Needful Things

Perhaps the greatest harm to environmentalism today comes from Earth Day and the E.P.A. This is not to say that either harm the environment; rather, they hinder the possibility that environmentalism will ever actually accomplish anything meaningful.

The problem is this: Earth Day and the E.P.A. seek to ‘protect’ the environment while doing nothing to change the cultural foundation that creates the problem. a similar issue can be found with weight-loss via gyms and dieting: they are meant to let us keep our problematic eating culture without worrying about its consequences.

What the E.P.A. and Earth day do is try (often in vain; one simply needs to look at the recent chemical leak in West Virginia) to eliminate the effects of consumption culture while telling us we can keep the consumption (a consumption culture is not so much capitalistic as it is industrial; communist China is just as guilty of this as any in the West). There is an idea, propagated by these institutions, that we can consume what we want without there being any (problematic) waste, that eventually our technology will solve the problems caused by our own technology.

Wendell Berry and Granddaughter

Making the needed things.

Production inevitably makes some sort of waste (the creation of energy from food produces CO2 and offal), but the more and faster we produce the more waste there is. One only needs to look at our food products to see this. We buy small packages of a lot of food, packages that are nothing but waste (even if we recycle it still takes energy and not everything is reused). Even the unpackaged foods have stickers on them and are shipped in disposable containers. About the only thing reusable in the process are the trucks.

So long as we insist on industrial convenience we will have industrial waste (sitting in front of me are the nine pieces of trash my fast food meal came in, and this is not counting two receipts and two pieces I have already thrown away. God only knows how many pieces of trash they used behind the counter making it. Even these words were first written with a fountain pen with a disposable ink cartridge). We can hide it, pretend it doesn’t matter, or come up with guidelines and rules to limit it, but we still drive thousands of cars and throw away mountains of garbage (an efficient package from Amazon is still garbage that would not exist if I hadn’t bought that book, or even if I had purchased it from a bookstore). The only way to eliminate it is to stop consuming what we don’t need and start making what we do.

What, then, do we need? I recently was very ill and spent several weeks in the hospital. One of the things you discover while ill is just how much you can live without. I am a man who loves to read; I own books in the thousands, yet I did not open one during the majority of my illness. If I had lacked conversation, it would have been more difficult, but anyone who thinks they would die without books has not learned to live. I would not anytime soon give up my books and reading, but if the vast majority of all people in the history of the world were people who did not read I see no reason to doubt it wouldn’t be beyond me. In fact, here is the deepest answer to the question of ‘what we need:’ not much. What possesses me to imagine that I need more than Plato did? It may not be easy but it is utterly livable.

One of the most attractive things I have heard from a woman was “I don’t expect to ever own a new car.” This was from a young lady who is getting a degree from a well known private college, who fits firmly into the class of people who drive the sales of new cars. In her it is an awareness of need (Plato may not have had a car but it is nigh impossible to live in many towns without one, particularly with a family) that suggest she has her eyes on the one needful thing, and it will not be taken from her.

Justin Burgard is trying to figure out just how we can live in this world, all while completing a degree in Philosophy and learning how to write all over again.


Virtue of catholicism (small c)

On our heartsRacism is bad, but why is racism bad? First we should define racism. The easiest way to define racism is prejudice involving the race of the persons involved. That is, the belief that one or more races is inferior or superior to one or more other races. A stereotype on steroids, if you will. Racism tends to focus on petty differences between over-simplified boxes that no one quite fits into. This puts up walls, misunderstandings (intentional or otherwise), hatred, and callous bias between peoples. Superficial walls that, like Jericho, must be broken down by heroic virtue. Jackie Robinson was a great ballplayer, he had to be to play in the Major Leagues, but if that was all he had it would have meant nothing. What changed the hearts of many people was his courage, his fortitude in turning the other cheek. Gandhi changed the hearts of the British with the same fortitude. They broke down the walls with their profound humanity that even touched hardened hearts.
Virtue is the only bridge that can cross between peoples, virtue is the only way to break down the walls. Political Correctness tries to remove hatred from speech, but all it does is isolate us in our own universe. It removes the intimacy needed to hate, but by doing so it removes the same intimacy needed to profoundly connect to one another. Instead of getting rid of the boxes known as stereotypes so that we might see the person, it changes the shape of the box and reinforces it so that no one might be hurt. It is an obsessive compassion that kills understanding and that eventually kills compassion and empathy. Political Correctness has failed, and in so doing has opened up a path for reactionaries to reinstitute new forms of racism.

SpectaclesI know I said virtue was the only bridge available to cross between peoples. But how can we construct that bridge? What are the materials to be used? Brotherhood and love are the foundation of bridge-building virtue. It should be no surprise that I as a Catholic believe in the catholicism (small c) of salvation. As an American I have had the privilege of profound encounters with many cultures and races. As a Catholic I have had the grace to profoundly connect with them as brothers and sisters. It is this virtue that allowed St. Patrick to evangelize the Irish, and this virtue which allowed John Paul II to defy Communism and defeat it. This virtue whose perfection is agape, self-sacrificing love. We celebrate this Easter the death of one innocent man who raised himself from the dead. We celebrate his blood pouring out for all nations and peoples, so that we may become brothers in Christ. We celebrate our catholicism, we celebrate our oneness, we celebrate as the family of God.



Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who wishes you all a happy Easter.

Mary, Undoer of Knots

One of my favorite things about being a convert to Catholicism, is the constant newness of which I view my faith. In feeling as if I were still in my “baby” years of being a Catholic (OK, do we ever really fully mature?), I often wonder at the new opportunities to learn about the Church, the saints, the mystery, and Mary. The beauty that exudes from Mary is something which has often touched my heart and begged me to dive deeper into learning about all the ways she is ever-faithful to her children. In recent days I have come across a new prayer; one that requires synopsis of it’s history as most have never heard of it.

Pope Francis’ favorite Marian devotion is to “Mary, Undoer of Knots”. Where did this come from? Well, it began with a painting in 1700 AD, in the German city of Perlack. The image of Mary undoing knots (see below) was painted by an unknown artist in the Church of St. Peter. The positioning of this painting, was between that of Adam and St. Peter, thus precisely positioning our Lady in her proper seat. The painting stemmed from a brief meditation written by St. Irenaeous (Bishop of Lyon, 202 AD), and he is quoted as making a comparison of Mary and Eve.

“Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it.”

Simply put, knots are anything that places a divide between you and the love of God. I need not mention the thousands of knots we entangle ourselves with during our lifetime, which we are constantly striving to overcome. Thank God for confession! This beautiful prayer, is Pope Francis’ favorite Marian devotion, and for good reason. As we move closer to Easter and the Resurrection of our Savior, we acknowledge our knots, our sins, and the deaths we experience daily. We can prayerfully ask Mary, our Lady Seat of Wisdom, to untangle these knots which prevent us from experiencing full joy and communion with the Church. May we always look to her and our Father of the Poor, for perpetual help and guidance, knowing of their love for us in Christ.

Mary, Undoer of Knots

Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life. 
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. 
Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. 
No one, not even the Evil One himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. 
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot. [Mention your request here]

I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all. You are my hope. 
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution, and, with Christ, the freedom from my chains. Hear my plea. 
Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me.

Christianity and Mythology

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Thursday,  April 10

“The content of myth is always concrete; in myth it is a question not of God in general and humankind in general but of a definite form or instance of a definite divine revelation…For this reason, myth is or rather must be the negation of any subjectivism or psychologism…” –Sergius Bulgakov, Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations, p. 65

Ark-Gustave Dore

The Great Flood by Gustave Dore

It goes without saying that the film “Noah” has stirred up a significant amount of controversy due to views of the film’s politics, theology, and accuracy to the narrative. This is not one of those critiques. To be honest, the film was rather disappointing for me, and I would much rather go beyond critique for the sake of this article. What will be focused on is what has been brewing within and around events such as the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate: the validity of myth. For many, myths are merely viewed as being synonymous with lying; others treat myths as being literal history based on a misunderstanding of the reality portrayed in myth. Myths are fundamentally a real presentation or unfolding of values cemented within a society. According to Joseph Campbell, myths find meaning and continuation through metaphor and religion (Campbell, 8). From assessing this definition, not only can “Noah” be properly explicated, but myth itself can be properly understood by a society that seemingly has lost its mythic mentality.

Mythological stories arose from a time in history in which the polis or communitas was the fundamental way of life for the various tribes and kingdoms around the world. The more individualistic and self-autonomous society we live in today is the byproduct of the Enlightenment which in itself has a basis in the end of the communal space during the Renaissance. Since even modern myths such as the Lord of the Rings find a firm foundation in the myths derived from the old Anglo-Saxon polis, there is a connection between myths and a communal way of life. Aeneas, even if he does not create the city, is the great mythological figure of the Roman people. He is the great paterfamilias (father) that both exemplifies the values and instills the value in his people. What Virgil is not doing is creating simple propaganda, but, rather, is embarking on the creative journey that one day assumes him in the myths of Dante.

For Dante, Virgil is the objective presentation of pagan virtue who finds his meaning throughout the whole of the pagan (or at best Roman) communitas. In much the same way, Aeneas is made to reflect the values that the entire community holds to. Their objectivity is grounded within a communal way of living, and, as such, they do not reflect the subjective psychological views of the individual (Bulgakov, 65). The same can be said of Noah, Abraham, and the other mythic figures of the Old Testament. It is Kierkegaard who has to ponder the psychology of Abraham in his Fear and Trembling for the myth does not. Abraham can be a titanic figure of faith that does not question God’s word for he is the father of his people and objectively reflects them. The same goes for Noah of which there is no account of his subjective views in the narrative itself. When Babylon conquered Assyria and brought an end to their polis, they presented a mythological account of their god Marduk making the cosmos from the corpse of the Assyrian god Tiamat; when they brought down the Assyrian community, they ended their world and replaced it with their own. But with this comes a serious question: is the myth of the people or imposed on the people?

The answer to the question is placed within the context of the myths themselves. When Aeneas travels from the ruins of Troy to Italy, he is always under the pressuring auspices of Fate. When he seeks his own individual pursuits, Fate is always present through the god Jupiter who takes away friends, family, and the aspirations of Aeneas. In Roman society, the rule of Fate through the gods exemplified their emphasis on right and wrong (verum and falsum) (Zuckert, 58). From it, the great legalists and ethicist such as Cicero emerge to expound upon morality and the rule of law. Within the Greek polis, truth claims were bound up within the word aletheia which means the disclosure of being (Zuckert, 38). From this, the mythological stories of the Greeks present a means of disclosing being (Zuckert, 58). Aristotle and Plato mention Homer and critique him, but they are indebted to Homer and wish to expound upon what he has set in motion. The God of the Biblical myths provides an intriguing impasse for He offers both commands, but there is also a mystery interwoven throughout the narratives.

Despite the commandments, the Biblical myths have continued to maintain a tradition of commentaries that further pass on the narrative even if they are not myths themselves. The commentaries are referred to as the Midrashim of which Father Robert Baron considers the Noah film a part of. Additional texts include the Babylonian Talmud, the Dead Seas Scrolls, and possibly the Medieval Jewish philosophers. Now, I would, as a Christian, say that this tendency has continued within the Christian community. Whether it is the stories of saints, medieval theological dramas, or even the works of writers such as Dante, the faith has not found itself within a static horizon  as seen among fundamentalists. The culmination of Biblical myths is grounded within Jesus Christ who has brought forth a new community in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christianity does not annihilate the polis, but perfects it; the Christian may find himself as a lonely individual in the world, but he is of a divine community. The Christian is one oriented towards being immersed in myth, not contrary to it.

Works Cited:

Bulgakov, Sergius. Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2012. Print

Campbell, Joseph. Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor.  Novato, California: New World Library. 2001. Print

Zuckert, Catherine H. Postmodern Platos. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 1996. Print.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College. He studied  for a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. After what the responses were to Noah, he is worried that Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” will bring the controversy scale up to a whole new level. 

The Path of God (Indy Series part 3)

Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth – The Last Crusade


And the adventurous and desperate archaeologist comes to a chasm. It is too far to jump to the other side, and upon looking down there is nothing but the depths of darkness awaiting. Then Indy closes his eyes and takes a step, a leap of faith, and a bridge catches him. A bridge camouflaged, blending in with the chasm, appearing perfectly invisible from the top down. I have come to such a test a few times in my life where it feels like there is no way forward, and only on the occasion that I love God enough to obey Him have I moved forward.

This is the most difficult of the tests and the most important. The first test was to show us that we understand God deserves our respect. The second test to show us that He can be known. The third test shows us how much we love. The first two tests were eminently reasonable, if you do not respect God or do not know God you approach your self-destruction. But there is no danger here, and paradoxically we are most afraid. God invites us to come and assures us of our safety and we cannot sense this. We come to a choice, an act, we either obey and are saved or stand there paralyzed by a fear of death. Death which we know has been overcome by God and which cannot harm us.

We can have faith so as to move mountains and knowledge to understand the tongue of angels, but if we do not have love it is for naught.  And this bears out in the end, when both the Jones are saved and those who did not pass the test (and would not have reached the grail had Indy not helped) both perish for their lack of the Fear of God, Knowledge of God, and Love of God.



Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who has been saved by the blood of Christ.

Of Hospitals and Humility

As some of you may have noticed, I have been absent from this blog for over a month. The short story is that I had a perforated appendix, spent 17 days in the hospital then went back to my parents house for another few weeks of recovery. The long story is pretty much the same with more details.

My trip to the hospital was essentially unexpected (I had been in pain for a few days but didn’t think it was hospital worthy) and the lengthy stay was completely unexpected.  (If you are suffering intense pain, I suggest you at least see a doctor. I shrugged it off for several days which didn’t help anyone.)

I went to the ER the Monday before Ash Wednesday. As I told a friend a few weeks later, so far this Lent I had not had meat, bread, milk, eggs, cheese, candy, cookies, ice cream, alcohol, coffee, tea, chocolate, and probably more. It was an unintentional fast, but a fast none the less. In addition to having access to little in the hospital, I learned how little I needed to get by. Illness, particularly serious illness, forces you to pay closer attention to what is at hand, what you can do without, and why you can do without it. I went to daily Mass the Monday a week and a half before Ash Wednesday. I did not make it to another Mass until the Fourth Sunday of Lent. For me, that was an unprecedented gap (save the 20-odd years I wasn’t Catholic). In this I had to look at the why I went to Mass, beyond the simple fact that it was “the right choice.”

For 17 days I couldn’t do what I used to do, the things (like going to Mass) which I had done to, in a sense, define me. I could hardly read, study, write, etc. and these things were fundamental to the way I presented myself. This met another aspect of a hospital stay, that of basic humility. I was at a point where I could do more or less nothing for myself. It was not unlike being 3 again.

Humility strips you away. Or rather, it strips away the things we call ourselves while leaving our actual selves behind. All the toys, from laptops to tablets, televisions to cars, become more and more superfluous, things on the side that we invested too much in. Even my prayers had to go (not prayer itself, but the forms and sets of prayers I had invested in; I pray this at this time, in this way. It became something much less structured and clear, thoughts became shorter and words simpler. But it was still prayer). What is left are the bare bones of fear and desire; and of faith, hope, and love.

The problem, of course, is getting out of the hospital, because everything you left behind is waiting for you, from computers to the ability to dress yourself. I have learned what I can live without; now I must learn how to live without it, for blessed are the poor in spirit.

Can Libertarianism Defend the Defenseless?

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, April 2

Defending the Undefendable by Walter Block is one of the most enlightening books one may read on “classical liberalism,” one of the most prominent strains of libertarianism. From litterers to dishonest cops, blackmailers to male chauvinist pigs, Defending the Undefendable seeks to prove how these “morally oppressed” people are free-market “heroes”. (Read it free here) What makes it such a valuable read on Libertarianism? For starters, it has the full authority of the classical liberals behind it. It is published by The Mises Institute, perhaps the most dominant libertarian think-tank organization, and written by a senior fellow of that institute. Murray Rothbard, the founder and leading theoretician of anarcho-capitalism and a central figure in the twentieth-century American libertarian movement, stated that, “by testing and proving the extreme cases, [Block] all the more illustrates and vindicates the [free market] theory.” Nobel Laureate in Economics, F. A. Hayek praised the book. His greatest criticism was that “some may find it too strong a medicine, but it will still do them good even if they hate it.” According to the biggest names in libertarianism this book is a “classic.”

However, what really makes Block’s Defending the Undefendable a valuable resource is that it makes little compromise in applying the principles of laissez-faire, usually following the ideology of the free market all the way to its logical end. Block demonstrates exactly how free market principles would seek to resolve some of our world’s most sordid issues, unconstrained from even the thinnest facade of political correctness or ideological compromise. In doing so, Block unwittingly makes the shortcomings of a pure laissez-faire system glaringly obvious and critiquing its weaknesses becomes a transparent and relatively straightforward process.

As someone who sympathizes with a more grassroots understanding of Libertarianism of small, decentralized government I see some good in Block’s treatise as well as much of the bad to which he is reacting. I agree that there may be a time and a place for some of the “reviled” occupations Block defends like importers, middlemen or employers of children. My problem is not so much with the people Block seeks to defend but with his utilitarian, individualist ideology typical of much of modern American politics. The biggest difference between a fringe extremist like Block and well-to-do elites like Obama or Romney is that the former is an ideological absolutist who has no problem with alienating himself from most Americans.

But enough with the introduction, lets look at just a couple of examples of how Block’s free market is unfit for society. Block’s central premise, and one of the basic building blocks of libertarianism, is that “it is illegitimate to engage in aggression against non-aggressors.” It should be noted that “aggression” refers only to violence and that, as a materialist, Block usually only recognizes physical acts of violence. Block cites rape, murder, robbery (and, by extension, fraud) and kidnapping as examples but defends slander, libel, and yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. If you incite a panicked stampede that kills three small children with your words there is nothing “violent” about your actions. You did not physically force people to trample those children in a terrorized flight. Therefore, you are a nonaggressor and no coercive action can be taken against you without violating Block’s moral absolute. In fact, Block argues, for yelling “fire” in a movie theater one should be lauded as a “hero” for exercising his right to free speech in the face of unjust public opposition. In fact, by allowing such catastrophes society as a whole “benefits” as the person who yells “fire” is “protecting” everyone else’s freedom of speech.

But that’s just a hypothetical. What happens when Block’s logic is applied to free speech in the real world? A nurse in Minnesota urged people to kill themselves and let him watch via webcam. After the nurse made suicide pacts with two people, the first Mr. Drybrough, 32 years old, hanged himself in his bedroom and the second, Ms. Kajouji, 19 years old, jumped off a bridge to her death. He was convicted under a law that made it illegal to “advise, encourage, or assist” in a suicide. However, his conviction was reversed by the Minnesota Supreme Court who ruled that merely advising or encouraging a suicide is protected under freedom of speech. Walter Block would be proud. The nurse didn’t force anyone to harm themselves. He is a non-aggressor and as such has no social responsibility for his actions. We may privately judge the morality of what he did but such moral judgement have no place in the public ethic. The non-aggression principle is the only moral absolute, according to Block and the classical liberals and, as such, it is the contemptible nurse and not the desperately suicidal to whose defense society must run.

Block states that “to override the right to free speech, for any reason, is a dangerous precedent, and never necessary.” However, Block seems to contradict himself when he opposes fraud, which means making false claims that are made to gain material advantage. Apparently there is a reason to limit speech even according to some of anarcho-capitalism’s greatest champions, at least when its property and not human beings at stake. While subjecting undefendables like the nurse from Minnesota to legal consequences may pose a “dangerous precedent” in Block’s eyes, I am more concerned by the precedent we set by abandoning the defenseless for ideological absolutes. Should society turn a blind eye when people are trampled after someone yells “fire” just for the fun of it? Or when the mentally ill harm themselves under the goading of a sadistic nurse?

Another example, Block addresses the problem of parental obligation. To state that children have rights demanding the action of another person is wholly contradictory to classical liberalism. Block asserts, “as a general principle, the parent has no positive obligations whatsoever in regard to the child” because no mutually voluntary contract exists between the parent and the child dictating such an obligation. He continues, “the parent has no more of an obligation to feed, clothe, and shelter his own child than he has . . . to serve other adults who are completely unrelated to him.” Block assures us that the parent may not kill the child either; I’m glad we agree on that at least. He even makes the leap to oppose purposeful neglect of the child until it dies as this is “equivalent to murder” – but this seems to contradict his whole logical progression up to this point. How do you state that parents have zero obligation to their child but that they cannot let the child starve? How is this murder but yelling “fire” is not, even if it results in death by trampling? Block doesn’t know, but he doesn’t seem very interested in pursuing the issue further, chalking up the moral ambiguity to the fact that, apparently, “the child falls into a realm between that of another adult and that of an animal.” This from a celebrated senior fellow of one of the most prominent libertarian institutes in the world.

Elsewhere, Block and the Mises Institute elaborate on their solution to the child problem, asserting that people should be allowed to freely buy and sell guardianship rights. Why would anyone neglect an unwanted and expensive child when one may simply sell it for financial gain to someone who does want the child? They haven’t stated that one may buy or sell a child, since children exist in an ambiguous realm higher than animals but below adults and therefore cannot be treated totally as property to be owned. However, there seems no significant practical distinction between buying someone’s claim to a child and buying the child himself. To adopt such a “solution” would have the horrific effect of creating a child market in which children may be bought and sold as a commodity. In such a world, society’s preoccupation would no longer be with the child for his own sake but as a means to profit and use.

Again, Block forgets the defenseless. Parents can usually fend for themselves but with no one to vouch for them what’s supposed to happen to children, the unborn, and the elderly? Should their fates simply be the results of human caprice or should society assert their natural rights to be looked after, to respect their inherent value and dignity distinct from any usefulness or monetary value?

Defending the Undefendable is relevant and we should take heed because its ideology will not just disappear if ignored: it already possesses a dominant presence in the world today. Pope Francis, in his recent exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, offers this timely assessment: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”

Walter Block and the classical liberal movement are eager to defend the undefendables of society in order to prove their social theory but are they capable of defending the defenseless?

Christian Ohnimus is a husband and registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He hopes to raise a holy family with the help of his better and more beautiful other half.