Philosophical preconceptions once condemned by the Church have an odd way of rearing their ugly heads. Take Manichaeanism for example. Battled by the great St. Augustine of Hippo, the Manichaean school taught the profound separation of soul and body, a dualism that has been condemned by the Church more than once throughout the centuries. With two equally powerful deities, one good and the other evil, the human person of this heresy becomes the battleground for their contest of power, with the body being the domain of evil and the soul being the domain of the good. The Christian faith, of course, has taught the contrary, the inseparable union of body and soul, both good because of their creation by the one God who is pure goodness.
I was a high school teacher of mathematics and computer science for nine years, and Manichaeanism is only one of the many heresies I see deeply imbedded in modernity, particularly amongst adolescents. In the years I spent in the classroom, the cases of academic dishonesty had noticeably gone up. What is perhaps more noticeable, however, was the change in students’ reactions when the dishonesty is exposed. There was a time when the remorse was authentic, but more recently, when present at all, it seemed more like mere regret over being caught.
I found myself repeatedly in conversations about how students view the act of cheating. A colleague of mine once remarked, “I honestly do not think that the students see it as wrong.” On the contrary, the students’ actions do not reflect any moral confusion. After all, students will go to great lengths to see to it that they are not caught, and when they are, they will craft the most elaborate of stories to exonerate themselves. I once had a student who plagiarized a computer program off of a university professor’s web site. When confronted about it, he claimed, with a great deal of confidence and conviction, that he would like to meet the professor who stole his code to post on the university web site. While the creativity is remarkable, the same cannot be said for character.
What, then, is at the root of the issue? While teachers generally recognize this as a growing and problematic trend in the education environment, they are often at a loss to explain the trend, and therefore end up remarking, “I honestly do not think that the students see it as wrong.” The truth is that students do understand the difference between right and wrong, and they do understand that cheating is a morally impermissible action. The problem is not in their ethics; the problem is in their anthropology. Students are Manichaeans.
The heart of the matter is that adolescence often do not understand the profound connection between body and soul that the Christian faith has always taught. Quite the opposite, students have a tremendous ability to keep a rift between body and soul. Said differently, these adolescents do not see a connection between their actions and their personal character. While they know and understand that certain actions are morally unacceptable, they do not see these actions as reflective of their person. They sincerely believe that they are good people and that this goodness cannot be tarnished by any action.
What adolescents fail to understand is that the human person is not only the source of his actions, but is also a product of his actions. What we do is reflective of who we are, and who we are will influence what we do. Philosophically, we would say that the human person isconstituted by his actions. There is no rift between the actions of our body and mind and the state of our soul. Body and soul are mutually interpenetrating. This is the essence of the Catholic teaching on mortal sins. Because there is an indestructible link between the body and the soul, there are certain actions that can affect the very state of the soul, remove it from the state of God’s grace.
We are how we act. A thief is nothing more than one who steals, and a lair is nothing more than one who lies. Similarly, a cheater is a person who cheats, and it is impossible to cheat without at the same time becoming a cheater. The student, however, does not see himself as a “cheater”; instead, he sees himself as a “good person” who happened to cheat, but the action of cheating is not reflective of his character. How is it that they are able to maintain this disconnect? It is simple: they are Manichaean. How is it that they are Manichaean? That is also simple: modernity is Manichaean, and this is perhaps the greatest heresy of our time. It is a heresy that is not only at the heart of academic dishonesty in the schools, but also constitutive of the greed and avarice in the market place, the sexual permissiveness in the media, and the utter disregard for the sanctity of life in the abortion industry.
Being a heresy, however, I have a feeling that it, like death and taxes, is inevitable. This does not mean we give up an authentic education in the virtues. It does not mean that we neglect to expose the lies for what they are. But it does mean that, while the battle has already been won on the Cross, the enemy of heresy is as certain in this world as death and taxes. Perhaps, though, heresy has more in common with death and taxes than its inevitability. “In this world” certain the trio may be; yet in the next it is certain that all three will be abolished.
(I admit it – not the sort of topic you’d expect at TAC. But maybe American Classics can be a new meme for TAC contributors?)
A blog I’ve discovered recently, and added to my reader, is The Art of Manliness. I wouldn’t be surprised if several, if not most, of the contributors to TAC read it regularly. It’s mission: To revive the lost art of manliness. Now, that has different meanings for different people – to me, I sense that the author and his many guest contributors want to expound upon iconic masculine ideas and interests. From a photo essay on getting a straight-razor shave at the local barber, to leadership lessons from Gen Dwight D Eisenhower. From what to wear on your first date, to how to tie a necktie. They focus on virtues and integrity and traditional mores, and while not everything they publish interests me, I have to say that everything they publish is interesting.
All this to say, I found it timely that they wrote an article titled In Praise Of The Push Reel Mower, earlier this week.
I was in the market to buy a new lawnmower. My previous model, a gas-powered self-propelled Honda (with bagging and/or mulching options) had serviced me well over the years, but two summers ago, the cable that operated the self-propelling feature snapped. And the bag was showing signs of serious wear and tear. Then, a customer service girl at one of the companies I represent mentioned to me that her lawn mower died, and she needed a new one, but she was bummed because she was broke. So I offered her mine, informing her of its problems – albeit minor ones – but she gladly accepted it anyway. Now I was committed to replacing it.
I had my eyes set on a model offered at the local Menard’s. But then….
…then I read the above-mentioned article. And my mind was changed, then and there. I bought a push reel mower yesterday, and used it straight away. So what was it that persuaded me to buy it, when just days before, I was ready to purchase a power mower?
Pure nostalgia wasn’t what convinced me – I grew up in the 10th Ward in Rochester NY – modest middle class homes with city-sized yards, and my dad owned a push reel mower that he *graciously* allowed his sons to use every Saturday. To be honest, I was envious of my friends who used power mowers, but my father was insistent. He wasn’t obsessive about how the lawn looked, as small as it was (we were, after all, allowed to play football and Rush the Bulldog on it), but he preferred the cut that the push reel mower provided.
My decision was based on common sense, with a little bit of virtue thrown in. I’ll list the reasons given by the author why he considered it (in bold), and add a bit of commentary here and there. Continue reading
“I think everyone has a secret resentment against God, against our very creation, against the fact of our being what we are. Freud called this the death wish, resentment against being born into this pain-full world.”
Peter Kreeft says something surprising in Back to Virtue: that we need to learn to forgive God. He is quite clear that this is not for any evil or debt he owes us, but for His goodness. As Kreeft says in his book, God loves us more than we would like, and we need to forgive him for interfering with our foolish will again and again”. We need to “forgive him for his blessed but painful surgery on our spirits.”
At first, I thought Kreeft was wrong. Forgive God? Why would we lowly creatures need to forgive God, who is infinite goodness? How absurd! Then, giving the great Peter Kreeft the benefit of the doubt, I thought it over and had a realization of sorts. We need to forgive God lest we hold a grudge against Him. God calls us out of ourselves. He asks us to give up ourselves and our particular desires, and this can be very difficult, even aggravating. Our broken nature rebels against God’s will. We must say with Jesus, “not my will Father, but yours be done,” but we do not want to. We often say, leave me alone to what I want! Christians say this even when they know this is foolishness. We are broken and part of our brokenness is a wrong-relationship with God: we blame him when he is not at fault. Our hearts must be at peace with God. And our hearts, misshapen as they are, cannot be at peace with God unless we forgive him. How ridiculous we are!
I am a single man that believes that my vocation is that for marriage. So when I came across this article I thought it prudent to read it since I have much, much to learn about marriage. Me being the type that I would like to prepare for it the best I can rather than “learn on the job”.
Regardless, this struck home, not because of any past sin, but because it is rare to see a good priest speak truth to power. Once cloning technology gets perfected I plan on mass-producing this priest. Yeah, I know, cloning destroys the dignity of man so I was only speaking rhetorically.
So here is a warning for you all before you read the article. Of course the author issues his own warning, but it is best to be safe than sorry!
Most football fans can relate to scoring a touchdown. Especially when seeing your favorite team or player score one you jump up and give high-fives, chest bumps, or take shots of your favorite spirits.
Well in the NFL, or what is sometimes called the “No Fun League”, this past Sunday Chris Johnson of the Oakland Raiders went to his knees and claimed he was giving thanks to God after intercepting a pass for a touchdown. He was immediately flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for excessive celebration. Chris Johnson claims it was because he made a religious display while celebrating the touchdown.
I’m of a different mind when it comes to celebrating touchdowns. The town I grew up in playing football as well as how I practice my faith I generally frown upon celebrating in the end zone. The way I look at it is that it’s your job to score points. I don’t chest bump my colleague each time I turn on my computer at work?! I don’t high-five the secretary for each message she hands over to me?!
It’s your j-o-b to intercept footballs and run them back for touchdowns.
I used to dream about the great things I would set up someday when I had the money. I had ambitions of expanding Casper College into Wyoming’s second university. I had aspirations of setting up a scholarship fund that would help worthy students attending college. I built businesses in my mind, crafted scenarios where, once I had the money, I could start doing things that would make a difference.
To an extent, those dreams remain, even though reality is slowly draining my hopes that I’ll ever have millions of dollars lying around to fund these projects. Still, in my spare time, I think of smaller ways to make a mark on the world. I think of soup kitchens or adopt a family or something that would help some poor family get back on their feet, or at least endure another day.
It doesn’t take a Catholic conscience to want to help those less fortunate, and it doesn’t take supernatural charity to want to give a hand up to those coming after us. That much decency, I believe, exists in most, if not all of us.