Call it a form of denial or maybe they are delusional... whatever the case may be, their downward spiral into political irrelevance only comes as welcome news to conservatives and mainstream America.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Human Exhibit

A new London zoo exhibit is creating quite a stir. Not content to offer visitors the more traditional array of wildlife, curators of the zoo have broadened the scope of their selection to include an exhibition of humans. This latest exhibit is appropriately located near the zoo’s primate collection, our “relatives” in the evolutionary chain. The participants consist of a group of three men and five women, clad in bathing suits and fig leaves, who move about in Rousseaunian-like innocence within their outdoor setting, amusing themselves with board games, hula-hoops and rubber balls. The principle reason for the endeavor is ostensibly to raise awareness of the ape plight and man's relationship with the animal world. While admittedly funny at first glance, it seems that, digging deeper, one could see a thinly veiled agenda that is contributing to the depersonalization of the human being. This is not to say that the “Human” exhibit is contributing to the attack on human life and dignity to the same degree as, say, abortion and embryonic stem cell research. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to assert however, that projects such as this play their small part in an overall movement that has as its goal the shattering of the traditional view of the human being that understands man as a person, not just a thing or a means.

Great Britain's Brightest and Best

Organizers of the project, entitled “Humans”, and its participants reveal their motivation for taking part. Tom Mahoney, a 26 year old chemist currently frolicking about in the make believe garden of Eden, comments that, “A lot of people think we are above other animals, when they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds us that we’re not that special.” Determined not to be outdone in ramblings of sheer lunacy, Zoo spokeswoman Polly Wills says that, “Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals…teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate.” This project is taking place in a country that, along with the rest of Europe, is gradually losing its grip on the beauty and transcendent mystery of the human person as a unique creation set apart from the rest of the world. It comes as no surprise that having abandoned God, it didn’t take long for a society to find itself in utter confusion as to its identity and sense of place in the order of creation. No doubt, this will be a significant contribution toward the widespread denigration of human dignity in a society already heavily anesthetized to their own personhood. A sad realty of the modern mind sees animals being afforded lofty “rights,” shielded under the mighty protection of law while human beings, who after all are "not that special" are at risk of being stripped of their rights and dignity. The fact is that it becomes a lot easier to manipulate and attack a person if he is no longer seen as a person. Certainly Christianity contributes a thing or two to the lofty position of the human condition. The reality, or some have called it the scandal, of the Incarnation must be radically reintroduced into a world whose people have lost touch with God and subsequently themselves.

Could this latest zoo project have a more sinister goal in mind? Or, perhaps this is an overreaction to an innocent endeavor. But it seems that a recent child visitor to the zoo was on to something when he asked his mother, "Why are there people in there?"

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Night John Paul II Died

It was a cold night filled with hope and worry. The Pope's health had taken a grave turn. He wasn’t going to Gemelli, his spokesman was nearly in tears at a press conference, all signs pointed that the end was near. Sorrow and confusion filled my head and I saw it in the eyes of my friends. What would the world be like without John Paul II? It boggled the mind. He was such a grace on this earth that I had accepted into my life and relied upon.

Old and dear friends from home happened to be in town and I felt caught between the joy of having loved ones near and the sorrow of a loved one departing. We had gone to Piazza S. Pietro the night before and prayed the rosary, spiritually uniting ourselves with the thousands who were to drift in and out that night. This night we decided to go to the Vigil mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere. The beautiful liturgy at the first church dedicated to Our Lady in the world was indeed a peaceful comfort. The golden array and ancient architecture echoed John Paul II's motto “totus tuus” (all yours). “I am completely yours, O Mary.”

The mass ended and we headed into the dimly lit and vivacious streets of Trastevere. At Pizzeria San Calisto we sat down for pizza. As we said grace before the meal we added a Hail Mary at the end for our Holy Father and upon reflection it must have been a little after 9:30. Pope John Paul II left this world at 9:37.

We discovered that he had died as we exited the pizzeria, seeing on the television a picture of the pope and the words “È morto” (He is dead). We immediately headed to Piazza S. Pietro, where solemn and hollow bells resonated in the hearts of thousands of people in prayer. We entered the piazza as the Regina Coeli came to a close. Everyone was there, every nation, every state in life was represented. Tears were a common sight. Some people held vigil with candles and blankets, others spoke on cell phones to loved ones, some knelt or stood in prayer, while others just walked about. What a contrast, I thought, to what the piazza was like when he was still alive. When he would come to the window, those in the piazza where drawn to him like a magnet. Everyone was looking in the same direction, there was a leader—visible head of Christ’s church—and it filled the piazza with joy and excitement. How we had lost a father! Now the piazza was filled with a directionless mass, united in sorrow.

We remained in Piazza S. Pietro for a few hours, praying, and speaking with friends whom we bumped into. A choir and priests came to the front of the basilica and a cardinal lead the liturgy of the word for Divine Mercy Sunday. The piazza remained open all night.

In my head this question kept beating: “What will we do with out him, what we will do without him?” The answer came as my thoughts turned to him: every time I had seen him, met him (I had touched his hand and kissed his ring twice), heard him speak, and there I found the answer: we must become “John Paul II”s. He has been telling us since the beginning, “Do not be afraid! Open the doors wide to Christ!”

At the 25th Anniversary Celebration of his Pontificate, he said that his mission had been to be Christ to everyone he met and everywhere he went. How he had fulfilled that mission! We are to become “JPII”s. We are to pick up our cross, charge into the millennium, with no fear, knowing that Our Mother is near us and always trusting in God’s Divine Mercy. We are to become “JPII”s. We are to become saints.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Europe's Identity Crisis

"Europe is still reeling from the effects of the atheistic French Revolution and its radical rejection of, and attack on, tradition, customs and of course the Church, in favor of a rationalistic approach culminating in the Enlightenment."

-James Berry

Europe has been running since the French Revolution. Europeans call America the last idealistic nation, but I say that the European states are more idealistic than the United States. The French Revolution was brought about by an idealistic call to the wonder of man and his use of reason alone. Seeing the history and faults of the monarchies of the past, the French revolution and others sought to destroy an entire history and culture. This idealism of nation and man lead to two world wars and other tragedies, yet Europe has still not learned. They continue to run from their past, from their identity.

The past is a part of identity, whether you are speaking of a person, a family or a nation. True progress can only be made with true knowledge of the past—a knowledge that understands, learns from, and even forgives the errors of the past. The current constitution and policies of the European Union are the fruit of a collective of cultures running from their identity. They are trying to escape from the statues of history that stare them down as they walk the streets in shadows of guilt that generations have passed on to them. Their past stares them in the face all day. So they run through policies that would appear to prevent the past from ever happening again, when, in reality they become the very thing from which they are running. They run from bigotry, yet destroy the person and the family. They run from Christianity, yet destroy their culture. They run from tyranny, yet suffocate democracy.

All this stems from a poor anthropology and a failure to accept an identity. Truly understanding a cultural identity and its history is the only way a society can be freed from the chains of fear of the past. A society must learn to forgive the errors of their fathers and their institutions. Using time as an ally they can discover which institutions produce fruit that aids the culture and which institutions strangle it, and thus the person.