Addenda

Sound Thinking

18 Jun

Man and woman as created realities

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/18/21

Pope Benedixt XVI on “gender” and the devaluation of the family

On December 21, 2012, less than two months before announcing that he would step down from the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI gave a brief address to the Roman Curia. In anticipation of Christmas — the miraculous formation of the Holy Family — he spoke of some of the challenges facing the Church in the world. He spoke of the various dialogues in which the Church was engaged, “dialogue with states, dialogue with society — which includes dialogue with cultures and with science — and finally dialogue with religions.” He also spoke of the critical need to articulate with confidence the ontological links between human dignity, creaturehood, sexuality, and the family. He inisted that “the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself — about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.” Here is a paragraph from that address:

“The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes so’ (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term ‘gender’ as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.”

The complete text for Pope Benedict’s address is available here.

17 Jun

The abolition of men and women

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/17/21

Douglas Farrow on the anti-humanist logic of “gender”

In 2007, theologian Douglas Farrow presented readers with a slim book titled A Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage. One of the themes in those essays was “the relation between marriage and political freedom, and so also between marriage and religion; for there is no such thing as a non-religious basis for freedom. I want to contend that marriage, understood in classical Christian terms, is a bulwark of human freedom within the state and, if need be, over against it.”

In that book’s Introduction, Farrow acknowledged his identity as “a person with little inclination toward the politically correct, and with no respect whatsoever for the cowardice and apathy that today masquerade as the virtue of tolerance.” Farrow’s courage and passion were recently (in April 2020) evident in an article online titled “No More Lies: Exposing the Roots of Gender Ideology.” 

Farrow — Professor of Theology and Ethics at McGill University in Montreal — observes that the cultural revolution which began as a defiant defense of “free love” has rapidly descended  to “a denial of the goodness and even the importance of the body. It has been led, by its own internal logic, to the current ‘trans’ phenomenon, in which personal identity is said to be created or recreated by the individual agent acting independently of and, if necessary, in opposition to the body. 

“The revolution, in other words, has moved on from licensing sexual liaisons to suppressing the very idea of sex, and with it any coherent thought of the species qua species. We are not animals, after all, which (we said) must obey animal instincts and urges. No, we are almost angels, which do not require bodies. Since we presently have them, however, we will force them to do our bidding.

“This is the thinking, not only of the transgenderist, but also of the transhumanist. As Steve Fuller admits in Humanity 2.0, the latter doubts whether there is anything ‘worth continuing to defend as distinctly “human”.’ Neither works with those high hopes for the human being that once grounded our civilization on the axis of faith that runs from Christmas to Easter. Both labour instead under a heavy load of self-loathing and despair, the load Christ came to lift.”

Later in the article, Farrow argues that the confusion about “gender” in the present generation (who are also, I might add, confused about the fuller meaning of “generation”) has its roots in the divorce culture defended by their parents and grandparents. “We have by our own behaviour generated sufficient insecurity in our children regarding their natural place in the world, and whether they are truly loved by those who brought them into it, for experiences of alienation to multiply and to feed off one another in chaotic fashion. This not only renders clinical work more difficult, it renders the need for compassionate solidarity with those who are suffering more likely to be misconstrued as a need to affirm their present course of action and even to celebrate their own labels for it. This no worthy clinician would ever concede as wise. Neither should we.

“Moreover, it must be recognized that we ourselves, through the underlying culture of contraception and abortion, have created the conditions for doubt about the goodness of the body and about the soul’s relation to the body. Hence also about the public institutions that, just because we are bodily — because we are rational animals and not angels — bind us together in the good life that is the social life. It must be recognized that we ourselves have created the conditions under which it is no longer acknowledged that the will of God (as Augustine says) is the essence of each created thing, but affirmed instead that one’s own will is the essence of the self and of all that concerns the self. And that affirmation cannot sustain public institutions, whether marriage or any other. It cannot sustain public space or social goods at all. It can only break them down, completely and utterly.”

Farrow’s article, published on April 25, 2020, is available online here, at the website of The Catholic World Report.

12 Jun

The obligation of prodigality

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/12/21

Daniel Bell on the logic of the “new capitalism”

“The erosion of traditional American values took place on two levels. In the realm of culture and ideas, the withering attack on small-town life as constricting and banal was first organized in the 1910s by the Young Intellectuals as a self-consciously defined group, and this attack was sustained in the next decade in the journalistic criticism of H. L. Mencken and in the sketches and novels of Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis.

“But a more fundamental transformation was occurring in the social structure itself: the change in the motivations and rewards of the economic system. The rising wealth of the plutocracy, becoming evident in the Gilded Age, meant that work and accumulation were no longer ends in themselves (though they were still crucial to a John D. Rockefeller or an Andrew Carnegie), but means to consumption and display. Status and its badges, not work and the election of God, became the mark of success.

“This is a familiar process of social history with the rise of new classes, though in the past it was military predators whose scions went from spartan to sybaritic living. Yet such parvenu classes could distance themselves from the rest of society, and such social transformations often developed independently of changes in the lives of the classes below. But the real social revolution in modern society came in the 1920s, when the rise of mass production and high consumption began to transform the life of the middle class itself. In effect the Protestant ethic is a social reality and a lifestyle for the middle class was replaced by a materialistic hedonism, and the Puritan tempered by a psychological eudaemonism. But bourgeois society, justified and propelled as it had been in its earliest energies by these older ethics, could not admit easily admit to the change. It promoted a hedonistic way of life furiously — one has only to look at the transformation of advertising in the 1920s — but could not justify it. It lacked a new religion or value system to replace the old, and the result was disjunction.

“In one respect what we see here is an extraordinary historic change in human society. For thousands of years, the function of economics was to provide the daily necessities — the subsistence — of life. For various upper-class groups, economics has been the basis of status and a sumptuary style. But now, on a mass scale, economics had become geared to the demands of culture. Here, too, culture, not as expressive symbolism or moral meanings but as lifestyle, came to reign supreme.

“The ‘new capitalism’ (the phrase was first used in the 1920s) continued to demand a Protestant ethic in the area of production — that is, in the realm of work — but to stimulate a demand for pleasure and play in the area of consumption. The disjunction was bound to widen. The spread of urban life, with its variety of distractions and multiple stimuli; the new roles of women, created by the expansion of office jobs and the freer social and sexual context; the rise of a national culture through motion pictures and radio — all contributed to a loss of social authority on the part of the older value system.

“The Puritan temper might be described most simply by the term ‘delayed gratification,’ and by restraint in gratification. It is, of course, the Malthusian injunction for prudence in a world of scarcity. But the claim of the American economic system was that it had introduced abundance, and the nature of abundance is to encourage prodigality rather than prudence. A higher standard of living, not work as an end in itself, then becomes the engine of change. The glorification of plenty, rather than the bending to niggardly nature, becomes the justification of the system. But all of this was highly incongruent with the theological and sociological foundations of nineteenth-century Protestantism, which was in turn the foundation of the American value system.”

— from Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Basic Books, 1976)

Read more from Bell’s book here.

12 Jun

The moral imperative of having fun

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/12/21

Daniel Bell on the sovereignty of fun

“Van Wyck Brooks once remarked about morality in Catholic countries that as long as heavenly virtues are upheld, mundane behavior may change as it will. In America, the old Protestant heavenly virtues are largely gone, and the mundane rewards have begun to run riot. The basic American value pattern emphasized the virtue of achievement, defined as doing and making, and a man displayed his character in the quality of his work. By the 1950s, the pattern of achievement remained, but it had been redefined to emphasize status and taste. The culture was no longer concerned with how to work and achieve, but with how to spend and enjoy. Despite some continuing use of the language of the Protestant ethic, the fact was that by the 1950s American culture had become primarily hedonistic, concerned with play, fun, display, and pleasure — and, typical of things in America, in a compulsive way.

“The world of hedonism is the world of fashion, photography, advertising, television, travel. It is a world of make-believe in which one lives for expectations, for what will come rather than what is. And it must come without effort. . . .

“Nothing epitomized the hedonism of the United States better than the State of California. A cover story in Time, called ‘California: A State of Excitement,’ opened:

“‘California is virtually a nation unto itself, but it holds a strange hope, a sense of excitement — and some terror — for Americans. As most of them see it, the good, godless, gregarious pursuit of pleasure is what California is all about. The citizens of lotusland seem forever to be lolling around swimming pools, sautéing in the sun, packing across the Sierra, frolicking nude on the beaches, getting taller every year, plucking money off the trees, romping around topless, tramping through the redwoods and — when they stop to catch their breath — preening themselves on-camera before the rest of an envious world. “I have seen the future,” says the newly returned visitor from California, “and it plays.”’

“Fun morality, in consequence, displaces ‘goodness morality,’ which stressed interference with impulses. Not having fun is an occasion for self-examination: ‘What is wrong with me?’ As Dr. Wolfenstein observes: ‘Whereas gratification of forbidden impulses traditionally aroused guilt, failure to have fun now lowers one’s self-esteem.’ [The quote is from Martha Wolfenstein, “The Emergence of Fun Morality," in Mass Leisure, ed. Eric Larabee and Rolf Meyerson (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1958), p. 86.]

“Fun morality centers, in most instances, on sex. And here the seduction of the consumer has become almost total. . . .

“What this abandonment of Puritanism and the Protestant ethic does, of course, is to leave capitalism with no moral or transcendental ethic. It also emphasizes not only the disjunction between the norms of the culture and the norms of the social structure, but also an extraordinary contradiction within the social structure itself. On the one hand, the business corporation wants an individual to work hard, pursue a career, accept delayed gratification — to be, in the crude sense, an organization man. And yet, in its products and its advertisements, the corporation promises pleasure, instant joy, relaxing and letting go. One is to be ‘straight’ by day and a ‘swinger’ by night. This is self-fulfillment and self-realization!”

— from Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Basic Books, 1976)

Read more from Bell’s book here.

 

12 Jun

The legitimizing role of hedonism

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/12/21

Daniel Bell on what replaced the Protestant Ethic

“In the early development of capitalism, the unrestrained economic impulse was held in check by Puritan restraint and the Protestant ethic. One worked because of one’s obligation to one’s calling, or to fulfill the covenant of the community. But the Protestant ethic was undermined not by modernism but by capitalism itself. The greatest single engine in the destruction of the Protestant ethic was the invention of the installment plan, or instant credit. Previously one had to save in order to buy. But with credit cards one could indulge in instant gratification. The system was transformed by mass production and mass consumption, by the creation of new wants and new means of gratifying those wants.

“The Protestant ethic had served to limit sumptuary (though not capital) accumulation. When the Protestant ethic was sundered from bourgeois society, only the hedonism remained, and the capitalist system lost its transcendental ethic. There remains the argument that capitalism serves as the basis for freedom, and for a rising standard of living and the defeat of poverty. Yet even if these arguments were true — for it is clear that freedom depends more upon the historical traditions of a particular society than upon the system of capitalism itself; and even the ability of the system to provide for economic growth is now questioned — the lack of a transcendental tie, the sense that a society fails to provide some set of ‘ultimate meanings’ in its character structure, work, and culture, becomes unsettling to a system.

“The cultural, if not moral justification of capitalism has become hedonism, the idea of pleasure as a way of life. And in the liberal ethos that now prevails, the model for a cultural imago has become the modernist impulse, with its ideological rationale of the impulse quest as a mode of conduct. It is this which is the cultural contradiction of capitalism.”

— from Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Basic Books, 1976)

Read more from Bell’s book here.

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