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Tag Archive: Culture

What drives history over the long haul is culture

Posted: Friday, January 6, 2012 (6:53 am), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Friday, January 6th, 2012 – Epiphany.

George Weigel, in an On The Square article over at FirstThings.com last Wednesday, entitled The Weakness of Tyranny:

With the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, it now seems clear that the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981 was not an act of strength but one of weakness, by a regime so incapable of commanding the allegiance of those in whose name it claimed to rule that it could only compel obedience by violence. It took some time for this to become clear in Poland, a country frequently burdened by crushed hopes; John Paul’s second pastoral pilgrimage to his homeland, in June 1983, did a lot to raise the spirits of his countrymen—who rallied their energies such that, by 1987, the Pope could spend his third pilgrimage home laying the cultural and moral foundations for a post-communist Poland, which was born two years later in the Revolution of 1989.
[…]
The lessons, 30 years later? Solidarity’s triumph ought not be universalized as a one-size-fits-all model for coping with tyrants. Still, John Paul II’s instinct for reading history through cultural lenses has much to commend it. Politics and economics are important. What drives history over the long haul, however, is culture: what men and women cherish, honor, and worship; what men and women are willing to stake their lives, and their children’s lives, on.

The truest realism, therefore, is one shaped by truths and ideals, not only by calculations of power. If you doubt that, ask General Jaruzelski.

I (re-)watched a video/drama biography of Pope John Paul II last week that my daughter had brought home over Christmas school vacation, and was glad for the opportunity to spend some time with the family appreciating the great man. What struck me most profoundly in the story was the way it presented the malice of malevolent power as incompetent; in particular how the scheming but fearful bully tactics of the Communist regime, while attempting to secure an easily manipulable client to be named bishop of Krakow by insisting upon a young, local theater wonk of a priest, ended up with Karol Wojtyla. Oops. In the end, evil-doers always end up stealing enough rope to hang themselves, though they don’t always go down without first doing much harm.

Today we celebrate, among other things, vicious King Herod being stiffed in his evil designs by the Magi, though we mustn’t forget that he responded with the Slaughter of the Innocents. It’s a good day for me to ponder what it is I am willing to stake my life on, and the lives of my children.

Merry Epiphany. Now, Christmastide is over. It’s time to take down the lights, and begin the ordered cycle of the new year.

Revitalizing Catholic Education?

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 (11:40 pm), by John W Gillis


On this feast day of Saint John Neuman, the great champion of Catholic education in America, I want to give a shout-out to St. Jerome’s Catholic Classical School in Hyattsville, Maryland. This school, like so many other modern Catholic parochial schools, was facing almost certain closing not long ago. A recent article from insidecatholic.com tells the story of what happened after the archdiocesan consultation at the parish in consideration of the school’s future:

Multiple parishioners approached [school principal] Donoghue and [pastor] Father Stack, arguing that what the parish needed was a more rigorous curriculum and authentic Catholic spirit. One of the loudest of these voices was that of Michael Hanby, a professor at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Hanby had lately been introduced to a local homeschooling community’s miniature school, known as the Crittenden Academy, which had inspired him to write an essay describing his philosophy on the subject. That November evening, attending the consultation and listening to the parish’s presentation, he recalls thinking, "I’m not sure that the school they just described is really worth saving."

Following the meeting, Hanby sent a letter saying as much to Father Stack, including a copy of his essay on education and emphasizing that "a wonderful birthright [was] being denied" the children of the community. Students needed, he argued, "to love thinking and to have something noble to think about," but Catholic schools had instead "drifted toward a public school model." His essay, Donoghue recalls, presented "a good analysis of where Catholic education had gotten off track," and she was impressed with its proposed remedies.

The parish had the sense to abandon the sterile and futile public school framework for their school, and go back to the future to adopt a classical model of education for K-8. The apparent result has been a vibrant, successful school which incorporates the reality of God in Christ into the fabric of life, overcoming the bizarre dissociation modernity imposes between creation and Creator by treating “religion” as if it were one among several more interesting “subjects” occupying compartments in the life of the analyzed self.

Truth be told, I’ve been disappointed with my experience with my local parochial school, Saint Paul’s in Wellesley, because it has long struck me as being not a whole lot more than a public school with a Catholic veneer – such as First Friday Masses, and “religion” classes daily, instead of weekly CCD fiascos – errr, classes. I know there are other important differences – mostly things that one happily won’t find at Saint Paul’s, plus an overall vastly higher level of behavior from the children – but there’s still so many arrows left in the quiver. What Saint Jerome’s is doing, I truly hope represents the beginnings of a broad revitalization of Catholic education in the US:

The curriculum emphasizes the conviction that human culture expresses the natural desire for God, and that Christianity is therefore historically and culturally decisive. Curriculum committee member Rebecca Teti says, "Jesus Christ is the Lord of history, and God is the author of truth, beauty, and goodness. We wanted kids to see their unity, their connectedness to all people, and the goodness [Catholic] culture has brought to history."

Hanby adds, "Christ cannot ultimately be the center of students’ lives if He is not at the center of history and existence and if He does not satisfy the longings implanted in them. The public-school-education-plus-religion-class model ends up reinforcing the impression that religion has little to do with real life. We wanted to overcome the separation of faith and life by showing how profoundly Christ and the Church have affected history and culture — and by giving students something better to love."

Waiting for Permission to Do Good?

Posted: Sunday, November 28, 2010 (2:52 pm), by John W Gillis


So, the uber-wealthy Warren Buffett is complaining again that he pays too little in taxes:

“I think that people at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes; we have it better than we’ve ever had it.”

Buffett on ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour

The duplicity in all this is just staggering. As a commenter at HotAir noted, Warren Buffett makes a significant amount of money selling tax shelters, such as life insurance, through his Berkshire Hathaway vehicle, and would stand to make an additional personal fortune should the high-end marginal tax rates increase, leading the wealthy to (predictably) look to shelter more of their wealth.

Even more to the point is the fact that Buffett can give as much of his money to the Feds as he wishes right now; he doesn’t have to wait for Congress to tell him to. Fausta Wertz captures it perfectly in a post from Friday:

To the best of my knowledge nothing prevents anyone from writing a check to Uncle Sam for any amount, be it small or large. He doesn’t need to claim a tax deduction if he doesn’t want to. The IRS is not going to haul him off to jail for that. Correct me if I’m wrong.

So, if Warren Buffett thinks he’s not paying enough, let him show us, in a grand gesture to end all grand gestures, just how much he is willing to pay. He can put all his money – every red cent of it – where his mouth is, and leave the rest of us in peace.

Fifty billion ought to pay for a government program or two.

I have no way of knowing whether Buffett believes his own BS, or if this is part of a straight-up scam, but I do know for certain that he is more concerned about how the government can collect other people’s money than he is with how it can collect his own.  There’s no way around that, and his lack of unilateral action to correct what he professes to be an injustice is a stark indictment. What is he waiting for, after all? The whole point and purpose of implementing (or expanding) confiscatory taxation is to confiscate other people’s money, and assign its management to Those Who Know Better (or, more nakedly, to the power brokers).

The more I reflect on the social ramifications of taxation policy, the more I come to understand what a poison taxation is to culture once its level exceeds that of meeting the common requirement of civic duty. Cultures need virtue in order to thrive, not coercion and compulsion.