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A Church Burns Down, and Perhaps Rebuilds

The fire that did “colossal damage” to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral dominated the news on Monday, and although we were disheartened by the tragedy we took some hope in that fact that at least respectful attention was being paid. The Notre Dame Cathedral was one of those glorious relics of western civilization and the Christian faith that for so long sustained it, and it’s good to see people still care about that.
The fire destroyed all the wood in the guts of the more-than-700-year-old building, including the iconic spire that topped its masterpiece architecture, but its stone base is reportedly still intact, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral.” He added that “Notre Dame of Paris is our history. The epicenter of our lives. It’s the many books, the paintings, those that belong to all French men and French women, and even those who’ve never come.” We found his words encouraging, but they couldn’t quite convince us that the modern world can ever fully restore anything to the glory of the old world.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was built by the fervently Christian France of the 14th Century to the glory of God, and the secularized French people of the 21st Century will rebuild it as a tourist attraction and a monument to the glory of France. The modern world has some very amazing gizmos, and can perform astounding acts of engineering, but it can’t make up for that soulful difference.
There are many aesthetic theories to explain the ironic and rigorously logical and up-to-date appeal of modern architecture, but they cannot persuade us to abandon our preference for the older buildings. That’s true here in Wichita, where they’ve lately been building very fashionable structures, but the best of it is still the old County Courthouse and the Carnegie Library and the fabulous old City Hall and Scottish Rite Temple by the great Proudfoot and Bird and the rest of the stone structures that might survive a fire, and it’s true pretty much everywhere we go. Our only brief European travels have been in Ireland and Great Britain, but the old stuff was better there, too, and everyone we know who’s more widely travelled abroad went in search of the old rather than new.
There are also cases to be made for the modern books and paintings and the rest of the culture that Macron is rightly concerned with, and the modern world has also wrought such new art forms as cinema and “internet memes,” but even the most enthusiastic critics acknowledge a certain soullessness. Modernity has largely abandoned the very concept of the soul, and is too enlightened to imbue its art with that sense of awe at what mankind could hope to derive from God’s truth and beauty that those primitive Christians once had.
Most of the coverage focused on the loss of a historic Gothic architecture masterpiece in the heart of Paris, but it was also occasionally mentioned that it was a house of worship that burned down Holy Week. Any old place where people have gathered to worship is God is sanctified as far as we’re concerned, and we reckon its loss is a loss to humanity.
In Mark Twain’s brilliantly scathing travelogue “Innocents Abroad” he describes a group of American tourists marveling at the beautiful cathedrals of Europe, and posits a strong argument that the congregants would have done better to upgrade all the dilapidated homes that surrounded their church. We’re member of a protestant denomination at the opposite side of the low-church-high-church side of Christianity from Catholicism, a group which actually prides itself on its very plain buildings that never cost of any its members needed home repairs, so we’re sympathetic to Twain’s atheistic argument, but we wish he could have appreciated the beauty of a church.
Our dwindling congregation over in the rough Delano district has a very attractive Depression-era brick-and-stone castle-looking building, but lately has been meeting in the newly-built annex where we’re seated closer together, and there’s another Church of Christ down south in Peck next door to a hippie friend of ours that’s a gorgeously humble Norman Rockwell white clapboard and looks like a imminent tinderbox given the aging electrical system it probably has. There’s a brown clapboard Foursquare Apostolic Church down the street that might or might not still holding services, so far as we can tell as we pass by, and there’s something quite beautiful about it despite the fading paint.
Despite our low church Protestant upbringing, we’ve always felt a sense of awe at the truth and beauty inside some of those Catholic and Episcopal and Greek Orthodox churches that mere humans built to glorify God. The Cathedral of the Plains up in Victoria, Kansas, and war and church hero Father Kapaun’s old St. John Nupemucene in Pilsen Kansas, and the St. Joseph Catholic Church just around the corner from the West Douglas Church of Christ all inspire the awe of our primitive Christian souls. We’re told that the Notre Dame Cathedral was even more beautiful, so it’s hard to comprehend the loss.
We feel the same respectful feelings for synagogues, mosques, temples, and anywhere else people meet to find God, rather than what’s merely modern, and we mourn anytime they are destroyed. The blaze at Notre Dame was reportedly just one of those things that sometimes happen to 700-year-old buildings, unlike the arson of madmen who routinely burn down synagogues and mosques and temples and the churches where black Christians worship, or even the most just wars that have destroyed countless houses of worship, so we’ll take some comfort in that.
The stone structure of the Cathedral of Notre Dame has reportedly survived, so with the help of the government and its dwindling congregation the church might yet be rebuilt. The hellfire of modernity has pretty much gutted the wooden frame of the church universal, but it also has a rock-solid foundation, so during this Holy Week we hold out hope for a renaissance.

— Bud Norman

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Nuns Dare Call It Conspiracy

When they’re not pursuing the economic policies that have brought female workforce participation rates to a post-feminism low, or chasing interns around the office, or bemoaning the Republicans’ “War on Women,” Democrats have lately been waging a war on the Little Sisters of the Poor. Surprisingly enough, the Little Sisters of the Poor seem to be getting the better of it.
For those unfamiliar with this fine organization, the Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Catholic nuns who have been caring for the elderly since Saint Jeanne Jugan brought a blind and paralyzed old woman in from the cold of a French winter in 1839, and despite its good works in cities across America since arriving in Cincinnati in 1868 it went largely unnoticed until the Obamacare law mandated it provide contraception coverage for all its members and workers. The order’s vow of chastity rendered such coverage unnecessary for its members, and its strict adherence to Catholic doctrine made facilitating the use of contraception by any of its more permissive-minded employees a moral hazard, so it took its much-publicized case to court. Although the matter remains to be sorted out by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will no doubt take its sweet time deciding if the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom still means anything, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Little Sisters of the Poor can continue their good works in accordance with their consciences until the case reaches a definitive legal conclusion. The injunction was issued without dissent, which bodes well for the Little Sisters’ chances when the case inevitably reaches the highest court.
That would be the highest secular court, of course, and the Little Sisters seem quite confident in winning on their most final appeal. They also stand a good chance of winning in the court of public opinion, which is almost as important and has more far-reaching political implications. Bullying a bunch of nuns who have devoted their lives to serving the aged and needy into subsidizing the swinging sex lives of libidinous young Democrats cannot be good public relations, even in this day and age, and the cautious tone of the mainstream press coverage suggests they’d rather not be talking about the at all. The very name of the case — “Little Sisters of the Poor, et al, V. Sebelius, Sec. of H&HS, et al” — is too damning for most reporters to mention.
Some Democrats are so reverent of government and hostile toward religion that they will instinctively side with the defendant, and for reasons we cannot quite ascertain they are especially annoyed by anything Catholic, but we hope this remains a minority view. Whatever one thinks of the Little Sisters’ theological reasons they cannot be faulted for their undeniable altruism for the neediest people of our society, as much as Democrats might resent the proof they have no monopoly on that virtue, and they make for a very sympathetic plaintiff. The more hysterical leftists are already alleging a papist conspiracy by the Court’s unprecedented Catholic majority, but they can’t deny that the majority is comprised of justices from both the right and left, that none of the Protestant minority offered a dissent, that the plaintiff’s “et al” includes numerous Protestant charities, that the main defendant and many of her own “et als” are Catholics, and that the underlying issue of freedom of religion is of vast importance to any person of faith no matter his creed.
Higher costs, less coverage, massive federal debt, bureaucratic bungling, and countless other practical problems are the main reasons for Obamacare’s widespread unpopularity and eventual repeal, but here’s hoping that its iron-fisted authoritarianism and lack of regard for individual rights has something to do with it as well. If the government can force the Little Sisters of the Poor to act against their highly-refined consciences, it will be hard for anyone to resist, and if the Little Sisters of the Poor can prevail, it will be a victory for everyone.

— Bud Norman

Voting for the Catholic

Is the pope Catholic? The question is sometimes asked rhetorically, a colloquial way to emphasize the obviousness of an affirmative reply, but apparently many people would prefer that the answer were “no.” At they very least, they’d rather have a pope who’s not so exceedingly Catholic as those of the past couple of millennia.
As the College of Cardinals convenes in Rome to elect a successor to the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike are offering plenty of advice. Some are asking for a pope that will take a permissive view of homosexuality, others are calling for a pope from the third world, and some are doing both despite the more theologically and sexually conservative nature of third world Catholicism. A group of women recently bared their breasts in St. Peter’s Square to draw attention to their demand for a more feminist sort of pope, which seems an odd tactic despite its undoubted effectiveness, and we expect that their view is shared by many of the church’s more modest women. According to a poll the majority of American Catholics favor a pope friendlier to contraception, and we suspect an even larger majority of the country’s non-Catholics would agree. The general consensus of the chattering classes seems to be that the Catholic church requires a hipper, more up-to-date pope that the kids can relate to.
So long as everyone is offering opinions, we’ll toss in our own hope that the Cardinals choose a Catholic to be pope. Although we are not at all Catholic, and in fact choose to worship with a very Protestant congregation at the opposite end of the High Church-Low Church spectrum, we nonetheless take a rooting interest in its continued existence. In addition to our shared faith in the basic tenets of Christianity, which can only be sustained in times like these by a collective effort, we also have an affinity for the western civilization that Catholicism has done so much to shape and an aversion for the pervasive modernity that the church has thus far admirably resisted. There is much to be said for traditions rooted in eternal truths which have stood the test of time, and institutions should be careful not to cast them aside for the sake of passing fashion and political correctness.
Whatever its faults, and as an institution comprised of humans it is bound to have a number of them, the Catholic church is one of the last lines of defense against the constant menace of the latest thing. Pope John Paul II played a crucial role in defeating communism, Pope Benedict XVI offered much needed support to the fight against Islamism, and throughout the centuries the church has offered brave resistance to all manner of governmental bullying. Even in the United States the church has been forced to fight in the courts for its right to practice what it preaches about contraceptives, and the effort is of the utmost importance to the religious freedom of all people of faith. The Catholic church’s teachings, especially those that strike the modern sensibility as odd or out of date, challenge an all-too-common belief in sexual nihilism, moral relativism, and the unbound power of man over the individual.
No wonder, then, that the so many are hoping for the first post-Catholic pope.

— Bud Norman

Prophylactic News Coverage

In case you haven’t heard, the Catholic church is taking the Obama administration to court. That’s something you should have heard, given its rather extraordinary noteworthiness, but if you rely on the network news organization it might very well have escaped your attention.

When more than a dozen Catholic archbishops, the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University of America, Catholic Charities, and 40 other Catholic institutions filed a suit last week against the Department of Health and Human Services over a ruling that their insurance providers must cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, the three major over-the-air newscasters all but ignored the story. The eagle-eyed observers at the venerable Media Research Center found that ABC’s “World News” and NBC’s “Nightly News” made no mention of the story whatsoever, while CBS’ “Evening News” devoted all of 19 seconds to the matter. Although CBS deserves some credit for at least a brief mention of the lawsuit it report could hardly have done the story justice, as it takes much of 19 seconds just to say contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients.

News judgments are vexingly subjective, and always dependent on what else happened on a given day, but it’s hard to find any of the usual journalistic explanations for this omission. A legal conflict between one of the world’s major religions — that would be the Catholics, not the Obama administration — and a president is clearly of importance, and not just to the significant number of Americans who are Catholic. All people of faith, including the Rabbinical Council of America, have a stake in the case, and anyone who holds opinions contrary to those of the Obama administration does as well.

Nor can the networks convincingly argue that they had more important things to cover. On the day the lawsuit was filed NBC found time to cover a solar eclipse that was visible only in a few parts of the world, and would have no discernible effect on future events, and ABC devoted three minutes and 30 seconds to the sentencing of a Rutgers student who had spied on a homosexual roommate. If anything else of greater importance than the lawsuit had happened that day, we’ve already forgotten about it.

One possible explanation for the network’s decision to ignore the lawsuit, which will seem plausible enough to the rationally paranoid conservative, is that they are devoted to helping the president and don’t believe the story will improve his political fortunes. We believe they are correct in this assessment, and ardently hope so, but we don’t expect they’ll succeed in keeping a majority of the public in the dark about the lawsuit. The networks all covered the administration’s contraception mandate with great enthusiasm back when the Obama campaign thought it had a winning issue, and there’s bound to be some lingering public interest in how that story plays out.

— Bud Norman