Be ProLife for Millennials’ Sake

There is no end of opinion pieces proliferating the internet which decry millennials for their unique faults or puzzle over what exactly made them the way they are.  Poisoned by their parents’ failures to respect life, marriage, and children, they have no real concept of what makes healthy, stable families and relationships; porn and the hookup culture is the perpetual context for their love. Dealt a losing hand, they are often understandably dragged down by apathy, immaturity, and a myopic self-centeredness. Little or no social guidance and much cultural hindrance is offered to millennials trying to climb their way out of this quagmire.


And that is why millennials are especially in need of a prolife culture. It is not just that babies in the womb deserve life, though of course they do; it is not just that abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women, though of course it is; it is that my generation needs these children who are most vulnerable, most at risk, most expendable and disposable in the eyes of the world.

Society asserts that children are to be regarded as an accessory: to be obtained, customized, or flaunted when desired, but absolutely not to be had about if inconvenient, and certainly not at the expense of other things, like careers or checkbooks, which bring more immediate gratification. This pervasive disregard for the broader value of human life has largely been adopted by my generation. Some millennials, in fact, are vehemently anti-child, opting not simply for child-free sexual relationships but demanding child-free lifestyles where children, with their noise and inconvenience and unpredictability, are forbidden to disturb the settled, manageable atmosphere of adulthood.

This is the darkest kind of ignorance about human reality. In insulating ourselves from the realities of childhood—just as, indeed, we often insulate ourselves from the realities of old age and death—we become hardened, blindly self-centered. No matter what else our interests or pursuits, such an anti-human attitude betrays a dangerously misanthropic turn of heart. If we cannot love children, we will never truly love Mankind.

Children are living contradictions to the millennial culture of cynicism and selfishness; they are both an unshakable sign of hope and a reason to keep fighting for ideals. Their innocent honesty and sense of wonder alone is a powerful antidote to the cloud of apathy that can settle around a millennial heart. Even the cries and annoyances of a baby challenge us to come out of ourselves; to pull out our earbuds, put down our phones, and attend to the needs of someone who is unable to help himself.

That is a challenge millennials especially need to hear.

Children, uniquely innocent and vulnerable, wake us to the tragedies and horrors we commit on other adults. When a child is caught in the crossfire of our petty political strife or serious worldly conflict, it shows up in one vivid flash our cruelty and hypocrisy for what they truly are. A hundred men may die in a given crisis before the world looks up from its agenda to do something about it; but the image of a toddler killed in their midst makes us stop in our tracks, reassess, question what we have done and are doing. Adults may be dying from starvation in a far-off country, and we will turn a blind eye; but the sight of a child dying from starvation is too tragic a thing for even the casual observer to really ignore.

Parenthood likewise demands that parents grow in maturity and responsibility; it challenges human vanity and pettiness. And the unpredictability or uncertainty that children bring—the personal struggle and commitment which raising them entails—is certainly something millennials need more of.

I do not mean by this that all millennials must get married and raise a family. For many this is simply a present impossibility. No, it is not only the potential millennial parents who need children in their lives. It is their millennial neighbors and siblings, their teachers and office workers, their relatives and friends. Single college students, busy young doctors and lawyers and contractors, and society at large all need children—to see them often, have them as part of their extended if not immediate families, and learn from their very existence that human life is at once both small and beautiful, needy and giving—and, most importantly, that we must bear always in mind what kind of world we will pass on, because there is a generation coming after us. These others, working in single vocations, need a world in which children are a real and powerful presence—whether or not they ever marry and make some of their own.

Neither do I mean to say that having children will instantly repair the damage done to millennials or cure them of their problems. There are, to be sure, wicked and foolish people who remain wicked and foolish after having children. This has always been the case in human society. But the transformative value of children in rooting human families, in strengthening family responsibility and morality, in shaping communities to regard the whole of human life, cannot be denied. Children challenge us to live better, more purposefully; we must blame ourselves, not children, if we fail to respond accordingly.

And what of the worst of circumstances, those truly heartbreaking situations of poverty or abuse where one is tempted to see abortion as the only way out? It is precisely those challenges which millennials deserve the chance to meet, to solve, to aid. If abortion was taken off the table for my generation, we would no longer be able to think of killing children as a “way out.” We would no longer be able to suggest abortion to struggling young mothers, shrug our shoulders, and move on. We would have to remain in the thick of it, get up to our elbows in the gritty reality of dealing with these terrible problems. We would be forced to find other solutions—or at least to really try. We would be forced to face our fears, to take on the sobering burden of responsibility for our actions and uncertainty about the future; to step up to the plate and help those who are caught in desperate circumstances, instead of offering them permanent tragedy in exchange for temporary relief, under the excuse of convenience or the veneer of compassion.

There is no life free of personal suffering. There is no life in which human fulfillment can coexist with selfishness. Children interrupt and flatly contradict these two great lies, of escapism and selfishness; lies on which many millennial lifestyles and worldviews rely. Such lies are the crutch which enables my generations’ clinging to childishness; the foundation on which our self-centeredness and apathy rest. But such lies cannot last an hour in the same room with a living, breathing human child.

Be prolife for sake of all women and children; but also, let’s be prolife for sake of the millennials.


Round Up

The past couple of months have been very, very busy, and I’ve had a number of pieces over at Crisis and at Catholic World Report which I neglected to share here. So here’s my latest link round up.🙂

Is Lee a Victim of Political Opportunism?

The point is this: despite Landrieu’s hints about symbolism, men can move the monument, but it is not the monument that moves the men. But it is easy to make war on a statue; it is easy to make war on the dead. They do not fight back; Lee’s statue cannot lift a stony finger to protest. It is easy to repudiate tradition and history; because tradition is what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead”; and attempting to erase all evidence of the parts of our history which make us feel guilty or uncomfortable is to refuse to give our fathers who shaped the city monuments a vote.

Why Spies? Uncovering the Appeal of Cinematic Secret Agents

Because Hollywood secret agents are part of a special circle beyond the rules, we are oddly comfortable watching spies do things we wouldn’t want to see a policeman do. A secret agent can commandeer (and crash) an unsuspecting citizen’s car, or break into a house, or drug a politician, or steal a top-secret file, with no bureaucratic consequences, and, to all appearances, no moral qualms. He seems above the law—perhaps because a spy is already morally compromised. You can’t be a secret agent without lying, and usually stealing. What’s a little housebreaking or homicide when you’ve already made outright lying and theft a routine matter of business?

The Martian Is an Interstellar Robinson Crusoe

Based on the gritty trailer, viewers may have braced themselves for an intense film about the agony of life alone—Castaway in space suits, if you will. But that is not how The Martian unfolds. Watney remains stoically focused on surviving, and never descends into the darker regions of depression and desperation that Castaway explores. “I’m not going to die out here,” he says simply, and he never gives in to despair.

That’s all for now. Hoping to get back into the swing of things and post here more regularly in the months to come!

Patriotic Problems

my latest over at The Mirror! 

Back when Ted Cruz announced his intention to run for President, Fr. James Schall, with characteristic astuteness, pointed out that some of the basic cultural rhetoric about “freedom” and “rights” on which modern politicians on both sides base their approaches is fundamentally flawed. These values and their accompanying jingo are so ambiguous in modern discussion that attempting to ground any coherent philosophy of government in them is building on virtual quicksand. Divorcing freedom from objective truth, we’re left without solid building blocks to build society:

“We have two radically different views of freedom,” wrote Schall, “but both sides use the same rhetoric to justify their position. By not emphasizing the truth side of freedom, Cruz seemed to leave himself open to the counter-argument. Thus, anyone is free to choose the opposite of any view of freedom. It all comes down to a kind of subjective liberty with no standards…. It is not sufficient today to ‘return’ to the American founding. The America that is ‘the world’s greatest country’, as Cruz called it, does not in practice exist. We are a country explained more by Aristotle’s discussion of democracy, and within that analysis, as a country that accepts a liberty with no limits.”

Schall’s analysis is quite on point: daily the headlines and newsfeeds demonstrate just how far America as a nation has strayed from the truth. And in light of the growing ignorance and division, accompanied by some top-down agendas of both left and right which are creating a society increasingly unfit for the most important building block—the family—some Americans may be experiencing some mixed emotions come this Fourth of July. It is hard to cheer for the flag of freedom when it is being waved most vigorously by those who advocate an unchecked culture of death.

Times like these make it difficult to love one’s country, in the traditional patriotic sense. “How do I love my country,” some might ask, “when it seems that in many ways, my country doesn’t love me, or others who stand for the truth?”

The cynic could reply simply that patriotism is a thing of the past—a self-glorifying vice encouraged by governments to help them pull the wool over the eyes of their citizens and hide the travesties and inhumanities laid at the nation’s doorstep.

And, indeed, on the other hand, there are those for whom patriotism has a blind and nigh-religious fervor toamerican-flag-793893_1280 it, without reason or distinction—those who seem to conflate, for instance, respect for the Ten Commandments with respect for the Second Amendment. This temptation, to pour the fervor we no longer have for faith into frantic flag-waving, runs deep in the American psyche. As a society, we already tell the stories of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and of our Founding Fathers with a reverence as sincere and confident as if we were telling a Bible story.

But a less pessimistic or less incomplete thinker might turn to a healthier perspective: because our relationship to our country should be neither blind adulation and pride nor dejected cynicism and hatred, but a measured and devoted care.

G.K. Chesterton offered an analogy which I find particularly helpful for outlining a healthy relationship of respect and concern for one’s country as the proper foundation of patriotism.

A real patriot, GKC explains, is one who loves his country enough to see her faults and care about what happens to her.  And it is shameful and sad when a man espouses either a sort of anti-patriotic apathy and claims total indifference about what happens to his country, or a blind pseudo-religious patriotism that cannot see his country’s sins:

“To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference …. is mere mysterious gibberism…. It is the essence of love to be sensitive….  ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.”

Like it or not, our country is a social mother to us; and she may be drunk, with power, or selfishness, or relativism—indeed, she may be an inveterate alcoholic in one of these areas—but we have a natural duty to love her and try to save her—even from herself. Because we would not be without her. And because, like a mother, she is all too easy to take for granted.

“Good Thoughts Lead to Good Things,” and Other Lies

my latest over at The Mirror!

Last Saturday, in a fit of DIY fervor, I decided on an impulse to drive to an unfamiliar part of town in search of a particular fabric store. Half a mile down the road, suddenly I realized that the blinking gas tank light I had been responsibly ignoring the last couple of days was sinking to abysmal predictions: “Three miles to empty.”

Already locked into rapid traffic on a strange street in a suburban city, I decided to take a chance. Surely, I thought, there would be a gas station in a couple miles—surely before I have to turn onto the highway and start going at high speeds, anyway.

At first, quarter mile by quarter mile, I wasn’t too concerned. But as the ticker sank lower and my chances were running out, I began to scan the road ahead for the slightest glimpse of a gas station sign.

Then, I saw a sign that was meant to give me hope. Not for a gas station—for a church. The “Chapel of Metaphysical Thought,” in fact. Below it, on a billboard, black and white letters proclaimed this little church’s message to the busy city drivers: “Good thoughts lead to good things.”

It’s a popular—if somewhat empty—sentiment, and it didn’t surprise me to see it plastered on the billboard of a startup church in a bustling city of modern Americans.

Now, the sign itself was sufficiently vague that it could have applied validly to any number of things. Positive thinking is popular in America, and it has been since the 50s when Norman Vincent Peale wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. And certainly the idea has an appealing premise: think “good” thoughts, and generate “good” results. Who wouldn’t find that appealing? It leaves the definition of “good,” on both ends, entirely up to the thinker.

But beyond that veneer of positivity, the sentiment had little to offer. Thinking good thoughts could lead to good things: if, for instance, everyone in this country started thinking rightly along the lines of “Marital fidelity is good. Pornography is bad. As a society we should encourage chastity,” then undoubtedly an abundance of wholesome sociological changes would result. If people would stop thinking the objectively bad thoughts all too prevalent in the modern mind—that porn is harmless, or that materialism will make us happy—then, indeed, surely good things would happen.

But I’m not sure that that is what is meant by the concept “good thoughts.” If we are to take our cue from the title of this optimistic church, then the sentiment is meant in a more metaphysical way—that is, that positive and optimistic thoughts can bring in to being a whole order of good things—make them happen, make life be a certain way—sort of the way Luke Skywalker just has to think and feel the force hard enough to lift a battleship or mind-trick a storm trooper.

And this, indeed, is where the real seduction of this coquettish sentiment lies. Everyone would like, by merely thinking and willing hard enough, to make “good things” happen. To find a job or spouse or good school. To smooth over longstanding family feuds; to erase mistakes and their consequences. To conquer a major project, or make our life plans sort themselves out in the best possible way with a wave of our positive-will-power wand.

This is the stuff of office motivational posters—and it is the temptation of the worrier. Of the scrupulous. Of the controlling, over-planning type: that if you wish for something hard enough, if you think about it the right way, you can make it happen. And in the end, this is just another form of the whisper of the tempter—”You shall be like gods.”

It is hard and humbling for human beings to accept that much in life is simply out of our control. Both pernicious anxiety and “positive thinking” are, effectively, our grasping attempts to be in real control—as if our mere thinking or stressing could bring about happy resolutions. And it is harder still for us to accept that we may be mistaken about what is good right now or as part of God’s grander plan.

So, perhaps, in some sense, good thoughts will indeed lead to good things—inasmuch as we may change our lives or our actions if we begin to think rightly about them. And this is not, of course, to say that positive attitudes are a bad thing. It is a lie, however, if we tell ourselves that we can change the world merely by willing it to be a certain way.

But that day, when I was driving by the little chapel, I really, really wished that the sign was actually right—that in a vague metaphysical sense good thoughts would miraculously lead to good things—like a gas station in front of me. But alas, no matter how positively I thought about finding a gas station, none materialized merely by my willpower; and no matter how much positive energy I put into finding fabric at the fabric store, the perfect swatch of cotton didn’t manifest during my shopping trip.

Good things, I’m afraid, don’t come to those who merely think.

Round Up

Lately, I’ve been blessed to have my writing featured on a number of different websites.

After my Wes Anderson article was published at Catholic World Report, I also reviewed the recently-released film Little Boy for CWR. 

Director Alejandro Monteverde’s upcoming film Little Boy offers a story about childhood, faith, and prejudice set in a tiny California town during World War II. The film, in theaters this weekend, features beautiful imagery and a compelling storyline, and demonstrates careful production that captures the charm of 1940s America.

The film is rich in potential, and some are rushing to support it merely because it is a “Christian” film, while others wonder whether Monteverde’s latest effort might not feature the same weaknesses of storytelling and pacing that handicapped his 2006 pro-life movie Bella. Read the rest at Catholic World Report. . . 

Then, the Civilized Reader over at Crisis Magazine published my piece on C.S. Lewis’s last novelTill We Have Faces, which I found profoundly powerful and moving.

Oft forgotten amid the fanfare for The Chronicles of Narnia and his sci-fi trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces was the last novel he wrote; and it is an unforgettable fiction that feels, in some ways, a little too real.  Much as The Screwtape Letters dissects the shameful foibles of the human soul with insight sharper than a surgeon’s knife, Till We Have Faces takes up with shocking clarity a grim problem as old as Job: man’s complaint against a seemingly inscrutable God.

The result is not easy reading. Although the plot races through a powerful drama based on the pagan myth of Cupid and Psyche, readers must keep pace with difficult spiritual questions as the narrator navigates painful memories and grave soul-searching. Lewis thus takes a bold and unfiltered look at some of humanity’s darkest struggles: pride; doubt; anger against God; the problem of suffering; and the mysterious battle between love and selfishness in the human heart. Read the rest at Crisis Magazine . . .