Hello Everyone! My name is Dominic Cassella (aka The Hound), I am one of the Co-Founders of the Catholic Dormitory, and I would like to thank Sam for inviting me to be an occasional writer for the Catholic Gentleman.
The list below was originally posted on the Dormitory, but I believe it needs to be spread around a little more.
I recently attended an event where part of the activities was a board. A group of students and community members had learned about modern day slavery (the sex trade in Southeast Asia, forced labour, etc.) and watched a film. They were asked to then share their reactions on this board, and what freedom meant to them.
One woman (I assume, based on the lovely penmanship) wrote that freedom meant to her, “My body. My choice.” This phrase is a familiar one to us. It refers, primarily, to the abortion debate – whether or not a woman should be free to terminate her pregnancy by killing her growing child, if she does not want that child for any reason, the most common of which is the child would infringe on her “freedom.” Abortion as an issue aside, I do want to highlight why this bothered me.
We, in the modern world, have misunderstood what “freedom” means. What it looks like, what its purpose or end is, and how we are to use it. We have defined freedom as being free from the other, rather than being free for the other. We understand freedom wrongly, as a sort of “willful” freedom to do whatever we want based on whatever whims, rather than the freedom to do good. God has given us freedom not so that we can do whatever we feel, but so that we might freely choose to love Him, and love each other as He loves us.
So, this woman, ostensibly a feminist, has compared the plight of the slave to the plight of a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. But she is wrong. Freedom grows by doing good. If I use my freedom to help someone else, then their freedom has grown.
But both abortion-advocating branches of feminism and slavery share their roots in the same misunderstood definition of freedom. A slaver, by buying or selling a slave, is, by the modern standard of freedom, more free. If I had a slave doing my laundry and a slave tilling my fields, I am undeniably more “free” in the modern sense, to engage in other pursuits. Like the monied slaveowners of the Americas hundreds of years ago, I might even, with this new found free time, engage in very noble pursuits. Science, governance, civic action. But my freedom as a hypothetical slave owner isn’t truly freedom, and it doesn’t encourage freedom to grow. My freedom depends on the servitude of other. It depends on my looking at my fellow man and seeing, not an equal, not another beloved by the Creator, and bearing His Divine Image – but seeing instead a means to an end, a tool to be used, to be exploited. And I, like other slave owners, might say I have noble means for enslaving others, and I might even mean it. But the undeniable truth is that my actions misuse and therefore, ultimately decrease freedom.
Which is the same as abortion. I do not believe I have ever met or heard of someone who got an abortion for a non-noble reason. “I don’t feel ready.” “Every child should be wanted.” “I want to finish school.” But a noble end cannot be achieved by an unjust means. Freedom gained by the slavery or slaughter of others is not true freedom. Sin is slavery, and Christ is freedom. I am freest when I do good, and least free when I do evil, even if my evil action gives me more “options” it does not win me, or those I am exploiting, any sort of freedom.
But let it not be said that I have an axe to grind against feminists. While I disagree with them a lot, I share some beliefs. There has arisen, in response to feminism, a similar, male-centric movement. The “Men’s Rights Advocate” or MRA movement. I agree with MRAs on a few things, but, as with feminism, disagree with them on a lot of fundamentals.
MRAs have, like the slavers and feminists before them, fallen into this modern misunderstanding of “freedom.” Warren Farrel is a significant figure in the men’s rights movement. In his book, The Myth of Male Power, he defines freedom as “control over one’s life.” You can see, then, if I have made myself clear, just how much he buys into this modernist understanding of freedom. Freedom isn’t a state of being, but rather an end in itself. Freedom isn’t for the “sake” of anything, but itself, to Farrel and all who share the modernist definition of freedom. He writes “In the past, neither sex had power; both sexes had roles: women’s role was [to] raise children; men’s role was [to] raise money.” Again, as there is an absence of freedom from the other (IE, children – notice how both MRAs and feminists feel “enslaved” by children, a demographic that Christ had a special love for.) This absence of freedom from is, to Farrel and other MRAs, proof that feminists are wrong. That men are just as “maligned” as women.
Farrel, in The Myth of Male Power coins the term “disposable male.” He talks about how men are powerless, because throughout much of civilization men have had to fight and die to protect women and children. Men, then, are victims of the patriarchy, because they aren’t “free from“.
Farrel coins the term, but not the concept. In ages past, we had a different name for “the disposable male.” We recognized his duty to die for his woman and children, for his clan, for his kingdom, for his God. We didn’t call him the “disposable male”. We gad a different name for him.
And before that…
The mother was not free from her husband and children. But free for them. To love and comfort them. To teach them. And the father was not free from his bride and their children, but free for them. To protect and cherish them. To guide them. And, yes, if the need was great, to die for them.
Of course, Farrel and his acolytes would scoff at me. “That’s his point! Men are fed this bullcrap about heroism and bravery! They have to be socialized to risk their lives, to not fear death.” But I disagree. I will do so first by quoting Gilbert Keith Chesterton who said:
The eighteenth-century theories of the social contract have been exposed to much clumsy criticism in our time; in so far as they meant that there is at the back of all historic government an idea of content and co-operation, they were demonstrably right. But they really were wrong, in so far as they suggested that men had ever aimed at order or ethics directly by a conscious exchange of interests. Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, “I will not hit you if you do not hit me”; there is no trace of such a transaction. There IS a trace of both men having said, “We must not hit each other in the holy place.” They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean.
Man did not “create” courage. God did. It is primordial, ancient. Prehistoric, in the truest sense of the word, in that it is BEFORE history begins. Man, however, discovers courage when the early men began to lay down their lives for causes greater than themselves. And the men weren’t the only brave ones. In a time where childbirth was as deadly as the blade of an enemy, women battled and laboured to bring their children into the world. And while the lion or the bird only need take care of their children a short time, the man and woman had to for a decade and a half.
It is a shame. The MRAs and the feminists debate one another hotly. But their opinions and views come from the same modernist, post-Christian misunderstanding of freedom. Both feel they are battling oppression, both feel they are oppressed, but they are because they both misunderstand freedom in exactly the same way. They see freedom as being, “the more choices I have, the more free I am,” which, I hope I have demonstrated, is not true.
What I have discussed here isn’t my own, but comes from Christ – and from the Scripture. Saint Paul wrote:
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22) This verse is often used by anti-Christians to try and portray the Church as anti-woman. But Saint Paul goes on.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph. 5:23.) The is a reciprocity there. Just as the Church isn’t free from Christ, nor does Christ leave or abandon the Church so He may be free from us. And just as the Church has to “submit” to Him, He has to “give himself up for her.”
Freedom isn’t simply an abundance of choices – and the more “choice” you have, the more free you are (as Margaret Sanger and Warren Farrel would both tell you, before going for each others’ throats.) Rather, freedom is the truth. The Truth. The Way. The Life. And the truth is a “choosing” of choices, a casting aside of all others and choosing “one.”
Veritas liberabit vos
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus Christ, John 8:32
Many of my close friends are irreligious, and sometimes have a hard time completely comprehending why I decided to become religious, much less Christian, much less a Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for me to answer them. It might be easier to list the reasons that don’t influence me into Christianity than the ones that do. “Why wouldn’t I be Catholic?” would be perhaps a better question than “Why would I be?”
I hope, though, through this blog and these sorts of posts, at least begin to explain why I have found myself irrevocably drawn to Rome, to that faith derived from a First Century Nazarene who claimed to be the Son of God, and God besides.
G K Chesterton, one of my favourite authors, summarizes, in Orthodoxy a brief summary of modern philosophical and religious thought. Two figures he refers to are the German atheist, anti-theist philosopher Nietzsche and the Russian philosopher and writer Lev Tolstoy, who was decidedly Christian, though a more liberal and anarchic one. He might be made akin to say, the Anabaptists or Anglicans of our times.
Chesterton compares these two men to St. Jean D’Arc, Joan of Arc. He writes that:
“Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them.
I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret.
And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow.
Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing.
It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of moral unity and utility that has been lost.”
A meaty passage, and much could be said about it. But for now, I’d like to focus on how Chesterton notes that Joan walks between the philosophies of Tolstoy and those of Nietzsche. She embodies all of what is useful in both of them, and none of what is not useful. ”She was more gentle than the one [Tolstoy] and more violent than the other [Nietzsche].”
Indeed, it is that “middleness,” noted by Chesterton and embodied by St. Joan, that draws me strongly to Christianity on an intellectual level. Most of the philosophies of the world view man as either inherently evil or inherently good. Only Christianity is at once both aware of the Imago Dei, and the Fall; man bears the image of God, so is capable of great goodness, but is also fallen, and so is capable of great evil. Other philosophies and individuals have most assuredly noted this duality of man, but only Christianity fully explains a rational basis for it.
The Marxist spits venomously that the rich are evil and greedy, while the Randian says that it is the poor who are. The Christian, however, if he is doing it right, recognizes sloth and envy in both of them, and, even moreso, in himself.
This is just one example of Christianity walking the middle path. There are fragments of truth on either side; most assuredly there are robber barons just as there are slovenly welfare recipients. But either side overemphasises one aspect of the truth, and, in doing so, loses the whole thing.
Indeed, that is how much heresy begins.
Also, consider, specifically, Catholicism. From the Reformation to about the 1920s, the Catholic Church was considered by many to be lax, pagan, and lawless. However, when the world became more lax, pagan, and lawless, the Church then fell under accusations of being puritanical and tyrannical. The Puritan world spurned the Church for being Pagan; the Pagan world spurns it for being too Puritan.
Many of the ancient gnostic sects once saw matter as inherently evil, and believed that there were two gods; one who created spirit and the heavens; a Good God. And one who created flesh and matter, an evil god.
Nowadays, the modern world seems to abhor anything that cannot be empirically proven (IE, anything that isn’t matter), and elevates “matter” to too high of a state. We eliminate unborn children on the grounds that we can’t “give them what they need”, erroneously forgetting that even the poorest Westerner lives greater than 90% of the human population ever has. Our material concerns outweigh our spiritual ones. We think it better to destroy the poor and the sick and the injured than see them suffer any discomfort. Our society is terrified of material discomfort.
(It’s actually really frightening from a geopolitical perspective. Consider how quickly Americans gave up many of their freedoms after 3 000 people were killed in a terrorist attack. I would not discount the tragedy and the loss of life, but the likelihood that 9/11 would happen again was low, and, indeed, the deaths themselves, on a purely mathematical level, were negligible.)
Only Christianity walks the threadbare line between gnosticism and materialism. It at simultaneously proclaims the sanctity of the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and the eternal truth of the immortal soul. Catholicism acknowledges that Jesus is at the right hand of God, but that He is also present in the Eucharist.
These are just a few examples that I thought of today while working. I’m sure I will think of more, though.
This article from Salon’s Cary Tennis broke my heart. A young woman, younger than even I am, actually, writes about her boyfriend’s addiction to pornography, and how it is hurting their relationship, not to mention breaking her heart, understandably so. Perhaps it’s my ability to relate to the not-negligible male sexual impulse, or my own (albeit not as pronounced) struggles with pornography and lust, but, despite “Porn Widow’s” tone of desperation and betrayal, I felt more for the boyfriend as I read this. His constant promises to get better, his struggle and shame when he failed. I don’t discount her pain at the situation, but his must be astronomical, too.
It’s frightening to hear about addictions, whether it be pornography, booze, caffeine, laziness, whatever. It is frightening to think about being so enslaved by something that, even though your God-given logic and reason cries out against it, and your very natural impulses pull away in horror, you are unable to quit. I don’t know if I’ve ever gone down that road on anything, yet, but I know those who have.
Simply put, slavery is frightening.
Yet, it seems, that the more freedom we have, the more we are enslaved. Automobiles liberated us from the doldrums of our neighbours and communities, yet enslaved us to traffic jams and commutes and road rage, never mind isolation and fragmentation and Balkanization. The sexual revolution was made to free women, and men, but especially women from the old sexual mores of the past. Yet, peruse the covers of Cosmopolitan or other women’s magazines next time you’re in line at the grocery check-out. “How to please your man,” “Give him an O he will never forget,” “5 new moves that will let you keep him.” Sexy sexy sex sex. For being “liberated,” women sure seem to have a lot of work to do, in and out of the sack, to keep us guys grinning. Pornography is enshrined as free speech and expression, but it has lead to, as in this case, some very un-free men.
IF the sexual mores and traditionalism of the past were immorally or excessively restrictive (I’m not sure if I am ready to cede that point entirely; it’s something I’m still thinking about), then we have simply jumped out of the pot and into the fire. There is nothing free about a love or relationship has as many conditions as the ones blazed across the headlines of Cosmopolitan or Maxim. And, indeed, the men’s mags are just as guilty here.
Indeed, the whole situation, of porn addiction and learning “5 hot new tricks that will blow his mind” every month reminds me of a scene from Marvel’s ‘The Avengers.” As Loki, the central villain and Norse/Asgardian God of Mischief, forces a crowd of people to kneel, he remarks:
Kneel before me. I said, KNEEL!… Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.
I think most people, myself included, would at first blush, brush of Loki’s statement as the ramblings of a mad god/alien who lusts for power and, really, adoration. Yet, if we are honest, we will admit the kernel of truth in Loki’s ramblings. We love to kneel, whether it is to kings or to our own genitalia – or stomachs – and pursuit of pleasure and comfort.
We long for celebrities to idolize (and, then, like the neopagans in The Wickerman, we enjoy watching them burn sacrificially when they shave their heads or get divorced.) We crave to make certain statesmen into idols, and into Saviours, who will sweep away our economic and personal woes, if only the crazies on the other side of the aisle will shut up for a few moments. Some people kneel to an abusive significant other, and chain themselves to pain. Some will enslave themselves to some sort of tribe and tribal affiliation, be it an angry Westboro Baptist parishoner or a mild-mannered hipster who derives his identity from his tribe. It is a hard thing to think about, to admit, and to acquiesce to, but there is a degree of truth in Loki’s spiel.
We will always kneel.
Interestingly, the minds behind “The Avengers” seem to agree with me – consciously or not. One elderly German man rises to his feet at the end of Loki’s speech. ”Not to men like you,” he replies to Loki’s assertion.
I think I agree with the old man, who isn’t named in the film and doesn’t appear again throughout it. He doesn’t, as you might think would occur in a 21st century American movie, say that men won’t kneel. He doesn’t make some claim of men being free or independent. He, indeed, agrees with Loki. He does not say, “We will not always kneel.” He merely says, “Not to men like you.”
And I think that is the key. We will always be enslaved to something, or even someone. I don’t think we can choose that. All we can choose is the what we will kneel to, and whether we will freely out of love, or out of a desire more sinister – fear, self-preservation, the pursuit of worldly pleasure, etc.
I am going to wax nerdily a bit more. Even the titular characters in the movie, The Avengers, have knelt down and subjugated themselves to something. At the end of the movie, when the day is won, the heroes go their separate ways. One government official named Maria Hill, played by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders, wonders what will happen if the world has need of the Avengers again. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) simply says that they will come. ”How do you know?” asks Hill. “Because we’ll need them to,” replies Fury. The Avengers have knelt, have subjugated themselves – to the ideals of self-sacrifice, service, camaraderie, and protection of those who cannot protect themselves.
If we are to kneel, if we are to be enslaved, let us be enslaved to that.
But no, really. Why? The profit margins on textbooks are ridiculous.
Beautiful song and video. Watch it all if you’ve got the time.
And while this isn’t a song, it does go well with the Tune of the Week.
The other day, I made a facetious post about the passing of Amy Winehouse on the old Spacebook (or was it MyFace?) At any rate, I textually intoned a quick summation of my thoughts on the issue. “‘They try to make me go to rehab…’ Well, maybe you should have listened.” That’s what I wrote. Some people simply “Liked” it, others criticized me for tastelessness and uncharitableness and a shoddy understanding of what it was like to go through a drug addiction. Someone else said I didn’t go far enough in what others called my “meanness.”
My intention was never to be mean or disrespect the dead. What I saw, and what I wanted to quickly bring attention to, was a bit of sour-tasting irony wherein a young woman whose break-out single was her affirmation that her drug problem was under control proceeded to die from abusing drugs. My tone may have been flippant*, and for that I did apologize to my Facebook friends and acquaintances. But my initial point, I stand by. As people began to profess a love and devotion to Winehouse, I can only see that her musical “genius” and the ensuing fame was based on a lie. “They try to make me go to rehab, and I said no.” And that was your undoing.
Some might think I am being a bit unmerciful, a bit uncharitable, or even just plan crass and prickish about her death. That might be the case, though I plead that that crassness is a necessary acidic counterbalance to the base offered by mostly everyone else.
I think there is a real distinction that needs to be made here about what is and isn’t a charitable and compassionate response to this very public news. To call out Winehouse’s destructive choices as foolish and stupid isn’t being uncharitable, but rather the opposite. The choices she made shouldn’t be lauded, or even respected, or even timidly whispered about well away from the public sphere. They should be unanimously and publicly condemned, for the good of everyone, and especially young people who erroneously flirt with narcotics.
Her death should be a clarion call against the “do what thou will” relativistic nihilism that has gripped our society by the throat and that prohibits any sort of moral judgement against these sorts of destructive behaviors. It is a war-cry against a materialistic culture that sees drugs as hip. It is an admonishment for young people to put down the mobile phones for 5 minutes to consider that their mortality, like everyone’s, is tenuous at best and that every tomorrow is a gift, and not a guarantee.
Some people are mistaking withholding judgment of Winehouse for compassion, but that really isn’t the case. Winehouse is dead, and no amount of political-correctness or pussy-footing about the circumstances of her death can change that. Calling drug addiction what it is, a pitiable and pathetic** state that we shouldn’t wish anyone to be in, is ultimately the most compassionate and charitable and just thing to do, and it may ultimately lead to saving lives. To call this a “tragedy” or an “accident” does a disservice to drug addicts and future-drug addicts everywhere. Tsunamis are accidents, this death was the result of poor choices and a destructive lifestyle FREELY chosen.
The answer to this young woman’s death isn’t to white-wash the reality of the situation out of some feigned desire for “respect of the dead.” The answer is to say, “Look, she made really poor choices and she paid dearly and ultimately for them. Don’t do that.”
Winehouse’s mistakes “irrelevant?” Not in the slightest. They underline and raise the important social and political questions about how we look at the drug problem. They bring to light the complex relations between individuals, the community, and the state and their relationship and duties with one another. They underline the very dire need for a more humane, less materialistic society. Winehouse’s pointless death is just another symptom of the internal festering of our society, and, I think to ignore that, to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that her death was some irreversible fluke of nature, is the real disrespectful route to take. If her death is an impetus for dismantling the drug culture and all the frills and bells and whistles associated with it, if it wakes even a small part of the Web 2.0 generation out of their MTV-induced stupor, then this young woman’s untimely end might bear some final good fruit, and I think that would be the greatest honour to her memory, rather than an indifference masked as compassion.
Rest in Peace Amy Winehouse, and may you find some peace in the next age that you could not find in this one.
* C S Lewis, in the “Screwtape Letters” has a lot of nasty things to say about flippancy, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.
** “Pathetic” in the traditional, more etymologically correct version of term; IE being emotionally moved by someone’s suffering.