A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ash Wednesday

This is the first day of the Season of Doing Without.  The Christian Ramadan, as some have put it, perhaps confused a bit over which came first.  

One of the thing the Late Modern mind has difficulty grasping is allowing an appetite to go unslaked.  If it feels good, DO IT!  What do we want?  You name it.  When do we want it?  NOW! 

The ancient hedonists never confused pleasure with the good.  The indulgence of the senses results in a flabby mind and body; and modern neuroscience tells us that habituating such neural patterns interferes with the formation of neural patters originating in the neocortex.  Or in the older formulation: "Sin makes you stupid." 

But the Late Modern is as unfamiliar with the stern pagan virtues as he is with the laughing Christian ones.  But "virtue" means "strength" and a season of Lent could be thought of as a month at a fat farm or in the gym.  Exercising muscle groups is the flip side of exercising moral muscles.  Of course, as the "obesity epidemic" demonstrates, we are as adverse to the one as to the other.  As the Greeks, Romans, and Christians observed, the two tend to go together.  Mens sana in corpore sano

So Lent is not only about giving up pleasures (if only to prove that we can.  Who is the master, after all?)  It is also about building positive strengths.  Toning down lust may help strengthen love.  Fighting sloth may improve commitment.  Give me ten reps on the Temperance machine.  Half an hour on the moral elliptical. 
Some years ago, my friend Raj, who is a Hindu, announced that he was giving up both beef and single malt whiskey.  He wanted some favor from the gods and, as he explained it, if you want to get something, you must give up something.  It struck me as curious that, as a Hindu, he was giving up beef.  Wasn't he supposed to avoid beef to begin with?  I am not a northerner, he said by way of explanation.  Apparently, southern India is more laid back about such things.  When we went to eat, he would explain to the waiter, "I am being vegetarian this month."  The whole thing seemed oddly mechanical, as if his gods were cosmic vending machines.  If you inserted the requisite sacrifice in the slot, the desired good would fall into the tray.  But this is a blindness not at all restricted to him. 
But when it comes to Giving Up Something for Lent, Benedict XVI has set the bar awfully high.  I mean, look at what he is giving up...
+ + +

And of course the mainstream media can't get past the horserace mentality.  The touting has begun.  One really wishes the Spook would pull something out of his back pocket, just to irritate the punditry.  Everything is power and politics, of course; and matters are judged accordingly as they agree with Caesar's view of things or not.  Already, voices at the Times and the WaPo have  wondered breathlessly whether this time the Church will Get With It on the pelvic issues that so obsess modern secular culture, as if these thing were simply policy decisions made by an administration.  Life is hell for people stuck inside their own paradigm. 


  1. There seem to be way too many people who don't want a Pope who's so . . . Catholicky.

    1. A good number of them think that since they're Catholic, they are quite Catholicky enough and so the Pope can be like them.

  2. I keep hearing the media push for an African or Latin American pope, but their reasoning is simply so that there is an African or Latin American Pope. True, Latin America is almost completely Catholic, and Protestantism is not so far ahead in Anglophone Africa as it once was. I don't get why the Western World is in such a rush to break demographic precedents just for the sake of it. It will all happen in time; sometimes the best person for the job doesn't stand out in the demographic crowd.

    1. It is difficult for those focused on accidents rather than substances to understand that such things might be of almost no importance, one way or the other. There are other criteria beside posing.

    2. Latin America is not as monolithically Catholic as it used to be. Evangelical Protestantism has made inroads into the flock in many places, and no few of those seem to have wound up in los EEUU.

    3. My understanding is that several Popes of the past were known to have been born in Africa. However, their skin color is unknown. All sat in the Papal chair before the year 500 rolled around.

      Latin America didn't have that opportunity, obviously.

      I, too, am mystified as to the importance of the birthplace of any Pope.

  3. The ironic thing is that those clamoring now for Pope from Africa or Latin America will not be pleased if they get their wish. They will find out that in many ways these bishops - as a simplified whole - are more brazen - perhaps overly so, in some cases, blunt, and evangelical, as "Vaticanologist" John Allen observed. Simply, they have not culturally experienced the cultural wane of Christianity and its mellowing out in the West following the "Enlightenment."

    1. In a British mag:
      Despite his surprising candour on the subject of succeeding Pope Benedict XVI, Turkson was "quick" to take a conservative line on controversial issues such as gay marriage and other "alternative lifestyles", the Telegraph says. He said the Catholic Church needed to find ways to "evangelise" or convert those who had embraced "alternative lifestyles, trends or gender issues".

      Notice the pile of preconceptions in that one sentence; esp. the use of "despite."

    2. With Turkson it's a matter of the College deciding whether his skin color will appease more people than his views will turn off.

  4. In honor of the Russian meteorite, a song that could be Mariesa's anthem:


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