Monday, 04-10-2023


The thesis of “American exceptionalism” seems to have two meanings.  To some of those who speak of it, it means that for generations, something different in our cultural DNA made the country a beacon of liberty and opportunity.  With several large qualifications, this seems to be true.  But there is also a governmental meaning:  That our rulers will never do the sorts of evil deeds we have seen done in totalitarian lands.

I don’t see why not.  Our rulers are not so much different from rulers in other places, and they are becoming more venal by the day.

Official, planned destruction of the economies of coal mining areas, and the slow and careless official response to the destruction of the air and water of East Palestine, Ohio, suggest that many of those who make our policies may not be particularly reluctant for the disfavored parts of the country to become unlivable.  They aren’t Green enough, or Blue enough, or there is something else wrong with their color.

Perhaps East Palestine can be cleansed.  Or perhaps it will come to resemble Chernobyl.  But when I think of the totalitarian countries, I think not so much of careless disasters, like nuclear reactor accidents and train derailments, as of deliberate, man-made miseries and coerced movements of population, including the planned ruin of entire classes and regions.

Is our government exceptional?  Less and less, it seems.  If you want to keep such things from happening here, never assume that they can’t.  Never even assume that they aren’t.



Thomas Aquinas on Why Easter Had to Happen

Sunday, 04-09-2023


Since this blog has acquired quite a few new readers recently, I should mention that although it isn’t a Holy Day blog – I write mostly about other things -- I always offer a reflection on Easter and another on Christmas, drawn mostly from the Fathers of the Church.  This one, though, is from Thomas Aquinas, who asks in his Summa theologiae, “Was it necessary for Christ to rise again?”  Here is how he answers.  On Monday, I’ll be back to the old stand.

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It behooved Christ to rise again, for five reasons.

First of all; for the commendation of Divine Justice, to which it belongs to exalt them who humble themselves for God's sake.  "He has put down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble."  Consequently, because Christ humbled Himself even to the death of the Cross, from love and obedience to God, it behooved Him to be uplifted by God to a glorious resurrection ….

Secondly, for our instruction in the faith, since our belief in Christ's Godhead is confirmed by His rising again, because "although He was crucified through weakness, yet He lives by the power of God."  And therefore it is written "If Christ is not risen again, then our preaching is vain, and our faith is also vain": and "What profit is there in my blood?" … as though He were to answer: "None.  For if I do not at once rise again but My body be corrupted, … I shall gain no one” ….

Thirdly, for the raising of our hope, since through seeing Christ, who is our head, rise again, we hope that we likewise shall rise again.  Hence it is written "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?" And "I know" (that is, with certainty of faith) "that my Redeemer" (that is, Christ) "lives" (having risen from the dead), "and" (therefore) "in the last day I shall rise out of the earth... this my hope is laid up in my bosom."

Fourthly, to set in order the lives of the faithful: "As Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life": and further on; "Christ rising from the dead dies now no more; so do you also reckon that you are dead to sin, but alive to God."

Fifthly, in order to complete the work of our salvation: because, just as for this reason did He endure evil things in dying that He might deliver us from evil, so was He glorified in rising again in order to advance us towards good things:  "He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification."

-- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, III, Question 53, Article 1.  The full text of the passage is here.



More Charitable Than You

Monday, 04-03-2023



Is Christian charity compatible with competition, so that someone could say “I want to love God for His own sake more than anyone else”?



Good question.  Sometimes people think all forms of competition are prohibited by charity, and this is not true.  For example, by competing in games, all children have more fun, and they explore and develop their skills more fully because the competition spurs them on.  Naturally children try to win, but we teach them to take pleasure in good play by their opponents too.

On the other hand, we cannot genuinely compete in charity itself.  Someone may desire to be a saint, but the more he advances in holiness the more he will want the same thing for everyone.

Charity is a common good.  Some goods are common only in a very weak sense; for example, we all need a certain amount of wealth – I need food, I need clothing, I need shelter – but the fact that we all need these things doesn’t necessarily mean that we have communion in them, for I may get more of them by keeping you from having them.  By contrast, the virtues are common in a strong sense.  If you have more courage than I do, I too benefit from your courage, and it would be absurd for me to say “No fair!  You only got all that courage by taking it from me!”  Supernatural charity is a common good in an even stronger sense than the other virtues are, because everyone who possesses charity desires its overflow into others.  This should be no surprise, for that’s how we get it from God.  It's an “infused” virtue.  He gives it away.

One of the paradoxes of charity is the greatness of being small.  Consider St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose gift was to perform even the smallest of everyday acts with heroic humility and hiddenness.  Her case is paradoxical, because in her afflictions and low station she did not have the conventional opportunities for great deeds; the opportunity she seized for greatness was the very fact of her afflictions and low station.  This sort of “opportunity” cannot even be recognized as such, except by grace, and would have been invisible to someone like Aristotle.

That is why she was able to write the startling words that God “made me understand my own glory would not be evident to the eyes of mortals, that it would consist in becoming a great saint!  This desire could certainly appear daring if one were to consider how weak and imperfect I was, and how, after seven years in the religious life, I still am weak and imperfect.  I always feel, however, the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint because I don’t count on my merits since I have none, but I trust in Him who is Virtue and Holiness.”



Some Crazy Ideas Are Deadly Serious (beginning only)

Tuesday, 03-28-2023


Here are the title and opening paragraphs of my new Op-Ed at The Wall Street Journal.  I'm not allowed to give you the whole thing, of course, because of the paywall.

Some Crazy Ideas Are Deadly Serious

Saying men can get pregnant is ridiculous. Pumping kids full of hormones is wicked.

By J. Budziszewski

March 27, 2023

When I tell nonacademic friends some of the things about race and sex that are commonly taught in universities today, many respond with either disbelief or giggles.  You can’t be serious.  Nobody can possibly believe that men can get pregnant or that Lincoln was in favor of slavery!

Since I agree these are crackpot ideas, perhaps I shouldn’t carp.  But when people in politics, scholarship, punditry and everyday life treat “culture wars” as unserious—or at least as less serious than other issues, like economics and foreign policy—I wonder how serious they are.




Is God a Meaningless Abstraction?

Monday, 03-27-2023



Is God an abstract and meaningless idea?



At first I was puzzled by your question, because it sounded as though you were asking whether God exists -- but you didn’t word it that way, and besides, I know you do believe that God exists.  From previous correspondence, I suspect that you are relaying a question from skeptical acquaintances whom you aren’t sure how to answer.  So I’ve given some thought to what they might mean by suggesting to you that God is an “abstract and meaningless idea.”

Perhaps the difficulty is that the terms “God” and “god” are used in several different senses.

Sometimes the term “god” is used for whatever it is to which someone gives his unconditional commitment.  This is what we mean when we say of a greedy man, “His god is money.”  There are lots of gods of this sort:  Sex, Me, Power, Reputation, and so forth.  Since almost anything might be someone’s “god” in the sense of unconditional commitment, I can see why someone might say that the term is meaningless.  But if we ask what deserves unconditional commitment, there is only one answer, and that is the God whom we worship.

Sometimes – although the term “god” itself is not often used in this way – people call themselves “religious” because they have elevated feelings.  If, for example, they have feelings of awe when they look at the sky, they say they are “religious.”  Since people may have elevated feelings about almost anything – from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Oprah Winfrey show -- in this sense too I can see why someone might say that terms such as “god” and “religious” are meaningless.  But if the question is what ought to arouse our loftiest feelings, again there is only one answer:  The Creator, whom we call God.

Sometimes the term “god” is used for a being who has vast powers, like the beings of the Greek myths (or like Marvel comic book heroes).  Though God is powerful, this is not what we mean by God.  The “gods” of mythological were contingent beings like you and me.  They didn’t have to exist; something would have had to cause them to exist.  But the true God, as Christians understand Him, exists necessarily.  He can’t not be.  Those “gods” existed in the same way that you exist; they just had more of everything.  But God is the answer to the question of why there is something and not rather nothing – why anything at all exists apart from Him.  Those “gods” were products of human imagination.  But there is, and can be, only one First Being.  God, then, is not a meaningless abstraction, but the Being above all other beings.

I can think of one more thing your acquaintances might mean in saying that God is a meaningless abstraction.  They may mean that whether He exists or He doesn’t exist, it makes no difference; life goes on the same way.  But if God is what Christian faith claims He is, then this is far from true:

God is not only the First Cause on which all other being depends, but the First Meaning on which all other meaning depends.  Apart from Him, life is absurd. 

He is the greatest and most praiseworthy thing.  Surely something is wrong with us if we cannot admire what is infinitely greater than ourselves.

Since He is the supreme and uncreated Good, we depend on Him even to put the goods of this life in right order.

Without His providence, we are constantly tempted to do evil so that good will result.

Without His grace, we cannot be forgiven our wrongdoing.  What is impersonal cannot forgive; morality, as such, has a heart of stone.

Without the same grace, we cannot be healed of our brokenness.  Moral discipline can accomplish something, and that is good, but eventually it hits a wall.

Without the same grace, we cannot make sense of our suffering, because we cannot offer it to be united with His sacrifice for us.

Finally, even in the unlikely event that we have all this world offers, we are compelled to ask, “Is this all there is?”  That which cannot be found in this world must be found out of this world.  In the vision of His face is that perfect fulfillment which leaves nothing further to be desired.



The Four Big Ones

Monday, 03-20-2023


Every schoolchild used to know that the four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.  These aren’t the only virtues, or even the only important ones, but rather those on which all the ordinary human virtues depend, for each of them can be viewed as one of the “parts” or aspects of one of the Four Big Ones.

Take, for instance, justice.  There are different senses in which something can be a part of something else, but in one sense or another the parts of justice include giving the other person what he deserves, avoiding harm which he does not deserve, observing proportionality in exchange, gratefully honoring God, and gratefully honoring parents.  All these and other such senses grow from a single root idea.

Although some people still talk about the cardinal virtues, it is interesting how thoroughly the doctrine has been forgotten in the general culture.  My students are both fascinated and astonished to learn that people talked about the Four Big Ones in the time of Aristotle in the fourth century B.C., Jesus in the first century A.D., St. Augustine in the fourth, St. Thomas in the thirteenth, George Washington in the eighteenth, and for a long, long time afterward.  No one has told them.

And no, the Stoics weren’t the ones who discovered them.  And no, the Freemasons weren’t.  And no, they didn’t come from Tarot cards.  You can get all that misinformation on the web.

Equally interesting is how we try to reinvent the doctrine.  Although only in a haphazard way, people are always coming up with lists of important qualities.  Psychologists who talk about “emotional intelligence” do it.  The army does it.  Schools do it.  Driving across town, my eye lighted on a sports field, the wall of which was emblazoned with the words “Discipline.  Accountability.  Toughness.”  Obviously someone thought these virtues were cardinal.  Granted, they seem to have been pulled from the air, and not much of a case can be made that all virtues, or even all athletic virtues, depend on just those three.   They are also pretty loose:  Accountability to whom and for what?

But at least someone was trying to survey the territory of moral character.  That deserves some applause.


Imitation and Peer Pressure

Sunday, 03-12-2023


May I say a word against the incessant warnings of the dangers of imitation and peer pressure?

Children and teens should be imitative.  It’s built into the human developmental plan.  But they should mainly be imitating their elders, not the other children and teens.  Peer pressure is good too, if it’s the right kind of pressure from the right kind of peers.

Before the days of discount warehouse schools and social media, that’s how it was.  Essentially, we have allowed a good and educational impulse of our nature – natural sociality -- to be perverted.

A word on parental supervision.  The advice “Limit your kids’ screen time” is almost as useless as telling kids not to have sex until they’re “ready.”  Except for a few practical functions like checking their school calendars or receiving their homework assignments, why do children need “screen time” at all?

Would you allow strangers, enemies, and the mob to enter your home to indoctrinate your children for hours at a time?  But isn’t that what we are doing?