Thursday, May 29, 2008


In the old days, you kept romantic relationships casual and light by not having sex. Today, the opposite is true: declaring your abstinence before a woman makes her think you're moving waaaay too fast. How did that happen?

When sex became ripped from its original home (nestled among marriage and family) and treated like just another dating activity, it completely lost its status (for some people) as the single most profound thing that two people can share with each other on this earth and in this life. The underlying secular assumption is that sex belongs to the same category of human activities as eating, sleeping, and excreting. This contributes not only to the image of celibates as freaks but also lends credence to the prejudice that we're chomping at the bit to fulfill "biological imperatives".

Tell a woman you're "waiting" for marriage, and she assumes you're waiting impatiently. Cue decades of comittment anxieties and stereotypes of religious people, and you've already been written off as four walls short of a YFZ cultist and a warden of the domestic prison.

All of this leads to another irony, namely, that premarital sex has become the litmus test to ensure that someone isn't too comitted, i.e., that they're just as terrified of permanence as you are, and that they buy into the same cultural trivialization of sex as you do. So now sex has come to mean virtually the opposite of its original, natural message. No longer, "I give myself to you wholly and without reservations," wordlessly pulsing in and through the sexual rythm. Now: "I am helpless to resist you, but I give only what I must, and I withold everything that might lead to an inconvenience, or to something [shudder] permanent." Zero public unity, technologically frustrated fertility, a single, isolated act without reprocussions, differing from picking each other's noses only in the degree of endorphins released.

In a society where people will abandon their bodies to each other before they exchange names, it is lost on most women I've encountered that I believe in caution and patience when it comes to life's big decisions. I'm the last person who would hastily wed for the purpose of fulfilling "biological imperatives." I'm as much a comittment-o-phobe as anyone. But I refuse to despair of the unique happiness accessible only to long-wed, faithfully married couples, and to exchange that promise for a cheap and temporary substitute, robbing a potential future wife the status of my one and only.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Update, summer goals, and other brick-o-brack

There are a lot of things happening in my subjective corner of the world, so perhaps it is worth a semi-biographical update. This summer is going to be extremely busy for me. Unfortunately, it hasn't started yet. I know! the high school I work at ends and begins a month later than most colleges I know about.

A. Reconnecting with God. I need a kick in the butt when it comes to church involvement. I've been hanging on for dear life, and apart from old bad habits, I haven't compromised any of my Catholic values. But I haven't exactly striven for excellence, either. When I become mindful of God, the first fact that confronts me is my horrible inadequacy. My prayers always beg God to overlook their unworthiness. I have an acedia that is old and big and heavy, and the burnout of trying unsuccessfully to fight it while in the seminary has turned into a sort of embittered complacency. I've lost the war against my own torpor. Maybe I'll declare a new one, but I'm tired, and I don't care as much as I used to. Two scripture verses rise up to condemn me: Galatians 6:9 and Revelation 6:13. But others offer me hope. Ezekiel 37, and Luke 4:18-21. But the hopeful passages represent a hope in God, not a hope in myself. God has sent me the invitation, and I need to at least RSVP.

B. Reconnecting with friends. Thanks to Facebook, I have been contacted and "friended" by dozens of friends from the seminary and from high school. Unfortunately, I just found out that I missed Fr. Nick Parker's priesthood ordination. GUILT. Nick, I am so sorry, I've been so absorbed in things here I didn't even think to check my calendar. I could have taken days off to come and see you, and I did not. But I would like to take a week out and visit friends from the seminary. As well, I have the ordination of my own former 'diocesan brothers' to think about. Basically I need to get my butt back into Facebook and see who I can reasonably visit, within the boundaries of time and budget. Facebook is a wonderful tool for people like me who tend to drop off the face of the earth; I should stop neglecting it.

C. Getting healthy (especially teeth). I need to schedule appointments with dentists, doctors, and therapists to make sure that I have all of my bodily ducks in a row.

D. Getting skilled/certified. Now that I'm almost done being a teaching, I need to go back to being a student. I'll be collecting lots of important pieces of paper in the next months, including: A+ computer tech certificate, GRE completion, SEI completion, motorcycle license, Diocesan ministry certificate, etc.

E. Planning the new year. No more over-night frenetic planning sessions for me. My second year of teaching is going to be smooth and exciting. I do not want to miss this opportunity to lay out the year, establish a limited set of goals and a series of small, achievable steps to reach them, and to take those steps.

F. Satisfying more material concupiscence. I used my "economic stimulus package" check to buy a 37" Westinghouse LCD monitor (it's a TV without a coaxial cable input, but I achieved a work-around by connecting a coaxial via an old VCR from Good Will). I also managed to pick up a couch, a nice dinner table (free), and possibly, soon, a free recliner. I'm turning my dark little cave of an apartment into a welcome place for guests and gatherings. The last piece of the puzzle at this point is that my walls are still bare.

There's also the video game itch. The biggest itch right now is to be able to play World of Warcraft, which I enjoyed on my ancient (2001) Dell system for the 10-day demo, and now would like to get into more extensively. Considering that the only game I play on my XBox anyway is Oblivion, and it is available on the PC (with downloadable mods!), the XBox is doomed to be replaced with a halfway decent gaming PC. The other major itch is the Wii + Mario Kart and Smash Brothers. The Gamecube versions of these games were staples of my seminary entertainment repertoire.

The last item I've been long contemplating is a motor scooter (hence the motorcycle license above). At the time that I replaced my car, a hybrid vehicle was simply out of my means; unfortunately, even a car with 26mpg in the city is painful to fill up for $160 a month. At that rate, a $4-grand motor scooter would pay for itself after a couple of years, prolong the life and value of the car, take the cost equation out of inner city travel, etc.

G. The dating game. For the last month and a half or so, I've been actively dating. So far, I've made a few good friends, including one who has become very dear to me, but so far I haven't met anyone with much romantic potential. My wise younger brother reminds me that if I go back to grad school theology full time, I'll be surrounded by pretty, like-minded Catholic women. This provides a good amount of caution against becoming too attached to somebody right now. Still, love and relationships can be an unpredictable thing. Last Saturday I had Thai food with a girl who enjoys video games, science fiction, and talking about religion. She also plays the cello, digs the "goth" style, and, oh yeah, is really, really pretty. So far, she seems to have her head screwed on more or less tightly. Always a plus. And yet nothing is ever that simple. Sigh.

So that's what's going with me in a nutshell. I have a week left of exams to take care of, and a few days the following week up cleaning up after myself before I am finally and irrevocably free. Say a prayer for me that my summer follows God's will.

Friday, May 16, 2008

On the homosexuality thing

I am not above engaging in typical blog behavior and weighing in on current events. The California supreme court declared that laws prohibiting gay marriage violate the California constitional right to marriage. Specifically, the statement goes:

Furthermore, in contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights. We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians,whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.

Where do I begin? If I was going to analyze this from a Catholic point of view, I would have to break down the relevant issues into a list--for there are several. Those issues do not form a single conglomerate, but belong to different major groups. The biggest questions would be those concerning:

  1. The relationship between morality, law, and public values.
  2. The origin and nature of the "right to privacy" and the role of government in legislating matters that have private dimensions and public ramifications.
  3. The precise reasons for special cultural and/or religious opposition to homosexual behavior.
  4. The public ramifications of homosexuality (a) as open and practiced, (b) as defining unions that become the center of a family in charge of raising children, and (c) as recognized on equal terms with heterosexuality as a basis for marriage.
  5. The role of the Supreme Court, and the instruments it uses, in determining the conformity of legislation to a constitution.
  6. How homosexuality fits within the context of civil rights, and whether it has distinctive characteristics in this context.
  7. The definition of marriage, the definition of the "right to marry", and the public qualities of marriage as distinct from concrete legal priviledges granted to couples as such.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Obama and elitism

I have been amused by the debate about whether Barack Obama is an elitist. The debate usually goes something like this: "He said that people cling to religion and guns and provincialism because they're bitter." "Obama had the most humble origins of any of the three major candidates; it's ludicrous to call him elitist."

Where I fall in this debate is, actually, closer to those call him an elitist. But Barack's is not the elitism of a character flaw or the elitism of the upper class. No, it is the elitism of the university. And properly speaking, it is not elitism at all (any more than Catholic doctrine on the nature and purpose of sex is "homophobic"). It would be more accurate do describe Obama as a faithful adherent to doctrines prescribed and having a powerful hold over western university culture.

Such doctrines, which echo through the halls of sociology faculties and across the fields of student newspapers and demonstrations, are bound to view the human race as a curious creature more often governed by simple impulse than by reason or scientific truth--that is, after all, why Bush was elected for two terms. And religion itself, in any traditional sense, is more likely to be praised (if at all) for the sociological benefits it provides "simple people" than for opening the door to eternal life.

Now, Barack Obama is a Christian, and I believe, a sincere one. In fact I might regard him the most Christian of the three major candidates. But this doesn't change the fact that he already belonged to another religion before his sincere conversion--the religion of the university. And so, I suspect, his perspective will always draw a line between his Christianity, governed by the "pure reason" of his academic background, and the Christianity of the "bitter people".

Obama talks a great deal about religion. For once I would like to hear him talk theology. That's different. Mr. Obama, why do you believe that the execution of a Jewish man by Roman authorities in ancient Palestine means that you have access to eternal life because you were dunked in water and have a few opinions you call "faith"? That's the question I would like to hear Obama answer.