Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Mark Shea's Timely Book.

Four years ago Catholic apologist Mark P. Shea got fired from the National Catholic Register (along with fellow journalist and blogger Simcha Fisher) for repeatedly telling Catholics who supported Trump that 'this emperor has no clothes' (and also wondering what the hell is wrong with people).

Over the past four years of Trump, he's certainly had plenty of reasons to broadcast Schadenfreude--but instead he diligently went to work on a much needed book explaining the long tradition of Catholic social teaching which too many U.S. Catholics on the Right either don't want to acknowledge or truly do not understand.

Presenting The Church's Best Kept Secret.

Shea's book launches with an overview of the Church's fundamental teaching about the dignity of human beings, the fundamental ground from which pretty much all of the Church's social teaching follows, for example: support for the rights of workers', support for social programs that protect families and children and the destitute, the sacredness of life from the womb to the grave, a longstanding critical attitude toward unregulated capitalism, and especially the Church's critique of the hyper individualism and libertarianism that has infected conservative American Catholicism--from EWTN to the heavily funded Napa Institute to Opus Dei's 'Catholic Information Center' in Washington DC, and on and on. It's extraordinary how many of the folks at these institutions turn apoplectic on social media whenever Pope Francis makes the slightest criticism of capitalism and consumerism.

I want to focus on one section from Shea's book in particular, from Chapter 7, 'On Solidarity'--which beautifully outlines the Church's insistence on support for the state--precisely where Catholic fans of National Review, The Wall Street Journal, First Things, and Fox News are most in need of reminding. 

Or, as Shea describes it: What We Owe Each Other.

Some think that we can live in a stateless society of pure individualism.  But this simply is not so.  By our very nature, we are born into a world where it is our glad burden to owe debts to God and to our fellow human beings that we can never repay.  We owe God an unpayable debt for literally everything.  But we also owe our family, our country, our civilization, and the entire human race for a colossal bounty of gifts.  They gave us food, clothing, shelter, education, language, Shakespeare, fishing, physics, a million recipes, Star Wars, the Beatles, Homer, the Bible, bubble gum, pencils, penicillin, aspirin, automobiles, indoor plumbing and a billion other things we could never have thought of, much less created on our own.  We depend on others—and on the organizing power of the state—for a host of things. Therefore, we owe those people—and the state—a debt not of charity but of justice, to help advance the work we do in common for the good of all. That is why Scripture describes taxes, not as “theft” but as something we do, in fact, owe(see Romans 13:7). Why?

Because our freeway system was not built and is not maintained by small bands of local citizens patching potholes on Saturday afternoon. The state does that.

Because an educated population of millions did not just happen.  They went through school systems that were largely the creation of the state.

Because when a despot like Hitler declared war, he was not met by some volunteers who grabbed their pistols and headed across the Atlantic in a dinghy to land at Normandy. The state made it possible to defeat Nazi Germany.

Because when Ebola was raging, the cure was not found by one plucky guy with his chemistry set, but by a vast coordinated effort of states and private actors.

Of course, being human creations, no state system is flawless. Nevertheless, St. Paul understood the state to be so vital in forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity—that is, to maintaining the Common Good—that he told the Church that state authorities“are ministers of God” (Romans 13:6). 

If you're a Catholic who's been suckered by the Republican Party into believing you have to vote for Trump because the GOP is 'pro life' or because the Democrats will turn the entire country socialist, order a copy of The Church's Best Kept Secret


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Print Sales Are Up This Month

Publisher's Weekly reports that print sales are up in June.

With all categories except adult nonfiction posting increases, unit sales of print books rose 5.6% in the week ended June 13, 2020, over the comparable week last year, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The YA categories had solid gains, with nonfiction sales jumping 34.1% over the week ended June 15, 2019, and fiction sales up 21.4%. The latter category benefited from the continued strong sales of The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds by Suzanne Collins, which was the top book in the week overall, selling almost 70,000 copies. In YA nonfiction, This Book Is Anti-racist by Tiff any Jewell sold nearly 6,000 copies, making it #1 on the category list. Unit sales rose 19.2% in the juvenile nonfiction category over 2019. A new release, Discovery: Animals All Around by Courtney Acampora, sold about 6,000 copies, putting it close to the top on the category list. Summer Bridge Activities workbooks published by Carson Dellaso took the #4–#11 bestseller spots on the list, selling about 81,000 copies total. Sales of adult fiction rose 6.3% in the week, with good performances by new releases from James Patterson and Danielle Steel; The Summer House (by Patterson, with Brendan DuBois) sold nearly 26,000 copies, and Steel’s Daddy’s Girlsold more than 22,000 copies. Sales slipped 2.3% in adult nonfiction despite strong sales of So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, which sold more than 57,000 copies, and White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, which sold more than 54,000 copies. A new release, Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace, sold about 45,000 copies in its debut week.

I just finished Oluo's book and it was superb. I don't know about elsewhere, but in the Boston area at least one bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, is cautiously re-opening.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Clock and the Camshaft is Available

The delays due to Covid were not as grim as I feared. My book is now officially in stock. The official listing, and you can order direct from Rowman and Littlefield. And Bookshop.

Fresh from the warehouse!
If you buy the print edition from Bookshop, the proceeds go to help independent booksellers. Ebook eition is also available at Amazon.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Fine Pavement: Coming in 2020

We're now in post-production, and delighted to be working with Spanish composer Paco Periago on the score for the film. GiroStudio is doing the color correction and sound mixing.

Below are some stills from the shoot.

Douglas G. Griffin and Andrew Winson

Matthew Zahnzinger and Douglas G. Griffin

Ed Peed and Douglas G. Griffin

Douglas G. Griffin and Sheriden Thomas

Douglas G. Griffin and Ed Peed

Allison Choat and Kira Patterson

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Rhythm of Underground Fugue

More than halfway into Margot Singer's engrossing novel Underground Fugue, her main character Esther, a middle aged American woman who has returned to London to look after her dying mother, recalls the circumstances surrounding a one night stand she had before she was married.
Just once, she'd hooked up with a stranger. Reckless, yes. She was a few years out of college, on the shuttle, flying back from Boston to LaGuardia on the last flight of the night. Boarding, she'd caught his eye as he passed her going down the aisle. He was very good looking, with thick hair and gray eyes and finely cut features--pretty, almost, as a girl. She felt his good looks like a punch, a shock of raw desire. He took a seat a couple of rows behind her. She swiveled around, pretending to look for someone else, caught his eye, turned back. After a little while, she turned around again.

Singer's book is full of these disarmingly common but evocative scenes, each always eliciting a pang for the reader, precisely because they're so familiar even when they veer off into uncharted territory.

Her novel explores the four lives of London neighbors leading up to the terrorist bombings of July 7th, 2005.

That's the tag line.

In its beautiful depth, however, the novel is actually an immersion into the web of the inner lives of each character: Esther, her dying mother Lonia, her next door neighbor Javad, an Iranian born clinician getting over his own failed marriage, and finally his college age son Amir who likes to disappear in the late evenings to explore the ripening holes in London's sprawling infrastructure with his friends.

And it is Amir who will draw them all together in the maelstrom of events surrounding the suicide bombings.

I don't think I'm giving anything away by reporting that Amir is not involved in the bombings. He becomes a suspect, and is arrested by the authorities because of his nocturnal archeological activities--but the circumstance allows Singer to explore the suspiciousness that haunts even our closest neighbors in these days of seemingly endless wars and refugees.

And in spite of the closeness to our current events, as the dream life of the dying Lonia illustrates, her own childhood was marked by the events of the world at war then. And the shadows surround her, even in the present day:

Margot Singer (photo by Lee Martin)
Her husband, Isaac, had been lucky--a swift blow to the heart and that was it. Well, at least she has survived. She has raised their daughter, lived out her life. She had done her best. Now it is time. 

"I am ready," she says to Isaac, wherever he is. Lately she has felt that he is closer. She often senses the shadowy presence of other people here in the room with her, fleeting as bats at night. She knows it is some sort of hallucination--a sign that her mind is going, in all likelihood--but to her surprise it doesn't frighten her. Rather it gives her a kind of comfort to think that Isaac is here with her now. Sometimes her brother Hugo and her father are there as well. The lost, returned at last.

To me, Singer's style is reminiscent of William Trevor in at least two of his greatest novels, Silence in the Garden, and the more ominous Felicia's Journey.

It's a style to get pleasingly lost in. Singer's is a book to get pleasingly lost in. And I recommend you do.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Body and Society

Death was a catastrophe that no contemplation of the universe could soften. And, in explaining death as the punishment of Adam, Augustine gave the Christian laity of his time an explanation of death that was at least as melodramatic as death itself was shocking. Yet, in so doing, he caused the cosmos (that majestic and consoling source of high vision to so many ancient people of all religions) to fade for many centuries. Historians of the Early Christian church in all its regions must reckon that the eclipse of the cosmos (though never complete in Latin Christianity) may have been a heavy price to pay for the emergence of the distinctive features of ‘the Christian West’. Anyone who turns from the writings of Augustine and Gregory the Great to the majestic cosmic backdrop still implied in the writings of John Climacus, Maximus the Confessor, and the later Hesychasts senses immediately that the Western version of Christianity is strangely flat, focused, with little relief, on the greatness and misery of the human condition alone.

~Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, & Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Quotes of Note

“It is very likely that within fifty years when all the trivial, verbose disputes about the meaning of Teilhard’s ‘unfortunate’ vocabulary will have died away or have taken a secondary place, Teilhard will appear like John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, as the spiritual genius of the twentieth century.” 
- Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, in his 1967 book FOOTPRINTS IN A DARKENED FOREST