,There was this time in a galaxy not far away and not long ago when I had been, more or less, brainwashed into thinking that conservatism good, liberalism bad. Remember Tarzan, Tonto and Frankenstein on the old SNL of the 80s. “Fire BAD!!”. I have to hear that Phil Hartman voice in my head when I think that, “Conservatism, GOOD, Liberalism, BAD!!! ARHG!!!” I mean that was where I was in my faith formation. Not sure really why I fell into that trap. Maybe because I had felt a little out of control at a point in my life and because I didn’t want to tip off that side of the edge again I went for the other. Whatever the reason, I was there. Steeped. Hook, line and sinker. The whole nine yards. Insert favorite trope.
During my time as a goponly-Catholic, that’s GOP, only, I talked a lot about moral relativism, as if it was a problem of the left. Because, come on, my perspective as a conservative was so balanced and perfect. How could it not be? I wasn’t one of those liberals. It’s like the scene in scripture with the Pharisee and the Samaritan, right? I was pretty much praying daily, “Lord, thank you for not making me be a like these despicable Liberals”. I mean, wow. That was where I was for a lot of years. And during that time if you asked me about the biggest issue ever I would have echoed Pope Benedict and I would have said the “Dictatorship of Moral Relativism” is the biggest issue we face in our modern culture. Which is still true, Benedict wasn’t off base, it’s just how do you see the relativism that becomes the question.
I grew up in the country in a small rural community of central Kentucky. Tobacco was the cash crop of the local economy and while my parents didn’t farm, one of my older sisters married a tobacco farmer when I was 7. She was 17. That’s another rural Kentucky thing but not germane to my story, so we’ll save that for another blog. So, tobacco, that was the backbone of many a tiny community in a number of states and a cash crop from everyone from the smallest guy who could sell a crop for a fair price to the larger operators who could make hundreds of thousands, tobacco was good for a lot of people. Or was it? Then we saw tighter restrictions on the industry and more evidence of the harmful effects of tobacco products and now where you would drive through the country and see acres an acres of tobacco it’s all but gone.
Now you may say that my story has nothing to do with relativism. Facts have proven that tobacco is dangerous and cancerous and it needs to be stopped. Regardless of the livelihoods of the farmers who once relied on the cash from the crop, tobacco BAD!!!. But what if we looked a popular sacred cow for both sides of the religious spectrum, contraception. There’s evidence saying that "the Pill" is a Class One Carcinogen. Yet there are those who say it’s vital to women’s health and must be covered in insurance plans. Then there are those who are trying to be faithful Catholics and they can’t seem to catch a break because they are trying not to use contraceptives but they are going nuts with no time between pregnancies and 5 kids in diapers. So is there a moral truth here? Is there a solid footing to stand on and with one side of the argument or the other?
I saw a Facebook post from a friend recently that essentially said, “The Church tells me I can only trust my conscience if it’s formed by Church teaching, that’s not conscience that’s brainwashing”. Interesting, isn’t it? So, could there be truth for you and not truth for me? Are there true absolutes that we can never dispel? Is there a starting point and an ending point? I used to use an exercise where I’d try to find a lowest common denominator of “absolute truth”. We might be talking about what’s relative and then I might say, “so you think sex is good for anyone when it’s consensual? What if it’s forced? What if it involves children? Then we can agree it’s wrong, right?” And with this I thought I could strip moral relativism down to a nugget that we could agree upon but at the same time I was holding my biases as a goponly-Catholic.
I started digging into this a few years back and stumbled onto Aristotle. What I found in exploring his perspectives was that balance and tension seem to be really important with any virtue. See, before this understanding, I thought virtue was just the extreme opposite of vice. I had a very puritanical understanding of extremism that really pushed me way out of balance for a long time. Without tension and balance we have truly vicious cycles. Our desire to be virtuous only becomes a greater vice because of how vicious we become in our opposition of the vice we’re opposing. It sounds really crazy when we step back from it. But how often are we told this is the way to roll? Flee, fight, run, jump in the thorn bush naked, whatever it takes just don’t sin. Sin, BAD!!!
So there has to be an absolute right? And there has to be something that can make all of this craziness sensible. Please. Tell me there’s something to believe in. That’s the old Poison song. Not as big of a hit as Every Rose Has its Thorn, but it was up there. Years upon years ago, 12 or 15 years ago, I went to confession with a priest who was a Dominican Provincial. Not that that matters to the story, except that if you are running a province of half the country and you’re a Dominican you’re probably pretty smart. In the confession, he shared with me this. And it began a blossoming of a seed in me to the point that I have the perspectives I have now, but he said this. “Leo, there are Nazi’s and Communist in the Church today. The Nazis want to return to time that never was, and the Communists want to arrive at a time that never will be. The only place to be as a Catholic is to stand solidly in balance at the center where you can say, and mean it, this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”
Pretty profound when you think about it. Are we standing in balance or imbalance? Are we vicious in our pursuits of virtue, or are we truly virtuous? I think we need to ask ourselves a lot more questions. We don’t ask enough. We’re the worst about this. I’ve really tried to stop and ask people I’m talking to what they mean, or what their reference was, or the big word they used. I’ll try to ask the right questions. I try to say, is there balance in what I’m doing and thinking or am I about to slip off the edge? St. Paul’s crazy, “Everything is lawful but not everything is expedient” quote comes to mind. We can do what we want, sure. We have free will. But is what I’m doing getting me closer to balance or further out? Are my politics running the show? Or, am I really looking out for my neighbor, even if my neighbor takes a knee during the National Anthem, or flies a Confederate flag?
Relativism is dictated on both sides of politics. And, I think most often dictated in politics. Jesus said the law and the prophets and the greatest commandment all boiled down to two things, "Love God and love others." I take that to mean only one thing. I show my love of God by how I love you. Do I truly uphold the dignity of all? Do I try to stick up for injustices when and where I see them? Or do I just tow a party line because that’s the way I roll? Maybe a little more awareness that we can be as guilty of the things we accuse others of being would go a long way.
We have a wonderful theological understanding of mystery. We ponder the mysteries of the Rosary, for example. It’s not there to solve, but to reflect enough to allow the mystery to affect us the way it’s supposed to affect us. This is what we need more of because nothing is more mysterious than two faithful individuals disagreeing on an important issue. If that’s what’s happening, and it happens all the time, maybe it’s time to explore that mystery in our own hearts. We don’t have to label the other person a relativist, or, God forbid, a Liberal, or Conservative. Liberal, BAD!!! No. Stop and ponder. Stop and ask. Stop and try to see the other side enough that you might even see yourself in that other individual enough to love them for their flaws, because if they’re like you they’re flawed. I know this, I know this because I know me. And I assure you I'm liberally flawed.
at Yeah, so I have a little theory here. I may be wrong, because at this point I think it’s pure speculation and really anything could be a possibility still, but come on. I am a human. I’m also a dude. And dudes have this really weird thing about respect. At least some of us do. It might have something to do with a Meyers-Briggs or DISC personality test but some of us really hate it when we feel like we’re being disrespected. Some of us, like me, hate it so much that we build companies to prove others wrong, that’s about the most productive thing we could do. But some of us decide we’re going to be president and some who are president, decide to invade other countries and then, still some others, like the apparently super thin-skinned Stephen Paddock decide to kill as many people as he can, but in a very specific place. I’ll walk through each of these scenarios and see what we come up with.
First, lets look at the Vegas shooter. What’s got people baffled is that he doesn’t seem to fit a profile. He’s not an alt-right militia member, he’s not anti-government, he’s not ISIS, and he’s not a racist, or white supremacist, so what is the deal with this guy? He didn’t leave some kind of manifesto to inspire others to follow in his footsteps, so why did he do what he did? It just doesn’t add up. Or does it? We know that Paddock booked rooms in recent months at at least two other concert venues that overlooked the crowd. Now, some may think he wanted to mask his gunfire so he needed a loud and chaotic environment to make this happen. Plausible yes, but that’s not a real reason to do what he did, as I see it. Here’s what I think, and why I think he chose the venue he did.
It’s been said that Paddock was the most passive aggressive, but undoubtedly aggressive, individual you could ever know. It’s been reported that he would keep an unlit cigar around just so he could light it and blow smoke in the faces of people who pissed him off. Here’s my theory. And I think it’s way more plausible than any government cover-up. I think he pissed off the wrong guy one night in a casino. And that guy was either a concert promoter, an agent or, maybe a big-time tech guy who does festivals. Whatever the specific profession means little. All Paddock cared about was ruining him. Now he could have tracked down his family and killed them, or just killed the guy. But a twisted guy like Paddock knew the only way to really get in the craw of the dude who pissed him off was to destroy his livelihood. If this guy’s whole career and self-worth was built on concerts, especially outdoor concerts, then what’s the best way to destroy the dude? Shoot up one of his shows. If I were an investigator I’d be looking to see if there were any common players in the concerts that he’d looked at before choosing Vegas.
But here’s the real stupid thing about this type of vengeance, it never, maybe I should say, rarely, ever lands on the guy it’s intended for. If this crazy idea is the way it went down the concert dude probably doesn’t even remember Paddock. Like, it was probably such a non-issue, or a drunken stupor, that the guy wouldn’t remember this Paddock dude at all, or even remember ever having a run in with anyone for that matter. Hell, it could have been over some chick that Paddock thought he had dibs on. Who knows? That’s what’s so incredibly stupid here. But, that’s how this shit works for immature dudes. I know this. I’ve been there, when I twelve mind you, but I did something similar as a kid.
I remember in middle school getting slammed into a locker by a dumb bully kid. Did I say anything to him? Did he even know who I was? No clue. But that summer, I got out my yearbook, scratched his face out and plotted his murder. Right, because that’s the crazy stuff 12 year-old boys do. We have huge egos and huge emotions and we make ourselves crazy. But the really crazy thing is here’s the dude who’s murder I’m plotting doing flips off the high-dive all summer without a care in the world and he doesn’t even know I exist. I know this to be a fact, btw, that that’s what this dude was doing because I stalked him as I plotted the murder. But still, I meant nothing to him. Nothing. I doubt he even remembered the locker incident. I was just another target for him as he did what he did in the halls of school everyday. It wasn’t personal. I made it that way. It was my hell, not his.
Look at our president, as an example. There was the, what 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, where Obama lampooned and roasted him all night. Funny, really funny stuff, but Trump wasn’t laughing. That stone-faced bastard sat there, first plotting Obama’s murder, I’m sure. Just like me with the middle school kid. Just like Paddock, as well. But then Trump hatched a plan that would be even better than killing Obama and that would be to become president and systematically destroy his legacy. Sitting there in the hot seat that night, steaming his ass off, about to bust a gasket, he resolved to seek vengeance upon Barack Obama by hitting him where it could hurt most. Get in the White House and undo everything became the plan at that moment. And did Obama know, or care? It certainly doesn’t seem so. He’s moving on to building a lasting legacy with his foundation that builds real change because it’s non-political. It wouldn’t surprise me if that were Obama’s plan all along, trudge through the presidency so you could do more on the other side than you did in office. Ever heard of Jimmy Carter? Surely that had to be his plan. How else could you explain that administration?
Speaking of presidents and vengeance there’s the crazy deal with Bush 43. If you remember, during his dad’s presidency, we invaded Iraq because of their hostile takeover of Kuwait. It seemed like the right thing to do because we were taking up for the little guy. I, personally, was opposed to it and organized protests of the Gulf War on my college campus, me and maybe two others turned out, and we just got high and spoke a little louder than normal about peace and unjust war. We were on a pretty conservative campus and how we didn’t get our asses beat still astounds me. I guess we didn’t burn flags or take knees. We were probably viewed as the harmless stoners we were. Regardless, we tried to do our part. But back to my story, so after things settled down after the Gulf War and somewhere during the Clinton administration there was a big mosaic made of a likeness of Bush 41’s face that was in the middle of one of the most heavily traveled town squares in all of Iraq. Of course, in their culture, this is the worst thing you can do is offer someone the bottom of your shoe. It would be like if every toilet in the US had an image of Saddam Hussein in the bowl. But this was there in Iraq and Bush 43 knew it when he got in office, or before even. So he planned his vengeance.
And remember this? We had this team of UN weapons inspectors scouring the land looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction all over Iraq never to find anything, only for us to be the WMD in the end with our invasion and taking down of Hussein. Then we ended up with even worse with the Taliban and Al Qaeda and now ISIS. All because a cowboy got his chaps in a wad and decided to seek vengeance.
So thank God we have a real model of how this is supposed to work. I mean Jesus is pretty clear. Turn your damn cheek. Why? Because IF you do this, you are not plotting vengeance on anyone. You’ve let bygones immediately be bygones. You’re not harboring any of that rage, you’re not welling up with pride to the breaking point that you’re gonna go and wipe out as many people as you can just to take down the dude who slapped you. Hell no! You’ve let it go. Look at the crazy ass way Jesus went to trial. He could have been his own defense attorney and, no doubt, have been a great one. But no, he went silently like a lamb to be slaughtered. In honesty I’d be surprised if lambs, about which I know nothing mind you, didn’t go to slaughter freaking out, but Jesus didn’t. That’s some amazing super-human stuff when you think about it. But it’s our model and example for how to deal with things before rage gets the best of us.
If, if we really decided to take Jesus for the example he is we’d change the world. If we didn’t do crazy shit like shoot up concerts, or decide to be president even if we had to pay Russia to help us, or invade a country, but if we really just let it go, and not in the Disney’s Frozen Let it Go fashion, but in the Jesus way, how much happier would we be? And how much better would the world be?
Tonight at dinner, after a particularly challenging day with our oldest boy who’s 10, he turned to our 5 year-old son and asked, “How do you stay so happy?” To which our 5 year-old responded, without missing a beat, “Oh that's easy, just love Mama.” Wow, out of the mouths of babes, right? Just love. Just try that that hat on for a while and not the asshat and see what it does for you. Can we try to not be so uptight about every damn little thing? Can we give people the benefit of the doubt and realize that they’re really probably not out to get you, or that they probably didn’t even notice you? Can we stop plotting the deaths of those who piss us off that might just end up hurting or killing a lot more and then maybe not even really affect the one we wanted to screw?
I’ve heard it attributed to a few but I’d like to think it was Dorothy Day who said it for real and that’s this, “we love God only as much as the person we like the least”. Maybe start there. Not ready for love? That’s OK; just try a little bit more like in your life.
Tomorrow is the official launch, but to prepare for that this might be a good question to answer.
What is a cathovist?
A cathovist is someone desiring to see positive change in a world that seems to be either stagnant, or worse yet, regressing. We might not don black Antifa hoodies and try to intercept white supremacist's rallies, but we'll do that philosophically with what we talk about. A cathovist in on the street. Street-smart and raw. We speak the vulgate, just as the early Church of Pentecost did. We are commoners. We are the people. We are the laity. But we are strong in numbers and stronger in spirit. These blogs will explore the burning desires of the beatitudinal vision all while keeping a firmly clenched first raised to to powers that be.
This is a place of exploration, a place to ask questions and explore human thought, behavior and ethos. In these posts we'll look at what's happening in the world and in our communities. We'll present raw discussion and talk about the tough stuff that others avoid. This is a world formed by faith, media and activism that aches for things to be right in the world, all the while knowing that nothing will ever be perfect. But, rather than accepting that excuse, we will at least explore the options. Be prepared for straight-talk and street smarts. Be willing to listen and to hear. And, as always with anything we produce, be prepared for healthy doses of sarcasm, irony and hyperbole.
First official post drops tomorrow. We hope you'll be challenged, entertained and affirmed.