Thursday, December 10, 2009

2012 and the Invention of time (Part 2)

Illustration:
Courtesy web site "Mayan symbols"







Kevin Dann and Robert Powell, Christ and the Maya Calendar: 2012 and the Coming of the Antichrist. Lindisfarne books, 2009. $25.00
An Imprint of SteinerBooks/Anthroposophic Press, Great Barrington, MA 012


The end date of the Mayan calendar, December 21, 2012, exerts an apocalyptic fascination in our world today. The Mayans, who flourished in Central America for about six hundred years (circa 200-830 AD) belonged to a unique “chronovisual” civilization. According to Daniel Pinchbeck, they developed three different calendrical systems to record “...a vision of vast cycles of cosmic spirals of time, embodied and expressed by a seething pantheon of extravagant deities, hero-twins and cosmic monsters.” Pinchbeck quotes another Mayan scholar, C.J. Calleman, who believed that “understanding the spiral dynamics of evolution expressed through the Mayan calendar is in itself an aspect of the Divine Plan.”

José Argüelles, another Mayan researcher made famous by the 1987 “Harmonic Convergence” which he orchestrated, holds that the Mayans were- in some sense, not necessarily literal – visitors from another galactic location who came to earth to prepare a field of higher mind that would enable earthlings to enter the community of galactic intelligence. The Mayans established and codified their knowledge system through teaching the qualities of numbers and the cycles of time, developing the theory of resonance (tones and vibrational frequencies, etc.) and imprinting in earth's aura of the galactic “honor code.” This galactic honor code has to do with respect for individual integrity, in the sense that intelligent harmonization cannot come about through force and coercion, but has to be individually and socially acquired through learning and demonstration. Once the Mayans accomplished their mission, according to Argüelles, their civilization virtually disappeared - which remains a mystery to this day.

The “Mayan mystery” has given much for scholars, archeaologists and students of historical ethnology to ponder. Now Robert Powell and Kevin Dann have contributed their anthroposophical-Christian interpretation, the purpose of which is to bring Christian prophecy (specifically, from the Apocalypse of St. John, the last book of the Bible) to the Mayan calendar in order to solve the riddle of 2012. It's an unusual perspective, although José Argüelles – who certainly cannot be suspected of Christian bias – remarked in his book The Mayan Factor that “the number symbolism of the Book of Revelation possesses a profoundly Mayan overtone.”

Kevin Dann is a history teacher and Robert Powell is a well-known anthroposophical researcher in the field of Christian hermetic astrology, Sophiology, and movement therapy. While some New Age researchers have gone overboard in utopian imaginings about 2012 – that it will usher in an "Age of Light"-- Powell and Dann go to the opposite extreme. They argue that the “2012 Window” (the period 1980-2016) corresponds to the Temptation, when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. This is compelling, given the many apocalyptic developments in our time. But it becomes an increasingly dark vision, accentuated by the authors' speculations concerning the incarnation of Antichrist – or is it Ahriman?-- and their discussion of other demonic beings, things, and events-- Asuras, Sorath, Lucifer, the 666 factor, not to mention news flashes from the real world of today concerning Empire wars, torture, and the financial crisis. The end result is a promiscuous mix that says little about the civilization of the Mayans or their remarkable calendar.

The Spanish Conquest of Mesoamerica of 1519 was one of the most stunning and amazing events in world history. In its sheer unexpectedness it can be compared with the collapse of the Soviet Union in our own day. Here is what Kevin Dann says about it: "In 1519, Montezuma... made a fatal mistake of recognition when Hernan Cortes appeared... From our perspective, we could say that Montezuma (and his subjects, up until the moment that they finally shook themselves loose from their collective illusion, and attacked the Spanish) mistook as good that which was evil. Mistaken as Quetzalcoatl, the god whom Aztec myth identified as a culture-inspirer, Cortes turned out to be a culture-destroyer." If I can attempt to disentangle the pretzel logic of this statement-- "collective illusion" is hardly an adequate description of what the Aztecs saw in the conquistadores, and secondly "mistaking for good that which is evil" is something all of us do, all the time. Of course the Aztecs saw the conquistadores as "good." Of course abortion is considered "good," and wars of extermination carried out against the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Iran, etc., are considered "good." Rationalizing evil as good is too widespread a human failing to explain any unique historical circumstance.

Although the authors spend some time describing the black magical and ritual murder practices of the Aztecs (practices made vividly real in Mel Gibson's movie, "Apocalypto") an underlying dilemma that appears from time to time in the book is what to do about the Spanish conquerers. According to the notions of political correctness, the Spaniards were horrible exploiters and colonialists. On the other hand, the Aztecs were tearing the hearts out of tens of thousands of victims. Here is Kevin Dann damning by faint praise: "... the conquistadores... all saw the religious practices of the Aztecs as demonic, but our rightful indignation as the harsh measures of the Spanish has largely blinded us to the accuracy of this view." The Bringers of the Cross to Mexico come off as little better than the culture they were imposing themselves upon ("... the Spanish appear as superstitious as the Mexica..." p. 47). Such a lack of cultural conviction and of Christian loyalty is surprising in a book supposedly devoted to the temporal reverberations of the life of Christ in history.

The book is further marred by long quotations from Rudolf Steiner's lectures on the Mexican Mysteries about events in Mesoamerica 1,500 years before the Conquest and about the gods and deities of Mayans and Aztecs. Steiner in effect reverses the names of Mayan and Aztec deities, making the "good" Quetzalcoatl into an evil bloodthirsty demon. He says the purpose of the heart sacrifice was to create a civilization in which people would want to "flee the earth" - an explanation which apparently the authors accept without question. But why, if your heart is torn out, would you necessarily want to "flee the earth"? Might you not with equal probability want to return to earth for another incarnation and better chance at life? Neither Dann nor Powell makes much attempt to corroborate Steiner's statements - although Dann at least admits that Steiner's statements concerning the spiritual practices of Mesoamerica have no support in scholarship, that his lectures on the subject were "elliptical," and that in fact they left his audience so confused that he had to repeat them. The result of all this confusion piled upon an already complicated subject is to leave the reader completely in the dark as to the considerable differences between the Mayans and the Aztecs. [1]

The argument that "we are in the time of Antichrist" can hardly be disputed by any sensitive person today. Les Visible, who blogs under the name Visible Origami, writes in his posting today that "...most of us don't trust life and don't possess unshakeable faith in the cosmic will to good... This is the ground zero consideration, either the divine being is real or it is not." [2] This view is not so much that "God will save us" as it is in the saving power of faith itself - an idea which may be actually in alignment with genuine and uncorrupted religion, something along the lines of a Blakean Holy Imagination. Although Dann and Powell argue for the coming of Antichrist (or incarnation of Ahriman), there is some confusion when Powell remarks that "... the primary event of our time is not the coming of Antichrist" but the reappearance of Christ in the etheric realm. He says: "The coming of the Antichrist simply represents the shadow side of Christ's coming..." (The use of the word 'simply' in that passage is, in my opinion, unforgivable.) The deep confusions of this book are not bridged by vague nostrums about "turning evil into good" or woolly-minded generalities. [3] Powell at times seems obsessed by evil beings, to the point of Calvinism or predestinationism:
  • "...it is evident that the emergence of the two human beings who are the bearers of the suprasensory entities known as Sorath and Ahriman (Satan) is preordained in the divine plan," (p. 109);
  • "...just as the Mystery of Golgotha was preordained..."
  • "so the current enactment on the world stage of Rev. 13 is preordained"

and finally, perhaps most outrageous of all--

  • "In order for the Mystery of Golgotha to be accomplished, there had to be a highly evolved human being, Judas Iscariot, to betray Christ in order for the Crucifixion to happen."

These passages indicate not only a deficient education in moral theology, but also a trivialization of morality – as if people are justified in committing an evil deed for the sake of the good that can result from it. It is confusion at a juvenile level – highly embarrassing in one who claims to be doing spiritual research.


I know of the high quality of Robert Powell's and Kevin Dann's intentions, research and efforts. But this book is a disappointment. I don't think that Powell and Dann did justice to the Mayans – or to themselves.I believe that what motivated them was the growing disquiet with the condition of the United States and the desire to break the spell of illusion regarding our nation. I understand this motivation and am sympathetic with it. Our just and hopeful history has been taken from us. In the past few years we Americans have been given a dish of "serpents" to swallow – an odious and ugly history. We have become an empire, and in some ways we resemble the Aztecs – if abortion and empire wars can be likened to human sacrifice. I think they do. [4] Our shadow is very deep these days.

It is urgent that we develop the spiritualized intellect in order to reclaim the just and the true parts of our history and renew our culture. As Powell and Dann say – and this is the best thing they say in this entire book: "The evil coming from Ahriman needs to be bound so as to be overcome." There isn't much evidence of putting Ahriman in bounds in this book. A much more careful editing was needed. Nevertheless, I'd like to see them pursue their lines of thought in history and spirituality to a new level and really try to grapple with the crossroads of destiny that lie ahead for us all.

[1] Octavio Paz on the Aztecs: "[they] confiscated a singularly profound and complex vision of the universe to convert it into an instrument of domination." From The Labyrinth of Solitude; I am unable to find exact page of the quote on my copy. Quoted by Daniel Pinchbeck in his book, 2012 The Return of Quetzalcoatl.

[2] Visible Origami, "Dumber than dirt in a world of hurt," Wednesday, December 9, 2009.

[3] Powell on "turning evil into good": "The point is that Ahriman's influence usually extends into our thinking in such a way as to encourage thinking in a materialistic direction or in an egotistical way. The forces underlying this can be wrested from Ahriman if we consciously direct our thinking in a spiritual direction and in a non-egotistical way." (p.190) Well, duh, something like this has been the teaching of the Christian church for 2,000 years. How can Powell manage to write such drivel?

[4] E. Michael Jones reviewing Mel Gibon's movie, "Apocalypto" --http://www.culturewars.com/2007/Apocalypto.htm

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

2012 and the Invention of Time (Part 1)




Mayan solar symbol, courtesy: whats-your-sign.com




Lately I have been reading and reviewing certain books relating to the Mayan calendar and its famous ending date, December 21, 2012. Here's a list of the books I've been reading:


  • Daniel Pinchbeck, 2012:The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin; 2006)

  • Jose Arguelles, The Mayan Factor: The Path Beyond Technology (Bear & Co., Rochester, VT; 1987 with 1996 addendum)

  • Barbara Hand Clow, The Mayan Code: Time Acceleration and Awakening the World Mind (Bear & Co., 2007)

  • Carl Johan Calleman, Ph.D.The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness. (Bear & Co., 2004)

  • Robert Powell and Kevin Dann, Christ & the Maya Calendar: 2012 & The Coming of the Antichrist. (Lindisfarne Books, an imprint of SteinerBooks/Anthroposophic Press; Hudson, NY, 2009)

Finally the old standard classic, Lewis Spence Atlantis Discovered, first published in 1924, has quite a lot of material devoted to arguing for the Atlantean origins of the Mayans. He believes that the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl " can be equated with Atlas - a world-upholder. He is also "...the civilizer, the architect, the craftsman in jewellry and dyestuffs, the agriculturalist...A long line of priest-kings...were called by his name. He introduced a religion totally at variance with the sanguinary faith of Mexico..."


I mention this now because I will have quite a lot to say later about the Powell-Dann book, which subjects the identity of Quetzalcoatl to what could be called an anthroposophical spin-cycle, leaving the original in tatters. Is Quetzalcoatl the same being as the bloodthirsty Aztec god Huitzilopochtli? they wonder. "Would it not be helpful to know the true identity of that being the 15th and 16th century Mexica and their subject peoples called 'Huitzilopochtli?'" Here is how they answer this question: "The main reason that we cannot turn for the answer to the Mexica themselves is that, no matter how much they were still in a condition of consciousness that largely precluded rational, perspectival thought, they were no longer clairvoyantly beholding the spiritual world. . . by 1428...the only individuals capable of clairvoyant communication with the spiritual world were the tonalpuhque, the priests... the 'third eye' was closed for the Mexica people, just as it was for the Europeans." (pps. 47-8)


This rather begs the question, it seems to me, because all priestcraft is predicated upon the loss of clairvoyant communion with the spiritual world. It is still necessary to ask who is the identity of the being being worshipped through the veils of religion. For there are always the "veils." That is the condition of spiritual perception in historical times - or more precisely, the condition of historical reality.

First, a few general remarks. I would not have been open to learning about the Mayan calendar, or reading so many "New Age" books about it, if it had not been for Dann and Powell's book. I had agreed to review it for Lilipoh Magazine, a local magazine produced in Phoenixville, PA., mainly devoted to Waldorf education. I have known of Robert Powell for some time. He is a Catholic anthroposophist - like myself, possibly a convert -- and has been doing very interesting work in "hermetic astrology." He has been mapping the life-stages in the life of Jesus to succeeding phases in Western history. It's a unique and indeed very interesting approach which incorporates Rudolf Steiner's deeply Christ-centered teachings to a new recognition of the significance of historical time.


There's a strong line of division within the Anthroposophical Society between the Catholics and the anti-Catholics. Powell, and more recently Christopher Bamford, head of the Anthroposophic Press, have followed the example of the late Valentine Tomberg in creating an astonishingly deep "catholized anthroposophy" which somehow reconciles history and the institution of the church with Rudolf Steiner's spiritual teachings - which are sometimes unhistorical and anti-institutional. There has grown up within the anthroposophical movement a contingent of practicing Catholics - a development viewed with alarm and horror by the anti-Catholic wing of the Society. The leadership of the Anthroposophical Society currently reposes with Sergei Prokofieff, a nephew of the famous Russian composer. Prokofieff is violently anti-Catholic and has nothing good to say about the Church. [1] Prokofieff has written a number of books, another one of which (not on the subject of Catholicism) a dear friend of mine found so embarassing that she burned it in the fireplace. "I didn't want anybody becoming introduced to anthroposophy through this book," she explained to me.


Well - to continue. I have known about Robert Powell for some time, but this was the first book of his that I had ever actually read. I found it so awful - dear Reader, such a bad book! - that the "New Age" books I read -- silly as they were at times -- seemed inoffensive by contrast. I felt that Robert Powell was not really interested in learning anything from the Mayans (this was also true of his co-author, Kevin Dann, but to a much lesser extent) and that he was involved in his own "trip" -- a relentless hammering of anthroposophical demonology, with an occasional side "breather" into his pet projects of Sophiology (studies of the Divine Sophia), Jeane Dixon's prophecies, the Russian mystical author of the "Rose of the World," etc. His writing lacked, shall we say, "reader rapport." After a while I got giddy with the promiscuous mingling of Ahriman, Antichrist, Lucifer, the 666 being, Sorath, the Asuras. Powell seemed at times almost "enraptured" by evil beings, events, and things, and I began to resent what seemed to me to be both an obsession with evil as well as a trivialization of it.


I will have more to say about the Dann-Powell book in a continuation of this post. For now, just to make a few remarks about the New Age books, which I will not review in detail. The New Agers can get carried away by the idea that the planetary alignment with the galaxy in 2012 will usher in a spiritual awakening, a new Age of Light. But, at least their vision is hopeful.

The unrelieved bleakness of Powell and Dann's book seems to me symptomatic of a kind of inability of the anthroposophical movement to grow - aside from its Waldorf education wing. Those of us who have been involved with anthroposophy over the years have often wondered what a truly American anthroposophy would look like. For anthroposophy has a strong European heritage, specifically in the philosophical tradition known as German idealism.


It has seemed to me that a true "American anthroposophy" would take account of historical time in a way that was not necessary for the European mind. For Europe simply "was" -- or "is" -- history in a way that has never been true for us. North America was founded in a certain moment of historical time - the "Enlightenment" -- and South America... Well, there's a totally different history there, really remarkably different. The Mayans seemed to have had a sense for the creative forces of time, and this is the real interest of their calendar.



"Time is invention or it is nothing at all." This is a saying by Henri Bergson, from his book Creative Evolution. You could say it took Western mankind 2,000 years to get to Bergson - who lived in the early 20th century. But it's where the Mayans began. The creative forces of time, a template for the evolution of consciousness - as Carl Johan Calleman puts it. This is the real excitement of the Mayan calendar and a good reason to at least become acquainted with it. The New Agers are onto it, the anthroposophists have missed it.
[1] If I may take the liberty of citing my own work - this is a blog, after all! - the reader may want to know of my essay, "Crisis in Anthroposophy at the End of the Century," in which I discuss anti-Catholicism in anthroposophy. In: The Sword in the Mouth: Apocalyptic Essays, 1996-2006, available through http://www.lulu.com.



........to be continued....


Friday, November 20, 2009

What Historical Consciousness is NOT!

From a Yale historian - complete nonsense: "...just as historical consciousness demands detachment from - or if you prefer, elevation above - the landscape that is the past, so it also requires a certain displacement: an ability to shift back and forth between humility and mastery."
From The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past by John Lewis Gaddis (2002)

I find this nonsense for several reasons: (1) he compares writing history to map-making, which is a false (and scientistic) analogy. If history is a map, it's full of pitfalls - literally - not to mention swamps, sinkholes, and dry wells. The analogy substitutes accuracy for truth (even when there can be no accuracy) - in contrast to John Lukacs' humbling refreshing statement, that a historian's task is the "reduction of untruth." (2) Gaddis has gotten giddy from his all his shape-shifting and gadding about. I don't know of any historian who needs to switch on humility at one moment and mastery at the next, and still retain anything like sincerity. What a load of crap!
(3) It never ceases to amaze me what publishers will publish. Gaddis has swallowed all the new physics (well, John Lukacs does too, but he does it more modestly) and come up with the brilliant comment that "[we historians] have been doing a kind of physics all along." Names and words ought to mean something, and the condition of meaning is obedience to a certain form of limits. After reading a few pages of Gaddis...I gagged.

I'd appreciate hearing from any readers who likewise want to poke holes in the ridiculous quoted assertion above by analyzing it rhetorically, philosophically, historically, semantically and in any other way they see fit.

We need to start holding the professoriate to account!!

A Note on the Symbolized Cosmos

Relevant to the discussion of of terms geocentrism or anthropocentrism, Seyyed Hossein Nasr employs the term "homocentric" in the following:

"A civilization may develop a science which turns its back upon the qualitative aspect of things revealed through symbols in order to concentrate upon the changes which can be measured quantitatively. But it cannot destroy the symbolic reality of things any more than can a qualitative and symbolic study of natural phenomena destroy their weight or size. Today, through the destruction of the 'symbolist' spirit in the West, men have lost the sense of penetrating into the inner meaning of phenomena, which symbols alone reveal. But this impotence does not mean that natural symbols have ceased to exist. The symbolic significance of the homocentric spheres of Ptolemaic astronomy, which the immediate appearance of the heavens reveals, remains valid whether in the theoretical Newtonian absolute space or the curved space of relativity the earth moves round the sun or the sun round the earth. The homocentric spheres symbolize states of being above the terrestrial state in which man is presently placed. The states of being remain real whether we understand and accept the natural symbolism which the heavens themselves reveal to us in our immediate and direct contact with them or whether in the name of other theoretical considerations this we disregard this immediate appearance and the symbol which this appearance conveys."

And:

"In fact, even new scientific theories, if they conform to any reality at all, possess their own symbolic meaning. To correspond to reality in any degree means to be symbolic..."[Italics mine.]From his Sufi Essays (1972).

Dr. Nasr is a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, and is one of the most lucid writers today on metaphysics, the relationship of man and nature, the perennial philosophy and related topics. He is one of the founders of Sophia Journal, a journal of perennial philosophy and spirituality.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thoughts on "Last Rites"

John Lukacs, Last Rites. Yale University Press, 2009.

John Lukacs writes in this latest retrospective of his life that this book reverses the pattern of his earlier autobiography, Confessions of an Original Sinner (1990). The earlier work went from the personal to the impersonal - “from something like an autobiography to something like a personal philosophy.” In Last Rites, he begins by recapitulating many of the concerns and preoccupations that have formed his professional life as a historian, especially his great work Historical Consciousness, which he describes as “a historical philosophy of history.” In Last Rites these large preoccupations are distilled “from something like a philosophy to something like an autobiography.” The result is something like a work of art: structured, measured, almost classical in form, yet startling in its heartfelt feeling and surprising moments of self-confrontation and emotional honesty.

Different historical periods view history differently. In a recent talk in Philadelphia, Lukacs gave an overview of how people have viewed the enterprise of history. In the 18th century it was a branch of literature; in the 19th century it was acclaimed as a science; in the 20th century it fell to the province of a social science.There are problems with each of these identifications, and no one better than John Lukacs has exposed the fallacies and shortcomings of “history as a science.” In Historical Consciousness, or The Remembered Past, he attacked the scientism view through many angles, but mainly through the Cartesian idea of the bifurcation of reality into “subjective” and “objective.” These themes reappear in Last Rites: human knowledge is neither objective nor subjective, but personal and participant; the knower is involved with the known; the mind (ideas and what people think that they know) intrudes into “causality”; the evolution of consciousness is maybe the only “evolution” there is – for what goes by the name of “evolution” today is profoundly anti-historical; and people do not “have” ideas – they choose them – just as they often choose not to think. What masquerades as ignorance is more often an unwillingness; what is termed “cognition” is often the will – the tendency or leaning, of choice and decision.

And this- choosing, the will, the moral act -- is the central point. It is, in John Lukacs' attitude toward history, life and thought, essential- for “morality” has to do with the interpenetration of thoughts and things. The “mores” of any society are those habits and practices dealing with the relations with self, nature, God and others-- the inescapable four cardinal points of our life, of any human life. The centrality of the moral life in John Lukacs has led him to another central recognition, but one that will be bitterly resisted. It is that we – or rather, the earth – is at the center of the universe. Oh no, I can hear the groans resounding from the halls of fashionable academic opinion. “Wasn't that decided by Copernicus?”

But consider: history is not a science. Science deals with the physical world, and in its history (and yes, science too is a part of history) it progressed by means of a gradual (but relentless) stripping-away of all “metaphysical” qualities from the universe. With the rise of science, mankind began to live in an increasingly physical world – a mode of living that would have been considered very strange indeed to our distant ancestors – or even many of our not-so-distant ones. It is a very big step to move from representation of being to “mere being” - as anyone who has participated in the raising of a healthy child knows. For all things wear an aspect, carry a mood, symbolize something. If anything, this type of consciousness is more “natural” to mankind than the modern, reductive, anti-symbolical one. Science has, as it were, externalized the inner magic of things into manipulable forces and powers -- which may be a discussion for another day. But the rise of science – where does that leave history?

It was perhaps understandable that people, especially in the 19th century, but even also today, would want to make history into something like a “science.” But history cannot be externalized. It is not experimental. It is something we are immersed in and that we live, feel, know, and experience. We participate in it and remember it and our aspirations are involved with it – also our ideas, our philosophy, and our sense about the purpose and meaning of life. History involves interpretation and re-interpretation. It is a human art, a developing understanding. In essence history is metaphysical, if by “metaphysical” we mean something that is beyond the strict limits of the sensory, physical and measurable. History is “beyond physics” in this sense: for without history, there could be no physics. The atom contains several thousand years of human thought, to say the least that can be said. The atom, like history itself, has both a “physical” and a “metaphysical” aspect.

But why – earth at the center of the universe? It is perhaps not unlikely that life exists elsewhere in the universe – but does history? Here the discussion reaches a different dimension. For there is life – primitive life, plant life, even animal life – but historical life? In fact I think the question has hardly been dealt with at this level. But if that is the case, it is because, being immersed in history like fish in water, we don't “see” it. We fail to notice that our discussion about life, the universe, the development of life on earth, about science and geology and all the scientific notions and “facts” -- it's because we've had time to study and absorb them in history. The words and the notions have become familiar to us – but not the process by which they became discovered, thought about, and disseminated. We forget, or rather, we fail to remember, their beginnings, and because these beginnings comprise a gigantic but ignored presence of history in our minds and thoughts, there is something laughable in the way we think. We're puerile – maybe even sterile.

The new geocentrism is about recalling to ourselves this presence of history – to the significant realization of the historical dimension of our thinking. And perhaps to the sobering importance of our thoughts, words, acts, and choices. Wouldn't the anti-historical Darwinoids want to keep us in a state of infantile moral frivolity? That sure would suit the agenda of the corporatists to rape and plunder the planet-- and maybe the corporatists like having a few Darwinoids on their payroll. After all, if we just came here by chance and will disappear in a few million years without regret, why struggle for quality of life, beauty, wholesomeness, love and reconciliation? What moral virtues matter in such a view of life? John Lukacs is here to tell us about the next step we need to take – as thinking people and as a society. If we don't take it, we Americans are in danger of ossifying into puerility. I've never read in John Lukacs before something like this, that “I despair of this nation and of many of its people.” It was in a footnote – as several of his surprising or startling remarks are footnoted in this book. But yes, puerility may be worse than decadence-- for “...decadence is... full of dissolving maggots of maturity, of remnant memories that puerility does not possess.” That was in the context of “a puerile presidency may be but one symptom of the devolution of this republic into a military superstate.” The optimism about America so noticeable in many of John Lukacs's previous works has vanished. This is a sobering and sober-minded book.

And there are several other things. Keen-witted and clear-eyed observations come up in this book – about Lukacs' alienation from his profession, about Americans' alienation from one another, suburbanization, the carelessness with which we use our landscape, the fact that the Modern Age is over – and the establishment of the United States was a part of that Modern Age.
Have we quite digested this? Nor is the answer “postmodernism” either – Lukacs has a few well-chosen derisive comments about that – for “postmodernism” failed to grasp historical consciousness as well. No, the step we need to take – into a moral geocentrism, historical consciousness, the realization of an inescapable historical dimension in our thinking – these all signify not an “opposite,” nor even a “more” and certainly not a “same” - (all these being merely Hegelian moves and counter-moves of futile intellectualized wishing) -- but a break, almost like a “conversion” -- a qualitative change of consciousness, an interiorization of a dimension. This dimension is as intimate to us as memory – for history is the remembered past. There is history in what we remember - just as there is the dimension of memory in our thought.

We need this deepening dimension of historical consciousness, which is the true and unifying humanism to reconcile the warring factions of science and religion. On the last page of this book John Lukacs quotes Pope Leo XIII - “In a way all history cries aloud that God is.” The taking of the historical dimension into our minds is the new communion to which Christ calls us today.

Monday, June 01, 2009

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

"Well, mind and hold tight my shaggy coat, and then there's nothing to fear," said the Bear, so she rode a long, long way."
Illustration by Kay Nielsen for a beautiful edition. It seems appropriate as I make preparations to leave for Argentina next month.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Daily Folly

Gordon Brown, who holds some sort of leadership post in what used to be known as Great Britain, came panting to Washington to shake the new president's hand and retie the knot on the latest twist of the "Anglo-American Alliance." Things didn't go quite as well as expected, but he did address the pit of trained seals, the Congress of the United States, as described in the International Herald Tribune (Mar 5): "Despite the distractions, Brown came off well in a confident address to a joint meeting of Congress, an invitation reserved for America's closest allies. Brown projected optimism in the face of economic turmoil. He predicted that the global economy could double in size over the next 20 years as billions of people move from being producers to consumers..."

A vision and a life of consumers... No word for the effect of this catastrophic way of life upon the earth, no indication that a life of consumerism is not exactly consonant with human dignity. Western leadership has nothing to offer. All it can offer is satiation and surfeit. And in the face of obvious bankruptcy! Stupidity at this level takes real talent.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

End of a Teaching Stint

Ear - by Julian Horner

At the end of December, just before the Christmas break, I was hired as a temporary substitute librarian in an inner-city charter school. The job involved providing library classes and activities to 28 classes of elementary school students K-6th grade, each visiting the library for a period of 40 minutes. Does that sound easy? Hard? Impossible? I don't know what I thought when I arrived, but by the time I had been there a few days I had to ask myself: is this really as hard as it seems, or am I missing something? The teachers would drop their groups off for a much-needed break, and of course, the students had little incentive to "behave themselves" with a substitute. Not that they had much incentive in any case. The main activity of these children, in my class or any other, as far as I could tell, was talking to each other. The great imperative: socializing! But the great feature of the library, the student computers, did allow for some merciful (relative) quiet at times, although there were only 8 computers, and sometimes as many as 26 students... The students liked playing games and looking at fashion shows, when they could get away with not doing "Study Island."

I really liked the school, the staff, and I liked the students too - overwhelmingly African-American. It's just that no one was teaching them how to refrain from expressing impulses, or to keep still, or maintain quiet. The school was doing all these tests, tests, tests, and the students worked at something called SFA ("Success for All") which I gather was some sort of language arts program. The library was a large room, pleasant and well-stocked with juvenile literature; but the school had no playground (it was a reconstituted shopping mall) and the students had almost no recess or organized games. No wonder they'd rather play tag or hide-and-seek in the library than read print-outs of stupid little stories. I can't say I blamed them!

I suppose we spend our lives learning how to pay attention. Learning to listen, to hear, follow directions, obey - it comes from the ear, this "obedience," this learning-to-hear. In this respect the students I met were already severely disadvantaged. Only in America, where everything is the opposite that you would expect, a "disadvantaged" child is a child who expresses himself all the time. I did not meet any vicious children, and some I met were loving and affectionate. But they could not learn, or did not want to learn, or what they were being given to learn lacked relevance for their lives and consequently was dull. I grew weary, day after day, of shouting at them to be quiet. I was not a great teacher. Maybe I was not the worst. But I was glad when my stint ended - yesterday. I decided to leave; the administration decided to hire a man who had taught in a reform school. It seemed like the right conjunction of events, arrived at mutually and independently and simultaneously by both parties. So it was.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Remembrance of Ashes

My letter to First Things of March, 2007, has been reproduced here. The letter was a
response to George Weigel's article on the Just War teachings of the Church.
I have also re-posted my article of August 23, 2006, "The Zionist Face of First Things."
Thanks to Andrew for suggesting I re-post my letter to the editor.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Bad News from Pope Benedict

On October 25, 2006, I posted in this space a reflection on Pope Benedict XVI's speech at Regensburg, in which I expressed misgivings at the Pope's choice of words and example with respect to the religion of Islam. Once again, I find myself expressing some disappointment with this undoubtedly intellectual and educated Pope, whose capitulation to the Jews in the matter of Bishop Williamson I regard as nothing less than presaging the end of a viable Catholic faith.

Bishop Williamson may be impolitic, but he is no fool. He has allowed himself to express doubts concerning the fairy tale narrative of 9/11. But he has really blundered into the stew by expressing skepticism on the issue of the Holocaust, which is now apparently the stick used by the Jews to beat the masses into line. Where the rubber meets the road is the issue in any religious faith, and lo! - Auschwitz has been substituted for Golgotha, and no one apparently notices that the dogmas of religion have been transformed by sleight-of-hand into secular articles of faith. And with the blood of the children of Gaza not yet dried upon the fangs of the Zionist priests, the good Pope had the temerity to address those same rabbis in this wise, on the occasion of their gathering at the Vatican yesterday:

"The Church draws its sustenance from the root of that good olive tree, the people of Israel, onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles (cf. Rom 11: 17-24). From the earliest days of Christianity, our identity and every aspect of our life and worship have been intimately bound up with the ancient religion of our fathers in faith."

But who, honored Pope, are our "fathers in faith?" Were they not those ancient Hebrews? These same ancient Hebrews who disappeared long ago into the sea of humanity? They elected to cast their lot with mankind, unlike those Pharisees and Zionists who claim, falsely, to be descended from them. Even the Enclyclopedia Britannica says that Judaism developed "long after the Israelites merged themselves with mankind, and that the true relationship of the two peoples is best expressed in the phrase, 'The Israelites were not Jews.'" But here is the very Pope of the Catholic Church conflating the two - in other words, proving himself a complete dupe.

The Jewish historian, Dr. Josef Kastein (himself a zealous Zionist) describes very clearly the difference between Israel and Judah:

"[After the death of Solomon, ~ 937 BC] the two states [Israel and Judah] had no more in common, for good or evil, than any two other countries with a common frontier. From time to time they waged war against each other or made treaties, but they were entirely separate. The Israelites ceased to believe that they had a destiny apart from their neighbors and King Jeroboam made separation from Judah as complete in the religious as in the political sense... [Then, the Judahites] ... decided that they were destined to develop as a race apart... they demanded an order of existence fundamentally different from that of the people about them. These were differences which allowed of no process of assimilation to others. They demanded separation, absolute differentiation."

The Catholic Church is a great charity and a great educational institution. But is it - still - a religion? Perhaps it was only a matter of time. With Holocaust memorials everywhere, most newspapers and media in Jewish hands, and undeniable Jewish influence in foreign policy and preponderance in the financial sector, how long could the Catholic Church have been reasonably expected to hold out? Now the Jews have entered the halls of the Vatican in triumph, bringing their burnt offering. But it would be more true to say they come bearing the ashes of the Christian West.

Monday, January 19, 2009

America

I'm doing some research into African-American poetry. I found this poem, "America" - by Claude McKay [1889-1948]. I think it's quite powerful.

ALTHOUGH she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem has a lot of resonance for me on the eve of the Inauguration.