Sunday, September 27, 2015

Alternatives to Flying the Confederate Battle Flag

I understand the sentiments behind flying the Confederate Battle Flag (or, at least some of them). People are fed up with excessive federal government and want to see the states empowered again. They're tired of a declining sense of heritage and local community. They're tired of being told by people they have never seen what they can and cannot do.

But in spite of this sympathy, I have grave doubts about the wisdom of flying the Confederate Battle Flag (more specifically the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia). This flag was carried by men engaged in rebellion against the United States - arguably the largest and bloodiest act of treason in American history - in defense of a would-be state that advocated slavery as a positive good and a "corner-stone" of its system.

Admittedly, for most people who fly the flag, it doesn't stand for those things. To them, it stands for home, heritage, freedom, and courage. Rather than getting sucked into the question of what the flag "actually represents," let us admit that different people view it differently. And it is doubtful whether it is prudent to elevate symbols which we know people will misconstrue.

Fortunately, there are a raft of alternative flags available to the historically-conscious individual who wishes to express the positive sentiments behind the Confederate Battle Flag while avoiding most of its negative connotations. The fact that many of these flags are today obscure may actually be a virtue, leading neighbors and passers-by to ask what the flag means, allowing the person flying it to explain.

Other Flags of the Confederacy

This is my least favorite option, since much of the negative connotation remains, but it merits mention. Why not fly one of the political flags of the Confederacy, particularly the First National Flag? This could be taken as a symbol of the hope (however naive or stillborn) that the Confederacy might peacefully secede and become its own nation. The battle flag is, in some sense, an admission that attempts at peaceful secession were a failure.

Current State Flags

Every state has a flag, and several - particularly North and South Carolina (pictured left) - are not unattractive. (There is, however, still the problem that the Mississippi state flag incorporates the Confederate Battle Flag.) There's no requirement that state flags be flown in conjunction with the US flag. Moreover, it is not a breach of flag protocol to fly a state flag on an adjacent pole at the same height as the US flag.

Past State Flags

There is a wealth of possibilities here. If you think your current state flag is boring, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas have earlier flags you could consider flying, to indicate loyalty to both place and history. (Though admittedly, Florida's past state flags are so ugly you probably wouldn't want to try those.) As it turns out, the current Mississippi state flag, with the Confederate Battle Flag in the canton, was never used in Confederate days; during secession, the Magnolia Flag (pictured right) was used.

One particularly notable flag of yesteryear is the Bonnie Blue Flag (pictured left). First used by the short-lived Republic of West Florida (which encompassed parts of modern-day Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana), a version of the flag - sometimes with the original white star, sometimes with a gold star - was later adopted by the Republic of Texas, possibly because its original goal, like of that of the Republic of West Florida, was to be annexed by the US. The flag was used by Mississippi when it seceded in 1861 and was later incorporated into the Magnolia Flag. The Bonnie Blue Flag was likewise used across the Confederacy. Thus, this flag, elegant in its simplicity, can represent several states across the South and, while speaking to the region's Confederate heritage, also speaks to events outside that period.

Other historical flags include the aptly named Come and Take It Flag from Texas's republican days or the Alamo Flag (though its clear connection to the Mexican flag may not sit well with some nativists).

Some states also have flags from their colonial days, such as the old flag of French Louisiana (right, above). Those with an interest in ships might also be drawn to the South Carolina ensign (right below), used not only during secession but also during the American Revolution.

Other American Flags

The history of the United States offers even more options.  The Gadsden Flag (left above), with its iconic "Don't Tread on Me," was first used during the American Revolution (and is available on license plates in Virginia, maybe elsewhere too).  The
Bunker Hill Flag also harkens back to America's earliest days.  And the Fremont Flag (left below), carried by John C. Fremont on his expedition, may be taken as a symbol of the American West and its rugged individualism.

Religious Flags

Religion is a key part of many people's traditional heritage, and there are several religious flags to choose from, be you Catholic, Episcopalian, or Christian writ large.  Moreover, flying a religious flag may be seen as an expression for First Amendment rights against an overweening federal government.

Foreign Flags

At first glance, a foreign flag might seem an odd choice for someone wishing to show patriotism and a connection to a local place in the US. But there are two reasons why this might work. First, most Americans are descended from immigrants from elsewhere. Why not fly a Scottish, Irish, or German flag? Moreover, if you're interested in standing up for liberty, there are several notable groups overseas who have done just that. I am particularly drawn to resistance movements that opposed the Nazis. Why not fly a flag of the Free French (above left), the Polish Home Army (center left), or the flag proposed by members of the July 20 plot who sought to topple Hitler in Operation Valkyrie (bottom left)? Plenty of true heroes to emulate and celebrate there.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Laudato Si' Excerpted

Over at Laudato Si' Excerpted I'll be posting passages from the encyclical by Pope Francis several times a week for the next few months. Below is the introduction to the first installment.

When Pope Francis's encyclical letter Laudato Si' came out, I was a bit befuddled by the media coverage, which claimed that the pope had suddenly become an environmentalist, and also wrote about the poor, with a sprinkling of traditional Catholic condemnations of things like artificial birth control.  Frankly, it sounded like a pretty schizophrenic document (which, in any case, I didn't have time to read).

But I was again reminded of
Laudato Si' when I came across
a Financial Times article about Yellowstone that asked, "Are humans part of nature, or above it?  Why do we care about setting aside 'wild' lands such as Yellowstone?  Why do we care about the survival of wolves in the first place?  Does nature and wildlife have intrinsic value?"  So I picked up the document and was pleased to discover both insight and coherence.

You can read the first set of excerpts at Laudato Si' Excerpted.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ever Ancient, Ever New

Today is the feast of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor. In one of the most well-known passages from his Confessions, he describes his experience of coming to know divine Truth, which he compares to light. At first it is entirely overwhelming, so that he only knows that there is such a light; but in time, he comes to see by this light and to know Him as Christ. Here's the excerpt used in the Office of Readings:
Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light.

O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.

Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life, nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
The phrase "ever ancient, ever new" has particular resonance for me of late, as a description not only of God but also the Church's life of faith. (Incidentally, it is no surprise that the same phrase could apply to both, since the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.) Admittedly, this blog is a strong supporter of tradition and a whole variety of ancient things. It is tempting to assume that the oldest forms of the faith are the best and we should simply strive to replicate such storied practices. But Jesus himself teaches that “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Mt 13:52). There was a time when monasticism was new. There was a time when the mendicants were new. Today we too are called to express Christianity in ways that engage with new cultures and the contemporary world, without abandoning the riches of our religious patrimony.

H/T to The Crossroads Initiative for the excerpt from the Office of Readings.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

New Zealand's New Flag

In case you haven't heard, New Zealand will be holding a referendum to decide whether or not to replace its current flag:

As an Anglophile, I'd be sad to see the Union Jack go.  And, as a vexillologist I appreciate the British flag's excellent design.  But putting a good design in the corner of your flag doesn't necessarily make the derivative flag a good design.  Moreover, flags are meant to be distinguishable and New Zealand certainly has a problem distinguishing itself from Australia.

There will be voting later this year to choose a candidate which will then go head-to-head against the current flag in a second round of voting next year.

Among the official long list of proposals, there are several that I like.  The white and black fern is a traditional symbol of New Zealand, used since the 19th century, and is a very clean design.  (There's also a nice variant of this with green.)

Another design, titled "Land of the Long White Cloud," incorporates the Southern Cross from the current flag with the colors of the Maori flag:

I also like the Black Jack, which is a stylized version of the current flag, but uses traditional New Zealand black and the koru, an unfolding fern frond, another traditional New Zealand symbol:

Of course there are more possibilities than just those that made the official long list.  One option would be to use the United Tribes Flag, arguably New Zealand's first flag, which incorporates elements of British vexillology.

Do you have a favorite from the long list?  Thoughts on when it's right and wrong to change flags?  Please, share!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Willa Cather's "Spanish Johnny"

Reviewing the book proofs, reading Laudato Si (more on that later), and spending quality time with my family have prevented me from posting more frequently, though several new posts are in my head, if only I can find the time to write them. In the meantime, here is a poem by Willa Cather that Garrison Keillor sang on Saturday evening when he visited town.

Spanish Johnny

The Old West, the old time,
     The old wind singing through
The red, red grass a thousand miles—
     And, Spanish Johnny, you!
He’d sit beside the water ditch
     When all his herd was in,
And never mind a child, but sing
     To his mandolin.

The big stars, the blue night,
     The moon-enchanted lane;
The olive man who never spoke,
     But sang the songs of Spain.
His speech with men was wicked talk—
     To hear it was a sin;
But those were golden things he said
     To his mandolin.

The gold songs, the gold stars,
     The word so golden then;
And the hand so tender to a child—
     Had killed so many men.
He died a hard death long ago
     Before the Road came in—
The night before he swung, he sang
     To his mandolin.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Happy Feast of St. Benedict! How Do We Live It?

Today is the feast of the abbot Benedict of Nursia.

Inspired by Rod Dreher, himself inspired by St. Benedict, I've been thinking a lot lately about the so-called "Benedict Option," aimed at intentional Christian living in a post-Christian age.  Although more a set of questions than a real program, I think this conversation, which has been going on for a couple years now since Dreher's initial post, offers valuable food for thought.  I suggest you check out the following:

"Benedict Option," The American Conservative, the original blog post by Dreher from 2013.

"Christian and Countercultural," First Things, an elaboration by Dreher from 2015.

"Critics of the Benedict Option," The American Conservative, Dreher's latest blog post which addresses some misconceptions (and refuses to get drawn into greater specifics than the idea requires).

"Benedict Option Reading Suggestions (Updated)," Fare Forward, a guide to various comments on and critics of the Benedict Option.

O God, who made the Abbot Saint Benedict an outstanding master in the school of divine service, grant, we pray, that, putting nothing before love of you, we may hasten with a loving heart in the way of your commands. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Benedict, pray for us!

Today's image comes via the Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Two Remarks on Obergefell v. Hodges

Justice Scalia, at the very beginning of his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, showed that he still is, and most likely will die, a legal positivist. Now, I have some sympathy for Justice Scalia’s position. Positive law is supposed to be about reaching logical conclusions. In any given case, the judge must ascertain what the applicable rule of law is and then apply it to the facts before him. Ideally, he should be able to summarize his ruling in a clear outline, with each conclusion following logically from the rules of law. The judge must also be able to justify the weight he gives to certain facts and his assessment of the various witnesses’ credibility in an intellectually coherent manner. Last Friday’s decision—as Justice Scalia is perfectly correct to point out—failed miserably as jurisprudence from the point of view of positive law; Justice Kennedy’s “rules of law” were, in Justice Scalia’s memorable insult, no more than “fortune cookie aphorisms."

However, Justice Scalia errs in foreswearing all notions of natural law or metaphysics, at the very beginning of his dissent. After all, where do the rules of law, the premises of our legal syllogisms come from? We lawyers are taught always to cite to the relevant authority, but we rarely admit that our citations to authority cannot regress ad infinitum. At some point we must discuss first principles. Justice Scalia’s solution to this conundrum is not the Catholic solution—he does not invoke natural law to supply him the premises for his arguments. Rather, he insisted last Friday, as he has throughout his career, that in a democracy these premises must be supplied by the people, as expressed in their legislation (Constitution and statutes). Vox populi, vox Dei is the supreme rule in Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence.

Justice Scalia’s solution, though, is false; it runs into two problems. First, it denies the fundamental insight of natural law that over and above positive law there is a transcendent justice which positive must respect; a positive law that contradicts this transcendent justice is null and void and cannot bind the individual conscience. Even though most Americans have a very skewed notion of this transcendent justice—and Justice Scalia is right to combat these errors aggressively—these same Americans are nevertheless correct in their intuition that an unjust law is no law at all, and that our nation’s highest court should say so.

Second, it is futile for Justice Scalia to protest against Justice Kennedy’s smuggling of quasi-metaphysical notions of freedom and equality into the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence when the 14th Amendment makes these same notions the very cornerstone of our law. Justice Scalia’s valiant efforts to limit the baleful influence of vague ideas of freedom and equality on America by resort to historical research and originalism have always been bound to fail because freedom and equality have been our dangerous ferment since the days of the Revolution. They have been acting throughout American history, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, but always there. Justice Scalia’s historical research ignores this fact.

In short, because of his own philosophical blinders—his legal positivism—and his own ideological commitments—to democracy—Justice Scalia will never actually address first principles, which was what our nation so needed to hear on Friday.

(Ed Peters makes a similar point in his post on Justice Scalia.)

The Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges also makes me ask whether ordinary legal processes are adequate for determining first principles. In fact, this gay “marriage” case illustrates perfectly why the answer to this question is “no.”

A cardinal rule of appellate litigation is that a reviewing judge is not supposed to consider any facts (except the most trivial) that are not contained in the record; likewise, the litigating attorneys may not refer to any facts (except the most trivial) outside the record, except by way of analogy. The record—for all you non-lawyers out there—is the documented proceedings and testimony taken in the trial court. It contains the parties’ pleadings, the sworn testimony recorded by the court reporters, and, in some cases, the physical evidence. Even in our increasingly digital age, all the case records I have ever dealt with in my law practice have been bound collections of paper documents. In other words, if litigating attorneys want the reviewing judges to consider certain facts, it must be introduced into evidence at trial properly and then included in the record. If something is not in the record, it does not exist for the judge and the attorneys.

But, when the question is as complex as the nature of marriage and its incompatibility with homosexuality, a question which could be studied over the course of an entire lifetime, how does a litigating attorney even begin to develop an adequate record and a reviewing judge to read and comprehend it? The issues involved are too complex and the required expertise too variegated for busy attorneys and judges to master these issues within their own lifetimes.

Our legal processes are well designed to deal with discrete incidents, but not with broad social policy or great philosophical issues. Nevertheless, if the law is to have a firm foundation, it must ultimately have recourse to philosophy. But woe to the nation that looks for answers to the most vexing questions of philosophy to Justice Kennedy.