Bakers, the Common Good, and Christian Rebels

Ross Douthat is asking for the Supreme Court to just leave the Baker alone. I sympathize. But I don’t think such a thing is possible.

There are a lot of arguments about the fallout of Obergefell, mostly some species of slippery slope involving the quashing of religious liberty. I subscribe to such arguments, but I don’t think they help to understand why Obergefell completely changes the situation.

Prior to the 2015 decision which granted same-sex couples the “fundamental right to marry”, homosexuality, and specifically homosexual acts, were in a nebulous place in American culture. Specifically, the question of its morality was nebulous – akin to, say, vegetarianism. Some may believe it to be a good, some may believe it to be unhealthy, and though the two opinions were contrary, persons could still tolerate the opinion of the other. Yes, it may create a type of self-segregation between the two groups, as one found the other repugnant to some degree, but fundamentally both vegetarians and non-vegetarians could see the other as fellow Americans. They are both acceptable views under the state Common Good of the Republic.

This was the case with opinions on homosexual acts. With the decriminalization of homosexual acts beginning in 1962 and completed by 2003, there began a period in which one portion of the population could believe that homosexual acts were immoral while another portion believed they were licit and even morally virtuous. Prior to this, the second was basically illegal. The two opinions are contrary, but the state had either a) given allowance for toleration of what it deemed immoral (thus decriminalization was practical, akin to medieval decriminalization of prostitution in certain locales) or b) removed itself from the question entirely. The second, libertarian view tends to be how Americans, with their abysmally impoverished and limited view of the state vis-a-vis morality, saw the matter.

Obergefell changed this. In that judicial action, the state came roaring back and made a specific moral claim in the manner (and putting falsity to the libertarian view of things, might I add) – homosexual acts were to be seen as equivalent to heterosexual acts. This was to be solemnized in the universal recognition of same-sex unions as marriage.

One could make an abstruse argument that this has nothing to do with morality, but doing so is facetious and ultimately makes a mockery of any idea of public and culturally binding morals – make that same argument about murder or rape why don’t you?

So with homosexual acts deemed not only licit, but a moral good – something not only tolerated, but instituted solemnly by the state – the matter of the Christian Baker has no possible outcome save demanding he respect this moral good.

But does this not infringe the Christian Baker’s freedom of conscience? Or, gasp, his freedom of religion? Well, when said belief is contrary to the legislated good of the state and society, it is not a freedom and is not protected as such. We all implicitly believe this of acts like religiously motivated murder, rape, terrorism, or theft.

Note well, religious freedom is never more than an edict of non-coercion and toleration. The state promises to not force a man or woman to break their conscience to the extent that a belief or activity is not contrary to the good of the state and intolerable. Put more positively, to the extent that a belief or activity is not contrary to the good of the state or is tolerable within that good (e.g. violent pornography [not my belief, just the state’s]), one is free to hold and pursue it. If it is not tolerable, it is illegal and/or criminal, pure and simple.

For the Christian Baker to deny the cake to the same-sex couple, is to act in a way that is both contrary to the good of the state and intolerable – one cannot tolerate a citizen who denies such a right to another anymore than one may tolerate a citizen barring another from the polls.

Anything less is at best is simply passing the buck to another court, at worst inviting a judicial and constitutional crisis.

Cheerless upshot: We Christians? We’re about to become, if not already are, defacto rebels to the stated “Common Good” of this Republic.

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The principle of Plato’s cycle of regimes

We’re at the tail end of number 7. Trump is the door to 8.

Just Thomism

1.) Plato calls the perfect regime aristocracy, and he gives four regimes that fall away from it: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny.

2.) The regime reflects the character of the persons composing it. The five regimes are really just five relations to the perfect good: one which attains it and four that fall away from it by degrees.

3.) Character is determine by behavior and there are three sources of human behavior:

a.) Reason,

b.) spirit,

c.) appetite.

4.) In Aristocracy, (a) rules over (b) and (c). In living according to reason its actions are chosen as things good in themselves and in accordance with reality.

5.) In timocracy, (b) rules over (a) and (c). The highest goods are the goods of the spirit, sc. honors, glory, the respect and esteem of others, etc. The paradigm was elf this is military glory, though it is more familiar to students through…

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A Short Autobiography of My Life in Comics

(Pre-Script: Part of blogging, I’ve decided, is just writing. Publicly, of course, maybe putting out letters for others to skim over and maybe share reflections with. I’m thinking of doing some project akin to a retrospective on my hobbies and interests of old and new. The childhood ones (Power Rangers, Dragon Ball Z, Ninja Turtles), the frivolous ones (superheroes, boardgames, videogames), and the so-called “adult” ones (theology, philosophy, politics). We’ll start with comics and see where this goes.)

I’ve been reading more superhero comics recently. Mostly reading through Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, but also grabbing the recent Power Rangers from Boom Studios, some DC odds and ends, and Valiant’s XO Manowar. Beside Green Lantern, it’s only been the first volume of the other stuff. I’d been wanting to grab some Marvel, even in the face of cries of its radioactive toxicity and general kowtowing to the modern cultural mores I despair of. Fantastic Four was my first choice, so I poked around to find some runs I might want to indulge in.

In the midst of that, I came across Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca’s run from the late 1990s. The art immediately took me back to sighting the comic in the grocery store. It was probably my first comic book. I’m guessing it was the Ronan issues – I remember something about the moon. I make no defense of my tastes (especially as the run is considered poor by everything I’ve read about it) but coming across it made me reflect on how much of the comic medium I’ve actually read and what I like.

That Larroca art, with its high stylized realism, is the sort I favor in my comics. Guys like Darwyn Cooke and Bruce Timm, with their clear, stylized, cartoonish realism, are my personal gold standard, but I also like the excess of guys like Larroca. I appreciate and even enjoy more detailed realism, like Bryan Hitch or Ethan Van Sciver, but I always want something a bit more stylized without becoming absurdist.

That early Fantastic Four comic… I remember it being broken and busted up from flipping through it so much. The barely adolescent me probably developed his crush on Sue Storm at that time – for a pair of obvious reasons. I also had a few Captain America comics from that period that I similarly handled badly – that was during his time as a SHIELD agent with Nick Fury missing and Sharon Carter in charge… I think. Then there was the awesome What If? #114 – the heroes had stayed on Battle World and had kids 25 years later – daughter of Rogue and Captain America, Storm and Wolverine; son of She-Hulk and Hawkeye,… I barely knew anything about Marvel history and nothing about Secret Wars or Battle World but I loved those characters.

Soon after that, I subscribed to Daredevil for a year. I’m pretty sure it was Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s “Guardian Devil” run. I remember something about a kid and the anti-Christ. It stuck in my head, but I didn’t really became a major Daredevil fan.

I never did much DC stuff at the time, though I remember reading some sort of large history of the Flash (don’t recall the title) from the library. It was a summary of the exploits of Barry Allen and it was probably one of my first exposures to the idea of continuity and that stories could build up around a character and actually engender change in them. I know there’s huge discussion about the importance or lack thereof of continuity, whether characters really should change and how they should. But that comic fed my young imagination with the idea of these stories being whole other worlds with their own dynamism and growth and tragedy and life.

It was a heady time. I was like 10 or 11, really too young to be reading comics. Or at least those comics. The medium was really in the throes of it’s adolescent “maturation” (read sexing it up and getting violent).

I did try and find a comic book shop – there was one a goodly distance away from home which I got to know during trips down to the Medical Center. I never did more than dip my toe in, and was just as interested in picking up Pokemon cards and manga as I was comics. Place ended up closing down before I get to college and lived only five minutes away. The building turned into a magic-wiccan joint – I really hope there’s not a lesson there.

I’m curious what my parents thought of my interests at the time. I’m somewhat scandalized myself. You see, such a hobby always elicited (and still does, somewhat) contradictory emotions in me. From a young age I wanted to be seen as good, upstanding, and religious (NB: “be seen”). Would such a man (or boy at the time) read comic books with their emphasis on violence and hot ladies? Then again, I was growing up watching X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman (the cartoons, that is) and that seemed alright. What were comic books but the grown up version (haha – the naive boy I was)? And I liked it. I really did. Still do.

In my second foray into comics, during college, I got hooked on Green Lantern. Geoff Johns was in the middle of his amazing run and Peter J Tomasi was doing awesome stuff in Green Lantern Corps – that was like superheroes blended with Star Wars and hit all my “This is awesome” buttons. I was getting the monthlies right during the “Sinestro Corps War”. I was also exposed to Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and Walking Dead (long before the TV series). I grew to love Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man and Mark Millar’s Ultimates – I liked the whole Ultimate Universe line until Jeph Loeb screwed it all up. That I could read a Marvel universe from the beginning was just mind-blowing. I also read a good chunk of Brian K. Vaughn’s Ex Machina and liked it, though never got around to reading Y: The Last Man as I wanted to.

Then, well, I had whatever you call a conversion to monastic-aspirations and dumped the pair of long-boxes I had. That earlier contradictory emotion rose up and I figured it was time to be the religious man. This was right after college, probably around 2011. My Dad thought I was nuts, trading it all in for 100 bucks. “Are you sure you won’t regret this?”, he asked. I said “I won’t” at the time. Opinions can change drastically in 6 years.

I got back in the habit in the last two years. A friend was into Image – “You know, those non-superhero comics”. Oh, how the age of Witchblade, Savage Dragon, and Spawn have been forgotten. So I followed along, read his copies of Brian K Vaughn’s Saga, Jonathan Hickman’s East of West. I picked up Cullen Bunn’s Sixth Gun and Rick Remender’s Black Science. On a lark, I grabbed Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals – I’m in love with the man’s art.

But it wasn’t long before I turned back to superheroes. I’ve picked up a lot of Invincible again (just in time for it’s wrapping up) and am going back through Geoff John’s Green Lantern stuff. I’m trying to do Legion of Superheroes, want to grab some Fantastic Four, maybe finally read Civil War. Maybe Claremont’s lauded X-Men run (though that’s in that pre-90s phase, which I seem to have an aversion to…). I want to try out IDW’s Ninja Turtles and more of Boom Studios’ Power Rangers.

I guess I’m a bit of a superhero addict. I could probably do all sorts of psychoanalysis and philosophizing on it – exulting physical might when I’m so weak; looking for figures of authority in a time of moral chaos; desiring enchantment in a secular age; liking my ladies feisty and strong; dreams of heroism; yearnings for Eden and preternatural powers… Or I just really like superheroes.

Probably that last one. Just Occam’s Razor the issue.

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Losing the war

Just Thomism

For Plato, the rule of money arises from disillusion with the belief that war gives glory. Battle ceases to be seen as the supreme proof of manhood and comes to be seen with horror and contempt. Put in pop-art terms, we go from a John Wayne depiction of war to the depiction of Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, or Apocalypse Now. Told from the later point of view, we’ve shed naive rah-rah nationalism and awoken to the horror of war. We’ve finally seen the reality behind the scenes, and now know that war is just a cynical power-grab that is inflated with propaganda until the poor are willing to kill and die for the benefit of those who have much to gain and little to lose.

The older world of heroism and battle glory deserves a right to respond to what replaced it, and their best response is probably this: any…

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Some Comments on… Thor: Ragnarok

Some Comments on… Thor: Ragnarok

So, I give Thor: Ragnarok a recommendation with reservations. On the one hand, it had great spectacle, moved at a good pace, packed in a lot of story without seeming rushed, celebrated its source material (more on that), and had a ton of fun with its diverse cast. On the other hand, it’s fallen into the Marvel trap of mixing comedy and pathos at inappropriate times (also more on that).

It also loses marks with me for disrespectfully using bits and pieces of my favorite Hulk storyline – Planet Hulk. But that’s the fanboy in me and we won’t discuss it (just read the 12-issue series and join me in lamentation).

A few comments:

  1. Willingness to Change

Over the decades of their stories, superheroes, contrary to the common complaints, change a lot. From attempts to save dying titles, updating old heroes for a new age, new creative directions, or (sigh) attempting to promote new cultural mores, there’s a variety of reasons this occurs.

Of all the Marvel movies, Thor was in most need of a change. His first two solo outings were hampered by attempts to ground the cosmic-magic style of the comics in superscience garb and a desire to highlight the tragic and mythological aspects of the character. The first just put shackles on the whole story as one sought to justify what is clearly outlandish. The second just wasn’t executed well. They also gave themselves an unnecessary challenge in making the stories about both earth and Asgard – one can see the ways the two are forced into relationship in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World.

Thor: Ragnarok threw almost all of this out the window either from the get go, or by the end of the film. The wonder of cosmic-magical beings is embraced whole-heartedly in the very first encounter and continues throughout – there is no scientific justification for what amounts to mythological logic and it’s stronger (and oddly more logical) for it.

The tragic and mythological tenor, though, is replaced by an emphasis on comedy and adventure. Some, such as myself, actually likes to see the the former executed well in the superhero genre (of which only the Captain America and Wonder Woman films have done really well), but Marvel knows where its strengths lie and Thor: Ragnarok is a stronger movie for letting those strengths guide them.

Beyond a short Dr. Strange cameo, earth is completely absent from the film and it plays no major role. Instead, Asgard itself becomes the world we are seeking to save and by the end of the film what Asgard is (and so Thor’s role to his people) is radically changed – something that just couldn’t happen with earth as a focal point.

  1. Eschewing Scientism

Setting aside the need for scientific justification was really the best thing the movie did. Thor is all about being a god and you can’t be a god when the laws of the universe are chaining you down. Thor is given a level-up by the end of the film, fulfilling his title of god of thunder, and while we are given a lot of symbolic explanation, the upshot is the film focuses on a man coming into his own rather than solving a logic-puzzle (for those in the know, this is a strong emphasis of the pre-Campbellian pulp tradition).

It also lets the world pop out absurdities like rock-men, ninja-bugs, starships, gladiator arenas, zombie soldiers, giant wolves, long-lost siblings, secret histories, drunken valkyries, and Hulks without missing a beat or causing a dissonance.

The only reasoning the movie demands of itself is that of the story, and to undergird that it eschews scientism in favor of an enchanting logic and it works.

  1. Tonal Dissonance

The greatest flaw of the film is a tonal dissonance throughout. This is a feature of most all of the Marvel movies. Iron Man levied comedy heavily, and Joss Whedon’s work on the Avengers set the tone for juxtaposing comedy and tragedy. While Whedon is a master at that, the rest of the Marvel movies has mostly aped him badly by using bathos (cutting down a moment of emotion with absurd levity) every chance they can.

This is a hallmark of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but Thor: Ragnarok goes even further. There’re are very few moments of deep emotion which don’t end in a joke, an absurdity, or Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. While this can offer a great many laughs, it also frustrates moments which call for something transcendent or heroic.

That moment of awesome where Thor levels up? It’s capped by the “Immigrant Song”, with that catchy melodic screech. It makes for a weird and interesting scene, but by that point I was rolling my eyes, grinding my teeth, and whispering “not this again”. I was craving to have a fight accompanied by something the like of Two Steps from Hell produces or that gives me the sense of heroic struggle from My Hero Academia’s You Say Run. Is it trite? Sure. But novelty should only be indulged in in small doses.

If one reflects on Thor: Ragnarok’s story, one can see this as a very dark tale – a sister violently reclaiming her throne and oppressing her people, a man fighting his way out of gladiatorial enslavement, brothers with painful history seeking to find common cause. Even the story beats have this tragedy – loss of a father, leading the oppressed to safety, pulling a drunk from her stupor. Most of this is either gone over quickly or is undercut by jokes.

Now on the surface, this doesn’t seem too much of a problem – the movie still hangs together and one rarely feels a real dissonance. But this kind of storytelling, especially as it’s so prevalent in the Marvel movies, tends to belittle real pathos, real emotion, or real tragedy.

Even with that major caveat, I highly recommend the film. Great fun all around.

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“A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor”

So, theologically speaking, I’m more and more of the mind that the existential angst of modern man vis-a-vis matters of the afterlife for the non-baptized is due to the (foolish) collapse of the distinction between the natural and supernatural. This has screwed up our eschatology to the point that we can’t even speculate of a non-supernatural afterlife – a life where humanity enjoys a perfection of it’s natural powers thought does not participate in beatitude (limbo). Don’t even get me started on how the lack of a distinction has really limited our ability to look beyond the horizon of the natural – Can you define the Theological Virtue of Faith? How about distinguish between the Natural and Infused Virtue of Prudence?

Upshot – I like limbo as a speculative thought. Why can’t my afterlife have multiple worlds?

Sancrucensis

Man cannot attain to beatitude without the gift of supernatural grace. Therefore, he who dies in original sin is deprived of eternal life; but he is not, therefore and thereby, subjected to any sorrow or suffering. Not being proportioned to beatitude, he is incapable of enjoying it. He does not, however, suffer from the loss; because God rectifies his will, conforming it to His own, and taking from it the desire of that which is impossible to it. A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor. Neither does such a soul suffer any sensible pain. On the contrary, it is endowed with all perfection proper to human nature—such as the knowledge of all natural things, and even the contemplation, by means of creatures, of such as are Divine. It enjoys all the happiness which human nature can enjoy. Furthermore…

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On “Mastership” in St. Thomas

So, for those of you who weren’t aware of the full depth my anti-liberal, radical traditional (in?)sanity, I’m a monarchist. Man will again be truly free only after the last president is strangled with the entrails of the last revolutionary – well, maybe not strangled, but I may be okay with burning at the stake after hung.

It’s music to my hears to hear the lucidity of Thomas expounding this truth flowing from Aristotle through the Middle Ages up to the glories of the recent Papal Magisterium (good luck finding a non-rupturist denial of monarchy in Vatican II, Paul VI, John Paul II, or Benedict XVI – I continue my silence on the current, rightfully-elected, and blessed-by-God holder of the Petrine See).

See PJ Smith on the latest expounding of this beautiful font of truth: An addition to Felix de St. Vincent. And if you ever are in a mood for glorious political philosophy and theology check out the Josias, where all the cool integralist kids hang out. Seriously, put away that Alt-Right crap, stop with the red pill. Tradition. That’s where the edgy awesome is.

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