Friday, November 6, 2015

What Is Love?

This post is going to be a hodgepodge. I'm trying to pull in some disparate threads I've picked up in the past week, so forgive me for thinking out loud.

First thread: I'm not only a secular teacher with special interests in STEM education and test preparation. I'm also a volunteer catechist at my local Catholic church, where I - hopefully successfully - instruct young teens and confirmandi in the fundamentals of our Faith. Last Sunday, the topic was Jesus Christ: who is He, and how can we develop a closer relationship with Him? The first segment in the curriculum encouraged the kids to share what they imagined when they thought of Jesus, and this is pretty much the response I received:

This is a very un-Catholic thing to say, but doesn't He seem like kind of a pussy?

The stiff-necked contrarian in me was deeply unsatisfied. Certainly, Jesus is merciful, forgiving, and approachable for children and sinners alike. But I couldn't help thinking of that Facebook meme. You know -- the one that references Matthew 21:12?

Gives you a slightly different impression, doesn't it?

And what about C.S. Lewis' descriptions of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia?
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
“He'll be coming and going" he had said. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down--and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
So I pulled out the Bible and tried to steer my charges in a slightly different direction. I reminded them that Jesus' forgiveness was always followed by a command to sin no more. I noted the ways in which Jesus called out the powers of his day -- and was ultimately put to death for it. And overall, I tried to paint a more virile picture of who Jesus was.

Driving home, though, I was still disturbed. Damn it: Our culture has domesticated Christ.

Second thread: Apparently, according to the scrupulously "correct," we can no longer call criminals what they are. The word "criminal," you see, "dehumanizes" people who've simply been "rendered desperate by the cruelties of capitalism."

That sound you just heard was my eyes rolling out of my skull and bouncing on the floor. I'll be typing this post by feel from now on.

But seriously: Why are we suddenly so concerned about the precious feelings of petty thieves and thugs -- and why are we so unconcerned about the feelings of their victims? I'm a Christian and do believe in the possibility of redemption even for the very worst malefactors, but as Sarah Hoyt has noted, crime victims are also human beings and also deserve our consideration:
Say, for instance, you feel sorry for a pedophile – not that any of them got involved in anything like that recently! – because after all the poor critter is confused, and didn’t choose to be this way. You let him/her go, or even encourage him/her with stuff like “it’s not your fault.”
What is going to happen? I can tell you. What is going to happen is that they’re going to hurt another or many kids.
Now the kids didn’t ask to be hurt, and they didn’t do anything to deserve it.
By encouraging/feeling sorry for one person, who can, after all, control him/herself or seek help in doing such, you were cruel to a vast number of innocents that didn’t do anything to bring this on them.
This reality should be self-evident to anyone -- particularly to people who've been preyed upon. So why this drive to discourage telling the damned truth?

Third thread: Go and read the following post, also by Sarah Hoyt:

Holding Women Back

Sarah wrote this in response to the silly claims zipping around fandom that we Sad Puppies are seeking to suppress women writers, but one passage in particular struck me as more generally applicable:
Making special prizes for good little girls because vagina and actually going so far as to argue that creations like games or books which are engaged in as ludic pursuits don’t need to be fun, but only relevant, and that you should enjoy them even if you don’t enjoy them because they’re created by women, does the reverse of what I (and a lot of others, I was not a paragon.  I’m using my experience because I lived it) did when I had the best grades and won contests DESPITE the inherent prejudice against me.  I and others like me proved women can be grown ups and can function in the adult world; these victimhood pony-riders are convincing people who by an large believe in female equality to reconsider and think that women are fragile, not so smart creatures who need easy steps and easier tests and accommodations to function.
Here, Sarah is approaching, asymptotically, what we who know a little something about education and human psychology have discovered: We are not designed to live in a friction-free universe. We require some adversity to become fully-actualized.

I'm not suggesting, of course, that we deliberately and needlessly hurt people to "toughen them up." I am suggesting, however, that I would be a failure as a teacher if I did not set the bar just a little bit higher than my students' grasp and then inspire them to jump. That's why I love Hajimete no Otsukai -- or this video, also from Japan:

High expectations beget excellence. Criticism begets improvement. What would happen to my students if I never deconstructed the weaknesses in their persuasive essays? What if I never pointed out their grammatical mistakes -- or told them their math was wrong? What if I never imposed discipline? I would inflict illiterate, innumerate brats upon the world.

This new regime of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and trophies for victimhood flies against our very nature, and it is already making lousy writers and lousy thinkers. As a writer, you must be able to accurately and sympathetically depict a full range of human personalities -- but you will not learn how to do so if you spend your entire lives avoiding people who think differently. As a supposed activist for "justice," you must understand, deeply, the potential obstacles that stand in your way, and you must know how to respond to the people who might oppose you -- skills you will not learn if your college campus is cleansed of all that is potentially disturbing to your beliefs. I know I'm a better debater because my father consistently served as my devil's advocate. Why are millennial SJW's and their older enablers so eager to deny their compatriots the same intellectual experience? A critique is not an assault. Challenge is not violence. When you assert the opposite, you foster mediocrity. You make the objects of your supposed "compassion" look somehow inferior.

Now let's try to create the tapestry: The common theme that breathes through all of this, I think, is our society's disordered definition of love. As a catechist, I repeatedly emphasize that love is wanting what is best for another person and seeking, self-sacrificially, to accomplish it. Our popular culture, however, has tamed this concept the same way it has tamed the radical, masculine Christ. Love, alas, is now simply niceness. If you love someone, says the zeitgeist, you must never cause him or her to feel shame, sorrow, frustration, or even cognitive dissonance. To elevate a man, you must wrap him in swaddling wool.

Said zeitgeist is wrong - morally and scientifically - and it should be challenged at every opportunity.

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