Hold On a Minute, Caulfield

Personally, I enjoy reading The Catcher in the Rye. It makes me laugh. However, when you get right down to it, Holden Caulfield’s worldview is super phony and I pretty much can’t stand it and I wish sometimes he’d just shut off his crazy brain for the good of humanity. It’s no wonder he’s so depressed. This article explains what I’m getting at quite nicely. . .

Moderns Forever Be Holden

J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

by Douglas Jones

“I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.” That voice, that distinctive voice of sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, confessing and sinning, tripping and announcing, produced more fictional grandchildren in a short time than any bodily grandfather could.

Holden Everywhere

Holden is now everywhere. Short stories. Stage. Commercials. Novels. Big screen. Home. Every contemporary writer can speak Holden Caulfield, even those who have never read of him. Holden is a dialect. In 1951, the year J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye appeared, the literary critic T. M. Longstreth prophesied, “Fortunately, there cannot be many of him yet. But one fears that a book like this given wide circulation may multiply his kind.”

In some ways, that’s a compliment to Salinger: Something he created became pervasive. In another way, it’s an insult: His art is easily imitated. Hemingway and Joyce face the same problem; Shakespeare and Dostoevsky don’t.

So many social factors have to mesh at the right moment for an artwork to dominate a culture like this, for even a brief moment of decades. Salinger’s novel accomplished this by precisely expressing the secular theology of our time, modern gnosticism.

On the surface, Salinger gave us the believable rebelwithoutaclue that teens longed for. Critic Fred Batman said of his first reading at sixteen, “I was simply dazzled. I thought the book had been written especially for me. . . . Holden has also been a personal savior of sorts.” He speaks for many.

Indeed, the novel is usually summarized as a characterization of how Holden is torn between two worlds, the tense transition everyone faces between childhood and adulthood. But in Holden, Salinger unwittingly captured the two paradoxical dogmas of twentieth-century gnosticism: sentimentalism and cynicism, perfectionistic idealism and hostility to common, material life.

For the gnostic, ancient or modern, spirit is the purity that produces a faux childish, spiritual, unearthly innocence, and body is the evil that produces the unspiritual, earthly, practical, civilized, and adult. The twentieth-century gnostic regularly denounces evil and injustice in life because it doesn’t fit his view of Edenic reality, all the while insisting that life is ugly and not worth living. He associates spirit with innocent childhood, body with evil adulthood. Thus, he simultaneously resents and embraces evil. Holden Caulfield is modern gnosticism’s poster boy.

Grandma Knows What’s Up

(Intern 2 has definitely been guilty of subjecting fellow travellers/restaraunt patrons to unwarranted excerpts of her life story, i.e she’s talked too loudly in public. She apologizes for the annoyance, and hopes the experience of listening might have proved, to someone, somewhere, educational.)

If you’ve spent enough time in a city to use its public transportation more than once, you’ve probably noticed that your fellow passengers will sometimes break up your commute with some free entertainment. Last night, the group of three or four twenty-or-so-year-olds seated behind us on the train were performing a little scene whose dialogue was audible to the whole car.

It seemed that the first of their circle of friends getting was married soon, and this had sparked their speculation on their own prospective weddings. This included a discussion of their girlfriends and boyfriends, their relatives and the relatives of their girlfriends and boyfriends, and all the dramas that had unfolded or were likely to once the differences in everyone’s beliefs and choices came to clash.

One girl, who’s boyfriend’s family came from a completely different faith than hers, had (roughly) this to say;

“No! Are you kidding me? I mean, all his family would be coming in. I’m not making them sit in a Catholic church. There’s like this stuff in a Catholic wedding where you have to promise to like, raise your kids Catholic and s—. And I’m like, not going to tell my grandma this, but I’m not really Catholic. Don’t tell her. [So we wouldn’t get married there, then my grandma and his grandma, who’ll be just as upset that we’re not getting married in a venue of her family’s faith], can just go be upset together.”


The girl and her friends were speaking in a tone that’s not uncommon today, and has likely never been uncommon at all (see “nothing new under the sun,” used below).

It’s the tone that says, “We are in touch with how the world works now and it’s adorable how those older folks just don’t get it.”

It’s the tone that says, “We already know and understand everything we need to know and understand about everything, and we bet those older folks would be just scandalized to hear what we’ve figured out.”

It’s the tone that represents the mindset that assumes, “My poor, adorable grandma totally believes I’m a practicing Catholic like her, and I’m totally clever enough to let her go right on believing that if she wants to. There’s no way she’ll ever see right through me, or hasn’t already.”

It’s an arrogant mindset, it’s a mindset that’s (hopefully) endemic to the very young, and it’s a mindset that we who have any hope of becoming reasonable adults must shed.

We’ve got to grow up.


I think that there are few educators more effective than good old life experience. Admittedly I’m not far removed from the age of twenty myself, but I can already look back at my past self and feel superior about where I’ve gotten to today. In another four or five years, I will probably cringe at what an idiot I was today and at what a terrible mess I made of this blog.

We learn things from experience.

Your grandma has, let’s say for the sake of argument, half a century’s worth of experience on you.


Half a century ago, when Grandma was twenty or some, people were still sinners.

Or, to use language our new “not really Catholic” friend might appreciate more, fifty years ago, people were still people.

People still faced the same problems we face.

People still made the same decisions we make.

People still caused problems by making stupid or wrong decisions.

People still questioned the faith they were raised in.

People still screwed up, learned from the consequences, and moved on to do better next time.

The general context and culture was different, but as fundamentals go, there’s really nothing new under the sun.

In fact, people have been people since, like, there were people.

No matter what you’ve done or what you’re doing, and no matter how scandalous you feel what you’re doing is, it could still very well be that in the past fifty years Grandma, has encountered someone who was doing something just as scandalous or more. If you get up the courage to ask, you may even find that Grandma once did something just as scandalous herself.

Grandma did not spring out of the ground as an out-of-touch old lady.

Grandma may not shock so easily as you think.

Grandma’s been there before.

Most importantly, Grandma’s learned a thing or two from having been there. She might have learned a thing or two the hard way.

Grandma can probably give you a compelling explanation for why she keeps pretty strictly on the straight and narrow these days.

To not even acknowledge where Grandma could be coming from is at incredibly dangerous at worst. At best, someone who overhears your expressing your active non-acknowledgment on the train will feel urged to comment on your words online.

In brief: not only Grandma’s disappointment is not born of her being less smart and sophisticated than you are, but you are not smarter and more sophisticated than she is.

Once again: you are not smarter than Grandma.

Grow up.

Remember that one day, we’ll see our much younger selves in our grandchildren. We might be shaking our heads at how they’re behaving, and maybe laughing a little at how they’re trying to hide it. Every day, we’ll sincerely hope that they can do better than we did.

With this in mind, we can do better now ourselves.

Life will teach us if we pay attention.

Just ask Grandma.

Sincerely yours,
Intern 2,

Hills Like White Elephants

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.

‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.
‘Let’s drink beer.’
‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.
‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.
‘Yes. Two big ones.’
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills.They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.
‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.
‘No, you wouldn’t have.’
‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’ 

Ernest Hemingway begins his short story “Hills Like White Elephants” off with this succinct dialogue exchange. Do you feel the tension already? Small talk barely masks the volumes of unspoken misunderstandings between these two characters; and these are just the opening lines – wait until you read the end. Even the stark landscape, described by Hemingway to relay exposure and excruciating heat, contribute to the agonizing atmosphere.

Terrell Clemmons references this Hemingway short story in her article in the Summer 2012 Salvo, “Harm’s Way: Men, Abortion, and Hemingway” . She reminds us that birth is not an occasion with ramifications just for women, but for women and men.

Read Matthew Cantirino’s thoughts on the article over on the blog of First Things here.

The Poison of Subjectivism

C.S. Lewis eventually expanded the essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism ( from which I took the following excerpts) ,” into The Abolition of Man . With his usual elegance and composure, Lewis reminds us what it means to be men with chests:

At this point we must remind ourselves that Christian theology does
not believe God to be a person. It believes Him to be such that in Him
a trinity of persons is consistent with a unity of Deity. In that
sense it believes Him to be something very different from a person,
just as a cube, in which six squares are consistent with unity of the
body, is different from a square. (Flatlanders, attempting to imagine
a cube, would either imagine the six squares coinciding, and thus
destroy their distinctness, or else imagine them set out side by side,
and thus destroy the unity. Our difficulties about the Trinity are of
much the same kind.) It is therefore possible that the duality which
seems to force itself upon us when we think, first, of our Father in
Heaven, and, secondly, of the self-evident imperatives of the moral
law, is not a mere error but a real (though inadequate and creaturely)
perception of things that would necessarily be two in any mode of
being which enters our experience, but which are not so divided in the
absolute being of the superpersonal God. When we attempt to think of a
person and a law, we are compelled to think of this person either as
obeying the law or as making it. And when we think of Him as making it
we are compelled to think of Him either as making it in conformity to
some yet more ultimate pattern of goodness (in which case that
pattern, and not He, would be supreme) or else as making it
arbitrarily by a sic volo, sic jubeo (in which case He would be
neither good nor wise). But it is probably just here that our
categories betray us. It would be idle, with our merely mortal
resources, to attempt a positive correction of our categories –
ambulavi in mirabilibus supra me. But it might be permissible to lay
down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law.
The good is uncreated; it never could have been otherwise; it has in
it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side
of existence. It is the Rita of the Hindus by which the gods
themselves are divine, the Tao of the Chinese from which all realities
proceed. But we, favoured beyond the wisest pagans, know what lies
beyond existence, what admits no contingency, what lends divinity to
all else, what is the ground of all existence, is not simply a law but
also a begetting love, a love begotten, and the love which, being
these two, is also imminent in all those who are caught up to share
the unity of their self-caused life. God is not merely good, but
goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

These may seem fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing
short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and
religious experience converging to meet at infinity, not at a negative
infinity, but in the positive infinity of the living yet superpersonal
God, has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship;
and a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective
can lead us only to ruin. Nor is the matter of merely speculative
importance. Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a
mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last
resort, just what the Fascist means. He believes that “good” means
whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the
function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences
by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education
and mass propaganda. Because he is confused, he does not yet fully
realize that those who create conscience cannot be subject to
conscience themselves. But he must awake to the logic of his position
sooner or later; and when he does, what barrier remains between us and
the final division of the race into a few conditioners who stand
themselves outside morality and the many conditioned in whom such
morality as the experts choose is produced at the experts’ pleasure?
If “good” means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the
local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves? The very idea
of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches
rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally
incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so
long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature,
the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and
conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his creation.

Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective
values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have
one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of
elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our
votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we
believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers
such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much
rarer, and much more beneficial – virtue, knowledge, diligence and
skill. ‘Vision’ is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But
give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will
refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his
Salvo readers, Lewis’ “Flatlanders” image is one that strikes me as memorable because it is so vivid; when I read it,  I can imagine that a Flatlander would indeed be flabbergasted in his effort to conceive of a cube, just as we are under- qualified ( as humans) to grasp the concept of a triune God. Do any other particularly powerful Lewis images come to mind as you recall favorite passages?

Slave Master

One of the most-read articles on the Salvo website is Slave Master: How Pornography Drugs & Changes Your Brain by Donald L. Hilton, Jr.. That article got a bit of a spike last week when it was linked to from The Huffington Post. Go figure. It’s pretty good, except she forgets to mention a few of the other reasons porn is harmful. Example: In a day and age where we can’t even show a horse being whipped on a TV show without having to put some sort of disclaimer in the credits, it’s odd that no one seems to care about the actors in these videos. Because, even if these women (and men) are getting paid and they are acting on their own free will, these real people are most definitely being harmed emotionally AND physically. Men and women thinking through the issue should remember that too. This is something that Shelley’s ministry faces every day. The Story of Shelley Lubben, Former Porn Star by Judith Reisman.

Teaser from the next issue of Salvo–Interview with Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute

Ok, I may get in trouble for posting this early, but it’s really good and it also addresses something that is very much in the news these days (see previous post by Terrell Clemmons).

You’ve become a go-to person on the topic of same-sex marriage. People often argue that we should just let same-sex couples do what they want, since they’re not hurting anyone. What do you say to them?

We actually are allowing them to do whatever they want. What we’re not allowing them to do is redefine the institution of marriage to be a genderless institution. We’re not allowing them to take over the primary institution of society, which defines parenthood and defines the relationships between the generations.

Many arguments around this issue are confused between the personal, private purposes of marriage and the public purpose of the institution of marriage. The public purpose of marriage is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. It’s an issue of justice that everybody in society recognizes, that these two people are the parents of the child and nobody else is. Not grandma or the babysitter or a previous boyfriend, or all the people who might possibly show up wanting to be the parent. No. These two people are the parents of the child. That’s what marriage is designed to do: to attach to the biological mother the man who is the father of her child. And the marriage institution has social and legal norms of sexual exclusivity and permanence attached to it. Those are key features of marriage.

If you look at same-sex couples, both at what they say and their behavior, neither permanence nor sexual exclusivity plays the same significant role. In other words, if you’re in a union that’s intrinsically not procreative, sexual exclusivity is not as important. Once you start thinking like that, you’ll see that everything people offer as reasons why same-sex couples should be “allowed” to get married—all of the reasons are private purposes. Sometimes it’s nothing more than how it will make them feel. It’s not the business of law to make people feel a certain way. When you see that redefining marriage is going to, in fact, redefine the meaning of parenthood, removing biology as the basis for parenthood and replacing it with legal constructions—then you see that there is quite a lot at stake in getting the definition of marriage right.

Is this well thought out and logical answer actually hateful? Is it right that a business sharing this view will get bullied around by activist politicians? The answer is of course no. You should check out the Ruth Institute website too.

You should also subscribe to Salvo today so that you can read this entire interview! And check back often for more info on the next issue.