Paul Ryan Admits He’s No Catholic

Paul Ryan - Reagan 2.0There is a big difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. And that difference is that Catholics believe that the Church defines the religion while Protestants believe that the Church comes directly from the Bible. It should come as no surprise that I side with the Catholics. The problem with depending upon what the Bible says is that everyone’s opinion about it is going to be different. And indeed, this is why we see Protestantism subdivided into a thousand parts.

Personally, when it comes to spiritual beliefs, I think that everyone who thinks about it seriously will end up with their own ideas. This isn’t good if you want to form a church, but if you want to find spiritual enlightenment, you need to go it alone. That is why I, a spiritual searcher, don’t associate with any organized religion and self-identify as an atheist. And I suppose that if you are a Protestant, you might be able to go your own way. But being a Catholic, you have to accept that the Church, with all its deep thinkers[1], knows what it is doing. That doesn’t mean you have follow them slavishly, but you can’t just accept whatever you find convenient.

That brings us to Paul Ryan. Now we know that Ryan is an a la carte kind of guy. This is, after all, the guy who simultaneously claimed to be a Catholic and a follower of atheist Ayn Rand. But when push came to shove during the 2012 presidential election, he threw Rand under the bus so he could keep his Christian bona fides, because that is still the basis of the Republican Party’s populist appeal. But this morning, he really lost all credibility on that count—at least as far as I’m concerned.

He was on George Stephanopolous saying that all the anti-capitalism talk from the Pope just comes from his naivete about what true capitalism is. Coming from Argentina, the Pope just doesn’t understand how much American style capitalism is the right way to help the poor. At least, that’s the case according to Paul Ryan. He said, “They have crony capitalism in Argentina, where you have exploitation. That is not the free market, that’s crony capitalism. We’re starting to see some crony capitalism here in America.”

(Let’s just take a moment to relish the idea that we are “starting to see some crony capitalism here in America.” As I’ve noted before, Ryan actually has some good rhetoric about exactly that. But now he’s claiming that we are starting to see some? Give me a break! He knows perfectly well that America is little but crony capitalism. So he’s just talking out his ass.)

Now I understand that no one really thinks that the Pope is infallible. But a Catholic treating the Pope as though he were some ignorant provincial? That strikes me as a bridge too far. Basically, he’s saying, “If only I could talk to the Pope, I’d straighten him out.” This is, tellingly, exactly what Chris Christie says about Bruce Springsteen. I understand the instinct. But it shows just how lowly Paul Ryan values his religious faith. It clearly doesn’t matter nearly as much as his faith in “free” markets.

George Stephanopolous pushed Ryan on whether he thought the Pope would endorse with his budget. Ryan was only willing to say that the Pope would not endorse it because popes don’t do that. Of course, that wasn’t what Stephanopolous was asking. It wasn’t a question of whether the Pope would officially endorse his budget. The question was whether the Pope would approve of it. And Ryan knows the Pope wouldn’t approve of it. But rather than go back to the “Pope is an idiot” argument, he went with a diversion. It’s all the same. He believes much more in his “free” market ideology than he does in his Catholicism.

But that’s generally what I find with American Christians, especially in the last few decades as they’ve become more political. They use their religion as a justification for whatever conservative policies they want to believe in. This is why their Christian beliefs lead them to think that a zygote is a citizen, gay people are not, and that the existing economic power elite are God given. As a person who cares about spiritual matters, I find it disgusting. And so should serious Christians.

[1] That is not sarcasm. I have great respect for Catholic thinking and scholarship. I think this is why we don’t get the more bizarre beliefs out of them that we see throughout the Protestant faiths.

Two Novelists, One Great, One Not

James JoyceOn this day in 1905, Ayn Rand was born. It can’t be overstated just what a mediocrity she was as a thinker. She’s a good example of how the less people know about a subject the more they overestimate their competency. She was convinced that the only person she owed any debt to was Aristotle. This was due to the fact that she didn’t understand many of the philosophers that she claimed to have read. That’s especially true of Kant. She was also a dreadful novelist. But the big problem with Rand is not that she was so bad and so wrong, it is that so many conservatives look to her work for enlightenment. They do this because there really is no one else who tells conservatives what they want to hear. But that makes sense: she was an awful person who continues to tell awful people that they are just great.

The great saxophone player Stan Getz was born in 1927. He was the white Lester Young. At least in the beginning. It is certainly true that he owed a great deal to Young. But he went on to record just about every form of music with just about every musician. He was a great collaborator and left us with an amazing amount of music. So much, in fact, that I’ve only heard a small fraction of it. Of course, he is best known for “The Girl from Ipanema.” But here he is with John Coltrane (!) and Oscar Peterson in 1960:

Two models were born today. First is Farrah Fawcett who was born in 1947. Second is Christie Brinkley who is 60. I mention them only to relate one of my favorite jokes.

This guy is on a cruise ship when it sinks. He finds his way to a nearby island where, much to his surprise and delight, he is stranded alone with the only other survivor [any model you want but for the sake of this telling] Christie Brinkley. After a while, when no one rescues them, they get comfortable and become intimate. The guy is thrilled. But after three days, he falls into a depression. Christie sees him and asks him if there is anything she can do. The guy says, “Well, if you wouldn’t mind taking some of that charcoal and painting a mustache on yourself. She thinks this is strange, but wanting to help, she does so. Then the guy asks her if he can call her “Bob.” Again, she finds it strange, but consents. The guy immediately brightens up and says, “Bob! You’re never gonna believe who I’m fucking!”

That joke says more about male culture than a library of sociology books.

The singer-songwriter Shakira is 37 today. I don’t know much about her, but years ago, I heard her song “Animal City” and I loved it. It’s got this great Im-VI-V chord progression that we just don’t hear in popular music. The production on the song is also great, but unlike most pop songs, it works with just a guitar. Anyway, check it out:

Other birthdays: actor Duane Jones (1936); comedian Tom Smothers (77); singer-songwriter Graham Nash (72); and actor Brent Spiner (65).

The day, however, belongs to the great novelist James Joyce who was born on this day in 1882. When I was younger, I loved his short stories. (I still do!) So I decided to go all the way and read Finnegans Wake. And I have tried to read it many times since then, most recently just last year. I don’t think I’m going to try again. It is just impossible. “Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” Oh my! It is clear that Finnegans Wake was an example of a great artist becoming too in love with his work. Ulysses certainly is his masterwork, if for no other reason than that it is the sweet spot between classical story telling and ostentatious intellectualism. It is still tough going. I would recommend anyone who is interested in Joyce read Dubliners. The man could write! The novels are more important than they are enjoyable.

Happy birthday James Joyce!

Thoughts on the Super Bowl

Obama and Boehner play footballI am out of town, thus the great slowdown in posts here. But I am not so unplugged as to not know that it is the biggest day of the year for Americans: Super Bowl Sunday. Here in the Bay Area, people are disappointed because two weeks ago, the 49ers lost in the last minute of the game against the Seattle Seahawks. I will admit, I was hoping for that outcome. I thought it would end the madness that is local fan behavior. But I was wrong.

Today’s game is between Seattle and the Denver Broncos. There are two ways that a fan could respond to this. There is the way that I look at it when I’m in a similar situation: root for the team that beat you with the assumption that at least you lost to the best team. That is not the way people around the Bay Area are responding.

The whole community, including public sources, are committed to what I think is more like the behavior of a spurned lover. They are rooting for Denver, but not because they want them to win; they just want Seattle to lose. It makes no sense to me. But then, being a fan of the local team doesn’t make any sense to me. Being the fan of a sports team is irrational regardless, but I would think people would have more idiosyncratic reasons for liking one team or another.

Like me. I don’t really care who wins the game today. But it does seem to me if you care about the 49ers, you would root for Seattle. After all, what if Seattle gets blown away today? That would say that the 49ers really suck. It ought to be an embarrassment for these people. After all, these people think they are somehow vested in how the “home” team performs. I will stick to my more idiosyncratic approach.

I might think differently if I liked football. But it still strikes me as the most boring game imaginable. And I don’t say that because I don’t understand the game. Whenever I watch it with fans, I am at least as on top of it as they are. But I don’t see why I should care about a game that is so planned out. And then the fact that it is played by a bunch of people who can’t even begin to be termed normal. And then the fact that it is violent, producing a charming side effect of brain injuries. But all of that is probably what makes football so popular. A violent and dangerous game played by a bunch of physical freaks? What’s not to like?