Tuesday, August 10, 2010

THE 5000 YEAR LEAP

I am reading THE 5000 YEAR LEAP by W. Clean Skousen and am somewhat amazed at how much our Founders supported and felt religion was important.

Several tears ago I had read His Excellency: General Washington by Joseph Ellis, and received the impression that Washington was, at best agnostic and a Deist. But so many quotes exist from President Washington and other Founders that it is difficult to believe so much of what modern organizations like the ACLU and Atheists United would have us believe about the Founders and their faith. For example:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens...Let it be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in the courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education...reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

George Washington's Farewell Address


I will be posting more quotes from our Founders regarding this subject which has been so distorted by modern secular humanists, that one would think they were formed in the Founder's image.

Monday, August 9, 2010

“Rose” by Andre Dubus from his collection: The Last Worthless Evening

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Henry David Thoreau

It wasn’t until recently that I realized there was still a collection of short stories by Andre Dubus that I hadn’t read. I believe this collection was his last collection of stories. It seems that after his accident when he lost the use of his legs he turned to essays more frequently. By then he was established as a writer. Many famous writers had put a benefit on for him to support him after the tragic event when he had been hit by a car on a Massachusetts highway while saving the life of a Puerto Rican woman whose car was stranded on a dangerous road. Her son had been killed but Dubus managed to push the mother out of the way of the oncoming car as it struck him.
A strong and physically active man and former Marine who loved weightlifting and running before it became a fad (as he once put it), the suddenness of that event changed his life forever. His time with the Marines can be seen in many of his stories, and it can be safely said that his “code” of life included such ‘old-fashioned’ values as chivalry, virtue, honor and courage.
“Rose” is a story of quiet courage in the face of domestic violence and of the suddenness of an instant that can change things forever. Dubus does what he does best in this story. He gets inside the emotion and explores from the inside. While reading this I kept asking myself, how does he know this or do this? Was this auto-biographical or something he had observed first hand? And like many of his stories, he links events seemingly unrelated and finds the connection, the kernel of truth, to be mined and shared.
The story starts out relating something of his time in the Marine Corps during the early stages when the Marines are looking for just “a few good men” and sifting out the wheat from the chaff. He zeros in a young skinny kid from Chicago, who in his opinion, never should have made it into even the beginning stages of this gleaning process. The kid is a physical disaster – can barely manage to do 10 pushups, cannot climb to the top of a rope, and the drill sergeants do what they are supposed to do and eventually push him out of the Corps. But prior to that, he is caught sleep walking one night by some other recruits and in the process he is caught lifting a heavy locker that most ordinary men would struggle to lift under the best of circumstances. We’ve all heard stories of superhuman strength in times of stress and catastrophe – people lifting automobiles off of loved ones and that sort of thing. Dubus’ point is that the young recruit had the physical strength within him, but there was a disconnect between belief and the possibility of what he could do. He washed out of the Corps.
Meeting “Rose” in his local bar, he describes an aging single woman of no consequence, it seems, whose life is much like the life of countless millions of people who lead a humdrum and drab existence of no seeming importance. She and the author trade off buying drinks every so often and become friends of a sort, telling stories but avoiding anything of consequence until one night Rose tells him of the one thing in her life that was heroic and significant.
Domestic violence is often humming silently in the background of some of Dubus’ stories. The tension is often there, especially in his stories that involve marital infidelity and other sexual tension. But in “Rose” the engine finally gets into gear and we are taken into the horror of violence against children. The suddenness of this event changes everything forever and Rose finds the strength within her to save her children, but that event alters her life and the children’s lives forever in tragic ways. What is so powerful about the story is the ability of Dubus to create the horror and fear of the event, to see it through the eyes of the children and Rose, to be able to describe it so realistically, that one begins to wonder if there isn’t something biographical about it. The power of a physically strong blue collar worker unhinged and turned on the innocent is a tale of horror and punches the reader in the face with its graphic grittiness. And yet it brings out in Rose strength that she didn’t realize she had, and becomes the one event that is the defining event of her life. Tragic as it was, ordinary people sometimes do heroic things and things can change forever in the flicker of an instant. The consequences can be harsh, but lives can be saved, and a small square of a woman with hair like cotton, leads the quiet life of a heroism and loss, and quietly walks into a cold Massachusetts night while Dubus watches her from the bar’s entry, hoping she doesn’t slip on the icy snow.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Now I know why I do that and think that!

Now I know why I do the things I do. Thanks to John Cleese's THE SCIENTISTS.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I AM AMERICA by Krista Branch

Celebrate America with song.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

“Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains
We fear them not, we trust in God
New England’s God forever reigns…”

“Chester”
William Billings, American - 1770
Popular hymn sung by General Washington’s men during the course of the fighting in the Revolutionary War.

There has been much controversy made in recent years about the Establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Court cases have been argued over the “wall of separation” between church and state by organizations like the ACLU. The Ten Commandments and crosses and other religious symbols have been removed from the public square. Recently, a cross dedicated to fallen soldiers in the Mojave Desert was the source of a law suit by the ACLU alleging that it violated the separation clause of the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that the cross could stay but vandals tore it down shortly after the decision.

So, what was the intent of the Founders? To have a secular state that is completely devoid of any religious content or meaning? We often hear that the Founders were Deists, meaning they believed that God exists but set the world in motion and no longer has anything to do with his creation. Or were the Founders something else, more Christian than we have been led to believe? Was America a Christian nation and founded as such? What was the Founders’ intent with respect to the free exercise of religion? Was it, as the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation would have us believe, to have no sign of faith in the public square and no association with religious belief in the government? Before the Founders gave birth to this country, many people fled England which had the established religion of Anglicanism or the Church of England. The pilgrims fled to this land seeking religious freedom. Many of the states served as denominational havens prior to the creation of the Constitution and one’s faith was an important prerequisite for political office. No one is advocating a return to this state of affairs. But these things need to be pointed out to bring light to the modern myth that our nation had no Christian origins or connections and that our country was founded with the idea that government should be completely free of any religious expression, imagery, or belief.

The debate will rage on but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that our forefathers held deeply religious beliefs and did not see things as being completely free from belief as is often suggested in the popular culture and media today. Recently, I read a biography of George Washington by Joseph Ellis (His Excellency: George Washington). I came away from the book with some distinct impressions about Washington’s beliefs. According to Ellis he was agnostic at best, and had no concern or time for religion. I cannot pass judgment on Ellis or his research but there seems to be plenty of evidence that this was not the case. Other sources seem to contradict this. The day after Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775 he issued orders to his men to engage in “punctual attendance of divine services, to implore the blessings of Heaven for the means used for our safety and defense.” And in 1778 he issued this directive: “The commander in chief directs that Divine service be performed every Sunday at 11 o’clock in each brigade which has a Chaplain…to the distinguished character of a patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian”. This doesn’t exactly sound like the beliefs of someone who is either a Deist or secular humanist.

Thomas Jefferson is often held up as the perfect example of our non-Christian Founders’ views, but he attended weekly worship services which were held in the Capitol until 1866. Contrary to what the modern advocates of complete Church and State separation try to say, Jefferson publicly exclaimed in 1805: “In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general (federal) government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it, but left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of State or Church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.” In other words, the Constitution left the free exercise to powers other than the federal government. The government was not to prescribe any one religion.

So, what did the courts have to say back in those days when our country was closer to its founding and the living had a better understanding of what had recently transpired in our nation? Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshal, who for 34 years headed the highest court in the land said: “The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and religion are indentified. It would be strange indeed, if with such people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it.” Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, in a court opinion in 1799 held that: “religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the pace and good order of government, the safety and happiness of the people. By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion, and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty” (Runkel v. Winemill 1799).

These statements do not sound much like some of our first Supreme Court Justices were advocating a strict separation of Church and State. Rather, they held that the State should not advocate or prefer one sect or denomination over another.

“The real object of the First Amendment…was to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government (Joseph Story – Supreme Court Justice 1811-1845)”.

In his first inaugural address, President Washington made : “fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe” and said that “no people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.” Not exactly the words of a Deist who felt that God was uninvolved in the affairs of men.

Many more examples abound which are beyond the scope of this brief commentary. But it is quite clear from these brief statements that our forefathers were not hostile to religious expression in the public square, as some modern secular organizations and those hostile to religious expression would have us believe. Rather, they encouraged it but without specifically supporting one denomination over another.

“Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation
Then conquer we must when our cause it is just
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

The Star Spangled Banner – final verse - Francis Scott Keyes

Friday, June 4, 2010

ATTICUS by Ron Hansen

ATTICUS by RON HANSEN (1996)

Being on something of a “crusade” of reading and discovering Catholic authors, I have been determined to discover as many contemporary Catholic/Christian writers of realistic fiction as possible.
Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers, O'Connor and Percy have been written about elsewhere and are generally considered to be part of the 20th Century Christian writers cannon. But has anyone carried on this tradition? Are there Catholics who still write quality fiction? And are there writers who go outside the confines of a parish or monastery or church to grapple with modern problems of living a life of faith in an increasingly secular world? Writers who are, as I like to call it, “informed by their faith”, are those who bring a Catholic Christian world view to their writing much as Grahame Green and Evelyn Waugh did in much of their writing. While rarely writing directly about the Church and their faith from the inside, nonetheless, their writing was deeply Catholic in many respects (even somewhat reluctantly so in Greene's case).

Many of the great and inspiring works of literature have been by people with a Christian value system and faith in the past. My personal experience has been that some of the most profound and moving writing I have read over the last five decades has been by people whose faith has informed their art. In our post modern world, people are still writing and creating as always, but the culture does not look to exploit a value system that is so deeply in conflict with the society of today.

It is generally felt that we in the West are in something of a downward drift. I have seen many Catholics picking up less than admirable literature to sate their desire for something beyond the secular humanist values that are so prevalent. Not to say that all out there is bad. Great talent is still writing and composing and creating. Indeed, sometimes it seems the spirit can work through even some of the most jaded and worldly of artists. However, too many Catholics and Christians, in my opinion, resort to books that are not only unorthodox, but misleading – especially when the topics are faith-related. I have no problem with these in themselves but watched as several friends and acquaintances were confused by reading books like The Da Vinci Code and the work of Gnostic writer Elaine Pagels.

ATTICUS by Ron Hansen is the second work of his that I've read. It was shortlisted for the National Book Award. The other was MARIETTE IN ECSTACY which is loosely based on the life of St. Teresé of Liseaux. I have two others remaining on my bookshelf: EXILES and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD which are also purportedly biographical fiction about the English poet John Donne and Jesse James.

But ATTICUS is something different. I had mistakenly heard or read that it was based on the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Perhaps this was deliberate misinformation since one of the two brothers in the novel gives a weapon to the other as a gift which is eventually used in the commission of a crime (don't jump to conclusions here). But the father, Atticus Cody, is a well to do Colorado oilman and widower whose two sons are nearly polar opposites. The elder son, Frank, who is a Colorado State Senator and a second son, Scott, who lives the bohemian lifestyle of an artist in Mexico. While this set-up seems obvious and there are predictable points in the story line, the novel takes quite a few twists and turns and all is not what it seems. Surprisingly, even though the story is similar to what you will read in the New Testament, it becomes a moving portrait of Atticus' love for his wayward son who is more than just lost. It actually becomes a very concrete meditation on the love of Atticus (named after Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) for his son.

Hansen has done a brilliant job in the creation of the character of Atticus. Not only is he the father searching for his lost son, he is a concrete representation of God's love for us, the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep. Setting out to do this could be so contrived and predictable, but Hansen brilliantly keeps things real and credible and the character of Atticus keeps the reader engaged as he mourns for and searches for his lost son. The “lost son”, Scott, feels like someone we know and maybe is in some sense, a little like ourselves in our flakier and more lost moments. I could readily identify with aspects of Scott's personality and character both through periods of my own life and some of my siblings' and friends' experiences. We have all known these “lost souls” who are headed down paths of destruction. Scott becomes a paradigm for them and it is one reason he is so readily knowable and familiar. We've all known people like him. He is Everyman in a very modern sense and represents late 20th century Americans.

The little town of Resurrección in Mexico is where he is lost and where his father goes to find him. It is a tribute to Hansen's skill that he can take things that consciously cue us to the nature of story but make it feel so new and fresh and original. There are twists and turns and Hansen creates a portrait that fleshes out what it means to be loved unconditionally and tenderly by the Father of us all.

Ron Hansen was born in Omaha and currently holds the Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J. Chair at Santa Clara University. He was educated at Creighton University, Stanford and Iowa University. Two of his novels have been adapted to film: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (starring Brad Pitt) and Mariette in Ecstasy.
Bibliography:

Exiles: A Novel 2008
Isn't It Romantic?: An Entertainment, 2003
A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, 2001
Hitler's Niece: A Novel, 1999
Atticus: A Novel, 1996
Mariette in Ecstasy: A Novel, 1991
Nebraska: Stories, 1989
The Shadowmaker, children's book, 1987
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: A Novel, 1983
Desperadoes: A Novel, 1979

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