China, Christian

...or rapidly becoming so. Curtsy to Brett McS for sending me this piece on China's being on course to be the largest Christian nation. He also flattered me by noting ..."as seen first on Wheat & Weeds," and it's true, we've been noting trends in Chinese Christianity since 2008 at least (see here and here).

Speaking of China, how about a foray into stereotypes cultural differences?  At Easter dinner a young cousin of ours who is a mechanical engineer for an American tool company was telling about his experiences supervising the production of tools at various company plants: in South Carolina, in Mexico, and chiefly in China.

Someone asked him about the supposed inferiority of the American worker versus the Chinese and he made the interesting observation that no one can touch the Chinese for industry -- they are eager for work and most have multiple jobs and work hard and long. However, in his experience the Chinese are not great problem solvers. He cited a couple of examples, including an instance where a part was coming out in the wrong shape and the fellow running the machine insisted on simply replacing a spring. It took my cousin to resolve the issue.

I asked Brett McS, who has also worked extensively in China, whether he agreed with that observation. He said he's found it to be true of individual workers, but that in situations where Chinese workers are permitted to work in teams, they become great problem solvers:
When there is a problem they all (about a dozen) get together and chatter back and forth, and after five or ten minutes will typically come up with an excellent solution (say to assembling some components of the loco without having the specific tools for the job).
He says these observers call these "Tiger Teams," and that to his mind Westerners don't do teamwork as well -- too individualistic, perhaps.

Isn't that interesting? Our cousin made another observation, drawn from his efforts to learn Chinese.  Maybe others understand this well but it was a new thought to me: since Chinese is a tonal language, it's difficult to express emotion with it, because if you change the tone you change the word.  Our cousin used the example of an exasperated kid sighing, "Mo-o-o-m" at his lame-o parent. You can't do that in Chinese.  Does this difference in language account for the pronounced difference in attitude about the importance of the individual?  And to what extent might Christianity change that over time (see, I brought it back 'round. You didn't think I was going to didja?)

Schall on Everything, But Especially What Politics Can & Can't Do

The modern world is a “rights” world. This comes largely from Hobbes. The logic of a “rights” world is curious. It basically means that what we “ought” to be by “right” is owed to us. If we do not have what we ought to have, we are victims. Someone has the “duty” to give us our “rights.”

This “rights” world is a world in which the notion of gift can no longer exist. Christianity is rooted in gift, not rights. If I do not have what is my “right,” then, when it is supplied to me, it is because of someone else’s “duty.” In a way, such a world bears out the problem that I have always associated with justice, namely, that it is the most terrible of the virtues. When we treat someone “justly,” we return what is “due.” It does not depend on that person’s charm or character. He can be the worst of men and, if we “owe” him something, we must return it. A thoroughly “just” world is a world of cold impersonality. The great things of life—friendship, honor, sacrifice, love, praise—are beyond justice.

Aquinas thus said that the world was created in mercy, not justice. In a paradoxical sense, in a completely “just” world, Christianity itself would have no place to exist. It could not really talk about “giving” or “sacrificing” because what is given is “due.” This is the classical problem with socialism and such forms of “rights”-oriented systems. In the name of justice, they get rid of all the real institutions of love and sacrifice that really deal with individual people in their particularity. The greatest things are beyond justice. When we politicize all the human activities, we really end up with a world in which no one can possibly love another because everything is already “owed.”
This and more good thoughts from Fr. Schall in his annual Easter interview with Ken Masugi. The above could have come straight from Benedict XVI, with his insistence on "the law of gratuity," or from Francis and his recognition that even a "good" system cannot replace the need to "see" people. You can't just set up a good system and no longer worry about human interaction.

It was actually this that caught my eye, however:
Without care, it is relatively easy to turn political philosophy into a theology or theology into a political form. It is, I think, the primary effect of revelation to allow politics to be just what it is, and only what it is, that it, politics. Politics is not itself, as Charles N. R. McCoy used to say, a “substitute metaphysics,” or as Voegelin and Benedict XVI say, an attempt to achieve Christian ends by political, economic or scientific means within this world by human means—the famous “immanentization of the eschaton.”
A little more:  
It is out of this background that political philosophy came up in the first place, over the issues of the death of Socrates and later the death of Christ, both issues of the best man killed in the  best existing state of his time by an essentially “legal’ process. It was precisely this experience out of which the issue of the best regime arose.
It has been my constant position that politics to be what it is cannot be a substitute religion or metaphysics and still be politics as Aristotle understood it. This is why most of the politics we know today are really, as Chantal Delsol noted in Icarus Fallen, covert ideological efforts to resolve what are essentially Christian ideas by man within this world. No sense of the transcendent and its relation to each existing person remains. This is the significance of the last chapter in Reasonable Pleasures on eternal life.
This is the problem I'm thinking about lately. It's difficult to have a sensible conversation with anyone about politics. Lefty Catholics have made politics their religion (see here -- or maybe don't as what is seen cannot be unseen and this is obscene, at least morally), but righty Catholics don't leave any space for what Benedict XVI called the "legitimate sphere of secularity" -- or, ironically, for the lay vocation. So you can't have a real discussion about politics, because no one any longer has a sense of what politics is.

This is good too. Masugi asks about a passel of contemporary questions -- the HHS mandate, religious liberty, Putin's "defense" of Christianity-- and Schall says to take each issue individually would take time, but there's a general observation to be made.
If we compare notions of individualism, relativism, freedom, and equality, we see quite clearly that we live in a regime that is rather described rather accurately by Aristotle. A regime is a political order that is formed to facilitate the kind of virtue or vice that the citizens have chosen for their way of life. Thus, I think that the proper title of the present American regime is a classical democracy that has seen its ruling authority to be taken over by a tyrannical type ruler. In the Greek sense, such a ruler is not a brute or madman, but a suave, rather sophisticated, eloquent operator who is personally rather disciplined. But he has no internal principle of order but his own will.  
Now we do not and probably cannot bring ourselves to use these classical Greek terms even when they do describe the souls we see. But if we look at the reality, we can see that the Greek idea of a democracy as a deviant regime, that is, one that has no common good, but a “good” that is defined by the actual ruling principle in the souls of the citizens. The key is a concept of virtue that held that the citizens lived in a regime of “liberty.” It sounds rather attractive. But here the word “liberty” means precisely that no standards or norms exist. Freedom does not mean follow reason, but follow whatever we want. Each person chooses his own definition of happiness or the good, as one of our Supreme Court justices is fond of telling us. No one agrees on anything except that no good requires human beings to live according to reason, a reason that is found in human nature itself as expressive of its good. The purpose of the ruling principle is to guarantee that this form of “liberty” be protected and expanded. Equality means that no criterion of excellence or good exists. The regime then comes to be a systematic dismantling of any residue of a claim in nature that a proper way of man to live can be found.

Read what he says about whether Pope Francis is unnecessarily confusing.

Potpourri of Popery, Easter 2014 Edition

Happy Easter! The Christian world feels like this: ...because we've just come through Lent, Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum and the Easter Vigil.

I love the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, with the foot-washing and especially the Eucharistic procession to the altar of repose. But the moment of the Triduum that gets me --never fails to turn me into a blubbering idiot-- is the priest's prostration at the foot of the cross after the silent Good Friday procession (well, silent... except for the devastating military drumbeat they do at our parish: it strikes the heart).

Reuters photo, shameless pinched from The Daily Mail

The stripped Church, the tabernacle empty, the mournful songs. Hard to take, but then they're redeemed by the glorious Vigil.

Just a quick potpourri, then, because there's feasting to do.

You can find transcripts of all the Vatican doings for Holy Week here, but you owe yourselves a read of two very fine homilies from Francis -- maybe his best all year.

First, his words to priests at the Chrism Mass, about the joy of the priesthood.
Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men.  The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy. Joy in our littleness!
He goes on to talk about four safeguards of joy for the priest: the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity & obedience) and -- interesting!-- the people he serves:
priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.
And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy
RTWT for more on that topic specifically, but it's also just a lovely reflection.

Then there's his Easter Vigil homily, which is about the "personal relationship with Jesus." It's a very simple reflection on the post-Resurrection words of first an angel and then Jesus himself: "Go to Galilee and they will see me." What does it mean to go to Galilee?
Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began!  To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called.  Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets.  He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).
To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory, fearlessly: “do not be afraid”.  To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love
The remainder of the homily is a call to Christians to return to their personal "Galilee."
Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee? I need to remind myself, to go back and remember. Where is my Galilee? Do I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Seek and you will find it! There the Lord is waiting for you. Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it? Lord, help me: tell me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy. Do not be afraid, do not fear, return to Galilee! The Gospel is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth. Go back to Galilee, without fear!
  • UK: Perhaps you saw this on my twitter feed earlier this week, but it's too good not to call attention to it again. Damian Thompson finds people who've become Catholic because of Richard Dawkins. (Don't laugh, but I became convinced of the value of chastity during my doubter/atheist phase because of Woody Allen.) Anyway, an excellent Easter story. 

Aussterity Measures

Brett McS sent me this news from Oz, where the prime minister flies budget and takes out his own garbage.
Since he became prime minister, Mr Abbott and his family have continued to live ordinary family lives as much as possible. He has been photographed taking out the rubbish outside his suburban Sydney house; his wife, Margie, has been photographed lugging armfuls of shopping bags from the local supermarket.
Mr Abbott's thrifty approach is in line with his political pledges to reduce public spending and cut the civil service. He has reined in travel costs and introduced a rule that ministers must sign off on all civil servants' expenses above £11,000. Any expenses more than £28,000 must be signed off by the prime minister himself.

I'd be impressed, except Brett long ago informed me that that Simpsons Australia episode was pretty much spot-on (see the final minute here).

Can't Take Any Ayn Anymore

Does Ayn Rand have any actual disciples today?

I'm aware that Alan Greenspan was once in her thrall and her literal circle of admirers and I know that people like Clarence Thomas & Paul Ryan confess Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged had an impact on them in their youth, but they say it in precisely the way other people say they loved Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's understood they've moved on, and it would be backwards not to have moved on.

When people denounce Conservatives because they like Ayn Rand, isn't that a straw man? Who actually does like Ayn Rand?

Apropos of having seen the umpteenth blog post on Ayn Rand, I have to say I immediately assume anyone who writes such a post does not follow or understand a thing about politics. Am I wrong?

WaPo Editors Don't Know What an Idiom Is

Surely the stupidest thing WaPo has ever published is this bit of old tosh on the Maryland state motto. Some dude who proclaims himself a translator says it is "sexist in any language." The motto in English is "Strong deeds, gentle words," but the author has himself in a snit because the Italian original is "“Fatti maschii, parole femine."

“Fatti maschii, parole femine” (the second word is pronounced with a hard K sound, “mask-ee”) is an old Italian proverb. According to the state of Maryland, the phrase translates to “strong deeds, gentle words.” Yet this is willfully misleading. The direct translation is hardly gentle: “Manly deeds, womanly words.” I’m a professional literary translator of Italian, but don’t just take it from me.
Giuseppe Patota, the director of the Garzanti Italian Dictionary in Milan, says that the phrase “has distinctly sexist connotations, and the translation proposed by the state of Maryland misses its literal meaning.”
The first comment on the piece gets the only possible reaction just right: "Oh fer crissakes."

Misses the literal meaning? Or accurately translates the meaning of an expression? Have we fallen so far that a linguist, a professional translator and whatever editors might exist at WaPo online can't recognize an idiom when they see it?

Next installments from this guy:
  • Midwesterners are backwards and don't understand biology: elbows don't really have grease. 
  • "To be caught red-handed" is an anti-Native American slur.
The author is said to be working on a book on translation. Oy!

The Pope & The Potus: Protocol Fail?

Photo credit: CTV, shamelessly pinched from here

How today's encounter between Francis & Obama went depends on who you're reading. "My" side thinks this photo says it all, and reads the Vatican statement on the meeting and, knowing Vatican diplomacy, is pretty sure Francis -- and later his Sec. of State-- was pretty insistent on religious liberty.  

The President said the topic hardly came up (I don't believe him, but since the meeting was private who can disprove it?) and in candor there were plenty of pictures of the Pope smiling with the President. 

Watch the ABC footage provided here though (I'm having trouble embedding.) I call your attention to something else. Two something elses, actually.

First, in the opening seconds, Obama BOWS to the Pope. So this is clearly just what he does, it's not really a bow, it's kind of a head bop, probably a tic he developed because he's tall.

I don't actually think it's in Pope Francis' character to rebuke via grimace -- if that were his intent, the other laughing photos make no sense -- but he does seem oddly subdued with Obama here. What I find odd is that Obama chats and chats and chats sort of nervously and it's obvious the Pope is trying to follow but doesn't really know what he is saying. Finally the interpreter intervenes and Obama laughs at himself and then repeats his pleasantries to her, "Tell him I said....."

Did Obama not know the Pope doesn't speak English?  I am not certain that's what we are witnessing here, but it seems like yet another massive White House protocol fail.  

Update: Shoot. ABC edited the footage so you can't see what I'm talking about.