Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Political purposes

“By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

Jesus was something of an “aggie,” and this is one of his farming metaphors, keyed to conditions in the Palestine of His ministry, but easily understood anywhere else that botany is experienced. On the surface, rather, it is easy to understand; but then it goes deeper. That He meant it to be read “both ways” — as both piety and doctrine — is clinched within the Sermon on the Mount, where He repeats the phrase and now adds that not everyone who saith “Lord” to Him will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only those who have done the will of the Father.

“Thy will be done,” is perhaps the most aggressive phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. “On earth as it is in heaven.” As one of the Scotch genetic persuasion, a people of the thistle, I like sometimes to pronounce it in a Scottish brogue. The Calvinists and Catholics of those Highlands and Islands shared in that Gaelic brogue: the sense that some things need doing; or even that they cannot be put off. They may not have got “which things need doing” always right, however.

In the East, John Chrysostom took the view that the “fruits” were piety. Don’t listen to a man who speaks pretty, but is living an ugly life. In the West, Augustine of Hippo thought the fruits more doctrinal. If what the man prettily speaks is not in accord with Christ’s teaching, it is wrong and pay no attention to him. I have oversimplified both views. Both are right, and there is plenty more meaning, that tends to surface on unexpected occasions, when in my experience both propositions are engaged. The man lives an ugly life; he speaks pretty, but it is not what anyone could reasonably call, “orthodox.”

And contrary to the currently received view, there is seldom any subtlety in it. The man makes the fact he is a blackguard dead obvious to those with eyes and ears. Each failing points to the other, and the first observed perversion hints at many more. I (or, we) are left with no excuse for being seduced by yet another false prophet.

No names here, since I am actually trying not to be invidious. Not even the names of politicians, who are right out there in the public eye and, as it were, asking for judgement; many come to mind. Gentle reader will anyway have an idea, to what kind of “Pharisees” Christ was referring.

That we should avoid eating thorns and thistles, I take as generally accepted. The knowledge is likely to be recovered, if lost. Grapes and figs taste considerably better, and are easier to swallow and digest. But as the adage was metaphorical, I will further take it that the question of digestion is cast very large. In reflecting upon the charismatic politician and his message one must ask, not him but oneself: How does this sit with me? What do I think of this man who presents himself as some kind of prophet, or guide, demanding my support for his mission? Why should I believe anything he says? Why should I trust this keeper with my freedom?

And perhaps he cannot be stopped; but as I pleaded yesterday, the world is as it is. The trick for a person who takes responsibility, is to reduce himself to an accountable minority of one. (Accountable to Whom? one might ask. Questioned answered by the cap.) It may be up to one’s enemies to decide what will be done with you, if you are in their way when they get power. But it is also up to God, what will be done with those enemies, in the fullness of time, and beyond it. One hardly wants to get in His way.

We only strive down here; we never achieve anything. For there is nothing we do here that will not be washed away in the same temporal medium. The striving, as we know from Christ, directly if we are listening, is to holiness and salvation before all other things — but this in turn requires an “attitude” to neighbours as well as to Our Lord.

It is conventional, for politicians upon winning elections, to declare that they are “humbled” by the experience. There you see a fruit.

No one who felt genuinely humbled would say this. He might show it, quite subtly perhaps, in how he behaved; it does not and cannot go into words, without becoming boastful. I use this example with something approaching warmth, for I have developed an allergy or aversion — a rash of the sort that comes from passing through brambles — when men in public positions make a show of their “humility.” It is invariably pharisaic; it is a warning that one is dealing with profound arrogance, and a vanity that is out of control. He speaks with crowds, but cannot keep his virtue.

“Democracy” encourages almost every vice — using the word in its broadest modern sense, which includes a certain notion of “freedom” from the restraints of ancient law. It associates the public good with visible public “achievements” — which I will take in the heraldic sense, of full display: crest, torse, mantling, helm, coronet, supporters; motto and badge.

Yet every good thing I have ever seen done in politics, was achieved quietly, and I think invariably by a man or woman who was not seeking credit for the act. This happens. Good things happen, as well as bad. Indeed: it is amazing what can be accomplished, even in politics, by the person who does not seek the credit, but wills the good end for itself. This is genuine humility.

With it goes a frankly mediaeval judgement of what politics are for. They are to accommodate the citizen, in his divine calling, whatever that may be, for the callings are as various as the people. It is, at the minimum, to avoid hindering him, in doing what is right, good, beautiful and salvific.

But that requires some judgement in turn, of what a divine calling might be; and genuine humility in the practice and presence of Our Lord to see it clearly. One must, as my father used to put it, “Go with God,” and as I would add, by the Light that God has given.

The lies that bind

Up here in the High Doganate, we are discussing whether we should vote “no” to austerity. The Germans haven’t sent us any money. (Well, there was one who sent us 50$, but that was months ago.) We’re wondering if a Greek-style “Big Fat No” might open their hearts and purses. I’m sure they love us (me, purple finches, some other birds up here) as much as they love the Greeks; maybe more.

So there, … we’ve just voted. Me, and after some rhetoric, the finches, … who are parading in celebration on the balconata as I write, like the people in the Plateia Syntagmatos. For after I explained the matter to them, they voted eleven “no,” to seven “yes.” (The rest ate their ballots.) And when the banks finally reopen, hooo are we going to live!

The idea that you are broke, and vote for no more austerity, is so “democratic.” No to austerity; no to paying debts; and no to the rich not giving us more money. I hope you Germans hear that: No, No, No!

Shades of Arab Spring; shades of Orange Revolution; shades of Venezuela. I have noticed, everything that gets the crowds out in political euphoria, ends badly. (Not “almost everything.” Everything.)

As ever, I think of all the people out, across Europe, on all the constitution squares, one hundred and one years ago, demanding that their governments “get tough” with all the other governments. Democracy truly spoke, in the spring and summer of 1914. Seventeen million dead, after all the euphoria. It was not the largest death toll, even to that point in human history. Millions more died in the Taiping Revolt in China, which had ended fifty years before. (That was China’s first essay in popular democracy.) And more, far more, would die in later conflicts.

It is now fifteen years since a socialist government in Greece fudged the national accounts to get into the euro in the first place. And that was on the tail of twenty years’ other fiscal games for subsidies from the EU. It wasn’t just a little lie: some of their numbers were (knowingly) off by an order of magnitude. It is a tiresome business to look back over: lie heaped on lie. And all these men in suits, too polite to call one; too fearful of the mob.

The party that now rules Greece, Syriza (an acronym from the merger of all the battiest, most demonic leftwing parties), has done a remarkable job of splitting the country, in just five months. You’re either with them or against them; they won’t leave you alone. They have every intention of nationalizing everything, and all of their assurances are worthless. The resemblance between Athens and Caracas has emerged: in Tsipras the Greeks have elected another Chavez; another Rattenfänger von Hameln.

I think all democracies end that way.

Honour, and honesty, are personal things, as all the other virtues; a person may have or lack them. Persons may be individually held to account, for what they have done; for the lies they have told. But this is not so for the collective — be it mob, or nation, or corporation. “Collective responsibility” means no responsibility at all. The best we can do is stand back from the mob: not bind ourselves to it.

But there is nothing to be troubled about. The world is as it is, and not different.

Oxi-moron is a bad pun

Vote No, Hellenes: let’s see what happens next. Alternatively, vote Yes: ditto. Either way, their whole country is still bankrupt on Monday morning. I, for one, do not regret the damage they are doing to the euro, the European Union, and various public and private sector banks, quite as much as Christian charity might demand of me. There are people who work in the banks and the bureaucracies whose pain one might feel; European taxpayers stuck with the drubbing; and quite apart from them, the fact that at least some people may have lost honestly-earned life savings — is underappreciated. But this sort of thing happens.

So far as I am aware, no freely-elected government, in the history of the world, has survived the combination of cutting services while increasing taxes on a large scale (absent the prosecution of a world war, but then there is usually no election). This is what their creditors have for some time been asking Greek governments to do. I am able to understand why each of those governments has hesitated to obey. Mr Tsipras, the current prime minister, may be a Marxist loon, but his behaviour in this context is not inexplicable.

The contrary policy has often been attempted, however, and it is a demonstrated vote winner. “Let us all join together and live beyond our means,” might as well be an election slogan. Those with moral stamina may reject this, and vote instead for the mean, tightwad, compassionless rightwing party, but a majority of those without this stamina can be patiently assembled for the Left.

One recalls Theodoros Pangalos — grandson of a frightful military dictator of the same name and Albanian origin, former Greek deputy prime minister, leading light in the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, and begetter of many generous welfare schemes. He once explained how it was that all the money Europeans had “invested” in Greece since 1981 had disappeared, having apparently been used for purposes other than those agreed with the lenders.

“We ate it together,” he said. Adding that, “There are no honest Greeks.”

Perhaps the opponent of every political principle I subscribe to, but one honest man. I wanted to give him an award for candour.

In the same spirit, and on the assumption that all of its members are glued to my Idleblog, I should like to proffer my advice to the current regime. Don’t waste any more time on divisive referenda. Simply remind your creditors how things are. May I suggest:

“It’s true we owe you the money, but quite frankly, we can’t pay. We couldn’t even put a 1.6 billion instalment together, while asking for another 50 billion plus real quick, so take it from there. I’m sure you understand the situation as well as we do. So let’s cut to the chase. We’re not going to pay, and if you have any brains you are not going to lend us another euro. If on the other hand you don’t have the requisite intelligence, please give us another trillion or so, over the next twenty years.”

The bankers could then get busy writing off the debt in its totality; and negotiating with the re-invigorated finance ministers of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. And meanwhile the Greeks could apply themselves to their own next choice — between rebuilding an economy that has taken a hit, as if a war had passed over; or indulging in the kind of hyper-inflation that will eviscerate all economic enterprise, and lead inevitably to bloodshed.

I would recommend the former, but it is up to them. I would propose some Churchillian call, to summon all resources of grit, skill, faith and prayer; or better yet the Adenauer call, to do again what Germany did in the late 1940s: stable currency, enforced rule of minimal laws, no social programmes, very low taxes to compensate, and every man for himself and his family. (Including his extended family.) Make Greece the beacon for a “new Europe,” that works on the principles of the old Europe — which worked.

Start, if you will, with a silver-standard Attic drachma (4.3 grammes), minted with an owl on the reverse, divided into six little button-like obols. Add didrachms and tetradrachms as demand revives, and eventually minas and perhaps even talents.

Meanwhile, if they are truly hungry, we could send them food packages gratis, with notes full of love and encouragement, forgetting their trespasses, as they forget ours.

*

By way of postscript, let me add that I’ve been glancing towards the Greek Orthodox this last week, to see what their priests and hierarchy are making of events. And I’ve been quite impressed: they act as if no one has heard about any referendum. We need heroism like that in Rome.

Analects of confusion

Today’s household hint will be on computers. Nearly half my life (almost thirty years) I have been in possession of, or been possessed by one. It began with Apples in the old Idler office; it is true that I approved the purchase. By 1987 they were a “necessity” to get a magazine out. Later they were a necessity to keep any job in journalism. Let us fly over details, in a great leap forward to 4th December 1999, the day my elder Wee Tiny Boy (then age thirteen) finally persuaded me that I must have email, too, and access to something I had heard about, which was called the Internet.

He’d already been “on” them for years. People needing to reach me would send an email to my little boy, he’d print it out and walk it down to my office. Often the delivery was made with a droll remark, such as, “You know, dad, the problem with your generation is that you can’t spell.” (He then explained how “spellcheck” was so irritating that one learnt to spell correctly in order to avoid having misspelt words flagged.)

My first experience of that was in a newspaper column I filed, which mentioned the sayings of a certain ancient Chinese philosopher. In print, it came back to me as, The Analects of Confusion. The subeditor in Ottawa told me he had tried to override that twice, but ultimately the machine won.

In Germany, I read (on the Internet) that a factory robot has murdered a human co-worker. Mistook him for a machine part, or whatever. Ah, progress.

I forgot: even before those Idler Apples, I had brief experience of an IBM “PC.” It was very ugly, and the type on the screen was an eerily backlit putrid green, on an interstellar black ground. I hated it quite a lot. The Apples were at least prettier, but harder for me to comprehend. I wrote a short note on this in the Idler. It was a “gender issue,” or so it seemed to me. The IBM was essentially masculine. It asked you questions to which the answer could be either “yes” or “no.” By contrast, the Apple asked more feminine questions, then responded when you tried to answer with the cybernetic equivalent of “getting warmer” or “getting colder.” You had to have a “relationship” with it.

The thing was “networked,” as well, to a couple of other harmless-looking Apples in the office, that could conspire against you. Fortunately we had a hip young gentleman to deal with them. Eric, as he called himself, came from Montreal, where he was used to trouble, and faced every indication of the world’s impending collapse with an almost obnoxious serenity. He rigged the system to prevent common “user errors.” For instance, if you tried to delete a document, a little rectangle would appear saying, “Do you really want to do that?” You hit “yes,” and got another one: “Do you really, really want to do that?” You hit “yes,” and the final one said: “Well, you can’t.”

I remembered him this week when my laptop informed me that I had had something called an “Adobe crash.” My first thought was, “Where’s Eric?” But then I realized I hadn’t seen him for more than twenty years. No doubt he is now wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.

On further thought, I realized that something wonderful had happened, perhaps the answer to my prayers. Two computer programs had been warring in the innards of my laptop; the bigger had just won. It was now preventing the smaller from functioning. And the smaller program was necessary to play any kind of moving picture. None of those provoking ads would now display, with their soundtracks set to max volume; indeed, nothing that moved on my screen would work, including any kind of video, wanted or not. But nothing that held still was affected. There was a slight downside, in that I could no longer play the latest Chant performances on YouTube, or call up last night’s Bill O’Reilly rant on Fox News. But hey, I have plenty of CDs; and I always knew what Bill was going to say.

Not sure how to advise gentle reader on reproducing this little miracle in his own machine. I think you just pray, informally: “God, these pop-up advertisements are driving me nuts.” And then one of His computer angels comes and fixes it for you. But as I’ve mentioned before in this space, we cannot expect miracles to be reproducible.

I shall take this up with my computer-wizard son when next he calls. I think there’s a million to be made here, marketing a specialized program that nixes anything that moves.

Jurisimprudence

Before starting my daily rant, let me link the two responses to last week’s “gay marriage” ruling of the United States Supreme Court I found most cogent — those of Fr James Schall (here), and Dr Ed Peters (here). The first is a remarkable tour-de-force by one of the finest minds in the Church, still with us; the two together will provide any gentle reader, Catholic or not, with some insight into the heritage of Western legal thinking. Print out in plain typography if you can, in both cases.

“Natural law” is not some “theory,” analogous to the latest fashion from France, but has been through the centuries the foundation of our legal, and by extension political, reasoning — in Holy Church, and by extension throughout the civilization she engendered. To be unfamiliar with it is to be inadequately trained, as a lawyer or politician dealing with any moral question. For even if this heritage is rejected, the grounds on which it is rejected must be clarified, and the question must be answered: “If that is not your authority, what is?”

It has been the counter-heritage of modernity (from, say, Descartes), and then post-modernity (from, say, Rousseau), to reject, without decently confuting, that deeper heritage. By this I mean that the modern refuses even to examine, let alone engage with it. He has the curious confidence that he can wing it on his own, that he can conjure his principles from thin air, without any need to make them consistent with the principles he has previously conjured. Finally, today, as we read in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion (backed by four nullities who were only there to vote), he can base his decisions only on emotion, on “nice feelings” without reference to any legal code or jurisprudential principles whatever.

This is bad, but in a sense the dissenting opinions were worse. They may show a logical understanding of what the statutes were, and complain that they have been ignored, but they cannot penetrate to the foundations of those statutes. All the legal traditions of the West are thus reduced to a matter of opinion and the passing fad, the opposition to which is purely negative. A credible opposition proposes a positive instead: an alternative understanding of how things are, to stand against how things aren’t.

A third link might be to Prof Edward Feser (here), who presents the situation in popular terms,  by reference to a science fiction movie. We are dealing not with a revolutionary party, but with an establishment that constitutes a closed camp; an establishment that, in an official and officious way, absolutely denies the existence of any coherent reality, beyond what they make up themselves on the fly. (He chose The Matrix; I would have reached a little farther back to Blade Runner for a more subtle prophetic account of the world that lies before us, wherein a long forgotten fixed moral order has been replaced by dubious “memories of love.”)

To my mind, the greatest service the Catholic Church could provide in the present chaos (with the help of other Christians who aspire to orthodoxy) is to resume her ancient educational mission. We cannot “debate” with the Zeitgeist when we do not know with any assurance where we ourselves stand — what we believe, and what are the reasons for our beliefs.

It is a task which cannot, by its nature, be performed through extempore tweets and sound bites. Even if reasonable, or true in themselves, these mean nothing if they are not effectively grounded and qualified. The mass media, and the social media, are not in their nature our allies. We may use them to clash, but they are nearly useless for fundamental instruction. In raising children, it is important that these sources of “information” be unplugged: for we need their whole attention. The connexions we must restore are with reality itself.

Unfortunately, our Church is in a very bad way, and being led farther astray. Her primary method of teaching has always been through the Mass, the liturgy — learning by doing — and this was systematically sabotaged in “the spirit of Vatican II.” Her catechetic instruction is in bad hands: overwhelmingly, people who do not themselves know what they are teaching, and are often bad examples of personal formation. But thanks to God for such documents as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the great wealth of historical materials to which it points in footnotes and internal references, the structure or skeleton of the teaching still holds. Too, the Old Mass is returning.

Our opposition has missiles, we fight hand-to-hand. This is the hard truth of the present situation, in which glib “media” shower their filth “24/7.” Parents have little time with their children under present economic arrangements, when both (if there are as many as two) are off working in environments unrelated to them, or seeking light entertainment themselves, in exhaustion from their jobs. Meanwhile the children are exposed to that filth, on average for six or seven hours per day in North America, according to the last study I saw. And this is supplemented in most cases by more hours of secular schooling, in which they are also taught the interests and attitudes which the Internet embodies for them. They are thus raised as consumers of cheap goods and opinions, the very possibility of coherent thought undermined by ever shorter attention spans.

But this is just where faith comes in: for reality does not change when it is misrepresented. Humans, for instance, remain male or female, children are procreated by one of each — such truths do not go away, when subverted. They will remain true even when the devils in human flesh breed children by incubator: still it will be seed and egg, beyond their comprehension. Good and evil do not change by human re-definition; and neither does the fact of Jesus Christ, by now too well implanted in the knowledge of the world to be expunged from it entirely. He is a fact congruent with everything else we can know about the nature of things, the shape of reality, the inward and outward coherence of a universe not of our making, and of life on Planet Earth.

The task is to teach not how things should be, but how things are. In this we are bound to find divine assistance.

Please pray the Magnificat with me, on this Feast of the Visitation.

Beautiful Dominion

Gentle reader may have guessed, that when I am at a loss to idly comment on the pressing issues of the day, I turn my attention to such as birds and dragonflies. Angels might be mentioned, or perhaps other spirits of the air — the music of The Tempest comes currently to mind on the grand mediaeval theme of Reconciliation — but they require powers of observation quite beyond mine own. Swallows have not been mentioned, though they should have: our Parkdale swallows very much returned from Brazil, and a new generation of them have been swirling with their (oppositely sexed) parents — enlivening both morning and evening dusk as I sip (respectively) coffee and tea.

The city hardly notices what wonders soar above, or play right under its noses. But from this advantaged position, a hundred feet up in my ivory tower, my Taj minaret aloft (floating above the tomb of my earthly hopes), such material realities come into view. These include each month the fingernail moon, and each day a newly painted version of the western sunset. God has favoured me, not only with all this, but with just enough poverty to see it.

Dominion Day is again here; the Parkdale firecrackers announced it last night. Drunks and the bipolar seemed also to be celebrating in the street below, in the wee hours. It is now one hundred and forty-eight years since the instrument of our political Confederation came into effect, which is mistaken by the mob for the origin of our more ancient country.

But as the few educated Canadians know, our country is instead more than four hundred years; the torch carried not by Sir John A. Macdonald, but by Samuel de Champlain from the Old World. He was himself less than thirty years of age when Acadia was first abuilding — this oldest of our “founding fathers,” whose accomplishments in various fields exceed those of all our progressive activists combined, so many times over. In two days we may celebrate the four hundred and seventh anniversary of his, and our first capital, at Quebec. And there she still rides serenely on her cliffs, with her advantaged view over the Saint Lawrence. Perhaps from a sufficient height, bar blindness, one may begin to see Time.

Whatever we may do on the other days, on anniversaries we should look strictly back. “We walk to Heaven backward,” as Blessed John Henry Newman reminds; and can look even for ourselves in memorials. This is just what contemporary Canadians, in the main, refuse to do — or the graduates of our government schools are incapable of doing. The ‘sixties cult of youth is still on us, enforced by sorry old (women and) men. They counsel the youth to look only forward, into vacuity. It is the counsel of annihilation.

But as once again I have nothing to say, that might not be interpreted as raining on a parade — and at the moment there are so many parades to rain on (that’s how you get rainbows, incidentally) — let me add a brief note on Redwing Blackbirds.

Yesterday I walked up Humber way, enjoying the overcast, misty and cool. In the course of less than a mile of this riverside paradise, this verdant arbor of nesting birds, I must have passed through eighteen successive Redwing defensive perimeters. (Perhaps I exaggerate; perhaps not.)

The screeee-am they let out just over your head is something memorable to hear. They save it to the moment they pass over from behind, close enough to fluffle your hair — in the hope, I should think, of inducing a heart attack. It is as good as the sudden announcement of an ambulance (which must trigger many deaths in this way). And better, for our ambulances are not yet equipped to defecate in passing.

One Redwing achieved his pinpoint Stuka hit. Another was trying to pluck my tailfeathers, till he established that I didn’t have any. A third and fourth were a family combination. They executed a magnificent cross-manoeuvre, in which the female screeee’d from above to distract my response, as the male flew directly across my face — planting his red and yellow wingmarks indelibly in my fevered rightwing imagination. How brilliantly combative!

And, O my fellow Catholics and Christians, how useful to study for the days ahead: when the sexual re-educators come for our own children.

Shades of homer

Oh dear, was it a mistake to put millets out for my finches, and then some agéd pot barley after that. More proof that I cannot be God, even to these avians. The finches didn’t mind at first, were curious and poked about. I had sprinkled some crushed ancho chilli into the millets, to give it zest; the chief food reviewer among them (an exceptionally ruddy fellow) conceded that this was a nice touch. In fact his mates, and theirs (the females), seemed to be picking out the chilli seeds, to which they are quite partial.

“But what do you call this?” one of them asked, rhetorically, looking into a metal disc of the stuff with what I should have interpreted as a gesture of disapprobation.

“Anchoes,” I replied.

“No, I mean the little round white beads, what are they?”

“Millets,” said I. … “Pearl millets, it said on the bag.”

“Atrocious,” was his sneering comment. “Tastes like soap.”

But it was the (unspiced) barley that brought things to a head. That ruddy fellow, whom I call Robespierre, perched on my railing, six feet from my face, loudly chirping for my attention. He had taken it bravely upon himself to speak for his whole chirm.

“What do you think you are doing, Lord Denizen? We are purple finches — seed-eaters, can’t you see? Take a good look at this beak. …”

Then drawing himself up to his short height: “Grain is for pigeons.”

Whenupon he was joined by five or six others, chanting along the railing in disgust: “Pigeon food! Pigeon food!”

I thought this rather indiscreet on their part.

Unfortunately the pigeons, loitering along the roofline above, overheard this. Their own foraging captain, an exceptionally dark-feathered bird I call Aaron Moor, was first off the mark. Several times I heard him on the concrete balconata floor, scuffling about. I was confrontational, but you know how it is with pigeons. Nothing you can do will make them angry, let alone send them off in a sulk. He kept coming back.

And this morning, when I rose, there they all were: a dropping of ten or more pigeons (I think that is the collective noun). And no longer scuffling the floor, for remainders, but right up in the trough, like an awkward squad of fat men balancing on a girder.

I’m a “nomby” when it comes to pigeons (“not on my balconata, you …”). I do declare, however, that I am not prejudiced against them, like so many others in the Greater Parkdale Area. But Aaron Moor, for one, is sceptical of this claim. That I’ve fed them stale bread at other locations, possibly in defiance of municipal regulations, he frankly does not believe. I tell him this is a finch restaurant, with a finch menu, and he coos, under his breath, “We’ve heard it all before.” He takes it with equanimity, nonetheless, reciting his motto in the pigeon language: “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

*

I’m in a quandary about these pigeons at the moment, truth to tell. For I’m honestly not a columbidaphobe, let me assure gentle reader. I have met some fine, upstanding pigeons in my time.

Near where I once lived in London, the old men raced them. The big event was once a year — from Clapham Common to the bois de Boulogne in Paris, and the reverse. I once got to name one of the contestants (“Beothuk”): an old-line Janssen as I recall, of a magnificent sanguine coloration. He was very sharp, very quick, and totally committed. No racehorse was so sure as this homer, of what he was about. And a useful source of income, too, for Derek, his working-class boss, who loved him as some men love a maid. (Gone since to his reward, aheu; and Beothuk, probably to a hawk, or power line.)

Pigeons carried mail throughout the Roman Empire, as well as the Babylonian, the Asokan, the Chinese; did the daily relay, up and down the Nile. For centuries, nay millennia, they were the radio for ship-to-shore. They are what we will need when the Internet goes down, for good: bear this in mind when you shun them. Decently fed, they make one of the world’s best fertilizers. And I love when they leave it on shiny, upscale cars.

Moreover, I’ve had squabs in Egypt, stuffed with freekeh (roasted cracked green wheat), and those walking onions. That stuffing charged with lemon, in an oily pigeon broth; parsley, mint, cinnamon, allspice. They provide a delicious dark poultry meat, and to the end of having more, I once proposed to my super that we build dovecotes on the roof, the way they do in Cairo.

She said no, however.

Fools

There is a saying among the finches who visit my balconata: “The Lord Denizen of the High Doganate works in mysterious ways.” Or rather, I’m convinced that they don’t understand me. My seeds they are happy enough to take, but they will not trust me. They let a Jay, on one occasion, alight on my railing. Four of the finches prattled about it at the other end, discussing perhaps whether they should stay or leave, but they did not fly away. Yet I, who have the most charitable intentions towards them — more charitable, surely, than any Jay — have only to turn my head, behind a window screen, and they take flight in alarm. They have the strongest objection to letting me read on my own balconata, and will shun the vicinity for an hour after I have gone inside. For all the evidence I have presented, they question whether I am their benefactor.

Similarly, with the humans, and their Lord Creator. They partake freely of the feast He has laid out before them, but do not like Him watching while they eat. At the rumour that He is in motion, they flee. They may tolerate the most provocative intruders, consort with those who do not wish them well, mutter and chirple about this and that. But they do not welcome the company of their Feeder; nor even try to understand Him.

I have heard so many complaints against God, lately, from people who pretend to doubt that He exists. They blame Him for things like suffering and death; or making various pleasures conditional upon fleeting health and luck. They are irritated by anything resembling rules or commandments coming from that Source, and make a show of flouting them. They turn to Him only, if at all, when every other choice has been obviated, and then ask help they have done nothing to deserve. Whenupon often as not, they get it.

They think they know everything. Seldom does it occur, and then only to the deeply religious and odd, that God is working with more information. Yet even these “believers” seldom glimpse what the larger scheme might be.

He allows horrors: sufferings and deaths. He allows the rain to fall on the just; and the hail, and the lightning, and deluges; He allows thieves, and He allows taxes. He lets good men go to prison, and bad men roam free. On Friday, Stateside, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, He allowed five spacy judges, including two who should have recused themselves, to outvote four partly sensible ones, on a matter of crucial and enduring public importance.

*

These judicial legislators also went about it in the most foolish available way, by ponderously invoking the sorry nonsense of “substantive due process” — and now there will be hell to pay for all faithful Christians (Jews, Muslims, &c). Rather than review the merits of the case before them, on the basis of existing law, they made new law from whole cloth.

Let me dwell on this a moment, for the media have all but obliterated the circumstances of the case, in their rush to celebrate the outcome. It was not about gay marriage, per se. The question was originally whether a registrar in Ohio was obliged to record the homosexual partner of a man, deceased, as his “surviving spouse,” — given that they had been legally married out-of-state. Ohio had previously recognized all out-of-state marriages as valid, including those between cousins, or minors, which could not be legally performed in Ohio. A case could be made that the registrar was so obliged, that would not require Ohio to change its marriage laws, let alone every other State in the Union. The judicial overreach was breathtaking.

By invoking this (hallucinogenic) doctrine of “substantive due process,” where nothing of the sort was required, Justice Kennedy (a Reagan appointee) breached the dam. His majority opinion enables a flood of further petitions to follow through the same gash. As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out in his dissent, the same reasoning could be used to legalize polygamous marriage, and anything else you can imagine. As Justice Scalia observed, the doctrine itself is among “the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.” Anything could be meant by it — above, beyond, and then infinitely beyond what it is taken to mean at this moment.

Moreover, Justice Kennedy, with the four stooges behind him, reasons “empirically” from his own arbitrary and personal notion that “heterosexual” marriage and family life are flourishing in the United States, and so “homosexual” marriage can only contribute to this happy state of affairs. All the major evidence — all — runs contrary to that. The institution of the family is disintegrating in the same United States, as throughout the Western world. It has been pulled to pieces by the very inversion of moral values which Justice Kennedy is advancing. He is thus a lunatic. But of course, he is not alone.

Polygamy, &c, won’t happen in the near future, because America’s progressive elites don’t want it, yet. Something else will happen, immediately. The decision positively invites the gay lobbies to go after Christians, with legal bullying; it renders every claim to freedom in the practice of our faith, legally indefensible. We are all bigots now, in American law, and any who refuse to accommodate homosexual demands for public recognition are in the dock with racists.

*

I have some firsthand experience, for the benefit of U.S. Americans, especially journalists, of what is coming next.

Twelve years ago, my column started disappearing from the CanWest newspapers (starting with the National Post), as I persisted in opposing “same-sex marriage.” This was when it was coming to Canada, as the result of an Ontario Superior Court decision — after which the (nominally Tory) judge partied with the plaintiffs. The media kept mentioning that a “debate” on the issue was taking place, so I joined in, taking my knocks, which were many, personal, and often low and nasty.

Only one other journalist in Canada was, to my knowledge, not only on my side but dug in. (Others would say, “I’m against,” then change the subject.) This was Rory Leishman of the London Free Press. To Rory’s eternal credit, he got dumped as a columnist in his own home mainstream newspaper, years before I finally walked from mine.

For of course there was no debate, and no debate had ever been intended, and those opposed who did not choose silence soon found silence chosen for them.

I used many arguments, when I fought this fight on our Canadian national front line, but at the heart of them were these:

That once marriage is defined as no longer between “man and woman,” but “two persons,” all marriages become gay marriages.

That once homosexuality is defined as equivalent to race creed or colour, all faithful Christians become bigots, for the purposes of “human rights” legislation. (Along with the entire human race, born before yesterday.)

Alas, these arguments proved too simple to understand.

*

From that Christian view: What good could come of it? Why has God allowed it? Why has He let the basic building block of human society be overturned in this way, so totally and so vastly?

These are good questions, the answers to which we are unlikely to learn in the course of our earthly lives.

Given the trend of American and Western society, however, the decision could come as no surprise. Nor has it significance in itself, except as a key link in a longer chain of monstrosities. More particularly, we should never be surprised by a perverted ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. It has a long history — more than two centuries, now — of whimsically undermining every principle of Natural, Common, and written positive Constitutional Law, in service to powerful elites of the moment, and for the purpose of enhancing their powers. They have long been hirelings for the Zeitgeist.

From Marbury v. Madison, to Dred Scott v. Sandford, to the Slaughterhouse Cases, to Buck v. Bell, to USA v. Carolene Products, to Korematsu v. USA, to Katzenbach v. McClung, to Roe v. Wade, to Chevron v. NRDC, to the Obamacare ruling one day and this horror the next (I omit hundreds), the American Supreme Court has proved a law unto itself — as, too, courts modelled on it around the world: arrogant and stinking with moral corruption. This includes the one with which we were saddled in Canada, after the innovations of 1949 (if not earlier).

No men, with the powers conferred on Supreme Court justices, will fail to abuse them. And the way in which they will abuse, given the foundation of their power in abstract reasoning, will be especially damaging. Each pregnant decision, like this — but also as others of more limited pretence — has the effect of tossing another monkeywrench into the Natural Order. Eventually, it comes spitting back.

For God, the final author of that Order (which mediaeval lawyers attempted only to “discover”), is great and good. He allows us to make a mess, and even helps us to recover from the mess that we alone have made, by means that would be beyond our humbled powers.

What is happening in this instance I cannot tell, but I do have a glimpse from one angle. The false prestige of American and other modern Western institutions — consciously founded on secular ideals, which may not deny God but certainly ignore Him — grew with outward material success. “We are rich and emancipated, therefore cannot be wrong,” is subtext throughout Justice Kennedy’s meandering Opinion. This sand was spread in the very foundation of our North American “freedom,” as in the modern European “freedom” advanced by Enlightenment and Revolution. In retrospect, we have been able to claim, plausibly, that “we did it, and we were not stopped.”

Though painful to believers and unbelievers alike, the conditions have been brought about for the breakdown not only of our material order, but of the premisses that underly it. Or put another way, we are committing the final acts of self-destruction.

In parochial American terms, the heresy that Pope Leo XIII defined as “Americanism” is being shown for what it is. Individual initiative cannot much help us, let alone save us, from the cumulative effect of individual initiative. The final “separation of church and state” does not lead where we expected. And while the Church may now be under systematic attack, by the State; and while the attacks will surely crush the little faith of innumerable callow Christians, delivering the “novo” section of our Church to extinction; the Rock beneath them begins to be exposed. In the end, that State is dashing itself upon that Rock. It has already dashed its own brains out.

The “American dream” must perish. We have believed ourselves to be independent in just those areas where we are not and never can be. Conversely, we have denied that we are independent in just those areas where we are, indeed, capable of real moral choice. The Declaration of Independence is soon a dead letter; we are feeling our way mysteriously back towards the contrary Declaration of Dependence.

*

Here is a quote that a reader (Perfesser Smith, no less) has copied to me, from Romano Guardini, in his beuk, The End of the Modern World (1956). It may not at first seem relevant to the above, but on a few minutes thought will be found to address the point directly:

“It is cheap and false to condemn the medieval use of authority as ‘slavery’. Modern man makes this judgement not merely because he enjoys the discovery of autonomous investigation but because he resents the Middle Ages. His resentment is born of the realization that his own age has made revolution a perpetual institution. But authority is needed not only by the childish but also in the life of every man, even the most mature. Integral to the full grandeur of human dignity, authority is not merely the refuge of the weak; its destruction always breeds its burlesque — force.

“As long as medieval man was gripped by his own vision of existence, as long as he heard its music sounding in the depths of his heart, he never experienced authority as shackling. It was a bridge leading to the absolute; it was the flag of the world. Authority provided medieval man with the opportunity to construct an order whose magnificence of form, intensity of manner, and richness of life were such that he would have judged our world as paltry.”

And too, I should think, as a dictatorship of fiends.

Fraternal charity

Being no expert or authority on anything, I am loathe to pronounce ex cathedra judgements, even from the Chair of the High Doganate. Perhaps I am excessively shy: I stick only to self-evident propositions, condemn only the most obvious frauds, and shower my moronic enemies with only the most affectionate abuse. I never say anything controversial.

The meaning of raca in today’s (Vetus Ordo) Gospel, and therefore its most suitable translation into the vernacular of the moment, is subject to some dispute among scholars. There is a little university game going on, in which it is argued that the term carried the flavour of “fairy” or “faggot,” and that by condemning its use Jesus was making a statement against “homophobia,” and thus marching with the rainbow coalition. There is, as usual with such perfessers, no evidence whatever for this fanciful notion, which would make a hash of the whole passage in the Sermon on the Mount within which it appears (Matthew 5, verses 20 through 24). So forget this whole paragraph.

That raca is a husky, strong Aramaic word, embedded in melodious Greek, would be heard immediately, as rough within smooth. It would come from further back in the throat, commanding a slight pause. This in itself would put some emphasis upon it.

Aramaic, “cognate” (nearly meaningless term) with Hebrew; as also with Canaanite and Phoenician and other ancient Semitic tongues — ancestor to Arabic; spoken as lingua franca in neo-Assyria and neo-Babylon; as still today among certain persecuted Christians, more than three thousand years after it formed — was probably street language in New Testament times. It could also be elevated and rabbinical: a specialized form becoming the language of the Talmud. But it would not be so spoken in the village or the marketplace.

The lingua franca of the eastern Roman Empire was Greek, however: the language of town and of the open road, with centuries of Hellenistic use behind it. I daresay Jesus was fluent both in Greek and Aramaic. And had perhaps even a smattering of Latin; as well as being comfortable with biblical Hebrew texts (apparently by the age of twelve). And that He put Greek words into Aramaic sentences (the way they drop English into Hindi at Delhi), and vice versa (in a different spirit).

It does not follow from the fact that the Evangelists feel the need to explain Aramaic words, that they spoke Greek (and wrote or dictated it, with considerable facility), but their Master only Aramaic. For Jesus was not a man of slow wit; we should not assume he was as linguistically challenged as the typical North American. I would think He spoke Greek, almost exclusively in the towns, where he would drop in the odd Aramaic term, for colour. Ancient Palestine was, as today, not a large place. You can still walk across it; I have. So I further doubt that Greek was confined to the towns.

Conversely, I rather think the sleepy, conventional view, that Jesus was unilingual in Aramaic, depends not on evidence but upon a populist, romantic fallacy. To this day, we want to cast Him as a “prole,” surrounded by sophisticates of the chattering classes.

But these are not useful categories in the context. We can see in the Gospels that Jesus is speaking to men of all classes — to the rabbis and to the Romans, not only to the crowds; and to members of quite various sects. He walks, as it were, through cultural and linguistic walls; does not offer any Marxist class theory, nor preach on the evils of “colonialism.” Like the wanton mistranslation of raca, this is all self-regarding, post-modern phantasy.

Indeed, His subject matter — human salvation — is different in kind from the subject of politics, and necessarily precludes political tact and stratagems. He did not take sides, He wiggled out of labels. He spoke to be understood, and in His time and place, I should think He would have had to speak both Greek and Aramaic. His disciples, I should think, likewise: I would make the comparison to northern New Brunswick where, in small towns and rural locations, men such as fishermen have for generations spoken both English and French, toggling back and forth without thinking, and sometimes mulching them together. But when Christ’s disciples are speaking “to the world,” they stick to Greek, and explain the Aramaic. The Greek goes into Latin, as it travels west, but the Aramaic floats over unchanged, as a cell within it.

Qui autem dixerit fratri suo, raca: reus erit concilio. Qui autem dixerit, fatue: reus erit gehennae ignis.

“Whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca!’ will be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

One might over-parse, but it seems to me that an important point is conveyed by the switch of language, and that it wouldn’t have been noted and preserved if the auditors did not understand the purport. It even seems to me that a distinction is made by Jesus, more meaningful than the one the scholars have tussled, earlier in the same verse, over whether the words “without a cause” were original, or a scribal interpolation to exempt “justifiable” anger from the anathema on murderous Wrath. A scribe might well be legalistic; Our Lord did not split hairs that way. He forgave imperfections; He did not slice and dice to accommodate them.

Raca meant, so far as anyone currently alive can reconstruct, “empty-headed” in the Aramaic colloquial of twenty centuries ago. The Greek moros (Latin fatue), “fool,” is then presented in parallel — not in this case by an Apostolic interpreter, but within the quotation of Christ Himself. The flip is designed to bring out a subtlety, of real spiritual import. For the Greek word goes beyond the Aramaic, carrying with it a connotation of atheism, and thus the implication, “entirely beyond the reach of God.”

The “council” might punish you for calling your brother citizen an airhead, in defiance of good form; the Speaker of the House might nail you for that frightful use of such a rude term. But we get beyond the council, and down into burning Gehenna (“Hell”), when, from the depths of our being, we call him an unsalvageable airhead.

Therefore, we should not do that. For when we do, we murder him in our soul.

Drawing a comparison

There could be an international banking collapse Monday, I gather from this morning’s perusal of “the news.” This because the Greeks have now pushed it, not only to the limit, but somewhere beyond. We offer no investment advice, up here in the High Doganate. Nor do we prognosticate from Saturday to Monday: much might happen in between. We only note what the Greeks themselves are doing: taking every last euro on which they can get their hands, in cash out of their banks.

More interesting than any banking crash to me is the nature of their behaviour. In the technical sense, it is schizophrenic. They voted for a Left government that would put an end to “austerity,” and get their creditors — simplified to “the Germans” — off their backs. This would make everyone happier, and they could go back to living as they did before: which is to say, like Germans, but on a spree. That they didn’t believe for a moment that this was possible, is evident in the run on their banks, which began even before their last election.

People are considerably more sensible when acting directly on their own behalf, than when voting. Events in Greece exaggerate this disconnect, so well that anyone can see it. The Greeks believe in magic, at the level of the State, but closer to home they do not believe it.

This problem goes beyond “democracy,” I should perhaps mention. It arises wherever the people entrust public institutions with powers that are larger than their human agents could possibly master. They might believe in unelected dictators, for a season; or in the wisdom of legislating through courts. It is a common disorder of the irreligious mind: to put “faith” in things that are unworthy; to trust men and machines, in place of God.

North Americans are just the same. Politicians like Barack Obama flourish, because they promise magic, just like Greek politicians. Suspend disbelief, at the behest of some spellbinding, charismatic politician, and one can actually imagine that the laws of supply and demand do not apply to government measures; nor that any natural law could pertain to sovereign personal responsibility. For an electoral moment, one enters into the narrative conceit that pigs can remain airborne. The government may simply pass a law to abrogate nature. If it has failed thus far to do so, the only explanation can be ill-will. “Conservatives” are mean, and  lack compassion, and are preventing “the people” from getting what they want. They must be evil men. “Boo, boo, bad man!” as my little sister used to say (at the age of four).

But the people themselves do, actually, understand gravity when it applies to them, and only in the most clinical cases will they climb on the roof to see if they can fly.

*

Now, there was other news this morning, including an item that inspires not a retraction, from me, but an important qualification.

Gentle reader may have perused recent Idleposts, in which I appear to question the pope’s secular opinions on subjects such as “climate change.” I did not dwell on the admirably Benedictine (sextusdecimus) connexions he is drawing to large moral facts: for instance, that people who wish to save endangered animals might start with human beings in the womb. Or that, those who worship some “ecological” order might acknowledge that the “traditional” human family exhibits all the requirements for one.

There is more, equally astute, in the encyclical of Pope Francis, and good Catholics have pointed to several edifying passages, while trying to defend it from the opprobrium cast by other good Catholics, who think it wanders recklessly off divine message, into areas of unnecessary secular controversy. (I use the term “good Catholics” loosely.)

A popular position is that this longest encyclical I have ever read has a “dialectical” purpose: that it is trying to engage with the “progressive” types who do not themselves see obvious connexions between A and B and C — by bringing the connexions to their attention. “If you believe this, then you must also believe that,” and so forth. That is why, for instance, we see from the word-cloud generated by the document that the word “Jesus” has so little place; why instead words like “human world development economic social new change must resources” are so prominently represented, and the general term “God” is so much preferred, as a means to avoid trinitarian precision. For the pope is not only writing to the converted.

To my mind, and I think in established Catholic practice, a pope writes specifically to the converted, but too, over their shoulders to anyone else who can read. He does not write from an “evolving” position, but from a settled doctrinal position, which he must be at pains to vindicate, constantly. The worldlings may have other views, but when they’re listening to the pope they should be aware, or be made aware, that the Pope is Catholic.

I do not accept this “dialectical” suggestion, however, not only on such absolute terms, but also because I claim to know how the “progressive” mind works. It is not dialectical. It does not argue, nor respond to argument, nor to “inconvenient truths.” Rather it suppresses, and demands the suppression of, whatever it does not want to know. I was not even slightly surprised that progressive media put the whole encyclical “below the fold” in their coverage; that they hardly mentioned any of the pope’s “Christian stuff,” and then only by way of contemptuous dismissal. The important thing to them is that he’d surrendered to “the science of” global warming, in a big enough way that they can hope he’ll soon abandon the rest of his quaint beliefs.

For, to capsulize this media view: “Who is he to judge?”

Yet the Christian stuff is there, if one looks for it. (We shouldn’t have to look quite so assiduously.) And this is what makes it so comfortable to read, when compared with, say, yesterday’s majority judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court, enacting same-sex marriage, nationally. Or for that matter, the big judgment from the day before, imposing Obamacare provisions in the majority of American States that were trying to resist them.

Read Justice Scalia’s dissents from both judgments, or Justice Alito’s dissent from the latter. Note that not even these intelligent Catholics question the root presumption of positive law, to stand prior to natural law — in the course of arguing that the Court has overturned specific provisions of positive, written law, in defiance of the Court’s own constitutional responsibility. In the end they, too, are arguing on ephemeral technicalities; on words words words, and not from the nature of things.

Example: marriage is being accepted as an institution of two persons. Even opponents of the “redefinition” implicitly accept this in their slogan, “one woman, one man.” While they do not omit to mention the children, elsewhere, the very fact is that marriage involves, not only in doctrine but in the natural order of things, “three or more.” That is normative, and when what is normative is replaced by the abnormative, certain ecological results follow. The glib view that marriage is reducible to “love between two persons” has been allowed to slide by. It is dangerously wrong, it has terrible consequences that can be foreseen, and surely to his immortal credit, Pope Francis has repeatedly explained why.

We have, to the south of our border, as well as up here in the grand vacant North, a new political order that is positively lawless. This has consequences that go far beyond “gay.” And we have reasoning both for and against this cancer that is inadequate at best. We are going to Hell, in other words, not in a handcart but in an aeroplane.

In this context, and by this comparison, Laudato si’ looks pretty good.

The goose procession

The closest thing we have to a settled reactionary faction, here in Parkdale, are the Red-Necked Grebes over in the pond precincts of Humber Bay Park. These Podiceps are hard to miss, this time of year, with their fetching black caps, their distinguished grey faces, and their superbly contrasted necks which, locally, are of a rust earth orange that brightens mysteriously in their mating season.

The males make fine brassy lovers; the females are calculating. They share a romantic tendency, however, founded upon domesticities and little Hobbetine in-jokes. There is aerial dancing of the country kind. The mating calls are of a bold parodic nature, often rather as the loons they resemble, but with an unloonish sense of the absurd.

Later, in the wash, the male will take the liberty of approach. He will yank a long token of subaqueous vegetation, glistening with mud, and flaunt it before the female in his flapsome, gregarious way. It is of such material their nests are made (and remade, five or six times a year) so that his “hint” borders on the sniggering and vulgar. The female will look on in amazement, as if she had never seen anything so coarse. But she is secretly winking at comrade, and in time, having let him strut, she will make her own dive, then surface with her own filch of building weed. This is marriage among the grebes. I have yet to observe their annulment process.

Seven million cubic yards of fill went into the making of that park, and not one wasted. It has become a little paradise by the mouth of Mimico Creek, for which I must thank all the commies and eco-freaks embedded at City Hall. They have caused a sewage treatment facility to be installed therewithin, which is itself a wonder of ecological design: successive open tanks on which the sun works, without mediation. In my humble, but insistent opinion, something like this should be part of any municipal garden. Sewage treatment should be a thing of beauty. It is my kind of aerobics, and includes a good use of a disinfecting chlorine, which itself breaks down perfectly in sunlight — unless I am mistaken, for I don’t really understand it at all.

The commies have also created a butterfly habitat, a rolling meadow decorated with restored native wildflowers, grasses, sedges, and shrubs. The city had been running a little short of butterflies, and the variety of them left something to be desired. Our urban birds missed them, too (the crows especially appreciate their crunchiness). Benches, stonewalls, walkways run around and through: one could do the same in a backyard.

Indeed, the apparatchiks of our municipal Kremlin have (at flagrant taxpayer expense) stretched a few hundred miles of nature trails through the city and its magnificent ravines — which I frequent the more because they dip beneath the urban crash of traffic, and offer many stations of tranquil relief. Though let me add the “system” was conceived by the duck-hunting conservationists, in the old, pre-revolutionary days — assisted by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. For she (Hazel) provided a dramatic demonstration of why we should not put suburbs in the floodplains and channels. For the foliage recovers quickly from a flood, but car-driving man is awkward.

Mallards and short-tempered (i.e. nesting) Redwing Blackbirds have been communed with, too, in recent ambles; along with gulls, gulls, gulls. There was a Sandpiper, but he was aloof; I didn’t know what to make of him. Bit of a dandy, I thought. Quizzical.

However, the most forward of our Parkdalian avian displays was observed with coffee early this morning, from the balconata of the High Doganate. This spectacle requires the high-rise angle, and strong binoculars, to fully believe. It is our annual (sometimes semi-annual) Goose Pageant.

Canada Geese from all along Lake Ontario gather for an extended-family outing, arranging themselves in an intricate tweed of chevron patterns, by family within each tribe. There are thousands of them, and they choose a moment as this morning, when Humber Bay is glassy still. The word must get about by the goose Internet. They fly in mostly from the east, and make the circuit of the Bay, a length of several miles. This circuit is performed with graceful elegance, at an altitude of about six feet, so that their numbers seem doubled by their reflections on the water.

Since moving into the High Doganate, I have witnessed this spectacle nearly a dozen times: the circuit of the giant mirror of Humber Bay; and then the re-ascent where the waters roughen, on the outer, far western side. They rise, and then circle back, descending for another turn: always counter-clockwise, and from what I can make out, repeated by each bird until the liquid mirror is disturbed by fresh breezes.

Now, these geese are loud, obnoxious, Tory birds by disposition; not perhaps as rightwing as the grebes, but more forceful in expressing their opinions. You don’t want to argue with a Canada Goose, especially from the Left. I barely get along with them myself, and only because they know I am opposed to “democracy” and “welfare.” That, and they credit me for giving them some space. And while they may not be as vain as the swans, they do appreciate some favourable publicity, and the odd passing prayer.

Why do they gather for this extraordinary pageant, and perform their procession with such solemn, liturgical pomp? I’m sure some Darwinoid will come up with a fatuous evolutionary explanation, but the truth is as I will now impart. It is the grand reunion of Goose Nation, an ordered fly-past of all the tribes, led by their lords in strict precedence. (Followed no doubt by a vast formal feast or picnic at some other location.) It is done in the most exacting idleness, for the pleasure of doing it, well.

“A place for everyone, and everyone in his place.” This is the high principle of avian Torydom, and the geese understand that it is joyful.

Shock effects

Many people there are, whose modus vivendi with the world seems founded upon one and only one principle: never shock anyone. I refer to the class that can also be described, from a slightly different angle, as “total bores.” One loves them, of course — tepidly, as suits their condition. With imagination, one may “feel their pain.” For it is easy to under-estimate the amount of nervous energy that is required for this task — especially today, when people are so easy to shock with mere words.

With one known person, the taedium vitae may not be impossibly hard to achieve, but imagine a conversation with three or four unknown persons. Or the entire audience, that a politician must address, without offending anyone. The intellectual dilution is staggering. With luck, however, he may find an audience of his fellows, who arrive pre-diluted.

On the other hand, people are harder and harder to shock by acting in a depraved manner, which was one of the traditional ways of shocking people. Hence a new sub-class is emerging, of people who are openly depraved, but also, total bores.

I observe that the truth is often shocking, or perhaps always shocking if one is living a lie. Like humour, it has long been considered in poor taste. Today, the telling of either — the truth, or a good joke — may involve legal or quasi-legal penalties. Loss of livelihood, perhaps; but if the joke’s good enough, gaol time.

The Devil hisself is, incidentally, a total bore, as people used to know, in the Middle Ages. Often they would go out of their way to mock him on this account. They were not so compassionate in those days.

Today, in sympathy with the Devil, let me give him an excuse: he has no choice. He cannot possibly achieve anything with men if he offends them. He is not without discipline; it takes an extraordinary amount of work to get the Devil to hiss at you.

But it can be done, with sufficient application. The truth pains him, and if you step it up, you can get him shrieking.

Unfortunately, this has the effect of summoning all his friends.

Opposite Christmas

Today is the Summer Christmas, or rather, was treated as such in the High Middle Ages, from what I understand. The account of Saint John Baptist in Luke’s Gospel places his conception about six months before the Annunciation to Mary. In symmetry, three Masses were offered, as for Christmas Day. It was this rich mediaeval heritage that came with the settlers to New France.

When I was young and stupid (before I was old and stupid), I was under the impression that Sainte-Jean-Baptiste was the Patron of Canada. My reasoning accorded with the scale at which his Feast was apparently celebrated in Quebec; it also made poetic sense to me in light of his legend. Catholic Christianity came only recently to these parts (less than half a millennium ago), but arrived fully formed from the Old Country (France in our case). I associated this patron with the advanced age of his mother, Elizabeth, and strangely also with the “forerunning” coureurs de bois. I pictured John Baptist as a kind of Elijah, from darkly prognostic passages in Isaiah.

Only when I eventually looked it up, did I realize that, no, Saint Joseph is our principal Patron; and about five hundred more were established, long ago, in various Canadian locations. Sainte-Jean is however patron to the Canadiens or Habitants of Quebec, eventually recognized as such by Pius X, although the devotion arose from the people. It was, like every other holiday in Quebec, originally religious, perhaps entirely so for the first two centuries.

Some hint of a nationalist association was clinched in the approach of the Lower Canada Rebellion (towards 1837). The lamentable Sainte-Jean-Baptiste Society took hold of it to this end, inspired by the model of American Saint Patrick’s Day parading; and since, it has followed the trajectory of society in French Canada, down the dark hole, so that now it is called officially, La fête nationale, and is associated with unpleasant public behaviour.

Moan, moan: a month ago the Archdiocese of Quebec closed the huge Saint John Baptist Church, built to rival Saint Patrick’s in New York. This first and oldest of Canadian dioceses is in course of reducing the city’s two hundred churches to perhaps thirty, to keep up with the flight of Catholics. They can no longer afford to maintain these high-cost, publicly-neglected properties, and this latest closing signals that their policy of supporting at least the most visible monuments to their country’s Catholic past, has itself been abandoned.

Alas, the only alternative would have been to revive Catholicism in Quebec, a task beyond the hierarchical imagination.

The church in question (seating 2,400) still had a congregation of a few dozen, now transferred to a cosier place. The last Mass, for Pentecost, was celebrated in a peculiar way. The priest gave two devoted old ladies permission to join him by the altar in the Sanctuary; he returned to find the whole congregation in tears pressed therein.

Christ is not dead; the Church is not dead; though we might say that Quebec is dead.

A bitter person might observe that what remains of Quebec’s identity is worthless. Her Catholic religion has been systematically replaced with the moral and aesthetic filth of “agnosticism,” which characteristically expresses itself in hooligan mobs and jingo. The worst fascist undercurrents in the old Quebec — anti-English, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant; the old peasant bigotries — are all that survives from the heritage; with the French language now imposed, by jackboot. Surely such a view would be overstated.

My own instinct would have been to keep the church open; to continue singing until the last priest or deacon, the last parishioner has died; until the roof fell in. Then let it stand as an eloquent ruin, for any passing Christian.

But of course this is not “practical”; the modern state’s hygiene police (buildings division) would move in at some point. In that case, let them; let them take possession by force, as the Da’ish took possession of the ruins at Palmyra, without the slightest resistance from any of the many generations of its ancient ghosts.

The Archdiocese of Quebec instructs its few remaining laity not to be bitter, as it re-finances itself from the real estate holdings. (Churches in the province are being closed currently at the rate of about six a month.) Nor is this necessary: the facts speak for themselves.

Saint John Baptist pray for us; gather our heritage from the summer dust.

Breathe life again, O Holy Spirit: sprinkle with hyssop and restore, that the bones that are crushed shall rejoice.