The Catholic Thing
Hallowe’en & Hallowtide Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Friday, 31 October 2014

Editor’s Note:
A bright young woman of good judgment - not surprisingly, a sometime student of the Great Schall - said to me last night that our coverage of the Extraordinary Synod was “both terrifying and somehow, at the same time, reassuring.” A lot of our work about the Church and the world these days probably would fit the same description. We’re falling away not only from the explicit Christian principles that have long shaped our whole civilization and - as David Warren has brilliantly shown today - from the ordinary daily practices that, even more than formal teaching, once conveyed the tested forms of faith and reason to new generations. And must again, must be made to again by those of us who still remember them and know their importance. The only reassuring part is that we understand and will not shirk the responsibility. All this is just to say that the tasks are many and difficult, and the laborers in the vineyard few. And the support needed not huge, but vital. Every donation we receive - large or small - is spent directly on this vital labor. I’ve taken heart at the number of new readers in particular who have responded this year and am deeply grateful for the many long-time readers whose support, year in and year out, has been one of our mainstays. Several of you have chosen to make automatic monthly commitments, which are relatively painless and really add up. We’ll be making it easier as our redesigned site goes live next week for you to chose that option. But please don’t wait. We’ve heard about “the fierce urgency of now” from figures committed to eliminating the Catholic thing from public life. What kind of Catholic are we, if we don’t act, swiftly, vigorously, effectively? Please, do your part and make your fully tax-deductible contribution to our work today. - Robert Royal

At a time when the world and the Church are in a mess – and when was it otherwise? – we should perhaps give some occasional thought to staying level, stable, and sane.

In an email, I received some batty thing denouncing Hallowe’en as a satanic festival, founded on the pagan celebration of Samhain and. . .whatever, as they say. To my sight, the author, at least nominally Catholic, was not well informed. The pagan threat he was alluding to did not come from another century. It comes from now.

Catholics, generally, in these parts (I speak only of the parts I know) are not well informed these days. I’m beginning to think the Church may have something to do with it: for as we pursue a more worldly agenda, our own slips away. Hallowe’en provides a good example.

A more Catholic event would be hard to imagine. Today is the eve and vigil of “All Hallows” or Saints, which is in turn succeeded by the feast of “All Souls” (and before the “Spirit of Vatican II,” with an Octave). It is a triduum of Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory. The Communion of the Saints is an extremely Catholic idea. I would further say, Christian, but if our separated brethren wish to deny this. . .who am I to judge?

The dead are alive. Paradoxical as that may sound, it is our “traditional” belief. The human soul is immortal: fortunately in some cases, misfortunately in others. I recall from childhood Calvinist expression of outrage against Catholics “praying for the dead.” I didn’t understand it at the time. The penny dropped later.

It was one of those strange little scruples that, even to the mind of a child, suggests stridency: some human thinks he knows better than God.

Later, I got the point of this “anti-doctrine.” The existence of Purgatory denied, God must assign everyone immediately to Heaven or to Hell, and nothing their survivors can do will help them, one way or t’other. It is all settled, and the mother who slips, “through mediaeval superstition,” into praying for, say, her dead son, should be punished for her sin. Indeed, this I learned from just such a mother, whose “traditional” Protestant faith was being cracked by the cruelty of this old, anti-Catholic dictum.

Let the existence of Purgatory therefore be affirmed. That, anyway, is what I could tell her. No loving God would send people to hell if there were any way to save them. No loving God would ignore a mother’s prayers for her son. If we may pray for, and with, the living, we may pray for, and with, the dead. For the dead are also living.

And not only on Earth, and not only in Purgatory. The communion of “the quick and the dead,” with the saints in the Body of Christ, is at the heart of our religion. Hence, the holy processions I have witnessed, of the living with their candles, through the cemeteries on All Hallows’ Eve – to their family graves, the graves of their ancestors, the graves of all beloved. We recognize that they are living still.

         All Souls’ Day by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1859)

To the modern “rational” mind, which has passed through the Reformation and the Enlightenment, and thence beyond reach of Christian teaching, this is ridiculous superstition. The dead are dead, and no quaint custom can alter the fact. After the life of a midge, we are dead forever. (It was on Hallowe’en, in 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of All Saints Church at Wittenberg; if you will, the original “trick or treat.”)

Life, to this modern view, post-Protestant and post-Catholic alike, is an accident of Evolution; neither life nor death can have any “meaning” – beyond what edicts and jackboots can impose.

In some class I am teaching in a seminary somewhere, we have been reading novels. In Shusaku Endo’s Silence, we encounter a spooky refrain of children, in early 17th-century Nagasaki. Lanterns were hung out for Urabon, rather as our jack-o'-lanterns; it is a harvest thanksgiving festival with strange parallels to our Western Hallowe’en. An imprisoned Portuguese missionary hears, somewhere in the streets beyond his cell: 

     O lantern, bye-bye-bye,
     If you throw a stone at it your hand withers away;
     O lantern, bye-bye-bye,
     If you throw a stone at it your hand withers away.
The priest is struck by the plaintiveness of the children’s voices, heard far off. An image of ghostly children forms in the reader’s mind.

I thought, for instance, of children in Mexico, summoning the angelitos – all the dead children to come play with them. Today, one cannot help but think of the spirits of the millions upon millions of dead children, sacrificed in our ultra-modern Carthaginian rites, to the gods of sexual liberation.

“How ghoulish!” our ultra-modern will complain. For our way to deal with death is not to think about it; medicating, as it comes into view.

That death is, in some sense, ghoulish, we recognized within Hallowe’en, and have always recognized in Christian ritual, wherein not death but Hell is to be feared. Think of all the centuries when children, who were earnestly wanted, died before they could grow; in which little ones were consigned to the grave, as a common occurrence. (And we, who do not much care for children, easily assume their mothers did not weep.)

It is said, by the glib, that Hallowe’en was derived from some pagan festival, such as that Gaelic Samhain – perhaps forgetting that there were people in the ancient world who were not Celtic. We could with equal plausibility found it upon Urabon in Japan, or the Chinese festival of the Double Ninth. For there is no culture, of which I am aware, that does not commemorate the dead; and most such festivals, mysteriously enough, coincide with harvest.

We Christianized this: made it an occasion for Christian teaching. And if Hallowe’en has reverted to paganism in our time, then fine, we must Christianize it again. 

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Obama: The End of “Affirmative Action”? Print E-mail
By Howard Kainz   
Thursday, 30 October 2014

The 2008 and 2012 election and reelection of Barak Obama may be considered the triumph of affirmative action – something that would have been impossible in the 1960s or 70s, but possible now because the great majority of whites had put aside those old prejudices that had given rise to affirmative action in the first place. Massive, almost orchestrated, cooperation of the mainstream media downplayed Obama’s Marxist leanings, anti-American church membership, support of infanticide while serving as an Illinois state senator, and – certainly an important consideration – almost complete lack of relevant administrative experience.

Not just the mainstream media, but Christians, considering themselves at the forefront of civil rights, after the pattern of Martin Luther King, staunchly supported the drive of candidate Obama – not to mention “Catholics for Obama,” inspired to spread the gospel of “inclusiveness” and “social justice,” according to the widespread interpretation of the “Spirit of Vatican II.” Some Christians were no doubt intent on making reparations for past injustices/crimes/sins.

But this unquestionable triumph also led to extremes – not only were minorities and females plentifully included in key cabinet and administrative posts, but affirmative action under the rubric of rainbow “diversity” was extended to “minorities” crossing the southern border, to homosexuals in the military, and to gays in general (who would just happen to be reliable Democrats in their voting habits). And an extreme-feminist, across-the-board “litmus test” was applied for membership in the administration and for judgeships and other positions subject to administration appointments – namely, the unwritten requirement of being pro-abortion.

It is not only Republicans who have suggested incompetence in the Obama administration – including, for example, the half-billion dollar contribution to the failed solar-panel firm Solyndra; the 400-million dollar investment in producing a madhouse Obamacare website; the invasion of Libya without Congressional or Cabinet approval; the criminal indifference to the pleas of Ambassador Christopher Stevens for protection at the Benghazi embassy; the unlawful and disorganized Operation Fast and Furious, placing massive amounts of weaponry in the hands of drug smugglers; the indifference to reports of negligence in the Veterans Administration; the “Keystone Cops” lifestyle of Secret Service Agents; the “red line” threats and subsequent backtracking on Syria; the rush to pull troops out of Iraq in spite of cautions from military advisors.

But the main problem with the Obama administration has been in the area of his acknowledged competence. As an untenured lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago, he might have been expected to show unusual competency in understanding and defending the Constitution. He boasted of this at a March 30, 2007, fund-raiser: “I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution.”

           President Obama speaks to students at Dartmouth College

Nevertheless, fidelity to this oath has been Obama’s Achilles heel – especially when it comes to what is said to be one of the most important characteristics of the American Constitution – the “separation of powers” between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

  • President Obama personally disagreed with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton, and thus ordered non-enforcement of DOMA, and paved the way for recognition of same-sex marriages.
  • With regard to Obamacare, the President promised in 2009 to maintain the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding for abortion, passed by Congress in 1976 and revised in 1993 to include exceptions for rape and incest. But about half of the presently available Obamacare plans pay for abortion on demand.
  • The recent HHS mandate requiring private insurance coverage of abortifacient drugs, even by those with religious objections, also involves rejection of the Hyde Amendment, and as former pro-life Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak objected, it even violates statutory law.
  • Congress has the final authority over immigration law according to Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution. In 2009 Congress defeated the DREAM Act (legislation for the Development, Relief and Education or Alien Minors), which Obama had proposed, and which would have nullified the illegal status of certain immigrants who had come to America as children. But Obama, through a 2012 memo from Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security, offered legal status to many illegal immigrants under 30.                                                      

Thus Obama’s admitted competency in constitutional law offered no guarantee he would respect the Constitution’s  “separation of powers.” 

     The president and his cabinet discussing Ebola

Affirmative action has accomplished its initial purposes, ending many injustices caused by prejudice, and achieving victory by bringing into the Oval Office someone who (unfairly) would never have had the slightest chance in previous decades. But should it be continued?

Some states have lately come to the conclusion that affirmative action in college admissions has accomplished its purposes, and can be deemphasized or dismantled. This trend was indicated in the April 22 Supreme Court case Schuette v. BAMN and the 6-2 decision (Justice Kagan recused herself) upholding Michigan’s ballot initiative against racial preferences in college admissions. The Court ruled that “there is no authority. . .for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit to the voters the determination whether racial preferences may be considered in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school decisions.”

One should also take into account the unavoidable and often unfair stigma attached to minorities or females who have risen to positions of success with the help of affirmative action – or the unfair presupposition that those who succeeded on their own, in spite of obstacles, “must have been helped” by affirmative action.

Justice Sotomayor in her dissent to the Schuette decision brought up the widespread “doubt” by minorities about “belonging” to mainstream society. Chief Justice Roberts responded to that objection: “[I]t is not ‘out of touch with reality’ to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and – if so – that the preferences do more harm than good.”

It’s probably time for a new conversation about what constitutes racial justice in our day.

Editor’s Note: I want to take this opportunity again to thank all of you who have given – and generously – to our current fund drive. It’s been encouraging to all of us at TCT to hear from you about your enthusiasm for our work. As Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in the Foreword to the anthology drawn from the first five years of The Catholic Thing: “The Catholic Thing is the kind of little miracle that ripples out to touch lives in powerful ways.” 
Without many powerful new initiatives, most of which will not be set in motion by bishops or priests, our culture will follow the self-destructive path along which it has already traveled very far. A very few lay people with very few dollars started this site six years ago believing that our Catholic culture is the richest, the most truly human thing in the world – and that the world was wandering for lack of exposure to it. 

We’re getting close to our fundraising goals now, but we’re still not there. We receive no government grants, rest on no endowments, but depend on the generosity of people like you for our very existence, year to year. 

We have faith in you. A few months ago, I went ahead with a plan to redesign our site to make it more user friendly and easier to monitor Comments, and to allow us to post a little more material without distracting from our daily column. I’m told that next week you’ll have a chance, finally, to see that. 

But these things don’t happen without your help. Please, if you appreciate what we bring you here, every day of the year, make your tax-deuctible donation – $50, $100, $1,000 – or whatever you can manage. I’ve been struck by how many of you are now setting up a regular monthly payment via PayPal. Only $5 a month means $60 a year; $10 means $120. It’s a painless way to make a big difference.
            And if we don’t try to make that difference, who will? – Robert Royal
Howard Kainz is emeritus professor of philosophy at Marquette University. His most recent publications include Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004)The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.