The “Pernicious Habit of Charity”

Saturday, March 14, AD 2015

As Catholic bloggers (or bloggers in general) know all too well, it’s easier to get into heated personal arguments on the internet than it is in person. Debates about various hot-button issues — abortion, capital punishment, just war, nuclear weapons, waterboarding suspected terrorists, voting for candidates who endorse immoral policies, etc. — can run to hundreds of comments. They also, at times, tend to degenerate into back and forth accusations of dissent from Church teaching, or not-so-subtle suggestions that those with the wrong stance on these issues are guilty of mortal sin.

With that in mind, I would like to offer a reflection that I have found helpful in dealing with these issues. It comes from one of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, and it concerns the ever-popular topic of how to respond to one’s enemies.

The Letters were written during World War II, and in this particular letter, junior demon Wormwood has asked his uncle Screwtape for advice on how to shape the attitudes of his “patient” — a young man of draft age living in England — toward the war. They know that “the Enemy” (God) commands His followers to love their enemies; therefore, one might assume they would do all they could to encourage the patient to hate his country’s enemies, the Germans. But Screwtape cautions Wormwood against that assumption:

“As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life-they are lay figures modelled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.) All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from our Father’s house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there.”

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8 Responses to The “Pernicious Habit of Charity”

  • I’m reminded of the Lord telling the Pharisees that its not what goes into the body that is unclean, rather it’s what comes out of the body, (the heart.) Your lesson is a good one. All to often I will use this medium to vent and unknowingly harbor a poison that can or does harm to loved ones.

  • Thank you Elaine.

  • But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 2 Timothy 2:23

  • Thank you, Elaine Krewer. I especially appreciated: “The main point I take away from this passage is that how one acts toward individual, real people in the present is of greater moral weight than is how one feels toward certain groups or types of people in the abstract.”
    The war was self-defense, in person and in particular and in abstract and in general. The particular and the general judgment come to mind.
    I wanted to thank you, simply, but the mind keeps scrolling.
    Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said: roughly quoted: ” Some people love humanity but they do not love their neighbor, or the person with whom they live”.

  • Idealized groups with whom has no interaction are able to be refreshingly free of conflict, while flesh-and-blood interaction has no such assurance– and the more you interact with someone, the more likely there will be a chance for conflict.

  • Too true Foxfier!
    There’s old advice not to talk politics or religion to avoid opposing opinions and hurt feelings. When we are behind our computer screens we may not have social inhibitions against bad manners…
    In a representative democracy, we have to be able to put ourselves imaginatively “into” situations, to consider the morality of what we would do in such and such a situation, so that we can encourage our nation in moral decision making on our behalf.
    Empathy – being able to feel with another helps us react with indignation at the pain suffered by an aborted baby for example, making us want to legislate against abortion.
    We cannot absent ourselves from such discussions just becasue they never happen to us or might be remote from our own personal experience. We can however try to keep good manners and pernicious charity.

  • Wonderful essay Elaine.
    Scarce a day goes by but that we are confronted with the dilemma described. The current President appears on the tube, saying something either inane or otherwise irritating, and we react in a human manner, with anger. Is our anger sinful? No. It’s just an emotional response to a stimulus.
    It may be sinful not to be angry over some things. We hear of ISIS slaughtering innocents and are outraged. We would, but for our great age, take up arms against them, shoot as many as we could, yet we sin not.
    There is a time for peace, and a time for war. A just person uses his or her temper, an unjust one loses it. If a soldier doesn’t work up an adequate temper in the heat of battle, he’ll probably not survive.
    We heard a cogent homily on this a few years ago. We are commanded to love one another but not to like one another. I love you because you are God’s creature whom He loves so much as to send His Son to die for you. So how can I not love you and expect God to be pleased with me? I like you because you make me feel good but dislike you if you make me feel bad. I have no choice as it’s not a matter of will. It’s a visceral response over which I have little control.
    It is inescapably obvious that I am talking to myself as much as to anyone. When certain people come on the TV screen, I can’t switch the channel fast enough. Perhaps I should be at least pleased to have them as enemies for whom I must pray.


Abolitionism and Pro-Life: Failure Precedes Success

Sunday, February 1, AD 2015

Pro-life advocates frequently compare abortion, the great American moral issue of the 20th and 21st centuries, to slavery, the great American moral issue of the 19th century. The pro-life movement (like other movements dedicated to resolving social injustices) often compares itself to the abolitionist movement, and as the abolitionists finally reached their goal in 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, so pro-lifers hope to one day achieve their goal of restoring the inalienable right to life of unborn children.

But did the abolitionists really succeed in eradicating slavery in the manner that we, today, often assume they did — by dogged persistence in “fighting the good fight” long enough to turn the tide of public opinion? That’s the question posed in a recent post at The New York Times’ Civil War history blog, “Disunion“. Author Jon Grinspan, reflecting on the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment’s approval by Congress, states:

On Jan. 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, banning slavery in America. It was an achievement that abolitionists had spent decades fighting for — and one for which their movement has been lauded ever since.

But before abolitionism succeeded, it failed. As a pre-Civil War movement, it was a flop. Antislavery congressmen were able to push through their amendment because of the absence of the pro-slavery South, and the complicated politics of the Civil War. Abolitionism’s surprise victory has misled generations about how change gets made.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that abolitionism “failed”, I believe Grinspan makes some important points that today’s pro-lifers, traditional marriage advocates, and others fighting uphill battles against moral evils might want to consider.

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4 Responses to Abolitionism and Pro-Life: Failure Precedes Success

  • A brilliant article Elaine! The abolitionists forced Americans to look at something that most would rather not, and that is definitely the case today with abortion. The anger that is sometimes directed against pro-lifers is quite similar to the anger that was directed against pro-lifers: how dare you shove those bloody photos in our faces; with you people it is always the negroes. The awakening of consciences takes time and constant effort, but once awakened the days of a great evil are numbered. Thomas Jefferson, although he lived and died a slave holder saw that:

    “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest. — But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one’s mind. ”

    As Lincoln noted almost one hundred and fifty years ago: “The Almighty has His own purposes.” When God determines that a great evil must not be allowed to stand, he raises up men and women to join together in movements to rouse the consciences of their fellows as a sign and warning of what needs to be done before He takes a role in the affairs of Man to end the evil.

  • Thanks very much Don. The general idea of Lincoln as the “moderate” who ended up getting the credit for abolishing slavery had been percolating in my brain for some time, then the blog post about how abolitionism failed before it succeeded was just the icing on the cake.

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  • Wonderful read.

Civil Disobedience and Afflicting the Comfortable

Monday, November 17, AD 2014

Several years ago I composed this examination of civil disobedience and the different forms that have developed since Henry David Thoreau coined, or at least popularized, the term in his 1849 essay “Resistance to Civil Government” (AKA “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”).

To quickly recap what I said then, there are three types of actions that have come to be defined as civil disobedience: refusing to obey an inherently unjust law;  breaking an otherwise just law in a particular situation where the law’s effects happen to be unjust; and going out of one’s way to break just laws with the primary intent of risking or provoking arrest.

The first type of civil disobedience — refusing to obey an unjust law, and accepting the consequences of doing so — is the most “classic” form, embraced by followers of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and practiced frequently throughout the centuries by groups as diverse as the early Christian martyrs, the Underground Railroad, and the “righteous Gentiles” who helped Jews escape from the Nazi Holocaust.

The second type includes situations in which an individual defies a law or court order to protect other parties from harm (e.g. a parent refusing to obey a child custody order), or to avert an imminent threat (trespassing upon abortion clinic property in order to prevent unborn children from being killed that day).

The third type, in which activists engage in trespassing, vandalism, or other illegal actions purely to attract attention to their cause, is largely a creation of the media age, and is in my opinion, a distortion of genuine civil disobedience as practiced by Gandhi, King, et al. Generally, it does little or nothing to alleviate the injustice being protested and serves mainly to make those who practice it look like self-righteous publicity hounds.

Since then, it appears that recent events and new media trends have distorted the meaning of civil disobedience even farther beyond its original intent. Now, “civil disobedience” apparently includes “making daily life miserable for everyone who does not agree with you 100%.”

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15 Responses to Civil Disobedience and Afflicting the Comfortable

  • Here’s a different take on MLK by black Catholic apologist David L. Gray.

  • I don’t know why I’m having trouble typing down the right url, but hopefully, the third times a charm!

  • “breaking an otherwise just law in a particular situation where the law’s effects happen to be unjust”
    This introduces the well-known topic of epikeia (ἐπιείκεια – literally reasonableness) and there is a whole literature devoted to it; indeed, it was a favourite topic of the casuists. One classic case is returning a borrowed or deposited weapon to a man who is fighting drunk. Another is jettisoning another’s goods to lighten a ship in a storm, or pulling down another’s building to prevent a fire spreading.
    It is sometimes argued that epikeia rests on a presumed intention of the lawgiver. The same principle is also used in the construction of deeds and obligations, again, relying on the notion of presumed intention or implied term.

  • Apparently, this is their causus belli.

    Facts? They don’t need no stinking facts.

  • Ferguson Mo. must be laid to rest at the feet of the atheism. Without God, man does not stand a chance against the devil. Atheism threw out God and God’s law but atheism could not throw out the devil. In fact, atheism welcomed the devil and now, we have hell to pay.

  • That is probably not going to make too many people sympathize with their cause

    C’mon, Elaine. That’s never the point of cr*p like this. For the delinquents who riot, it’s carnival; for the fuzzy-minded local clergy and sundry others, it’s something to do with idle time in an effort to fancy they’re not as inconsequential as they seem; for characters like Al Sharpton, it’s a business opportunity; for sundry local poverty pimps, ditto; for the press, it’s a mix of playing and posing and mercenary behavior. It matters not one bit if they get public sympathy at all. What matters is that they play to their constituency enough to keep the donations rolling in, that they get the court orders they want, and that they get the public funds they want. They do not need sympathy for obtaining these things. They just need the usual betrayers of the public trust to keep doing what they usually do.

    The people who will be injured by this ugly pantomime are the property-owners in Ferguson, a mix of wage earners and common and garden bourgeois like that store manager Michael Brown robbed just before his impetuosity was cured with a dose of lead. Those are the sorts of people neither Eric Holder, nor fuzzy-minded clergy, nor feral local youths care one whit about. (Reporters will pretend to care if producing sob stories about some plant closing, otherwise these people are just bitter-clingers).

  • Just to clarify, I’m not attempting in any way to judge the merits of the protesters’ “cause”, whatever it may be. Heck, even they can’t agree on what their “cause” is. My point is simply that this represents a further step away from what civil disobedience originally was intended to be. If the protestors involved no longer even care about winning people over to their cause and just want to prolong their 15 minutes of fame, generate money, sue local governments, etc., well, that’s just further evidence of what I’m talking about.

    And don’t think that just because we’re good, law abiding Catholic folk who have never had anything more serious than a speeding ticket, that the issue will never affect us. What will happen if and when Catholics are called to defy unjust laws compelling us to participate in abortion, same-sex civil marriage, etc.? When clergy and laity talk about “going to jail” over these issues, do they mean going out in the streets and raising a ruckus for that purpose, or do they simply mean not obeying the law and then quietly waiting to see what happens? What approach will they embrace? That will need to be clarified from the start. There’s a big difference between accepting martyrdom and pursuing it; the former action is virtuous, the latter is not.

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  • “Now, ‘civil disobedience’ apparently includes ‘making daily life miserable for everyone who does not agree with you 100%.'”

    One of the best definitions of the modern day liberal action plan I have ever seen.

  • Elaine Krewer wrote, “My point is simply that this represents a further step away from what civil disobedience originally was intended to be…”


    There is nothing complicated in the notion of civil disobedience. It was enunciated with admirable clarity by Marat and Brissot in Marat’s underground newspaper, L’ami du people [The People’s Friend]

    Taking for granted Rousseau’s theory of the State of Nature and the Social Contract, they argued that the poor had agreed to renounce the rights of savage life and the prerogative of force, in return for the benefits of civilisation; but finding the compact broken on the other side, finding that the upper classes governed in their own interest, and left them to misery and ignorance, they resumed the conditions of barbaric existence before society, and were free to take what they required, and to inflict what punishment they chose upon men who had made a profit of their sufferings.

    As one commentator wrote of the banlieu riots of 2006, “this whole series of nocturnal vandalisms and anonymous attacks, this wordless destruction, has widened the breach between politics and the political. No one can honestly deny the obvious: this was an assault that made no demands, a threat without a message, and it had nothing to do with “politics.” One would have to be oblivious to the autonomous youth movements of the last thirty years not to see the purely political character of this resolute negation of politics. [tout ce qu’il y a de purement politique dans cette négation résolue de la politique]”

  • For generations, they voted 90%+ for dems, and they’re still morally/fiscally destitute. Ergo, trash the community! Brilliant!!

    Quoted at Drudge: “We are not going to get change in this society until white people are just a little bit afraid.”

    Unfortunately, the outrage is insufficient to motivate racial racketeers (including Obama and Holder) to desist fomenting hatred and violence and incentivize people to build stable, nuclear families; to emhasize education, hard work, sobriety; etc.

  • MPS, I cannot figure why you insist on conflating the more theatrical exhibits of urban disorder with political action. You have a slum population who constitute a latent riot pretty much all the time. The only address to that is vigorous policing (which is apparently considered vulgar in France).

  • My point is simply that this represents a further step away from what civil disobedience originally was intended to be.

    Horse left the barn around about 1966.

  • There is likely involvement in such events by those who are effectively communist agitators regardless of how they name or perceive themselves. These practice a “constructive destruction” to tear down the framework and foundation of our Constitutional republic. Communists no longer carry cards but carry the germ of Marxism in their bloodstream, so to speak. Faith in God is to the soul what a strong immune system is to the body. When it breaks down or is weakened, the Seven Deadly (diseases) Sins take over. We know many persons, perhaps including the current President, who are for all intents and purposes communists whether or not they fully realize it.

States of Discontent

Wednesday, April 30, AD 2014

Longtime readers of TAC are familiar with many of the problems confronting the State of Illinois, mainly due to the diligent postings of fellow Sucker State resident Don McClarey. However, I have to admit I was taken aback by the results of a recent Gallup Poll finding that, when it comes to discontent among its residents, Illinois is literally in a class by itself:

The phrase “if you don’t like it, then you can leave” might be a dangerous thing to say in Illinois.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the state would lose a quarter of its population if every resident who didn’t like it decided to leave it. The poll asked survey-takers to rate their state as a place to live, and Illinois had the highest percentage of people who said it is the worst place to live, at 25 percent.

Illinois was followed by Connecticut and Rhode Island, 17 percent of whose residents rated their states as the worst place to live.

The states with the highest rates in the “best possible state to live in” category were Texas (28 percent), Alaska (27 percent), Hawaii (25 percent) and Montana (24 percent). Only 3 percent of Illinoisans put their state in the same category.

A follow-up story on the poll published today reveals even worse news for the powers that be in Illinois: half of Illinois residents polled say they would leave the state if they could, and nearly one in five Illinois respondents (19%) said they intended to move out within the following 12 months. Connecticut and Maryland placed second and third (49% and 47%, respectively) in the percentages of residents expressing a desire to leave, while only Nevada edged out Illinois in the percentage of residents stating that they planned to move in the coming year (20%). States with the most contented residents included Montana, Hawaii and Maine, where only 23% of each state’s residents expressed any desire to leave.

Links to the full stories and poll results can be found here and here. The poll was conducted between July and December of 2013 with at least 600 residents being polled in each state.

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27 Responses to States of Discontent

  • Bravo Elaine! I often share with my clients my observation that if I were a young attorney I would leave Illinois, and that I could not recommend to a young man or woman that they stay in the state. I have never had any client, and they come from all walks of life, disagree with me, and usually they are more vociferous than I am about current conditions in the Land of Lincoln.

  • There’s actually much to be said for New York. It’s political class is unedifying, of course. I think just about everyone not on it’s payroll despises the state legislature.

    Sorry to be a bore on this subject, but Illinois has a problem in common with New York and Maryland and a number of other states: the evolution of settlement has been such as to leave it an amalgam of incongruous parts. Downstate Illinois functions as a tributary of metropolitan Chicago. That is neither necessary nor advisable. I’ll wager you have a few other problems: 1. that modes of conducting elections largely eliminate competition and 2. that modes of public finance leave the question of who is responsible for what policy completely muddled and 3. modes of recruitment, compensation, and discipline in the civil service render it ineffectual if not crooked. Reconstituting the state as a confederation of two components (with an adjustable boundary in between) and amending your electoral statutes, civil service law, and public finance trails might help in repairing your political life, which in turn would have knock on effects on your economic life.

  • “1. that modes of conducting elections largely eliminate competition”

    You can say that as many times as you wish in regard to Illinois Art!

  • I too live in one of these sovereign cesspools, and the main reasons I have not voted with my feet (or rather with the car accelerator pressed to the floor) are that I know too many good people to leave behind and too many good and beautiful places to enjoy. Yes, such people and places are everywhere, but I love my friends and familiarities. If I had a purely utilitarian mindset I would have left long ago.

  • My first thought is that nobody lives in Maryland or Connecticut because they want to, only because they commute to DC / NYC. New Jersey and Massachusetts are high on the list as well. If my theory is right, then it’s kind of sad that Illinoisans only live there for the commute to Chicago, because that’s in Illinois.

    I assume that Michigan would have been higher in the number of people planning to leave, but the pollsters couldn’t find anyone there.

  • Speaking as a proud Marylander, I have to say that I hope to stay here the rest of my life. This state has it all: good roads and drivers, low humidity, low taxes, great schools, and above all a state government that really cares about people. There’s no state better. Oh, I’m sorry, I saw that today was the first, and my wall calendar still says April, so I just figured…never mind. I hate it here.

  • My first thought is that nobody lives in Maryland or Connecticut because they want to, only because they commute to DC / NYC. New Jersey and Massachusetts are high on the list as well. If my theory is right, then it’s kind of sad that Illinoisans only live there for the commute to Chicago, because that’s in Illinois.

    North of a third of the population of Maryland lives in greater Baltimore, a city with its own distinct personality. Every once in a while you’d meet someone there who was commuting to DC or had a pied a terre there but lived in Baltimore (or vice versa). Another third of the population lives in the small cities, small towns, and rural zones. Some commute to Washington or Baltimore, most do not; strange as it may seem, there is retail trade and wholesale trade and farming and factory work and government work outside of major cities. With regard to the peri-urban population, Harford and Cecil counties are oriented toward Philadelphia, not Washington.

    There are several substantial cities in Connecticut, with populations between 400,000 and 800,000. The Bridgeport-Stamford combine is the only one close enough for practical commuting. Nearly half the state’s population is rural and small town. The discontent with Connecticut is a surprise; its just about the most affluent state in the country and has been for some time. It’s on the coast – milder climate than inland. Crime rates are below the national mean…

  • Pinky: “There’s no state better. Oh, I’m sorry, I saw that today was the first, and my wall calendar still says April, so I just figured…never mind. I hate it here.”
    You would hate it even more if Maryland had passed into law a bill legalizing euthanasia.Thanks to Maryland Right to Life, euthanasia remains against the law, but the barbarians are at the gates.

  • Pinky, I knew just where you were going when I saw “low humidity”! Good job.

  • Art, Connecticut is still up and running, but it is running on fumes. The state government acts as if it is a wealthy state, but most of the wealth from financial services that are tied to New York City, and are a legacy of when the state had no income tax and was thus a haven for fed-up New Yorkers. Once these move away the state is a financial gonner.

    Like half of the other states on the list they regulate anything that moves, since regulations are good, ya know? A few years ago they passed a law requiring all businesses with state contracts to post the home phone numbers of their executives on their web sites, and then they couldn’t understand why businesses seeking state contracts dropped by 90% in one year. I mean, what’s wrong with these selfish businessmen and their evil corporations anyway? Can’t stand a little transparency?

    Also, most of the truly rural areas are underrepresented compared to the suburbs, which along with the cities call the shots in the state. A few of these rural towns can be downright reactionary, but they simply cannot beat the powers in Hartford. For all practical purposes Connecticut is a one party state.

  • Art, another story: a friend of mine has a small business which for liability reasons had to be incorporated. It didn’t make a lot of money, but it was profitable and fun and he paid his taxes. Then the state passed a $500 minimum annual corporation tax. He shut it down right away.

    Of course that may have been the intention all along. It is a lot easier for the state to monitor 5,000 corporations than 500,000, so why not just get the numbers down? Perhaps the loss of tax income is OK with these people as long as they increase their illusion of control.

  • In Maryland, it’s not just the heat, it’s the heat, humidity, terrible drivers, awful government…

  • The state government acts as if it is a wealthy state, but most of the wealth from financial services that are tied to New York City, and are a legacy of when the state had no income tax and was thus a haven for fed-up New Yorkers. Once these move away the state is a financial gonner.

    About 16% of the state’s domestic product is attributable to finance and insurance. I think the national mean is around 7.5%. That sector is abnormally large in Connecticut, but most of the wealth is tied up in other sectors, as it is everywhere.

    I cannot figure why they wanted corporation executives to post their home phone numbers. That having been said, a story. In 1957, people of my acquaintance purchased a house the previous owner of which had been an attorney. There was a general house line and a second line which rang only in the den which the attorney had used for confidential calls when he was working at home. For a mess of reasons, they never had the second line pulled out. If that particular attorney had been an executive at Eastman Kodak facing this problem, he could have ordered a second line which rang only on an extension kept in a cupboard in his basement pantry. I take it the state business is for those companies worth less than the cost of a phone line.

    I think if a three digit processing fee is inducing businesses to go under, I would wager that nearly all were cottage enterprises that had lapsed into inactivity. Just a guess.

    Federal court decisions ca. 1963 required equipopulous districts. This causes all kinds of problems, about which more on another occasion. It does not cause rural areas to be ‘under represented’ in a mechanical sense.

  • I lived in Baltimore for several years. It is hot at summertime peaks, but no place has an agreeable climate year-round; the street crime is much more anxiety provoking than the heat.

    A resident of Central New York of my acquaintance returned from Georgia after a number of years down South. His comment on climate problems: “I figure you can always put stuff on”. Not everybody sees it that way, which is one reason there’s been such a drain from the Rustbelt.

  • Yes Art, the business in question was a cottage industry (with travel obligations out of the cottage). No it wasn’t lapsed – not that being lapsed had anything to do with the issue, since a lapsed business doesn’t go under due to a new tax. By definition lapsed businesses don’t pay taxes. And so what? Is the cost of a number of lapsed businesses greater than the advantages (economic and other) to society by successful cottage businesses? I’d say no. It is still a sign of the regulatory state triumphing over all else.

    “I cannot figure why they wanted corporation executives to post their home phone numbers.”
    I basically gave the answer already: a slavish adherence to ‘good government’ ideals, such as ‘transparency’. Look, I would agree that state governments have the power to enact such a requirement, but when a state does something that reduces bidding by 90% it is drastically reducing another ingredient of good government. It’s just stupid. It’s like a married couple agreeing to never go to bed angry and then never going to bed at all because they must fulfill their agreement.

  • One can find something disagreeable in almost any state.

    I have no experience living in Illinois. I worked in DC for almost six years. I lived in both Maryland and Virginia. Northern Virginia, more aptly named Suburban Virginia, even 25 years ago, had nothing in common with the rest of Virginia. Inadequate roads, townhouse after townhouse, sales taxes on food and clothing and property taxes on cars. Yeech. Maryland assessed a tax on every car brought into the state and Maryland, thanks to Baltimore City and the DC suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, gives the Dhimmicrats a hammerlock on political control. People move to York County, PA and commute to the Baltimore area to escape Maryland taxes. Maryland/DC/VA summers have the heat and humidity of Florida in the summer and dank, rainy winters. Snow flurries cause panic.

    I worked in Cleveland twice. Ohio gives cities the power to assess an income tax on commuting workers – something DC has been screaming for for decades. Still, Cleveland is broke and depressing.

    I was born in Western Pennsylvania and returned when I was 32. Pittsburgh is in many places a beautiful city and I consider the quality of life here to be good. Pennsylvania politics are corrupt, wretched and obnoxious. Almost everyone outside of the five county Southeastern Pennsylvania area loathe Philadelphia. Every presidential election beings about massive voter fraud in Philly. Harrisburg is a little city that is almost a Philly ‘burb and the state government is no better than the Philadelphia government. Pittsburgh hasn’t elected a Republican to any city office since before FDR.

    If Houston, Texas had a National Hockey League team, I would likely be in the Houston suburbs now.

  • Again, my suspicion is that the disappearing businesses were formal dissolutions of companies not actually doing any business. Just a guess.

    I had a land line for a year I scarcely used (but on which I received quite a few robocalls as well as people looking for the previous holder of the number in question). I am not understanding why, if these people want state business, they do not just post the number of a landline attached to an answering machine which plays the message after one ring.

  • I live in the state Where Young People Go To Retire. It gets a 61% favorable rating… We moved from Kansas to California to here. We tried to get out once, ten years ago, to Colorado, but had to return for my husband’s job.

    I rate it “as good as any to live in” because my husband has a job that he likes. We are very lucky.

    To have more family nearby would be much better. I plan to encourage my kids to locate in the region, because I have lived through what it’s like to be so far away from family when your children are growing up. Better to have grandparents nearby, and aunts and uncles and cousins.

    But, hey midwesterners, read it and weep: we have no chiggers.

  • “I am not understanding why, if these people want state business, they do not just post the number of a landline attached to an answering machine which plays the message after one ring.”
    Art, sorry, I was unclear as to your concern. The home address was also required info on the company web site. It wasn’t just the risk of telephone harassment that caused the concern, but the risk of physical harassment and worse. My mind focused on the possibility of telephone harassment since I see that as more likely problem.

  • “it’s kind of sad that Illinoisans live there only for the commute to Chicago”

    Well, if residents of Springfield, Peoria, Champaign, Carbondale and other town south of I-80 or even I-70 are living there for the commute to Chicago they are going to have an awfully long commute 🙂

    I note that Illinois is geographically much larger than some of the other “hated” states — nearly 400 miles from top (Rockford) to bottom (Cairo) and about 200 miles across at its widest point (Quincy to Danville). Some parts of extreme southern Illinois are closer to Memphis than they are to Chicago, while extreme western Illinois around Quincy is closer to Kansas City (about 220 miles) than Chicago (290 miles). That said, about 2/3 or maybe more of the state’s population lives within 100 miles of Chicago and the suburbs are the fastest growing area of the state; the city has been losing population and so are many downstate areas.

  • Things could be worse in Illinois.

    Low cost, pollution-free, safe and secure nuclear energy provides 48.9% of the electricity in Illinois with 47.6% from coal, 2.8% from natural gas, and the rest from useless renewable energy. If it were not for nuclear, then residents would not be able to afford their already high electric bills because it costs real money to refuel a coal fired 1000 MW power plant with 22 rail road cars of coal every two weeks (not to mention that all that mega tonnage of carbon ends up being discharged into the air everyone breathes) whereas a nuke gets refueled (just 1/3rd of the core) every 2 years (real cheap, which is why the govt strangles the industry with unnecessary regulation – collusion between fossil corporate executives and politicians).

    Here is a list of Illinois nukes that you can thank that things are not worse:

    Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station

    Byron Nuclear Generating Station

    Clinton Nuclear Generating Station

    Dresden Nuclear Power Plant

    LaSalle County Nuclear Generating Station

    Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station

  • I know the Constitution makes it tough if not inpossible, but at what point do the extra-urban populations of Illinois, NY State, Maryland, Washington State and Pennsylvania say “ENOUGH!” and sever the ties that bind?
    Big-city tax dollars are addictive to state controllers, and the majorities in the urban centers would be huge impediments; the sway in Congress would be overwhelmingly Republican as rural populations were freed from the urban hordes, but it’s sure fun to imagine . . .

  • There have been exactly two instances under the current Constitution in which one part of an existing state broke off and formed a new state: Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820, and West Virginia broke off from Virginia in 1863. In both instances, the “seceding” areas were remote rural areas that were physically alienated from the state’s central cities (Maine was and is separated from Mass. by a small strip of New Hampshire; WV is divided from VA by the Appalachian Mts.). Also in both instances, the catalyst for Congress to permit formation of these new states was a national crisis: Maine statehood was part of the Missouri Compromise (a new free state to balance out MO as a slave state) while West Virginia was admitted as a new Union state during the Civil War.

    To this day, both states are economically less prosperous than their “mother” states; rural poverty and unemployment have long been chronic problems for both. Yet, Maine ranks among the states whose residents are LEAST inclined to want to leave, and W. Va. also gets surprisingly high marks from its residents as one of the “best” states. An argument could be made that both states would have been economically better off had they never seceded, but I doubt very much that any Down Easter or Mountaineer would ever favor reunification — because ultimately, it was never about taxation or economics, it was about culture.

    I suspect a similar process would occur were downstate IL or upstate NY ever to form their own states. They would probably struggle economically at least in the short term, say, for the first 20 years or so of statehood, as they would be cut off from the main economic “engines” of their current states. (The commonly voiced belief among downstate IL residents that Chicago as a whole drains state money and resources away from them is a myth; if anything, it’s the other way around, as much of downstate is too sparsely populated to support its own road system and other infrastructure without the fuel taxes and other reciepts collected in the Chicago metro area.) Longer term, perhaps, the new states could catch up as they welcomed businesses driven out of the older states by excessive taxation and regulation, but it would not happen overnight.

  • TomD, It’s not updated more than annually and often runs a year or two behind, but if you want to locate someone, particularly someone who’s not transient, you can usually find their address in the Polk Directory at the public library. Having the home address on the website reduces shoe-leather costs (and that may be important if your harasser is of the utmost impetuousness), but an established local resident is usually easy to locate.

  • I was not suggesting secession, but reconstitution into confederation. You’d have some thin filaments connecting the two components (joint commissions), and adjustable boundary between them, and a shared pair of U.S. Senators. Otherwise, the two components would have separate law codes, separate central governments, and lead separate lives.

    You have north of 4 million people in Downstate Illinois, with about 7% in a fragment of greater St. Louis, about 25% in one of ten small cities and the remainder in small towns and country townships. Personal income per capita outside the 7 counties around Chicago averages to about 90% of national means. They can afford to maintain their road system.

    You’d have some frictional costs as a second state capital was set up somewhere around Chicago, as a new superordinate apparat was erected for state employees stationed around Chicago, and as the state’s prison cells were divvied up between the components. I suspect the biggest challenge would be re-working Medicaid re-imbursements, re-working state support for higher education, and distributing responsibility for maintaining the extant state pension system in an actuarially sound condition. You’d have to grandfather the current employees in and then create separate systems going forward.

  • Sounds great to me Art. I do suspect that dividing states may be a coming cause as gigantic urban centers and the rest of states become ever more alien and hostile to each other. If done in a politically neutral manner, I can imagine that the formal division into separate states of California, Illinois, Texas, etc. might eventually attract bipartisan support.

  • Texas apparently retains the right to split itself apart into five or seven states.

    I would welcome a split in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties of Chester. Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware should go their own way or join New Jersey. The remainder of Pennsylvania then becomes a red state, Allegheny County notwithstanding. If Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Alexandria went their own way, the rest of Virginia goes red. The rest of New York State would be better off without NYC and Westchester.

Why Live In Tornado Alley?

Thursday, May 23, AD 2013

Response to the devastating EF-5 tornado in Moore, Okla., which left 24 dead and more than 200 injured, has generally been compassionate. Thousands of ordinary Americans — including fellow survivors of natural disasters — are doing what they can to help.

In the fetid swamps of internet discourse, however, there are always those who use such disasters to advance their pet political or ideological agenda (e.g., climate change, government assistance, atheism vs. religion), or to question why the victims did, or failed to do, certain things that placed them in harm’s way.

Common questions asked after this tornado and others in recent years include why so many homes in the affected areas didn’t have basements, or why reinforced tornado shelters aren’t required for particularly vulnerable locations such as schools and mobile home parks.

These are legitimate questions, but the purpose of this post is not to discuss the merits of various tornado safety measures. Rather, it is to explore the implications of a broader question that is frequently asked after these events — “Why would anyone live in Tornado Alley?”

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20 Responses to Why Live In Tornado Alley?

  • Why do these natural disasters happen?
    In one of the letters we read that the earth “is still groaning with labour pains”. Then in apocolypse we read how there will be a new earth. Blessedly, our Heavenly Father comforts us even though we are not yet in the new world but witness the labour pains of the earth. His love for us is great!

  • “Why would anyone live in Tornado Alley?”

    So… where’s this alley that tornadoes know they’re not allowed to hit outside of?

    More seriously– this isn’t exactly building on the side of an active volcano! I’d ask a similar question of folks who live in Hawaii before I’d ask entire swaths of some of the most productive land on earth why they live where they live.

  • I think the median annual death toll from tornadoes in this country is about 70, and the United States logs about two-thirds of the world’s tornadoes. It is just not a big risk factor. The persistent aversion of Southerners to basements is curious; can the engineering challenge posed by the water table be that severe?

    A more interesting question is why people in Tornado Alley and everywhere else in America have accepted the horrors of suburban town planning over the last sixty years.

  • If I am not mistaken, the active volcano(es?) on Hawaii are all on the Big Island. About 9/10ths of the population of the state live on the other islands. I am not sure much of population of even the Big Island is in a danger zone. Hilo was walloped by a tsunami in 1960; I do not think any of the eruptions of Mauna Loa in the intervening years have disrupted the life of population centers.

    Now, if you want to ask why the people of Oahu allowed greater Honolulu to grow into an overpriced ticky-tacky mess, that would be an interesting question.

  • I have my own question for the East Coast Elite who look down at Oklahoma.

    Why would anyone live on the East Coast? The East Coast just got clobbered by a massive hurricane last October, causing death and damage that exceeded the Oklahoma tornado. The East Coast is vulnerable to hurricanes and nor’ easters, which also cause destruction and death.

    No East Coast elitist snob will dare answer that with anything other than “climate change”, which we know is a fraud.

    East coast politics stink, the cost of living and taxation there stink, the traffic there stinks….you can have it. Of course, when a snowstorm shuts down DC, it’s national news (and it only takes an inch or two to be a DC snowstorm).

  • “where’s this alley that tornadoes know they’re not allowed to hit outside of?”

    Tornadoes are “allowed” to strike anywhere that conditions are right. Violent tornadoes of up to EF-4 intensity have struck close to D.C. and Boston in the past. A tornado hit what is now Capitol Hill in 1814 during the British siege of Washington — and may have helped, literally, save the Nation:

    Interestingly, one of the regular writers for the blog cited above tweeted something yesterday or the day before about not wanting to go back to D.C. after being “out here” for some time. Perhaps he might have gone on a storm chasing trip to the Plains (people actually do pay good money to go on “chasecations”) or gone out there for some other reason, and has found that life in flyover country isn’t so bad after all.

  • “The persistent aversion of Southerners to basements is curious; can the engineering challenge posed by the water table be that severe?”

    In Louisiana it is. We even bury them above ground.

  • “Why live in Tornado Alley?”

    Why live in the continental US where an eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano is long overdue and would render uninhabitable the greater part of the North American continent, and cause world-wide climatic change for decades to come?

    Why live on the East Coast that would be flooded for hundreds of miles inland from a tsunami caused by the long overdue Canary Island volcano eruption and resulting land slide?

    Why live on the West Coast where the San Andreas fault is long overdue for a major shift with resultant disastrous earthquake?

    Why live on planet Earth which is long overdue for a major asteroid impact such as what happened 60 million years ago on the Yucatan peninsula? Or overdue for a major coronal mass ejection from the sun, destroying all electronics and sending us back to the 19th century for decades and decades? That happened in 1859 and is called the Carrington Event. It destroyed early telegraph machines and would wipe out all our electrical power plants, computers, transformers, generators, etc. from the EMP pulse.

    The idea that there is a safe place to live is erroneous. No place is ever ultimately safe, and each one has its own hazards. Some recur over and over, and cause localized damage (tornados in the central US). Others occur every few decades (major east coast hurricane). Still others occur once a century or so such as the Tunguska meteor impact in Siberia in 1908 or the Carrington Event in 1859. The bottom line is this: all God has to do is remove His protecting hand. One little asteroid – say a mile in diameter – or one little hiccup from the sun and our fragile hold on civilization is brushed aside without the Almighty lifting even His little finger. And with our national – even planetary – embrace of sodomy, lesbianism, adultery, fornication, and abortion we are asking God to remove His protecting hand. Buckle up, folks, for the sad event in Oklahoma (which I do NOT claim is a punishment – sometimes random destruction occurs for no reason other than entropy) is nothing compared to what can really happen and has happened before in the history of our planet.

  • Geez, Paul’s just gone ahead and depressed me…

    j/k, Paul.

  • Basements are definitely a cultural thing that varies by national region. I lived in Texas for some years and remember asking why none of the houses had basements. “Water table’s too high” was one person’s response. This same person had a storm cellar on their property that was bone dry.
    Now I live along the Lake Michigan shoreline where everyone has a basement but really shouldn’t. A bad rain storm and a broke sump pump will turn our basements into in-ground swimming pools.

  • Folks freak out more about dangers that they’re less familiar with– plus, places you don’t know seem smaller. Some of my facebook folks that live in Colorado were reassuring family in Europe that no, they hadn’t been hurt in the tornadoes….

  • (Oh, and I wonder how many of the folks fussing about risk live in the area of St. Helens, like myself?)

  • “Oh, and I wonder how many of the folks fussing about risk live in the area of St. Helens…”

    Safest place to live – near commercial nuclear power plants. I live near four – the two McGuire PWRs to the northwest and the two Catawba PWRs to the southeast. I live about in the center. A little nukie never hurt anyone! Ha! Ha! Your friendly neighborhood nuke simply can’t resist an opportunity.

  • Hey, basements actually have a structural function. In places where the ground freezes to a significant depth, they keep the foundation from heaving up. But avoid a basement if you can because one of the most expensive things you can do, believe it or not, is dig a big hole in the ground. If you want the living space, it’s much cheaper to build it above ground. We have calice around here. My neighbor dug a relatively small hole in the ground and it cost him $4,500 just to rent the equipment!

    I live nearly a mile high and I’ve already had one skin cancer to deal with. And there’s always wind and dust that gets into everything, like clocks and motors. But here’s the key: This is my land. I am attached to it. Part of my identity is in where I live. To leave the desert, to leave my children who live near me, would be to leave part of me. I suspect that most Americans have much the same kind of attachment to place. If my place presents dangers it is part of my loyalty to my place to mitigate those dangers as best I can and, in the end, to love my place anyway.

  • In Mississippi we have clay that shifts when it rains ( which is often). Your basement would crack like my parents foundation or walls. Other parts are like Louisiana where the water table is so high that you spend more time bailing water than digging. Im not familiar with other geographical areas but its not just a cultural thing because basements are nice to have when its hot.

  • Yikes!!!
    Sounds like some of you want to move out of where you are. 😉
    Born and settled here in the North Island of NZ with my own little patch of paradise, about 100 ft. above sea level with the Tauranga harbour half a mile away ( great view, facing north)
    Haven’t had a decent tsunami here for about 7,000 years.
    Haven’t had a major volcanic eruption here for – umm – wait a minute – Mt. Tarawera 50 miles away erupted in 1886, spreading around 5 ft. of ash here, but its compacted down to about 15 inches – always visible when excavating house foundations.
    Haven’t had a decent earthquake here – ever. Oooo! – but had a biggie in Napier in 1932 – flattened the whole area. But that’s 200 miles away. And Christchurch had a biggie 3 years ago and flattened most of the central city – but that’s 600 miles away in the South Island. All we get here every year or two is a gentle waving rocking 🙂
    Our tornadoes are just little whirlwinds hardly enough to lift the roof of your garden shed.
    But seriously, as another commenter said, anywhere you go, there’s going to be forces of nature that we can’t control. Its a matter of managing the situation where you are, and taking the necessary precautions – building codes for building, Geotechnical care for choosing building sites, climatic conditions – just manage it and handle it if you’re where you want to be.

  • One particularly irritating aspect of the news coverage of the Moore tornado, IMO, was the manner in which many reporters rushed to declare it one of the worst, or even THE worst, tornadoes in U.S. history. That may have been understandable early on when the death toll was thought to be 90-plus, but even if that had proven true, it would still have not even been close to the “worst” in terms of fatalities. That title still belongs to the Tri-State Tornado of 1925 which killed almost 700 people in MO, IL and IN. Also, I have been seeing reports that there were actually only 1,200 homes in Moore damaged, not 12,000.

  • and taking the necessary precautions – building codes for building, Geotechnical care for choosing building sites, climatic conditions – just manage it and handle it if you’re where you want to be.

    It is important as a matter of policy that underwriters be permitted to act on what their actuaries tell them and proceed without public subsidies. And insist people pay for their water and electricity at cost.

    In this county, you have a sample of just about every sort of climate and biome this world has to offer (bar tropical rainforest). The most demographically dynamic areas in recent decades have been Las Vegas and Phoenix, both smack in the middle of unattractive swatches of desert. There is just no accounting for taste. The Aussies have the sense to leave their desert empty as God intended.

  • Elaine Krewer says:
    Sunday, May 26, 2013 A.D. at 7:30am

    One particularly irritating aspect of the news coverage of the Moore tornado, IMO, was the manner in which many reporters rushed to declare it one of the worst, or even THE worst, tornadoes in U.S. history.

    Oh, how right you are. See here:

  • A basement is an expensive element. It will be omitted from a construction budget if money is tight. There are other ways to protect a structure from frost damage, as well. To build a storm shelter is an option but it’s all a matter of risk management. From place to place there are varying percentages of risk from a menu of hazards. Building codes mandate design resistive to some of them but don’t go so far as to require storm shelters. Building codes are becoming overly intrusive on matters previously those of choice and individual judgment. We live where we are fed. We have no permanent house here but long for one of many mansions promised on high. Here, build the house on solid ground but remember that unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.

The Third Rail of the Catholic Blogosphere, Part II: Crying Kids at Mass

Thursday, April 25, AD 2013

A couple of years ago I tackled a topic (modesty in dress for women) that had become a “third rail” of the Catholic blogosphere — a topic that had a tendency to burn any St. Blogger who touched it due to the intensity of the resultant combox war.
Recently it seems an even more highly charged topic has come up at several blogs: whether or not infants and toddlers belong at Sunday Mass, given their propensity to squirm, bounce, giggle, cry, scream and otherwise do things adults find distracting.
In general, commenters on this issue fall into two camps: the “Bring The Kids” camp who believe children of all ages should attend Mass regularly from birth if possible, and the “Leave Them Home” camp who prefer that parents not  bring children to Mass regularly until they are old enough to sit still, pay attention and maintain appropriate behavior for a reasonable length of time.
As with most combox wars, each side seems to believe the worst of the other. The Bring The Kids faction accuses the Leave Them Home crowd of buying into the secular anti-life mentality that treats children as spoilers of adult peace and contentment. Meanwhile, the Leave Them Home camp accuses the Bring The Kids camp of placing unreasonable expectations upon their children and others, and selfishly interfering with the ability of other parishioners to worship in peace.

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26 Responses to The Third Rail of the Catholic Blogosphere, Part II: Crying Kids at Mass

  • My wife and I brought our kids to mass from birth. That is why God created cry rooms!

  • Very very well said. In my experience, my annoyance rarely comes from the kids who cry or fuss – it’s the parents who choose to ignore their children (or are unaware) who are kicking the pews hard enough to make them vibrate, engaging in shove matches with their siblings, or bring children to Mass who are hacking hard enough to sound like they should be in the hospital, never mind the Church. Crying – eh, it happens, and when it gets bad enough with my own 5-month old (for instance), I take her for a walk around the narthex, where I meet with other sympathetic parents. However, at least the walk calms and I am doing something for the other congregants.

  • the discussion here seems to be “problem” oriented- no notes in any of these paragraphs of earnest youngsters watching and following the movements of the mass. ..looking into mom’s or dad’s prayer book with them, or turning to see the organ and the choir when the music soars. I good humor and a positive attitude covers a multitude of sins!
    There are plenty of children who come to mass with their parents and the experience is good for all parties. Sometimes I have seen a “holy” look on a child’s face when Father does something unusual or wonderful like the Holy Water before Mass, or the incensing of the altar.
    It also seems to me that children are little mirrors. I’ve been recently to one of those churches “in the round” where everything was beige and not a statue to be seen… of course the children acted and looked bored– so did the parents! When everybody gets dressed up in “Sunday ” clothes and goes to Mass, even the youngest child can recognize that this is different than a Saturday morning outing.
    We are all to be like little children aren’t we, as regards our receptiveness to God and all he offers us.
    I think going to Mass begins at home. Children who are not actively taught or related to in a positive way – sort of home schooled in the faith are going to have a harder time settling down.
    I want to tell you about a wonderful family who had an active son who would sometimes go down into the nether world of the kneelers and be very difficult to retrieve. He was a curious young man…I would say right at the age of reason. One Sunday morning he had apparently thought ahead about his church experience. He brought a screw driver and dismantled that kneeler. What a joy for all of us near him in church that morning!

  • Thanks Elaine. I saw this round of discussions the other day and had to shake my head. This: ” What worked for you, your parents, or your kids does not necessarily work for everyone” is so true. Whenever a parenting topic comes up it seems we see warring factions develop, each side thinking that what they did is the only proper way to raise a child. What – you don’t breastfeed? Your child is clearly unloved. What, you breastfeed? What a waste of time. Etc.

    I had to laugh at the suggestion that those who bring their children to Mass are being selfish. In a sense it was selfishness that made us stop taking our kids. Our daughter is, shall we say very active, and so it was a struggle bringing her to Mass. Finally, at about age two we finally relented and brought her to the babysitting that our Parish provides courtesy of the mothers of the parish. When our second daughter was of age, we started taking her as well, thus we got to attend Mass without worrying about the kids. This has always nagged me a bit, and over the past couple of weeks we’ve started going with both of them, who are 4 and almost 2 respectively. They still don’t sit very still, but they generally stay in the pew and don’t cause too much of a ruckus. Luckily we attend a parish where we don’t really have to worry about that. They say that at St. Bernadette’s the B stands for baby, and indeed there are LOTS of kids. So no dirty looks for us.

    I think it’s a bridge too far to say that you HAVE to bring kids younger than 4 or 5 to Mass. But I’m genuinely surprised at the hostility of some who think they should be all but banished.

  • People who are annoyed by kids in Church need to get over it.

    What is actually annoying is when non-parents are in the crying room. The crying room is supposed to be for a child who is actually crying, not non-parented parishoners!

  • I should note that I have 2 kids (with 2 more coming in June) and bring them to Mass every week.

  • I don’t have children and twenty years ago–I’m now 64–I didn’t want to hear kids crying at Mass. All that changed as I experienced further conversion in the Faith.

    About three years ago a young family with five kids–all under seven–sat in front of me in church. I loved watching the kids and most of them were very well behaved. But there was one little girl who was willful and headstrong. I would think to myself “heaven help the man who marries her.”

    One Sunday we were all kneeling at the consecration of the Precious Blood when I felt a tiny hand grab my shoulder and a tiny foot step on the back of my calf. I opened my eyes and stuck out my arm to stop this little girl from proceeding to climb my legs behind me to the other side of the pew. Her little hand tightened on my shoulder because she was determined to continue. Fortunately, her mother looked around at that moment. Completely mortified and apologetic she leaned over and picked up her daughter. I thought the whole incident had been hilarious.

    When I hear infants crying I think it it must be music to God’s ears because it surely is to mine. OTOH, if a child is screaming then take her back to the vestibule. We have a number of home schoolers with large families in our parish and I notice that as the children hit 4-5 years old they accompany their parents to the front while they receive communion. Their faces are usually glowing when they come back and you know they’re going to be anxious to receive the Eucharist when they hit 7 years old. It’s great training.

  • First love the post. Its a private decision that only the family should be making.

    Kyle some people sit in the cry room sans children for medical reasons. My mother’s migraines are triggered by perfume. Just like the sounds accumulate so do the smells for her. She sits in the cryroom usually during an early mass were there are fewer children because usually its not so bad for her.

    As Catholics we should not be so quick to judge others choices without knowing the whole story.

  • The “your negative comments to the parents will not make things better” advice is particularly key.

    Sure, there may be the occasional oblivious parent who just ignores tons of screaming, but generally a parent dealing with a loud kid is already mortified. I remember when visiting another parish, a time when a priest stopped suddenly in the middle of a sermon and demanded, “Will you please take that child out?” I saw the mother stumbling towards the cry room with her other kids in tow and thought, “If she doesn’t leave this parish, that’s an act of grace right there.”

    Even less public attempts to put parents on notice can be really aggravating. There was one week I was heading out with a baby under each arm and an elderly lady usher came up to me and said, “Maybe if you didn’t look so mad all the time they wouldn’t want to cry!” Needless to say, my first reaction was to look a lot madder!

  • “There was one week I was heading out with a baby under each arm and an elderly lady usher came up to me and said, “Maybe if you didn’t look so mad all the time they wouldn’t want to cry!” Needless to say, my first reaction was to look a lot madder!”

    Everyone is an expert when they don’t have to deal with the child!

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  • The key in all of this (and I admit I’m on the “Bring the kids side” otherwise my special needs Christopher would know almost nothing of the faith) is don’t block others from Christ. Concentrate on yourself and your family’s needs.

  • We have an odd situation at my parish. There’s someone who can’t handle screaming children – the assistant pastor. Fussing, he can handle, but when a child gets loud he glares, and sometimes even stops speaking. Now, the icing on the cake is that he’s an overly-dramatic speaker. He inflects (shouts) during the homily. That, of course, frightens the kids, and starts them bawling, which then upsets him.

    By the way, he’s from a large family, but the youngest. He never learned the basics.

  • I was six or seven years old when I saw my last Latin mass (until recently). Now forty five years later I went to my first Latin mass since then. It was amazing. I felt that same feeling I had then of being in the presence of God, where heaven meets the earth. If those younger then seven years old don’t get anything out of the mass, why do I remember these experiences so well and the spiritual benefits I received. Children should all be at mass whenever possible. I remember being threatened with not being able to come one week because I was acting up (I would have been about four at the time), it really tore me up. I behaved well always after that.

  • About a year ago I read a pretty smart blog by a priest about kids at Mass, the title of the post was “Crying children call to mind the mystery of the Mass” and if you google it it’s the first hit.

  • Sadly, it is less of a problem now than was the case in parishes I was attending 15 years ago because there are fewer children (and fewer people of any description) where I have been lately. The last time I can recall a situation disagreeable enough to remember was a tow-headed four year old permitted to run his mouth for about 20 minutes. I was farther away from him than just about anyone not in the sanctuary and I could hear every word. You need working ushers – which that parish lacked – to address that situation. Working ushers are elderly but ambulatory men in dark suits and ties, blessed with self-confidence, and able to both smile and scowl.

  • My parish has a number of families with lots of kids, and the young ones are normally brought to Mass. If they fuss, they are taken to the back. My four year old loves going to Mass and hates to be left at home. Of course, that doesn’t mean we didn’t spend a lot of time in the vestibule to get there.

    I think the benefits outweigh the costs. Every child is different, but sometimes you need to present going to Mass as a reward. If they make noise, they can’t go. Telling a kid they “can’t” is often a great motivator! We also make sure that there is a reward for good behavior. A parent should set expectations and follow through with appropriate rewards and punishments.

    We once went to Mass at a different parish in another nearby state for a couple of Sundays, as my wife was a friend’s sponsor for RCIA. We had a baby at the time. The usher insisted that we leave the church building, not even staying in the vestibule, if the baby made any peep. We noticed that there were no other children to speak of in that parish. We went to various Mass times and only saw one other child. It was sad and depressing. I couldn’t imagine a parish without children. It just didn’t seem “Catholic”. It seemed like we were in some other denomination. Or perhaps in some dystopic novel like “Children of Men” or “A Brave New World.”

    We love seeing cute babies and toddlers at Mass. My four year old always points them out for us. Now that we are beginning to send the oldest of our eight into the world, I’m a bit saddened to face the prospect of eventually going to Mass without children.

  • I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but in the DC area where we live we have no shortage of parishes. Many of the downtown parishes are filled with mostly single apartment dwellers and tourists. If you want a quiet mass, there are lots of chruches with fewer families. Also I’ve noticed that the vigil mass and early morning masses (before 8am) have fewer kids. Most colleges and universities also have masses without many kids. So I feel that if you really want a quiet prayerful mass you can find it.

  • First of all, thanks for the link! 🙂 I wrote a more recent post addressing parents of young children directly, and I think (I hope!) that one clarifies where I’m coming from.

    Second, I don’t have any problems with people deciding to do split-shifts etc. if they can and if this is what works best for their families. The problem I have comes in when people assume, first, that everyone CAN do this and that everyone therefore should. In the comments under the various posts about this there are people who point out that they have one Sunday Mass in their rural area, or that their husbands are deployed, or even in some sad cases that they are widowed or separated or divorced raising young children whom they still must bring up in the faith. It simply doesn’t help the situation when there’s a default presumption that small children don’t belong at Mass at all until the age of five or six.

    Third, and this is where I admit that this gets tricky, I think that the “don’t bring the kids” crowd is presently the more vocal of the two groups (at least on the Internet). Over the years I’ve been told a number of times by people a good 20 to 30 years older than I am (I’m 44) that when they were little, by golly, people understood that the Mass was holy and that you didn’t bring babies to Holy Mass and turn it into Romper Room ™. Since I wasn’t alive back then I can’t say whether that was true everywhere or just in some places, but it does seem kind of strange to me. Then again, in the 1917 Code of Canon Law the canon saying that men and women were to sit on separate sides of the church was still in force, so perhaps there never really was a perception that it was a good idea for families to pray at Mass together before the modern era. Whatever the case, I think given the attacks on families at the present time and the need to see husbands and wives as truly living an important vocation (not just being the poor slobs who couldn’t make it into the priesthood or religious life), we need to see families all present together to worship God in the principle liturgy of the Church whenever possible. No, that doesn’t mean Mom isn’t excused if the teething toddler is screaming in pain, and no, that doesn’t mean families can’t decide to do split-shifts when necessary, but I do think that setting out an ideal that all families will leave everyone under age five at home no matter what that takes is placing the most serious burden on those families who are the most open to life, and who may not be able to attend Mass together for a couple of decades if they’re doing split shifts until the very youngest is 5.

  • The infant learned very quickly that fussing would bring going home. The Children are very adept at abstract thought, I believe learned from the metaphysical nature of the Liturgy, and they are darling. If there is not someone willing to help with your child at Mass, there is something missing.

  • We’ve taken our kids to Mass since they were infants without problems but your point is well made: the parents are in the best place to judge so the rest of us should stay out of it… To a point.

    I don’t mind small children fussing in Mass. Jesus clearly didn’t mind them fussing during his sermons either. I find older kids misbehaving to be far more distracting.

    The boys in tank tops, underpants hanging out of their shorts. The kids’ phones goingoff, the occasional text, the disrespect shown to their parents when asked to behave, these things annoy the daylights out of me.

    Give me an unhappy innocent any day rather than a disgruntled teen.

  • “I’ve been told a number of times by people a good 20 to 30 years older than I am (I’m 44) that when they were little, by golly, people understood that the Mass was holy and that you didn’t bring babies to Holy Mass and turn it into Romper Room ™.”

    I suspect you are right, Erin; as noted above my own parents took the Leave Them Home approach (my brother and I were born in the early 60s). There are several reasons why that approach MAY have been more prevalent in the pre-Vatican II era:

    1. Back when most moms stayed home with and were solely responsible for supervising babies and toddlers ALL day, EVERY day, and most kids didn’t leave home during the day until kindergarten or 1st grade, Sunday Mass might have been the only break some moms got during the week. Also, husbands and wives tended to move in different social circles so attending Mass separately was not seen as odd or abnormal.

    2. The child-rearing “experts” of the early to mid-20th century seriously underestimated the learning abilities of infants and toddlers. I think the prevailing “wisdom” up to, say, about 1960 was that kids weren’t really capable of learning anything important until at least age 3 or 4. There certainly was not the emphasis on early learning that we have today, as evidenced by the fact (noted above) that most kids didn’t set foot in anything resembling a classroom until age 5 or 6.

    3. The Mass was in Latin, and if you assumed (based on #2) that little kids weren’t ready to learn Latin you probably assumed they weren’t ready to attend Mass either.

    It also should go without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — that “leave them home” doesn’t mean “leave them home every Sunday for the first 5 years of their lives, then start bringing them to Mass with no advance preparation.” If you simply leave them at home and do nothing else, then yes, chances are they will have trouble adjusting when they do begin attending Mass. However, there are ways to prepare children for Mass attendance even when they are not yet going every week — for example, by bringing them to less crowded and shorter weekday Masses or on brief church/adoration chapel visits.

  • In general, commenters on this issue fall into two camps: the “Bring The Kids” camp… and the “Leave Them Home” camp…
    –Elaine Krewer

    I disagree. I strongly disagree. Commenters fall into three camps, (1) Bring ‘Em And Keep ‘Em At Mass No Matter What, (2) Leave Them Home No Matter What, and (3) Love Thy Neighbor (a.k.a. Let’s All Behave Reasonably And Be Reasonably Accommodating Of Others).

    In my experience camps 1 and 2 are unreasonably touchy and try to dominate the comboxes any time the subject comes up. But they’re not most people even if sometimes they leave the most comments. 80% or more are in the third camp but one wouldn’t know it to hear just one parent in the first camp talk. And most of the folks in the second camp were driven there by parents of the Bring ‘Em and Keep ‘Em At Mass No Matter What camp

  • – The size, layout and acoustics of the church may mitigate or aggravate the annoyance level caused by baby/child noise. If several crying babies or fussy toddlers are spread out in a huge cathedral with 800 to 1,000 seats, a high vaulted ceiling and an excellent sound system, chances are they will be less disruptive than if they were crammed in a tiny country church with only 150-200 seats and no cry room, or in a 1970s-style “church in the round” with low ceilings and a poor sound system.
    –Elaine Krewer

    Well said. And thanks for pointing out one of the horrors of those theatre-in-the-round things. Their interior cross sections are elliptical. This allows sound from the back of the space to propagate very well, sabotaging the efforts of the parent who reasonably supposes that taking the non-stop crying child to the back will reduce the amount of disturbance the child is making. My parish has one of those buildings (built in the 1980s) and everyone can hear any conversation in the vestibule, the doors open and close for every late arrival, and every child crying or being hushed. Some of us joke about moving the musicians and choir back there to take advantage of the acoustics. (And a few of us are serious.)

    Alas, the diocese where I reside is still building those horrors. (Seems to me a 2000-year old Church would know how to build a proper worship building by now. And how not to. Sigh.)

  • My wife and I brought our kids to mass from birth. That is why God created cry rooms!.
    Donald R. McClarey

    God did not create cry rooms. They may even be an abomination in the sight of the Lord.

    I started in the “Cry rooms, what a good idea!” camp and have moved over the years toward the opposite view. I’ve too often seen them lead parents and children into tempation to make play rooms and snack rooms out of them. You know what the Lord has warned about those who cause others to fall. And how the Lord treated those who abused His Father’s house. No whips and millstones for me, thank you very much.

  • “They may even be an abomination in the sight of the Lord.”

    Only for the truly crazy among us Micha.

The Cultural Divide Quiz

Monday, March 25, AD 2013

The notion that America is becoming increasingly divided between a liberal-leaning, coastal- or urban-dwelling elite and more conservative folks living in “flyover country” has been around for some time. However, author Charles Murray put a bit of a new spin on it in his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.”

In conjunction with the release of his book in 2012, Murray composed a 25-question quiz designed to determine whether the quiz-taker is in touch with mainstream American culture or lives in one of the elite “bubbles” described in the book. The quiz can be taken at this link.

Some of the more unusual questions in the quiz include:

— Have you ever bought a pickup truck?
— Have you gone fishing in the past 5 years?
— In the past month, have you voluntarily socialized with anyone who smokes?
— Have you ever had any close friends who were evangelical Christians?
— Have you ever participated in a parade not connected with environmentalism, gay rights, or an anti-war protest?
— Who is Jimmie Johnson?
— What does “Branson” mean to you?
— In the past year, have you stocked your fridge with domestic mass market beer (e.g., Pabst, Budweiser)?

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13 Responses to The Cultural Divide Quiz

  • My test results were 66:

    “42–100: A first-generation middle-class person with working-class parents and average television and movie going habits. Typical: 66. ”

    “The real issue is whether we look at people as individuals, unique persons made in the image of God, or see them only as faceless representatives of groups or ideas. The emotions we have toward generalized groups such as “liberals”, “the rich”, “the poor”, etc., probably matter less in terms of our eternal salvation, than how we behave toward particular people who belong to those groups.”


    “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.”

    The Brothers Karamazov

  • Any test has limits to its validity. In more than one of my answers I had to approximate because none of the options fit. It tells me my score of 25 indicates:

    11–80: A first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents. Typical: 33.

    0–43: A second-generation (or more) upper-middle-class person who has made a point of getting out a lot. Typical: 9.

    Neither is true.

  • 66 was my score as well.

    48–99: A lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood with average television and movie going habits. Typical: 77.

    42–100: A first-generation middle-class person with working-class parents and average television and movie going habits. Typical: 66.

    11–80: A first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents. Typical: 3

    I don’t really fit any of these well. Such it will be with any pigeonholing quiz, I suspect.

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  • I got a comfortable bubble living 31. I think I’m much more in touch than my neighbors here in suburban MD who probably have scores in the <20. I gained some points by the fact that I have family in MS and drive down there once a year. Lots of chain food eatin' along the way. Why don't fast food and Chipotle count as middle America? If that were true, I'd be full on blue collar. Also since almost everyone I know is a flaming liberal, I know many people who disagree with me politically. For most of these folks, I'm their token conservative friend.

  • My score was 56.

    I find things like this amusing. It often seem slike the Liberals and Progressives and Academic elite are so quick to label and cartegorize. What ever happened to the celbration of diversity? Oh yeah, only if it’s the correct type of diversity.

  • 54. Whatever that means.

  • I think I scored low on the test (36) because I don’t do anything. I don’t march in gay parades or straight parades. I don’t drink blue-collar beer or white-collar wine. I guess it is a bubble, but not an ideological one.

    My bet is that a lot of the people on this site are conservatives who spend most of their time in or near a liberal bubble. Like the Zummos, I’m in Maryland, and it’s not easy to construct a conservative bubble around here.

  • Yah this test is pathetically linear and simplistic. Too many variables go into something like this…simply getting a number and being grouped accordingly is silly.

    Though my score of “54” doesn’t fit in the pre-made category they have, it is appropriately”middle of the road.” I live in very rural MN, am involved in my community, love the outdoors, and have friends who drink and smoke, even if I don’t regularly indulge in those habits myself. However, I simultaneously despise American pop culture, watch nothing on TV but sports, rarely go to the movies, and refuse to listen to anything but MPR on the radio (although i listen to the public radio station out of Grand Rapids when I can get it). I actually enjoy and value many of the cultural practices that are haphazardly and incorrectly thought of as “liberal,” like community gardens, organic foods, local theater, and town centre revitalization.

    This test was simply built on a false spectrum, with gun-toting, beer guzzling NASCAR hillbillies on one pole, and appletini sipping, hipster pussy metrosexual elites on the other. People are more complicated than that.

  • 56. There are a few blue collar things that i have not done or don’t do, such as drink typical American beer, or go fishing.

    Eat n Park is not on the list of chain restaurants. If it were, I think I would have scored 75.

    I checked yes on buying a pickup truck. I have not bought a pickup truck, but I drove the truck my dad bought for $600 when I was 16-19, and I drove an Explorer for 13 years.

    Maryland, or most of it, has become a bland place full of leftists and control freak politicians. I left there in 1993. I lived in Maryland because I refused to pay the personal property (car) tax assessed by Virginia counties. I would flee the country before living around DC ever again.

  • I scored 59, but probably would have scored higher if 1) we had a TV (we gave up cable and broadcast TV a few years ago to save money and because everything we needed to know or see was available online) and 2) if either I or my husband cared about sports (we couldn’t care less about the Super Bowl, World Series, Daytona 500 or March Madness). Most of my working class street cred comes from growing up in a small town, living in an old farmhouse in a rural area for several years and owning a pickup truck that was on its last legs, holding part time jobs at Casey’s and Dollar General (which come with uniforms and lots of standing on your feet) and skating perilously close to the poverty line for a couple of years after losing a good job.

  • My score was 57. By all rights, I should have had points for the pickup truck I would have bought save for our having six kids. The author may be an elitist himself if he assumes my attachment to fishing, hunting and shooting should predispose a liking for crappy TV shows. I don’t like watery beer. So what? He applies a stereotype. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste.

  • Judge Judy and this small city life scored a 54.

Religious Liberty: “You Need Not Thank Anyone But God For It”

Sunday, April 22, AD 2012

Hat tip to Mark Scott Abeln at Rome of the West for bringing the story which follows to our attention.  Although the U.S. Constitution enshrines free exercise of religion as the first freedom in the First Amendment, attempts by government to assert authority over who can and cannot carry out the ministry of the Church happened long before the recent unpleasantness of the HHS mandate.

One such instance occurred almost 150 years ago in Missouri, in the aftermath of the Civil War.  In the closing months of the war, Radical Republicans, determined to prevent resurgence of proslavery or pro-secessionist power, drafted a new state constitution which imposed a “Test Oath” as a condition of being allowed to vote, hold public office, or practice certain professions. Those required to take the Test Oath included teachers, physicians, attorneys, corporation officials, and clergy of all denominations. Those who continued to practice their profession or ministry after a specified deadline without having taken the oath were subject to arrest, fines and imprisonment.

The oath required one to affirm various provisions of the new constitution, including one that excluded persons who had ever “given aid, comfort, countenance or support to any person engaged in hostility” against the United States from the professions and activities covered by the law.  As the oath was written, persons who had any kind of regular contact or relationship with a Confederate or Southern sympathizer before or during the war were or could be excluded.  Moreover, demanding assent to the oath as a condition of exercising religious ministry was a blatant infringement upon religious freedom. Archbishop Peter Kenrick of St. Louis had ordered his priests to remain neutral during the war, and when the Test Oath was enacted, counseled his priests against taking it.

Father John Joseph Hogan, a native of Ireland who had served scattered missions in rural Missouri since 1857, was one of those who refused to take the oath. A grand jury refused to indict him for violating the Test Oath law, but Radical officials replaced those jurors with others who returned an indictment. Father Hogan was then arrested but freed after posting bail. He wrote the following in a letter to parishioners and other supporters who had protested his arrest (emphasis added):

You term Religious Liberty a God-given right. So it is. Let me add. You need not thank anyone but God for it. God is the source of Right and Power. He has said to those sent by Him to teach His religion: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach ye all nations. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” In virtue of this power, He sends us to teach and promises to be with us. His authority is ours. Were it man’s authority, man would not now oppose, nor from the beginning have opposed, its exercise. The Civil Authority has been ever, from the days of Herod, the enemy of Christ. Christ therefore could not have entrusted to it, the care of His heavenly teaching …

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5 Responses to Religious Liberty: “You Need Not Thank Anyone But God For It”

  • Great post Elaine and a big Amen to your last sentence.

  • Dieu et mon droit.

  • Religious freedom encompasses all freedom, the freedom to speak to God, to write about and to God and the freedom to peaceably assemble for God. Freedom for our constitutional posterity encompasses the right to Life. “but not conspire against Caesar” is written into law that forbids assassinating heads of government, but meeting, as St. Joan of Arc did predators of her people is not conspiring against Caesar. It may even be called an education for Caesar. I may forgive my murderer, I cannot forgive my neighbor’s (read countryman) murderer without becoming an accessory after the fact.

  • Here in Scotland, the Declaratory Articles, ratified by parliament in the Church of Scotland Act 1921, contains one of the clearest statements of the principle that I know:

    “This Church, as part of the Universal Church wherein the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed a government in the hands of Church office-bearers, receives from Him, its Divine King and Head, and from Him alone, the right and power subject to no civil authority to legislate, and to adjudicate finally, in all matters of doctrine, worship, government, and discipline in the Church… Recognition by civil authority of the separate and independent government and jurisdiction of this Church in matters spiritual, in whatever manner such recognition be expressed, does not in any way affect the character of this government and jurisdiction as derived from the Divine Head of the Church alone, or give to the civil authority any right of interference with the proceedings or judgments of the Church within the sphere of its spiritual government and jurisdiction.”

    They also state, “This Church acknowledges the divine appointment and authority of the civil magistrate within his own sphere…”

  • I should add that the role of the civil courts is clearly set out in the Ministers Act 1693, “Their Majesties with Advice and Consent foresaid Doe [sic] Hereby Statute and Ordaine [sic] that the Lords of their Majesties Privy Councill [sic] and all other Magistrates Judges and Officers of Justice give all due assistance for makeing [sic] the Sentences and Censures of the Church and Judicatures thereof to be obeyed or otherways effectuall [sic] as accords”

The “Other” Winston Churchill

Friday, February 10, AD 2012

Most TAC readers are familiar with Winston Churchill, the British statesman. But they may not be familiar with another Winston Churchill whose fame, at one time, eclipsed that of his British counterpart.

The “other” Winston Churchill was an American novelist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote several best-selling historical novels, including one (which I will discuss later) that provides a fascinating glimpse into the Civil War era and the rise of Abraham Lincoln.

The American Churchill was born Nov. 10, 1871, in St. Louis, Mo., three years and 20 days before the British Churchill. After attending primary and secondary schools in St. Louis, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating in 1894. Less than a year after receiving his commission, he resigned to pursue a literary career. In 1895 he became managing editor of The Cosmopolitan magazine — at that time a literary periodical nothing like its modern incarnation. Then he gave up that post to devote himself to writing his own novels, poems, and essays.

His first novel, The Celebrity, was published in 1898, but his second, Richard Carvel (1899) proved to be his most popular. Richard Carvel tells the story of an orphaned descendant of English nobility who grows up in colonial Maryland, journeys to England in pursuit of the woman he loves, then returns to America just in time to join the American Revolution. It was a huge hit, selling over 2 million copies in a nation of only 76 million citizens at the time.

His next book, The Crisis (1901), which can be read online at this link, is set in his native St. Louis in the years 1857 to 1865. The third of Churchill’s  popular historical novels was The Crossing (1904), which recounts the settlement of Kentucky and the conquest of the Illinois Country during the American Revolution.

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2 Responses to The “Other” Winston Churchill

  • I learned something today…when I was a child we had an old bookshelf full of even older books. Our family of 8 children and two parents left little ‘extra,” but one thing our mother especially but our dad too encouraged and instilled in every one of us children was a love of reading. I was # 8 and born in 1955, so I remember seeing those old and somewhat tattered books and spending plenty of time perusing through them, as we all did.

    One of those books was “The Inside of the Cup” (which you mention in your article) by Winston Churchill. I never knew there were two–and always just assumed it was written by the British Prime Minister!

    It would be great fun to once again obtain a copy of that book, almost 50 years after I first saw it as a child. I may just have to do some book hunting, and this time I will know who the “real” author was!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, and I am off to do some “book hunting.”

  • The Winston Churchills also corresponded with each other (both wittily) regarding how to avoid confusion regarding the English Churchill’s forthcoming–and only–novel, Savrola.

    Later, the American Churchill hosted a dinner for the English Churchill in America. Amusingly enough, the tab was delivered to the English Churchill at the end. The American Churchill quickly remedied that.

If You Want to Send the GOP A Message, Now Is The Time

Sunday, January 8, AD 2012

At least every four years (or more frequently when Congressional, state and local elections are considered) the Catholic blogosphere starts erupting with debate over whether voting for a major party candidate who is not fully pro-life or in line with Catholic moral teachings, but appears to be the lesser evil when compared to his or her opponent from the other major party, is morally permissible or advisable.

Right now this question, on the conservative Catholic side at least, is being raised in relation to whether or not Catholics should prefer Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or another candidate over Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for president, and whether or not to vote for Romney over Obama in the general election if Romney ends up as the GOP nominee. Some who are less than satisfied with Romney’s past record on life and family issues say they will not vote for him at all, not even in November and not even if his loss means another 4 years of Obama, because they believe the GOP needs to be sent a strong message about the importance of life, family and cultural issues. Others believe the prospect of a second Obama term is sufficient reason to vote for the GOP candidate in the general election even if he is less than satisfactory.

What follows are just a few of my own personal reflections and suggestions on this topic. They are merely suggestions offered for your consideration and should not be construed as a moral judgment against any who may disagree. Also, because they appear to comprise the majority of TAC readers, I am addressing myself solely to Republican or GOP-leaning Catholics opposed to Obama’s reelection. Again, this is for simplicity’s sake and not meant as a moral judgment against persons with a different view.

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8 Responses to If You Want to Send the GOP A Message, Now Is The Time

  • Good analysis, Elaine, but I will be voting against Obama even if it means that I have to hold my nose while so doing and then visit the vomitorium afterwards. That godless man of depravity, iniquity and murder has got to go.

  • Clearly voting for Obama would be voting for the worst pro-life, anti Christian policy president ever. Any of the Republican nominees are better in these areas as well as economic issues. Don’t hold your nose to vote. Run to the polls and take everyyone else along with you to vote Obama out of office.

  • Note to commenters: try to stick to the topic of your preferences or thought processes regarding NON-Democratic candidates. I doubt that most TAC blog readers need to be persuaded not to vote for Obama. If you feel the need to address those who do need to be so persuaded, do so on another thread. Thanks!

  • This advisory is in response to a comment I deleted, and not to the published comments above, by the way.

  • I would like to comment on why I am voting for Newt and not voting for Mitt Romney. Alot of Christian Conservatives are voting for Romney, but my thoughts are that my husband of 54 years and I believe that you have to mix politics with your Faith. Without Faith in Christ, we do not believe that the Holy Spirit will guide you in making important decisions in whatever comes up in your life or government. We really need Christian leaders that accept Christ as their personal Savior. As far as Romney, he says he is a Christian and by no means would I judge someone’s Salvation, but my husband and I studied Mormomism in a 6 week course 54 years ago and we did not become Mormons. They believe that the Church died when the Apostles died and that is why we needed a New Church. Christ said that “Upon this rock, I shall build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”. We believe that Christ is the head of the Church and we as believers are part of His Body of Believers. The Church is not made with hands, for the Holy Spirit lives within you and we are part of the Church whoever you are that accept Christ. We feel that Mitt Romney is very gullable to believe that a man by the name of Joseph Smith was needed to bring the Church back and that is why they baptize for the dead relatives. If the Lord or Lord and the King of Kings could not keep His Church together, how could anyone believe that a nobody could come along and start a New Church? This is totally not Scriptural at all. In the Book of Galations, it says that “If a angel comes to you and preaches to you any other Gospel than what you have received, let him be accursed”. We do not need a President that is gullable in believing this story. We fully support Newt and believe that he is forgiven for his past sins and God has buried them in the deepest sea. We feel that Newt will be able to lead our Country and put God back into our Government. Praise God for Newt!!

  • that is, if your primary vote is actually binding and is not a mere “beauty contest” (as in some states where the convention delegates are not bound by the outcome of the popular primary vote).

    Even if only a beauty contest, it would still have the effect of sending a message.

  • The 12/30/11 post about Republicans says it best, so I copied it for this one.

    My message to the GOP is that reputation fallacies of rich v. poor, war-mongering, self-serving, and on and on should be cleared up for the opposing voting block. There should be a clear presentation of ‘change’ situations we are in now as to right/wrong, accountability, debt spiral (bailouts), budget ignorance, and the bleak near future for them and their children. Also, clear the fallacies of ‘champion of common man’ the partying Dems. enjoy.

    “Bill Whittle explains it all. Certain essential principles have always been maintained by the Republican party:

    1. That the basis of all American government derives from the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.

    2. That discrimination on the basis of race by government is anathema to a free society.

    3. That the judiciary has often recklessly usurped powers that are bestowed in the Constitution in Congress or the Executive.

    4. That hostility to private enterprise is a self-defeating policy of government.

    5. That the primary duty of the Federal government is to safeguard the American people from external or internal threats.

    6. That no group in society is entitled to special privileges from government.

    7. That all Americans are entitled to receive the benefits of the rule of law without fear or favor.

    8. That attempts to divide the American people by appeals to racial prejudice are incompatible with a free society.

    9. That the politics of class hatred or class envy is a disastrous policy for a political party to follow.

    10. That freedom is the birthright of all Americans.

    Keep this in mind next year when much of the lamestream media does its best, in order to ensure that Obama stays in power, to confuse the Republican party with the adversary it has fought throughout its history.”

The Blind Men and the (Economic) Elephant

Saturday, October 8, AD 2011

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by American John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) recounts a traditional Hindu tale still used as a caution against focusing too narrowly on one aspect of the truth and failing to see the “big picture”. It’s a mistake many if not all of us have made at one time or another.

Right now I believe this poem is being played out in the public square via the contrasting, but in some ways overlapping, goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement and those of the Tea Party which preceded it. These two movements, I think, have more in common than they may realize, but see themselves as polar opposites because each focuses on different aspects of the economic “elephant in the room” — the squeezing of the middle class.

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12 Responses to The Blind Men and the (Economic) Elephant

  • I find it hard to think that the Occupy Wall Street Movement consists of much more than the usual Left rent-a-mobs, college kids out for a good time, hard core Leftists, and roving anarchists like those who show up at World Bank meetings. To try to discern a coherent message out of this over hyped agit-prop is probably a waste of time, but it seems to boil down to putting everybody on cradle to grave welfare and making the government pay for everything. Oh, and a common trope is debt forgiveness, especially, surprise!, student loan debt. I do not view this as in any way comparable to the Tea Party movement which is a serious political force in this land. The Occupy Wall Street movement is, if it is anything other than an opportunity to have a street party, the last reactionary impulse of a Leftist statism that is visibly failing and has no ideas on how to get government spending and debt under control, and to improve the economy. As a political movement it will be an anchor straight to the bottom except for politicians in most deeply blue political enclaves. The bailout of the banks in 2008 was a very bad idea. Reacting to that by conducting bailouts of everyone is simply lunacy and I think most voters understand that.

  • This is a good article and I do believe that there are points to be made for the OWS – however, it is being said that SEIU and other Union organizations are bussing in illegal aliens and paying them to protest. The illegal aliens don’t speak English and don’t know what they are there for but they are getting paid and that’s all that is necessary. In Wisconsin Union bosses bussed in people from all over the country to protest and the protest was not peaceful – they aggressively stormed the State Capitol just as they aggressively stormed the property of a banker while his young son was along inside of the house, terrified. In the interviews i have seen and heard, it seemed that most of the OWS protesters had no idea why they were there or what they were protesting – Pelosi blesses them though and says that they are focused and that they arose ‘spontaneously’ which I don’t believe is true, while she againt depicts Tea Partiers as violent and insists that they spat at her and her cohorts though that was proven to be untrue…

  • Perhaps I didn’t make it clear in my post, but I do think the Tea Party is closer to the truth than Occupy Wall Street.

    However, I still think the basic concepts of OWS that big business and the financial sector have sought government handouts they do not deserve and that they should be held to account in some fashion for their role in the financial collapse, is valid. If other leftist groups hijack that idea for their own purposes and add other less worthy ideas to the agenda, that is another problem altogether.

  • Agreed Elaine. I have always been appalled by Government bailouts of any business enterprise. It defeats the whole purpose of free markets where any enterprise should be free to succeed or fail. This video of course is quite eloquent on the pernicious effect of such attempts to rescue big businesses or banks:

  • I remember this poem from my Catholic school days almost 50 years ago. I found your application of it entertaining and thought provoking. While thoroughly enjoying this read, I felt I owed you my simple thoughts as you provoked :). What is clear among many things vague concerning OWS is the Marxist ideology which serves as its “organizing” focus and energy. There is nothing redeeming in an ideology of hate and envy. I would dare say that OWS is blindly inspecting a donkey, not an elephant.

    The TEA party as I view it has an unarticulated Chestertonian recognition of the despicable marriage of big government and big institutional interests, Hudge and Grudge. In one limited sense can an argument be made of a commonality between TEA and OWS: the physical occupation of “wall street” is but a physical symbol of only a part of the TEA party grievances. In that sense the TEA party is the elephant, and the OWS the blind men. May we elect our elephants over their jackasses.

  • I still think the basic concepts of OWS that big business and the financial sector have sought government handouts they do not deserve

    First, if the government subsidy was something the businesses “deserve” then it wouldn’t be a “handout” would it?

    Second, the TEA Party folks have been unhappy about unearned government benefits given to “big business and the financial sector” long before any leftist community organizer dreamed up OWS.

    …and that they should be held to account in some fashion for their role in the financial collapse…

    A punitive ex post facto law is what the mainstream OWS agitates for, among TEA Party folk it’s only their fringe element that talks that way.

    P.S. In my personal experience, “they’re all alike” and “stop the bickering” are shibboleths of the politically ignorant and uninvolved.

  • I didn’t say “They’re all alike”. I said they are looking at different aspects of the same problem. Yes, the Tea Party is more right than OWS but I think we ignore at our peril the very real concerns that are beginning to attract ordinary people — not ONLY the usual suspect leftist rent-a-mobs — to OWS.

    And how is seeking a proper BALANCE between government and the private sector, instead of regarding one as the root of all evil and the other as entirely good and able to do no wrong, a sign of “political ignorance”?

  • The Tea Party movement began as a truly grassroots effort made up of sincere and honest middle class Americans. It quickly got high jacked by conservative PACs and the Republican Party.

    The OWS movement began as an AstroTurf creation of left wing PACs and members of the Democrat party (with a wink from the White House) and hopes to attract the left wing version of the same middle class discontent that the Tea Party tapped into.
    Both groups are right on what the problem is, and both groups are either clueless or just dangerously wrong on what the solution is.

    Perhaps if the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on economic and social justice were a little more well known, then a solution would be more apparent.

    Lassaiz faire capitalism (which many in the conservative and libertarian movement are advocating as a solution to our nation’s problems) is just as morally bankrupt as the socialist/communist garbage that the left wingers are advocating.

    I know good and sincere folks on both sides of this issue, and neither side seems to see where the common ground is. Like the commentary above states, the media and the political players have turned this into a fight between two groups of middle class partisans.

    I see it as a fight between the Koch Brothers and George Soros.

    Look at the front groups on both sides and follow the money trail. I have.

  • “The problem ain’t what people don’t know. The problem’s what people know that ain’t so.” Will Rogers

    It’s not laissez faire, anymore. It’s “Wall Street” gaming the byzantine system their politician allies set up for them.

    It’s the opposite of free markets. The current Great Recession – no end in sight – was caused by crony (dem and GOP big guv types) capitalism, and central control gone wild with too much discretion causing massive, widespread financial damage with their 100%-wrong track record since 1913 when the (the plutocrats and the politicians:see Jeckyl Island conspiracy theorist half-sane investigative work) Fed and Fed income tax were imposed.

    Wall Street and the politicians are in an unholy alliance. The unions and Fed EPA/CAFI regs bankrupted GM and its bank (now Ally Bank) and Chrysler. And in the nationalization, the guvmint stole from GM investors to pay off UAW bosses and thugs.

    The “banks” (seems that would be every corporation that isn’t a saloon), e.g., Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America (among the largest Obama funding bunglers) would not have made and securitized 2,000,000 loans to subprime, no document check, no income check, option ARM, Alt-A, low-to-moderate income liar loans (the US home ownership rate rose to 69% from 65% in the 1990’s to 2007) were it not for their politician-allies’ creations the Fed, FDIC, FHA, FHLMC, FNMA, HMDA, CRA, HUD, VA, etc.

    Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall; Clinton and Greenspan refused to regulate (e.g., credit default swaps) the OTC derivatives markets; Clinton/Greenspan’s Long Term Capital Management bailout set the bail out precedent; Clinton, Cuomo, Bush, et al decided everyone regardless of repayment capacity (50% of FHLMC/FNMA home loan purchases must be to low-to-moderate income, CRA-types) should own a house; Greenspan kept interest rates too low, too long; etc.; etc.

    And, why did the Fed save Bear Stearns, and then allow Lehman Brothers to go belly up? That caused the October 2008 financial melt-down (liquidity crisis) which caused the precipitous creation of TARP, etc.

    Re: The bail out = TARP was 98% repaid: plus 5.5% dividends plus warrants-related capital gains to the government. In fact, JPMorgan Chase Bank was forced to take TARP $$$ so the “dead sisters” wouldn’t appear dead. AIG was provided over $80 billion (?) so it’s losses would be contained and not bust thousands of Wall Street counter-parties and filter down to you and me. And, US money market mutual funds (MMF’s) were about to “bust the dollar”, and so the US gov provided them with FDIC-like guaranties so John Q Public didn’t suffer $$$ losses. That was almost without cost, and it prevented ruinous runs on MMF’s.

    OTOH, $4 trillion in new debt and $2.5 trillion in Fed QE’s filled the coffers of whomever who will never repay.

    The OWS imbeciles want everyone to get paid $20 an hour and to get free everything all the time.

    There are two main problems not only with with the BAIL OUT but also the WS/Washington cabal: 1. the markets will not clear or properly function; and 2. the lying idiots (in the Congress and on Wall Street) that caused massive devastation are largely still in place.

    A stopped clock is right twice a day . . .

  • This is complex stuff. My insticts are against bailing out losers. I’m generally mistrusting of hastily written law and the method by which these bailouts and infusions were passed troubles me. I appreciate the attempts at providing a “cliff notes” to the arguments.

    With regards to the protests, everything written in the MSM about the Philadelphia “ocupation” on Friday is a lie. I was there at 4 pm. There were no more than a hundred or so people at City Hall. It was a “diverse” group, if by diverse you mean sixty-somethings and twenty-somethings who’s only “occupations” are protesting.

    Protesting what though? I really can’t say. Democrisy (that’s how one sign bearer spells it anyway) was a big theme but, with no better or more explicit description, I don’t really know what, if any, visions pass through their pierced and unkempt heads. Corruption is a big theme but the three speakers I heard seemed to think that it was Bush and “Congress” that are to blame… Though maybe I’m unfairlt presuming that they don’t realize that it wasn’t the present Congress that passed the bailouts.

    The funniest thing I heard was from a lawyer on the train who remarked “the last time Philadelphia was occupied was by the British and I’m guessing no one walked by openly mocking them.”

  • You’ve hit the nail on the head here.
    Not all poor (or middle class) are virtuous, nor are all rich (or middle class) perfidious sinners. Without a government that seeks to induce its citizens first to strive first for the Kingdom and God and His Righteousness (and hence, virtue), there is going to be one distortion after another as unworthy ends of sinful men, rich and poor, are given the means of government to acheive them. You’ve identified greed in both camps, acedia among many poor and avarice among many rich. That doesn’t exhaust the list of sins that our (U. S.) people–having been given every possible worldly blessing and many spiritual ones–have turned to and inflated with their money (even our poor are richer than most of the other inhabitants of Earth) and their staggering leisure time.
    Not only that, after the wrath blows through, there’ll be sinners who have held on to their one-percenter riches and sinners who still expect to be fed and entertained (and have all the sex and drugs they want) without accepting any personal responsibility.
    It’s not a pretty picture. I do think, however, that more and more people are beginning to suspect that neither camp has all the answers. That’s worth something.

Our Lady of Good Help

Thursday, March 3, AD 2011

A reenactment of Our Lady's apparition to Adele Brise in 1859

About three months ago a groundbreaking development with significant nationwide implications occurred in Wisconsin.

No, I’m not talking about the showdown between Gov. Scott Walker and public employee unions, nor even about the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl.

I am referring to the Dec. 8, 2010, declaration by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay that an apparition of the Virgin Mary to Belgian immigrant Adele Brise in 1859 was “worthy of belief” and of veneration by the faithful.

The declaration makes the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis., the first — and to date only — site in the United States of an approved Marian apparition. The site is only the second in North America (besides Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City) to be so designated. More background on the apparitions and on the visionary herself can be found here at the shrine’s website.

As fellow TAC blogger Dave Hartline has noted, approved Marian apparitions tend to coincide to some extent with events that can be described as trials or upheavals in the immediate region, or on a national or worldwide scale. Notable examples include Fatima, which occurred just as the Communist Russian Revolution took place in 1917; the apparitions at Kibeho, Rwanda in 1981, which foretold the Rwandan genocide; and Our Lady of Zeitoun (Egypt) in 1968, occurring shortly after Egypt’s defeat in the Six Day War.

Did the pattern hold true in this case? It would appear so. First, the apparitions themselves occurred as the nation was sliding rapidly toward the Civil War. The apparition on Oct. 9, 1859, occurred only one week before abolitionist John Brown’s famous raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia — an event which convinced many Americans that civil war could no longer be avoided.

Second, and much closer to home, was the devastating forest fire that ravaged Peshtigo, Wis. and surrounding areas 12 years later — almost to the day — in 1871. The Peshtigo fire killed between 1,200 and 2,500 people — up to 10 times as many as the much more famous Great Chicago Fire which broke out the same night. The shrine which Adele and her family had built to Our Lady was in the path of the flames, but was spared after residents gathered there to pray.

With all that in mind, I can’t help but suspect an element of Divine Providence in the timing of the shrine’s approval. When Mary originally appeared, it was to a struggling frontier people, lacking proper formation in their faith, facing the upheavals of nature and of imminent civil war.

Now, just as another wrenching cultural battle breaks out in the Badger State itself, the Church grants Her blessing to this apparition, and makes her a patroness that can be claimed by all Americans. Perhaps her intercession could help us through the moral and social wilderness in which we find ourselves today?


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8 Responses to Our Lady of Good Help

  • We Are Not Alone

    History and Scripture caught a short glimpse of her when she came to deliver the Redeemer to us. Now she is ready, even at the door of our hearts awaiting her son’s triumphant return to assist our Lord in the harvest of men. She has been quietly but effectively preparing the faithful by spiritual visions and appearances all over the world, mostly to the poor and holy souls or little children, imploring them to pray for peace and live lives worthy of the promises of Christ through repentance and sacrifice seeking to bring as many to her Divine Son as possible. Soon all the world will acknowledge her presence as God’s will unfolds before us. We must prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming and painful though merciful judgment upon the world by devout prayer, frequent confession, daily mass if possible, and many rosaries. Our Holy Mother has repeated this constantly in her many apparitions and messages over the years. We need to appreciate her place and participation in God’s eternal plan like the servants at the wedding feast.
    The gospels reveal Mary’s compassion and intersession at the marriage feast in Cana for the host and their guests on such a joyous celebration. She quite obviously knew her son’s capabilities at this time and also the love they jointly shared for all God’s people. Without hesitation she went to her son as the great intercessor that she is for mankind and stated simply “They have no wine,” giving Him, the one she knew to be the “son of the most high” an opportunity to reveal Himself and save the situation. Not yet ready to identify Himself in public but desiring to satisfy His mother’s wishes, He lovingly surrendered and asked “What would YOU have me do?” She, knowing her place in God’s redemptive plan as well as her motherly pride in her son, turned to the servants and told them to “Do what ever HE tells you.” This exchange and the efforts of the “servants”, marking His first miracle, was a foreshadowing of the situation today as we await Christ’s return for His “coming out” eternal wedding with His church. Likewise, through our priest and the Eucharist we, as transformed repentant sinners, can enjoy the “good wine” of salvation and eternal union with Him which began as the life giving water of our baptism.
    The stain of Satan’s deceitful plan on mankind in the garden by using “the woman” is about to have a full measure of justice returned upon its author and those who have joined him. We are about to witness the testimony of God when He told the deceiver “she will crush your head with her heel”.
    Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, asks that we close our eyes and ears to the lure of Satan’s call and learn from her, the mother of mercy and love of the Father for his children, and “do what ever” Christ has told us. No, we are definitely not alone nor on our own as we go out to gather in Christ’s sheep for Him. We need to realize the spiritual plurality we possess at all times. We have Christ the living truth of the gospels, the Holy Spirit as sent by our Lord, and also His blessed mother whose ultimate destiny was foretold by our loving Father. We must “Fear not for I am with you always, even until the end of this world”.

  • That’s a very interesting insight, about Our Lady appearing at the time of great national upheavals. I might add that the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531 came just as the Protestant movement in Europe began to gain ground, with many Catholics being converted to Protestant beliefs.
    The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe led to the conversion of millions of Mexicans, almost overnight. It was if Our Lady was opening the door to millions of more Catholics to make up for what was lost in Europe at the same time.
    For more information on the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, to go

  • Pingback: Our Lady’s appearances and national tumult
  • Note to commenters: Please DO NOT promote any ongoing or unapproved apparitions, locutions, or visionaries in your comments. This is not meant as a personal judgment on any commenter or on any revelation. I merely want to stay on the topic of apparitions which HAVE received Church approval and not get off into a debate about the veracity of others. Thank you!

  • Well, it depends on where the line is drawn between North and South America. If it is the border between Panama and Colombia, then, this is not only the 2nd approved site in North America. Just as an example, Costa Rica’s Patroness is Our Lady of the Angels, who appeared in 1635. In 1862, the Pope granted a plenary indulgence to those who visited the site.
    At any rate, it’s very exciting to have a site in the US!

  • Melissa, thanks for the info regarding Costa Rica. By the common definition of “North America” that apparition would count as having taken place on our continent also.

  • With pleasure, Elaine! I have been there several times as I have family in CR. There is a plaque in the Basilica from the original proclamation, but I can’t find it referenced on the internet and can’t remember exactly the year. I wouldn’t be surprised to find other apparition sites in Central America either.

The Battle of Wisconsin, Part II: Abp. Listecki Weighs In

Saturday, February 19, AD 2011

In response to continuing protests against (and some in favor of) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to severely restrict public employee bargaining rights, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee issued the following  statement on Feb. 16:

The Church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices and financial responsibility to further the common good.  Our own dioceses and parishes have not been immune to the effects of the current economic difficulties.  But hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.  As Pope Benedict wrote in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in veritate:

Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions.  Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome.  The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum [60], for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level. [#25]

It does not follow from this that every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid.  Every union, like every other economic actor, is called to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities.

However, it is equally a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in 1981, “[a] union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.”  (Laborem exercens #20, emphasis in original)

It is especially in times of crisis that “new forms of cooperation” and open communication become essential.  We request that lawmakers carefully consider the implications of this proposal and evaluate it in terms of its impact on the common good.  We also appeal to everyone –lawmakers, citizens, workers, and labor unions – to move beyond divisive words and actions and work together, so that Wisconsin can recover in a humane way from the current fiscal crisis.

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16 Responses to The Battle of Wisconsin, Part II: Abp. Listecki Weighs In

  • I’m surprised at the extent the arguments of the contributors at Catholic Vote are taken seriously in this case. Archbishop Listecki’s statements was released specifically in the context of Governor Walker’s attempt to bust the public employee unions that didn’t endorse his bid for governor. This wasn’t a May Day statement. This wasn’t an idle musing. What Catholic Vote has attempted to do is strip Listecki’s statement of its context to make exactly the opposite point of what he was making. Listecki is clearly answering in the affirmative on the rights of public workers to organize.

  • Although the Church has been supportive of unions in theory since the papacy of Leo XIII, in practice the Church has been rather hostile to unions when the Church is the employer. Here is a link to an article on the Church and teacher labor unions in this country in 1976. The report has a strong pro-union bias, but the history it relates is accurate enough. Things tend to look different when one is the employer.

    The bishop’s statement seems anodyne enough, that I would find it hard to think of anyone who could not endorse it. That is the strength and weakness of reasonable statements, and this one is very reasonable.

  • Listecki’s statement doesn’t take a position on the bill one way or the other.

  • But hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers. … However, it is equally a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth.
    I’m not seeing any ambiguity there especially given the specific context in which this statement was made.

  • On the other hand:

    “It does not follow from this that every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid. Every union, like every other economic actor, is called to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities.”

  • You seem to be confusing hands. Collective bargaining being a right and making reasonable demands while bargaining are the same side of a single argument.

  • There are occasions, doubtless, when it is fitting that the law should intervene to prevent certain associations, as when men join together for purposes which are evidently bad, unlawful, or dangerous to the State. In such cases, public authority may justly forbid the formation of such associations, and may dissolve them if they already exist. But every precaution should be taken not to violate the rights of individuals and not to impose unreasonable regulations under pretense of public benefit. For laws only bind when they are in accordance with right reason, and, hence, with the eternal law of God.

    Rerum Novarum 52

  • I’m not saying public employee unions ought to all be abolished immediately — even if they never “should have” existed in the first place. As I said in another post, it took 50 years for public unions to get to this point, we can’t expect to undo it all in 5 days or even 5 months. Nor should we get too carried away with the “all unions are evil and must be destroyed” theme being pushed by some (not all) conservatives.

    What I am saying is that it isn’t necessarily heretical or contrary to Catholic teaching to believe that Catholic social doctrine may not apply the same way to public employee unions as to private employee unions.

  • I am not in a position to judge the facts. So, I will refrain from detraction against anybody.

    Gov. Walker may be trying to balance the state budget; or he may busting public employee unions and denying them the right to collective bargaining because they supported his opponent who I BET promised them free access to the state treasury.

    Let’s take a look at the facts. How novel!

    From Instapundit and John Fund in today’s WSJ:

    “Labor historian Fred Siegel offers further reasons why unions are manning the barricades. Mr. Walker would require that public-employee unions be recertified annually by a majority vote of all their members, not merely by a majority of those that choose to cast ballots. In addition, he would end the government’s practice of automatically deducting union dues from employee paychecks. For Wisconsin teachers, union dues total between $700 and $1,000 a year.

    Fund: “’Ending dues deductions breaks the political cycle in which government collects dues, gives them to the unions, who then use the dues to back their favorite candidates and also lobby for bigger government and more pay and benefits,” Mr. Siegel told me. After New York City’s Transport Workers Union lost the right to automatic dues collection in 2007 following an illegal strike, its income fell by more than 35% as many members stopped ponying up.'”

  • “After New York City’s Transport Workers Union lost the right to automatic dues collection in 2007 following an illegal strike, its income fell by more than 35% as many members stopped ponying up.’”

    So perhaps they didn’t want to be members. So is being coerced to join a union against CST. I suspect yes.

  • MZ,

    The statement isn’t pro-Walker, clearly. But all he says is that people should consider the bill’s implications and the common good. Compare that with, say, the USCCB’s statements on OmbaaCare. Bishops are capable of saying outright that a bill should be rejected when they want to. That this wasn’t done here is telling.

  • Well, if anyone is interested in what I think, here it is:

    Leo XIII was talking about organizations that look absolutely nothing like the left-wing, pro-abortion, communist-ridden, Mafia-infested rackets that call themselves labor unions today.

    “57. To sum up, then, We may lay it down as a general and lasting law that working men’s associations should be so organized and governed as to furnish the best and most suitable means for attaining what is aimed at, that is to say, for helping each individual member to better his condition to the utmost in body, soul, and property. It is clear that they must pay special and chief attention to the duties of religion and morality, and that social betterment should have this chiefly in view; otherwise they would lose wholly their special character, and end by becoming little better than those societies which take no account whatever of religion. What advantage can it be to a working man to obtain by means of a society material well-being, if he endangers his soul for lack of spiritual food? “What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”(39)This, as our Lord teaches, is the mark or character that distinguishes the Christian from the heathen. “After all these things do the heathen seek . . . Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His justice: and all these things shall be added unto you.”(40) [NOTE Leo’s total rejection of materialism, which is what every modern left-wing union is entirely about – J.H.] Let our associations, then, look first and before all things to God; let religious instruction have therein the foremost place, each one being carefully taught what is his duty to God, what he has to believe, what to hope for, and how he is to work out his salvation; and let all be warned and strengthened with special care against wrong principles and false teaching. Let the working man be urged and led to the worship of God, to the earnest practice of religion, and, among other things, to the keeping holy of Sundays and holy days. Let him learn to reverence and love holy Church, the common Mother of us all; and hence to obey the precepts of the Church, and to frequent the sacraments, since they are the means ordained by God for obtaining forgiveness of sin and for leading a holy life.”

    I mean, today’s unions couldn’t be further from this. And I think that means that they really have no inherent right to exist, public or private. Not only do these modern unions pay no attention to religion, which would be bad enough, but they positively work against it. They support every left-wing cause, including abortion, they totally oppose home-schooling and work against it (totally violating basic Church teaching on the absolute right of parents to educate their children), and they are overrun with the sort of revolutionary troublemakers that Leo XIII denounces in the same encyclical.

    So who can make a serious case for any union like that?

  • I agree with everyone who feels that public employee unions should not exist at all. The fact that they do exist is disturbing to me. Unions are supposed to protect people from greedy corporations, but public employees work for us, the voters and the taxpayers. They are public servants, but they act like whiny brats instead.

    What if we let the military unionize and allow them to turn into spoiled brats like the teachers unions. Whos gonna tell them that theres no more money?? Next thing you know we have a coup or civil war. This isn’t Glenn beck crazy talk either.

    The communist movement has always been strong in the US, because of all the wealth and greed. Its seat of power is university campuses and things like public employee unions.

  • I think Joe has hit the nail on the head. The unions that we have here in the US look NOTHING like the unions of old or what I believe the Popes were writing about. They are godless (except for whining about “social justice” which is code for government programs), corrupt, greedy and actually do a disservice to the people they pretend to represent. I can think of no better example than the NEA which portends to be “for the children”, but in reality are all about foisting their liberal economic and educational agenda down America’s throat. Check out the pay and benefits for the school administrators in WI.

    Wisconsin public school employee pay for the 2009-2010 school year

    I also agree with “Cupofwrath” above regarding public sector unions (with the exception of fire & police) I don’t think they should exist. I am retired military and suffered through the Carter years. Inflation was running at 20% and we were getting COLA raises of 3%. We had no union – our elected representatives were (and remain) our spokesmen. If you didn’t like it you had two choices – lump it or get out and seek other work. At the time I was about 1/3rd the way towards eligibility for retirement so I had a hard decision to make. I actually started filling out the paperwork for an early release and started looking for jobs in the civilian sector. Reagan announced his candidacy and I decided to wait it out. I was glad I did.

    As far as the private sector goes I like the idea of worker ownership as opposed to unions (distributism) but that will have to develop on a case by case basis as more and more business owners learn about it and embrace it. I do NOT think the wealth should be forcefully redistributed which is what many accuse of distributism. The best example I can give of how this would take place is the story of Jack Stack and the company SRC which has been covered by PBS. They bought a failing division of International Harvester which was going to be closed to save their own jobs and turned it into a successful employee owned company that has not only thrived but spun off several other successful companies – most are managed by former hourly employees.

    Making Use of Employees’ Talents

    The Bishops words are spot on:

    “It is especially in times of crisis that “new forms of cooperation” and open communication become essential. We request that lawmakers carefully consider the implications of this proposal and evaluate it in terms of its impact on the common good. We also appeal to everyone –lawmakers, citizens, workers, and labor unions – to move beyond divisive words and actions and work together, so that Wisconsin can recover in a humane way from the current fiscal crisis.”

    He provided the “what” – and “why” – it’s up to the workers and taxpayers & their representatives to figure out “how” to solve this mess. Right now it’s a circus.

  • CST also teaches against Unions protecting their privileges and acting against the common good. Its fair to ask if teacher unions, especially now in Wisconsin, are doing this.

  • Unions are supposed to be a negative check against excessive greed for private corporations as opposed to legitimate profit-seeking as a return on deployed capital and compensation for risk. Unions are not supposed to be designed to be a benefit for the members over and against the genuine corporate mission of providing goods and/or services to the consumer, while fairly compensating the factors of production at all levels (labor, management, investor alike).

    Since the government employees are charged with a corporate mission of serving the common good through government who are they organizing against? Government does not seek profit, unless fraud is involved, in which case it is an issue of the justice of the courts and law enforcement, which does not involve unions (labor). Government does not risk capital, it appropriates capital in order to foster a regular market, courts and the general benefit of all citizens of the jurisdiction. Such ‘services’ are limited in nature such as police, fire, courts, emergency, care for the genuinely disadvantaged (mentally and physically handicapped in certain circumstances to be determined by the representatives of the people), etc.

    People who choose to offer themselves in such service for the common good deserve a fair compensation; however, remuneration is not supposed to be the principle motive of people that provide services for the benefit of all and in such a manner that no one has a choice as to whether to acquire or pay for the service. One hopes to never need the direct service of the police or firemen, yet we all have to pay for it because anyone of us could need their help at any time. Private services are paid for directly and one can choose to acquire such services or not. It is beneficial to have a personal trainer, but it is not a common good, so the free market provides it for those who desire it and the consumer pays for it directly.

    The issue in WI is about teachers and education is a common good; however, it is one that is being provided privately and more cost-effectively and with better results than the government schools. Private police and fire have proven to be a disaster in the past and are never likely to work in the future. Yet, one can choose to supplement them with alarm monitoring companies, private security, fire prevention tools, private detectives, etc. It seems that the teachers in WI are seeking to secure privileges at the expense of all the citizens of WI with no regard for their principle duty as educators of children. Since the poor quality of government eduction can be had at higher quality privately and for less cost, it seems that this particular union is about using the force of government not for the common good, but rather to secure the privileges of small minority of so-called teachers.

    This is evident by their tactics and outside agitators including union interests, the presidents campaign arm, lying physicians providing legitimacy for an illegitimate strike, etc. As these teachers scream that they are doing it for the children they are using the children, literally by dragging them to the ‘protest’. What does this cost the common good of WI, when parents who expected their children to be at school have to take off from work or pay for other arrangements? What is this doing to the general economy of WI? Is it fair or even legal for the representatives of the people to flee to another state, not doing their jobs for the common good of WI?

    All that is being asked of these teachers is to add 5.6% to their own savings and pay a little over 12% toward their medical insurance all the while the state of WI is out of money!!!!! How is this an unreasonable request? In what way does CST endorse this self-aggrandizement?

    All the teachers should be fired for this illegal and selfish activity. there are over 15 million Americans without jobs. Could these unemployed become teachers? Can an out of work engineer teach math or physics, can a chemist without a job teach chemistry or ‘earth science’? Can an unemployed poet teach English (Ok, maybe that is a stretch but you get the idea)?

    We can twist and turn CST to mean anything we want, but these ‘protesters’ aren’t engaged in anything just by any stretch of the imagination. I think Walker hasn’t gone far enough and he should be lauded for his restraint.

The Economic War Between The States

Saturday, January 29, AD 2011

Years ago, this satirical piece in The Onion poked fun at interstate rivalries with its account of “Middle West peace” in peril.

Thankfully, battles between U.S. states haven’t resulted in actual violence for nearly 150 years. However, there is another kind of battle going on between states, and even between communities within states, that has been destructive in a different way.

I am speaking of the economic battles states and localities wage against one another when they compete for new businesses via economic incentives such as tax breaks, regulatory exemptions, or taxpayer funded grants and loans that are offered only to specific companies.

In 1996, economist Lawrence Reed wrote a widely reprinted essay titled “Time to End the Economic War Between the States.” Reed called the constant battle of states and localities to outdo one another with economic incentives to prospective employers “an exercise in mutual assured destruction, or at least one in which the victories are Pyrrhic ones at best, with the victors losing almost as much as the vanquished.”

Nine years later, in 2007, Federal Reserve economist Arthur Rolnick used nearly the same language in testimony to Congress about the ill effects of this approach. He proposed that Congress use the Constitutional interstate commerce clause to prohibit states from engaging in these tactics — although that raises questions of its own for advocates of federalism and smaller government.

According to Reed, the earliest example of this type of economic incentive was the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s offer of $86 million in incentives to build a Volkswagon factory in 1976. The factory was supposed to produce about 20,000 new jobs, but actually employed only 6,000 people before it shut down 10 years later.

The practice really took off in the 1980s with highly publicized competitions between states and communities for new manufacturing plants and other facilities. More recently, states have competed for TV and movie productions with tax incentives for producers who shoot on location.

Most states now have economic development organizations devoted entirely to putting together incentive “packages” for new or existing businesses. Aggressive pursuit of businesses with tax breaks and other public subsidies has become so common that major employers have come to expect and even demand it, and most state and local governments have concluded they have no choice but to play the game.

Some businesses seem to use these incentives almost as a form of extortion — for example, professional sports franchises that threaten to move elsewhere if they do not get public financing for a new stadium or arena.

Both economic conservatives and liberals have criticized this approach and noted that it rarely delivers all the benefits promised.

So, is there any way to call a cease fire in this war?

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7 Responses to The Economic War Between The States

  • Michigan had the right idea: if a state government wants to encourage economic development, it should just cut taxes. Let the market decide where new businesses and jobs are needed. Business owners and workers will be more productive if they know they all get to keep more money than if they have to worry about competing against each other for grants and credits. And a dollar that’s never taxed will have more economic impact than one that’s hauled off to the capital, trimmed to pay for all the bureaucracies it passes through, and then spent back out for development.

    But even when that so obviously works, as it did in Michigan, the temptation for politicians to decide what’s best for everyone and play Sim City with their constituencies is just too strong.

    It’s always seemed particularly unfair (and stupid) when my town gives taxes breaks or subsidies to a big box store that moves into town, and doesn’t give the same deal to businesses that have provided jobs and products here for decades. I don’t think any real conservative would support such a thing; what would it be designed to conserve?

  • My late revered accountant Mort Lipsky [RIP] always insisted that a business should not make decisions based on taxes. Businesses should look to do business. Taxes are a cost of that business. To rely on tax breaks is to rely on the word of politicians. Need one say more?

  • Gabriel,
    Businesses hunt for low tax environments precisely because they are a cost of doing business. Businesses try to minimize all costs.

    While I agree with much of the criticism embedded in Elaine’s post and subsequent comments, one must also realize that there is nothing particularly wrong with governments competing for business and jobs. Without competition among governments taxes would only increase. Competition has merit.

  • That said, I still think “tax harmonization” is the most frightening phrase in politics.

  • One economic development tool that has been way overused in Illinois (don’t know if other states do it) is the Tax Increment Financing District or TIF. Here’s an example of how it might work:

    To encourage development in a blighted area, local officials will create a TIF District there. A TIF usually lasts about 20 to 30 years but can be extended. When a TIF is created, the amount of property tax revenue from that district that will go to local governments (including the city, schools, libraries, parks, etc.) is frozen at its pre-TIF level. Any additional revenue generated by increased property values during the life of the TIF, instead of going to local government, is set aside in a special fund which business owners in the TIF can use to make improvements.

    If TIF Districts are confined to a relatively small area that wasn’t generating a whole lot of tax revenue to begin with (like an abandoned factory site), they can do some good. However, if you end up with one-half or more of an entire city or town being in a TIF District (this happens rather frequently; I believe more than half of downtown Chicago is in a TIF District), that cuts very heavily into the public goods the presence of new industry, etc. is supposed to support. Plus, control of TIF funds can easily become a vehicle for local pols to reward their favorites or punish their non-favorites. I would say it’s time to abolish them.

  • professional sports franchises that threaten to move elsewhere if they do not get public financing for a new stadium or arena.

    Precisely what happened with the Houston Oilers. And then they went and built a new stadium anyway to attract the Texans. Go figure. (The disAstros and Rockets got new stadiums too).

  • Elaine,

    Great to see your article here. I have recently written my second book on this subject (see website link), Investment Incentives and the Global Competition for Capital. In it, I estimate that U.S. state and local governments spend close to $50 billion a year to attract business. This competition actually goes back more than 100 years, when cities tried to attract railroads to lay track through their cities.

    By the way, the Reed article you mention was preceded by Melvin Burstein and Arthur Rolnick’s “Congress Should End the Economic War Among the States” in the 1994 Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. They argued, and I agree, that a federal solution is necessary because the states do not take account of the effects of their bidding on other states. The European Union, in fact, has fairly successfully implemented control over its Member States’ subsidies to attract investment.

    FYI, tax increment financing is used (and generally heavily abused) in almost every state of the country.

    Thanks again for your article.

The Wages of Sin Is… Higher Taxes?

Wednesday, January 12, AD 2011

A few months ago I wrote this reflection on the idea that bad leadership can be seen as a punishment or consequence of sin, and how the ethical and fiscal train wreck that is Illinois state government might serve as an example of this concept.

Now we are seeing further evidence of this concept. In the waning hours of their own lame-duck session, the Illinois General Assembly early this morning passed one of the most drastic tax hikes in state history.

The measure raises the individual income tax rate from 3 to 5 percent (thereby increasing each individual’s total tax liability by 66 percent) and the corporate tax rate from 4.8 to 7 percent. Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign the tax hike into law as soon as possible.

The corporate income tax, combined with an existing 2.5 percent tax that replaced an old personal property tax, means corporations in Illinois will be taxed at a total basic rate (not accounting for any exemptions or deductions) of 9.5 percent, the fourth highest rate in the nation. Although the tax hikes are supposed to be in effect only for the next four years, most residents expect all or part of the increases to end up being permanent.

The reason for this action is the state’s cataclysmic $15 billion-and-mounting budget shortfall. The growing deficit threatened to lower Illinois’ bond rating to junk status, possibly within days. In response, lame duck legislators in the last 12 hours of their term voted to approve the tax hike. A loose spending cap was approved along with the tax hike, but no specific or significant budget cuts accompanied this legislation.

Needless to say, the impending tax hike has many residents angry and feeling betrayed yet again by their elected officials.  Gov. Quinn, elected to a full term by a very narrow margin, had said prior to the election that he would not approve of raising the income tax for individuals beyond 4 percent. However,  this measure goes a full percentage point higher. Many predict a significant loss of jobs and residents as a result.

But what does this have to do with the “wages of sin” spoken of by St. Paul?

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9 Responses to The Wages of Sin Is… Higher Taxes?

  • There is much to what you say. Our experience of this in Nevada was the re-election of Harry Reid – a corrupt and incompetent tool of gaming and real estate who played a large roll in ensuring our State’s economic catastrophe when the economic lights went out in 2008. While Sharron Angle had many flaws as a candidate I do believe she was done in by scare tactics – could hardly turn on the TV for three months without seeing an ad claiming that Angle was going to force women to bear a rapist’s child…as if one Senator, even if she wanted to, could ban abortion. But, it worked. In the end, if you talked to Independent voters you found that they voted for Reid because Angle was “too scary”…as if national and State bankruptcy courtesy of Reid wasn’t a bit alarming.

    But what, in the end, were these voters scared of? They were scared of living in a society where actions have consequences which the actor has to pay for. Boiled down, many thousands of men and women – enough to tip the election to Reid – were more afraid of having to take care of themselves than having to deal with utter collapse because of bad policy…and so they voted for Reid. And in California they voted for Brown; and in Illinois they voted for Quinn…

    On the plus side, some people showed they know the score and acted like men and women – even in some quite liberal States, voters opted for governors and Senators who told the truth and who promise pain as they work their way out of the mess. We’re not quite dead, yet, as a society…but we do have at very large minority which is so used to living in sin (as it were) that they are afraid to give it up. We mustn’t get angry about this – after all, which of us has not had to struggle mightily against our own, personal sins? – it is a hard task to resist the easy temptation and take the hard virtue. But it is, also, time for Christian men and women to stand forth – as Christians! – and attempt to convert the world to our views.

  • Bravo Elaine! For residents of the Land of Lincoln who are boiling about this now, and who voted for Quinn and for Democrats in the legislature, my reaction is quite simply, “What did you expect?” Heaven knows that the GOP has played a large role in this disaster. Who can forget JailBird Governor Ryan and his “Build (Bilk) Illinois” program which wasted billions of dollars that the state did not have. However it should have been obvious to anyone that Quinn and the Democrats would never cut spending and that they would do something immensely stupid like this: ram through a midnight largest increase in taxes in the country in the midst of the worst post-war recession the nation has experienced. Now we have the new Republican Governor of Wisconsin inviting fed up Illinois businesses to move north of the border. Rest assured that our other neighboring states, especially well-run Indiana, will benefit from this consummate folly, as Illinois businesses and talented individuals in what is rapidly becoming a failed state, flee from a sinking ship. Well Quinn and his Democrats have proven one thing: Illinois has arguably the worst political leadership, totally short-sighted and immensely foolish, in the nation.

  • From the Quincy News blog an excellent overview of just how insane this tax hike is:

    “Despite lllinois’ leading exports being its residents and businesses, the General Assembly has proposed raising the state income and corporate income taxes by 75% each. If this tax monster passes, at least two things are certain: one, Illinois businesses would pay the highest corporate income taxes in the free world; two, Illinois would see the largest mass exodus of productive people since the Israelites fled Egypt.

    The data points about Illinois’ economic death spiral have been repeated so often as to have been stripped of their shock value. Bottom line: Illinois is a bigger default risk than Bernie Madoff and has created fewer jobs in the last decade than record stores.”

  • “Now we have the new Republican Governor of Wisconsin inviting fed up Illinois businesses to move north of the border.”

    The irony is that just a few weeks ago, Quinn was actively courting a railroad equipment manufacturer that had vowed to leave Wisconsin because they had lost out on a planned state-funded high-speed rail project that was being canceled by the new WI administration. This company now faces quite a dilemma: if they move they get hit with higher taxes, if they stay, they lose out on a potentially lucrative project. It will be interesting to see what they decide.

    Yes, the GOP did indeed play a large role in this disaster (although not a single Republican in either chamber voted for this tax hike, so they can’t be directly blamed for it) and it goes to prove that the kind of bad leadership that only tells people what they want to hear isn’t limited to one party. Nor is it necessarily limited to high-tax blue states, as Mark’s comment above shows — Nevada has no personal income tax, and one would think it should be an economic mecca, but it currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

  • Advice: Emigrate to a red state.

    A famous Catholic blogger says, “Sin makes you stupid.”

  • (although not a single Republican in either chamber voted for this tax hike, so they can’t be directly blamed for it)

    Count me unimpressed. Does the Republican caucus (the whole caucus, not the designated Sancho Panza a-la-Paul Ryan) have a serious set of proposals for spending reductions on the table? How about structural reforms (i.e. the end of collective bargaining for public employees, conversion of public pensions to defined-contribution plans, funding of public pensions entirely out of payroll deductions, &c.) which will modify the trajectory of future spending?

  • Interesting that the state from whence our Dear Leader hails is one of the bankrupt, but the state which Palin governed is one of the only four that is not facing a budget shortfall. If only actual results counted for more than paper degrees and vague words.

  • There is a price to pay for being the most corrupt state in the union. I can only hope a political earthquake is coming.

    The public sector unions will reap what they have sown.

  • I understand why people are upset about this — hey, it’s going to take a noticeable bite out of my paycheck too, and that’s AFTER factoring in the Social Security tax “holiday”. This could have been dealt with a lot differently. But, it’s not the end of the world either.

    The real problem, as referenced in one of the stories I linked to, is that Illinois had gotten so far into debt and so dependent on short term borrowing that it had no choice but to ask “How high?” when the bond markets said “Jump!” And a lot of other entities are in the same boat.

    I personally believe that no matter who was elected, some combination of tax increase and spending cuts was going to have to be done — the only difference is which would have come first. With Democrats, tax hike comes first and maybe some cuts later; with Republicans, cuts come first and a (smaller) tax hike much later.

A Plea for a Cease Fire in the War on Christmas

Tuesday, December 21, AD 2010

Is it possible at this late date to call a cease-fire in the War on Christmas?

The kind of cease-fire I am talking about is not a surrender to aggressive secularists who want all mention of Christmas, or of the reason for its celebration, erased from the public square.

I am not talking about, for example, these federal bank examiners who, had they been assigned to Bedford Falls, probably would  have busted George Bailey for wishing them “Merry Christmas” instead of for losing $8,000 in deposits. That sort of insanity ought to be resisted, and (as evidenced by the apparent resolution of the Oklahoma bank kerfluffle) can successfully be resisted.

No, the kind of truce I am proposing is a plea to the group Mark Shea refers to as “Christmas Inquisitors” — those who see any use of the term “Happy Holidays” in preference to “Merry Christmas” as some kind of affront to their beliefs. This group also includes those who see something inherently wrong or sacreligious about any kind of Christmas or holiday celebration that fails to include explicit reference to the birth of Christ.

I celebrate Christmas in the religious sense as eagerly as anyone.  But I respectfully beg to differ with those who insist that it is the duty of private businesses or even of public facilities and institutions to “keep Christ in Christmas.” It isn’t.  Their job, such as it is, is to accommodate the desire of their customers, or of citizens, to fulfill whatever aspects of a multi-layered religious, cultural, and social occasion they wish to observe.

None other than C.S. Lewis recognized this truth decades ago. In this essay from “God in the Dock,” Lewis explains the different aspects of the modern Christmas:

“Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs.”

I will interrupt Lewis’ essay at this point to note what he says about the cultural aspect of Christmas — the “popular holiday.” He basically argues that people are free to celebrate it, or not, in any way they wish, as long as it does not interfere with anyone else’s celebration or non-celebration. He sees no reason to complain about “how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends.”

That does not sound like someone who would get bent out of shape over store clerks who say “Happy Holidays”,  or people who choose to celebrate Kwanzaa, Festivus, or the Winter Solstice. I also don’t think he’d care whether or not the occasion for making merry was a “real” cultural holiday or a “fake” observance invented by one person (Kwanzaa) or even by a fictional character (Festivus), as long as no one was forcing him to participate or pay for it (which becomes an issue when public schools are involved).

He does go on to say, however, that “the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business. I mean of course the commercial racket.”

“The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers.”

Now there are other occasions besides Christmas that carry these three “layers” of meaning — for example, weddings of religiously observant couples are 1) an occasion for celebration of a sacrament, 2) an occasion for family and friends to gather and enjoy a good time, and 3) an occasion when social convention requires gifts to be given and for the couple to acknowledge each gift individually with a thank-you note. The same is true of occasions such as graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.

Obviously, private businesses will use cultural and social occasions to market their products and services. Wedding planners, banquet halls, bakers, caterers, makers of academic robes and class rings, florists, greeting card merchants — all of them rely on cultural/social occasions for the greater part of their profit. The same is true of Christmas, when many merchants make most or even all of their yearly profit. (One explanation for the origin of the term “Black Friday” is the belief that many retailers finally earn enough money to get out of the red and into the “black” for the year on that day.)

However, we do not expect the merchant who sells products or services appropriate to any other social occasion, to instruct or remind people of its “real meaning”. We don’t expect, for example, the owner of a bridal shop or a catering service to provide pre-marital counseling, the florist who sells us flowers for Mother’s Day to offer us advice on how to get along with our mothers,  or a jeweler who sells class rings to counsel high school seniors on how to get into Harvard. So why do we expect merchants and advertisers to “keep Christ in Christmas”? Isn’t that our job, and the job of our families and churches?

Now I can hear some of you already saying “But there is far too much emphasis on the social and commercial aspect of Christmas in our society. It’s drowning out the religious significance completely. Surely you don’t think this is a good thing?”

Of course it is not a good thing. Even more than 50 years ago, in post-war England, Lewis saw that the relentless commercialization of Christmas “gives much more pain than pleasure” to the average person.

“You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out — physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.”

However Lewis did not propose any “solution” other than personally refusing to take part in the “racket”.

“We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.”

So how do we resist the tidal wave of commercialism and/or political correctness that threatens to engulf us every holiday, er, Christmas season? We pray. We think about what is important to us and about the values we wish to uphold. And we make merry in whatever way is appropriate to our situation. If that means opting out of gift exchanges or sending cards, fine. If that means saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” fine. If it means saying “Happy Holidays” in an attempt to be more inclusive, that’s OK too. After all, there is more than one holiday in the holiday season… it encompasses Thanksgiving and New Year’s as well as Hannukkah and other religious, cultural and ethnic observances such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucy’s Day, St. Nicholas’ Day, Boxing Day, and Epiphany or “Old Christmas”.

And on that note… peace on earth, goodwill to all, Happy Holidays AND Merry Christmas!

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22 Responses to A Plea for a Cease Fire in the War on Christmas

  • With due respect, I never said anything about the duty of any institution.

    My post was about individuals who self-censor out of fear of retaliation or ridicule. If a business wants to say “happy holidays”, I don’t care.

    What I care about is when people change their behavior to accommodate a manifestly irrational and unreasonable demand. There is no reason in the world for anyone to be offended by the phrase “Merry Christmas.” If I were in Israel and someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah, I wouldn’t try to sue them or kill them. I would expect it, because I was in Israel. It wouldn’t offend me if it was assumed I was a Jew (and I have been mistaken for a Jew before), because that’s the society, that’s the dominant culture, and I don’t have a psychotic and irrational hatred for the existence of dominant cultures.

    This is a Christian country. Not because of the Constitution, which I am well aware does not mention God, but because the majority of its citizens identify as Christians. Psychotic leftists believe that dominant culture = oppression and is one step away from gas chambers. I don’t. Dominant cultures ought to be deferred to, and minorities ought to be respected in their own right.

  • I’m feeling magnanimous today (must be the spirit of the season).

    I agree with Joe (nobody should feel ashamed about wishing another a “Merry Christmas”) AND Elaine (I’m no necessarily offended by the term “Happy Holidays”, or do I think it is the duty of businesses and public institutions to “put Christ back in Christmas”).

    Oh, and a belated Happy Hannukah to all here, as we remember our Jewish brothers and sisters and their commemoration of the miracle of the lights and the Maccabean revolt against the pagans! =)

  • A good post Elaine, although the type of truce I am interested in with the Chistmas haters, and I certainly do not put people in that category who wish me “Happy Holidays”, was summed up well by King Theoden:

    “We will have peace,” said Theoden at last thickly and with an effort. Several of the Riders cried out gladly. Theoden held up his hand.”‘Yes, we will have peace” he said, now in a clear voice,”we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished — and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor, Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just — as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired — even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Hama’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the house of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.”

    Oh, and I join Christopher in wishing Happy Hannukah to our Jewish brethren, something I do each year to my Jewish friends. The Maccabean revolt was an epic struggle for religious and national freedom and deserves to be cherished by Christian as well as Jew.

  • “I celebrate Christmas in the religious sense as eagerly as anyone. But I respectfully beg to differ with those who insist that it is the duty of private businesses or even of public facilities and institutions to “keep Christ in Christmas.”

    They don’t have to ‘keep Christ in Christmas’, but the holiday is called Christmas. Call the holiday what it is. What is so offensive about that?

    For you and Shea calling people “Christmas Inquisitors”, take your cheap smears somewhere else…

  • There is nothing offensive about “calling the holiday what it is,” but by the same token, I also see nothing wrong with acknowledging the fact that there is more than one holiday in the holiday season. That’s why it is called “the holidays,” plural.

    The point I am trying to make is that no one should be trying to force or pressure anyone to celebrate in a particular way, or be offended at how others choose to celebrate. Obviously that includes genuine secularist “Christmas haters” who file lawsuits against Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, etc. However, people who go off the deep end in the other direction and think the mere use of the term “Happy Holidays” represents anti-Christian censorship do exist.

  • Although no one should be forced to celebrate Christmas and it is true that their are other ‘holidays’ in December (I think there are are only two series of Holy Days – Chanuckah and Christmas), it is incumbent on Christians to witness, publicly, to the Birth of the Lord and Savior of ALL mankind (including those pesky secularists and lukewarm Catholics.)

    I take no religious offense to the phrase ‘Happy Holidays”; however, it is a banal and redundant phrase and it offends my intelligence. ALL Holy Days and holidays are happy, the phrase is practically meaningless. Why are you happy right now, we aren’t even in Christmastime yet? It is Advent, a penitential season. We are happy because we are given the grace and freedom to do penance and anticipate the Nativity of Christ.

    It may not be the duty of a business or other institution to Keep Christ in Christmas, but it is the duty of ALL faithful Christians to do so. Just as important it is our duty as Catholic Christians to Keep Mass in ChristMASS.

    Moreover, why are we expected to give deference to fabricated ‘holidays’ like Qwanza and Festivus when we are derided the rest of the year because we want people to stop killing babies and sodomizing each other?

    I suppose I will be accused of being an inquisitor, so be it, I’ll wear that as a badge of honor along with my shame for my failing this Advent (Pope Benedict XVI was Blsd. JPII’s inquisitor, right?). In keeping with the respect for our Hebrew brothers, Hallel Ya, Praise G*d this Advent and all during the ChristMASS Season. It is even more important for us to wish everyone a Merry Christmas between December 25 and January 9, 2011 or whenever we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.

    For you fellow inquisitors, it is a pure joy to see the confusion on someone’s face when you wish them a Merry Christmas in January. They will always ask why you’re doing it and it is an opportunity to fulfill our duty to evangelize (in case some don’t know – this is NOT an optional duty and we will all be judged for it, especially those of us graced with being members of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church).

    If this love of Christ and Mass and Christmas offends anyone, Thanks be to God, In truth, the most offensive figure in the history of mankind is Jesus – we killed Him for His offense toward our worldly sensibilities. But, before He could lay down His life for us, Mary had to give God her fiat and give birth to Him.

    Merry Christmas to all and to all Happy. . .Christmas as well. 🙂

  • I work at a small family owned bank and our outdoor scrolling “message board” is frozen and reads: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS”!

    We’ve had a lot of positive feedback and I believe the majority likes Merry Christmas and catch themselves cringing at Happy Holidays.

  • Elaine:

    Merry Christmas! Very sensibly put!


    Merry Christmas!

  • Moderation in all things except virtue . . .

    No justice, no peace. The all-encompassing secular progressive regime is mass brigandage.

    This day there is joy among the hell-laborers of Sodom, not so merry in Christendom. Thank you, obama-worshipping catholics!

    PS: If you are ashamed of Christ, He may be ashamed of you.

  • No, wait!

    Obligatory St. Augustine quote:

    “What is reprehensible is that, while leading good lives themselves and abhorring those of wicked men, some fearing to offend shut their eyes to evil deeds instead of condemning them and pointing out their malice. To be sure, the motive behind their tolerance is that they may suffer no hurt in the possession of those temporal goods which virtuous and blameless men may lawfully enjoy; still, there is more self-seeking here than becomes men who are mere sojourners in this world and who profess hope of a home in heaven.”

  • Just to be clear here, I am NOT advising anyone to avoid saying “Merry Christmas,” nor am I encouraging anyone to deny or downplay their belief in Christ.

    I am simply urging people not to presume ill will on the part of those who prefer to use generic holiday greetings or symbolism, provided that those who use generic greetings make no attempt to force everyone else to conform to those expectations.

    Serious attempts by employers or government agencies to discourage or forbid any reference to Christmas or the use of Christian symbolism among their employees or local citizens are a different matter. I thought I made it clear that these are out of line and should be resisted.

    What I don’t like to see is for the VOLUNTARY use of either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, or the use of religious vs. secular Christmas symbols, to become mere shibboleths for determining who is on which side of the culture war. If anyone is forced to use, or not use, one or the other, that is a whole different story.

    Actually, I think the idea of wishing people “Merry Christmas” up until Ephiphany is a good one. I might just try it myself, and explain that there are, after all, 12 days of Christmas.

  • Elaine,

    Christmas doesn’t end at Epiphany, especially when we move it to the 2nd of January, we celebrate Christmas until the Baptism of the Lord, in 2011 that is January 9th (according to the N.O.).

    I hope my posts above were taken in a spirit of jest, I agree with you, no one should be forced to say or celebrate Christmas; however, as a Christian civilization we are to celebrate Christmas and do it publicly. Most Christians around the world don’t have that option and if we don’t exercise it, we won’t have it for long either.

    The issue is not if some one can or cannot say, “Merry Christmas”, rather, it is that we should NOT defer to the secular spirit by avoiding it. If one is a true Christian believer then we are obligated to proclaim Christ under pain of death, literally. This is especially true at the Easter and Christmas Seasons, when Holy Mother Church calls on us to be especially observant of the Incarnation, Nativity, Passion, Crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Our Lord.

    When we, Christians, say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, we are essentially saying that our relationship with Christ is private. it is not private, that is a lie. Our relationship with Christ is PERSONAL and it is PUBLIC, otherwise we are failing to proclaim the Gospel to all people and that is a sin. It isn’t so much a culture war as it is dour combat with the forces of evil. We are not permitted to be lukewarm. Jesus tells us that not all those who call Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom. We can’t pretend to be Christians, we can’t put Christ away so as not to offend other people. If someone finds Christ offensive, that person is in peril of eternal damnation, if we truly love them, and we are commanded to, then we want to be His imperfect instrument to spare them from the pit.

    Until we are in the valley of Josaphat, we may never know how many people came to Christ or went to the Devil because we did or did not say, Merry Christmas. We should all err on the side of caution and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and emphasize the Mass part of ChristMASS!

  • “PS: If you are ashamed of Christ, He may be ashamed of you.”

    If you aren’t ashamed of yourself, why don’t you sign your name to the things you write? At any rate, Merry Christmas, Greg Mockeridge!

  • At any rate, Merry Christmas, Greg Mockeridge!

    Guess again Mark (and no, it’s not me).

  • There is nothing offensive about “calling the holiday what it is,” but by the same token, I also see nothing wrong with acknowledging the fact that there is more than one holiday in the holiday season. That’s why it is called “the holidays,” plural. The point I am trying to make is that no one should be trying to force or pressure anyone to celebrate in a particular way, or be offended at how others choose to celebrate. Obviously that includes genuine secularist “Christmas haters” who file lawsuits against Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, etc. However, people who go off the deep end in the other direction and think the mere use of the term “Happy Holidays” represents anti-Christian censorship do exist.

  • My apologies, Paul. Greg is the only person I know who has been signing his posts with “Seymour Butts” and “Hugh Givesaschitt” in his attempt to prove his maturity and escape detection for his trenchant critiques of my alleged betrayals of the gospel. I naturally assumed that since he posts here elsewhere under his real name, he was indulging this charming adolescent habit again. Apparently though, you have more than one adolescent coward without a sense of irony among your readers. My condolences. I hope the New Year brings American Catholic a circle of readers who don’t reinforce this tendency toward being the Ladies Auxiliary Gossip Circle. That would be a sad fate for an otherwise good and readable blog. I hope the good influences of people like Blackadder, Tito, Elaine and Darwin will curb such cowardly and juvenile behavior–not to mention the sin of bearing false witness.

    And now, in the immortal words of Sam Wainwright: “Hee Haw and Merry Christmas!” The great thing about being a jackass like me is the hope that you might get front row seats in the stable if you’re lucky!

  • Thanks, Mark, for your kind words. I’m the same Elaine who commented on your original post (“It’s the Blog War on Christmas!”), by the way.

    I actually was working on a TAC post along these lines before the Mini Blog War Over Christmas broke out, but hurried it to completion and posted it when that occurred.

    Hee haw and Merry Christmas to all of you 🙂

  • See we’re talkin’ Hee Haw right now, I reckon it’s time to share Grandpa Jones’ (of Hee Haw fame) “A Christmas Guest.”

  • Hi Elaine:

    Thanks. Inspired by the example of T. Shaw, I feel I should apologize for my last post. I think it was out of line and not according to the Spirit of Christ. Please forgive me for my lovelessness and nasty words and have a Merry Christmas.

  • I’m not sure if it’s the result of “The Antiwar on Christmas” but this year I’ve been wished a Merry Christmas an incredible number of times, everywhere from the grocery store, waiting in lines at the movies and oddly enough, work. I work at a call center and take calls all day long. Last year only 1 caller wished me a Merry Christmas, and this year 5-10 per day did. I know that’s incidental evidence, however, for the numbers to change so much, I really feel a goodly number of people have had enough of political correctness, and are going to wish others what is in their hearts to wish one another. Most of us are Christian Americans, so why not be so openly?

    There’s no need to handle this as a war–just be ourselves and not be afraid to state heartfelt wishes that others have a Merry Christmas, doing so in the Spirit of kindness and love in which it is intended. People will see thru the rhetoric to the virtues every time!

  • Happy Kwanzaa everyone!

"We Are Elected!"

Sunday, November 7, AD 2010

Since a number of regular bloggers and visitors here at TAC are Abraham Lincoln and Civil War history buffs, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you my impressions of a unique event held last night in Lincoln’s hometown (and mine) of Springfield, Illinois. Saturday, Nov. 6, was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s election to his first term as President in 1860.

To commemorate the event, the Old Capitol and Lincoln Home historic sites staged a reenactment of Lincoln’s election night celebration. This also marks the beginning of what is likely to be a boom period for history buffs nationwide — the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and of Lincoln’s presidency. But more on that in a moment.

Lincoln’s election marked the end of a bitter four-way contest for the presidency among Lincoln, the nominee of the recently organized, anti-slavery Republican Party; U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas, also of Illinois, the Democratic nominee; then-Vice President John Breckinridge, nominee of Southern Democrats who split from Douglas and the rest of the party over the issue of expanding slavery to the western territories; and John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party, a loose coalition of former Whigs, Know-Nothings, and moderate Democrats who hoped to avert secession and war by evading the slavery issue altogether.

Lincoln had not been the first choice of the Republicans; many had preferred William Seward of New York or Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, who had more experience in public office (both had been governors and U.S. Senators from their respective states) and had taken stronger public stands against slavery. Also, several Southern states had made it clear before the election that they intended to secede if Lincoln won. Nevertheless, Lincoln won 40 percent of the popular vote on Election Day, and Douglas finished second with 29 percent.

It’s worth noting that the electorate even in Springfield was sharply divided that day. Lincoln prevailed in the city of Springfield by just 70 votes over Douglas, but lost surrounding Sangamon County by about 40 votes. As the official Democratic candidate Douglas would have enjoyed strong support among the Irish and other predominantly Catholic immigrants that were flooding into Illinois at the time. Douglas also campaigned in person throughout the nation — something that no presidential candidate before him had done, while Lincoln allowed Republican operatives to do most of his campaigning for him.

On Election Day itself, Lincoln had not originally planned to vote, believing it wouldn’t be appropriate to vote for himself. However, his law partner William Herndon persuaded him that he should at least vote for the other offices on the ballot, so he walked across the street from his office to what was then the Sangamon County Courthouse to cast his ballot.

Later in the evening, after the polls closed, he gathered with other supporters in the State House of Representatives chambers to await the results, transmitted via telegraph. He later went directly to the telegraph office in hopes of getting the results more quickly (lacking, of course, the modern advantages of exit polls and network news anchors projecting the results).

Around 11 p.m. Lincoln received word that the critical state of Pennsylvania had gone to the Republicans. He and his group then adjourned to a saloon near the Statehouse to await results from New York, the state that would put him over the top in electoral votes. Around 1 a.m. he learned that New York was safely in the Republican column, and the celebration began. Accompanied by a throng of supporters, he arrived at his home on Eighth Street and announced to his waiting wife, “Mary, we are elected!” Illinois historian Paul Angle describes the scene that ensued:

Old men and young men, bankers and clerks slapped each other on the back, danced, sang and yelled until their voices sank to hoarse whispers. Outside one long shout announced the news. From stores, from houses, even from housetops, men called out that New York was safe, while groups ran through the streets shouting their joy at having joined the Republicans. Never had Springfield seen anything like it.

Since I live just a few blocks from the Lincoln Home, the weather was nice (albeit chilly) and the event was free, I decided to participate in the election night reenactment. (Unfortunately, my cell phone didn’t have enough charge left to take pictures.)

The event began with local Lincoln presenter Fritz Klein and others in historic dress leading a torchlight parade from the Old Capitol to the Lincoln home.  National Park Service personnel then conducted candlelight tours (using electric candles for safety reasons) of the home at 10-minute intervals. Each tour began in the home’s front parlor with a beaming Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln greeting each visitor. Costumed interpreters were stationed in each remaining room of the house, explaining not only the room’s use but also the impact Lincoln’s election would have had on the occupants.

For example, the interpreter outside what had been the bedroom shared by the Lincolns’ youngest sons, Willie and Tad, noted that the boys had frequently “campaigned” for their father and were excited at the prospect of living in the White House. However, they would now have to leave behind their friends as well as the family dog, Fido. The interpreter also pointed out the small bedroom used by the Lincolns’ live-in maid. With the family on their way to Washington, the maid would have realized her days of working for the Lincolns were numbered.  On the other hand, having the President of the United States as a reference probably didn’t hurt her prospects for future employment!

Another interpreter noted that Lincoln greeted his wife by saying “We are elected” because in many ways, he could not have achieved that milestone without her. Mary Todd Lincoln had been born into a prominent Kentucky political family, had a lifelong interest in politics and unfailingly promoted her husband’s political ambitions. Her husband’s election as president would have seemed like a dream come true for her. Of course, she did not know then that the next four years would turn into a nightmare of war, personal attacks against her, and grief over the loss of both her son Willie and her husband.

The pride that the Lincolns and the citizens of Springfield felt at his election was tempered by their realization of the enormous burden he faced. By the time the Lincolns departed for Washington in February 1861, seven Southern states had seceded and a provisional Confederate government had been organized.  We see those times through a somewhat romanticized lens since we know the outcome.

However, the people who actually marched through the streets of Springfield with Lincoln that night in 1860 had no assurance that their nation would survive. For all they knew, Lincoln would be the last president of the United States and they would be living within shouting distance of a hostile slave nation a few years hence.

Three months later, on the day Lincoln left Springfield for the last time, he acknowledged that he faced a task “greater than that which rested upon Washington”  at the nation’s founding.

“Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed,” he added.  “With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.” That’s still good advice, especially for those times we are tempted to become mired in despair over the state of our current political discourse.

Update: The New York Times last week launched a series of opinion pieces titled “Disunion”, analyzing events of the same week 150 years before as if they were being covered in real time. The feature began with an analysis of the 1860 presidential race and Lincoln’s chances of victory in New York.

In 1860 St. Louis reporter Samuel Weed spent Election Day with Lincoln. His account, however, was not written until 1882 and not published until 1932. The story can be read at this link.

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3 Responses to "We Are Elected!"

  • A superb piece Elaine! May I republish this as a guest post by you on the American history blog Almost Chosen People that I run with Paul Zummo?

  • I’d be honored if you did, Don. Thanks.

    Also, the Washington Post is launching a series of opinion pieces debating Civil War related issues…. this week they have a panel of experts discussing what would have happened if Lincoln had lost in 1860.

  • Thank you Elaine! My wife mentioned that series to me. There is a great alternate historical novel waiting to be written chronicling the administration of Stephen A. Douglas.