Sunday, January 22, 2012

Women, Modesty, Aesthetics, Pants and Skirts

I was thinking about women's clothing.

This may start like the sound of a post that could go some strange places very fast, so I should explain a couple threads (get it?? I've actually made that pun before, in another old post about clothing) that have been floating around my head. (The title of the post is rather straightforward, by the way, because I hear that makes it easier to find in search engines for people looking up the topic.)

The first is just a minor point I should make about the common trad obsession with "modesty." The point is just to remind people that the vice opposed to modesty is vanity. It isn't "seductiveness" or "sluttishness" or something like that. Trads seem to have an overly sexualized notion of modesty; "modesty" is thought of as "covering up" enough (almost always thought of in terms of women), as not dressing in a lust-inducing manner, or one designed to flaunt ones sensuality.

However, this is a perversely narrow view of modesty. Modesty is really related to humility in outward appearance, manner, attitude, etc. People understand this "other" connotation of modesty well enough; we say "Oh, don't be modest!" when someone tries to downplay an accomplishment. But this really shouldn't be understood as a "separate" connotation of the concept of modesty. Really, it's the only connotation. Of course, not dressing like a whore can be part of modesty inasmuch as it means not showing off ones erotic capital or drawing attention to oneself, but the reason this is modesty has to do with the avoidance of pride in oneself, not lust in other people.

Any notion of "modesty" that associates it with, say, an overgeneralized aversion to nudity or to blushing at the thought of exposing certain body parts (even in appropriate contexts) really just a recipe for a neuroticism that fears the body and embodiment. It also can be a serious moral distraction or illusion from what really matters.

For example, I know a Muslim woman who is very "conservative" about covering everything up, wears a headscarf, would never dare expose an ankle (gasp!) or anything like that, and always has a long-sleeved thing even underneath whatever fancy outer dress she may have on. But that's just the thing: this woman wears extremely fancy outer-clothes, is always bragging about her jewelry, make-up, nail-painting, and expensive purses and shoes with other women.

Sure she's "covered up" extremely conservatively (what some trads understand to be "modesty"), her clothes don't reveal her figure...but she nevertheless loves to draw attention to herself through her showy self-adornment. Really, a woman in reasonable shorts and a plain t-shirt is much more "modest" in my mind because she is, in context in our culture, unremarkable and not putting too much thought into her appearance. This is real modesty.

The other point I was thinking about along these lines was the trad obsession with women wearing pants, and the insistence of some that they wear a skirt. Obviously, to make a moral argument of this is batshit crazy. But, nevertheless, I'd suggest that maybe the trad attitude comes from a good place aesthetically. Skirts and dresses are pretty! Of course, even men wore tunics and robes in other ages (trads want priests to still wear their frocks)...but there is something so nice about flowing loose cloth on a woman especially, as typifying beauty specifically feminine. Forget arguments about modesty or "proper dress" for a woman, it's the aesthete in me who would prefer to see women at Mass wearing skirts and covering their heads.

I mean, c'mon:


Mind you, this isn't a judgment on the women pictured here, nor on their innate physical appearance; I'm just talking about style of clothing. And while you cannot legislate good taste morally, and while there of course many informal situations where convenience or comfort is everyone's (men and women) first consideration over beauty...I have to think that when one deliberately sacrifices beauty to make a very clear politico-ideological statement (I think of both the "communist drab" cliche, and the "populist" low-church earthen-wear-vessel Marty-Haugen-music polyester-vestment ideology promoted at places like Pray Tell) you should seriously reconsider your priorities and beliefs. And this iconoclasm in the modern world extends for some people (especially liberal women) even into the realm of clothing choices, methinks.

I'm not going to tell women that wearing pants is a sin. I'm not insane. But I will say a dress or skirt is prettier. And that's not "nothing." I think the self-conscious decay into the bizarre and ugly and grotesque of modern art is obviously a huge sign of the decadence and corruption of the values of civilization as a whole, as are general trends in mores regarding slovenliness, tackiness, kitsch, and...whatever you want to call most of the folks on "The People of Wal-Mart." Taste and beauty are considerations that, at least in certain settings, have a very real weight when it comes to promoting The Good in the world. Beauty is not an amoral category, and there is often accounting for taste.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Scandal of Particularity

There was a post on Vox Nova recently that dealt with the selection of new Cardinals, who do not seem as diverse/international a group as has been usual in the recent past. This turned into a discussion of the tension between the local and the universal, the particular and the general, in the "Roman" Catholic Church (though, of course, as I've discussed before, that's really not Her proper name, though it does capture something of this "paradox"), and just what sort of "balance" is desirable in this regard.

I've discussed this before in regards to the question of local rites and the seeming "imperialism" of the globalized Roman Rite becoming the "default" rite for places even outside that geographical patriarchate (and, in turn, the ironic result of Novus Ordo being stripped of much of its specifically Roman urban particularities and quirky historical accretions for the sake of becoming this one-size-fits-all bland "United Nations Liturgy," constructed as if in a theoretical vacuum of timelessness and non-contingency; the over-extension of the local to the universal ended up with something like localizing a universal rather than universalizing a local.)

I also have my own thoughts on the question of how to "balance" the local and universal in the College of Cardinals. That's not really the point of this post, but it really doesn't deserve a post of its own either so I'll just quickly summarize: currently, the College of Cardinals has cardinal-bishops who are the ordinaries of the suburbicarian sees of Rome, cardinal-priests who are the pastors (technically) of parishes around Rome (originally just the 25 tituli), and cardinal-deacons who are assigned to various parishes with diaconal titles now too (different from the presbyteral titles, and originally representing the 7 diaconia districts of Rome).

Rather than making random "important" Sees around the world cardinalatial by having their bishops be the titular pastors or deacons of parishes in Rome, I'd be inclined to keep the local cast by really having seven deacons of Rome again, and the 25 pastors of restored tituli. However, I'd also be inclined to have the college on a sort of "continuum" from local to more universal just like the Pope's own roles. So I wouldn't stop at the bishops of the suburbicarian sees. I'd also have archiepiscopal cardinals, who would be the archbishops of Italy (of which the Pope is Primate). I'd have primatial cardinals, the primates of all the Latin Rite nations (of which the Pope is Patriarch). And all the Patriarchs would be cardinals too automatically. Basically, the Pope's direct and immediate "suffragans" in any of his various roles, the various "concentric cirlces" of his office.

But, that's an aside. What this post was really about, per the title, is the idea of the "scandal of particularity." This is a phrase/idea that a friend introduced me too that I find quite useful. I was going to try to describe it myself, but a Dominic Holtz, O.P. described it well enough on the Vox Nova post so I'll just quote him so that readers can understand what is meant by this term:
I am not sure that tension is the best way to talk about the Romanitas of Roman Catholicism. I suspect the more fundamental worry here is the so-called “scandal of particularity.” It is tempting to imagine that something, to be universally valid, is only universal to the extent that it is free from the particularities of time, place, experience, culture, etc. The attractive idea is a kind of free-floating truth which then can embed itself in anyone, anywhere, anywhen.

The Incarnation, I think, indeed the whole of salvation history from the election of Abraham through the story of the people of Israel, through Jesus and the Church, is a history of particularities. We do not get to know God better by abstracting what was particular of the experience of Israel, or of the first-century Mediterranean, or for that matter of the very concrete, particular life of Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee and (briefly) Jerusalem. God apparently speaks his Word once for all to his saints not in universalized ways, but through very particular people and places, and we appropriate these not by bypassing their particularity, but by letting the full and robust specificity of that moment enter into the equally robust particularity of our own, which God has prepared so to receive it.

This means that, e.g. the eastern Mediterranean, Hellenic and Hellenized culture which stamps the early Church and the Fathers is an intended and enduring feature of the life of the Church. It also means that Rome is not merely where the Vicar of Christ happens to be, but where God in his providence means for us to encounter the charism of Peter in its particularity. What we will see as the permanent and abiding contributions of west Africa or east Asia remain to be seen, but they will undoubtedly be there.
I think Ratzinger said something like this in Spirit of the Liturgy about how, say, the matter of the sacraments (wheat bread, grape wine, olive oil) cannot be "localized" (say, rice bread in Asia or something like that), nor should the liturgical calendar be flipped to fit the seasons (Easter in Southern Hemisphere Springtime, for example), because they refer to the first century Levant and Hellenic culture in the Roman Empire. Christ is not some "colorless flame" of generic abstract ideas. No, God entered into the contingencies of history, a specific time, a specific place, a specific human life. This is the real scandal of Christianity.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Production and Distribution

A recent Vox Nova post on Mitt Romney as a capitalist putting people out of work made me annoyed at both sides of the question. Once again, I find it very hard to think “within the system” on these questions.

In one sense, the capitalists are not wrong. There is no reason that efficiency of production should be limited for the sake of labor. The role of production is to produce the most goods at the least cost, period. A free market achieves this, there is no doubt. It is frankly robbing humanity as a whole to limit production or make it less efficient than possible merely for the sake of “employing” people.

This is where I must agree with the fundamental critique of our current economic system (which is really a critique of the current monetary system more than the “economic” system) from the Social Credit perspective, namely: the bootstrapping of an income to “employment.”

This situation is due to credit being conceived of as a privately created (rather than a public or social) reality. When money-creation is a private industry, all the rest of us who can't create our own money will be beholden, enslaved really, to those who can, who have set up an elaborate rat-race to obtain the "tickets" to society's production. Private money creation basically allows the bankers to claim everything society produces as their own (even though they themselves have produced nothing).

Really, ruthless efficiency wouldn’t be a bad thing at all (in fact, it would maximize production, total wealth, over all) if our system were not arranged, because of this, to (ultimately arbitrarily) bootstrap distribution to participation in production.

That the replacing of people with machines, for example, can be seen as a “bad” thing under our current system because it “takes away a job”…shows the absurdity of our current system. Production would have met it’s proper end if it produced all the goods needed (or demanded) without “employing” a single person, without distributing a single cent.

Participation in production deserves renumeration, to be sure, either a salary for labor or dividends for those who own the capital. But there are vast social dividends to which we are all entitled equally, since we are all co-heirs to an enormous capital which is mankind's as a whole; specifically, the time and natural resources God sends upon the earth each year, and the inheritance of mankind's technological and scientific progress (not to mention the capital of the social network itself!)

Credit should be social rather than privately created. Focusing merely on the question of "charging interest" (which can mean different things in different contexts and systems, not all of which are equivalent) and on the Church's apparent "back-peddling" on this...misses the essence of the condemnation of usury in the first place.

The essence of the (still valid!) condemnation of usury is condemning the notion that credit is privately created rather than a social good, is condemning the theft which is private individuals or institutions creating money (through a variety of deceptive "financial" techniques, which pull the wool over the eyes of most people through their convoluted nature). Credit is a social good; private individuals monetizing it (and thus keeping for themselves the fruit of what belongs to everyone, to sell it back to us) is evil.

In reality, everyone should get their share of the newly created credit each year. When it is distributed in the first place, mind you, not through the “re”-distribution which "welfare state" liberals seem to prefer. Any notion of "re"-distribution of wealth is only treating (with the coercive powers of the State, of which I'd rather be wary) the symptoms, without addressing the root problem of why distribution is unworkably skewed in the first place.

The Social Dividend would be enough, certainly, at this point in history especially, to sustain, and thus we wouldn’t need to sacrifice productive efficiency for the sake of being distributively humane. Mitt and other capitalists may be monsters in this regard if we assume you have to play within an intrinsically exploitationist system in the first place. But, really, I’d rather spend my time attacking the unjust system rather than attacking someone whose actions, in a just system, would be perfectly fine and even good (without denying that, within the current context, they’re ghoulish).

In condemning "capitalism," we really must be condemning usury. There is nothing wrong with the free market nor with the private ownership of capital (and the investment that creates in being efficient in order to compete). What is condemnable as "capitalism" however is the concentration of most of the capital in the hands of a cabal of "capitalists" (set over and against labor, basically). This extremely skewed concentration is only possible, however, through the deception of usury by which these capitalists come to control more and more through their usurpation of creation of money, their privatization of a good (credit) which is essentially social.

I would propose that the Church would do well to re-emphasize the condemnation of usury by including among its fundamental tenets of Social Teaching the proposition that "credit is a social, rather than private, good" (and then reminding people of the implications of this when it comes to monetizing credit, to the creation of money, the means of distribution).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Cause

I want to send a shout out of gratitude to a young married couple and parents who have been some of Renegade Trads most persistent supporters. The husband helped me with the layout of the blog early on, and started the "Official Unofficial" Facebook page. The wife has now written a post on her blog with a proposal for showing support and associating with our growing "network." Thanks so much!!!

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Brief Note on MCs

I don't like them.

The Master of Ceremonies in liturgical services strikes me as an example of what should have been an anomaly becoming the rule.

An MC is vested only in cassock and surplice (except in certain cases, such as the first Solemn Masses of a new priest where he gets an "assistant priest" in cope, like a bishop does, but who is really just sort of a glorified MC to help him through the services). This indicates his nature as a sort of extra-liturgical figure, as this is choir-wear (of course, acolytes and their lay substitutes began to wear that too; I prefer medieval albs for them, but that's another discussion). He is basically there to whisper in the bishop's ear (or even just the priest in many Solemn Masses now, though I'm not sure he is "required" as in a Pontifical Mass) and be his liturgical training-wheels.

This is disturbing because it is indicative of how bishops came to be detached from the liturgy. A bishops role, first and foremost, is as chief priest in his diocese. The administrivia comes second. And yet, at a certain point bishops celebrated (at least with full ceremonial) so infrequently that they needed these "experts" to specialized and then basically lead them by the hand through the whole ceremony. In an ideal world, we wouldn't need this; bishops and everyone involved in liturgy would know their parts without needing this sort of tutor to "guide" them through what should already be their expertise!

Now, I wouldn't ban MC's either. Especially for people just learning the ceremonies, I suppose one might be helpful. And I don't think there is anything wrong with having one as a "behind the scenes" role who orchestrates and prepares and rehearses things beforehand; I just think it looks a bit aliturgical to have him actually up there at the altar during the liturgy itself.

In a movie, the "director" is usually not on camera, is "invisible." This is how I'd rather MCs function. Turning them into a rubrically called-for feature of liturgy in-themselves (when, at best, they are not a liturgical role, but a facilitator of liturgical roles) seems to me a development that must have occurred as the pontifical office and liturgy became unnaturally separated, and as pontifical liturgy became unnaturally complicated by the rubricism and minutiae of the "feudal court" accretions of
the prince-bishops.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"I Had No Choice"? Agency and Martyrdom

I've discussed the existentialist notion of mauvaise foi or "bad faith" a couple times before. The idea that many people have a tendency to disown their own agency, and thus responsibility, by (self-deceptively) constructing their decisions as a matter of their hand being forced or of being constrained when really they are not.

In truth, we are free. We always have choices, and our freedom is a major source of our human dignity (really what constitutes us in the Image of God). To deny one's own agency and to think of oneself as at the mercy of external forces is ultimately contemptible. Even on just a gut level people know this; it's why the Nazi plea of "I was just following orders! I would have been killed myself otherwise!" disgusts us so much.

This notion of human freedom is also at the heart of the Christian imperative (yes, I say imperative) of martyrdom. We must be ready to die rather than to deny Christ, rather than to mortally sin. If anything, even the threat of death, "excused" us from our own agency, then there would have been no reason for the martyrs to not sacrifice to the emperor; otherwise they just could have said, "I had no choice, I had to, they were going to kill me." But even if someone is holding a gun to our head, we still have our agency, we are still free, we do have a choice: we can choose death. And death is preferable to sin.

Of course, we know that a variety of forces can reduce culpability. If an external threat translates, internally, into such great fear that free will really is impaired, personal responsibility can be mitigated. But, though it should remind us not to judge others, we shouldn't depend on this "loophole" ourselves or embrace it anyway, lest we put ourselves in bad faith. And we certainly shouldn't think of it as a good thing; sometimes our freedom may be reduced so that we are not culpable, but lacking freedom like this is, in itself, a very bad thing.

Virtue and holiness are ultimately about internal freedom from any such coercion or constraint, which is why it truly is a process of liberation from the enslavement to ourselves that sin and vice represent. The holiest person (which is to say, the freest person) will not be beholden to any enticement or any fear, because they have set their desire on God, beyond this life. Such a person is very dangerous and subversive to This World, because there is nothing The World can offer them, and nothing The World can take away from them. They are beyond the satanic dominion of the Prince of This World.

In this context, perhaps, we can more easily understand the message being sent by the Church in the stories of virgin-martyr Saints, such as Maria Goretti and Pelagia of Antioch, who resisted their would-be rapists to the death rather than succumb (the latter jumping from a rooftop in a manner that was not suicide, because death was willed neither as an ends or a means presumably, even if foreseen).

Some people are disturbed by this, perceiving a message something like "raped women are at fault if they don't stop their attacker." I don't think that is exactly the message; if someone is truly physically forced, there is no culpability. If someone stronger literally grabbed a Christian, kicking and screaming, and physically forced their hand to place some incense on the imperial altar against their will...obviously, no culpability. Likewise, the Church has always taught that women who are truly raped against their will do not forfeit
virginity in the theological sense.

However, I think the point of martyrdom, as I started this post saying, is that "against our will" is a lot stricter a standard than some people might like to imagine. Like I said, if someone is holding a gun to my head or threatening to kill me...I still have a choice: I can choose death. If I relent or give-in, I can't disown my agency for it, cannot truly claim "I had no choice." Now, overwhelming fear or something of the sort may indeed mitigate culpability internally, but only at the price of our own freedom (which is not a desirable state of affairs either).

To some this may sound insensitive to all the various victims of various forms of oppression around the world, but the message is actually liberating: it is a returning of agency to victims rather than seeing them just as helpless passive automatons at the mercy of outside forces. This is in some ways why, though I sympathize with certain elements of Marxist analysis, I cannot ultimately accept its conclusions (nor, of course, its rejection of God).

While claiming to discuss human freedom and alienation, the materialist view of the world also ultimately seems to imply that people really are simply at the mercy of grand structural oppressing forces. Sure, the idea is that we could rise up and overthrow them, and that this would be the triumph of the human spirit, but even that is portrayed as the playing-out of some inevitable historical process. The way Marxists talk about human behavior, it is always so fatalistic.

It is implied, like in the position refuted by my favorite Thomas Merton quote, that we can blame society or the world for whom we've become. "Here's why I am the way I am, and only some massive socio-political restructuring [which isn't going to happen] could change it! So, there, it's not my fault, I'm not to blame! But at least I'm aware!" is what so many "academic" Marxists sound like; their philosophy is not really about economic justice, it's about whining to justify their own soft uselessness to themselves (while sounding smart and smug in the process). But this, of course, is simply mauvaise foi.

This is not to dismiss structural evil and exploitation in the world (which certainly exists), nor that structural evil has an effect on the spiritual outlook of the population as a whole. But, at the end of the day, oppression and alienation are still a matter spiritual and ultimately individual; to the person who is holy, no one can truly oppress them; and, to the person who is not, no revolution, in itself, is going to free them (though it may distract them).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Frickin' Adorable

And the slashy glory doesn't end with the show (which I've never actually seen), it extends into real life!

Take me to Glasgow!

Sunday, January 1, 2012


The most boring sermon I ever heard in my life was on the "Seven Parts of Gratitude," the one time I ever attended an SSPX Mass (in context, however, this experience proved that one can still be crazy-happy, for other reasons, during a very dry sermon). It was almost like that Simpsons episode where Reverend Lovejoy gave his sermon on "The Nine Tenets of Constancy" (sweet constancy) and everyone fell asleep so he pressed a button to wake them with a bird noise and then they all clapped confusedly ("Sermons about constancy and prudissitude are all very well and good, but...")

Anyway, gratitude is something I have a bit of a hard time with personally. Specifically as it relates to my parents and the fourth commandment. I was thinking about this because I visited home over Christmas, but also because some of my friends do have such a reverential attitude towards their parents, a gratitude for taking care of them as children and all that, which to me has never made much intuitive sense at least, even if I have come to accept it theoretically. If I were adopted, like my own father, perhaps I would feel that more, but my gut instinct was always different, and this perhaps says something (and not necessarily something spiritually healthy) about my outlook on life in general.

Specifically, I always ("used to") feel entitled to be cared for by my parents because of a notion something along the lines of that, essentially, it's their fault I'm here. I didn't ask to be conceived or born, and for a long time I wasn't terribly happy with "having to" exist, and so how dare anyone expect one ounce of gratitude from me! If you want kids, then they're your responsibility, I'd say. You made the mess (either out of a real desire to start a family, or out of love for each other, or just because you couldn't keep it in your pants) and so why should the mess then be responsible for cleaning itself up?

Of course, this logic, extrapolated, leads to some odd conclusions about God. Because, of course, if I can "blame" my parents for my existence, all the moreso, then, should I consider it all God's "fault." How dare He bring me into existence without asking me, and expect me to then play by His high-stakes rules where there is infinite happiness available, yes, but also the possibility of infinite punishment if I screw up?! Shouldn't there be an option to "opt out" and simply not exist anymore?

However, what I realized when thinking about these former attitudes of mine (but which still very much resonate with me on that gut level of existential angst) is that what I'm saying only makes sense on the subjective level, and that our gratitude for existence actually has to be "objective."

What I mean is that for all the other good things in our lives, it is rather easier to be grateful just because they bring us subjective happiness. I should be grateful for this or that, I think, because I can imagine that if I didn't have it, I would be worse off, I would suffer more or enjoy less. For the basic category of existence itself, however, this is much less self-evident. If I didn't exist, it is unclear that I would suffer in any sense of the word, as there would be no "I" in the first place to suffer.

From a subjective standpoint, then, it is not immediately obvious or evident (for me at least) that existing is any
subjectively "better" than not existing, in fact the question seems to come out, at best, an ambiguous wash. Some Eastern religions are based on the notion of achieving final non-existence or dissolving of consciousness as the ultimate spiritual liberation. Though then, on the other hand, it could be compellingly argued that the whole idea of the self not existing may in fact be cognitively meaningless from a subjective standpoint, and how are we supposed to be "grateful" for something we can't even ever really imagine not having?

However, we know from theology that we didn't actually have to exist, that our existence was and is objectively contingent (even if we can't comprehend that from "inside" our own existence). We also know, of course, that existence is good by definition metaphysically, that knowing and loving something (into existence) is good from
God's perspective. Even to the point that it is objectively better, in the final evaluation of creation, for the souls of the damned to exist rather than not exist (and, in fact, only existence makes anything conceivable as "good" at all really).

Having gratitude for our own existence, then, is part of the existential leap we must make out of our own solipsism. Now, I would argue that people who subscribe to an "instinctive" gratitude for existence on even the subjective level are likely of the variety who also
fear death. However, then, I think that going through a phase where the goodness of existence is seriously called into question and grappled with can actually be a good thing spiritually, as it should resolve itself in an affirmation of the objective goodness of our existence, of a gratitude for the fact that we exist because our existence glorifies God (prior to and apart from any question of whether it makes us subjectively happy).

True gratitude for our own existence (of this "critical" variety that realizes that non-existence is not self-evidently subjectively inferior, as opposed to the "uncritical" variety born of mere animal self-perservation instincts) thus requires us to step outside ourselves and to see ourselves and the value and meaning of our life not from our own perspective, but from God's perspective. To love even ourselves with supernatural charity, with God's own love, by which we love people not for our sake, not even for their own sake, but for God's own sake.

We can't love our neighbors as ourselves unless we love ourselves first, not with malignant self-interested Self Love, but from the perspective of God's own love for us as having a purpose in His creation (even if it means playing a bit part or being ground through the mill). In my experience, this can be difficult, and yet the irony is that the difficulty of loving oneself in such cases comes exactly from a perspective of subjective self-absorption (from which the goodness of our own existence is not at all self-evident; from which it is actually very easy to conclude that non-existence isn't necessarily worse, and might even at times seem comparatively better).

But when we look at our existence from
outside ourselves, from God's perspective, then how can we not love ourselves? How can we not be grateful for our being, which may not always seem a subjective good, but which is most definitely an objective good?