God and the Double BBQ Sandwich

God and the Double BBQ SandwichIt is no secret that America is polarized. This is a fact that is manifested in so many different ways. Traveling down the highway to Chicago, for example, I came upon two successive billboards that I thought were striking examples of our divided culture.

The first billboard caught me by surprise: it consisted of an electrocardiogram of a heart that suddenly stops beating. The caption read: When you die, you will meet God.

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As we were passing through the snowy night, I was unable to catch more details of this billboard. I do not know who put it out or what I was expected to do. It really did not matter because for a brief moment I thought about what the Catholic Church calls the “Four Last Things” – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Think of these things, Scriptures says, and you will not be lost eternally. The simple phrase served to trigger in me a gentle yet fleeting reflection upon the meaning of life. I am sure I was not the only one to make this quick reflection.


The billboard is clearly polarizing since it is directed toward that strong vein inside the American public that is turned toward things religious, spiritual and eternal. It is a sector of the American public that lives amid the fast, superficial and materialistic aspects of our pop culture yet is not entirely comfortable with them. These Americans are drawn by God, family, honor and country. On the other hand, this billboard would not appeal to other Americans who would tend to disparage the message as backward and unenlightened.

BBQ_sandwichThe second billboard came immediately afterwards and struck me by how contrary it was to the former. It consisted of a massive BBQ sandwich with the caption: Happiness is a double BBQ sandwich.

There is nothing wrong with a double BBQ sandwich or even deriving pleasure from eating one. However, the message behind this billboard is clearly materialistic yet more subtly polarizing. There is no invitation to profound reflection. Rather there is the quick insinuation that happiness can be easily bought by obtaining the immediate object of our desires. In this case, gratification equals happiness. According to the same logic, life should be a long succession of gratifications.

This billboard represents a second, more commercial, vein found in America that I call in the book, Return to Order, the perception of the nation as a co-op. This perspective holds that individuals unite themselves together in society as a means to facilitate each one’s inebriating pursuit of happiness.

How Do We Return to OrderUnder this view, an appreciation of America is tied to its ability to make everything fun and everyone happy. Like a co-op, those who hold this position expect returns on their social union in the form of constant and instant gratification. Happiness consists of participating in the excitement of a party economy that they hope will keep on going.

Of course, we cannot generalize and say that all Americans fit neatly into one category or the other. Sometimes the two can be found in differing proportions inside the same person. Other times, the same person might gravitate toward one or later the other. We might also observe collective swings of the national mood towards one or the other category.

As our crisis deepens, this fascinating interplay of perspectives, this dramatic clash of mentalities becomes the material for a great debate now taking place in America over our future. This discussion is found everywhere—even on highway billboards.

There are many categories that people have used to characterize the nation’s polarization. There is red and blue, conservative and liberal, or retro and metro. Perhaps it is the case to add yet another: God and the double BBQ sandwich.

 

How a Good Lent Can Help Fix a Bad Economy

good_lentTo those who see no link between Lent and our failing economy, it might be the case to look again.

Economics is about people. It cannot be reduced to numbers, formulae and analyses. “The subject matter of economics,” observes economic historian Odd Langholm, “is properly the habits, customs, and ways of thinking of producers, consumers, buyers, sellers, borrowers, lenders, and all who engage in economic transactions.”

That means our moral habits can have a definite effect on determining if our economy grows—or fails.

In my book, Return to Order, I show how our present economic crisis is being caused by what I call “frenetic intemperance.”

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Frenetic intemperance can be defined as a restless spirit inside certain sectors of modern economy that foments a drive inside men to throw off legitimate restraints and gratify disordered passions. It is not a specifically economic problem but a moral and psychological vice that throws everything out of balance. When frenetic intemperance dominates, it often sends the whole system into convulsions—as we saw during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. And, unless addressed, it is virulent enough to crash the entire financial system.

In our daily lives, we see frenetic intemperance in the tendency to desire everything, right away, regardless of the consequences. Everyone must have the latest gadget even though they do not need it and really cannot afford it. The mad lack of restraint leads to an unstable economy laden with boom and bust, debt and stress. It creates a cold mechanistic economy where money rules. It gives rise to a materialistic culture which values quantity and utility over quality and beauty. The long and short of it is that a frenzied economy comes from frenzied lifestyles.

And that brings us to Lent. Fighting bad moral habits and practicing restraint is what Lent is all about. More than giving up a box of chocolates, how about giving up habits that foster frenetic intemperance, which is the real root cause of our economic decline? Besides the personal benefits of interior peace, detachment, and greater spiritual freedom, a good Lent can also help save our economy.

Here are some suggestions on how this might be done.

1. Avoid speculative investments that promise huge returns on investment in little time. Such offers usually do not deliver what they promise and always feed frenetic desires that create anxiety and stress.

2. Stay away from business relationships that are cold and mechanical. Treat workers like family. Respect those for whom you work.

3. Avoid trendy business gurus and books that call for radical changes that will “revolutionize” a company or keep people in a constant state of change.

4. Eschew work schedules that are inhuman and stressful. Learn to appreciate leisure.

5. Avoid compulsive buying especially during those sales frenzies around the holidays.

6. Shun the abuse of credit cards and especially the temptation to pay only the minimal monthly amount. Avoid consumer debt as you would the plague (i.e. borrowing to buy things for your immediate consumption, e.g. that new laptop, games, cars, fashion clothing, etc. that you cannot afford, as opposed to investment debt , e.g. your home mortgage).

7. Learn not to have everything right now. The culture of instant gratification creates a frenzied lifestyle—and economy.

8. Do not take as role models those who have money as the central axis of their lives. Admire character not a person’s bottom line.

9. Resist the temptation of seeing only quantity and cheapness. Learn to appreciate the beauty of quality and good taste.

10. Avoid lavish display, especially of fancy gadgetry that leads to a desire to keep up with the e-Joneses with the latest version.

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

As Lent progresses, we would do well to do something that has an impact beyond our own spiritual lives. It would be good to practice charity toward our neighbor by looking at the big picture. Giving up frenetic intemperance is a good start.

Standing Against Satan in Portland

Standing Against Satan in Portland After School Club at Sacramento Elementary School

Protesting “After School Satan Club” at Sacramento Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.

Around noontime on Wednesday, November 16, the first “After School Satan Club” in the history of America opened at the Sacramento Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.

The school is a public tax funded institution destined to educate children. The same school is one of ten currently being targeted by the Satanic Temple to open Satan clubs.

Parents from the said school have expressed anxiety and complained about the opening of the “After School Satan Club.”

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Jose Delgado, whose 8 yr. old daughter goes to Sacramento Elementary School, voiced his complaint:

“There is nothing positive about a Satanic Club. Satan is Satan. I’m upset because we didn’t even have a say in this. All of a sudden we’re going to have this club.” 1

 

Thankfully, many Americans are opposing these clubs. The campaigns Return to Order together with TFP Student Action and America Needs Fatima have collected more than 90,000 signatures to oppose the clubs. The anti-Satan club petition signatures were personally hand delivered to Sacramento Elementary School’s principal and district officials.

Protesting After School Satan Club at Sacramento Elementary School in Portland Oregon

Protesting “After School Satan Club” at Sacramento Elementary School in Portland Oregon

Eighty parents and local residents participated in a rosary rally against the Satan clubs, organized by supporters of America Needs Fatima. A Roman Catholic priest led the prayers. The Catholic Vietnamese community joined in with enthusiasm.

On the other side of the street from the rally were ten darkly dressed Satanists. They carried a black and white flag of America and counter protest signs. A few people yelled profanities and curses at the rosary rally group while prayers were being said.

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

Various media sources such as CBN News, ABC news, Christian Newswire, KOIN6 News, Christian Today, Charisma News, Fox News, US FLASH, WDTN News, local news The Oregonian, Crossroads today, and UPI News had reports and carried live coverage of the rosary rally.

Some of the signs at the rally read:

Satanism is NOT an American Value

Satan is Evil—Evil has NO rights

God—Always! Satan—Never!

Keep it “One Nation Under God”

 

These thoughts reflect what most Americans think.

Portland Oregon, Sacramento Elementary School protest

About eighty parents and local residents participated in a rosary rally against the Satan club at Sacramento Elementary School in Portland.

As Satan wages a battle for the souls of America’s children, we must not lose confidence in God and always remember that the final victory is His.

But there’s more. For God to bless our country, we must not let Satan into our institutions. As Saint Joan of Arc said: “For God to be on our side, we must first be on His side.”

Everyone who loves God hates the devil (Ps. 96:10). All God-fearing people are invited to sign the petition to keep Satan out of schools. This is the least we can do.

Please sign the petition at http://www.returntoorder.org/petition/keep-satan-washington-schools/?PKG=RTOE0257.

Notes:

  1. “Religious groups protest after-school Satan club” available at http://wdtn.com/2016/11/17/religious-groups-protest-after-school-satan-club/.

The Technologically Backward and Cold Romans

The Technologically Backward and Cold RomansWe are conditioned to believe that the Roman Empire was technologically superior to the Middle Ages in every way. This was far from true. Daily life in the winter was miserable in Roman times for both slave and Caesar.

Rodney Stark explains that Roman buildings were horribly heated. They had no fireplaces, stoves, or furnaces since they had no way to get the smoke out of the buildings. More often than not, Roman peasants would start open fires inside and simply open a hole in the roof where the smoke went out and the rain, snow and cold came in. Urban Romans generally would not even have a hole as they preferred to let the smoke concentrate indoors. They avoided asphyxiation because their buildings were extremely drafty and their windows had no panes only hanging skins.

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The situation inside medieval houses was different. Stark explains that, “If the Caesars Subscription11huddled against the cold and endured the smoke coming from their kitchens, medieval Europeans – peasants as well as the nobility – soon learned to live much better. They invented the chimney and the fireplace, whereupon even roaring blazes did not smoke up the room. Nor was it any longer necessary to have drafty homes. With the smoke rising harmlessly up their chimneys, folks in the Dark Ages ate better-prepared food, breathed far better air, and were a lot warmer in winter” (Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Random House, New York, 2005, p. 43).

The Contradiction of Our Frenzied Lifestyles

contradicton of lifestylesIn a world where everything is so rationalistic and well-organized, it seems a contradiction that people would seek after things like drugs, alcohol abuse, promiscuity, violence, extreme sports, intense music, violent video games and other such pursuits that border on the irrational.

Yet, as sociologist Richard Strivers notes, such behavior is actually a consequence of overly rationalistic institutions. As bureaucratic and technical structures proliferate, he claims people sense that they have lost control over their lives. Their reaction is to escape into a realm of ecstasy that seems to rebel against this too orderly existence.

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The paradox is that technology becomes both a supreme organizing and disorganizing force. The more rational and technological that society becomes, the more it manifests irrational actions and attitude. People feel the need to escape into irrational pursuits if only to enjoy temporary amnesia or pleasure. Technology directly produces a kind of ecstasy by imposing a frenzied tempo upon society that works as a type of compensation for regimentation.

Humans cannot stand to have their lives fully rational, subject to timetables, lists and rules,” Stivers concludes. “Their instincts require an outlet that produces an altered state of consciousness – mysticism or ecstasy.”1

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What has been lost is the balance that once characterized an organic Christian society that was able to reconcile orderly development and progress with calm spiritual pursuits. The material and spiritual orders used to work together to favor the general well-being of society. Today, one works with the other to favor behavior that is self-destructive.

1 Richard Stivers, Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a Technological Society, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Md., 2004, p. 70.

 

When Institutions Decay

7f441559a42Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die is intriguing since the title reflects what should be an obvious connection: Social institutions do affect economies.

The noted British historian’s latest book is a compelling demonstration of his thesis. He lays out all the symptoms caused by decaying institutions: slowing growth, crushing debts, aging populations, and an uncivil society. It is clearly a degeneration, and even a great degeneration.

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We can only admire Ferguson in his quest is to go beyond media hype and find out what really went wrong in the West. He rightly claims that “until we understand the true nature of our degeneration, we will be wasting our time, applying quack remedies to mere symptoms.”


In this short essay, Ferguson lists the four principal institutions which he affirms are in decline: representative government, the free market, the rule of law and civil society. The author masterfully shows how each one is suffering in our days. The frightening pileup of debts is threatening to burden those that come after us threatening what Edmund Burke called the “partnership” between the generations which he claims is so essential for representative government to work well. The rule of law is fast becoming the rule of lawyers. The free market is burdened under the scourge of excessive regulation. People simply aren’t getting involved in voluntary associations today diminishing the social capital that keeps free markets free.

These are themes that have long been discussed by scholars over the decades. Ferguson provides urgency and context to our present decline. He provides insight and excellent observations that should serve as a warning long overdue. His style is clear, engaging and at times witty.

Subscription12And yet, in his search for answers, we are left wondering if the author has dug deep enough.

The work suffers from its limitations as an essay. The 152-page text is taken from his 2012 BBC Radio 4 “The Reith Lectures” which limits the depth of his analysis since the book’s tone is light and slightly entertaining. There is no time to develop in depth those pressing questions that might be found in a more imposing tome with full bibliography and index.

However, there are other questions that might be raised. We are told how the institutions decayed but not why they decayed. Institutions simply don’t self-decay. We should be able to trace this decay to a decadence in men. There is little in the book to indicate what forces were at work in the depths of men’s souls that caused them to abandon these essential pillars. We are also given little clue as to what moral force might be employed to regenerate that which has degenerated.

The problem stems from the fact that Ferguson’s worldview is that of the Scottish Enlightenment when he felt the four pillars now in decline had reached their harmonious apogee. He thus works inside a rationalist and secular framework. As an historian, Ferguson must have observed that religious and moral institutions have always served as the most effective means to bring about a regeneration of society. Indeed, the very four pillars he lists as decaying were largely medieval institutions that developed under the tutelage of the Church. Yet he does not make the leap to suggest that a moral or religious regeneration is possible or even desirable. Such an omission is lamentable.Subscription5.2

Despite this omission, the book does have great value in making a link not often made. Economists have so entered into the abstract world of formulae and numbers that simply ignore such social considerations. Historians tend to concentrate on events and dates. Not often do we see those who admit that social institutions do affect economy. Economy need the support of social institutions to thrive. We ignore to our detriment this central fact so well demonstrated in The Great Degeneration.

 

A review of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die by Niall Ferguson, Allen Lane, London, 2012.

The Shipwreck of Secession

800px-Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_The_Shipwreck_-_Google_Art_ProjectUpon reading stories of sea disasters in my youth, I have often wondered what it’s like to be shipwrecked. There is an element of adventure in being marooned since one must rely upon one’s own resources. I am especially fascinated by the human element in such disasters since one must deal with other survivors. I have always been interested in how a small society might arise out of such misfortunes and how leaders come forth. Such an experience might give us insight into how we might find unexpected solutions in our present socio-economic crisis.

My desire for such an experience was fulfilled when I actually found myself “shipwrecked,” and I was able to observe firsthand how a group of ordinary people—once mugged by the reality of their fate—react and interact. It was a very revealing experience.

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Being shipwrecked in our days is not as rare as it might sound. In fact, I believe a lot of Americans have experienced the modern equivalent of such disasters. It is no longer a rare event since air travelers are often confronted with cancelled flights—especially in bad weather. Suddenly, one can find oneself shipwrecked at a strange airport with no immediate means to return home.


My particular experience involved a short 40-minute evening flight home from a major hub. I was talking on the phone with a friend when I noticed a commotion around the airline counter, at the gate. Since I had not heard the announcement because of my phone conversation, I approached someone and asked what had happened. The flight was cancelled. I was shipwrecked at the airport—so close, yet so far from my destination.

An airline employee was abandoning ship since it was time for him to go home. He quickly explained the options to a very upset crowd of tired travelers. He told us we could either stay the night and possibly catch a morning flight or take a bus that would make a three-hour trip to our destination airport. To those who would take the bus, he handed out $10 food vouchers, told people to meet upstairs in one hour and took off. It was every man for himself.

The passengers scattered. It was as if each of us were our own cancelled flight with nothing in common with the other. Even condoling conversation was limited. When a few gathered upstairs before the hour, there was no airline official there or indications as to what should be done.

No one was really sure what to do. Someone said that a bus was waiting outside down the lane. Suddenly people started taking off for the bus intent upon getting a good seat. I stayed and watched as there was no one to inform the others who were arriving about the bus. Each only thought of his or herself. No one made any special effort to help any fellow passenger with their bags or show any other courtesy.

Eventually an airline employee did arrive to indicate the way to go. But there was no checklist of passengers or concern about who might or might not arrive in time. Everyone was an individual atom that only interacted with the others to the extent it impacted their way home. Aboard the bus, everyone sat in silence as we made our way to our destination, with many checking their cell phones or texting.

I guess I had expected some kind of Hollywood dramatics to kick in during the “shipwreck.” I had imagined there should have been some kind of camaraderie in misfortune. However, all I felt was the cold individualism of self-interest. It was Hobbes’ “war of every man against every man” that ruled.

Of course, it was a very short shipwreck, and there was really no time for a society to Subscription11develop. There was still some rescue system in place that got us to our destination amid the chaos. But, I could not fail to ask myself what would have happened if that system had failed? How would we have resolved our problem? Would we have, could we have, pulled together in face of adversity?

I think the incident provided insight into our American situation. There are many who, in face of the nation’s present crisis, imagine they can simply do as my fellow passengers did during our “shipwreck.” They think that they (or their home states or counties) will simply secede from the rest and happily go their own way, oblivious to any others. They will interact with others only to the extent it impacts their own self-interest. They will confide in some kind of invisible system, like the bus, that will make their secession happen without any major disruption to their lives.

But when a crisis greater than themselves threatens, I question whether they will be able to deal with it alone. The secession that seems such a practical way to take care of oneself will suddenly become a source of weakness and fragmentation at a time when strength and unity will be needed.

There are times—true shipwrecks—in history when everyone needs to pull together in face of adversity. These are events so challenging that we are forced to appeal for God’s help. America has faced these events before. She overcame them and came out the better for the experience. I believe we are fast approaching another shipwreck where we need to think beyond the bus.

 Related Articles:

We Must Resist the Temptation to Secession
The Case Against Secession
 

 

 

What Has Happened to Community?

charityIn modern society, there is no longer the sense of communal space where conversation and leisure normally took place. There is no longer a feeling of community where people sense the satisfaction of being together.

That is not to say people do not gather in crowds. There are plenty of places where large numbers of people congregate. However the rules of communication have changed dramatically.

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Psychologist Sherry Turkle claims that people can be together, but more often than not they are alone together – each isolated as in a bubble in the midst of the crowd. She writes: “In this new regime, a train station (like an airport, a café, or a park) is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. Each is tethered to a mobile device and to the people and places to which that device serves as a portal.” (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, New York, Basic Books, 2011, p. 155)

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This is a topic that is discussed at length in the book, Return to Order. Order your book now!


Praise for Return to Order – Edwin Meese III

Praise for Return to Order - Edwin Meese IIIReturn to Order provides an interesting analysis of how the United States has departed from the spiritual, cultural, and economic precepts that supported the founding and the early history of our republic. It also sets forth valuable recommendations for restoring our society to its foundation of ordered liberty and traditional values.”

The Honorable Edwin Meese III
Former Attorney General of the United States

 

When Men Calmly Carried Out Their Trades

by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.

Gante_-_panoramioIn the placid waters of this canal of the Belgian city of Ghent, the facades of some buildings typical of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance have been reflected for centuries. These buildings create a singular architectural impression of balance because of the harmonious contrast between their imposing, serious and solid mass, and the rich, varied and almost dreamlike decoration on their facades.

 Read the popular article: We Must Resist the Temptation to Secession

What was the original use of these buildings, which are so recollected that we would call them almost pensive? Were they the houses of patricians? Study centers? No. They were used by trade associations. On the far right can be seen the corporate headquarters of the Free Boatmen. Next is the center for Grain Measurers and a small Customs building where medieval merchants came to declare their goods. Then comes the Barn, and finally the offices of the Guild of Bricklayers.

Thus, these were buildings for work and business. And history tells us that a most intense and productive trade went on inside them.

However, at that time, economic production was still not affected by today’s materialistic when_men_calmly-carried_out_their_tradesinfluences. Work took place in an atmosphere of calmness, thought and fine taste, and not in the feverish, frantic, thoughtless and proletarian atmosphere that so often marks our days. Who could suspect so much nobility and good taste in these bourgeois buildings destined for guild work?

This is not a matter of taste but rather a question of mentality. According to a conception of life that gives value to spiritual things, the best course of human action is guided by the mind. Thus the quality and even the quantity of economic output is best when it takes place in a calm atmosphere without idleness and with meditative recollection.

On the other hand, the materialist conception values quantity over quality; body over soul; agitation over reflection; and nervous hyperexcitement over authentic thought. That is why we see the vibrant atmosphere of certain stock markets or large modern thoroughfares.

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A climate of hyperexcitement reflected its cause: the agitation inside man. The image of the businessman that chews gum, chomps on his cigars, perhaps bites his nails, stomps his feet on the ground, is known to all. He is hyperactive, cardiac, and neurotic.

How different are the placid, stable, dignified, prosperous and intelligent-looking merchants in the admirable painting from the brush of Rembrandt: “The Syndics of the Cloth Merchants’ Guild.”

It was men like these who, with the communications media still uncertain and slow, Subscription13extended their network of activities in all directions and laid the foundations of modern trade. However, their work took place in tranquility, and we would almost say recollection. They also reflect the particular atmosphere of the old buildings that we analyze.

This is a fecund lesson for our poor world, increasingly ravaged by neuroses.

 

Originally published in Catolicismo, No. 92 – August 1958, in the series “Ambiences, Customs, Civilizations.” It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed.