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: (Athena of Pireus)
The drift away from normative lifelong monogamous marriage seems to be as old as the human race. That seems to me to be what Our Lord meant when He said: "Moses told you so [allowing divorce] because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so." Jesus had asked "What did Moses teach you [about marriage]?" And he had been answered that Moses - the biblical character Moses - had allowed a man to repudiate his wife. But Jesus answered that Moses - the traditional author of the first five books of the Bible - had, before that, taught that God Himself had made men male and female, and had ordered that they shall leave their respective families and become "one flesh". This is what God ordered, "and what God has put together let no man tear asunder."

In other words, the drift from monogamy had taken place even in the history of the Chosen People. Indeed, this was one thing in which Jews, Greeks and Romans were very like each other. It was not that the ideal of lifelong monogamy was not known; in the area I know best, Rome, it was implicit in numerous features of religious and ritual ideas, for instance the prescription that the priest of Jupiter (Flamen Dialis), highest ranking of all priests in Rome, should be married with a single wife who shared his duties, or the fact that the children who assisted in certain important sacrifices should be "patrimi matrimi", that is, having both parents living. This indicates that the condition of being married to the same wife, in an unbroken partnership, and having had children with her, was regarded as a religiously pure and desirable condition. But what was more likely was the life story of Caesar - who had actually briefly been Flamen Dialis at seventeen - who was married four times, and eventually had his much-desired male heir not from his wife but from Cleopatra, who was never married to him - but was the highest-ranking and most powerful monarch at the time. Caesar's enemy Cato the Younger "lent" his second wife Marcia to his friend and ally Hortensius, divorcing her so that Hortensius could marry her, and remarried her, with no problem at all, when Hortensius died! In the Greek world there are several accounts of brothers marrying their own sisters to keep the family patrimony intact, something, indeed, that seems to have become a system among the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the Greek dynasties that ruled Egypt and Syria after Alexander the Great. Cleopatra herself (Cleopatra VII), Caesar's lover, was the product of more than a dozen generations of married incest. How she felt about that charming family tradition is shown by the fact that her first act as a ruling queen was to have her brother murdered.

All this has one clear, visible and easily identifiable common feature: power. Violations of the natural rule of monogamy always come from displays of power or consideration of political and economic convenience. Poor and middling folks did not take more than one wife, and did not divorce, things that would have cost money.they did not have; at most, they may have wasted a little money on a girlfriend, or a favoured slave, or a prostitute. (And their culture, from King Lemuel to Plautus, always warned them that such women were financially ruinous.) It was the sovereign kings of Egypt or Iran or China who kept harems, as a display of their personal power. It was the importance of holding large inheritances, or even royal power, in a single line, that led that very practical nation, the Greeks, to allow married incest. When Cato "lent" his wife to his friend Hortensius, it was because Hortensius, an older man and the greatest orator in Rome, was an important part of the alliance he was establishing against Caesar. (He would not give him his daughter, as would have been more natural, because she was already married to Caesar's worst single enemy, Bibulus.) Wealth, kingship, political power, and the display that go with them, were the levers that had broken monogamous marriage across the civilized world from Rome to China.

Even in the Christian West, and in spite of Our Lord's clear and revered teaching, the way of political power to get around His prescription was visible, often to the point of hilarity. In Ireland, indeed, polygamy was accepted by the local Church until at least 1200 in theory, and until 1500 and more in practise; in other words, it could not be uprooted until the English had set out to destroy the whole class of Irish lords in earnest. In the Germanic countries and in Italy, they took advantage of the fiction that the kind has two selves - his public and his private one - to invent the "morganatic marriage", a marriage that involved only the king as a private person. So many kings (such as the founder of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II) had two wives, one official and married as a matter of policy, but also meant to give him the heir, and one private, whose children were usually ennobled. In France we reach the height of farce: girlfriend of the King becomes, by the seventeen hundreds, an official post, and great balls are held to find the lucky candidate. As a result, the languid and undersexed King Louis XV chose the beautiful and accomplished Madame Pompadour as he had been expected to, but did little more, all her short life, than have friendly and enjoyable talks with her. It had taken enough out of him to have a son - the future guillotine victim, Louis XVI - with his official wife.

Obviously, nothing is clearer than that divorce, outlawed by the Catholic Church for more than ten centuries, re-entered the Western world thanks to the most brutal exercise of naked political power, that of Henry VIII. The results, for him, were absolutely disastrous; the first symptoms of that mental and physical illness that destroyed his life and ruined his kingdom were when he had Anne Boleyn, the very woman he had "married" after forcing his first wife away from him, murdered under form of law after less than a year of "marriage", out of a mere and monstrous suspicion that she had been having incestuous relationships with her own brother! Nobody ever saw any evidence of this beyond the King's suspicions, and I for one have no doubt whatever that this is nothing more than the paranoid fears of an aging and already very guilty man (he had already murdered his friend Thomas More and dozens of others, and unleashed the monster Thomas Cromwell upon the Church) when he saw his beautiful young "bride" chatting and enjoying herself with her brother - a young lord as handsome and charming as Henry himself had once been, and would never now be again. Mind you, Anne Boleyn was a home-wrecker and a slut, and while I don't say she deserved to be humiliated and murdered under form of law by the man she had seduced, she took her chances when she set her cap at an aging and already married tyrant. Kings are dangerous. But the principle of divorce, born in such elevated and admirable circumstances, remained on the English statute book, migrated to America with the first English settlers just as slavery did, was slowly broadened, and eventually spread across the West. And we are still lucky: if the Lutheran Philip of Hesse had successfully managed what he had plotted in secret together with Luther and seven of Luther's chief followers, Europe might have been saddled not only with divorce but with polygamy. But that proved a bridge too far, even for them.

Feminists ought to oppose divorce, polygamy and all other marriage "variations", because they are historically always born as displays of male power and that is what they are nine times out of ten in reality. However, I do not agree with what seems to be the implication here, that the degeneration of ordinary marriage has anything to do with the invention of "gay marriage". I think the issue there is quite different. Caesar may have married four wives, but did not consider marrying four husbands. Even in the most degenerate environments, men saw a fundamental difference between attachments between or within the sexes,and never thought of granting the status of marriage to the others. Juvenal makes a savage joke out of the very notion that a man might marry another.

No, the fact is that a new, and bad, doctrine has been introduced. It had, originally, nothing to do with sexuality at all. You may find it in a famous play, "Henry IV" by Pirandello, in which the protagonist manages to force the people around him to act as though he were the emperor Henry IV (a historical figure from the Middle Ages). Its basic doctrine is the omnipotence of the will, the notion that will forms the identity of a man independently of his/her birth, characteristics, connections. or anything else. This, it may surprise you, was the central doctrine of Fascism, I mean the real thing, the doctrine formulated by Benito Mussolini after he abandoned Socialism in the wake of World War One. Not surprisingly (although his admirers tend not to discuss the matter) Pirandello himself was a black-as-coal Fascist, a favourite of Mussolini's, and the head of Mussolini's Academy of Italy. The political relevance was that Italian Fascism promised Italy, a middling power in the shade of mightier neighbours, the ability to change itself into the Roman Empire, merely by concentrated will. Willpower was the god of the Fascists.

Having failed politically in the most extreme manner (and having shown for all the world to see that Willpower was exactly the quality which Mussolini most lacked), the doctrine of the omnipotence of the will and the malleability of the self migrated, of course, to the universities, especially in the USA. That is where you got people like the horrible Professor John Money applying them to real human beings in the context of sex. The rest you know. But the point is that, whatever evil we may have done or accepted in the context of normal marriage, "gay marriage" and the associated evils of gender ideology are something new. The drift away from the norm of one man, one woman, for life, is ancient, universal, and - taking the word to refer to fallen human nature - natural. The doctrine of the subservience of self and gender to will, on the other hand, is a wholly modern evil. It would be disastrous whether or not the situation of marriage were bad, just as it was disastrous - look at what it did to my country - when it had not yet been associated with gender and sex at all.


An English translation of Luigi Pirandello's three most famous plays, including "Henry IV";
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In a recent Facebook entry in his typical roastbeef-of-old-England growl style, my friend [ profile] wemyss rehearsed a complaint that is heard from time to time,Read more... )

Brit Hume

Jan. 9th, 2010 11:23 am
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Like many American phenomena, the advice of veteran journalist Brit Hume to Tiger Woods, and its fierce by-products, have been heard well beyond the borders of the USA. I have not, however, read anyone, on either side, who actually pointed out what was really wrong, and indeed offensive about Hume's advice. Buddhism, he said, did not give the swift access to pardon and starting over again that Christianity does. But that is strictly beside the point. The only valid reason to preach, and indeed to believe, either Buddhism or Christianity or any other religion, is to take them to be true; you can only believe something if you believe that it is a true statement of fact (even a true statement of a falsehood, e.g. "it is absolutely false to say that [ profile] kennahijja is talentless"). Anything else is groundless or worse. And Hume is not saying: go to this shop because its products are objectively better, he is saying: go to this shop because it will make life easier for you, because it supplies automatic forgiveness." REligion as a consumer product to be judged by how it makes you feel. Never mind that it does not; never mind that many people find the doctrine of Christianity - "die once, and be judged by an infinitely and dreadfully perfect Judge afterwards" - much more terrifying than that of Buddhism, which implies that it is possible, over infinite lifetimes, to become a Bodhisattva and even a Buddha by one's own efforts, and that one failed life can be just a stage for which you can atone. Never mind any of that; the point is - unless you believe a statement about truth to be true, and unless you are willing to argue from that position, keep your trap shut. Religion is not there for your consolation, let alone for your daily comfort.
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You may have heard about the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (which actually has nothing to do with the EU, although I have no doubt that its decision was welcomed by parliament and commission) to order the crucifixes to be removed from all Italian classrooms. What you will not have heard is the response to this decision. The country appears to have clenched itself like a fist, and the general feeling appears to be that if the eminent and learned judges want the image of the Crucified removed from our schools, they can bloody well do it themselves - and face the consequences.

Not a single voice has been raised in favour of this decision. Dozens, maybe hundreds of mayors have passed ordinanze (town laws) that required the placing of the Crucifix in every classroom. In red Tuscany, Italy's home of atheists of the left and right, mayors have been sending the Carabinieri around to check that every classroom had its little crucified Christ well on display. In Lecco, a city in Lombardy - the part of Italy where religious practice is lowest and social mores most like those of non-Christian countries like France - a high school teacher who tried to remove the image from his own classroom faced a classroom revolt; when he ordered the students out, and furiously threw the crucifix into his dustbin, one of his students saw him, reported him to the headmaster - and the headmaster inflicted ten days of unpaid leave on him and told him to count himself lucky he did not report him to the professional authorities.

I am not suprised. Indeed, what surprised me was my own fury at the news of the sentence. I have been in six different school buildings in my life in Italy - good schools, bad schools, state schools, church schools; in not a single one do I ever remember the Crucifix not being there. It also decorates every Italian courtroom, and most private homes. Contrary to what you might think, the country of Dolce&Gabbana, of Versace and of Rocco Siffredi is in no way overwhelmingly religious; but it is attached to certain symbols, and that symbol of a naked, suffering, unjustly condemned man in whom all that is good and worthy of worship and respect in the world is centred, is the most deeply buried in our soul of them all. It is not a large or overwhelming presence; it is ordinarily small and dark - made as it is of almost black wood and of bronze or pig iron - and barely noticed. Indeed, it is intended to be unobtrusive; the Italian feeling, if I can trust my own intuition, would be that large and impressive crucified Christs are for the altars of churches, and that to place them elsewhere would be, in a sense, like putting oneself forward - an act of bad taste, as much as arrogance. The very materials of which the ordinary, everyday crucifix is made are meant to fade into the bacground: not ivory or silver or gold, but dark wood and darker metal. It is just there in the background, so unnoticed that we do not think of it; that we blaspheme, cheat and fight in its presence; that we do not realize it is there - until.

Until some damned fanatic from Finland, who does not belong here, who has no idea of the country she has married in, who clearly rejects everything we live for, and who yet wants to be and remain Italian in spite of her abysmal and fanatical ignorance of what Italy is and of what we are - until this alien harpy pretends to take this symbol from us. Until she is stupid enough, ignorant enough, and fanatical enough, to want to poison with her intolerance the very country she has wished to join. And until, far from the country whose every judge (in the presence of the crucifix in his or her courtroom) has told her to get stuffed, she finally finds seven deracinated book-blinded idiots who take her argument seriously.

At which point, the moron and the morons find that their "battle" is only just begun. Because when it comes to symbols so fundamental to our lives, then the most eminent court has no more power than seven kiddies in a corner shop. Because at that point the country in Europe that has always been most pro-European, which has given up the most for Europe, in which Europe is regarded as a value in itself, simply chews this European edict and spits it in the face of those who claim to speak for Europe. Because, stupid judges and crazy Finn, we are far more Europe than you will ever be. "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship" (John 4.22). In Italy, even atheists and Communists respect the Crucifix, because it means so much about the condition and value of man. Because our relationship with our Lord is our own, and woe betide amyone who comes between us and our Lord.

EDITED IN: to confirm what I said, the well-known singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla, a Communist, an agnostic, and a homosexual to boot, has described the Court's sentence in four salty words: E' una grande stronzata. Which cannot be exactly translated, but it amounts to saying that it is the intellectual and moral equivalent of the contents of a toilet.
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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?
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I do not have a dog in this fight. As a Catholic with a strong experience of English history, I can at best regard Anglicanism as one of those families which, having risen from dismal and even criminal beginnings, nonetheless have managed to produce a crop of likely and even outstanding heirs, and to embed itself graciously and gracefully in the landscape.Read more... )
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There is one tremendous and widespread mistake about atheism: that is, that it is not a religion - that it somehow even opposes religion. Many of us, including many Christians, accept this claim implicitly, using the nouns "atheism" and "religion" as opposites.Read more... )
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If you are not BritishRead more... )
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You scored as Highbrow Protestant. You find "praise band" music more regretable than sinful, and you long instead for the likes of Wesley and Watts (all verses!), fancy choral anthems & descants, and organ pieces in minor keys.


Super-highbrow Protestant


Highbrow Protestant


Grumpy Old Fundamentalist




Classic Quaker




Old Time Believer






Contemporary Evangelical


What's Your Church Musicianship
created with

I discovered traditional English congregational singing when I first came to England to learn the language, and was bowled over. The wealth of beautiful hymns and the eagerness of the congregation to sing them made an enormous contrast with my Italian Catholic background; and it did not hurt that the very first hymn I ever heard sung was one of the very loveliest ("O worship the King all glorious above..." - set to the mighty Hannover tune, for you Americans who unfortunately seem to suffer from an inferior setting). Since then, congregational singing is the one thing in which I have been more Wesleyan than Catholic. Gregorian chant can be very inspiring, and the great church repertory of the Church from the middle ages through Palestrina to the great classical composers is obviously matchless, but it is too professional; I would rather hear a whole congregation singing than a professional choir, however brilliant. The best, of course, is to have both, as the best Anglican services manage. (One thing, though. Anglican chant is the boringest thing on Earth - an inferior version of Catholic plainchant. And Anglican anthems, as opposed to hymns, tend to be overrated, unless of course Purcell or Haendel composed them.)
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You’re Tertullian!

You possess many gifts, but patience isn’t one of them. You’re tough on yourself — and on others. You’re independent, too, and you don’t like to be told what to do. You wish the Church would be a little tighter in discipline. As for the pagans, you’ve pretty much written them off. Sometimes you think the Church would be a better place if you were in charge.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

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I recently read an interesting but, to me, oddly extreme article by Frank Furedi:, in which he seemed to me to make rather too much of a number of hysterical reactions against "religion" - that is, of course, Christianity - by the usual suspects brigade. At this time of day, it should not be news that Polly Toynbee, who is sixty if she is a day, Philip Pullman, or even Muriel Gray - I am old enough to remember her before she became the voice of youth - holler and scream against Christianity; it would be far more astonishing that, having made not only their lives but their living out of this hatred, they should alter their views now. Besides, as GKC once said, "we find it tolerably easy to answer" them.

What stimulates me to write is one of those twinges of irritation one experiences when reading for the fiftieth time a description which is wrong at the most basic level. Furedi - himself not a Christian - calls, not these people, but the pool of more-or-less agnostic, more-or-less sceptical, PC types who may be assuemed to follow them to some degree, "the cultural elite". And having heard this association of culture - of all things! - with the PC brigade for the umpteenth-squinchieth time, I had to protest. They may be an elite; in fact, in some matters - from occupation of the mass media to control of education from the cradle to the PhD - they may have morphed from an elite to a vast and immobile mass, spread across these areas from their highest to their most humble place. But what the Devil do they have to do with "culture"?

Now, culture is something I revere. You will never hear me run it down as C.S.Lewis, suffering I suppose from the mixed populism and Calvinism of his Belfast background, did. The work of a musician, a poet, a scientist, or a philosopher, seems to me, in and of itself, more valuable than that of a road-sweeper or a secretary, independently of whether or not the secretary or the road-sweeper are closer to sanctity than the musician, poet, philosopher or scientist. Indeed, from what I know personally of philosophers and musicians, I would think it highly likely that the average secretary or manual worker would be a better human being. But the point is that what they make has a higher spiritual value; indeed, in the case of the greatest works of the intellect, their value is eternal. A road once swept will require being re-swept in a week. But the existence of Beethoven's symphonies does indeed change the world, for the better, and pretty much does that independently of Beethoven's own moral level.

But what do the PC crowd have to do with "culture"? Let us look at our culture, what it is. Our culture, our heritage, is made of works of art or of the intellect, which are beautiful and noble enough to be remembered. Now the curious fact is that, discounting the masterpieces composed before the rise of Christianity, which by their nature cannot be Christian, and the work of certain scientists, nine out of ten of the heights of culture just happen to be Christian. Dante, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Tiziano, Rembrandt, the builders of the cathedrals, Shakespeare, Milton, Christopher Wren, Palestrina, Bach, Haendel, Beethoven, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky - the line goes on and on.

It is more significant still - in fact, it is all but conclusive - that even those of the real giants whose Christianity was problematic or nonexistent, were actually more Christian in their work than in their stated public belief. Thomas Mann's DOKTOR FAUSTUS is not only impossible to distinguish from the work of the most devout of Christians, but it has a visible Catholic tinge, including a strong polemic against Lutheranism - the Devil uses Lutheran theory and language to subvert the protagonist. Verdi's REQUIEM is likewise indistinguishable from the most devout Christian work, and so is the REQUIEM of the Freemason Mozart. Wagner moved from the suicidal sensualism of TRISTRAM UND ISOLDE, to the dignified paganism of the Ring, to the strange, heretical near-Christianity of PARZIFAL, and Nietsche broke with him on that account.

In most of these works, especially the musical ones, it is possible to say that the traditions and precedents of the art itself imposed themselves to some extent on the artists. Western classical music had been born in the cathedrals, its first musical forms had been masses and psalms, and it is not unlikely that someone who, like Verdi, wanted to give a musical response to the idea of death, would instinctively cast that response in Christian terms. (His contemporary Brahms did not; but, with all due respect, Verdi's REQUIEM is a much greater work than Brahms' GERMAN REQUIEM.) That is certainly the case with someone like Vivaldi. A priest in orders, he used his job as music master to a female orphanage in the notoriously libertine and music-loving metropolis, Venice, to enjoy a love life that would make the whole Kennedy family jealous, at one time sharing his quarters with a mother and two daughters. Yet a good deal of his music is not only religious, but beautifully composed and genuinely devout in feeling. It is possible to argue that the great tradition in which he lived, which emanated from and was still largely based in, the Church, moulded his musical intellect even though it did not stand much of a chance with his sexual organs.

That, however, is not the case with Goethe. He had no duty to, indeed hardly any connection with, any Church; and he was a man of the Enlightenment through and through. His duty to past traditions was neither as clear nor as univocal as Vivaldi's. His greatest work, FAUST, was, like Beethoven's or Wagner's, cast in a wholly new and disproportionately enormous shape. And yet, except for the strange closing scene - which, with its suggestion of the soul perfecting itself after death, has more to do with the yet-to-be-invented theology of Mormonism than with Christianity - here is a titanic work of poetry where it would be hard to fault, from the Christian perspective, a single page. In some ways, such as finding magic always diabolical and dangerous to the soul, it is not just Christian but extremely hard-line. Neither Tolkien nor JKR, both avowed Christians, would have written:

Könnt ich Magie von meinem Pfad entfernen/
Die Zaubersprüche ganz und gar verlernen/
Stünd ich, Natur, vor dir, ein Mann allein/
Da wär's der Mühe wert, ein Mensch zu sein.

"Could I but banish magic from my way,
Every last enchantment quite unsay,
And stand before you, Nature, just a man -
It would be worth it then to be a man!"

The immense importance of sin and redemption, the terror of damnation, the deceptive dangers of earthly love, in the episode of Gretchen, are all out of the dourest Christian moral teaching. Likewise the hollowness of earthly glory, even of the splendours and glories of heathen Greece (with a vision of Byron, the untimely product of Classical passions and modern magic, dashing himself against the world and destroying himself); likewise the dark vision of empires established by force and upon sand, with which the mortal course of Faust ends. But perhaps the most intimately and terrifyingly Christian picture in the whole majestic poem is - where one might expect it - in Goethe's magnificently imagined scene of the seduction of Faust.

Faust, a learned lecturer in a German university (and what could be more German?), is bored, restless. He decides to make use of his sleeplessness to translate the most philosophical of the four Gospels, John. At the same time, he welcomes into his study a stray dog, without realizing that this insinuating and apparently friendly creature is in reality the enemy of all enemies - the Devil himself. So as Faust opens the Scriptures, the dog starts giving all sorts of signs of displeasure, barking and growling. Faust is distracted. He tries to stick to his job - but comes a cropper at once. "It says here: in the beginning was the Word. But I cannot value the Word so much as that!"

BOOM! Faust is undone. By such small steps do we decide to damn our souls. He is no longer trying to translate the Holy Book; instead, he is trying to force his own meaning upon it. He tries "thought" and "will" and eventually settles on "Deed": "In the beginning was the Deed" - radically reworking the Gospel and diminishing the meaning of the Second Person of the Trinity. No wonder that the Devil himself appears to him almost immediately; he has called the Devil into his home, by doing force to the sacred text. He dies only half understanding the sin he has committed - both that opening one, and all the sins of violence and oppression that populated the poem thanks to his adoration of "the Deed" - and it takes that other purely Christian notion, Divine Grace only partially, if at all, motivated by Deeds, to rip his soul from Mephistopheles at last.

This is our heritage. This is our culture. Need I say that the average PC modern is not apt to connect? They will wander through it for hours like tourists in a museum, and totally miss the point. They will sit through a performance of the whole of FAUST, or Verdi's REQUIEM, and fail to catch the secret. It will never occur to them where the fury comes from with which Dickens describes the death of the crossings-sweeper Jo in tones that call on Heaven and earth to crack for the atrocity; or why, in the noblest ode in praise of mankind ever uttered or conceived, Beethoven calls on every man who ever tasted Joy in his or her life to fall on their knees before the Father who dwells above the canopy of stars. This class has totally separated itself from the best that our "Culture" has to offer, and to call it a "cultural" elite is therefore almost perverse.
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When I posted about the Muhammad cartoon controversy, I did not realize that it was becoming a worldwide affair. Read 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 will superimpose two pieces of news I have recently read. Let anyone who has any goodwill and mental openness see what conclusions they lead to.

Read more... )


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