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Go Fundamentalist or Go Home

January 15, 2014 at 8:06 pm


This morning, I was accused of being a fundamentalist for arguing in favor of what my Catholic faith actually teaches, instead of some vague, nuanced version that makes Catholicism indistinct from any other religion.

Not unlike being called a “rigorist“, being called a fundamentalist is euphemistic for someone who cares more about what a thing means than how people think it should be applied. Usually in direct opposition to whatever the thing in question was created to accomplish.

Or, as one of my friends put it:

“Fundamentalist” is a slippery label, but it boils down to the speaker’s incredulity at people who “believe that shit.” 

In other words, it says more about the labeler than the labelee.

I have to admit, I don’t get the problem with fundamentalism. The free dictionary defines it thusly:

A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

“Fundamental principles”. These are evidently problematic for a lot of people. Mostly for those who find themselves a part of something that they no longer, for whatever reason, really believe in. There’s a certain comfort in being a part of something, especially if it’s something you’ve been a part of for a very long time. Lots of people would rather try to change the thing they are a part of than to admit that they themselves have grown apart from the thing and don’t really believe in it anymore.

But really, that’s just lazy.

I’ve had tons of problems with my Catholic Faith over the years. And those problems have caused distance between myself and the Church. They’ve made it easier for me to doubt, easier for  me to sin, easier for me to wonder if any of it really means anything.

But I have enough respect for the people who don’t have those problems to not treat them as though they’re the crazy ones. If I don’t like being Catholic, I can pull up my big boy pants and leave. I can do the same thing if I’m an American, or if I’m an advocate of analog instead of digital recording, or if I believe Greedo shot first. It doesn’t matter what the canon is. If I think it’s crap, I don’t have to stick around for it. I don’t have to subscribe to it or defend it or wear a t-shirt saying I heart it.

The one thing I don’t have a right to do is to pretend that it’s something other than it is. I’m sorry everyone, but solipsism is bullshit. Stop thinking that the world is what you decide it is. Give others the respect of letting them have their own beliefs, even if you think they’re wrong. I have no problem with trying to convert someone to your way of thinking, but don’t try to tell them that what they believe in should change because it’s no longer relevant.

If you ever say that, you’re the one with the relevancy problem.

The strange thing about this tendency to eschew fundamentalism is that it only seems to apply to esoteric things. Could you imagine if some baker came out — say, the grandson of Betty Crocker — and decided that following recipes for things like chocolate chip cookies was disgusting fundamentalism?

“I refuse to use vanilla,” the young Mr. Crocker might write in his manifesto, “so I shall instead use a teaspoon of Sriracha. I do not subscribe to the theory that only baking soda or baking powder will act to leaven my dough, so I instead choose to make use of Borax! And chocolate chips are barbaric. I will only use cockroach larvae in my recipe!”

It wouldn’t be a long or illustrious career in baking for Mr. Crocker.

The same would apply to the average chemist, engineer, or nuclear physicist. Historians who decide to make up their own version of past events often get a pass, but that doesn’t make the drivel they produce any more true. Just because the Emperor wants to believe in the exquisite nature of his raiment does not mean that he is wearing a stitch of clothing.

Fundamentalism means understanding what a thing is and having enough respect for it to be a purist.

Whether that’s a Catholic who adheres to the teaching of the Church, or a Muslim who follows the path of jihad, fundamentalism isn’t just some pejorative term. It’s something pure. It may not be good. It might even be evil. But it is slavishly accurate. It hews to source material, eschewing deconstructionism and zeitgeist and clinging instead to the source. We do a disservice to truth to pretend that those who have taken the time to understand what a thing means really don’t understand it, and are instead serving some selfish principle.

If we’re telling them that, maybe we need to examine whether it’s really us, not them, who doesn’t care for or understand the thing in question. And if that turns out to be true, do a favor to the people who get it: go find something you respect enough to to be a fundamentalist about. Leave us alone.

My Childhood Fantasies Are Today’s Normal

January 9, 2014 at 12:15 pm

It’s crazy when you think about how much has changed since the 1970s. If you’ve seen American Hustle, you’re probably glad. (I did just have to get a new science oven myself this week.) The 70s were a weird time. But they’re also when I was born, so they form the basis of my perspective.

I often find myself talking to my kids about the way things were. About not having cable TV (and some family members not even having color TV) for a good chunk of my childhood. About rotary phones and card catalogs at the library and the ubiquity of payphones and the oddness of cell phones and the advent of the Internet and the Internet before it had pictures and computers pre-Windows and Atari and video game arcades and cassette tapes and vinyl records and VHS camcorders and so many other things that were but no longer are.

It’s been just one big avalanche of technological progress. Watching the Challenger explode on television  was, in many ways, less dramatic than watching a CGI space-station torn apart by orbital debris in Gravity. I have more power in my outdated Android phone than in the first three desktop computers I owned combined. I now use satellites to navigate, I can buy nanofiber pants that repel liquids, I can print three-dimensional objects, and I surf the net on a fiber optic connection that promises speeds of 75mbps and actually delivers 45mbps. (My first modem was 2400bps.) I saw footage today from a video game engine that is so photo realistic, it’s almost impossible to tell the environments from the real thing:

Today, I followed a link to a video about a new toy robot with gyroscopic balance and sensors that allow basic hand-motion programming. Interesting enough in itself, on the sidebar was a link to the most recent cover of Popular Science:



Do you know what one of my favorite books was as a boy? It was this little gem:



I recently bought a copy of this from a used book website because it was such a significant imagination-starter when I was a kid. I don’t know if you can make it out, but that cover depicts a “telepresence” (virtual reality) helmet-wearing operator of a lightweight mechanical dragonfly drone.

The book was published in 1974. Here’s the plot synopsis from Wikipedia:

Danny exacerbates a small electrical fire, altering an experimental crystalline semiconductor material Prof. Bullfinch was evaluating. Prof. Bullfinch is able to use this altered material to create ISIT (the Invisibility Simulator with Intromittent Transmission), a dragonfly-like probe which could be piloted with a Telepresence helmet and gauntlet gloves.

The trio each tries out the device. Irene uses ISIT to birdwatch. Joe uses the device to observe a beehive from the inside. Danny discovers a bully nicknamed ‘Snitcher’ cheating by copying the word list to the school spelling bee and dishonestly winning himself a boombox. The ISIT is outfitted with a speaker which is subsequently used by Danny as a means to pretend to be the bully’s conscience, in order get Snitcher to confess to his father.

However, ISIT also causes problems, as soon afterwards Prof. Bullfinch is visited by General Gruntel. The general reveals (in very authoritarian language) he wishes to use ISIT as a tool to spy not only on enemy governments, but against Americans as well. General Gruntel attempts to seize the unit, but is rebuffed by Doctor Grimes. While going to get authorization to seize the ISIT, he leaves the professor’s lab under guard.

Danny, Irene, and Joe decide to take matters into their own hands and stealthily break into the lab to recover the probe. The probe’s absence is realized which leads to Colonel Twist, the commanding officer of the two guards, to delusively believe the device has been stolen by a foreign power. As he is being confronted by Twist, the Professor realizes the trio of friends are responsible. He informs Danny that without destroying his notes detailing the creation of ISIT, either the Soviets or the US military could still recreate it. While the local national guard arrives to secure the house against foreign spies, Danny and the Professor make their way to the probe’s controls and use it to cause a fire that destroys both the notes and probe.

Dr. Grimes arrives with orders from the Governor for the military personnel to stand down and leave the Bullfinch residence. Bullfinch informs Grimes that the device and his notes have been destroyed, leaving him the only man to remember the blueprints by memory. Professor Bullfinch also tells Dr. Grimes and Danny that he will not recreate ISIT until the world is ready for it.

Wow. Does any of that sound familiar? The ethics of drone usage, the desire for military application and spying on US citizens, the danger of the technology falling into the wrong hands…it’s all so 2014. And despite Professor Bullfinch’s unwillingness to recreate ISIT “until the world is ready for it”, it’s here.

From the Popular Science article:

Last February, the engineers sent their drone, called the InstantEye, to Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, for its annual Army Expeditionary Warrior experiments, where an infantry platoon used it to help complete a set of assigned missions. The soldiers gave it a “green” rating, one of the highest available.


Learning how nature creates superior sensors could lead to lighter, smarter drones. And as that happens, their range of applications will grow. Guiler and Vaneck plan to sell the InstantEye to the military and law enforcement. The British Forces have recently begun using a microdrone, a hand-launched helicopter called the Black Hornet, to scout for insurgents in Afghanistan. Microdrones may also have uses closer to home. They could allow police and SWAT teams to gather footage inside office buildings or banks and between skyscrapers, where winds typically gust.

Wood visualizes an even more diverse array of uses for RoboBees. A box of about 1,000, he notes, would weigh one pound. They could easily be shipped to a disaster site and deployed to search for survivors. They could also monitor traffic or the environment and help pollinate crops. Research scientists could use them to gather data in the field.

Whatever their application, microdrones are no longer a da Vinci–like dream of engineers. They’re taking off—agile, resilient, and under their own power.

As I was clicking over to grab that quote, I noticed something in my Twitter feed about the launch of a satellite later today from right here in Virginia. It’s all happening so fast.

I wonder what things will be like when my kids are my age.



December 31, 2013 at 4:09 pm

After almost a year, I’ve been back hard at work on the novel I started during NaNoWriMo 2012.

With a working title of “Halcyon” (subject to change as the story unfolds and I get hold of a better focal point) it’s about a young girl, Jade Vardis, living in Automated City 099, known by its residents as “Halcyon”, so named after the Halcyon Corporation which built and ostensibly manages the entire enterprise. Her life with her parents, both of whom worked as prominent Halcyon scientists, came to a tragic end when her mother was accused of murdering her father after he discovered her efforts to aid the resistance movement. Jade, whose father’s work was creating interfaces between the biological and the mechanical, was used as a guinea pig for some of his more secretive experiments, leaving her with a number of undocumented cybernetic enhancements. With her mother in an institution for the criminally insane and her father gone, Jade has no one to turn to when she begins manifesting strange and powerful abilities that give her access to and control over the ever present technological systems that surround her. Realizing that she may possess the weapon that the oppressed people of Halcyon have needed for so long, Jade starts pushing back, and in the process makes a terrifying discovery about the only home she has ever known.

Or something like that. It is, as they say, a work in progress.

In any event, one of the more interesting facets of Halcyon’s super-efficient technoculture is that almost everything governing the operations and management of the city is robotic. As part of the automated cities project (initiated after central governance and economic planning in the US broke down and more and more major population centers were going bankrupt), AC099 has been existing in isolation through self-sustaining means for nearly a century. And the machines are running the show.

Satsuriku Hajime is a loyal servant of Halcyon. He pre-dates the city’s origin through significant cybernetic enhancements of his own, and is one of the few who remembers “the time before.” He is known by the people of Halcyon as “the Puppetmaster,” because he is a creator of machine/flesh hybrids that serve as some of the shock troops of HalcyOps, the city security and enforcement division.  Most significantly, he is the creator of the Karakuri Corps, an elite group of operatives who exist as mechanically-animated corpses of deceased human beings. They have the grace and fluidity of movement of biological lifeforms, but the endurance, obedience, and hive-mind of machines. Predominately used as assassins and espionage agents, the people of Halcyon refer to Karakuri operatives as “spooks.”

From the unfinished draft of Halcyon:

The citizens, especially those of the lower castes, had taken to calling his Karakuri warriors “spooks”, but he found this term exceedingly vulgar. His creations may have seemed unnerving to their childlike minds, but he had transformed them into the pinnacle of biotechnological perfection. It was true that they had been, at one time, merely human. But now, they had transcended. They had been sublimated into something other. Their once-living flesh – an ecosystem of muscle, tendon, and bone that produced the biological elegance and dexterity that purely robotic systems lacked – had been liberated from the encumbrance of what the simple referred to as a “soul”. Now, they were animated by higher means: lithium-ion chemistry, organic circuitry, nano-fiber, microprocessor-driven servos. The oxygen needed to keep blood flowing and tissue from decaying was pumped mechanically through subcutaneous tubes, making the Karakuri unnaturally motionless when locomotion was not required. They were like living statues; animatronic golems swathed in pristine, anti-ballistic compression suits. Their contorted, lifeless faces served an excellent foundation for grafting necessary equipment onto bone. Still, the aesthetic of these death masks was unnerving to most, so he had hidden them behind faceplates of dark, reflective polymer, adorned as necessary with instruments enhancing their ability to sense and communicate with the hive. These perfect instruments of his will were so much more than they had ever been before he had re-created them. Before he had hollowed them out and breathed into them the machine spirit. Their organic imperfections were shrouded, now, replaced with an intricate facade of artifice that made them breathtaking to behold.

Hajime is one seriously messed-up individual. He is, for all intents and purposes, a necromancer. But instead of magic, he uses science to raise the dead and put them to his bidding. Today, while I was laying on the couch having yet another flu-addled morning with the kiddos, I sketched out a spook on my iPad, then cleaned it up and added some more detail on the computer:


The idea here is that Jade is getting a look at one of these techno-zombies from a safe distance using her built-in VDS (visual display system.) I like the idea of these guys being faceless. Something about that makes them scarier.

Then again, you haven’t met Inari yet. I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but she’s sort of a super-spook who has several Noh masks that she wears, depending on the situation. Suffice it to say, a killing machine with a beautiful ceramic happy face with blood red lips is…creepy.

Anyway, the word Karakuri  comes from the Japanese word for “mechanism” (also sometimes “trick”) and is used in the phrase Karakuri ningyo, which are mechanized puppets that have been used in Japan for centuries. Like this:

Very cool, and a little bit unnerving. I’m not a Japanese scholar by any stretch, but I find their culture fascinating, and it allows me to add an exotic quality (plus: KATANAS!) to my story.  Not to mention, high-tech cyberpunk without Japanese influence is a disservice to the genre.

I am really looking forward to finishing the first draft of this book. I’m targeting March for completion, but we’ll see how things go.

Christmas: Impossible

December 24, 2013 at 9:42 am

Not coming any time soon to a theater near you. The kids and I decided to throw this together one not particularly wintry December afternoon…


December 24, 2013 at 9:26 am


Alex: Being sick is kinda cool. When you touch things, you get to have them.

Me: (laughing) Oh really?

Alex: Yeah. It’s kinda like having a super power. Except, you don’t have to fight bad guys!


Sometimes, It’s The Little Miracles That Matter Most (Or: A Plug For Saint Anthony)

December 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I have struggles with faith. I don’t exactly make a secret of it, but I don’t talk about it ad nauseam either. Who wants to hear that? But something worth noting about struggling with faith is how every little bone that gets thrown your way makes a difference. And sometimes, it’s the little things — the little miracles especially — that matter most.

Take, for example, my relationship with St. Anthony. Now, I say “relationship” because that’s really how it works. Everyone who believes in the Communion of Saints has different relationships with different saints just like we do with different people in our lives. I have no idea why. For example, as a dad and in general a guy trying to do the whole purity thing even before that, I’ve long had a devotion to St. Joseph. Still do. And yet, I get the feeling that he just. doesn’t. care. My novenas and prayers to him never seem to get answered. We’ve settled on a sort of detente, but I don’t know what his beef with me is. St. Jude, on the other hand, has been fantastic. When we were SOL and about to run out of food and shelter, he came through in a big way. I named the boy my wife was pregnant with at the time after him as a big “Thank You.”

And then, there’s St. Anthony. The guy is just…amazing. I don’t understand how he works. And I’ve honestly never looked up his origin story (you know, about how he got his super power that allows him to help you find things you’ve lost) and I’m fine with that. I don’t care if there’s some Kryptonian voodoo involved or if one time he found some fish for St. Francis or what have you. It works.

Speaking of that…


I went looking for a picture of St. Anthony that I actually liked (most of them involved him looking fairly girlish, holding a paschal lamb.) Then I found this one ^. So of course, I had to imagine the dialogue in the scene:

St. Anthony: “This guy may have the stigmata, but seriously, he’d lose his head if it wasn’t attached. Or, to use a more poignant example, these fish he got LAST WEEK.”

St. Francis: “Sorry about the smell, guys. And I didn’t lose them. I *misplaced* them. “

St. Anthony: “Whatever. And don’t say thanks to me for finding them or anything. And I have no idea how I’m going to get this stink off my hands. Antibacterial soap won’t be invented for centuries…”

OK, enough with the digression. In any event, St. Anthony is THE. MAN. He pretty much single-handedly sustains my belief that miracles exist.

I remember one time, way back in my freshman year of High School, I lost my science lab book. Now, in New York State at the time, you had to have a certain number of completed lab assignments for any Regents course (I am going from memory here, don’t fact-check me on any of this) and somehow I had lost the damn thing. It was winter time, if I recall correctly, and that means I had a LOT of lab work already in there that was my documentation for the class. I looked and looked for about a week, and finally when I couldn’t find it I put in a call to St. Anthony. The same day, I was literally sitting in my stupid, godawful Earth Science class — the most boring class in the history of ever, BTdubs — and there’s a knock at the door. It’s a school janitor.

Let’s stop right there. When has a school janitor EVER knocked on a classroom door while class was in session and nobody has emitted explosive vomit mid-way through their lesson in Iambic Pentameter? I mean, search your memory. Has this EVER happened in your life?

So anyway, this janitor knocks, and he comes in and says, “Excuse me, but I found this notebook in the hall and I was wondering if it belonged to someone in this class.” I pounced on that thing like it was the golden fleece, feeling the relief of all the work I wasn’t going to have to do-over flooding my brain with endorphins. I will neither confirm nor deny whether I kissed the man full on the mouth. But I had my binder back, and all I could think was, “YOU FOUND IT ON THE FLOOR IN THE HALL AFTER A FREAKING *WEEK*, YOU MACHIAVELLIAN CLEANING MAN?!?! YOU WOULD SWEEP UP HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS IF THEY GOT IN THE PATH OF YOUR MIGHTY DUSTMOP!! HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!?!”

That’s one of the more notable examples. But even just this past week there have been a couple more little ones. And these are the kind that really get me. You may know what I mean.

The times when he literally puts the thought of where to look for something in your freaking head. 

No lie. I was looking for the tea strainer the other day so I could rock a cup of Earl Gray, hot. Could. Not. Find. It. Anywhere. Checked the dishwasher, the drawers, the usual nooks and crannies. Zip. Zilch. Nada. So, a quick prayer to San Antoine, and suddenly it’s like the little binging sound that goes off in the airplane cabin when it’s safe to unbuckle and head for the restroom:


And sure enough, there it was.

Another time, I was in the living room looking for the flipping remote control, which is ALWAYS missing. I’m lifting couches like the Tick on vacuuming day, and no joy. So, a quick St. Anthony prayer — nothing fancy, mind you, just my patented 3 Hail Marys and a specific request — and literally, here comes the…


I walk in there, and lo and behold! Right there on the kitchen island for some unfathomable reason.

Something similar happened again last night. Same remote (I know, I need an RFID tracker on it) and we looked EVERYWHERE. The living room looked like people’s apartments always do in the movies when they come back from the grocery store and the whole place has been ransacked.

Only this time, no bing. Nothing. I had no idea where the thing was. So I finally gave up, with that resigned sense I get when he doesn’t help out that tells me, “Well, this is probably happening for some inane yet eternal reason I will never grasp or begin to fathom. Maybe it’s just so I’ll keep praying these Hail Marys.” And I let it go, with the near certainty that this morning I would find it.

So of course, this morning I walk into the room, look under the same couch I looked under 10-to-the-umpteenth-power times last night, and it’s right there in front where any of us would have seen it.


Like I said. I have no idea how this works.

But it’s very cool. And it’s a reminder to me that miracles do happen, however small.

I know that those of you who are skeptics do not find this to be empirically convincing. And I’m sure it isn’t. But it’s subjectively impressive, and that’s enough for me. You have no idea how many times this happens. And I am an ADD poster child (you probably couldn’t tell by this post, amiright?) so I lose things…all the time.

I was trying to think of some pithy conclusion to this post, but that’s really all I have to say. I’m done now. Just remember, when you lose something, ask St. Anthony. Make sure you pray your 3 Hail Mary’s though. I don’t know if he donates them to the poor souls in Purgatory or what, but I never have as much luck finding things unless I say them. Often, I find them before I even finish the first prayer, but I finish the set out of gratitude. Because, you know, that requires a huge effort on my part. So that’s how I roll.

The end.

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation — October 3rd, 1789

November 28, 2013 at 9:34 am



Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington


“Peter Has No Need Of Our Lies Or Flattery”

November 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm

“Peter has no need of our lies or flattery. Those who blindly and indiscriminately defend every decision of the Supreme Pontiff are the very ones who do most to undermine the authority of the Holy See—they destroy instead of strengthening its foundations” – Fr. Melchior Cano O.P., Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent.

Intuition, Infighting, and Our Divided House

November 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm

As much as I’d like to move on from this topic, another followup is in order. Since a certain Catholic celebrity (I know the term seems like an oxymoron, but I can’t seem to find a better one) has now gotten hold of my comments and, as per his usual tactic, attempted to turn them into an easily lampooned caricature while avoiding any substantive rebuttal, I’d like to address a few things.

First, I’m not upset because the pope is “reaching out to people who aren’t me.” Really, Mr. Shea? That’s the conclusion you reached? I’m sure my wife, who came into the Church following a rather concerted effort on my part, would disagree with your assessment of my feelings toward “people who aren’t me.”  So would pretty much every secular, anti-Catholic, or atheist coworker I’ve ever had, or the students I’ve taught in CCD or in Catholic school, or the people whose doors I’ve knocked on to talk to them about Catholicism, or the countless people I’ve reached in 20 years of writing about the faith online.

With the exceptions of those times when I was struggling with it myself, I have never shied away from discussing my faith with the people around me. I’ve fought to bring Catholicism to the people I encounter for so long it sometimes feels like I’ve never done much of anything else. I am really tired of hearing the accusation that the reason I don’t like what the pope is saying is because I’m either some sort of Donatist who doesn’t believe that people should be forgiven and come home, or because I’m opposed to outreach to non-Christians and sinners somehow. Give me a break.

Do I believe that Pope Francis has a certain level of disdain for Catholics of a traditional persuasion? Yes. Do I believe he will abandon Pope Benedict’s much needed reforms of the liturgy? Absolutely. And these are both issues that weigh on me. But my concerns with him go beyond that. Intentionally or not, he is leading the world to believe that the Church now thinks:

a) Conversion to Catholicism — even for atheists — is not important for salvation

b) The Church’s decades long and singular crusade to bring about a culture of life has devolved into an obsession detached from from the message of salvation and God’s love and should no longer be a priority

c) That the issues of poverty, unemployment, underemployment, just wages, and other social justice issues are the greatest challenges the Church must meet today, when in actuality the top priorities clearly include (but are not limited to): the ongoing abortion holocaust, the rapid increase in human trafficking, the use of contraceptives among Catholics, the battle for traditional morality, the support by the majority of Catholic voters for political candidates who campaign to increase access to intrinsic evils, the decimated belief in fundamental Catholic doctrines like the Real Presence, the ongoing vocational crisis, etc.

And since they all think WE all believe everything he does is infallible, they don’t get that he isn’t making these changes, and couldn’t even if he wanted to. The net effect is the same though: in the minds of many, these changes are already underway.

There’s more, but I would say that’s a good start to what my objections are.


Second, on the question of my stated intuition about Pope Francis.

I know it’s a weak argument, and maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the feeling I had when I first saw Pope Francis step out to be announced, but it was incredibly strong, so I offered it simply for the consideration of those reading it.

I can’t say I had any expectations for this pope. I had honestly never heard of Cardinal Bergoglio before that moment. I had been telling friends that it seemed likely to me that Pope Benedict would only abdicate with good reason. It was possible that whoever came next would carry on what he started. Was I skeptical? Certainly. The Church hasn’t exactly been blessed recently with an abundance of impressive bishops from which to choose St. Peter’s next successor, but anything can happen. So the strength with which I felt that ominous feeling I have previously described was startling.

This feeling is the easiest part of my assessment of the pope to dismiss, and that’s fine. I really don’t expect anyone to take it as anything but my own deeply subjective opinion. And far from declaring that I “could just tell from his cold dead eyes that he is “dangerously close” to heresy within seconds of his appearance” — something I never said — I did have a sense of foreboding. (My comments about borderline heresy had only to do with statements he was making, just for the record.)

Have you ever tried to explain intuition to someone? It’s difficult to do. The minute you say, “I just have this feeling,” or “I have a hunch that…” people have a tendency to tune out.

And yet, in my personal experience, intuition is absolutely invaluable. When I’ve ignored it, I have regretted doing so more often than not. When I’ve listened to it, it’s been proven right time and again. I don’t have a strong intuition about every situation or every person, but when I do have one, the accuracy rate has always been very high.

What surprised me is that others have confirmed that they, too, had this feeling.  My mention of it was sort of a throwaway aspect of my original post. I fully expected to be alone in my feelings, and almost didn’t include them for the obvious reason that they carry no weight at all except in my own mind. But the feeling had been so strong, I took the risk. In response, I got emails containing sentiments like these:

  • “I felt the same feelings when I saw him. His smile is sickly sweet to me and makes my stomach tense.
  • “Your initial thoughts of when you first saw him on the loggia is the way I felt too. I am being very cautious. However, I am doing my best to love him as a brother in Christ. “
  • “I read the link, “New Pope Chosen” on my computer earlier this year. I immediately jumped up to watch the event unfold on my TV upstairs. En route to the TV, I stopped at the sink in my kitchen, where the Sacred Heart of Jesus was enthroned. I immediately heard the message broadcast to my soul, “This is a bad decision.” When I saw him, I felt just like you.”
  • “I too had a similar feeling when Francis stepped out on the balcony for the first time. It is disturbing but I like many continue to look for satan’s influence on my thinking in regards to Francis.”
  • “When Pope Francis came out on the loggia, my stomach did somersaults, I wanted to vomit — for hours. I had a sense of foreboding.”

Each of these emails was from a different person. Each was a person I have never interacted with before. You can see in these sentiments that those who felt this way did so unwillingly. No faithful Catholic wants to dislike the pope.

Yes, this is only five emails, and yes, it remains firmly in the realm of anecdote. But I cannot imagine it to be a common thing to have such a feeling about a man who has just been elected pope and about whom nothing is known. This should be a moment of hope for faithful Catholics, not a disturbing one.


Which brings me to the third thing. I did not address these concerns publicly in an attempt to be slanderous, dissident, or schismatic. My criticisms of the pope — other than those rooted in my subjective intuition, which formed the smallest part of my argument — are all based on the ways in which Pope Francis is creating a perception of departure from traditional Church teaching and making statements that can be (and ARE being) easily co-opted by the enemies of the Church.

This tends to make life harder for only one group of people: orthodox Catholics who have been living faithfully and slogging it out to give witness to the faith and support and build the culture of life. I know this not only because I fall in that camp, but because I have been contacted privately by a number of those who are deeply concerned. Many feel that they cannot be as vocal as I have been, either because they work for the Church directly or for one of its many affiliated institutions.

I am fully aware of my own propensity for error. I know that it’s possible that my criticisms may be off base. But the pre-emptive cult of papolatry that sprung up around this pope (no less hastily than my own negative intuition, I might add) has an “either you’re with us or against us” flavor, and when they close ranks, they form a very sharp and pointy perimeter. This should come as no surprise, I suppose, after the personality cults surrounding the previous two popes, manifested in a particularly concerning way in the “santo subito” movement around John Paul II, who as yet never did earn the title “the Great,” but I digress. I submit that loving the pope to the point of near fanatical devotion as a default position and before you really know what he’s about doesn’t strike me as the hallmark of prudent, discerning people.

Now, the extreme pope-o-philes and the concerned folks seem to all come from the same general subset of orthodox, rosary-praying, Mass-going Catholics. The fighting that went on between traditional Catholics and “conservative” Catholics is now happening in those same camps PLUS a whole bunch of new conservative-on-conservative brawling. It’s ugly, and it’s sad.

In the comment boxes here over the last few days, one concern caught my attention. Dale Price wrote:

As to unity…well, that’s the problem. The most visible fruit of the pontificate that I have personally witnessed is exceptionally bitter: watching good and intelligent Catholics who genuinely love the Church savagely turn on each other. That has been painful, and has left me speechless.

This division is real, and it is causing huge rifts. Far from reasoned discussion, or the presumption that Catholics concerned with the effect the pope is having on the Church come by it out of honest love for the Church, they seem instead convinced that we act out of malice. I have avoided sparring with them almost entirely. I don’t see what good will come of it.

This is not something new, it is something old laid bare. Pope Benedict’s objections to the contrary, the “hermeneutic of rupture” is real. As I’ve written elsewhere,

There is a deep and fundamental fracture within the Roman rite of the Church. A fracture over priorities, over liturgy, over semantics, over translation, over religious liberty, over economics, over subsidiarity, over social justice, over immigration, etc. The list goes on and on and on. Catholics who agree on the foundational principles of the Church often agree on almost nothing else.

What is the mission of the Church in the 21st century? What is her stance toward the necessity of conversion to Catholicism for salvation? Which are the means that will be most effective in accomplishing her ends?

The reason there is so much rancor happening right now is because these divisions are old wounds, torn open each time a new emphasis emerges from the Vatican and one faction feels vindicated by it.

Division like this is not healthy, but those of us who are concerned aren’t simply going to drop those concerns, throw our blinders on, and join the party. I would hope our opponents would not expect such a thing. It’s not honest, and not respectable.

I don’t take lightly my decision to engage in this debate at the level that I have. I have prayed that I would only do God’s will by discussing these things, and I prayed especially for the guidance of the Holy Spirit before speaking to the media. I wish to do no disservice to the papacy, the Church, or the faithful. But my concerns are real, they are deep, and the attempt to quiet all dissenting views about this papacy is something I find deeply troubling.

To be treated as though I am malicious because I have raised objections of this nature is something I have come to expect. Sadly, I expect it most from those who have made their names and their livings by being known for, writing about, and speaking about all things Catholic.

To say that I am “assisting the enemies of the faith at the NY Times to drive a wedge between the Church and the pope” is not entirely dissimilar to my assessment that the pope is assisting the enemies of the faith everywhere by giving them opportunities to co-opt his words and use them against us. The difference is this: I’m an occasional Catholic blogger with a minimal sphere of influence. The pope is the titular head of the largest Christian denomination in the world, the leader of one of the oldest and most respected religious bodies on earth, and possesses inherently a claim to infallibility that I will NEVER have.

My brief comments to a couple of news outlets in the hopes of provoking discussion are insignificant in comparison. These Catholics malign me, but they will find every excuse to give the pope cover.

I’ve been through this before, when I realized through my involvement with the Legionaries of Christ that something was deeply wrong with the marching orders coming from Fr. Maciel. I was attacked then too. I was accused of not being generous, authentic, faithful, committed, etc. They tried to turn my friends against me. I was made a pariah, and members of that movement were urged not to even talk to me. Even those closest to me within the movement, who were sympathetic to what I was saying, thought I was exaggerating the case. But it was clear to me: there was something very unsettling at work within the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, and otherwise good people were being used by it.

We all know how that one turned out.

I cannot and would not presume to judge the heart of Pope Francis. I only know that I see the symptoms of something emerging that is not in line with tradition, or with the mission of the papacy. Something that is enervating orthodox Catholicism and energizing those who have hated the Church to see in her an ally.

I don’t want to make a habit of pointing this out. I would like to talk about it a good deal less than I currently am. I have better, more positive things to do. But my nature is what it is, and when I see something that I think needs saying, I say it. I’m not going to sit down and shut up. I expect disagreement, but I would appreciate at least the pretense that I am sincere in what I am doing, and that my goal is the betterment of the Church, not its undoing.


Feeling Conflicted On the Occasion of Veterans Day

November 12, 2013 at 10:38 am


I have a lot of thoughts on the military on the occasion of this Veterans Day. The great respect I have for those who have and do serve, both among my family and friends and in the country at large. My grandfather, my great uncle, my godfather, my cousins, one of my closest friends and even some of my newest friends. I am grateful for what they have done, for the kind of human beings so many soldiers are, and the leaven they provide to our society. For the sacrifice, the sadness, the scars they bear that nobody can see.

But I also reflect on those who send our soldiers into battle. Our cynical government, teaching our military that the very people they are sworn to protect are, as often as not, the enemy. The politicians who choose to send young men and women who want nothing more than to serve their country with honor into war zones of questionable legality and moral justification, for inscrutable ends, and with insufficient means to accomplish unclear goals. The policymakers who keep military chaplains on furlough over petty politics, and who are even now (according to some military personnel I’ve spoken with) discussing the idea of dismantling the chaplain corps altogether. The commanders willing to toe the party line who are being swiftly promoted to replace those currently being purged from the ranks of our military after long careers of often distinguished service but suddenly under charges of misconduct. Even if that misconduct is truly nothing but the color of their skin or the mien of their political philosophy.

I doubt there’s a red-blooded American man who hasn’t, for at least some period of time, given consideration to joining our military. I certainly did, even though I ultimately chose another path. But in 2013, I can’t imagine sending my sons with a clear conscience to follow the orders of those in command of our armed forces, particularly our unscrupulous commander in chief.

Our soldiers deserve our gratitude and respect. But they also need our prayers that they will always have the courage to do what is right, and not only what they are ordered to do.