Impossibility of living without loveMan cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.
John Paul II
Redeemer of Man
Apr. 13, 2010, at 12:20pm
I’ve heard it said often (and I believe it) that, at bottom, the culture wars are all about sex. Social justice, racial equality, environmentalism, anti-war, etc.—these are pretexts. What the progressive, secular leftists really care about—what they’ll fight for at all costs—is sexual liberty. Sex liberated not just from traditional taboos, but from life, from God, from personal identity, from gender. Scratch the surface of any “progressive” cause and this is what you’ll find. Sex is their religion.
If you doubt it, listen to this Heritage Foundation address by former liberal Hollywood Jew, Evan Sayet, called “How Modern Liberals Think.”
And consider this item: a report about he Maine Human Rights Commission’s proposal to ban schools from distinguishing between boys and girls. “It says forcing a student into a particular room or group because of his or her biological gender amounts to discrimination.”
Shall I tell you what else I believe? I believe with Edith Stein and some early Church fathers that the original sin was a disordered sexual act between Adam and Eve—an act whereby they used each other for pleasure rather than giving themselves to each other in service of life and love. I believe that this severing of life and love was the moral atom-splitting at the dawn of human history whose fallout is death. “The aboriginal calamity.”
I once asked Alice von Hildebrand about this. She demurred somewhat, saying only that her husband was aware of the tradition, but did not agree with it. He thought the original sin was one of pride, not concupiscence. I think it was both. A disordered sex act is not an act of mere concupiscence—like taking that fourth glass of wine or that second slice of pie or that extra hour in bed. It entails a direct defiance of God, and a violation of the Image of God in ourselves. It entails a using of another person and a using of self. It is an assault on human dignity and personhood. Kant practically inauguration modern personalism with his great ethical insight: “A person is an end-in-himself, never to be used as a mere means.”
A person is from love and for love.
Inter-personal love—is the life force of the universe.
Dante: “The love that moves the sun and stars.”
Think of God. He is the great “I AM”. Absolute Being, and a union and communion of love among three Persons. The Holy Spirit Proceeds from the Father and the Son.
John Paul II: “Love is the unification of persons.”
Persons are engendered in the union of love between a man and a woman. This is the literal origin of life. Persons abuse one another. This is death and destruction—the root cause of all that ails the world.
Sacramental marriage—the transformation of eros by agape—eros re-ordered toward life, and under the aegis of Eternity—is the literal healing of the rift opened in Eden.
This mystery is a continual background meditation of mine. It came to the fore again today when I happened to listen to a segment of an episode of Uncommon Knowledge. Taped a decade or so ago, it features William F. Buckley and Christopher Hitchens discussing the cultural upheavals of the 1960’s.
Buckley identified the restiveness and outbreaks of the time as “masturbatory”—a self-indulgent demand for release in service of no transcendent value. Hitchens objected to the characterization, but then offered this essential confirmation: “We were the first generation to take the separation of sex and procreation for granted.” Resistance to this, as Hitchens sees it, is rooted in envy.
There you have it. The ultimate source of the moral madness unleashed in our society since then.
Ground zero of the culture of death.
Apr. 12, 2010, at 10:55am
I read an article in the Daily Mail today, which I won’t link directly, because of the surrounding sleaze. It was about mid-life crises—how common they are and how they can be an essential turning point. (According to the article, the term ‘midlife crisis’ was coined by Canadian Elliott Jaques to describe dramatic self-doubt in the middle age of life.)
I liked its conclusion.
Previously, she had always been manically busy - with work and motherhood. She had no time to think things over. Then, all of a sudden, with no job and an empty nest, she had nothing but days and nights of endless unfilled time.
‘And what was I so afraid of?’ she asks. ‘Being alone with myself long enough to wonder what is the purpose of my life?’
Like Shapiro, she embarked on a long and often painful journey. Though neither was religious, both found solace and comfort in re-discovering the religious teachings of their childhoods.
In addition, Browning began to appreciate what she describes as the ‘small beauty in every single day’.
‘One adventure is over; it is time for another,’ she writes. ‘I am growing into a new season. I am not old and not young; not broken and yet not quite whole. These are my intertidal years.’
Browning says that in the aftermath of her crisis, she re-connected with something she had encountered as a teenager and then lost in the frantic skim through adulthood - ‘the desire to nourish my soul’.
Both of the friends I mentioned earlier said they feel as if they don’t know who they are any more. It is as if their souls are crying out for some attention.
Only time will tell if they will listen to that call from within. I know many people have trouble with this kind of thing. It’s about taking a little time out of the rat-race and reconnecting with the lost child within all of us.
It could also be an advertising slogan for the Personalist Project: “Built for those who desire to nourish their souls.”
Apr. 10, 2010, at 11:50am
Is there another country whose sufferings compare with Poland’s over the last centuries? No doubt there are some whose sufferings have been as bad or worse in terms of loss of life, and by other measures too. But I refer to the marked spiritual dimension to her particular sufferings. They seem almost personal—almost as if they were deliberately directed at her identity as a nation. And they are imposed on her from without, not self-inflicted, as in Russia or Rwanda.
I am thinking of the partitions, the Nazi occupation, swiftly followed by the Soviet occupation; the Warsaw uprising and its aftermath, Auschwitz, the Katyn Forest Massacre, and now the terrible, terrible news today.
Why? Who can fathom it?
I am clinging to the insight of the greatest son of Poland in our time: the purpose of suffering is to unleash love.
Apr. 10, 2010, at 11:02am
A Wall Street Journal article today delves into Mitt Romney’s campaign trail dilemma. On the one hand he stands with those calling for the repeal of Obamacare, and on the other he wants to defend the similar law that was a defining achievement of his term as governor of Massachusetts.
Mr. Romney also took pains to defend another element common to both plans—the mandate requiring nearly all people to buy coverage—that many conservative activists consider one of the most objectionable elements of the federal law. But he did so by adopting a more GOP-friendly vocabulary, declaring it a matter of “personal responsibility” for all people to buy into insurance pools so that “free riders” without insurance can’t stick taxpayers with their hospital bills.
“We are a party and a movement of personal responsibility,” he said at a book signing in Manchester. He invoked the same idea at the college, calling it a “conservative bedrock principle.”
I can think of only two possible explanations for this “vocabulary adoption”.
1. He has no idea what personal responsibility means.
2. He is being dishonest and manipulative.
A person is no more rendered responsible by government mandates than he is rendered generous by having his property seized.
Apr. 9, 2010, at 10:00am
...the girl was married off in an agreement between two men to marry each other’s sisters to avoid having to pay expensive bride-prices. The group said that was a common arrangement in the deeply impoverished country.
In September a 12-year old child bride died after struggling to give birth for three days.
Yemen once set 15 as the minimum age for marriage, but parliament annulled that law in the 1990s, saying parents should decide when a daughter marries.
The brothers agree; the parents decide. Is the girl not a person?
It’s not just the extreme (and all too frequent) cases of brutality in strict Muslim societies that I object to—though they are horrifying enough—but the annihilation in law and practice of Muslim girls’ self-standing as persons. Their self-standing (i.e. their right and responsibility to dispose over their own existence) is denied, and their uniqueness as individuals is entirely bypassed in this Islamic view of marriage. It is not an “I” choosing a “Thou”, but a man getting a girl in a bargain.
Who can respect it?
Apr. 9, 2010, at 12:08am
While readers of the Linde know how little amenable I am to defenses of the Church that center on comparable statistics of sex abuse outside the Church or the great new prevention policies within the Church, I’m all ears for those that justly expose the hatred of Truth and all moral absolutes that animates so much of the secular media’s poisonous and dishonest attacks on Pope Benedict.
This American Spectator piece by George Neumayr is a great exhibit of the type I approve with all my heart. Here’s a sample paragraph:
For an elite drunk on its own enlightenment, the ends will always justify the means against religion. So what, Keller figured, if my reporters could only come up with straining, half-baked pieces that cast fragments of information about Benedict in the worst possible light? Let’s run them anyways, so that the forces of tolerance can triumph over the forces of absolutism!
However egregiously the Church may have failed in living up to her mission, which vision of human life would is more conducive to the dignity of persons and the welfare of children? One that sees each and every individual as made in the Image and Likeness of God, with an immortal soul, infinitely precious and valuable and destined to live with God forever, but in freedom and not by force, so that our eternal salvation or damnation lies—at least in one crucial sense—lies in our free will? Or one that sees human life as the result of the random mutations of the material world?
Apr. 8, 2010, at 7:41pm
The other night I re-watched Witness to Hope, the inspiring DVD based on George Weigel’s magisterial biography of John Paul II. I was struck again by Weigel’s true claim that throughout his life Wojtyla understood the personal encounter with God to be the basis and center of our faith. This conviction is organically related to his personalist anthropology. It is a key to understanding his life, his priesthood, his intellectual work, and his papacy. Man finds himself in relation to God and others.
Today friend Mark sent me a link to a blog where a discussion about Pentecostalism (inspired by a section of John Allen’s book The Future of the Church) is underway.
The author of the post, Greg Sisk, was a Pentecostalist for several years before becoming Catholic. Having been profoundly influenced during my adolescence by Protestant evangelicals and later by the Catholic charismatic renewal, my own sense and experience echoes his. He writes:
As do other former Pentecostals (and I think many former Evangelicals as well) who have converted to the Catholic Church, I sometimes find the emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus to be missing in Catholic parish life. While knowing Jesus as a personal Savior is integral to Catholic doctrine and manifested in the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the one-on-one relationship with our Lord is not always well conveyed in the Catholic Church. I know that many of us from Pentecostal or Evangelical backgrounds worry that the deep and individual spiritual connection ― the personal sense of walking with Jesus ― may not be fully experienced by our children, at least those who find themselves in the sometimes stale or routine style of worship found in too many Catholic parishes.
If our faith is no more than an assent to a set of doctrines combined with conformity to ecclesial and moral law, it is not a living faith. And it will not serve in the emergencies surely ahead.
Sisk’s penultimate point also resonates with me:
As another point of vital importance to the future of any people of faith, Allen emphasizes that “[o]ne of the great strengths of Pentecostalism is its capacity to form a sense of community” (407). With the decline of ethnic neighborhoods and geographically-centered parishes, the Catholic Church must foster stronger communities of deeply shared Catholic meaning and spiritual experience, such as sub-groups within a parish that come together for Bible study and to share one another’s burdens. We must find ways, both within and outside the parish, in which to build community and demonstrate our concern for the welfare of each brother and sister in Christ.
I agree. I long for it constantly. But having seen experiments in community living go very badly awry, I am wary. Getting it right is not easy.
Apr. 8, 2010, at 6:13pm
That persons are from Love and for Love and that the human condition is plagued by a post-Eden master/slave dynamic is perhaps the central theme of Christian personalism.
Hence, I found an op-ed piece by a former priest (who is still a practicing Catholic) in today’s National Catholic Reporter identifying power as the ruination of the Church compelling, as is much of the rest of his analysis.
[P]ower is ruining the church I love. And by this I do not mean authority, which is what holds us together in unity and keeps us tied to the sources of the church’s apostolic legitimacy, the Bible and Tradition. What I mean by power is what Jesus so masterfully dodged in the desert when Satan tried to guarantee his success as messiah by getting him to use political ascendancy, the option to work miracles of bread and spectacle in order to ensure the respect and fear all leaders need if they expect to stay in office longer than one term.
He is exactly right there. Right that power and authority should not be conflated; right to point to the link between power and fear.
This power for good or evil comes with a price, hidden like a coiled adder in a basket of lush fruit. Each time an idealistic leader exercises special privilege, accepts automatic respect, even guarded adulation for his holy role among sincere but lesser folks, stained by the world…each time a young priest sees himself as set apart and possessing mystic insight and ontological superiority, he is within the seduction of power.
This is true of lay Catholic leaders as well. I have seen it in operation. They begin to imagine that the great responsibilities they bear in their work for God somehow put them in a class apart. For instance, their leading might involve keeping others in the dark about things they wouldn’t understand.
I know this because I once shared in the clerical state, part of a proud tradition that has given the church brilliant religious communities of saints and scholars. Of the almost 20 years I spent with an order, 10 years were in ordained ministry, and I wouldn’t trade the formation and fraternity these men gave me and continue to affirm in me as a former priest, now a husband and father, a practicing Catholic and the editor of a very good worship resource that promotes the vision of Vatican II.
It is because of this experience that I know that when it comes to pedophilia, celibacy is not the issue, nor is homosexuality, nor clerical bachelorism per se.
But power corrupts. Isolation and lack of human affection, the absence of real friendship with both men and women, all profiles at one time or another for the ideal priest, can produce trouble in a person. Loneliness, thwarted desire and a structure of obedience that renders a man impotent before his superiors to his own responsibility to choose his life at every stage, all of these dynamics can and do converge on a priest to force the question: Who am I? Who loves me? Why am I so angry and frustrated on the one hand, and so compulsive in my personal needs on the other?
I note that the personalism of JP II puts strong emphasis on friendship, including between the sexes, and on self-dtermination. His way of pastoring was as far as can be from an authoritarian “I am the priest; I know best,” ethic of obedience and submission. Those who were closest to him as a spiritual director say that his constant refrain was “You must decide.” It came from his deep-seated respect for uniqueness of each person and his sense that a person (in interior dialogue with the Holy Spirit) “creates himself” in his choosing and acting.
None of this makes a pedophile, any more than marriage makes a man mature (Ha!). But the institutional template will attract and incubate those who seek the refuge of automatic respect and a façade of maturity without the painful work of growing up and getting beyond adolescent fixation and fantasy, the eroticizing of others close at hand, easily dominated, innocent and vulnerable to special people who offer special situations of attention and secret play. The diagnosis is not unknown, nor help impossible, but the failure to recognize the problem has created monsters, and institutional denial and secrecy have, it seems clear now, let criminals and serial child rapists move freely and repeatedly in the flock to victimize its most precious and innocent members.
Amen, amen, amen!
No one escapes the long loneliness except by love, love in community. No man ever came to terms with his sexuality, his spirituality, his personality, without the help of a woman, even if it is only his mother.
And again I say, amen.
How we need a much stronger, more self-standing laity!
Apr. 7, 2010, at 4:14pm
Dismay over the recent defensiveness of the Vatican and lay Catholic spokesmen like George Weigel and Bill Donohue regarding media reports of clerical sex abuse cases and cover-ups has got me thinking again about the Dreyfus Affair.
I hope those who know it better than I do will correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there is a clear parallel with the situation we face today.
In sum, in 1894 a Jewish captain in the French army was falsely accused and imprisoned for treason.
Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a [Catholic] French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. However, high-ranking military officials suppressed this new evidence and Esterhazy was unanimously acquitted after the second day of his trial in military court. Instead of being exonerated, Alfred Dreyfus was further accused by the Army on the basis of false documents fabricated by a French counter-intelligence officer, Hubert-Joseph Henry, seeking to re-confirm Dreyfus’s conviction. These fabrications were uncritically accepted by Henry’s superiors.
The officers involved evidently persuaded themselves and each other that if the truth were known, it would bring scandal on the military, the most important institution in Catholic France after the Church. In using Dreyfus as their scapegoat, they banked partly on the natural prejudice of the French public in favor of Catholics and against Jews.
It was the fiery public denunciations of the cover-up by the left-wing writer Émile Zola that forced a re-examination of the case and led finally to the complete exoneration of Dreyfus. The reputation of the Church in France never recovered.
The moral of the story is multi-faceted. Of course scape-goating is immoral. It also backfires. We cannot serve the reputation of the Church by covering-up injustice. (Can a skin graft heal a gangrenous wound?) Not only will the truth eventually come to light, but in the meantime, the infection is spread further throughout the body. More injustice has to be committed to keep the original one hidden. Those who are seeking the truth have to be vilified or silenced; those lying have to be protected, even favored.
Dreyfus was a Jew and Zola an anti-clerical secularist, yet, is it not obvious that every Catholic ought to stand on their side against the Catholic conspirators?
For how long did we Catholics shut our ears to the accusations we heard against priests and bishops, attributing the scandal to an anti-Catholic media culture?
It is with all this in mind that I read two recent articles by Jason Berry, the Catholic journalist who wrote the 1997 Hartford Currant piece that first made public the accusations of sex abuse against Legion of Christ founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. (He is also one of the authors of Vows of Silence, a book and DVD about the Legion.) Berry and the newspaper were widely vilified at the time by conservative Catholic Legion sympathizers for publicizing baseless, scurrilous attacks against a manifestly good and holy priest. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, Deal Hudson, Bill Donohue, and Mary Ann Glendon, among others, publicly defended Maciel. By all accounts, Pope John Paul II himself trusted Maciel and refused to listen to his accusers.
But they were telling the truth; Maciel was lying.
This week Berry has a piece in the National Catholic Reporter revealing that Maciel paved his way in Rome by lavishing cash and gifts on certain key Cardinals and Vatican officials, including the late Pope’s personal secretary. He has another rather disquieting piece in Politics Daily today about “the Vatican’s point man” in the scandal, Cardinal William Levada, whose background does not inspire confidence.
I believe Pope Benedict is serious about “cleaning up the filth” in the Church. But there’s a awful lot of it, and I fear we will have to come to grips with more bad news before we can be confident that we’re on the side of truth and right when we defend the Vatican against journalists, not all of whom are anti-Catholic. I wish our intuitive solidarity in this matter were more readily with those who have been proven right rather than with those who have been proven wrong.
Joseph Bottum’s brief response to Berry’s NRC article in First Things’ Public Square is disappointing in its grudgingness. He takes some unnecessary swipes at the competition and fails to acknowledge either the role his magazine, among other conservative Catholic outlets, played in delaying justice in the case of the Legion, or the yeoman’s work Jason Berry has been doing, in the face of fierce opposition from fellow Catholics, to bring the truth to light.
Apr. 5, 2010, at 11:21am
It’s not pleasant reading, but it’s worthwhile.
Václav Havel, the great Czech playwright and essayist, whose book The Power of the Powerless is on our short list of great readings in personalism, today calls on the international community to notice and unequivocally condemn the latest act of incipient tyranny in Venezuela. When, after years of being a leader of the anti-communist cultural resistance in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, Havel was elected President of the emerging Czech Republic, his first public remark was, “I assume you did not elect me so that I, too, will lie to you.”
Classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hansen offers an admirable analysis of the Obama administrations characteristic postmodernism with its antipathy to truth.
Apr. 3, 2010, at 11:00pm
Even if you have only a little leisure for reading, try not to miss this offering by the great Roger Scruton. He is not a Catholic, but he is a true philosopher and an intuitive personalist. Note how like John Paul II he sounds:
When I give something I am present in the gift: it comes from me and is a symbol and an out-growth of the free self that is the moral heart of me. The gift comes wrapped in affection, an out-going of me to you that is created by the very act of giving. Even if the gift belongs to a context of ritual and reciprocity, it is something more than a bargain or a contractual exchange. It is I, going out to you.
I’d like to add many more quotes, but lack time. Do read the whole thing.
Mar. 31, 2010, at 11:41pm
I am entering the Easter Triduum feeling overwhelmed as never before in my life with the tides of evil that seem to be sweeping the Church and society.
Now comes ray of light from the Vatican:
Pope Benedict XVI sees the priestly sex scandal as a “test for him and the church,” his spokesman said Wednesday, as bishops around Europe used Holy Week’s solemn call for penitence to announce new pledges of transparency in dealing with the abuse of children.
And from Cardinal Shoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, at a service for victims:
“Thank you for breaking your silence,” Schoenborn told the victims. “A lot has been broken open. There is less looking away. But there is still a lot to do.”
God’s arm is not too short to save.
Full article here.
Mar. 30, 2010, at 1:12pm
Interesting David Brooks column in today’s New York Times that begins by pointing to the case of Sandra Bullock (who won a Best Actress Oscar days before her marriage publicly fell apart) and asking whether readers would rather have a good marriage or a great career triumph.
Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
This is more than intuitive wisdom.
This is the age of research, so there’s data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigor, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.
And it’s not just marriage. It’s interpersonal relationships in general.
If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).
Brooks proposes that our institutions begin paying more attention to the non-material factors in human well-being. I’m all for it.
Mar. 29, 2010, at 1:18pm
Two names given by Holy Scripture to the devil came to mind reading this article: Father of Lies and Legion.
According to some of the testimonies given to the apostolic visitors in recent months, some in this group knew about the founder’s double life, about the carnal acts he performed with many of his seminarians over the span of decades, about his lovers, his children, his drug use. But in spite of that, a fortress was built around Maciel in defense of his virtues, devotion to him was fostered among his followers, all of them unaware of the truth, his talents were emphasized, even among the upper hierarchy of the Church. This exaltation of the figure of the founder was so effective that even today it inspires the sense of belonging to the Legion among many of its priests and religious.
The cohesion of the leadership group, originating from its decades-long connection with Maciel, endures today in the bond that binds and subordinates everyone to Corcuera, and even more to Garza.
Garza concentrates two key posts in himself. He is vicar general, with control of administration, and he is the director of the congregation’s Italian province, headquartered in Rome, where the Vatican is. He took this second post shortly before the beginning of the apostolic visit, transferring his predecessor, Jacobo Muñoz, to the province of France and Ireland.
But in addition to this, Garza is the creator and absolute master of Grupo Integer, the holding company that acts as treasury and administrative center for all the works of the Legion in the world, with assets totaling an estimated 25 billion euros.
This groups with assets in tens of billions of dollars routinely send out fundraising appeals asking for money for its poor seminarians, who don’t have enough food of heat.
I am finding it increasingly difficult to trust or respect anyone who remains affiliated in any way with this travesty of a religious order.
Mar. 29, 2010, at 12:02pm
Right after linking the Weigel piece below, I found this op-ed by John Allen in today’s New York Times. It’s good—as is a National Catholic Reporter article he wrote on the same theme a week or two ago.
The outside world is outraged, rightly, at the church’s decades of ignoring the problem. But those who understand the glacial pace at which change occurs in the Vatican understand that Benedict, admittedly late in the game but more than any other high-ranking official, saw the gravity of the situation and tried to steer a new course.
Be that as it may, Benedict now faces a difficult situation inside the church. From the beginning, the sexual abuse crisis has been composed of two interlocking but distinct scandals: the priests who abused, and the bishops who failed to clean it up. The impact of Benedict’s post-2001 conversion has been felt mostly at that first level, and he hasn’t done nearly as much to enforce new accountability measures for bishops.
That, in turn, is what makes revelations about his past so potentially explosive. Can Benedict credibly ride herd on other bishops if his own record, at least before 2001, is no better? The church’s legitimacy rests in large part on that question.
Mar. 29, 2010, at 11:50am
This First Things article by George Weigel is worth reading. But I don’t find it entirely satisfying.
It’s not only those who are out to get the Church who are pushing this issue. It’s also those who love her most, and those who have been scandalized and appalled not only by the abuses themselves, but by the wretchedly inadequate response of the bishops so far.
And who can be mollified by statistics showing that the sexual abuse of minors happens as much elsewhere in society as it does in the Church? The outrage is that it was done by priests. It’s very depressing to hear bishops and the Vatican now complaining that the media is out to get them.
Mar. 26, 2010, at 12:45am
Many and many is the time in my adult life I have tried to wave the banner for criticism—tried to rally fellow Christians to do it more, accept it more. Socrates explained why way back: The one who proves me wrong is my greatest benefactor—because nothing is worse and more damaging to the soul than to commit wrong. It follows that those who show me where I’m going wrong do me great good.
Christians—so conscious of our imperfections and enjoined to be humble—should recognize that reality all the more, shouldn’t we? Don’t we know we are blind to our own faults? Don’t we see how many good works and good institutions have gone awry because they have shut their ears to honest criticism?
Yet, endlessly, those who criticize (I know because by vocation I’m one of them) are rejected for being “negative” and accused of “attacking” when we mean only to challenge or correct or admonish. The mention of an offense is received as an outrage—proof of non-friendship: “Obviously, you don’t like me”. The pointing out of a substantial flaw in approach is treated as Satanic persecution of a “good person” or a “work of God”. I’ve never understood this. I’ve been shocked and depressed by it. I’ve lost friends, and had to sever ties with certain causes and institutions because of it.
And, being a self-critic too, I sometimes suppose the break must be my fault. And sometimes it is. (I criticized without grace or sensitivity perhaps.) But sometimes it’s not. Regardless, criticism itself remains highly called for.
I have just come across a quote from a film critic (in a First Things article) (hat tip Arts and Letters Daily), Pauline Kael, that captures the point perfectly: “Criticism is all that stands between the public and advertising.” That’s it!
The critic plays in community the role of conscience in personal life—abuse-stopper, bogosity detector, discriminator, prophet. Without him we’re too prone to sensation and manipulation. Also, without him we’re all too likely to be content with mediocrity.
In this connection, I have to say that Roger Kimball’s Notes and Asides in the current issue of the New Criterion is worth the price of a year’s subscription to that excellent journal. Here is a sample paragraph (referring to Anthony Daniel’s critique of Ayn Rand, which I mentioned and excerpted in a post below.)
The New Criterion is primarily a journal of criticism. Anthony Daniels’s essay on Ayn Rand is a percipient exercise in that art. This is something that Rand’s acolytes cannot abide. Never mind that, early on in his piece, Dr. Daniels enumerates what he takes to be Rand’s virtues: “She was highly intelligent; she was brave and uncompromising in defense of her ideas; she had a kind of iron integrity; and, though a fierce defender of capitalism, she was by no means avid for money herself. The propagation of truth as she saw it was far more important to her than her own material ease.” The fact that he goes on to dilate on her limitations and vices puts him beyond the pale for the Randian faithful. Dr. Daniels has assured us privately that the followers of Virginia Woolf are even more intolerant of criticism than the followers of Ayn Rand. Perhaps. If so, their intellectual sclerosis must be complete.
I am sorry to say that in my experience the brittle intolerance-of-criticism of Ayn Rand devotees is not unlike what I have found among many Christians.