Saturday, November 16, 2013


Pat Buchanan does not seem to be a fan of Pope Francis, skewering the new pope in his latest column for “sowing seeds of confusion among the faithful” and not being aggressive enough in the “culture war.”

He warned that if the Catholic Church places a greater emphasis on social justice, it will only aid the “cultural revolution preached by Marxist Antonio Gramsci” that seeks the church’s destruction.

Yet here is further confirmation His Holiness seeks to move the Catholic Church to a stance of non-belligerence, if not neutrality, in the culture war for the soul of the West.

There is a small problem with neutrality. As Trotsky observed, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” For the church to absent itself from the culture war is to not to end that war, but to lose it.

What would that entail? Can we not already see?

In America, the family has disintegrated. Forty percent of working-class white children are born out of wedlock, as are 53 percent of Hispanic children and 73 percent of black children. Kids from broken homes are many times more likely to drop out of school, take drugs, join gangs, commit crimes, end up in prison, lose their souls and produce yet another generation of lost souls.

[Laurie] Goodstein quotes the Holy Father as listing among the “most serious of the evils” today “youth unemployment.” And he calls upon Catholics not to be “obsessed” with abortion or same-sex marriage.

But is teenage unemployment really a graver moral evil than the slaughter of 3,500 unborn every day in a land we used to call “God’s Country”?

The cultural revolution preached by Marxist Antonio Gramsci is continuing its “long march” through the institutions of the West and succeeding where the violent revolutions of Lenin and Mao failed. It is effecting a transvaluation of all values. And it is not interested in a truce with the church of Pope Francis, but a triumph over that church, which it reviles as the great enemy in its struggle.

Indeed, after decades of culture war waged against Christianity, the Vatican might consider the state of the Faith.

Our civilization is being de-Christianized. Popular culture is a running sewer. Promiscuity and pornography are pandemic. In Europe, the churches empty out as the mosques fill up. In America, Bible reading and prayer are outlawed in schools, as Christian displays are purged from public squares. Officially, Christmas and Easter do not exist.

“Who am I to judge,” Pope Francis says of homosexuals.

Well, he is pope. And even the lowliest parish priest has to deliver moral judgments in a confessional.

“[S]ince he became pope,” writes Goodstein, Francis’ “approval numbers are skyrocketing. Even atheists are applauding.”

Especially the atheists, one imagines.

While Pope Francis has not altered any Catholic doctrines in his interviews and disquisitions, he is sowing seeds of confusion among the faithful, a high price to pay, even for “skyrocketing” poll numbers.

If memory serves, the Lord said, “Feed my sheep,” not “get the smell of the sheep.” And he did not mean soup kitchens, but more importantly the spiritual food essential for eternal life.

But then those were different Jesuits. And that was long ago.

 More than two-and-a-half years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the government effectively reversed its stated goal of eventually allowing all Fukushima evacuees to return to their homes. Asahi Shimbun
, Japan

 Despite six years of U.S. Navy cleanup and San Francisco city government reassurances that Treasure Island is safe, children living there might be at risk of radioactive poisoning, a newly released state health department memo concludes.Center for Investigative Reporting

Firearms, healthcare, inequality, government shutdowns. I'm an incurable Americophile, but the US has a lot to work on.

As I'm sure Americans have a particular view of Australia (if they remember us at all when they're not at Outback Steakhouse), so too do Australians perceive the  United States through a lens that simplifies and possibly distorts the truth. When I think of "America", it's usually difficult to disentangle exactly what I mean by that…

Progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century; it’s making a comeback.

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod, the one that used to get all the attention: the evangelical Christian religious right? That’s where the spotlight ought to be.
We know the corporate-business types want an active federal government, because it can be counted on to serve their interests, especially if Republicans regain control of it. We know that the libertarians, who are the driving force in the Tea Party, want to shrink government; that’s their whole reason for being.
What we don’t know yet, and what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government. Even the conservative evangelicals themselves don’t know, because the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right.
Many politically active evangelicals are happy to be Tea Partiers and align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them. And Tea Party politicians have been equally happy to talk the religious right talk because it wins them votes.
Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerufl government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American. The more the Tea Party weakens the government, the more it deprives the religious right of its most potent tool. That should be easy enough for most conservative evangelicals to see.
What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical, not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today's standards.  
As early as the 1820s, the evangelical style of Christianity was beginning to dominate American political life. It didn’t stop dominating until the 19th century was over.
Looking back across the history of that century you’ll find evangelicals, demanding strong government intervention in everyone's life, popping up in all sorts of places. And most of those places are well to the left of where you might expect them, if your view of evangelical politics is shaped only by the era of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell…

Charles Dickens is a man for our season, an artist who got people to think about economic injustice.

Can art do anything for the 99%? The case of Charles Dickens argues that yes—when genius, perseverance, activism, and admittedly, luck, combine, artistic creations can spark fires that burn through encrusted layers of human wrongs. It doesn’t happen overnight, and not as often as we wish. But it happens.
Maybe that’s why we’re turning to Dickens for guidance as America careens toward the nightmare he warned us about in the brutal early days of industrial capitalism. In this late finance-driven stage, as our top-heavy society teeters on the brink of self-inflicted disaster, we need him more than ever.
Dickens is a man for our season.
Poet of the People
Dickens was the most famous writer in Europe and America during his lifetime, just 25 when his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, rocketed him to the heights of literary success. Ebeneezer Scrooge gave us the icon of miserly capitalism, while Oliver Twist indicted economic injustice in the simple request of a hungry child, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
A friend of the laborer, the poor, the prisoner, and the sufferer, Dickens was likewise the enemy of the miser, the hustler, the social climber, and the hypocrite, all of whom he could slice and dice in a fury of satire.
In the subjects Dickens took on we find a menu of concerns that reflect our current ills: laissez-faire capitalism ( Hard Times), class divides ( Great Expectations) child poverty ( Oliver Twist), debt ( Little Dorrit), legal injustice (Bleak House) and tyranny ( A Tale of Two Cities).
No wonder Dickensia is everywhere right now. Since the financial crisis, there have been BBC adaptations, a hit biography, and retrospectives celebrating the 200-year anniversary of his birth in 2012. Oprah doubled down on Dickens with aGreat Expectations / A Tale of Two Cities combo for her book club. Most recently, Bill de Blasio rode A Tale of Two Cities all the way to the New York mayorship, making the title of Dickens’ novel a campaign slogan for a divided metropolis. A new film version of Great Expectations featuring Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and an upcoming biopic starring Ralph Fiennes seal the author’s resurgence.
Charles Dickens didn’t just imagine hard times; he lived them. The world was very nearly deprived of one of its great artists and humanitarians when poverty struck his decidedly ordinary family. When Dickens was 12 years old, his father, a clerk, hit a rough financial patch and was thrown into debtor’s prison. Young Charles left school and labored in a rat-infested shoe polish warehouse, toiling 10 hours a day, six days a week, for two years. If not for the death of his grandmother, who left the family a small inheritance, Dickens would likely have remained there and never continued his education. Fortunately he was able to make his way to school and eventually landed a job as a newspaper reporter.
Dickens’ childhood story, which haunted him for life, is a vivid example of what happens when people fall on hard times in the absence of a social safety net: they get trampled. No doubt Dickens and his family would have been sneered at today by Tea Partiers and self-serving 1 percenters who pretend that poverty is a deserved condition. But Charles Dickens learned firsthand that poverty is no more a sign of depravity than wealth is an indicator of superiority. He saw that very often the reverse is true. This theme would feature in Great Expectations, where the working-class Pip longs to be a gentleman, but soon finds out that many gentlefolk were either dissipated or conniving or sadistic—or all three.

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