• Last week, while on a trip to Chicago, a friend asked me (via phone): “Whatever happened to ‘Carl’s Cut’s’?” I don’t think he was kneeling, so I didn’t take it as a protest. In fact, it sounded as though he enjoyed reading these rare, even obscure, posts. So, to honor him—and to rebuff all those who might protest—here are a few Cuts.
• On one leg of my flights to the Midwest, I was seated next to a retired couple. The wife was clutching (yes, clutching) What Happened, a book by some politician about a recent election. We chatted about matters of no consequence, and then she volunteered that she had once been in same room as the illustrious author of the book. “It was so special,” she gushed. “It’s such an honor to just be around those sort of people, you know?”
No, I don’t. But thanks for sharing; your comments explain a lot.
• First, may God have mercy on the soul of Hugh Hefner. Secondly, let’s not forget (to state what should be obvious) that that Hefner exploited women, worked tirelessly to sever sex from its proper place in marriage, and was a pseudo-sophisticated, leering lech. As one angry female critic sums it up: “Hefner was responsible for turning porn into an industry.” According to Hefner, he was able to start Playboy with a loan from his “conservative” Methodist mother. That should make a person reevaluate what they know about the Fifties. After all, his “men’s magazine” quickly rivaled Time and Life magazines in subscription numbers. Put simply, the Sixties didn’t start the rot, they simply took advantage of it. (And, no, I am not saying that every man in the 1950s was a creep; I’m saying the culture at large was already in bad shape, even if it wasn’t obvious to most.)
• Hefner is evidence that many self-proclaimed progressives are oblivious to irony and hypocrisy because they are equally clueless about the real place of morality and the true nature of sexuality. So, for instance, Hefner is credited with saying, “The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects. If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation. It’s the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go ’round. That’s why women wear lipstick and short skirts.” This from a page of quotes on the Newsweek site, which helpfully informs readers that Hefner “was generally disgusting to womenkind for his attitudes on women, relationships and nudity, but he was also an admirable businessman, celebrity and American pioneer.”
Today it’s easy to write off Playboy, and Mr. Hefner, as the last remnants of a more sexist age. But seen from the perspective of the 1950s and ’60s, they were progressive icons — not just in the libertine styles they promoted, but in the causes that they featured in the magazine’s pages and made central to what it meant to be a modern man. … To Mr. Hefner, women were simply a part of the interests of most heterosexual men. The magazine featured discussions of equal rights, contraception and reproductive choice for women. Mr. Hefner never saw that as a contradiction.
• And, of course, there isn’t a contradiction between contraception, reproductive “choice”, and pornography since they are as logically intertwined as lust, pride, and violence. Chaucer, not being modern—no, he was downright medieval!—understood the connection well:
Foul lust of lechery,
Behold the due!
Not only dost thou
Darken a man’s mind,
But bringest destruction on his body too.
In their beginning all thy works are blind
And in their end are grief.
How many find
That not the act alone, but even the will
To set about it can deprave and kill! (The Man of Law’s Tail)
As Fr. John Hardon, SJ, rightly noted years ago:
However, the most serious aspect of this sex revolution is not the amount of pornography or the ease which it is propagated. The worst feature is the complacency that a radical change of moral climate finds among the people and the difficulty of getting the State to convict anyone who is making a fortune on his neighbor’s concupiscence. Implicit in the rise of this sexual epidemic is the denial of original sin which, by definition, means that we have lost our dominance of the passions and therefore the sex urge should be controlled rather than stimulated for the pleasure it gives. Even more fundamental is the practical denial of a life after bodily death.
No surprise, then, to learn that Hefner said, “It’s perfectly clear to me that religion is a myth.” And then he immediately followed it up by saying: “My religion and the spiritual side of my life come from a sense of connection to the humankind and nature on this planet and in the universe” (emphasis added). Yes, Hefner was in many ways the Poor Man’s Modern Man: full of lust, full of himself, and full of banality. It’s so easy to imagine Hefner as a confused, preening soul on the bus in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.
• Hefner launched Playboy in 1953. That same year, the great Frank Sheed published Society and Sanity, which has a wonderful chapter on the nature of sex and marriage. It begins:
The typical modern man practically never thinks about sex.
He dreams of it, of course, by day and by night; he craves for it; he pictures it, is stimulated or depressed by it, drools over it. But this frothing, steaming activity is not thinking. Drooling is not thinking, picturing is not thinking, craving is not thinking, dreaming is not thinking. Thinking means bringing the power of the mind to bear: thinking about sex means striving to see sex in its innermost reality and in the function it is meant to serve.
Our typical modern man, when he gives his mind to it at all, thinks of sex as something we are lucky enough to have; and he sees all its problems rolled into the one problem of how to get the most pleasure out of it. To that he gives himself with immoderate enthusiasm and very moderate success. Success, in fact, can never be more than moderate, because his procedure is folly.
That excellent book is now published by Ignatius Press.
• One more: Hefner stated, “Surrounding myself with beautiful women keeps me young.” No, it didn’t; it merely distracted him from the reality of time and aging. And Reality, period.
• Switching gears: In reading several articles about the recent letter of “filial correction” sent to Pope Francis, I came across this in a so-called “independent” “Catholic” news source:
A few dozen Catholics have publicly accused Pope Francis of committing heresy, claiming in a 25-page letter issued Sept. 24 that the pontiff’s 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia contradicts previous church teaching. …
But several prominent theologians and scholars said the accusations are marked by hypocrisy and represent a marginal fringe view among academics. They noted that the 62 signatories of the letter are mainly obscure figures, with some even listed with relatively minor descriptions such as “diocesan priest” or “religious.”
“The first reaction I had after reading the document concerned the signatories,” Richard Gaillardetz, a noted theologian at Boston College, told NCR. “The prominence given to the number of signatories … masks the fact that these are really marginal figures.”
Gaillardetz, a former president of the Catholic Theological Association of America, said that while the signatories have the right to put their views forward, “they need to be acknowledged as the extreme and self-marginalized voices that they are.”
The framing here is classic, if not adroit: the signers of the letters number of a “few dozen” folks whose accusations “are marked by hypocrisy and represent a marginal fringe view among academics.” They are “mainly obscure figures”; why, some of them are mere priests or religious! But, over against these nameless, pesky troublemakers we find the “several prominent theologians and scholars” who are happy to explain that the letter is signed by “really marginal figures.” And it’s not enough that they are called so by these “prominent theologians and scholars”; no, “they need to be acknowledged as the extreme and self-marginalized voices that they are.”
• Two things: first, I thought this current pontificate was all about reaching out to the fringes, the marginalized, the peripheries. It wasn’t too long ago that Pope Francis told a group of new cardinals, “The Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed…Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality”. Even a longtime columnist of the newspaper in question stated a few months ago: “Probably sometimes you have noticed that Pope Francis talks, in fact quite frequently, about the need for the church, that is for all of us, to go to what Francis calls the peripheries, the margins. Take the church (we are the church) and be there among the people who are marginalized.” But, of course, there are The Marginalized, and there are those who are marginalized in other ways. My point here is not to defend the letter or get into the specifics (which would require an entire piece unto itself), but to simply note the double standard and the rhetorical mechanisms used to employ it.
Secondly, the newspaper in question has a long, long history of promoting and advocating for the use of contraception, women “priests”, and even abortion. We could call those views “extreme”. Or simply heretical, which they are.
• If you need further evidence of the attitude involved, notice how Austen Ivereigh refers to those who signed the letter:
Like the petitions contra Humanae Vitae or pro women priests, this will be ignored. The magisterium doesn't bow to middle-class lobbies. https://t.co/4dZgTQhOAj
— Austen Ivereigh (@austeni) September 25, 2017
• I don’t follow the NFL too closely, being much more of an NBA (yes, that’s right) and tennis fan. But, of course, I have been following the escalating tensions over protests, Trump tweets, and such. I was especially intrigued—no, confounded—by recent comments made by San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, arguably the greatest coach today in the NBA:
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich claimed on ESPN2’s “The Paul Finebaum Show” Monday that “people have to be made to feel uncomfortable,” specifically singling out white people.
“Well, because it’s uncomfortable, and there has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change. Whether it’s the LGBT movement, women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue of what being born white means,” he stated.
“If you read some of the recent literature, you’ll realize there really is no such thing as whiteness, but we kind of made that up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true,” Popovich said.
He added, “Because you were born white, you have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically there. And they have been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it. It’s too difficult.”
We live in a bizarre time in which we hear two constant—and apparently conflicting—messages: we must not say anything about A, B, or C that might offend this or that group and we must always be challenging and even revolting against the comfortable views that this or that group has about X, Y, or Z. Of course, they really aren’t conflicting because only certain groups must be protected from “offensive” topics while other, specific groups are the ones needing to be made uncomfortable. Now, it’s true that Popovich says the topic “doesn’t matter”, but that’s complete nonsense. Laughable nonsense. Here, for example, are some topics you will not hear addressed on ESPN, or by Popovich, or by protesting NFL players:
• The sad fact of rising rate of black Americans killed by other black Americans (and the rate was already high.)
• That 52.6% of murders committed in 2016 were by blacks/African Americans, although blacks make up about 13% of the country’s population. (44.7% were by whites.)
• The fact that police violence against black men is actually quite rare.
• The fact that over 70% of black children are born out of wedlock, while the numbers continue to rise among whites and Hispanics.
• The fact that there is “a large body of literature showing that children of single mothers are more likely to commit crimes than children who grow up with their married parents.”
• That abortions are commonplace among professional athletes.
That’s a short list, just in case anyone is getting uncomfortable. In related news, I stopped watching ESPN save for the occasional and actual sporting event. At some point I expect ESPN to become like MTV: a channel dedicated to something (sports, music) that never airs any of those things.
• Speaking of the (somewhat) conflicting messages, see Dr. Randall Smith’s essay at The Catholic Thing about the “two gears of student moral discourse” he witnesses as a professor:
I have noticed something analogous among many students when they address moral issues. They seem to have two gears. One is their “keeping-my-ironic-distance-I-don’t-want-to-offend-anyone-and-I-am-not-judging-anyone-else-but-here-is-how-I-feel” gear. The wind-up to this pitch can be long and involved: “I was born in East Texas and my parents came to this country when I was very young, and I was raised in a fairly strict household ‘n stuff, but here is how I feel, but I’m not judging anyone else.” This is the “I-know-I’m-walking-on-eggshells-with-everything-I-say” gear. Students know they must never seem to be anything but utterly open and tolerant.
The other gear students have – this is the one you see in the news more often recently – is the “How-dare-you-say-that-or-hold-that-view-and-now-I-am-going-to-be-offended-and-scream-my-head-off-at-you-and-maybe-dive-over-the-table-and-choke-you” gear. Note, these aren’t two classes or categories of students; these two gears are normally found in one and the same student.
How, you wonder, could this be?
• Phil Lawler keeps at it, thankfully:
Massimo Faggioli, who is quickly climbing up the list of papal surrogates, commented on his Twitter account that in the past, questions directed at Vatican dignitaries were sometimes met with a statement of non esse respondendum, indicating that it would not be appropriate to respond to the question. This non-response, Faggioli wrote, was “an acknowledgment of institutional Church that some issues were too complicated, too controversial, impossible to give clear answers.” Well, let’s see: Is it impossible to give a clear answer to the dubia submitted by the four cardinals because the answer would be too complicated? They are clear enough questions, allowing for a simple yes/no answer. Or is the subject too controversial? Again, the need to avoid controversy is an odd argument to invoke on behalf of this particular Pope.
Faggioli goes on to say that the non esse respondendum could reflect “institutional humility,” since in many cases the Vatican did not have the information and expertise that would be necessary to give a proper answer. In many cases, an appeal to Rome might be an attempt to do an end-run around local pastors, who were better equipped to answer the specific questions.
Exactly. That’s why, in the past, the Vatican set out general principles, and asked local pastors to apply those principles to specific cases. Now, with Amoris Laetitia, the Pope has stressed that every case is different—underlining the importance of the local pastor. But when asked whether the general principle has changed, the Holy Father is silent.
In the absence of any plausible explanation, the Pope’s silence looks more and more like a tacit argument from authority. Sure enough, the surrogates are also becoming more strident in denouncing the impertinence of those who would dare to question the Pope’s authority. Yet again, that’s an odd argument to make for this Pope—and a particularly odd argument for these pundits to make. But it also misses the point, because the most pressing questions, the dubia, do not question the Pope’s authority. The cardinals (unlike the authors of the filial appeal) are not contending that the Pope’s teaching is wrong; they’re asking him to clarify: exactly what is he teaching? Silence is no answer to that question.
• There is more more to discuss, but it will have to wait. In the meantime, here is a song from a wonderful new jazz album getting a lot of playing time on my iTunes:
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!