Jul. 21st, 2014 10:48 am
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
The narrow defeat of the Obama administration in the Hobby Lobby case has sent its supporters into ecstases of rage and hate that have to be seen to be believed, and that in some cases can only be described as murderous. I am glad I don't live in the USA. But this fury, that bewilders many conservatives and independents, does not bewilder me. The Mandate was criminal from the beginning, criminal in its prehistory. Remember how deliberately the President lied to poor Bart Stupak and destroyed his career. And the Mandate is really much more basic to the Obama project than people realize, because they can't see its actual purpose. Le me draw a historical parallel.

Ireland has one of the saddest modern histories of any country in the world. Repeatedly invaded and devastated by the larger neighbouring island, its Catholic majority was reduced to a pulverized peasantry, paying tax they could not afford to Protestant landlords and being tithed for Protestant parsons; a miserable swarm of penniless, ignorant and leaderless grubbers of the soil, fed by potatoes, with no middle class or aristocracy or any consistency. But what you have to realize is that, the destruction of the Irish educated classes, in spite of the frightful massacres and repeated wars, were not the result of military oppression or even of mass murder; they were, in the main, the result of laws. England wrote dozens, indeed hundreds,of laws, to destroy the Irish nation as elaborately and as legally as possible. As the Irish Protestant Edmund Burke said, the English laws against Irish Catholics - or "penal laws", as they are shamefully called - were "a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

The Mass, of course, could not be said: to have it said or to say it meant life imprisonment. But neither could Catholics be educated: to set up a Catholic school was equally a matter of life imprisonment. And Catholics were to be robbed by law: "Every Roman Catholic was... to forfeit his estate to his nearest Protestant relation, until, through a profession of what he did not believe, he redeemed by his hypocrisy what the law had transferred to the kinsman as the recompense of his profligacy." The law encouraged Protestants to steal from their Catholic relations, or even pretended relations; and not just large amounts, but everything - every bit of property they had. "When thus turned out of doors from his paternal estate, he was disabled from acquiring any other by any industry, donation, or charity; but was rendered a foreigner in his native land, only because he retained the religion, along with the property, handed down to him from those who had been the old inhabitants of that land before him."

"....Catholics, condemned to beggary and to ignorance in their native land, have been obliged to learn the principles of letters, at the hazard of all their other principles, from the charity of your enemies. They have been taxed to their ruin at the pleasure of necessitous and profligate relations, and according to the measure of their necessity and profligacy,"

"Examples of this are many and affecting. Some of them are known by a friend who stands near me in this hall. It is but six or seven years since a clergyman, of the name of Malony, a man of morals, neither guilty nor accused of anything noxious to the state, was condemned to perpetual imprisonment for exercising the functions of his religion; and after lying in jail two or three years, was relieved by the mercy of government from perpetual imprisonment, on condition of perpetual banishment. A brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a Talbot, a name respectable in this country whilst its glory is any part of its concern, was hauled to the bar of the Old Bailey, among common felons, and only escaped the same doom, either by some error in the process, or that the wretch who brought him there could not correctly describe his person,—I now forget which. In short, the persecution would never have relented for a moment, if the judges, superseding (though with an ambiguous example) the strict rule of their artificial duty by the higher obligation of their conscience, did not constantly throw every difficulty in the way of such informers. But so ineffectual is the power of legal evasion against legal iniquity, that it was but the other day that a lady of condition, beyond the middle of life, was on the point of being stripped of her whole fortune by a near relation to whom she had been a friend and benefactor; and she must have been totally ruined, without a power of redress or mitigation from the courts of law, had not the legislature itself rushed in, and by a special act of Parliament rescued her from the injustice of its own statutes..."

It says enough about the power of brute prejudice, of a kind we see in the highest places today, that this unanswerable attack on a disgraceful law lost Burke an election he should have won. The English had been taught to hate Catholics so much that they evidently thought that nothing done to them could be wrong or unjust.

What the Mandate is designed to do, mutatis mutandis, is exactly this. This is why the political and media leadership of your country has fought for it so obstinately, so savagely, and so underhandedly; this is why it took even a narrow defeat with murderous rage. It is because the real purpose of this abomination is to exclude Christians and especially Catholics from economic life. In a world in which money is the only power that can really affect politics - as Obama and his people know all too well - it is intolerable to them that there should be a number, however small, of rich people and of company owners who take their Christianity seriously. In this day and age it is not yet possible to make it legal for a man of the government's party to simply steal the property of his dissenting relatives; and besides, there is not - or not yet - a simple test of identity to separate the government's friends from its enemies, as membership in the "Protestant" church was in Burke's time. But they can impose a tax for a purpose that no Christian can accept, and then savagely penalize them - not by jailing them, which is not what they want, but by fining them into ruin.

Look at it in this light, and the whole mechanism becomes lucid, clear, rational and perfectly designed for its purpose. It is intended to make it impossible for Christians to have any independent economic activity in the USA, by making sure that they either have to resign their principles or be taxed into bankruptcy for them. Of course, they could not possibly declare their purpose; of course they lied from beginning to end. But that, and nothing else, is what this Mandate does.

Incidentally, this also gives you an insight into the real view that Obama and his henchmen have of the political process in your country, and of the nature of political power. This law is not meant to strike at Catholic or Christian faith. It does not try to obtain conversions. It does not set up anything like the imposing apparatus by which republican France, after 1875, worked tirelessly to break the ancestral Catholicism of its masses. The only thing that matters, the thing for which they have fought, the thing for which they have lied, the thing for which they ruined Bart Stupak and compromised the word of the President of the United States of America, was to be sure that no rich Catholics or Christians should exist. Wealth had to remain exclusively among people who had no problem with paying tax to distribute IUDs and abortifacients with a shovel. Because in the eyes of Obama and his crowd, only the very rich are politically significant. This attempt to winnow the Christians from their numbers makes it perfectly clear.
fpb: (Default)
There is no such thing as a man (homo sapiens) without religion, unless of course we count the victims of dementia. All human beings have an overall understanding, however tentative, of reality as a whole; a framework, instinctive or reasoned, that allows them to understand how things connect to each other, how they form a whole, what their meaning and goal and usefulness are.

That is what religion is. Every other definition is clearly fallacious. If we envisage it, for instance, as the search for what is morally or aesthetically highest, then a number of proven religions simply don’t make it. The ancient Aztecs sacrificed human beings in their thousands and in circumstances of the most horrible depravity; as for aesthetic excellence, it would be a curious taste that found it in their gods with their skeletal faces and corpse-like bodies. (There is indeed beauty of a sort in ancient Mexican art, but it is in my view to be found in the whole, in the design of the pyramids, the discs, the slabs of stone, rather than in the individual that populate them. You might say that it is a synthesis that builds up an overall beauty from details of horror.)

Was that not a religion, then? Heck yes! The Aztecs were convinced that the universe had the shape they envisaged, and, being the kind of place it was, it demanded that many human beings should be sacrificed to it. In doing so, the Aztecs fulfilled the duties that their vision of the world involved. Other religions have postulated, for instance, that there is a fundamental ontological difference between believers and unbelievers, such as that the unbelievers are so far out of the proper human level that their proper position is as slaves and prey to the believers; or that different classes of human beings amount to different kinds of being, so distant from each other that to think of sexual congress between them is disgusting, as we would think of sexual congress with a dog. (That is not so hard to understand if we turn from caste to race. The complex of taboos and horrified fascination that drove the destructive relationship between whites and blacks in the old south had its centre in sexual ideas, so that the idea of a black man possessing a white woman was both compulsive and terrible. That is how believers in caste regard sexual congress between a higher and a lower caste.)

It follows that religion does not have a dependent relationship on morality; it does not search for or obey a morality already made. This, if they were able to formulate enough, would be the most widespread stupid idea about religion of our day. People would say - and say with a straight face - that the practices of this or that religion which strike them as immoral cannot be to do with “what religion really is”, or even with “what that religion really is”. The general idea is that real religion must inevitably be moral; which is mistaking the stream with its source. Religion defines morality, not the other way around. The people who declare war on the world in the name of their God; the people who butcher men on high altars and raise their still-beating bloody hearts to heaven; the people who will eagerly commit murder rather than allow sexual congress between different castes or races; all these people are doing the right thing according to their own religion. They are following the dictates that teach that, because the universe is a certain kind of thing, because mankind and the internal divisions of mankind are a certain kind of thing, because the world contains certain relationships, therefore those acts are objectively good and dutiful. The Aztec priests were certain that, if their service to the gods with its thousands of butchered dead were to cease, the universe would collapse. The end of their drive came not just because the Spanish put an end to the sacrifices and the universe did not in fact collapse - that could have been remedied in any of a hundred ways (including to claim that the arrival of the Spanish had itself been the expected collapse, that had destroyed the world as they knew it). What put an end to it was a different view of reality and of God, the view taken in Cortez’s hulls by his Franciscan preachers and their books.

Religion makes morality. I will deal later (if any of my readers remind me) with the relationship of this with CS Lewis’ famous argument for an underlying universal moral sense or “tao”. For the present I will only say this: that religion as an understanding of reality - a philosophy of reality, as I call it - is, like any other aspects of philosophy, an understanding of reality. Reality is what it claims to understand, but reality comes first. And so, if religion delivers a structured understanding of morality, we have to understand that a moral impulse is a part of reality, a part, that is, of human nature. Religious doctrine, however, varies to such an extent that what one religion declares true - in the field of morality, mind you - another declares false.

Compare, for instance, two capital religious texts, Galatians 3.28 (St.Paul says the same thing in the same terms in two other letters, but I shall use this one) and the Purusa Sukta, RigVeda Hymn no.10.90 - but, like the Pauline verse, repeated in all the other Vedic collections. The interesting thing about these two passages is that they present almost the same religious image: a supernatural unity in the form of a man, in which exist at once, either all of creation, or the whole Church. The Purusha of the Vedic hymn is nothing else than The Man, cosmic unity in the image of a man, who is divided so that all of creation might have individual existence. All concrete things are found in him. In St.Paul, however, it is the Church that is at one and the same time The Man - the body of the Son of Man: “Now ye are the Body of Christ” - 1Corinthians 12.27. And this is cosmic body of the Son of Man is a very articulated thing indeed - nearly as varied as the body of the Vedic Man:

13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
14For the body is not one member, but many.
15If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
18But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
19And if they were all one member, where were the body?
20But now are they many members, yet but one body.
21And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
24For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.
25That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
27Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

RV 10.90:
6 When Gods prepared the sacrifice with Puruṣa as their offering,
Its oil was spring, the holy gift was autumn; summer was the wood.
7 They balmed as victim on the grass Puruṣa born in earliest time.
With him the Deities and all Sādhyas and Ṛṣis sacrificed.
8 From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up.
He formed the creatures of-the air, and animals both wild and tame.
9 From that great general sacrifice Ṛcas and Sāma-hymns were born:
Therefrom were spells and charms produced; the Yajus had its birth from it.
10 From it were horses born, from it all cattle with two rows of teeth:
From it were generated kine, from it the goats and sheep were born.
11 When they divided Puruṣa how many portions did they make?
What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?
12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made.
His thighs became the Vaiśya, from his feet the Śūdra was produced.
13 The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth;
Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vāyu from his breath.
14 Forth from his navel came mid-air the sky was fashioned from his head
Earth from his feet, and from his car the regions. Thus they formed the worlds.

There are differences. St.Paul is in deadly earnest because he is addressing people who must be set straight here and now; the author of RV10.90 is calmly setting out an idea of the universe for people whose allegiance is not in doubt and whose individual salvation is not immediately his concern. But there are also subtler similarities: the Purusa must be offered as a sacrifice so that the worlds might exist; Jesus Christ, whose body is the Church, is also God as creator (“through Him all things were made”) and at one and the same time the ultimate victim in the ultimate sacrifice. Clearly these two complexes of ideas have much in common.

When it comes to societal morality, however, they contradict each other flatly. St.Paul stated clearly that, whatever the difference in offices and gifts, all members of the Church are fundamentally equal: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” And if there should be any doubt, "God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked, That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another." Specifically, it is the union of the Church with the sacrificed body of Jesus in the Eucharist that makes every Christian equal in dignity with every other. Conversely, the cosmic sacrifice of the Purusa creates, among all other separate and autonomous orders of things, the four Varnas or basic castes (the word “caste” in ordinary usage denotes a “jati”, which is a sub-group of the Varnas): “11 When they divided Puruṣa how many portions did they make?/ What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?/ 12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made./ His thighs became the Vaiśya, from his feet the Śūdra was produced.” The Man, therefore, may be one, but men are many, and their differences are ontological, as much as those between Sun and Moon, thunderstorm and fire and wind, the air, the sky and the earth. (“13 The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth;/ Indra (the god of storms) and Agni (the god of fire) from his mouth were born, and Vāyu (the god of wind) from his breath./ 14 Forth from his navel came mid-air the sky was fashioned from his head/ Earth from his feet, and from his car the regions. Thus they formed the worlds.”) For a world to exist, such things as sky and sea, moon and sun, wind and fire, must have their own existence and be separate from each other; and for the same reason - the two groups of two stanzas balance each other and positively demand to be read as doublets of each other - holy men (brahmanas) and warriors (rajanya) and the mass of free men (vaisya) and the mass of serfs (sudra) must exist and be separate.

Since religion is the interpretation of reality, the philosophy of reality, it is at least terrifyingly difficult, and on the whole better left alone, to try and take a position outside religion and try to assess the religions in terms of a universal morality that can be found outside and above them. While the impulse to morality, like for that matter the fact of war, can be found in every society in the world, the way that it is conceptualized and formulated varies from religion to religion. Just as it is a matter of high morality for Christians to treat all men as equals, so it was a matter of high morality for the authors of the Mahabharata that the four Varnas should each recognize and perform their caste duties. That was one of the first thing that visiting ascetics asked noble kings, in particular the most just king Yudhisthira, when they honour their courts with a visit.

Ultimately such differences can be embraced by debate, though not necessarily undone - that would amount to conversion. But it is very important to accept that each person has his or her own religion, in the sense of his or her own view of existence; and that religion by its nature generates a picture of morality, gives the moral impulse a frame and a shape. There is therefore no more dangerous delusion than to pretend to judge and condemn someone else’s religion from the point of view of morality; and that is because the morality you invoke inevitably turns out to be that of your own religion. You therefore end up condemning the other guy’s religion on the grounds that it is not yours, and very likely he, not being necessarily any wiser than you, condemns yours because it is not his.
fpb: (Default)
Cardinal Danneels of Brussels, one of the most addle-pated compromisers in the Catholic world and an absolute disaster as shepherd of the Catholic Belgians, has finally resigned. And the man nominated in his place by the Pope is a living expression of the weary frustration with which Danneels' time in office must have been regarded in the Vatican. Indeed, it is also a slap in the face of the Belgian government and its culture of PC consensus. Two years ago, Andre-Mutien Leonard, then Bishop of Namur, was seriously threatened with prosecution for explaining homosexuality in Freudian terms (explicitly quoting Freud) as a regressive attitude. Ordinarily, whatever the value of the person himself, the Vatican would not promote a man who has so recently clashed with the media and political leadership of his country to such a position; evidently they must feel that there is nothing left to gain in propitiating the Belgian establishment.
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When I heard of the well-named Mrs.Robinson's lust-crazed behaviour and attempted suicide, I was disposed to sympathy. After all, I know better than most the situation of someone who warns against sins he knows - all too well. But when I heard one remark made by her husband - to which, one assumes, she fully submitted - then all sympathy flew away. I have no pity for someone who could so falsify Christian moral teaching as to say that "I did not say that homosexuality is an abomination, God did."

What shallow, ugly nonsense. Do not expect from me a defence of homosexual practice as such; the Church teaches against it. But the Church also teaches that the impulse as such is not a sin; only the practice is; and what is more, the Church teaches, and has always taught, that homosexual fornication is bad in no other way than any other form of fornication. That is what makes Mrs.Robinson's great sin so ironic: she fell into what, according to age-old Christian teaching, was the exact same sin - only a different specification - that she and her husband were busy pushing beyond the boundaries of the human (that is what "abomination" means). And to add to the irony, it was exactly in Ireland that the equivalence of all forms of fornication had been clearly formulated. The earliest Celtic penitentials (the systematic study of morality and guilt is one of the great contributions of the Celtic Churches to Christianity), though ascribed to two saints, Gildas and David, who were notoriously at the opposite end of doctrine and practice, nonetheless fully agree in this: the penances inflicted for homosexual practice (and for homosexual practice only) are exactly the same as those imposed for fornication with women.

If that is the case, where does the peculiar savagery with which the West has long since treated homosexual practice? The answer is simple enough; it is, in fact, present, black on white, in some of the best known and most widely studied documents in history. It came from Roman law, and specifically from the changes wrought in it by one of the worst tyrants in history. The murderous Justinian I, would-be restorer and effective destroyer of the Roman Empire, codified the whole of Roman law in an enormous Code called after him; but in codifying the law, he also put in some enactments of his own, one of which featured the death penalty for homosexuality. He needed it in order to get rid of undesired clergymen and aristocrats.

It must be understood that for most of our history, everything Roman has had a kind of glow placed on it. Ancient Rome was always taken to be a model, however it was perceived. And when Roman law was rediscovered in the twelfth century - after centuries in which Europe, including Italy, had developped a different customary law of Teutonic origin - its superiority was taken for granted. And so judicial murder for sodomy became part of the law of the land. That was not the only horror that resurrected Roman law brought to Christendom: its prestige also covered the codification of torture as a normal instrument of police investigation - which it remained until the eighteeenth century and Cesare Beccaria - and the codification of slavery. Slavery had disappeared from Europe during the Dark Ages; from the moment Roman law was resurrected, there were constant attempts to reintroduce it in various ways, or to alter serfdom into slavery, according to time and place. It was because of one such bright idea that the English peasant rebels fo 1381 had intended to "kill all the lawyers"; they knew, all too well, that legal ideas being pushed included their own enslavement.

I do not feel bound to any of this kind of heritage. It has nothing to do with Christianity. Let us remember one basic point: to a Christian, everyone is a sinner. Including, most certainly, himself, or herself. If I say that a practicing homosexual is a sinner, it is no more than I should and do say about myself, for the practice of a myriad sins none of which I am going to tell you about. I certainly do not mean that the practice should be called an abomination, any more than any other sin is an abomination. Some sins certainly are, beginning with murder and abortion; but I am myself guilty of so many things that I should be the last to condemn others. I walk as a sinner among sinners, and if I ever say that anything is an "abomination" - something from which human beings should flee as from the plague - it will certainly not be the insanitary and rather sad practices with which some people try to ease a desire that cannot be eased. Try murder, or abortion, or the oppression of distant peoples; those, not these, deserve to be called abominations.

There are sins, and there are sinners, whom one should reject; crimes that really are abnormal, that affect the sane human being with a sense not only of anger but of misery, enormous wrongs that cannot be altered. Abortion is an abomination; Nazism is an abomination; Communism is an abomination; Leopold II's conquest of the Congo was an abomination. These evils subvert the very order of society and involve an infinite number of attendant evils, themselves monstrous enough to damn a man's soul, as states and professions are perverted, rank by rank, office by office, person by person - till everyone is guilty of something monstrous. The railway clerks and signalmen who kept the trains running in Nazi Germany made sure that cattle trains loaded with prospective murder victims were efficiently driven to Auschwitz or Sobibor. This is what abomination looks like. To extend that to homosexual practice - let alone to "homosexuality" - is an insult; an insult to the dead who were its victims, and to the damned who let themselves be swept away with its flood, and damned their own souls in consequence.

Myself, I really am not interested in my neighbour's sins. My own are quite enough to be getting on with. And to condemn one man for one of his sins makes sure that all of us will be condemned, always. The experience of Mrs.Robinson ought to be instructive in this regard. If you condemn a man for this "abomination", you condemn some of the finest people who ever lived. You condemn Plato, Virgil, Michelangelo and Tchaikovsky - something that should occur to no civilized man.
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I have often found myself in the position of having to say: "You are talking nonsense. I know what Fascists are like. I have met them in considerable number since I was a child. I was born in the same country as Fascism. I have studied Fascism as a historian. [insert personal or group name] may be a detestable person, and his/her/their views may be obnoxious, but they are not Fascist. Do not cheapen real evil."

Now I am worried I may have to start saying: "You are talking nonsense. I know what Communists are like. I have met them in considerable numbers since I was a child. I was born in a country where Communism was a power in the land. I have studied Communism as a historian. President Obama may be a detestable person - or not - and his view may be obnoxious - or not - but he is no Communist. Do not cheapen real evil."

You don't believe me?


Oct. 2nd, 2009 07:48 am
fpb: (Default)
Considering the ability of science to change its basic paradigms very radically, we should not put more than so much trust on the current dominant theories. However, it is amusing that while aggressive and ignorant atheists are busy spreading their religion - especially in this country - in the name of science, real science is not giving them any good arguments.
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I, Fabio Paolo Barbieri, the author of a blog read by a few dozen people, find myself in the ridiculous position of having to take a firm stand about a candidate in the American election, neither more nor less than if I were a newspaper or one of the real political blogs. I have been placed in this situation because a friend who is making what I regard as the wrong choice has told me that mine is one of the few "political" blogs he ever reads, so "if [he] ever heard any propaganda, it would be from [me]". So I have to clarify my position with respect to Senator Obama.

Senator Obama is the most spectacularly talented politician of the new generation in America. No wonder that the Daley machine adopted him from the start and started a presidential campaign for him from the moment he was elected to the US senate. However, he has several flaws that would make me refuse to support him even if the opposing candidates did not impress me as much as John McCain and Sarah Palin do. (With respect to Sarah Palin, incidentally, one simple principle will carry you very far: do not believe a single word the mainstream press and television say about her. Not one word. If they tell you that she has dark hair and wears glasses, make sure you check by yourself or read a conservative blog first. The amount of lies spread about her would make Josef Goebbels' jaw drop, and beats anything seen in the Western world since the sixteenth-century wars of religion. This is not a violation of Godwin's Law, by the way: I mentioned Goebbels as being the best-known political propagandist, but I might as well have spoken of Willi Muenzenberg or Giuseppe Bottai.)

Barack Obama is visibly politically inconsistent. He has ridden to the Democratic candidacy through the support of the party's hard left, and still has the unwavering and unpleasant backing of all the lunatics, from the Daily Kos leftward to various communist and islamist groupings. (One wonders about the party structure's evident support of Obama against Hillary Clinton. I suspect that the percentage points lost to Ralph Nader's leftist candidacy in the last two elections may have scarred them into resolving that this time the hard left must be kept into the party at all costs.) While this has no effect on his actual platform, which is by European standards quite moderate, it means that it is literally impossible to establish where he really will stand, when the chips are down, on any issue. (Except one: abortion. More on that later.) It is worrying to read, for instance, that he is unsatisfied with the Constitution's establishment of "merely negative" liberties; and to a person to whom the issues of poverty and stratification are very real, one can see the point. Freedom to starve to death is not much of a gift. However, it is also clear that this was Obama the intellectual thinking aloud - thinking the inconceivable, as Tony Blair once asked Frank Fields MP to do; and the realities of politics - in which Obama is already well steeped - are seen in the fact that when Frank Fields did just that, Blair promptly sacked him. I do not for a minute think that Obama wants to seriously change the Constitution by his own acts, although his choice of future federal and SCOTUS justices does worry me greatly; the point is rather that with such a candidate, one for whom there is effectively no precedent in the USA, it is - I repeat - literally impoossible to forecast, from what he has said so far, what he will actually do. Presidents are elected on character as much as on their platforms. With Obama, it is exactly that aspect of his character which is a blank. To elect him would be an act of faith at best. From most electors, it would be faith that the moderate, unifying, respectful face he has worn through the national election is the one he would take to the White House. For the Kos Kids and others who have brought him to the nomination, it would be exactly the opposite.

That is one immediate reason not to vote Obama. When you do not, repeat, do not, know how a man will perform in a demanding role, you do not give him the keys to the house or the family jewels. Even if the first impact he makes is favourable, and even if the alternative looks bleak. There are many people who think that anything would be better than eight more years of Republicanism. Some of them insist, against all the evidence - I have met them - that John McCain's destruction of the establishment candidate Mitt Romney, his visible dislike for Romney and Bush II, his record of ignoring the party views whenever he thought right, the violent propaganda aimed at him by the established right - Limbaugh, Coulter and so on - are all a nefarious conspiracy by Karl Rove and other demonic figures to lead us to accept yet another incarnation of the inevitably wicked and dishonest Republican soul. I have stopped trying to convince such people to enter the real world. They will never be convinced that everything is not a nefarious Rovian conspiracy to make them look bad. And this sort of thing is one of the reasons why I hate the party spirit. There has been a lot of talk lately about what the Founders did or did not want, but one thing should be clear: they loathed "faction" and established parties, and they were quite right to do so. When a real party structure emerged over the election of Jefferson, it did so against the wishes of nearly everyone involved. Party spirit blinds people and makes them stupid.

NOw if Obama were not the Democratic Party's official candidate, no Catholic (or Jew) would dream of voting for him. His support for abortion, the most extreme of any Senator, would make it absolutely impossible to back him. But because he is a Democrat, and because the ancient tribal identification of Dems and Catholics (especially Irish Catholics) is still alive in some minds, and because some people find Republican governance so abhorrent that they believe anything would be better, there still are supposed Catholics who can bring themselves to underline the supposed good things that the end of Republican governance would mean, and neglect the fact that abortion would be double-riveted on the land for ever. Some of them, who do not understand that the doctrine of procreation is at the centre of the whole Catholic doctrine of man, would even be relieved to see the issue closed by edict, and may imagine that the Church would then be forced to accept what it does not like. To these people one can only say that they have not the slightest notion of what Catholicism really means - or, for that matter, human conscience. Any edict in favour of abortion, such as the so-called Free Choice Act, would be as effective in closing the issue as the Dred Scott case. But at any rate the issue for members of the Catholic Church, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, subscribing to the Catholic doctrine, is absolutely simple: you either are a Catholic or an abortion supporter. Tertium non datur.

The Church, in general, likes to keep its collective head down and hates confrontations with the civil authorities. For thirty or more years, ever since the abortion bloc took over the Democratic Party, most Bishops have kept quiet on the issue. And they might still have done so, but for the unconscionable folly of some born-Catholic Democratic leaders (a folly in which Obama and his adviser Axelrod had no part, but which touches them in the person of their VP candidate), who actually took it upon themselves to try and rewrite Catholic doctrine in a direction that suited them. Faced with such a gross interference on their own teaching duty, the Bishops of America had no choice but to respond. Believe me, it takes a lot to move such a peace-minded and diplomatic fellow as Donald Wuerl of Washington DC to battle; but even he issued a clear and unambiguous condemnation of Messrs Biden and Pelosi's dogmatic effusions.

So now you do not even have the excuse of the pragmatic silence of the Church. The duty of any Catholic in this election is simple. It is not up to you to decide what the Church is supposed to believe; and if the Church tells you that abortion is a sin of special gravity, and that those who support it cannot possibly be supported by Catholics, it is not up to you to second-guess it. You can either be Catholic, or support abortion. And that means that if you do not see any possible candidate except abortionists, you should stay at home rather than stain your soul with deadly sin.
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A real and serious issue with exporting any European or Japanese model of universal health coverage to the USA is the size and diversity of the nation. The attempt to micro-manage the British Health Service - by now reduced, thanks to the growth of local parliaments, to England alone - from Westminster is notoriously one of the major problems with this body, although in my view neither the biggest nor the worst. To expand it over a country eight times as populous as England and sixty times as large would be to multiply problems to an intolerable extent, and to deliver to the Federal Government an amount of power which it is neither well placed nor legally supposed to handle. Any attempt at universal health cover must be based on the States, and, for choice, have its decision-making as far down the level of organization as is compatible with its goals. The issues with this are obvious: first, the inevitable rise of a "postcode lottery" of the kind that is being fought against in Britain as we speak, and much more deeply rooted in the vast differences between states; and second, the danger that some states might take their sets of ideological blinkers to health care provision. I am thinking both of those states that produce leaderships and governors that demand "equal time" for creationism in class, and of infernos of PC and denial such as the three West Coast states. For this reason, establishing an American Health Service would not only be a complicated business, but one that would demand a great deal of legally enforceable protections against mismanagement, and, if necessary, a certain amount of resource transfers from richer to poorer areas.

(Incidentally, I would like to point out that John McCain dodged one Hell of a bullet when he chose his running mate. Among those who favoured a young Christian conservative, the favourite was not Sarah Palin - although she was much better known than the media would have us believe - but Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a man barely in his thirties and widely regarded as a rising star. The problem is however that, while both Jindal and Palin have expressed vague personal Creationist views, Palin has explicitly stated that she would not force her views on the Alaskan education authorities, whereas Jindal has been caught red-handed trying to slip Creationism into the Louisiana school curriculum. And there is far less excuse for him than for her, since he is a self-declared Catholic, and the Catholic Church explicitly rejects Creationism. Jindal is as unacceptable as a candidate to the Presidency as Huckabee - whom I condemned months ago for the same reason - and just as unelectable; and worse, in that as a Catholic he should know better.)
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One of the things that really annoy me as a Catholic is when people like... well, let us just say, some who were once friends of mine... assimilate the Catholic faith to the least acceptable features of Protestant Fundamentalism, or, even worse, Osama Bin Laden's religious views. There is no way to convince them of the opposite - any more than you could convince Osama - because, without realizing it, these people are just as closed to argument. Their vision of the Catholic Church is fixed, and they are not going to have it spoiled by the facts, let alone by argument - something that their attitude excludes in any case. And if you believe I am exaggerating, I would refer you to my extraordinary exchange with a certain would-be Buddhist, which ended with my being banned from her LJ purely because she did not want to be told that there were reasonable arguments against her PC views. I was to be a "nutjob" if she had to shriek herself hoarse in my face and poke all her fingers in her ears not to listen to my arguments. Clearly, such people have much more in common with the very worst Fundamentalists than they imagine - even apart from the fact that the Fundamentalist bogeys of their nightmares hate the Catholic Church as much as they do.

The article I place behind the cut - not because there is anything to be hidden about, quite the contrary; only because it is very long indeed - has a lot to say about the relationship between faith and reason. It is written by a real live scientist who also knows a lot of theology. It is timely, in that it deals with a dangerous movement in some Catholic areas which I too have seen, and seen, what is worse, not only in America but even in Italy. (Luckily the Bench of Bishops stepped on it pretty sharp.) What I mean is the increasing desire to imitate Fundamentalists in their rejection of science and what amounts to a revolt against reason, which is of all things the least Catholic. Wiccans, atheists and pseudo-Buddhists may live on faith alone and disregard argument and evidence, but if Catholics do not believe in reason, they deny their religion and make it useless.

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All readers are warned: if, in spite of my clear statement that what is behind the cut is offensive and contains a thoroughly unpopular attitude, you still go and read it, do not dare, afterward, write angry or offended comments or e-mails. They will be not only deleted, but replaced with appropriate comments on the absurdity of such attitudes. I am not saying not to criticize; comment away. But do not dare take a wounded attitude; if free thought on sexual matters offends you, do not read it; and if you do, on your own head be it. Worst of all will be treated those who are silly enough to say, as I have known some people to say, I am not offended, but I am angry. Distinctions without differences strike me as being no better than masks for use in the mirror, pretending to be one thing when you are very much another.

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Damn Silly

Nov. 2nd, 2005 05:16 pm
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Of all the nuisances that bedevil suffering Christianity in these latter daysRead more... )
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A few months ago, I wrote an essay on the Catholic doctrine of marriage - Among the responses, this one by [personal profile] rfachir stood out for its length, eloquence and passion. Why any couple would want to be married is beyond me... Please disabuse me of these shallow, sad thoughts... In the perfect world to which the writing aspires, everyone would endevor to live in such a way as to bring heaven to earth. But I don't live in that world and I've never seen a perfect marriage, in any culture or religion, close enough to say "this is the divine plan." I'll just argue what I know - not the Living Church but the living marriage.

There is nothing in heterosexual unions that comes close to the heavenly union. Ours is not the constant perfect understanding that God has for us, nor the perfect love. We may aspire to it, and imagine it, but we fall short when it comes to "making the word flesh." We either make compromises to ensure that the marraige survives, for the sake of the divine sparks in our care, and because in the end that is what we see as a higher purpose, or we don't. But to say that how we touch ourselves or each other has any impact on how close we come to touching God is a joke.

God loves us too much to set us up like this. Jesus may have talked the talk - you know better than I - but he never walked the walk. Marriage is not Holy Orders. "Thou art a husband forever" never came into the picture. The codification of marriage isn't a divine institution - we're still practicing serial polygamy. We're so far from God's love in that single, man-made, political and material union that I don't even want to contemplate what soul-destroying power we're trying to paint it over with. These "shalt not"'s are a man-made crock. The marriage I'm living in has just as much to be penitent about as any homosexual union. Caving into sinful desires isn't limited to fornication, and fornication isn't limited to un-married or sterile intercourse.

God is love - I agree wholeheartedly. But to say God is marriage is another thing altogether, right up there with God is government (which also used to be a popular sentiment). God the Father is an incarnation I can agree with, but not God the husband.

Please please convince me otherwise. Writing this has left me unusually bitter, and I honestly don't think I have anything to complain about.

As I told her at the time, she was asking quite a bit of me. And I do not know that I can do anything towards it now, any more than I could then. But I do not think that that exempts me from making, at least, a few points.

One red herring is better got out of the way first. Jesus did not have to "walk the walk". Jesus was God; "he who has seen Me has seen the Father". As we on Earth understand difference, there was no difference between Him and God. And I argued that the "image of God" in which God made man was the unity of man and woman. In what sense this is reflected in Jesus, I do not want to speculate. As a man, as a member of the human race, he was male; as God, he was - God. He was the fullness of being.

But to us feeble ones below, everything comes as if from a great distance. There is something that I have already mentioned: In a very imperfect world and a fallen mankind, however, understanding is not a steady light, but a fitful, ill-regulated, oft-obscured glimmer. Here we see through a glass darkly; it is only there that we shall know as we are known. This explains the agonizing phenomenon of delusive love, love for the unworthy...

You might want to ask, of course, if marriage is so unnatural a thing, why do all cultures establish it, pursue it, celebrate it? Above all, if it is so unsuited to our nature, why is it such a sad thing to you - something you describe with every evidence of sadness, even of heartbreak - that it should be so? Clearly, because it is something that is in itself beautiful and attractive, and whose opposite is instinctively felt to be ugly. Your imagination instinctively seizes on the fertile union of a woman and a man as something that it would be lovely to have, were it - you would say - only possible.

What I described in my article was something like an archetype of marriage, a vision of an idea - an attempt, in fact, to locate exactly that particular thought, that particular vision, that seems so beautiful, even to you, that its apparent impossibility among men leaves you feeling sad and negative. It was not, or at least not primarily, aimed at describing how marriage actually exists in the circumstances of ordinary life. And that being the case, you ought to reflect on the relationship of archetypes, of ideals, with actual daily life. Take the police. Do you imagine that policemen and women ever do really see themselves as what they ought to be - the thin blue line, the last bulwark of peaceful society against chaos, perversity and evil? Goodness, do they ever not. Many of them, perhaps most of them, when they ever do think of such things, only lament at how far beneath the ideal they fall. They know that many of their colleagues, are lazy, incompetent, or on the take, or all of those things at once. They know that they fail so much more often than they succeed. They feel that time goes on and slowly grinds them down, and the same old everlasting evils just repeat themselvs again and again. It will often be the best, and not the worst, of them, who will find themselves asking: "Is it even worth it?" And yet - remove the idea that is always at the back of their minds; remove the archetype that is only partially actualized in the uniforms, the badges, the signs of authority and service; remove the image that they had in their mind's eyes when they first chose to be policemen and women rather than any other job; and see what happens!

The ideal, the archetype, is the spirit that gives life to every institution. Do most teachers ever stop to think that they stand at the solemn hinge of time and life, passing on the life and achievements of the dead to those who have only just begun to live? Do they ever think of their work as solemn and sacred, a service to wisdom as well as to society? Hardly. How many doctors see themselves in the image of the sworn guardian of others' bodies, committing the best of mind and soul to the healing of others? Hardly any - consciously. And yet, again, where would any of these professions be, with all the good they do for society, if the archetype did not live somewhere behind all the dreary, boring, wrong-headed, bull-headed, idle, mistaken, or plain dull events of the ordinary working day?

You may still say that I gave too high, too luminous an idea of something which is never, or hardly ever, seen in the real world. To this I have two answers. First, we say that marriage is a sacrament: and there can hardly be too high, too noble a description of a sacrament - something which is the presence and work of God on Earth. Second, I never married, and not for want of trying. Therefore I have that right of the loser to claim a clearer view, of which Emily Dickinson spoke:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires a sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of Victory,

As he defeated — dying —
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear.
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I remain convinced of the utter necessity of reforming many branches of the Catholic Church, especially the American, Brazilian, German and Dutch ones, to clear them of the so-called Liberals. People who don't like the kind of thing that the Catholic Church has been for 1900 years have, these days, a supermarket's worth of alternative products to buy, including some which claim Apostolic Succession and allow them the fun, should they wish to, of taking part in beautifully conducted traditional rituals, rich with vestments and incense. There is no need for people who never believed any of the major Church dogmas to stay in a body whose views they oppose. The trouble is that, for forty years now, they have stayed and tried to subvert it from the inside. It was an absurd enterprise anyway, but it has succeeded just as much as it ever could - sowing scandal among the faithful, encouraging the Church's enemies, leading to sin and to schism.

However, I am more and more worried by the spirit that seems to be unleashing itself in North America now that the "liberals" are, at long last, on the defensive.Read more... )
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Islamizing terrorists (many people would be rightly annoyed if I called them simply "Islamic", with the suggestion that they represent the Umma) may have murdered thousands of people, thrown countries into confusion, terrorized and butchered little children, but one has to say one thing for them: they are a dream come true for TV executives. In the last couple of months, British mainstream TV has broadcast, I think, at least four major prime-time programs featuring terrorist outrages in London, including a game show in which contestants had to show how they would run the country during a catastrophe. Scaremongering, much?

By contrast, the intelligent and lengthy responses I received to my item about an age of thieves demand a properly thought-out and decently-worked reply. I will see what I can do in the next few days.

Today I enclose an essay about Beethoven's Missa Solemnis which I wrote a few years ago.
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