At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

The Reason for the Season

posted by Jack Kerwick

Some two millennia ago, there was born a child.  The circumstances surrounding his entrance into the world were, to put it mildly, modest.  No less modest were the two Jewish peasants who were the first to greet him—his parents.  

Yet in spite of the obscurity in which he was born and raised, by the time this child’s brief stay of some three decades on this Earth would come to a close, he would have made an indelible impression on his world.  Those who knew him and many who knew of him would come to conclude that the helpless, shivering infant whose birth the powers of this world tried mightily to frustrate was none other than the God of all that is.

By now, the story of the birth of Jesus, the Christmas story, is well known to the approximately two billion people the planet over who regard the world’s most famous babe in a manger as God Incarnate.  Still, while the proposition that we are that much the better for this familiarity is true, it is only partially true.  When something becomes too familiar, the danger that we will lose sight of it becomes imminent.  Whether it be a close friend, a spouse, a job, or even a child, familiarity breeds, not necessarily contempt, but more assuredly, negligence.  Thus, in order to minimize the risk of inoculating ourselves against the awe of the Christian narrative of the Incarnation, we would be well served to take time this Christmas season to reflect upon the birth of the most significant figure to have ever taken the world stage. Only if we do so shall we understand, and appreciate, just what an amazing story it is. 

Only by reflecting upon this story will we recognize, first, that the Greatest Story Ever Told is also the most paradoxical and, secondly, that the paradox in question is insuperable.  The recognition of these facts promise in turn to lead us to that of a third: only if the story is true would anyone have thought of relaying it.

Christianity is the offspring of Judaism.  Jesus’ apostles, family, friends, and Jesus himself were all Jewish.  All of the evidence that we gather from the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament overwhelmingly support the thesis that Jesus never had any intention of founding a religion distinct from the Jewish tradition from which he derived his very identity.  “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it,” he assured those, friend and foe alike, who questioned his relationship to Judaism. 

This is a crucial consideration to bear in mind when attending to the Incarnation, the idea that God became a human being.  As students of the world’s religions have long noted, monotheism is among the greatest contributions that the Jewish faith has made to the religious imagination, to say nothing of the life of civilization itself.  It was this fierce monotheism that prevented Jews, at one time, from even ascribing a proper name to God, and it was this monotheism that accounts for why Jews treated idolatry—the worshipping of false gods—as the gravest of transgressions.  There was but one God.  Any other gods making claims to our allegiance had to be pretenders.  

Yet in the first century, a Jewish man comes along and equates himself with this one God.  It is no wonder at all why his Jewish enemies recoiled in horror and blasted him with the charge of blasphemy.  It is a great wonder indeed, though, astonishing, in fact, that his Jewish relatives, his Jewish friends, and thousands and thousands of his Jewish disciples affirmed his self-identification.  The enterprise of deifying human beings was as commonplace throughout the ancient world as was the polytheism from which it was inseparable.  But the Jewish world was another matter entirely.

The story of the Incarnation, then, isn’t the story of how a god became a man.  It isn’t the story of how an instance of one kind of finite being became an instance of another kind of finite being.  The story of the Incarnation is the story how God—the One and Only God—assumed the flesh of a Jewish man.  It is the story of how Being itself became a human being. 

Infants are the most vulnerable and powerless members of the human species, and yet it is in an infant that Omnipotence became incarnate.  Infants are more ignorant than all other humans, and yet it is in an infant that Omniscience chose to dwell.  Infants experience more changes, and more rapidly, than all other humans, and yet it is to the flesh of an infant that the Immutable chose to join Himself.         

The story of the birth of Jesus is a paradox, not just because it is a story, initially told about a Jew by Jews, in which the Universal and the particular, Being and a being, the Infinite and the finite, don’t just intersect, but actually become one.  It is a paradox as well because of its insistence that God became a human being by reason of His sheer love for us. 

God did not decide that He would take up residence, if you will, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Had He done just this, there would have been no Incarnation.  It is the Incarnation, though, that conveys more powerfully, more unmistakably, God’s unadulterated love for us, for by becoming like us “in all ways,” God sought to know first hand what it was like to be one of us.  So, He began His human existence where we begin ours.  And, like us, He passed through infancy. 

God didn’t inhabit Jesus’ body and soul.  He became Jesus.  He was, He is, Jesus.  Jesus is the God-Man who entered the world as a baby and endured infancy so that, ultimately, by knowing and redeeming our nature, He could reconcile us to Himself.

This Christmas season, let us do our best to lose some of our time worn familiarity with the story of the birth of Jesus so that we can once again, or maybe even for the first time, rejoice in this event upon which world history pivots.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 


Establishment versus Establishment

posted by Jack Kerwick

The most listened to talk radio show host in the country, Rush Limbaugh, is often (though not often enough) critical of what he refers to as the Republican Party establishment.  His friends and colleagues, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, are no different in this respect: each portrays himself as a voice for the rank and file of the Republican Party against the establishment with which it finds itself increasingly at odds.

Although the aforementioned figures rarely mention names, it would appear that if Limbaugh’s, Hannity’s, and Levin’s are the faces of “the conservative movement,” then those of the establishment belong to the likes of Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and Karl Rove. 

It is during presidential primary contests more so than at any other time that this rivalry between “conservative” Republicans and establishment Republicans comes into focus, for it is always conflict over the selection of a candidate that seems to shove it most forcefully to the forefront.  On the one hand, the voice of the establishment insists upon favoring only the most “moderate” (read: liberal) of candidates.  On the other hand, the voice of “the base”—as channeled through such colorful radio and television personalities as the Limbaughs and Hannitys of our world—expresses resentment toward the establishment for its continual betrayal of “conservative principles”: the objective, according to “conservatives” and Tea Partiers the country over, is to always support the most conservative of candidates.

The conflict between these two factions of the Republican Party is continual.  It is intense.  It is even ugly.

It is also contrived. 

It isn’t necessarily that the self-styled representatives of “conservatism” don’t have real disagreements with those who they identify as spokespersons of the Republican Party establishment.  It is just that these differences, when they exist, are greatly exaggerated.  In reality, the conflict between the base and the establishment of the GOP is a conflict within the establishment.

There is one, and only one, genuinely anti-establishment candidate in the GOP’s presidential primary race.  Of course, that candidate is Congressman Ron Paul. 

Whether you like or dislike him—and Lord knows that the Limbaughs and the Krauthammers, as in so many other substantive respects, are united by their equal disdain of him—there is no one who can credibly deny that Paul is not only a heterodox Republican, but an anti-establishmentarian extraordinaire.  At the same time, though, he is the embodiment of just that vision that is the stuff of Republican Party rhetoric: “limited” or Constitutional government; individual liberty; a strong national defense; free markets, etc. 

What, we may ask, are the substantive differences between Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin, on the one hand, and Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and Karl Rove, on the other?  How is it that Limbaugh and company do not belong to the establishment, while Rove and company do?

Presumably, there must be some fundamental differences in opinion regarding the issues of the day between those who belong to the establishment and those who do not.  Yet when we consider these issues, we are hard pressed to determine where such differences lie. 

When it comes to “national security,” both sets of Republicans are of one mind.  Certainly, there may be differences in emphasis; but there is no difference in kind.  National security, to hear both camps tell it, demands not only that we steadfastly refuse to so much as consider cuts in “defense” spending; it demand as well that we resolve to forever increase military expenditures.  These expenditures are necessary if America is to maintain its position as a “benevolent” hegemonic power.  They are necessary if America is to win “the War on Terror” and bring Democracy to the Islamic world and beyond.

Both establishment Republicans and “conservatives” like Limbaugh enthusiastically supported the Iraq War—even long after the predominant pretext for the invasion of Mesopotamia, “weapons of mass destruction,” had crumbled.  And both kinds of Republicans insist upon describing President Barack H. Obama—the same Obama who increased our troop presence in Afghanistan by 30,000 bodies; invaded a sovereign nation that never attacked us, Pakistan, in order to assassinate Osama bin Laden; and essentially invaded another independent nation, Libya, to assist a revolution and undermine the government—as an “appeaser.”

Domestically, also, there are no substantive differences between establishment Republicans and their alleged detractors among the base of their party. 

The “conservatives” of “the alternative media” were as ardent supporters of President George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” as was the very establishmentarians against whom they now set themselves.  Whether it was the aggressiveness with which the Bush administration sought to pressure lending institutions to make mortgage loans to unqualified applicants or his consolidation of federal authority over America’s public schools via the disastrous No Child Left Behind; whether it was Bush’s decision to supply federal funding for embryonic stem cell research or his initiation of the ominous Patriot Act, Rush, Sean, and Mark threw their weight behind him as unreservedly as did Rove and the establishment gang.

And now, during the midst of this primary season, we are treated to the display of “conservative” Republicans battling it out with their foes in the establishment over which candidates are and are not “conservative”—as opposed to members of the dreaded establishment.  Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry are real “conservatives,” we are told, whereas Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are busy trying to convince voters that each is more a member of the establishment than the other. 

In truth, though, how do any of these candidates differ substantially from the other?  How do any of them differ from any other establishment Republican?  As Ron Paul never spares an occasion to observe, they are equally beholden to the same ideology of Big Government. 

Anyone who is honestly interested in voting for an anti-establishment Republican has no option but to pull the lever for the only Texas Congressman and former obstetrician on the ballot.         

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American 




Frank Borzellieri: Victim of the New Orthodoxy

posted by Jack Kerwick

Frank Borzellieri was the principal of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a predominantly black and Hispanic Catholic elementary school located in the Bronx,New York.  This past summer, in spite of having had a stellar record during his tenure, Borzellieri was abruptly terminated from the office that he held for two years.

Unlike those sexually abusive priests who the Church harbored for decades, Borzellieri is not guilty of any crime.  In fact, he isn’t so much as suspected of having engaged in any criminal activity whatsoever.  Nor is it the case that Borzellieri, a committed Catholic, was deemed to have deviated from Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Catholic mission. 

Still, Borzellieri was judged, and justly, of holding quite heterodox views.  But the orthodoxy from which he deviated is not that of Catholicism, but that of “Political Correctness.” 

Borzellieri, you see, dared to defy the conventional dogma on race.  For this, he was essentially branded a “white supremacist” by the New York Daily News and fired by the Archdiocese of New York.  In early August of this year, the Archdiocese of New York released a statement in which it said that Borzellieri’s views were “incompatible with the philosophy and practices of Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, and with Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese.”

Borzellieri, I hope to show, is up against an immovable object, on the one hand, and an irresistible force, on the other.  It is with the twin titans of Idiocy and Cowardice that he has to contend.

First, to know that someone is an advocate of “white supremacy” is to know practically nothing.  To know that a person is a “jerk” is to know more.  Like the term “racist,” “white supremacy” is a rhetorical mechanism by which some groups of individuals have sought to neutralize those racially-oriented ideas that the politically dominant group deems threatening.  Like the terms “jerk” and “idiot,” it is an all-purpose device.  However, for all of the latter terms’ ambiguity, most of us haven’t any difficulty spotting jerks and idiots when we encounter them.  Such can not be said of “white supremacists” and “racists.” 

Second, while the task of identifying “white supremacy” is indeed formidable, the challenge of determining what “white supremacy” is not is more readily surmountable.  One would think that a “white supremacist” is a white person who either seeks to be as far away from non-whites as possible or to hold a position in which either he or other whites can perpetually weaken the social standing of non-whites—all non-whites.

Yet not only does Borzellieri fail to satisfy this description of “the white supremacist”; he blatantly defies it.   For one, Borzellieri has chosen to spend his professional life in the company of blacks and Hispanics—his students and their parents.  Moreover, he has labored incessantly, as a principal, an educator, and an elected member of the New York City school board, to guarantee that his black and Hispanic students get a first-rate education. 

Borzellieri has more than a little experience interacting intimately with large non-white student populations: he taught English prior to being a principal and worked at other predominantly black and Hispanic schools before assuming responsibilities at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  There is absolutely no evidence, or at least none that his accusers have as yet to supply, that Borzellieri ever so much as remotely mistreated any students.  Moreover, no less a figure than Father Eric Rapaglia, the man who initially hired him as principal at Mount Carmel two years ago and who now expresses regret over having done so, admits that “there was never any complaints from parents or students about him sent to the Archdiocese.”   

This hardly sounds like the workings of a raving, hate-filled “white supremacist.”

But there is another consideration that puts the lie to the charge that Borzellieri is a “white supremacist.” In the very same writings in which he notes—correctly—that, measured by such indicia as rates of crime and academic performance, blacks and Hispanics are at a disadvantage with respect to whites, he also observes—again, correctly—that relative to the same standards, whites are at a disadvantage relative to Asians.

To put it simply, by the same criteria that his critics judge him a “white supremacist,” we could just as easily—and much more consistently—judge him an “Asian supremacist.”

Of course, Borzellieri has done or said nothing to suggest, much less establish, that he is any sort of “supremacist.”  In addition to his own writings, his detractors cite Borzellieri’s relationship with “American Renaissance” as the basis for their claim to the contrary.  In so doing, however, they only convict themselves further of gross illogic.   

To argue that Borzellieri is a “white supremacist” because he associates with American Renaissance and the latter champions “white supremacy” is like arguing that theism is true because the Bible claims that it is.  The problem here is that the very reasons one has for doubting the truth of theism are precisely the same reasons that one has for doubting the claims of the Bible.  Similarly, we first have to show that “white supremacy” has any meaning within the context of American Renaissance before we can use Borzellieri’s association with it to show that he is a “white supremacist.”  To argue otherwise is to beg the question.     

According to American Renaissance’s website, since “race and racial conflict are at the heart of the most serious challenges the Western world faces in the 21st century,” it seeks to ameliorate misunderstandings by analyzing “all aspects of race, whether historical, cultural, or biological.”  That whites would organize for the purposes of calling into question the conventional egalitarian vision of race relations is alone more than sufficient to condemn them in the eyes of the self-appointed guardians of our Politically Correct orthodoxy.  That they would dare to note IQ differences between blacks and themselves, and that they would argue that such differences are predominantly hereditary, is enough to insure their reduction to non-persons.

One needn’t agree with American Renaissance’s findings in order to recognize, and respect, the fact that it seeks to address issues of real importance.  That is, one needn’t agree with its positions in order to recognize that the fury with which its nemeses attack it is entirely undeserved, the function of a raw anti-intellectualism.  And that the charge of “white supremacy” is as unwarranted when made against American Renaissance as it is when hurled against Borzellieri is obvious once we consider that while American Renaissance observes that whites as a group have a higher IQ than blacks as a group, it just as quickly notes that northern Asians have a higher IQ than whites.  It is a strange sort of “white supremacist” that affirms the intellectual superiority of non-whites over whites.

Logically, the case against Borzellieri is fatally flawed from the outset.  Perhaps his detractors realize this.  Thus, they decided to resort to brute force and fire him instead of engaging reason.           

The logic—or illogic—of Borzellieri’s situation aside, the real story here is the ungodly treatment to which he has been subjected by his fellow Christians. 

As the Christmas season dawns upon us once more, Christians the world over are busying themselves preparing for the advent of Christ.  Through church attendance, prayer, meditation, Scriptural and devotional readings, moments of silence, and, most importantly, acts of charity, the disciples of Jesus seek to renew their minds and hearts in joyful anticipation of the coming of their Lord. 

The duty to love one’s neighbor as oneself is no less “great” than the duty to love God Himself.  On this score, Jesus was unequivocal.  He was equally clear, by way of His parable of “the Good Samaritan,” that one’s neighbor is any person in need. 

Frank Borzellieri is in need.  Yet not only has the Church within which he has spent his life and to which he has provided tireless service refused to attend to his needs; Borzellieri is in the situation that he is because of it.

The profession of an educator, especially a Catholic school educator, is not known for being particularly remunerative.  Those of us who pursue a career as educators do so, then, not for the money, but because of our desire, our passion, in some instances, to supply other human beings with a priceless good: an education.  We are ministers of the mind, bearers of the gift of the civilization—the ideas, the skills, and the traditions—of which our students are the proper heirs.

The Catholic Church in which Borzellieri was reared gave him this opportunity to minister to the young.  Yet it just as swiftly snatched it away from him.  The Archdiocese’s position that Borzellieri’s views on race are “incompatible” with Catholicism is not only nonsense; it is, to quote Jeremy Bentham, “nonsense on stilts.”  As the great Catholic writer G.K Chesterton remarked, contrary to popular opinion, Catholicism not only admits of variety of thought, there is far greater intellectual diversity among Catholics than among any other group, including and especially those secularists who pride themselves on “independence of thought.”  Catholics agree on a couple of theological doctrines.  Beyond this, there is no consensus.

Borzellieri undermined no theological doctrines.  Even the Catholic notion of “the inherent and inviolable dignity of every human being, from conception until death,” isn’t in the least bit imperiled by anything that Borzellieri had said.  This belief is no more incompatible with the acknowledgment that differences in intellect and conduct vary among racial groups than it is incompatible with the acknowledgment that there are intellectual and behavioral differences amongst individuals.  If, say, the assessment that blacks as a group have higher crime rates than whites as a group can be said to undermine the Catholic teaching of inherent and equal human dignity, then the assessment that Adolph Hitler was a worse human being than Mother Teresa—a normative, not a descriptive, judgment—can more easily be said to do the same.

No, Borzellieri violated the doctrines of Political Correctness, not Catholicism.  It is for this transgression that the Archdiocese threw him out in the cold.

It isn’t just the Church, though, that has abandoned Borzellieri.  He has connections with prominent conservatives in the media who have turned their backs on him as well.  Not a single self-avowed “conservative” who once associated with Borzellieri, media personalities who are much more known, and much more professionally and financially well off, than I, has uttered a single word in his defense.  More shamefully, most of these same people also consider themselves Christian.

Frank Borzellieri is the victim of a great injustice.  He is also a man in need of help.  If ever his fellow conservatives and his fellow Christians had reason to be ashamed, their treatment of Borzellieri is it. 

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

Politics and Vice

posted by Jack Kerwick

Nothing like politics more readily reveals man’s intellectual and moral vices.  If ever we were in need of proof of the truth of this proposition, the Republican Party’s presidential primary race supplies it in spades.

The Democratic Party’s penchant for duplicity has long been noted by most readers of this column.  That it seeks “the fundamental transformation” of our country into something bordering on a socialist utopia will be denied only by those who choose to characterize its prime objective in other terms.  The ugly truth is that the Democratic Party of which President Barack H. Obama is the titular head abhors the America conceived by our Founders, an America within which liberty is the cardinal value.  The United States Constitution—the secret to this liberty—is a burden from which Democrats seek relief, for as long as it remains, it stands as a monumental impediment to their agenda, a systematic program that involves nothing more or less than the repeal of the Revolution of 1776. 

These are harsh words.  They are also true words. 

But lest my judgment be mistaken for a specimen of Republican Party agitprop, it should be noted that, sadly, I believe with every fiber of my being that the Republican Party is no less committed than its rival to revoking theConstitutionalRepublic fashioned by our ancestors. 

To see that this is so, we need to look neither long nor hard. 

Consider, first, that our Founders chose to secede from their Mother country because of the abuses of which they convicted the English government.  This is particularly telling, for by our standards, the latter was about as close an approximation of the ideal of a “laissez-faire” government vis-à-vis the North American colonies as any that has ever existed.  At the very least, it wasn’t remotely as intrusive as is our federal government today.  Still, our Founders, in love as they were with liberty, determined that it was intolerably oppressive.  As a result, they sought to establish, not a sovereign state, but a “federation” of sovereign states. In this new political arrangement the national government would only rarely be heard and almost never seen: as the offspring of the states, it would exist for their sakes only.

Next, consider the Republican Party’s view of the federal government today. 

While their rhetoric may at times suggest otherwise, both their utterances and deeds at most other times inform us in no uncertain terms that establishment Republicans believe just as strongly as Democrats in the supremacy of the federal government.  After all, it is Republicans more so than anyone else who expect for our federal government to lead—always through force—not just the United States, which would be bad enough, but the planet.  Although there isn’t anything remotely defensive about an interminable American project of “democratizing” the globe, so-called “defense spending,” which already consumes no small amount of all national spending, is sacrosanct for Republicans: there isn’t a single proposed cut that they won’t swiftly reject.

Even domestically, though, Republicans are no less in favor of Big Government. 

Whenever Republicans are in power, they never aspire to affect any meaningful reductions in the size of government.  During the 1990’s, Gingrich was in the vanguard of the much vaunted (and highly exaggerated) “Republican Revolution,” a media-hyped phenomenon whereby Republicans assumed control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in decades.  As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gingrich’s became the face of this “Revolution.”  Now, as a presidential aspirant, Gingrich is busy touting his accomplishments as Speaker.  He helped to “balance the budget,” create a budget surplus, and “reform” welfare, he tells us.  While all of this is true, notice that Gingrich has not mentioned a single program for which he and the Republicans can be credited with slashing during their tenure in power. 

He has not mentioned a single such program because he cannot make mention of one.  Nothing of this sort exists.

Nor does the fact that there was a Democratic president during the 1990’s explain away Republicans’ failure in this regard.  Even when Republicans held the presidency and the Congress, they not only maintained those programs and agencies that were in place; they created policies that served to enlarge the federal government further.  The “Compassionate Conservatism” of President George W. Bush is nothing other than a robust and comprehensive species of “Welfarism.”  Whether it is “No Child Left Behind,” “the Home Ownership Society,” “Faith-Based Initiatives,” “Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” or any number of other policies, the Republicans under President Bush, with their “Compassionate Conservatism,” managed to grow the government at a rate that hadn’t been seen since Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.”

No, today’s Republican Party is galaxies removed from the world of our Founders. 

And yet this generation of Republicans, both elected officials as well as the rank and file of the party, speaks as if it were a contemporary replica of the founding generation. 

It can’t be repeated often enough that for however politically unpopular the language of “Compassionate Conservatism” may be now at days, there is no one among the field of GOP presidential candidates, except for Ron Paul, that has to date repudiated this ideology of Big Government.  Worse, Republicans continue to advocate policies that require further centralization of the federal government at the same time at which they speak of “limiting” it. 

However, nothing reveals the hypocrisy and inconsistency of Republicans more than their reactions to the presidential primary race. 

Ron Paul is the one candidate who is deadly serious about returning our government to the vision embodied in our Constitution.  Some may take issue with the proposition that he is the only such candidate; yet none would dare to take issue with the proposition that he is as impassioned and ardent an exponent of genuinely Constitutional government as any that it has. But Ron Paul has been ignored, dismissed, and trivialized by the establishment of his party.  Instead of turning to him, the majority of Republicans have instead looked toward most of the other candidates—all of whom are practically indistinguishable from one another. 

Now, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are the contest’s frontrunners.  This about says it all.  Both are establishment figures; both have been vocal advocates of socialistic designs, whether health insurance “mandates,” “initiatives” to combat “Global Warming,” the venture to deliver “Democracy” to the proverbial Four Corners of the Earth via the United States military, etc.; and both now have establishment Republican pundits producing one lame excuse after the other in their transparent—and pathetic—attempts to render these champions of Big Government appealing to the base of their party.

Mitt Romney, we are told, really is conservative; he just fooled (deceived) the Democratic voters of Massachusetts into believing otherwise when he ran for office in that state.  In any event, regarding healthcare, although he expressed his desire to do for America what he did for Massachusetts, he now claims that he has changed his mind on this point.  And even though Gingrich just two years ago appeared in an ad with Nancy Pelosi in which he helped the latter promote “Cap-and-Trade,” he now acknowledges that it was a mistake. 

This, of course, is just a sampling of the sort of intellectual gymnastics in which the pundits are engaging with respect to polishing Gingrich’s and Romney’s images. 

 Rest assured, there will be much more reality-denying to come.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New American 



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