Books, NOW’s “Dirty 100”, History, Insults, Sentimentality, Tunes, and Pet Peeves

Carl’s (Short) Cuts for July 8, 2014

• I’m making a concerted effort to keep this edition of “Carl’s Cuts” quite short. Which is why I’ve titled it—

• Nevermind, it’ll take too long to explain.

• What books are you not reading this summer? I ask because the Wall Street Journal recently ran an interesting piece, “The Summer’s Most Unread Book Is…” by Jordan Ellenberg, about popular books that apparently aren’t read from beginning to end, eroding or even destroying the reader’s will to continue reading. Among them is one book I have read from start to finish: The Great Gatsby (and I also read Fitzgerald’s final—completed—novel, Tender Is the Night, which I liked more than Gatsby). The “winner” for least read book is Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, which was published just a few months ago. I’ve not read it (need I say so?), but I did read Jonah Goldberg’s review of it—and that was sufficient.

• Most interesting book under 150 pages I’ve read in a while: How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Eerdmans, 2014), by James K. A. Smith. Funny thing: it is a guide—a commentary of sorts—to a 900-page book: Taylor’s 2007 volume, A Secular Age, of which I’ve read short snippets. More on Smith’s book in the near future.

• Speaking of summer reading, George Weigel has posted a short, but intriguing, list.

• Speaking of lists! NOW (the National Organization of [Contracepting] Women) has launched a campaign against “The Dirty 100”, stating, “The 100-plus lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate are less about legitimate religious beliefs than about the fervent desire of extremists to roll back women’s equality, including access to the full range of reproductive health care.” Many of the “dirty” institutions are, of course, Catholic, including several Catholic schools and dioceses. Oh, and the Little Sisters of the Poor. Because we know what a bunch of women-hating extremists the Little Sisters of the Poor are!

• How, exactly, are these 100 institutions and groups “dirty”? Are they financially corrupt? Or are they morally corrupt, incapable or unwilling to be coerced into paying for “healthcare” that is not, in fact, healthcare? Michael Bradley has some good thoughts on that question on The Ethika Politika site.

That’s The Way History Gets Sliced and Diced: “Some say history is written by the victors. That may have been true in antiquity, but in the modern world, history is written by left-wing journalists and professors.” Which reminds me: if you’ve not read Dr. Michael Kelly’s review of Thomas Cahill’s new book, do yourself a favor and read it now. I’ll wait.

• Better Sharpen That, Uh, Knife! CWR has a wide range of readers, and the comments reflect that. From one end of the spectrum comes this recent remark:

As Archbishop Welby said two days ago: “We are in the post-Christian era”. Accept it Carl and move on. You can cure yourself of these bizarre beliefs if you try. Many have been successful.

Your religion is dying on its feet. There are fewer and fewer naive and gullible people like you left in the world who believe in ghosts, gods, spirits, Santa Claus, fairies, devils and demons. More and more people recognise that these beliefs belong on the fiction shelf of the library.

The world has never been in better shape than it is now. Mass killing is now confined to religious conflict, Christians butchering Moslems in Central African Republic and Moslems killing each other wherever and whenever they can. If only we could eradicate this plague of superstitious nonsense.

I do appreciate the warm and gracious advice! (Are you free to be my life coach?) Ahem. I think a few folks gave that a bloody serious try in the 20th century, and tens of millions were murdered. And not in name of Christianity, as an incredibly high number of those killed were professing Christians.

• It calls to mind a favorite quote from the great Walker Percy, writing nearly 25 years ago:

The present age is demented. It is possessed by a sense of dislocation, a loss of personal identity, an alternating sentimentality and rage which, in an individual patient, could be characterized as dementia. As the century draws to a close, it does not yet have a name, but it can be described. It is the most scientifically advanced, savage, democratic, inhuman, sentimental, murderous century in human history. … Americans are the nicest, most generous, and sentimental people on earth. Yet Americans have killed more unborn children than any nation in history. (“Why Are You a Catholic?”, 1990)

We are indeed a sentimental people. And, alas, sentimental is only a half step away from stupid.

• I’m something of a book nut, and I often order books from So I found this detailed (=long) article from The New York Review of Books about Jeff Bezos to be catnip of sorts. The impression given—fairly or otherwise—is that Brezos is complex, rather dislikable, and a bit creepy, if only because of this: “Whatever his intentions, Jeff Bezos has more influence than any person in the world today over the future of reading.” Yikes. The piece concludes: “On the evidence available, Bezos is at once a visionary, an innovator, and a destroyer.” Well, nobody can please everybody, can they? (Amazon Prime is helpful, I must admit.)

• “Religious fundamentalism at the expense of basic scientific facts threatens to obscure America’s beacon of light with a bank of fog.” So insists New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, who states, “I am both shocked and fascinated by Americans’ religious literalism.” Huh. Sounds a bit hyperbolic to me. I simply suggest that he add two words—”and secular”—between “Religious” and “fundamentalism”. He might also want to ponder secularist literalism as well; for example, the belief of some skeptics that only science can provide or present real meaning, or that only “facts” can be trusted—and “facts” can only be known through science, which of course is itself a “fact” that cannot be proven by science. Etc.

• I try to write one or two post a month for, a music blog that co-founded with tireless Brad Birzer a couple of years ago. My most recent piece is a short review of “Alive”, the new release from the brilliant pianist Hiromi.

• I’m sometimes asked what I listen to while I write. When writing something requiring some serious and prolonged concentration, I prefer classical (Haydn, in recent months) or jazz piano trios. Over the past few days, I’ve listened to:

• “1000 Forms of Fear” by Sia
• “Heaven and Earth” by Yes
• “Badgers and Other Beings” by Helge Lien Trio
• Various symphonies by Haydn
• “KIndly Bent to Free Us” by Cynic
• “Wishing Tree” by Little Sparrow
• “The Classic Concert Live” by Mel Tormé
• “Forever Young” by Jacob Young
• “Casualties of Cool” by Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval
• “Breakthrough” by Eldar Djangirov Trio
• “Slow Down (This Isn’t the Mainland)” by North

• Pet Peeve: Headlines that claim something that is not delivered or demonstrated in the article. Great example: “Pope Francis wants Catholics to doubt the Church. He’s right.” by Kyle Cupp. Uh, wrong. Pope Francis didn’t say it. The article doesn’t demonstrate it. On the contrary, Francis has shown, again and again, that he has an incredibly high view of the Church. There is even a rumor, growing steadily in some circles, that he is Catholic. Shhhhh. Don’t scare anyone.

• Still, regardless of bad headlines (often not the fault of authors, of course), there are some who say we are in a Golden Age of Journalism.

• I’m a bit agnostic on that point, especially when I see an editorial in a (somewhat) local newspaper with this headline: “Oregon catches up to society: Gay marriage is legal.” Yes, let’s be sure to not fall behind society. Or history! Or the 21st century!! Or enlightened thinking!!!! Oh, the horror of trying to keep pace with the stampede toward the edges of, um, well, what?

• I recently was forwarded an e-mail from a lefty, progressive “Catholic” group that lamented how the upcoming Synod was being hijacked by bishops and Church teaching. Oh, it didn’t put it quite that way, of course, but that was the gist of it. It whined a bit about the Church’s teaching on contraception, stating—in a rather Orwellian manner—that the group had, in the past, “called for an expansive reading of the Church’s teaching on ‘openness to life,’ which for many couples does not necessarily mean ‘more babies.'” It then lauded the “progressive 16 documents” produced by Vatican II, apparently unaware that Gaudium et spes, the most “progressive” of the documents (and I describe it so with some reservations) frankly condemned contraceptives, stating:

Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. (par 51)

I plan to write more about this sort of spinning of the Synod as there is going to be a lot of it, from both the secular media types, who are mostly ignorant, and the progressive Catholic types, who are mostly duplicitous.

• Oh, and for the record: I am proud and happy to admit that I spent time over the past two weeks watching that most wonderful, dramatic, captivating, and international of sports.

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About Carl E. Olson 1230 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.