Five Quick Takes

Five Quick Takes January 23, 2020


Busy week, so I’ve put my series on Just War Theory on the backburner and hope to resume it next week. Meanwhile, I’d like to ask for some prayers: some friends of mine are having difficulty with a pregnancy they expect to miscarry; another friend recently lost his wife to cancer; I am considering getting involved in some activist work that might allow me to quit Starbucks and would be a lot more boots-on-the-ground leftist than I’m habituated to; and my spiritual and emotional life have been zigging and zagging all over the place since Christmas. I’m not quite dizzy, but I’m woozy.


The March for Life is tomorrow; yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. I cordially dislike the March, not although but because I am pro-life, and one of its unfortunate qualities is its extreme display of Republican partisanship. As someone who doesn’t think we can have an authentically pro-life society without socialism, I’m not enthused by that—still less by the fanatical devotion to Trump that has materialized in virtually nothing for the pro-life cause, but is treated by many Christians as if it were a litmus test for orthodoxy. Even if I were free to attend, I wouldn’t.


I’ve been reflecting, over the past few days, on how differently adulthood has turned out than I expected. I’m not even talking about my childhood expectations, which I vaguely supposed even at the time would ultimately be exploded; the expectations of my college years misled me more. I thought I cared a lot more about being a good Catholic than, it later turned out, I really did. I invested a lot of my identity into being A Good Boy for so many years; it seemed so necessary to me; then the wind changed a little and it all blew away like smoke. It’s a disquieting feeling.

I still feel like I’m cobbling a self together. I do also think I may be beginning to be able to do so more honestly. So much of my pious identity was rooted in fear—of my parents, of hell, of God, of rejection, of the future—and fear isn’t even a great source of piety, let alone a great source of identity. I am, cautiously, hopeful I may do better this time around.


I read James Baldwin’s two essays from The Fire Next Time today, for the very first time. They were astonishing. I am still only half-literate with respect to the writings of activists of color, and the taut balance of grace and severity in Baldwin’s writing is like nothing else I’ve read outside the Gospels themselves. In My Dungeon Shook, a reprinted letter to his nephew, he wrote:

“It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. … There is no reason for you to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. … They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger.”


And hey, speaking of the pro-life cause and twentieth-century activists of color, now seems like as good a time as any to clarify (for anybody who missed it) that I no longer identify with anarchism as a political philosophy. I still have a lot of sympathy with it; the state is not something to be casually trusted the way a lot of my fellow leftists seem to think. But I’m throwing my hat, informally, into the democratic socialist ring, as it were. (No, I will never be a tankie, fuck tankies, except don’t because then a tankie will enjoy something.)

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