Sunday, December 24, 2006
Strengthen The Things That Remain
"Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God." Rev. 3:2
The Apocalypse speaks the language of paradox, and never more than in the quote above. In this, the consciousness of mortality which is original philosophy has acquired a deeper shading, a religious tone as a symphonic accompaniment. Religion in this sense perhaps can be understood as something that happens to a philosophical mind when it undertakes to wrestle with history in its essence. For history is about the loss of God. This is why atheism is so profoundly irrelevant. It imagines its enemy is God, whereas the real problem is history. And concerning history, it has nothing of any value to say, for atheism, like most commemorative practices of religion, means that one is merely being swept along with the current of choice. It is only when there is a real possibility of drowning that the mystery of the will is revealed - that about which I can have no choice. When we finally arrive at the point of asking if, or to what extent, history is actually shaped by man's will - that is when we begin to ask a religious question.
I think it is highly likely that the writer of the Apocalypse already realized that history had become, was to become, the field upon which man's atheism was to be sown. He loads up his paradoxes one after another in any case - "strengthen the things that remain," even though they are "about to die" and your works are not "perfect before God." Why should we strengthen things that are about to die? Would "perfect works" be immune from such a stricture, or is there anything like "perfect works" in the first place? Perhaps the "perfect works" are a last echo of the philosophical achievement of the seer's previous age - the Platonic Good. In this new world of dynamic action which is the Apocalypse, the Platonic Good has long since been superseded. In this new world, nothing is stable and certain long enough to determine a "perfect work," much less the "Platonic Good." There is only the need to be watchful, ever on the ready for the dynamic upheaval which is Christ Himself.
Emil Bock writes - "Among the tempests released by His presence in the arena of human destiny, souls are losing their merely inherited forces far more rapidly than they would in non-apocalyptic times. However paradoxical it may sound, it is a sign of the new nearness of Christ that so many people feel today as if they had become inwardly poor overnight." (Emil Bock, The Apocalypse of Saint John, Floris Books, 1951)
There is another particular passage in this astonishing book of commentary on the Apocalypse that might be worth recalling today. He is discussing the section of the Apocalypse of the outpouring of the Vials of Wrath. The contents of the Third Vial (Rev. 16:4-6) -- "And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood...For they have shed the blood of the saints and prophets, and thou has given them blood to drink..." Bock comments that "the rivers and fountains of waters" refer to the individualization of the life-forces which become, in the course of human development, part of the personal inner life. Ideally the "blood" should, in the course of individual development, cease to be the carrier of purely egotistical desires. "In his efforts to attain to this discipline, the disciple can see a link between the purification of his own blood and the blood of the saints and prophets, the great spiritual messengers of human history whom he chooses as models. The symbol of the Holy Grail stands for those inward efforts through which ultimately the blood of Man receives into itself the power of the blood of Christ, an experience to which saints and prophets bear witness."
But, he continues,
"The mechanization of modern life runs counter to the development of a personal inward life. Figures like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist, Bernard of Clairvaux or Francis of Assisi have ceased to be the ideals which we endeavor to emulate. We are fascinated by the successful business men, the practical men of affairs, who dominate every sphere of life. They are the cause of countless martyrs, even without actually shedding blood. The great martyrs of the past die again, and with them all those who have ever walked the Earth as torchbearers of the spirit. Their blood is shed again spiritually because it is made to appear that they have lived in vain."
We see this ceaseless trivialization of human life everywhere today - indeed the "media" seems to be nothing more than a mechanism to "liquidate" human civilization in this sense. Further, the shunting-aside of the "prophetic calling" of the blood has the result of turning the impulse of individualization back into the carnal and sensual channel. Sexuality itself becomes a "right," a kind of anti-sacral initiation called freedom. But in this way "freedom" is wholly unable to transcend the sphere of egotism, and non-sexual penetrations, so to speak, which have to do with the dissemination of ideas, the challenge of contrary views, the assertion of the reality of better and worse, right and wrong, become literally abhorrent, for they trespass the sphere which modern man has deemed to be his "sacrosexual" right to live his life without inward fertilization - that is, without being penetrated by anyone else.
This sexualization of man thus leads to spiritual fruitlessness and stagnation - that is, to the ultimate irrelevance of ideas and of the effort to think.The Apocalypse is packed with the themes and tendencies of human history, which is why it is futile or silly to suppose that we are living in merely one epoch or another - say, the epoch of the Third Vial of Wrath. All of the tendencies in human character and history, good and bad, are simultaneously present in any moment.
As Bock rightly points out, the imaginative or visionary piece in the Old Testament is the book at the beginning - that is, the Creation story in Genesis. The New Testament, on the other hand, begins with the "historical" books of the Gospels and culminates with the visionary Book of Revelation at the end. The Apocalypse opens up both tendency and simultaneity in history, and shows us both that we live and how, while living, we must "be watchful." Thus it is the book that" saves," i.e., preserves, the essence of philosophy while sowing it as the seed for awareness of living in history.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
"And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold. Why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him?How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shew-bread which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath."Mark 2: 23-28
"The unseen moral syntax" of the New World Order is the subject of John McMurtry’s astonishingly important book, Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy,published in 2002 by Pluto Press of London and Sterling, Va.
If there is one book which readers of this site are urged to read, it is this, because it connects the dots of the globalization movement in terms of its values, presuppositions and preferences - rather than its presumed goals and ideals. This distinction is important, for values and assumptions occur both above and below the normal registers of awareness and perception. Analysis at the level of nearly pre-conscious or emotional adherence is infrequently recognized, much less attempted. Such analysis brings up issues such as zeitgeist, group-mind or collective consciousness -- which are difficult for modern people, steeped in the culture of the psychological 'Unconscious' even when they don't believe it. For some reason, taking responsibility for, or even acknowledging the existence of, a group-mind is, for many, a trespass against the sacred concept of individualism.McMurtry eschews both ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘power politics’ as models of explanation for globalist-New World Order agenda thinking. He rejects the presumed ‘value neutral’ or ‘ethical neutrality’ stance of modern philosophical, scientific and economic thinking.
In fact, he states, "lines of force follow lines of value," (his emphasis) and it is the deep structure of values, choices and consequences in which are to be sought the causes of our increasingly dysfunctional economic thinking. Only an acute value-system analysis is capable of penetrating the sludge of lies, evasions, deceptions, and rationalizations which now form the standard operating procedure of the "Infotainment State."
What is repressed from view in the jigsaw-puzzle cascade of "news and events" is precisely the "absolutist value-set" and the "a priori prescriptions" which drive the transnational money-sequencing that increasingly rules the world. These hidden values and presuppositions have not been considered to be matters of philosophical importance, thus by stealthy means "economic laws" slide into the slot occupied by "laws of nature"-- the human factor of choice and decision of the former meanwhile overlooked entirely. The human will, now occupying a position more arbitrary and less appeasable than the gods of old, escapes the scrutiny of people who might be sensitive to issues like fate, determinism, or superstition. Ideological global oligopoly is both deterministic and superstitious, but by avoiding the traditional carriers of these intellectual poisons, it appears both "modern" and "progressive."
McMurtry argues that the evidence of shocking ecological and economic disasters, corporate swindles like Enron, tax invasions of poor countries and their mounting "endebtification" are all the results of an essentially emotional and pre-conscious value set which, in the last two decades, has become ever more fanatical. It is locked into a repetitive self-identification and self-affirmation of itself as the ‘Good,’ which is also, simultaneously, ‘historically necessary’ and even ‘historically inevitable.’ McMurtry's analysis penetrates this new variant of economic-historic determinism to uncover what are actually its human and political decision-points, choices, and preferences.
It is important to recall, for example, that prior to 9/11 there was a rising global movement of disquiet at the disastrous results of the globalization movement on the world’s ecosystems and peoples. The popular movements of resistance are a matter of documented record – not only Seattle, but also Genoa in the summer before 9/11, in which more than 350,000 people protested the unaccountable actions and decisions of transnational corporate bodies. As McMurtry puts it, "The attempts to portray young and socially conscientious citizens in protest as worthy of mass gassings and cagings had failed." Something more was needed to justify the systematic prescriptions for economic restructuring, deregulation and privatization of public wealth. The ongoing march of secretive economic bodies to override accountable controls by governments needed a new charter – or shall we say carte blanche or cause célèbre?
The events of 9/11 imposed a convenient and timely "global amnesia" upon public perceptions about how the system for corporate rule was losing public legitimacy. It is important to review some of the facts regarding the "new freedom" ushered in by neoliberal (sometimes called neoclassical; see note 2) economic practices.
Since the Reaganite 1980’s, the top 10% of the U.S. population saw their incomes double within five years.
By 2000, the top 1% in the U.S. had more wealth than 95% of the U.S. population.
Poverty in Eastern Europe increased sevenfold from 1988 ‘under Soviet domination’ to 1994 with ascension to the ‘Free World.’
More than 100 developing nations "suffered disastrous failures in growth and more prolonged cuts in living standards than industrial countries in the Great Depression." (UN Development Report, 1997)
These ‘structural adjustments' and 'painful sacrifices' demanded by economic doctrine are the costs of the ‘Free Market,’ which in fact is not free at all but consists of a global oligopoly system in which "over 60% of international trade is between offices of the same firms or interlocked partners," not to mention the considerable assistance from government tax policies and subsidies as well. Hardly ever in the mass media from 1985-2002 was the global market experiment raised as an issue of concern. Instead, evangelical certitudes plastered over the evidence of the senses and quashed contrary perceptions. The repetitions involved torturously contradictory assertions claiming that "oligopoly is free competition," "leveraged money demand with no production of real goods means moral justification, i.e., market success"; "catastrophic ecological and social results mean necessary economic reforms," and "bombing poor civilians and destroying their life infrastructure means humanitarian interventions."
As a corollary to this iron-clad rule by fist economy and fiat money, it is sadly instructive to note how Western intellectual elites abandoned their former commitments to "free inquiry," "free will" or "freedom of choice," "rule of law," etc – such as existed in the most longstanding critiques of Soviet-style socialist systems. Academic postmodernism was a frivolous intellectual movement unmoored from real life, but fostered an attitude of devaluation and mockery in the belief of the value of truth. In the past few years we have seen increasingly shrill and indeed fanatic attacks on religion and ethics from media and NWO-favored intellectuals like Dennett, Dawkins, and Singer and their followers in the Darwinian and "bioethics" camps. "Evolutionary psychology" becomes the new breeding-ground for intellectuals who have lost their religion, like John Derbyshire, and the scientistic establishment and their impacted constituencies in universities, government, pharmaceutical and agricultural laboratories are wedded to the proposition of changing whatever is natural into a saleable commodity.
All of these capitulations of what was once an independent sphere of intellectual life represent the marriage of the unthinkable with the unstoppable – epitomized by the remarks of the Tony Blair, the boy ruler of Britain – "These forces of change driving the future don’t stop at national boundaries. Don’t respect tradition. They wait for no one and no nation. They are universal."
The net effect of these accumulating determinisms is to drive barriers between perception and reality, action and responsibility, thought and life, not to mention further eroding the institutions of society that provide accountability. The deepest and most interior cause of this continuing moral brutalization is the severance of intellect from life. But this spiritual "cause" goes deep into history and indeed it initiates that history from the very first pages of the Creation story in Genesis, when the Tree of Knowledge is separated from the Tree of Life. In the Genesis story, the Tree of Life is guarded by the Cherubim with the flaming sword, because it was recognized that if man with unspiritualized intellect invades the sphere of life, universal destruction would result.
The New World Order could be called an accelerated program for breaking and entering the realm of the Cherubim – that is, subverting what has hitherto provided a ring of protection around the Tree of Life. This is why Henry Makow, the Canadian author of "Save the Males" website, writes that the NWO program functions to strip citizens of their identity in race, tribe, nationality, culture, tradition, law, sexuality, religion – leaving them utterly pliable and ductile in the hands of the transnational money regime. Whether to "strip" people of these attributes or to distort their consciousness of such attributes through multiculturalist exaggerations is equally useful, for in either case a tradition or state of being that might have provided a barrier to the commodification of life is rendered null and impotent, and all sense for mutual common interests in society is destroyed.
As McMurtry puts it, "… the ineluctable destiny of all peoples on earth to compete to succeed in serving transnational investors is the ultimate given of social value… What peoples had long set their souls against – an order imposed on them by wheels of a higher, inexorable power – is now prescribed as every society’s final meaning."
McMurtry’s analysis of the causes for the wars on Yugoslavia and Iraq is the most compelling that I have read. Quite simply, Yugoslavia and Iraq had to be converted to "corporate feeding cycles" because by 1991 they were "the last resource-rich functioning socialist resource economies in the world."
Indeed, "...What is not ‘open to the free market’ is any society, however peaceful,with developed social sectors and publicly owned resources closed to foreigncorporate expansion and exploitation… The Yugoslav and Iraqi societies were nottargeted in spite of their regionally advanced social systems, but because ofthem."
For bear in mind, that it is the preeminent goal for the system of global determinism that there should be no alternative. Neither Iraq nor Yugoslavia wished to re-travel the route of re-colonization, and in both societies there was a high level of worker income security, health care and education and public ownership of key resources. In other words, both nations had a successfully functioning life-economy – in contrast to the USA, where neither libraries nor public transit can be assured of funding, in fact suffer continual funding cuts, where health care is a spoils system of gargantuan inefficiency, and where the phrase ‘public good’ carries an antiquarian flavor, along with all the others like good manners, clear thinking, honest debate, checks and balances, life and liberty, rule of law, balanced reporting, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Even lower on the scale of meaningful content are slogans with "democracy, "freedom," "compassion," "equality," etc. – such phrases and slogans are never employed with limiting or relational concepts, or in any meaningful historical context. They may thus be taken as signposts of continuing assault on the ability to think coherently - not exactly a prized quality for citizens who are being programmed into consumers.
For it is ultimately the colonization and occupation of the mind that feeds the money sequence regime. The results are particularly apparent in the American mass media, which has totally abandoned its mandate to provide a fair account of world events. The mass media outlets are merely sluices for advertising, through which disjunct, atomized, and uncontexted bits of "news" occasionally pass. It is true that this has not escaped the more discerning members of the population. But still the deeper concepts are lacking. The transition from a productive to a predatory economy has been occurring in the USA at an uneven pace, but in the last few years it has accelerated to the point of garishness.
The "new Sabbatarianism" of the modern economic machine seems the precise opposite of that pharisaical obsession with "keeping the Sabbath" mentioned at the head of this post, yet opposites merge after all. In the old Sabbath, nothing was to be done; in the new, nothing is to be left undone. Cessation has been replaced by incessancy, but both doctrines claim an unshakable authority and a fanatical adherence. The new, modernized, and streamlined economic doctrine that has come to rule the world is a sort of secularized Darwinian theocracy, where the "losers" are the economically unfit (or the theologically out of grace). Stability is derided, traditions are destroyed, and neither borders nor laws possess any restraining action to the ‘free flow of capital.’
The dragons have returned from the abyss of time in the form of a fanatical economic determinism. A society without accountability, without countervailing authorities of restraint and decision-making, is a society on the way to barbarism. The advocates of the global money regime enjoy what civilized life has made possible while betraying or subverting civilized standards at every turn. A system of thought so estranged from life and sustainability comes to resemble a reptilian fate. But the question in the end is whether the reptilian fate is to be that of the corporation or of mankind itself.
As a final note, the last half of McMurtry’s book explores the entirely feasible ways in which society may move towards restoring life-economy goals. I will not undertake to review these here, except to note that, despite many reasons to be pessimistic, there are always grounds for hope. Once the deterministic trance is broken and values, decisions and preferences are exposed, real thinking will be possible again – that is, the connecting of thought with life that is the necessary condition of being human.
 The author does not explore the 9/11 event in this book. Later reflections on this event can be found in his "9/11 & the 9/11 Wars: Understanding the Supreme Crimes," printed in the compendium of essays edited by David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott, 9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (Vol. I) Olive Branch Press, @2006.
 See "What we learn when we learn economics," Christopher Hayes, In These Times: "Neoclassical economics, as the Chicago School of thought is now called, has become an international elite consensus, one that provides the foundation for the entire global political economy." Article here .
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Author Theodore DalrympleCourtesy: New English ReviewI’m a little baffled by Theodore Dalrymple’s piece, "Let’s Be Rational,"--- but mainly because there wasn't much to get baffled about.
It is apparent that Mr. Dalrymple is a much nicer atheist than Richard Dawkins, but on the other hand Mr. Dawkins is much more what you’d expect an atheist to be: presumptuous, arrogant, overweening, self-infatuated, foolish and vain.
Mr. Dal is none of these things. On the contrary, he is a gentleman with a real sense for ethics and good manners, and can put in a kind word for religion, even acknowledging its good side ("Religion [is] useful…from the point of view of improving human behavior and keeping it lawful.") Rather like Gibbon, to whom he alludes in his piece, Mr. Dal finds no inner impulse to believe in it, even from the standpoint of the moral and civilizational ruin that he has been chronicling so well these last few years. 
Mr. Dal says that when he confessed in an American conservative gathering that he "was not religious," several persons came up and thanked him. He found this to be remarkable, and even wondered if Dawkins was right to say that American atheists are afraid to avow their lack of belief. At first he was not inclined to agree, but then he began to think there might be something to it.
Part of the problem here is that the term, "religion," is too large and too abstract to be useful. Chesterton remarked that the United States was "a nation with the soul of a church," to which the writer who calls himself "Spengler" (of Asia Times Online) amended to read (correctly, I think) "America is a nation with the soul of an heretical church." Until we get down to the specifics of Protestantism there is not much point in discussing "religion in America." In the Bush administration, fuelled in part by Protestant evangelicalism, it would indeed be a case of bad manners to say that one was an atheist. But this is not a religious problem so much as a political one, and therefore, it does not seem to me a case of atheists "being afraid to speak up."
I think it is true, as Mr. Dal writes, that religion is, or was until fairly recently, a "live social force" in the USA. Having grown up in Alabama during the civil rights era, I can attest to the truth of this. Martin Luther King was in the earliest days of his movement an inspired preacher, and his vision of the struggle of blacks for greater civic freedom and participation was enunciated in a powerful vision in his famous 1958 speech, of "new meaning injected into the veins of history." This vision of history as a Living Being is in my view one of the most powerful statements of Christianity in the modern era.
It is not that Christianity is in history so much as it is that history itself is Christian – that history is the drama of Christian meaning working out through the ages or stages of time. It is not accidental that Western history is therefore the paradigmatic history – at least until fairly recent times - for indeed, "history is a Western form of thought." 
This ennobling vision of the history as a Living Being, to which human beings make their contributions and in which they participate, was a product of the peculiar genius of Dr. King in the context of the devotional Christianity of the black race and of the South of that era. In other words, this was a unique and unrepeatable historical moment. But the reins soon slipped from Martin Luther King’s hands when the black civil rights movement was absorbed by the State. For good reasons and bad, a bureaucratic statistical "affirmative action" replaced the living vision. One could see the bread of communion being turned into stones of social strife and division.
Perhaps this movement of Christianity from the depths was not lost on those whose main goal is political power, however. A generation later, and partly as a result of the social divisiveness resulting from state-mandated programs for equality, the Christian conservative-evangelical base made its presence known in American politics. Unlike the black civil rights movement, which despite obligatory references to the "Promised Land" and other Old Testament images, was primarily a New Testament phenomenon – the Christian evangelical zeal seemed hardly to have penetrated to the New Testament.
Thus when Mr. Dal writes that he finds the nature of the deity as depicted in the O.T. to be rather "unpleasant,"—a point with which he agrees with Dawkins-- I can only agree. The Deity of the Old Testament – at least in parts of the book of Deuteronomy – is not just "unpleasant." It is ethno-tribalistic, vengeful and bloodthirsty to an extreme degree - according to Simone Weil, a "tissue of horrors."
Thus, if we are discussing the Old Testament in contradistinction to the New, I would submit that we are not discussing "religion" so much as the specific differences between the religious vision of the Old Testament and the New Testament – in other words, the specific differences between rabbinical Judaism and the Christian gospel - in other words, the whole raison d'etre for Christianity in the first place. Somehow, in the imprecision of the subject, I begin to lose the terms of the argument.
Although I think Mr. Dal’s use of the term "religion" lacks necessary specificity and historical grounding, and that it is too generalized to be useful, I do think his points of argument with Dawkins are valid. Dawkins, for one thing, is too enamoured of high tech solutions to human problems. Secondly, Dawkins is a practitioner of the "nothing – but" school of historiography –"European history is nothing but the story of genocide and oppression," "religion is nothing but the history of intolerance and bigotry," etc. But the point that needs to be made is that the story of English empiricism, positivism, and materialist philosophy is in many ways a philosophy of "nothing-buttism." "There is nothing in the intellect that has not been first in the senses." "Only what is observable and quantifiable counts as valid knowledge." Dawkins is merely applying to areas of history and religion what has long been considered the rational standard in philosophy, and particularly economic philosophy.
I wish that Mr. Dal, in his "Let’s Be Rational," had discussed the long history of honorable dissent to reductionistic philosophy in his own country. Beginning with William Blake and continuing through Coleridge, Wordsworth and Keats in the 19th century – all were dissenters against the ‘single vision and Newton’s sleep.’ This movement in poetry is superficially understood as ‘Romanticism,’ but that seems hardly adequate as a description of the challenge they presented to the model of rationality that had been developing since the seventeenth century.
The Romantic movement saw how rationality was becoming unmoored from life and value, and in poetry as well as philosophical thinking they demonstrated that a new way of thinking was possible. The impulse they began continued in the 20th century. One can read, for example, the poignant memoirs of poet Kathleen Raine (herself a Blake scholar) about her experiences as a student at Oxford in the positivism-soaked atmosphere of the 1930’s. Or Owen Barfield, whose book, Saving the Appearances (1965) provides an illuminating history of science from the viewpoint of the participating consciousness – that is to say, a thinking not yet severed from the ground of life and history. Barfield’s work was little noted in the country of his birth, although in America in the 1970’s he was frequently invited to lecture, and indeed had many American admirers.
So what happened to the English prophetic tradition? What has happened to England? I hate to say it – my impression of modern England – gleaned in part from the writings of Theodore Dalrymple himself, and those of his brave compatriot, John Copeland, whose "Diary of a Superannuated Soul" has formed a chronicle of England in decline for the past decade or so – is that England has become a sort of "Death Star." The voices of its visionary poets are heard no more, and even the rationalism of empirical reductivism has declined into something yet more awful – for which I cannot even find the name.
But whatever it is, it is embodied in Richard Dawkins, who struts on the world stage bellowing messages of futility and doom.  This music of nihilistic determinism is echoed by the boy ruler of Britain, Tony Blair, in his characterization of the economic forces of globalization—"These forces of change driving the future don’t stop at national boundaries. Don’t respect tradition. They wait for no one and no nation. They are universal."
In other words, all the glorious things that the English nation fought for over its entire history – the rule of law, the sense of limits, boundaries, the value of tradition, particularity, the distinctness of national and personal identity, respect for quality, – all of these things are now consigned to the relentless march of "the future" where they can be expected to count for nothing.
This determinism is the opposite of Christian freedom – and however much "Christian freedom" maybe be violated or betrayed in letter or spirit, it is nevertheless the growing point and abiding faith of Western history. From this freedom has come ‘rationality,’ – which seems now at the point of turning upon its host to destroy it. The contrast of history as the relentless march of the future and history as the Living Being could not be greater, but somehow the two items of significance here – religion and rationality – have both been obscured in Mr. Dal’s essay. Religion is too broad and rationality is too narrow. While he admits, somewhat offhandedly, that religion is "a truth that is supposed to set you free, not a convenient myth," he doesn’t really believe it. The problem is not that he would not like to believe it, it is just that he doesn't believe that believing it would make any difference.
Religion is not belief, but rather the intellect’s decision to ally itself with life – and with all the risks of vulnerability and openness that this entails. At this deep level of decision or reason there can be no conflict with religion, for it is a way of personal being and responsiveness that is open to life, supple yet rooted, principled yet open to new facts, perceptions, and understandings. Such a way is an act that involves the will, and that has to be chosen - it can never be acquired passively in the relentless march of the future.
By contrast, Mr. Dalrymple's view of 'Rationality' is striking in its passivity and narrowness. The message coming out of England these days - from Blair to Dawkins, from John Copeland and now even Theodore Dalrymple -- is one of blind determinism akin to an unappeasable 'force of nature.' It is a sadly telling sign of just how far England has fallen out of both Christianity and reason.
 A friend and reader of this site, Tom, went to hear Richard Dawkins when he spoke at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and found him " incredibly full of himself."
 Life at the Bottom and Our Culture- What's Left of It. Mr. Dalrymple is a sharp observer and his writing has been compared to that of George Orwell.
 John Lukacs, Historical Consciousness (1968).
 Oft-quoted statement fromDawkins' book, River Out of Eden: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."
Friday, December 01, 2006
The article went on to report that these projects far outstrip recent major developments in Philadelphia construction history, including the $543 million international airport terminal. Still another article reports that casino operations are pledged to support nonprofit institutions, making the following statement without any apparent irony: “At the same time, statistics and experience suggest that the new gaming halls will create new compulsive gamblers, some of whom will turn to nonprofits for help.”
Tax relief experts are not far behind in chiming the advantages to Philadelphia. Bernard Anderson, a professor at Penn, enthuses that "the arrival of casinos in Philadelphia is going to be the [city's] most important economic development venture in the last half century." Then he adds, as if the absurdity of it suddenly broke through his trance: "I really believe that."
Other articles intone that “slots save[d] racetracks from ruin” and that local law firms are lining up for a chunk of the goods through the granting of gaming licenses. Likewise, the workforce will benefit from the manna of gaming. “We are talking to all the local universities about not only training, but ongoing course work that will start to create a pipeline of qualified applicants as we become bigger in the future,” said Philadelphia Park CEO David Jonas.
Finally, to top the pie-in-the-sky, it was learned that Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell signed into law a provision that will allow casinos to serve free drinks to customers.
In another local development, the employees of the Philadelphia Inquirer are currently on strike because the new owners insist that 190 jobs must be cut because the paper has not been bringing in adequate advertising revenues. Owners blame the Internet for cutting into newspaper advertising sales, but apparently never mention the news side of the affair. I mean, do people read newspapers to get news? Brian Tierney, the new owner of the Inquirer, is partnered with an associate of the Toll Housing empire (all those huge plywood mansions in fake English styles sprouting up in formerly productive meadows and fields, and which people now are starting to evince a disinclination to buy) and came into great fanfare, when he bought the paper, as a “Local Owner” (as opposed to absentee ownership) even though many people criticized him because he is Catholic. (The preponderant Jewish ownership of the American media somehow escapes the radar screen.)
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I wish to complete this phase of my inquiry into the Islamic religion by mentioning Karen Armstrong's book, Islam, as a surprisingly fair-minded assessment. I say "surprisingly," because in the past I was not impressed by Karen Armstrong, this English ex-nun who wrote a very bad book about Genesis. Why is it that so many people in the West denigrate their own religious and cultural heritage and reduce it to trivial-mindedness? S uch people surprise us when they exemplify the best of the Western tradition in their explorations of other traditions.
I would not have expected from this author such a strong, concise, elegantly-written and informative history of Islam, but she has done it, and I am glad to say that my earlier negative view of Karen Armstrong was premature and unfair. The book has been included in the Modern Library series, which is some indication of its quality. Armstrong points out that, in the early days of the formation of Islam, this religion was actually a peaceful and unifying force among the warring Arabian tribes. She traces the ups and downs of this religious inspiration through many of the dynasties. No doubt the Mongol invasions (circa 1200's) had a bad effect, and caused a kind of retrenchment and narrowing of outlook. There is a militant stream in Islam, just as there is in Judaism and Christianity, yet in my cursory readings of the Koran this militancy did not strike me as more excessive or extreme than its counterparts in the other Abrahamic religions.
At the time of these revelations, as now, the Arabic and Hebraic peoples were much entertwined, and perhaps the Prophet's message to the "Children of Israel" is just as relevant today as it was then: "Children of Israel, remember the favor I have bestowed upon you, and that I exalted you above the nations. Guard yourselves against the day on which no soul shall stand for another: when no intercession shall be accepted for it, no ransom be taken from it, no help be given it."
I love this reminder of the presence of the intercessory spirit, and that in mutuality and co-inherence, all the Children of God stand together. These are the kinds of messages that must be heard today amidst the "warring tribes" of the present.
Finally, we can recall that Islam means "submission," a word which often grates on Western ears. But again, before we rush to judgment, let us recall Jane Austen's wonderful novel, Persuasion, in which the theme of "submission" or "persuadability" is taken up most wonderfully. People who have read it will recall that the hero, Captain Wentworth, went through a change of mind on this issue. His lady, Anne Elliott, had been persuaded not to marry him, and he was much embittered because of this, being led in future to seek only "strong-minded characters." Yet in a subsequent flirtation with a stubborn and self-willed young lady, he began to see that the ability to be open to persuasion was not necessarily a sign of weakness, but rather of integrity and quiet strength.
This novel has a timely message for American leadership today, for if we have had nothing else demonstrated, we can see how delusional it is to believe that recalcitrance to persuasion means strength. "Hardness of heart" and a narrow, self-willed stubbornness of mind has characterized our public persona and foreign policy for nigh to a decade, and it is the "elitist" camp followers of the neocons -- whether in First Things or the odious New English Review -- who have cheered and followed.
It is good to see that apparently, the American people think otherwise -- more along the lines of a reformed Captain Wentworth who had the sense to catch his lady on a second try. Thus the "submission" which is Islam is not too distant from this literary portrait of it, or from Catholic "obediential potency" or even the Quaker "tenderness." It seems the glory of the Kingdom teaches spiritual surrender. But even the kingdoms of this world need some of it if they are to endure, and a "surrender" to the claims of truthfulness and the common good are much needed today.
In this regard I would like also to mention Michael Kinsley's recent (Nov. 5) book review in the New York Times, where he says that the main problem in our society today is "intellectual dishonesty." I think this essay is a hopeful sign that perhaps a few in the pundit class are catching on. Deception and dishonesty are an inevitable part of human society, but to embrace them actively will destroy society. The maggots and worms need to be exposed if we are to have a future.
(Reposted; slightly edited)
Saturday, October 28, 2006
One can only mourn the passing of the love of the spirit of truth when reading material that now forms the tsunami of propagandistic hate directed at Muslims by neoconservatives and their allies. One of these, Rebecca Bynum, writes in the October issue of the New English Review:“Consider the phrase, ‘truth and falsehood cannot coexist.’ This is a central concept in Islamic thought – that everything ‘false’ must be destroyed. Therefore, all other cultures, when having come under Islamic domination are eventually annihilated by Islam, including their art, music, books, cultural artifacts of any kind, and of course, history, all have been obliterated because these things are un-Islamic and are thus deemed worthless.”
Unfortunately, Miss Bynum has yet to have her mind enlightened by a study of something as inconvenient as historical facts. Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in tolerable amity for nearly five hundred years on the Iberian peninsula, from about 900-1500 AD. I invite Miss Bynum to google the words “toleration and Ottoman Empire,” where she will be treated to many Google entries on the subject, the second one reading: “One of the most noteworthy attributes of Ottoman Turkish rule was the Ottoman toleration of different religious beliefs.” This 4-page article on “Turkish toleration” notes that “The Turks of the Ottoman Empire were Muslims, but they did not force their religions on others.” And it ends with this: “The success of Ottoman tolerance can most easily been seen in the fact that large Christian and Jewish communities existed in the Ottoman lands until the end of the Empire. Then it was European intervention and European-style nationalism, not internal failure of the system, that destroyed the centuries-long peace between religions that had characterized the Ottoman system.”
Miss Bynum ends her venomistic screed that extols the forked tongue with these words: “Those who think Islam provides some sort of comfort or consolation to its billion or so adherents should think again.” I dropped a message in Miss Bynum’s inbox to the effect that perhaps she should marry Ann Coulter. Those two feminist priestesses of war blood can then stimulate each other into an eternity of mutual Muslim-hatred. They should join the Israeli schoolgirls who scribbled messages on Israeli bombs intended for Lebanese children, who, I’m sure, they with dismembered legs and blown-off heads, would be only too glad to read them.
Enough of these neocon harpies. The issue I brought forward is Pope Benedict’s speech about reason. I believe I understand why the Pope issued his appeal to “Hellenic reason” in Germany. This is an important element in Christianity, in Catholicism especially, but I don’t think it will suffice to win the minds of European secularists. We forget how long and how painful is the story of reason. “Reason” is something engaged in among equals, or near-equals. Those who are powerful have no need for it, as Thucydides put it and as the modern West is demonstrating.
Western history is in many ways the story of various clashes of power, and reason as an ideal was to the mutual advantage of all. This ideal of reason also fitted in very well with the nature of Western society, in which people cohered less according to tribe and ethnicity than through the mutual forging of alliances, churches, intellectual allegiances, and the like.
Reason in this sense is the fruit of a process of de-tribalization – a thought powerfully reinforced by Christianity, in which the concept of ethnicity also is alien. The ideal of reason formed for many centuries a kind a tribal substitute for Western peoples. This process has now been carried to its ultimate, in the sense that even the fragile tribal coherence of the West is breaking down. The first breakdown of the West was the devaluation of the Christian religion, and the second is happening in our time, with the devaluation of reason. The point is, the West no longer possesses the cultural integrity that forms the basis for reason. Culture has been displaced by the economy, and in this new dispensation reason no longer provides a motivating aspiration for Western people. Western leadership reveals this fact. Western leaders no longer really represent their “people,” which has become a multicultural mob, atomized and harassed by a political correctness that continually undermines and degrades the heritage of Western people while preaching the advantages of uncontrolled immigration. This doctrine emanates from the Western elites, which have increasingly pulled away from identification with their nations and people, and which enjoys life in the stratospheric circles of international finance and business. Western leaders like Tony Blair and George Bush have become mouthpieces for these powerful economic interests.
Along with this, the Western mainstream media has abandoned investigative journalism, and especially in the United States, has virtually collapsed. A recent poll taken of the world press ranked the US as one of the least free and most conformist in the world. Thus the Pope’s appeal was understandable but, given the seriously unbalanced nature of Western life, it seems too little and too late. The West has degenerated past appeal to reason. Serious attention needs to be given to the matter of cultural (and personal) integrity, ecological sustainability of our economies, the need for the sense of limits, and respect for truth. Related issues concern the status of international law and sovereignty of nations – the U.S. and Israel (and perhaps China) being today the only de facto sovereign nations – as judged by their behavior and what they get away with.
Without these foundations, an appeal to reason is nothing but an endorsement of the status quo: neither new to those who know the philosophical history of Catholicism, and not convincing to those who give no priority to reason.
The problem of reason has long outgrown its medieval reason-faith synthesis. Today the problem is reason (intellect) in relation to life itself – or perhaps, more truly, the “Afterlife.” Men need a strong incentive to be reasonable, just as they need a strong motivation to act rightly and think justly, and if there is no judgment in this life or in the next, reason will degenerate into ideology and rule by the strong. The position of the Catholic Church, so admirable and firm when it comes to condemning the “Culture of Death” that results from a merely intellectualized and reductionist view of life, seems helpless to take the next step and take the bull by the horns, so to speak: grappling with the very intellect whose time, locus and symbol, Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, strikes at the very heart of its faith.
For Western man has abandoned or outgrown the old teachings of Heaven and Hell and the afterlife and judgment. But we have no new teaching – such as reincarnation – to take its place. It is for this reason that the life of reason in the West is in Limbo. It is perhaps timely or ironic that this Pope “declassified” Limbo from the realm of theological purgatory. That is because Limbo has incarnated. We are already in it. Limbo is our now.
(To be continued...)
Last Katechon - Part Two
...I don’t know much about Islam, but my natural inclination is to side with the underdog. “God is beautiful and loves beauty,” says one of the verses from the Prophet, and even a superficial acquaintance with Islamic art would suffice to convince one of the high level of esthetic attainment in Islamic cultures.
I think in its esthetic reach Catholicism (and Orthodox Christianity) are closer to Islam than either the Protestant or Judaic sensibility. Even Dostoevsky admitted that “beauty will save the world,” and he was no esthete, but a deeply ethical man, deeply anguished by the human cruelties in the world. It was characteristic of a Protestant culture that caused a division to arise between the ethical and the esthetic, so well delineated in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or.
The love of beauty assists the development of the higher mind and the practice of good. It is not a guarantee of it, but neither is virtue guaranteed when beauty is torn from religion. Sometimes, though, the radical simplifiers believe so, and there are radical simplifiers in Islam as in Christianity. Rules and austerity replace the “joyous simplicity,” and the somber-minded take over.
I think that Christianity stands in the intermediate or mediating position between Judaism and Islam, and that in order for it to remain balanced it needs both the gravitas of the Old Testament – the Judaic side – as well as the esthetic and transcendent “Islamic” side. The Fathers of the Church were very aware of the gravitational influence of the Old Testament, and they repelled the efforts of the gnostics in the early Christian centuries to drop the Old Testament from the canon. Islam, of course, was not yet then in existence. It is for our time that the recognition of Islam – many would say the reckoning with it – has come. I believe this is the historic task that confronts us today. There are a few other things to note in the triumvirate Judaism-Christianity-Islam:
- The Holy Day of Islam is Friday, the day of Venus (vendredi) – goddess of love, and the day on which the Son of God, the manifestation of God’s love for humanity, was crucified. Thus both Christians and Muslims honor Friday as a day of love.
- The Jewish Holy Day is Saturday, the day of Saturn, who is Chronos in the Greek tradition, and a fierce and limiting cosmic Being in all sacred tradition. Without Saturn we would, figuratively speaking, have no bones. We would be dissolved, merely fluid and spineless beings. It is thanks to the very rigidity of Saturn that we can walk upright. And thanks to “Saturn,” too, that we age. The Judaic tradition exemplifies this “saturnine” quality and possesses its tendency to intellectual rigidity or materialism in thinking.
I have written before of the intellectual materialism that was developing in Western culture from the end of the medieval period and beginnings of the Age of Science. Western man was already embarked on this path when he encountered, with the emancipation of the Jews in the 19th century, another great wave of cognitive materialism. The contribution of the Jews to the intellectual culture of the West is astounding and prolific, but at the same time it was a further development of what was already unfolding, not the initiation of a new direction.
It was not the Catholic, mystical, esoteric or poetic stream that was revivified from the encounter with the Jews, but (primarily) the anti-philosophical and unesthetic impulse of Protestantism, commerce, and scientific reductionism already in motion. Alas, the West today is so thoroughly imbued with this way of thinking that the Islamic tradition does indeed appear even more distant and alien than it was already, with the embroidered fancies of the Arabian nights and magic carpets thrown in for good measure. Oil, of course, has changed the equation, if “equation” is the right word, and it is one of the mysteries of Divine Providence that the Arabian and Muslim nations occupy the lands sitting guard upon these treasures.
This is not the place, nor do I have the learning, to embark on a discussion of Anglo-American policy with respect to Arabian oil. One would suppose that a purely self-interested regard for obtaining the black gold would lead Western policy makers to exercise a prudent diplomacy with respect to the Arab world. Perhaps, with many reservations, one may say this was the case up until 1950 or so. The emergence of Israel created an enormous counterweight to the practice of diplomatic prudence. “If Britain had limited herself, as she had promised, to ‘viewing with favour’ the Jewish home, instead of supporting it by force of arms, she might have retained that traditional friendship with the Arab and Muslim world which is so essential to her interests,” wrote Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb in his 1957 book, A Soldier with the Arabs. The key words here seem to me “as she had promised.”
It would be revealing for Westerners to review the history of Anglo-American Arab relations in the light of broken promises, perfidious betrayal, and duplicity, practices deeply antithetical to the true spiritual inheritance of the West as well as to traditional Arab notions about honor. The Israeli counterweight has arisen not only out of the character of the Israeli state but because of the character of Western societies, which have been deeply penetrated by Jewish intellect, finance, and publicity (i.e., overwhelming Jewish dominance in the media and entertainment industries). To be modern is in some sense to be Jewish – as Yuri Slezkine declared in his book, The Jewish Century. The reader is invited to pursue on his own the many works detailing Jewish influence, many of them written by Jews. A short list would include Douglas Reed, The Controversy of Zion; Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique; Norman Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History; Michael Neumann, The Case Against Israel; and the new book by James Petras, The Power of Israel in the United States.
This is but a small sample, and I have not read the last three mentioned. But I will have to say that it is not possible to be educated without a thorough grounding in Jewish history, and that it is highly imperative for Americans in particular to study this literature.
As for myself, my 2000 book, Consecrated Venom: The Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge, was an admiring look of the Creation story in the Old Testament, which I have always regarded as perhaps the most sublime document in the history of the world. Yet, as I have since learned, the relationship of these Old Testament patriarchs, the Israelites, to modern Jews, is very problematic. The Creation story teaches of the Fall of Man, yet the translation of this concept into the doctrine of original sin was effected by Christians, not by Jewish theologians. I am uncertain as to whether Jews believe that they are affected by original sin or the Fall. The teaching on this point, as far as I can gather, is hazy. As one writer put it, the idea of a “Chosen People” is one thing in a nomadic and pastoral world of several millennia ago. It is quite another in context of a modern State armed with 600 nuclear warheads.
Indeed, the persistence of Old Testament themes of chosen-ness, land ownership and conquest into the modern era is alarming, especially given the advocacy of Jewish lobbying groups against similar persistence of religious traditions in other peoples. Israel Shamir, the Russian Jewish convert to Christianity and author, believes that“ The ‘liberal democracy and human rights’ doctrine carried by US marines even across Tigris and Oxus is a crypto-religion, an extreme heretical form of Judaized Christianity… In my view, this new religion can be called Neo-Judaism: its adepts imitate classic Jewish attitudes; Jews often act as priests of the new faith and they are considered sacred by its adepts… Everybody can become one of the ‘Chosen’ of the new faith—the choice is yours: the Newest Covenant admits both Gentiles and Jews; worship Mammon, disregard Nature, Spirit, Beauty, Love; feel you’re belonging to a race apart, prove it by some this-worldly success – and you can enter it. On the other hand, every Jew can opt out of it; there is no biological guilt or virtue."
And again:“Neo-Judaism is the unofficial faith of the American Empire, and the war in the Middle East is indeed the Neo-Judaic Jihad. It is intuited by millions: Tom Friedman of the NY Times wrote that the Iraqis call the American invaders ‘Jews.’ Neo-Judaism is the cult of globalism, neo-liberalism, destruction of the family and nature, anti-spiritual and anti-Christian.”
Shamir believes that Islam is to be viewed as a branch of Christianity: “… the Orthodox stress Christ Resurrected, the Catholics concentrate on Christ Crucified, and the Muslims follow the Holy Spirit… In my view…’Christianity’ includes Islam and the great Apostolic Churches of East and West.”
Thus: “…. Islam is the last great reservoir of spirit, tradition and solidarity; and the Neo-Jews fight it with all the firepower at their disposal… [It] is the last katechon, in terms of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Thessalonians, the last defense of our sacral heritage…” [Italics mine]From his essay, “The Trefoil and the Cross,” on his website.
Finally, there is Mark Glenn, a conservative Catholic who authors the Crescent and Cross website, an attempt to resist the demonization of Islam. He writes in one of his essays that “…what exists in the Middle East, or in The Old World, as some would call it, is a culture that is still devoted to principles concerning basic moral values, values that have not yet surrendered to the corrupting influence of Western media or Western money. Within the last 50 years, every culture has fallen before this corrupting power that seeks to enslave all men in such a way that the individual is reduced to the value of what he produces and what he consumes, and in pursuit of that method, the individuals behind this program have quietly but decisively removed every obstacle in their way, be it religion, culture, morals, tradition, or world view, through the methods of media, academia, and finance; that is, except the culture encapsulated in the Arabic/Islamic World..."
And continuing: "... By the description “Arabic/Islamic,” it should not be understood as solely a “Muslim” thing. The culture existing in the Arab world is held by both Christian and Muslim alike. Indeed, there are millions of Christians in the Middle East, who have in essence the same culture with their Muslim counterparts in much the same way as most Americans, regardless of religion, have the same culture. It is those Christians and Muslims alike who reject these “modern” notions such as abortion, birth control, sodomy, pornography, usury banking, and “market value” of services and resources. They still view the family, the traditional family, with all its traditional roles, as the most important building block of their society, and they take very seriously anything that threatens it. They recognize the value of their children, as well as how dangerous the moral relativism of the West has become, and whose ideology threatens the stability of society directly. They recognize that if their children and society as a whole are subjected to ideas that promote moral decay for an extended period of time, what will eventually and unavoidably be produced is national decay.”
From: See Crescent and Cross site for essays by Mark and several other writers alarmed by the neoconservative campaign against Islam. This is not a joke. Recently, on the Berkeley college campus, one Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Foundation, called for the "elimination" of "several hundred thousand Muslims." Islam is violent? One is not likely to encounter a defense of Islam in the Western press, which is more and more bent toward the promulgation of “Neo-Judaism,” as Shamir puts it. But we desperately need to balance our views of Islam and its societies before embarking upon any discussion about the nature of Islamic religion. The West used to be known for having esteem for impartiality and justice, and this esteem was the best fruit of its Christian (and classical) traditions. But the modern West appears to be jettisoning both of these traditions, and its new game of deadly self-righteousness is anything but appealing.
(Two essays reposted as one; slightly edited)
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
I have a high appreciation for Pope Benedict XVI, and his accession to the Papacy was a confirming sign that my decision to enter the Catholic Church was the right one. Nevertheless, I was disappointed in the Pope's speech at Regensburg. His reference to an obscure Byzantine Emperor's disparaging comments about Islam showed poor judgment, and unfortunately this comment overshadowed the good things that the Pope had to say in that speech. In my view, anything that directly or indirectly supports the neoconservative jihad against the Muslim world is to be deplored.The Chiesa website has undertaken to publish "Two Muslim Scholars Comment on the Papal Lecture" - which shows an admirable willingness to hear the other side. Aref Ali Nayed, the manager of a technology company and devout Sunni Muslim, made a number of cogent points:
"It is strange that Benedict XVI selected an admittedly 'marginal' point from an obscure medieval dialogue, written at a particularly abnormal and tense moment in history, to find a 'starting-point' for his reflections on 'faith and reason.' One could imagine an infinitely large number of possible, more direct and sensible, starting points..."When someone gratuitously invokes a very obscure text that expresses hateful things one has a moral obligation to explain why he goes out of his way to [invoke] it, and a further obligation to respond to it, and to dismiss the hate expressed in it. Otherwise, it is very reasonable to assume that the person invoking the hurtful text does mean it, and does share the views expressed in it... To claim that no hurtful intent was present, and that Muslims simply did not understand the text, agonizingly adds insult to injury..."The image of a non-violent hellenistically 'reasonable' Christianity contrasted to a violent unreasonable Islam is foundational for the lecture of Benedict XVI. This self-image is amazingly self-righteous and is oblivious to many painful historical facts. It is very important for our world that we all begin to see the poles that are in our own eyes, rather than focus on the specks in the eyes of our brethren..."
Nayed's essay was a long one, focusing on the Pope's concept of reason and bringing up many theological and historical objections. There was also a link, at the end of the article, to a Question-and-Answer session with "a Vatican official," Father Thomas Michel. In responding to a student, Aysha, who asked why, if the Pope didn't believe in the statement he quoted, why did he use it in his speech? Fr. Michel replied, "My own view is that whenever we use a negative example, we should take it from our own history rather than from someone else's. The Pope could have used the Crusades, for example, if he wanted to criticize religiously-inspired violence and it would not have given offence to others."
Father Michel seconded my notion that the Pope's remarks "were not wise" and should have been vetted by someone in authority in the Vatican. Speaking of the Crusades, we ought to remember the Fourth Crusade and the final capture of Constantinople, when "... the crusaders inflicted a horrible and savage sacking on Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works were stolen or destroyed. Despite their oaths and the threat of excommunication, the Crusaders ruthlessly and systematically violated the city's holy sanctuaries, destroying, defiling, or stealing all they could lay hands on; according to Choniates a prostitute was even set up on the Patriarchal throne. When Innocent III heard of the conduct of his pilgrims, he was filled with shame and strongly rebuked them." (This is from Wikipedia)Herbert J. Muller describes the closing years of Christian Byzantine history in his book, The Uses of the Past:
“On the night before the final Turkish onslaught on Constantinople, in 1453, the Emperor Constantine Paleologus, the last of the Constantines, received communion in St. Sophia. Then, accompanied by the Patriarch and a large crowd, he proceeded to the church of St. Theodosia, to pray to this martyr…whose relics were famous for exceptionally miraculous powers. At dawn the next day, which was St. Theodosia’s day, he returned with a small band to the city walls, to fight and die gallantly. Most of his subjects spent the day in the churches…instead of aiding their emperor.When the Turks fought their way into Constantinople, they found ten thousand persons in St. Sophia, still praying….The fall of ‘New Rome’ made a terrible impression on Western Christendom, which had failed to come to the aid of its Eastern brethren…. Horror was intensified by fear of the advancing Turkish power, and by dismay at the loss of commercial privileges that Italians had enjoyed in Constantinople. For some ten years after the disaster prelates kept calling for another Crusade, to preserve Europe from the Turks...The excitement soon subsided however. Western Christendom was too absorbed in its own wars and commercial rivalries to keep worrying about the Turks, especially when the infidels permitted European merchants to trade in Constantinople again…Although the last Byzantine emperors, in their desperation, made sweeping concessions to the Papacy in hope of aid, the Orthodox masses stubbornly resisted the Roman heresy….[Although the Turks plastered over the mosaics in St. Sophia] more importantly, they preserved it for posterity by a thorough, skillful job of repair. For they respected the splendid capital of Eastern Christendom. They respected even the patriarchate, granting it religious freedom... Exemption from taxes, and civil authority over Orthodox Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire; by their conquests they gave it a wider jurisdiction than it had had in its heydey. The unwholesome moral is that in spite of their initial cruelties the terrible Turks were more civilized and humane than the Christians of the Fourth Crusade, who had captured Constantinople before them."
I think it is interesting that "the Orthodox masses stubbornly resisted the Roman heresy…." One of the great inheritances of Christianity is the mystical stream -- the Christianity of the Desert Fathers. This arose in the Eastern part of Christendom, and may perhaps represent the most advanced and deepest understanding of thinking that has ever been enunciated. It is the understanding of thinking as esoteric energy - human reason being the lowest level of contact with the Holy Trinity.The West, having lost this mystical inheritance, is now in the process of abandoning reason itself. There are many examples of this that the Pope could have used - and in fact, has used in previous lectures and writings. But it is above all that Western reason he come unmoored from its mystical and esoteric roots. This is the point that the Pope needed to address, and this is why his speech at Regensburg sounded so hollow.I believe and hope that this Pope can do better. Along these lines, Aref Nayed in his rebuttal of the Pope pointed out that "In Islam, just as in Christianity, it is not human calculative reason that is salvific, but rather the free undeserved grace of God. One of the many graces that God gives to human beings is the gift of reason... Reason as a gift from God can never be above God."
Deciding the future of reason may be the historic task of the religions of Abraham. This future concerns us all. I hope this Pope's first misstep will not prove to be prophetic.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I was born on this day 59 years ago. In 1947 America was a different country. Back then my parents and two older brothers were living in a kind of cabin-hunting lodge on my grandparents property outside of Birmingham. I am told that the house had such poor insulation, the joints between the logs plastered with mud, that it was freezing in winter. I don't remember that, but I do remember the odd pie-shaped rooms and the expanse of tangled lawn and woodlands outside.
My father served as a lawyer in the U.S. Navy, and after the War, he went to Germany as a part of Justice Jackson's staff at the Nuremberg Trials. That would have been 1946 - the year before I was born. When he returned to the U.S. it appeared that he had contracted tuberculosis, perhaps in Germany, and during my early years he was in and out of sanatoriums. That was before the age of penicillin, and the cures in those days meant sleeping on freezing porches in places like Saranac Lake, New York. He always claimed that what cured him was the psychoanalysis that he received at the Saranac Lake Sanatorium. In any case, the experience was right out of Thomas Mann's book, The Magic Mountain - a book I read many years later.
I try to project my mind back to those days after the Second World War, when America had the whole world and future before it. We did some terrible things in that war - like bomb Dresden and drop the atomic bomb on the Japanese. But still, back then, we were the good guys, or we considered ourselves good. We fought the Nazis and stood up for principles of international law, and we said it was wrong to invade countries without cause. For years I would look on my father's bookshelves and see the multi-volume set, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, -- the transcripts of the Trials - sitting on the shelves.
Those days. My father, when he was cured of tuberculosis, returned to Birmingham and increasingly took a vocal role in the budding civil rights movement. So I was raised with one foot in the "old Birmingham Establishment" (not very old, because Birmingham was a new city, having only been founded in the 1870's) and the other foot in the liberal camp, comprised of all the foreigners and Yankees who came through the town to observe the benighted South in action and set it straight.
Well, Birmingham got pacified all right, and for years the image of Birmingham's police dogs would be flashed on TV screens around the world. So I guess I learned some "historical consciousness" right in my own home and backyard - not only because the things that were happening were happening right there, but also in the power of the media to project automatic reactions and stifle thinking. Maybe it made me aware, as my father wrote some years later, that "You can't live alone in these times."
But those who are actually getting the lesson are a different bunch of folks from those who exploit the message for their own purposes and make a profit or an ideology from it. The civil rights movement was real, but it was followed by the age of profiteers and ideologues. And the country they have made I do not recognize.
Friday, September 15, 2006
First Annual Scarpa Conference
“From John Paul II to Benedict XVI: Continuing the re-evangelization of law, politics, and culture.” Villanova Law School, Villanova, PA
Five out of the nine Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are Catholic. Perhaps this fact alone is sufficient to spark interest in the Catholic Legal Studies movement, which has a strong presence in a few Catholic universities, notably Villanova and Notre Dame Law Schools. Robert Cochran, in “The Catholic Court Appeal,” (Touchstone, July/August 2006) notes that three Catholic doctrines in particular – natural law, subsidiarity, and religious freedom – “yield habits of thinking that make Catholics attractive candidates to the broad range of the American people.”
This may be true, although I think that a simpler explanation may consist in the fact that, in Catholic tradition, the “habits of thinking” have never been wholly alienated from religious faith.Indeed, thinking about law, the state, individual freedom and authority has characterized the Catholic tradition almost from its beginning. There were long debates in past ages about the respective roles of reason and faith. Today, amidst the civilizational entropy that discourages such philosophical excursions, we moderns are becoming aware that reason itself is a faith – that reason itself is an exercise in “good faith.” And for this type of reason – which I would distinguish from reductionist or purely instrumental uses of the intellect, which comprises much of modern science and its imitators in the “humanities” – there is also great support in the Catholic tradition.
In the reductionist view of reason that we have inherited from Descartes, the dynamics of reason split off from the act of thinking. The world, in a sense, was to be a copy of my idea, though what was to assure the correct correspondence between idea and world was left uncertain. Perhaps because of this danger of subjectivism, scientific reason developed a single-minded focus on empiricism. It abandoned philosophy as the realm of uncertainty, and concentrated solely on “getting things done.” Dynamics became a physical and material subject, with great results in machinery and technology, as we know. But is there a “dynamics of reason”? The notion is implicit in Catholic theology, which admits in human nature “a capacity or a suitability (obediential potency) to receive the supernatural.”
Modernity, in rejecting the obedience, also rejected the potency, and it must be a historic irony that the United States finds itself with five Catholic justices in an era in which the abortion right is so fanatically held. For abortion, more than any other social fact, shows the tragic inability of reason to imagine all the stages from potency to act. Reason, reduced to a “choice,” creates only a culture of death.
But perhaps people really do not have a “choice” in the matter of whether to reason or not to reason. It is the dim outlines of a deeper necessity that are beginning to show through the facile assumptions of our age. The necessity for reason is a concept very close to law, for though reason is necessary, grace is not subject to necessity. But the potential for grace “dynamizes” reason and makes it something much closer to a sort of movement of the soul, than solely the exercise of copying or extrapolating performed by the intellect. It is actually this movement of the soul that makes possible a real life of the mind and a circulation and airing of ideas. The development of freedom depends on this, but one that is “real,” grounded in necessity, and more than mere “choice.”
I hope that the strong Catholic presence on the Court is a sign that Americans are turning toward a real concept of freedom instead of the empty concept of “choice” that has so paralyzed our nation with the spectacle of bread and circuses. For real freedom is the capacity to perform a deed or work and bring it through to completion and fruition. Real freedom thus embodies the dynamics of thinking – all the way from potency to act.
The speakers at the Scarpa Conference were not exactly on this wavelength, yet it was interesting to note intimations and analogies.
Rick Garnett from Notre Dame, for example, noted that the First Amendment of freedom of speech implies advocacy, persuasion, conversion – changing minds. The prototype for this type of activity is evangelization, yet even its secular form persuasion grants that minds can be changed – that there is a potential for movement in the mind.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, the keynote speaker, reviewed the ideas of Joseph Ratzinger, especially the public dimensions of the act of faith, and how the Church must “speak from the interior of liberty” for all.
The most interesting talk for me was that of Professor Patrick Brennan, “The Decreasing Ontological Density of the State in Catholic Social Doctrine.” He emphasized the differences in the concept of natural law held by the current Pope and his predecessor, from all previous Popes in the 20th century. The classical theory of natural law endorsed by Aquinas and his commentators up to Maritain, emphasized the participation of civic law in the divine law. Man is able to fashion law because he has first received it, and part of the eternal law is “written into the heart” of the rational creature. Thus the civic realm is “ontologically grounded” in the divine order.
Dr. Brennan placed great emphasis on the concept of participation, which is a key concept to the idea of the “dynamics of thinking” that I have been unfolding. For obviously, there is a great difference between participant thinking and the more passive kind which views the world as a machinery of matter which, it is granted, it has proven very adept at manipulating. Brennan remarked also that the theory of evolution put an end to the older theory of natural law, which presupposed an interconnection between reason and nature.The latter 20th century was another blow to natural law theory. Totalitarian social arrangements – so beholden already to notions about the “machinery of matter” it supposed Nature to be - also hearkened back to Thomas Hobbes’ “Absolute State” – a state not bound by natural law. In the thought of John Paul II, the State was an “unworthy agent” – it no longer possessed a theological mandate and had no image of divine government. Joseph Ratzinger has also emphasized this “Augustinian” view of the State – the absolute divergence of the City of Man from the City of God.
Brennan’s commentator, Mark A. Sargent, Dean of Villanova Law School, asked the pointed question: what is the source of authority of the state if it is viewed in these terms? If the state is nothing more than a depraved band of thieves, there is not much wiggle room for Catholic social teaching.He is right if the theory of natural law remains defined by its historic boundaries. We await the full modern elucidation of natural law, which I believe must unfold in the context of the ideas of participation and dynamics. For it essential to recapture a concept of the active mind, participating with a full range of human attributes – emotions, esthetics, worship, devotion, imagination. It is intellect itself which needs to acquire obediential potency – for if we do not do this, nothing else we do will matter at all.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The journal First Things, the premier religious journal in the
I wish to comment on Wilfred McClay’s recently posted piece (Aug.23) in which he derides David Ray Griffin’s new book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, the Westminster Presbyterian Press for publishing it, the Catholic critiques of the Iraq war and American foreign policy, and everybody else who disagrees with the Bush Administration’s handling of world affairs. The enemies list is growing very long indeed, but the rhetorical skills of the neoconservative apologist seem to be growing rather dim.
Indeed I was sorry to read this disparaging and in many ways incoherent piece by Wilfred McClay. He wrote an excellent essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson some years ago which showed great acumen, and I have always considered him a thoughtful writer.
He begins by acknowledging his association with the Ethics and Public Policy Center of Washington, D.C., which was founded “to combat the perception that an intellectually and morally impoverished understanding of the dominant American religious traditions had rendered those traditions useless, or (as in the lamentable presidency of Jimmy Carter) worse than useless in guiding Americans’ thinking about a sensible and responsible foreign policy.”
Whew. This is quite a mouthful. But what he seems to be saying is that dominant American Christianity was not quite committed to the project of Empire, and that the people at the Ethics and
No doubt there were lamentable things that happened in Mr. Carter’s tenure, just as there have also been lamentable events in the presidencies before and after Mr. Carter -- but this snide disparagement of a good and decent man is wholly unwarranted.
Mr. McClay then goes on to praise Mr. George Weigel “in stimulating valuable thinking about the nation-state, war, and peace that is both strategically sound and theologically informed.” Concerning this last point I must demur. Mr. Weigel claims to be a Catholic, but he evidently holds no respect for Catholic Just War teaching. Both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have condemned the
It gets worse. Mr. McClay describes the news that Westminster Presbyterian Press is publishing David Ray Griffin’s book as “jaw-dropping.” The book itself he refers to as “a crackpot September 11 conspiracy book.”
Now it is one thing to describe Mr. Griffin’s thesis in that book as shocking – which it is. But it is quite another to dismiss it in the cavalier way that Mr. McClay does. I would just like to ask Mr. McClay if he has given any thought to how Building 7 came down? It was not hit, and collapsed in a matter of seconds. Such facts – and there are many – point to a raft of troubling issues not dealt with in the “secular press” or by the government’s report. But then Mr. McClay adds insult to injury when he says that the appearance of this book “underlines the more general point that the most important intellectual and institutional expressions of the Christian faith, including Rome and Canterbury, have found almost nothing of value to say about the current Middle East crisis..."”etc. The phrase "including
Imagine that – taking the Arab side! What an affront, even to acknowledge that there might be two sides to the conflict. Aside from the intellectual dishonesty of the Bottum piece, and its transparently Zionist bias, I find it amazing that McClay had the temerity to link to an article in the Weekly Standard as an index to Catholic thought. If this was not sufficient, however, McClay urges us to read the right sort of people – his people – Norman Podhoritz, Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Steyn, Christopher Hitchens – all of whom are neoconservative courtiers and who are foaming at the mouth against Islam. Finally, Mr. McClay concludes his little diatribe by taking shots at those who criticize the “Christian pretensions” of George Bush et al. Now some of these critics who worry about “theocracy” and the like are, I agree, a little over the top. But notice how McClay refuses to engage their arguments, saying that, because they disagree with the neoconservative dogma, they can be “safely ignored and dispensed with.”
First Things had a great moment about a decade ago. It published a brave issue about “The End of Democracy?” which ruffled a lot of feathers in the Zionist sector which supports the magazine. Mrs. Gertrude Himmelfarb, for one, resigned her membership on the Board.
Since that time First Things has settled down to be a reliable echo chamber for the doctrine that Might Makes Right and There Is to be No Discussion. And since that time its editor, Father R.J. Neuhaus, has converted to Catholicism. Despite this, I find it alarming that First Things has become the premier intellectual-Christian apologist for neoconservatism. I fear that Father Neuhaus has been swept up, not into Catholicism, but into the Zionist delusion, and that he is not aware that the Zionists now have set their sights on the Catholic Church. For the true teachings of the Catholic faith – and some renegade Presbyterians – are all that is left of Christianity’s retaining wall against the Zionist annihilation of American politics.
Mr. McClay will be cheering it on, but for Father Neuhaus, a good and decent man, I tremble. It would have been better if he had remained a Lutheran, than to let these wolves into the fold!