Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

On managing

“Professional, David?”

This was my boss speaking, thirtysomething years ago, when I was deeply implicated in “professional journalism,” editing an Asian business magazine, and allied tedious publications.

I had used the word carelessly, in the conventional way, to suggest that some of the habits and practices of the company were not quite “professional,” and might be amended to make them more so. But what I actually meant was things could be done to deliver “more quality,” as an end in itself, quite separate from any calculation of market demand, since we’d already aced the competition. I granted that my proposal was eccentric. I mentioned “ethics” at some point, thus digging my grave a little deeper.

“Professional, David? … You can’t even spell the word.”

This was unfair. I had made a special study of the spelling of “professional,” carefully noting the double-S, which, for a mnemonic device, I associated with the Schutzstaffel, and imagined in Armanen sig runes.

We fell into a debate on the meaning of the word “professional,” which was promptly decided by rank. “Professional” turned out to mean an operation that proceeds smoothly; that is impersonal; that is free of temporal distractions and unnecessary costs; and in which everyone does what he’s told without thinking. (This last is called “teamwork.”) It is product-oriented, and the important thing is that the product should preserve market share, while remaining profitable. Let the philosophers decide whether it were any good. The product should rather be, in itself, smooth and mechanically predictable: anything warmly human in the packaging to be carefully faked by the experts in a professional advertising agency. Costs and benefits should be enumerable, and transparent to management at every stage. “Quality,” by contrast, “is purely subjective.” It is a question of fashion, to be referred to those specialists in hype.

“This is a business, not an art form,” I was told. (To be fair, this boss would himself have preferred to be an artist; but the art form would have been acting, and so he played his rôle.)

Now, ethics do come into this. A company that is flourishing will have clear “policies.” A lot of money could be lost if the company were caught cheating, on taxes or whatever; and secrets, as we know, can only be kept between two people if one of them is dead. Therefore, various “options” that might further streamline a profitable operation must be rejected on sight, as adding unconscionably to risk. But ethics cannot extend to any background worldview, that is agnostic on the fundamental human virtues, and thus essentially exploitative and sleazy.

As I have long observed, ethics are for people who have no morals.

I think “professionalism” came in, to the marketplace, about when craft standards were going out. It was discovered that a mass market had come into being, as a consequence of the technological innovations of some Industrial Revolution. Products were no longer made for specific buyers, but for demographic groups to purchase “off the shelf.” Souls could now be counted in the Gogolian manner, as “consumers” in terms of heads, eye-balls, little feet, &c. Broad-franchise representative democracy was a parallel development, and finally, the principles of marketing could be applied across the board. Far from consideration as an immortal soul, the individual could now be denominated as a fungible cypher: a one or else a zero.

Words do change in meaning and flavour over the years. Like every other concept in our Western, breaking-news environment, “professional” descends from the experience of the Catholic Church. The original “professors” were of religion, and if I am not mistaken (and how could that be?) the word “professional” itself was coined, in English, at the tail end of the Middle Ages, to mean a person who “professed.” That would not have been a business man.

Mind: the idea of doing things well, does not come into this discussion at all. Saint Cecilia was, I should think, a capable as well as inspired musician. Again, craft standards preceded the “professional” ones, and what once came from the choirs of our Church was in no way inferior to the congregational karaoke we usually hear, today.

Nor, strictly speaking, would this XVth or XVIth-century “professional” have been an “employee.” The nature of his obedience was different in kind: to God in Christ Jesus. For that matter, the “managerial revolution” — which has brought us everything from Twinkies to Bergen-Belsen — was still some centuries off.

The survival of ancient, monastic ideals, in the modern, cubicled office environment, should be easy enough to discern, once we realize that the ideals have been twisted approximately 180 degrees, so that what was down is now up, and what was up is now down.

Opposing the “professional,” in still-current usage, is the “amateur.” We all know the etymology, from people who do something for the love of it. But this has come to mean, people who do things in an “unprofessional” way, which is taken as untrained, unqualified, inexperienced, and clutzy. Whereas, under the old regime (Catholic and mediaeval), Love was acknowledged as the great Teacher, and those who acted from love would (immortally) succeed.

By now, gentle reader should realize how backward I am. While I have no hope whatever in our capacity to wormhole into the past, I am given to invidious comparisons.

All this by way of expressing my lament, upon discovering a notice in the lobby of my apartment building, that the magnificent and beloved “Scottish harridan” who was the superintendent of this place (she thrilled to be called that behind her back) — the Cardinal Burke of Maynard Avenue; the lady who from sheer uncompromising will, inviolable common sense, impatience with evil, and indifference to all professional creeds, raised this to an island of peaceable humanity in the midst of Inner Parkdale — has been “retired.” And that her singular authority has now been transferred to a “professional management team.”

Where is the High Doganate to move, I wonder?

Hunwickean in Parkdale

The best Catholic blogger in the world is — I think, at present — a gentleman who came into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic quite recently, through the Anglican Ordinariate. His blog is entitled, Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment (and may be found here). It is a daily fund of liturgical information, encompassing the history and theology of the Church, delivered with the sort of authoritative wit we once associated with Oxford, and still might since he apparently resides there. (I know the man not, personally, construing what I can from his blog.)

More than any other link on the Internet, Hunwicke is responsible for my recent silences. I post this only to call attention to him, and send my readers thence on days when I discover myself too gobsmacked by “events” to know what to say, so sit here pondering, stupidly.

His learning aside, I wish to call attention to Hunwicke’s “attitude.” One might almost describe it as a “totally engaged, droll aloofness.” There is no question that he cares passionately about what he is teaching. Notwithstanding, he stops short at what can be homiletically taught. Yet what can be taught he lays on “with a trowel” — that useful tool of gardener and builder. (See his recent post in which he suggests our Pope, now that he has everyone’s attention, might want to do the same in an encyclical triumphantly affirming Catholic teaching on the family.)

As to Hunwicke’s “style,” I can easily imagine readers who would not like it. Some will think it flippant, which is their constitutional right. It is unmistakably intelligent, and so requires full attention. Latin and even Greek phrases are wantonly sprinkled, and not all of them are translated. Most controversially, the man is satirical. He is gently so, but post-modern man is almost allergic to genuine satire, as opposed to the sarcastic parody by which it has been displaced. Satirical humour in the broader sense — float like a butterfly, sting like a bee — is generally avoided, as not obvious enough. It is also frequently condemned, where it cuts to the quick of truths we are avoiding.

Let me trowel that point for a moment. To my mind, the difficulty goes back to the Reformation. Before that, people would be occasionally burnt at the stake for heresy. Or rather, since we are all heretics at one level or another, for preaching heresy, persistently and contagiously and in spite of the third warning. Whereas, after the Reformation, people were burnt mostly for satire, instead: for not taking statesmen and the state’s churchmen seriously enough.

The remarkable freedom with which mediaeval man (including woman) satirized the hypocrisies and other moral failings of monks, nuns, priests, bishops, even popes and anti-popes, is a matter of record to those who can read. (May I suggest Piers Plowman, for starters.) To this day, there remain traces in certain political constitutions of Europe, in old Hapsburg realms and those of the Holy Roman Empire, wherein the freedom to satirize is specifically affirmed. (See constitutions of Germany and Italy.) For this was among the mediaeval rights of man. What you weren’t allowed to do is question the long-received doctrines and dogmas of Holy Church. Powerful men you could mock, including clerics; but Christ you could not mock.

Wherever the Reformation succeeded, this formula was effectively reversed. Lèse-majesté became the unutterable crime: affronts to the divine right of kings, and more generally to the dignity of persons in high stations. The powerful in both church and state became practically indistinguishable from their public offices, and their dignity was to be defended at all costs. The viability of each State depended upon it: Catholic as well as Protestant, in due course.

Later, of course, we had the Enlightenment, in the spirit of which one could be guillotined for the look on one’s face.

By now, in our post-modern account of civil “freedom,” we confuse persons and things, and are irreverent alike to God and man, Truth and folly. Under the “dictatorship of relativism,” one is as good as the other, and the question comes down only to what you can get away with, under the latest, quite irrational, frequently satanic, unwritten and indefensible doctrines of “political correctness.” Or in other words, we are still in the Enlightenment.

Hunwicke is an unreconstructed mediaeval man, as we all should aspire to be. Truth matters to him; the reputations of persons, not so much. Yet still he doffs his hat to the authorities, in the time-honoured mediaeval manner; doffs, as it were, what is lawfully owing to the office or chair, regardless of the clown who may be sitting in it; doing obedience, when necessary, with humour. (My hero Saint Thomas More was like that: going to the block with a little joke to the axeman.)

The true Christian must preserve his humour. Or rather, preserve his sanity, which is the same thing.

What Hunwicke conveys goes to the heart of the Catholic faith. It is the liturgy, the sacraments, the Real Presence, communicated throughout our world in “live time.” The doctrine and discipline are embodied in this way, put into words of divine music, and acted through, in this very Presence. To understand our own dogmas — which differ from the pestilent unstated dogmas of our world — one must pray them. One must understand them in relation to Christ; not in relation to any other master. The function of homily — from the Greek for “discourse” or “prattle” — is to direct attention back into the Mass, to expound the meaning of the Mass, to explain what it is saying, what Christ is saying, through His Mass. That is the centre of Catholic life. Everything else in Catholic life returns to that centre.

For that is what the Church is saying, and as Joan of Arc put it: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” (It was she, too, who stated with such beautiful clarity, that she did not know whether God loved or hated the English, only that they’d be kicked out of France.)

The effort to complicate the matter requires much complicated resistance. Father Hunwicke has a genius for disentanglement. It would be worth “following” him, if only for the entertainment of watching how he does it. By all means go there before here. And then for godsake go to Mass, and apply what you have learned.

And with a light heart, for what is in the news doesn’t matter, and the dignity of worldly power is a big joke.

Wrath revisited

One should not write at all when one is very, very angry. Several past Idleposts have been deleted on that ground. Much better, I admit, to delete before posting. But best not to write them at all. I count it as a serious character flaw, on my part, that in such situations I seem unable to take to drink, and indulge immoderate writing, instead. Yet even drink can provide no reliable cure: for I have known several angry old men who were not improved by alcoholism. Supplicatory prayer would then be the last resort.

It is worse if one pretends that one is not angry, for the purpose of making one’s anger count. Indeed, one of my most reliable sources of anger is people I catch doing that: who strike the Olympian pose when their motive is quite obviously the settlement of a personal score. To the crime of unconscionable wrath is added the vanity of being above it. Lucky am I, that as one of nature’s hotheads, I am almost incapable of pulling that off.

For the combination of anger and self-esteem is lethal.

This is a general observation: that while the Seven Deadly Sins may be formidable, each of them in its own right, their combination can provide real throw-weight. Add pride to any of the six others, and one has constructed a ballistic missile, aimed infallibly at one’s own soul.

There is such a thing as righteous indignation. There are occasions when it needs to be used. But it is not a weapon for amateurs.

11/11

Poppy sales have been recovering — I refer only to the artificial kind — for so violent has been the history of the last century, that we can count on fresh reminders to wear them. Today, once again, at eleven o’clock, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month — before our War Memorial in Ottawa, where a Canadian soldier was recently slain in the name of Allah — we will again observe a moment of silence. And once again the first verses of a rondeau will be read, which ends: “Take up our quarrel with the foe, / To you with dying hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high. / If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders Fields.”

I like to supply that last stanza, because by omitting it our politically-correct masters of ceremony break faith with those who died.

Outside an old high school, there was a long plaque (since removed) listing the names of students who’d gone off to Europe, 1914–18, and not come home: a few dozen boys, and a couple of nursing sisters. My grandfather showed it to me, when I was young. He said, “Those are just names, but I can put a face to every goddam one of them.”

War is not nice, and “niceness” is our current religion. I’m against both, myself — against war, and against saccharine sentimentality — if they can be avoided. Often they cannot. I have some considerable respect for pacifists who will put their beliefs on the line: who will serve in the ambulances and so forth. And, nothing but contempt for the rest. I am also against nationalism and jingoism and populism — the very ingredients of the Great War, and through the Wilsonian idiocies of Versailles, the cause of many wars, later; and all of them “total wars,” as the consequence of modern demagoguery.

Men are sinful; and while frightful technology and mass mobilization have increased the scale of the carnage, barbarism is nothing new. Armed with modern equipment, acolytes of Power from the distant past might have equalled our accomplishments. There will always be quarrels to take up with such foes.

My grandfather danced across France, and up Vimy Ridge. I keep his side satchel on my closet shelf: “H.R. Warren, #340976, 25th B’t’y, C.F.A.” This is so I may read that each time I reach for a jacket, to go outside. Inside the little satchel I have stuffed my father’s leather and canvas flyboy helmet, lettered, under a cartoon, “J.F. Warren, Ape-Shape.” He flew Spitfires, “for his late majesty King George VI,” against the German Modernists.

Both had to lie about their age, to get to the front quicker. Their recruiters winked: wars are for fighting.

The people have spoken

I see that Americans are well satisfied with their politicians: over 95 percent of incumbents re-elected. Perhaps I should be more gentle in my criticism of a system that can bring such torpor and contentment, and is not so unlike monarchy after all.

For note, that in this fast-changing world, some things do not change; that some jobs stay safe, from year to year and decade to decade.

One wonders why politicians go to the trouble of awarding themselves such extravagant pensions, when they could just leave their names on the ballot, indefinitely. Retirements cost the taxpayer money: for now, instead of the one politician, we must in effect pay for two. With term limits, who knows how many we must keep, in the style to which they have become accustomed?

Think of all those presidential libraries the poor Americans have had to build, when Jimmy Carter is still alive and kicking. The ancient pharaohs did not visit so many pyramids on their constituents.

Indeed, why should we bother with elections, once we have established that so-and-so has the most recognizable name? We could wait, and have another election after he dies. Or better, cancel that, and simply pass on the seat to his eldest child.

Fox News: “A complete rejection of Obama, his agenda and leadership.” …

Oh, please.

All the souls

[N.B. like others before, this “essay” has grown since it was first posted.]

*

I will tell you a Church  “reform” I would like to see. But now I will be using this word as a synonym for “restoration,” and not as the world is currently using it. I would like to see Latin restored as the normal as well as normative language of the Mass, for many different reasons. But for today’s purpose, I will give only one reason. It would contribute to the restoration of parishes; which in turn would contribute to the unity of the Church.

“The Eucharist is not a private business,” Joseph Ratzinger (as he then was) explained, in a memorable homily. (It was for Corpus Christi, and is reprinted in the first volume to be issued of his Collected Works, in English translation, just out from Ignatius Press, page 405.) It is not the meeting of a club, a gathering of like-minded people, or those who enjoy each other’s company. Indeed no institution in all human history comes close to the Catholic Church, in the diversity of her members. That is no accident, but the intention with which she was entrusted by her Founder from the beginning. She is there for all souls; and He meant, all souls.

In the good old days, of the first centuries, when we were being persecuted by the Romans — and in a way closer to what is now happening in the Arab than in the Western world — we established our churches wherever there were Christians, above ground when possible, underground when not. In these good old days, when the Church was digging in, principally around the Mediterranean Sea, including Anatolia, Egypt, North Africa — we settled upon a very particular and controversial practice. There was to be one (1) church in every town, or within any other given jurisdiction or “parish.” Note that number carefully, which is different from two, three, or any other number. For there were to be no “niche” churches, adapted to specific classes or ethnicities or enthusiasms or groups of any other sort.

Ratzinger: “It was characteristic of the Eucharist, then, in the Mediterranean world in which Christianity first developed, for an aristocrat who had found his way into Christianity to sit there side by side with a Corinthian dock worker, a miserable slave, who under Roman law was not even regarded as a man but was treated as a chattel. It was characteristic of the Eucharist for the philosopher to sit next to the illiterate man, the converted prostitute and the converted tax collector next to the religious ascetic who had found his way to Jesus Christ.”

This was, in our current fashion idiom, “transgressive” on the part of the Church. People resisted such seating arrangements, and as we may recall from the literature of that age, the right-thinking types considered it contra naturam and a scandal. Not as big a scandal as the theological one, however: the very idea that God could have a Son, so weak and hapless as to allow himself to be crucified in plain public view. (When the Muslims mock our Christian account of Jesus, they use exactly the arguments the old Romans used.)

One “scandal” at a time, however, and today’s (holy) “scandal” is putting the variety of people all in one Church, generally, and specifically all in one locality into one local church — and inside that, celebrating the Mass in one liturgical language, transcending all ethnicities. To the many objections, even from within, the answer from the bishops was, and should be: “You’ll live.”

Christian community was built in this way; by which I mean, the thing itself in flesh and blood, not abstract slogans and theatrical postures. Christendom spread, through the many and multiplying local churches, and on the mystical breath of common liturgy. Christians were not to be atomized. We might call this the Old Evangelization, in contrast to the latest marketing ploys. The people were bound together not by worldly affiliations, but in Christ. (St Paul and St Luke cast so much light on this.)

There is an apparent paradox here, that is not a paradox. Our post-modern “liturgists,” in that “Spirit of Vatican II,” tell us that the liturgy is all about community; and about “creativity,” “freedom,” “participation,” and other vogue words of this nature, each taken at current face value, after catastrophic intellectual inflation. They stand, to my mind, in opposition to the Word. The New Mass has been filled with talk, more talk, responses, more talk, and “audience participation,” with feelgood popular karaoke hymns. (As Ratzinger observed, the liturgy itself is the first thing to set to music. To insert sung hymns into a said Mass is to throw them at the liturgy.)

By comparison, the Old Mass was full of silences. The music — the glorious, ancient heritage of Catholic music, which the “liturgists” sabotaged by gratuitously changing the scanning of texts — was participative in a quite different way. To the words of the liturgy, embodied in the poetry and music of the Mass, the congregation listened. It spoke through them, in common prayer. It was meant to be beautiful, to raise people up, not to degrade them; the highest possible standard for God, not the lowest common denominator of the congregation. The people participated in this way; they were steeped in bottomless profundities which — said or sung — echoed through interior contemplation. Not a passing variety show, a kind of spiritual vaudeville with the latest happy-clappy tunes, but the same ever anew, unfolding in the harmony of the seasons — yesterday, today, and forever. The congregation participated not volubly, but reverently. Seldom, when spoken by the priest, was the whole Canon of the Mass pronounced aloud: it sufficed to pronounce the first few words of each section of prayer. The congregation was following, humbly and intently, repeating the rest of the prayer not in a showy, but in an interior way. It was drawn out of itself, and it participated in that drawing out, its focus upon the Cross, and thereupon what is true, immortally.

In short, the community was being formed, not in itself, but in Christ. All the souls gathered in Him.

So far as I can see, all the changes made to the liturgy, in the chaos of the 1960s and ’70s, sabotaged this action. Consult the reasoning, and one sees that it was sabotaged intentionally. (A decent, if rather fey attempt is being made to roll some of this back: to correct at least the “reforms” that were directly in conflict with instructions from the actual Vatican II.) The congregation is distracted by the sound of its own voice. Its attention is turned to the priest, facing, then mirrored back onto itself; not priest and people together in one single attention to the liturgical East. There is all this “we are the people of God” pomposity: the arrogance of the “democratic” mob, celebrating its own vulgarity. Distraction has been piled upon distraction. By contrast, to pray, with all one’s soul within the sacred chant, and polyphony — and to pray the silences, in rhythm with the whole Church — is a profound participation. (Again, read Ratzinger, and discover through his works all the real authorities on the liturgy, spread as they are through twenty centuries, and not just the conceited, bureaucratic “experts” of a decade or two.)

A community, in Christ, is formed in this way; a local community within the universal community. The liturgy itself is forming this community: in the practice and very presence of Christ. Something so deep cannot possibly be casual; nor altered by whim from week to week.

The old Protestant insistence, that services be conducted in “a language understanded by the people,” may be taken in stride. Anyone in possession of an American Catholic Missal, published before Vatican II, will note that the Latin is translated to English in parallel columns, in case anyone is wondering what is going on. And, since they would be attending every Sunday, at least, they would eventually get the hang of it. There were people allergic to Latin even before 1962, of course, but they’d live.

Now what happens if, as in any large city today, we have people whose native language isn’t English? Or who, even though they have more or less adapted to the civil lingua franca in these parts, remain sufficiently “multicultural” that they attend (when they attend at all) ethnically-themed Catholic churches? Or Masses in different languages within the same church, which similarly divide the Catholic faithful into ethnic ghettos, setting natives and immigrants apart? Gentle reader may begin to see where Latin comes in: for it was and must necessarily remain the lingua franca of the Western Church; as Greek is of the Eastern, including that part of the Eastern in communion with Rome. Hardly are these the only languages, and the Mass could be sung in many more, but wherever the Catholic Church has travelled, and it has now travelled the whole world, Latin is the language of first resort.

I’m not touching here questions of schism, except indirectly. Rather, I observe that an attribute of the One Church, is oneness. Arrangements may be slightly adjusted from province to province, diocese to diocese, even parish to parish, but in each case and at any location, visibly, one Church. (It is the more painful that the contemporary, faithful Catholic must often cross parish boundaries to attend a church where heresy is not being preached from the pulpit.)

Have conditions changed in the world today? But of course: things are rather different than in the first centuries. But the fact of variety has not changed, nor has the fact of the Church. And with regard to the important matter of human ontology and immortal life: no Catholic is a “niche” Catholic.

As ever in these idle essays, I invite gentle reader only to think of this; to think things through. The points I make are those which strike me as obvious and incontestable, even though the same reader may see them as irretrievably subtle and easily contested. But again, think it through, and in its context: the fallout from all the disintegrative liturgical innovations done in the name, not of Jesus Christ, but of the “Spirit of Vatican II.”

Galatians, towards the end of chapter three: “There is neither Hebrew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The handcart chronicles

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, in his Erasmus Lecture for 2014:

“If we ignore the poor, we will go to Hell. If we blind ourselves to their suffering, we will go to Hell. If we do nothing to ease their burdens; then we will go to Hell. Ignoring the needs of the poor among us is the surest way to dig a chasm of heartlessness between ourselves and God, and ourselves and our neighbours.”

This is so true that, it would seem, the opposite is also true. This is Christ’s dismissive reply to some liberal posturing from Judas, when He said, “the poor you will always have with you, but me you will not always have.” I quoted this recently, to the end of suggesting that if we ignore God, we will go to Hell.

The Nanny State, in which we willingly participate, provides us with a wonderful opportunity to ignore the poor, in our spare time while we are ignoring God. It allows every enfranchised taxpaying citizen to declare glibly, “I gave at the office.” Meanwhile, the bureaucracy itself ignores the poor, reducing them to an economic transaction, within an administrative routine, whose heartlessness must be experienced, to be believed.

That word, “heartless,” is underused today. It raises the stakes on our idea of “feelings.” We have too many feelings, most of them fake. The genuine ones tend to be quite selfish. We “hurt” easily, we indulge, easily. Empathy and compassion are reduced to “feelings,” and our “concern” is to make the rich pay. The actual poor are subject to our feelings of irritation. When cornered, rhetorically, we may write a cheque, but it becomes a kind of blood money. Living as I do in Parkdale, I am conscious of the ignorance of one street for another, one house for another, one apartment to the apartment next door. I can understand it. I don’t want to know these people, either.

So that my heart breaks — I am “genuinely impressed” — when I see examples of personal outreach to the neighbours. Most often I see this in the form of one rather desperately poor person, spontaneously helping another. Such as offering him a cigarette. (The smuglies in government have made cigarettes expensive.) Such as “being there” when a man is fallen, and not just calling nine-one-one. Such as taking care of the crazies, hands on. Such as — and this is the most impressive thing I’ve seen — teaching a hopeless wretch the use of a rosary. Because that can change everything.

It is no accident that the best work around here comes out of churches (and of course, not just the Catholic ones). That is where God is most likely to put ideas into people’s heads. It is a little known fact that helping the poor requires imagination; and that the average person needs divine help to acquire any.

We have a municipal election today, up here in the Greater Parkdale Area. It is a joke. Most will not vote [update: not so, turnout shot up to a “stunning” 61 percent thanks to the Rob Ford legacy]; most of the rest know approximately nothing about any of the candidates. According to some poll, 27 percent of the electorate are happy with the city council, and 95 percent of the incumbents will be re-elected [update: check, check]. For the school board positions, there are all-candidate meetings in which less than a dozen people show up, including less than half of the candidates, and everything said is a generality. This is the Nanny State at its most intimately “democratic” level: an indication of how much “society” cares, at the level where it claims to care most.

“Someone will take care of it.” This, in my experience, is the true basic attitude of the citizen today. And that someone will have to be well paid. And if he is not, no one will take care of it. We are, if I may speculate, all going to Hell.

Quietly from Rome

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI made a wonderful statement this week, some traces of which I have been able to find through such obscure media as the Catholic News Service. It was a letter to some students and faculty in Rome’s Pontifical Urbanian University, read to them, Tuesday, by his secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

At a time when modern, secular, revolutionary forces have again been unleashed in the capital of Christendom — when a synod on the beleaguered Christian family could be hijacked by a proposal to welcome polygamy and sodomy — it provided this reader, at least, with relief from desolation. The Emeritus Pope’s as-it-were “encyclical,” was about as long as my last Idlepost, but as ever, much holier in tone. It was one of several modest but characteristically penetrating statements that have come from him, since he went into his prayerful retirement.

Let me plagiarize the reports I have read. Benedict writes:

“The risen Lord instructed His apostles, and through them His disciples in all ages, to take His word to the ends of the earth and to make all men his disciples. …

“But is this still possible? Many ask this question, both inside and outside the Church today. Wouldn’t it be better for all religions to get together and work for the cause of peace in the world?  The counter-question being, Can dialogue substitute for mission?

“In this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality; that religion is a common category, which assumes different forms in different cultures, but amounts to the same thing. The question of truth — that which originally motivated Christians more than any other — is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is, in the last analysis, unreachable; that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. Better to put the question of truth aside,  for the sake of peace among the world’s religions. …

“This is, however, lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness: everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine.”

End quote. The miserable Warren will now resume his diatribe.

The good, the true, the beautiful. Each opens the gates into each of the others, and into the heart of the mystery of the Triune God. Not one of these is expendable. And the Truth is indivisible.

Our English word “truth,” from its northern etymology, denotes steadfastness and fidelity, the genuine and consistent. It reaches beyond this to connote the apt, the fitting — in parallel with the old Greek aletheia (misappropriated by Heidegger in a gnostic way), which meant “the evident” — the being and becoming evident, connoting its presentation.

In our Christian universe, truth is manifested in the sublimity of holiness, so that in moments the word stands not for truth alone, in the narrowest “factual” sense, but for the convergence of the transcendentals: for goodness, truth, and beauty, all three. It is suddenly embodied for this world, in the very person of Our Lord.

Those who seek the truth may find it. The Christians of the ancient world announced that they had actually found the answer to the questions of the philosophers: the truth itself. They did not merely claim to have made a little academic progress. Conversely, they were very plain: that if this truth is not true, it must necessarily be a lie. “And if Christ is not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

This declaration is of course in Saint Paul’s first “encyclical” to the Corinthians (15:14); the same in which he was laying down the law on faith and morals and ecclesiastical discipline to a people who might strike us today as peculiarly “modern”; who were themselves rather inclined to substitute “dialogue” for mission. The proper purpose of “dialogue” is to lead us from error into truth; it is not to compromise on what that truth might be. And from the moment in which, through grace — and in “the peace which passeth all understanding,” that eureka of the deepest joy, deeper than mere “feeling” — we find ourselves in possession of the truth, our task is not “to deal,” but to proclaim it.

Yet — plagiarizing again — Pope Benedict writes that some religions, the “tribal” ones especially, are “waiting for the encounter with Jesus Christ.” And when they have found Him they have, in their turn, not only something to take, but something to give: “Christ is waiting for their history, their wisdom, their way of seeing things.” The Christian Church herself, “grown tired in its historical heartlands,” is waiting to be re-animated by them. (God bless Africa! God bless Africa!)

“We proclaim Jesus Christ not to procure as many members as possible for our community, and still less in order to gain power. We speak of Him because we feel the duty to transmit that joy which has been given to us.”

In the Eucharist — in the Adoration to which all men are called, including every kind of sinner — in the presence of the Truth — let us reclaim that unutterable Joy. For as the first apostles first proclaimed: We have found the Messiah!

*

Note: A full translation of Benedict’s remarks, by Fr Richard Cipolla, is now available at the Rorate Caeli website (here). I revised my own excerpts in the light of it.

Ottawa in the news

It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.

Now, Harper’s genius, as a power-seeking politician, is the opposite of Obama’s (the once popular USA president). He carries the “Conservative” label, of a party slightly to the right of the others in our Parliament. Therefore he has most of the liberal media machinery against him. Obama, as perhaps we all know, has enjoyed until recently a compliant and fawning media, that do not criticize their darling, nor hesitate to suppress news that would be unfavourable to him. Obama’s tactic has been to draw attention constantly to himself. He has something to say on every subject, empty of content, but dramatically insistent in its repetition of the first person singular. By contrast, Harper goes out of his way to distract attention from himself, and when he can’t, to avoid vehemence of any kind, or anything resembling drama.

This is not to say he isn’t ruthless, as a political operator, and backroom settler of scores. Anyone associated with Christian causes, such as the defence of human life, will know how he rules his pro-life backbenchers. His intention is to keep the party “on message,” with a message that will not excite media attention, so he can get on with normal administration. His strength is his reputation for management: he has not, like Obama, made a hash of everything he has touched. The Canadian budget is actually in surplus, and while our cumulative debt is substantial, and we face the same unfunded welfare liabilities to an aging population, we have not the bottomless debt and fiscal chaos into which Obama and other irresponsible politicians have delivered the United States. (Notwithstanding, when they crash, it will be right on top of us.)

But of course, this is a “democracy,” and the great majority of our population, as those in all other countries, are almost entirely ignorant of public affairs. Like children, they get bored with good government, but unlike children they have, collectively, the power to do something about it.

At the next election a young political huckster, who happens to be the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, and enjoys something of his father’s winning ways with the women, and a matching cynicism, is likely to win. Young Justin Trudeau is unlike his father, however, in having little in the way of an agenda, beyond power and prestige for himself. Like Obama, he is not an ideologue, only a typical product of our public universities: a mind half-baked with “progressive” platitudes and clichés. He has no discernible discernment, and there is still a chance that the electorate will see him for what he is. Nevertheless, he can already count on the protection and support of our liberal media, which, like musk-oxen detecting a threat, instinctively form a stomping circle around the little fellow, knowing he will be unable to defend himself.

(The situation is complicated by the existence of a socialist party, which itself displaced the Liberals in opposition at the last general election, thanks to a demagogue at their head, who knew how to pander to Quebec. This man has since died, but the party may still be attractive enough to split the opposition vote. In the past, Harper has been rather good at playing the two parties slightly to his left against each other, but after years of isolation in the prime minister’s office, he may have lost his edge.)

*

What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.

It is important to understand that, except a few, the journalists are not ideologues. They are, once again, typical products of our drive-in universities, and journalism schools which have, if possible, even lower intellectual standards. They know no history, nor anything much about the topics on which they write, and can be easily mesmerized by a narrative they have themselves written, by rote. Such is the nature of promotion within what has become a niche of the entertainment industry, that those of independent mind and moral fibre are quickly weeded out.

I’m inclined to use the term “progressive” rather than dwell on Left and Right wings, for there is some contrast between, say, MSNBC and Fox in the USA, between CBC and Sun News up here. There is a growing Right — an opposition within the media to itself — but it is not a significant improvement on the monotony that preceded it. The idea that, as a form of entertainment, news coverage should aspire to “tabloid” conditions, and avoid subjects which require knowledge, governed the rightwing impresarios from the start. The Right is fresher and feistier than the Left, and by its Pavlovian habit of reacting to Left agendas, sometimes traps itself in a principled position; but this is a random, not intended effect. Both sides continue to share the post-Christian worship of abstract “liberty,” “equality,” and material “progress.” They clash on who can deliver these empty buckets quicker. But the battle is fought from both sides with the same weaponry — platitudes and clichés — in a kind of unending spiritual Verdun. “Progress” invariably emerges as the victor.

*

“Democracy,” or populism, has always delivered the Nanny State — which to my understanding is something more than a centralized bureaucracy. The Communists tried to deliver it by force, but politicians in our parliamentary free markets advance it by appealing to the lowest common denominator. The two systems — falsely contrasted “socialist” and “free market” ideologies — are animated by the same Enlightenment ideals. Both claim to speak for the mute and anonymous “little man”: to stuff him with material goods, and inflate him with rhetorical gases. Both play, directly and indirectly, on the envy in that little man, and his resentment of his betters. Both are thus effectively in opposition to the natural hierarchical ordering of society (which made and would make most politics unnecessary). Both promise, as a matter of course, what the serpent offered to Eve and Adam: the fruit that will make the little men “like gods.”

The purpose behind this is not to build the bureaucracy, as an end in itself, but bureaucracy as the means towards moral debilitation. The excellence of bureaucracy, from the diabolical point of view, is that it reliably punishes the good, and rewards bad behaviour. Its weakness remains an inability to predict that human behaviour, including sudden manifestations of the “hostile inflexibility” mentioned in my last post.

For there is in nature something besides the original sin that felled our first parents, and has been the trickster of history ever since. There is also a positive, which I’m inclined to call “human decency,” or in its most extreme and inflexible form, Love. This cuts across all diabolical intentions, and in moments of grace even faces them down. It should be said that the free market approach to moral debilitation leaves rather more scope to this human decency, though it tends to draw the line at Love. Violent tyranny leaves no scope at all, but as a consequence of plugging every vent, triggers the response of pent-up forces. At some point, the signal from a fracture spreads, and in a kind of earthquake, Berlin Walls come down. The genius of the rival consumer democracy is that it releases the pressure, one riot at a time.

But democracies, too, are fated — like every material aspiration on this earth, to die and leave no traces. When they deny the immortal dimension of man, the unchanging reality of creature and Creator, they become dry husks. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and in every direction the dry husks are scattered away. Only by God is the living implanted, and only on God’s terms will it grow. That jealous God, who will have no other gods before Him; against Whom we have, in truth, opposed our little “democratic” pie-in-the-sky.

*

Returning to Ottawa, by way of virtual reality, I note the media headlines this morning. The lockdown is lifted from the middle of the city, and led by their progressive elites, Canadians are congratulating themselves on their “defence of democracy.” In fact the credit should go entirely to Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, in his wonderfully quaint neo-mediaeval costume; and to his 9mm pistol. He was fortunately pitted against only one Muslim psychopath and, laudate Dominum, had a good angle.

Thanks to such events, the mental lockdown of “political correctness” is also lifted, if only for a moment, allowing people to see what they can see. Muslim fanatics are running successful social media operations, recruiting openly in our prisons, and grooming terrorist hitmen in the mosques. To this I would add the phenomena of our universities, where many of the young have discovered it is “cool” to identify with the latest, Islamic, revolutionary cause. The old New Left are converting, or when not, at least giving their lip service to Hamas, Hezbollah, or any other enterprising group who will promise carnage. Indeed, direct anti-Semitism has come back into vogue among our cutting-edge progressive intellectuals: you’re considered a wimp if you say “Israeli” when you mean “Jew.” But these are people who all along have been, quite obviously, inhabited by devils, and as a Catholic friend observed, it is a great pity we have bishops in our Church who have never performed exorcisms.

“Our dear old bag of a democracy” (Auden’s charitable description) believes it has faced another challenge down. One editorial is headed, “Nothing will be the same again”; another declares, “After the attack, we’re still Canada.” These are two ways of saying the same thing, which could be combined as, “Everything will be the same again.” For we live in an age which gathers records, and stores them carefully away, but has no sense of historical time; when it is almost illegal to note that, for instance, “this sort of thing has been going on since the VIIth century.”

Our opponents are not after our dear old bag. “Democracy” is not relevant to their intentions. If we think it is, we have entirely missed their point. Our enemy is after us, body and soul; wants us enslaved, converted, or dead; and does not share in our nice sentimentality. I would further observe, that against such an enemy, platitudes and clichés are ineffective; that his will has embodied a demonic force; that it is encountering no spiritual resistance, whereas: we are going to need God on our side to defeat it.

Saving grace?

Not previously, on this little anti-blog, have I devoted so much attention to an item of “breaking news,” nor for such a duration. My “obsession” with the Synod on the Family in Rome has been consciously pursued. Something of very great importance and consequence is taking place; and it is not only an internal Catholic affair. As many Evangelicals and mainstream Protestants are aware, as well as “conservative” Jews and others, including even some atheists who care about morals and cultural values, the Roman Church has provided both front and back lines of defence. I know people, for instance, who do not agree with the Church’s “absolute” positions on divorce, contraception, abortion, and more; who nevertheless think that without the Roman tenacity, their own more “moderate” positions would be blown away. Despite the failures of her own very human staff — which are not confined to horrific sex scandals  — she is often, indeed normally, the last institution standing against that “dictatorship of relativism” of which Pope Benedict spoke; the “culture of death” against which Saint John Paul preached so eloquently.

“If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” We rely on the Catholic Church to hold her line; a line which if abandoned would portend the final disintegration of our constantly retreating “Western Civ.”

*

On Sunday, Pope Paul VI will be beatified. I am well aware of disappointment in him by many traditional Catholics — the belief that he let things happen that should have been stopped dead in the wake of Vatican II — especially the vicious things that were done to deface the Mass, by a circus of “liturgists” on his watch. He was surrounded and on many occasions overwhelmed by the worldly agents of the “principalities and powers” of whom the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians. He was by nature a shy and aloof intellectual — had not the sort of personality that would fit a man for heroism. Yet he was also unquestionably a man of deep faith. On one miraculous occasion, in which (to my judgement) his hand was guided by Christ, he performed an act of extraordinary heroism. This was his writing of the encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

I shall never forget a train ride I took at the age of fifteen, from Buffalo to Cleveland. From a newsstand, in the old Buffalo railway station, I had picked up a copy of the National Catholic Reporter, which contained the full text of the encyclical, in English translation. Note: I was then a fire-breathing adolescent atheist, and persecutor of nice Christian children in high school cafeterias. My intention was to provide myself with more ammunition against Christians generally, and Catholics in particular.

On the train journey I was reading the encyclical with attention, to this end. I recall having read it through twice. The first reading left me in shock: the document appeared to be very intelligently argued. At the second reading, still closer, I began to see that, given the premisses openly and honestly acknowledged, the argument which followed was irrefutable. In order to mock it, I would have to misrepresent it. On thinking it through I realized that I could dismiss the premisses; but that if I did, I would have to argue that Man was a creature of no moral significance; that human life did not matter. I was a reasonably intelligent child, I could see the consequences of that position: in Hitler, Stalin, and so forth.

Nineteen sixty-eight was for other reasons a memorable year. In so many ways it became clear that Western man was attempting suicide. The convulsions on American campuses, and in her streets, can be seen in retrospect for what they were. Parallel events were happening in Paris and throughout Europe. My native “conservatism” was such, even then, that I was appalled: especially by the wincing cowardice of “authority figures,” abandoning their stations. Suddenly I saw, clearly, that Pope Paul was making a stand.

My atheism was hard-boiled, if internally scrambled. It survived this encounter for a few more years. But I was no longer able to pretend that the Catholic and Christian position on human life was ridiculous. Moreover, I could see that the line had to be drawn at the moment and in the act of conception — at contraception, not abortion. Returning to Georgetown District High School (for my last year before I dropped out), I then added to my already growing reputation for eccentricity. In the student debating clubs to which I belonged, I was now arguing — as a florid atheist — that Pope Paul was dead right in Humanae Vitae; that if we did not draw the line at contraception, we would be on the “slippery slope” to real, murderous barbarism. (In a Protestant town that despised Atheists and Catholics about equally, this was quite the pose.)

Everything that has happened in Western society in the forty-six years since, has borne this out. Moreover, every Christian denomination that has abandoned that front line — on sexual morality — is now in advanced stages of collapse, from one thing that led to another. This is demonstrable fact, not rhetorical posture; just as the emptying of Catholic churches by the innovations of the 1960s is demonstrable fact.

*

My latest column at Catholic Thing (see here) attempts to get at a point on which “post-modern” man is obtuse: the nature of law, and of the sophistry which tries to undermine it. That: “What was true yesterday remains true today; what is true today will remain true tomorrow.”

It is too early, by far, to see what will actually emerge from the Synod on the Family, and more broadly from the papacy of Francis. But I should add to what I have already written on this subject, that a week that began in one of the dark moments for the Catholic Church — in the release of a synod Relatio profoundly evil and destructive — has ended fairly well. The response to it from the bishops assembled in the working groups of the synod has been stellar. They have made clear to the world, or at least, that part of the world paying attention, that it was a false and lying document, intentionally misrepresenting what they had been discussing inside.

The Australian, Cardinal Pell — whose “dayjob” is currently cleaning up corruption and incompetence in the Curia — made the initial stand, leading the overwhelming majority of bishops to demand the publication of internal proceedings which the pope’s own agents were trying to suppress. I was immensely cheered, once again, by the courage and clarity of such men as Cardinals Mueller and Burke. Cardinal Napier of South Africa showed in both his clarity and his instinctive statesmanship a wonderful example of what a Prince of the Church should be. And in the “hard lines” drawn by bishops from across Africa and Asia, we could see the future of our Church: that she can indeed recover from the filth and squalour into which she has been led by compromised and compromising Western bishops. In his bigoted remarks against the Africans, Cardinal Kasper also revealed the true nature of the liberal “reformers” — calling for “mercy” in their sophistical ways. “By their fruits ye shall know them”: it was a moment when the mask came off, and anyone with eyes could see what was lurking behind it.

Make no mistake, this is war. And it is a war now raging in the highest councils of the Church herself, where an attempt is being made to overthrow Humanae Vitae. The souls of many millions are at stake, and the trumpet must give no uncertain sound. We have real scoundrels embedded in our hierarchy; but as we have been poignantly reminded, Christ will not abandon His Church. Perhaps we have seen one of the great historical moments of intervention: of what is called, “Grace.”

Postscriptum

My brain hurts, from trying to follow reports from Rome, in languages I imperfectly understand, about the relatio mentioned in my post yesterday. Let me recommend this morning’s synod briefing by Robert Royal (here) as the best and most reasonable summary of the riotous proceedings. To my mind, it becomes more apparent that a coup is being attempted, to foist a load of liberal rubbish on the world, and give it the appearance of revised Church doctrine. But to my relief, the best of the cardinals left by Saint John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, are aware of what is happening, and have begun to take action against it. We still have good men.

Let me also recommend a patient and attentive reading of Beati Immaculata — the long Psalm CXVIII — for some context on divine law, natural law, and ultimately civil law. It is an “ABC” on these matters, following the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and may be mastered through diligent prayer. (Our monks would break it down into eleven successive pairs of the eight-verse stanzas, to pray it carefully.)

And then, the remarkable encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on human liberty, Libertas (1879, here), which I don’t think has dated as an explanation of why the Church can make no truce with modernism. The modern man thinks he has a “right” to the manipulation of his own conscience. But our ability to err is not a right to err, and the perfect liberty which Christ bestows is freedom from the tyranny of sin and error. This liberty is ancient, indeed immortal, and can never be revised or “reformed.” On the contrary, the modern project to extend liberty — to discover and to legislate new liberties — is, “to tell the plain truth, of a vitiated kind, the fruit of the disorders of the age, and of an insatiate longing after novelties.”

“Insatiate.” There is no compromise to be had with the “reform” faction. Like the Islamists we have been dealing with, in another theatre, they will take each concession as a proof of weakness, and immediately press for more. It is suicidal foolishness to believe that one may negotiate with a serpent.

Set before me for a law the way of thy justifications, O Lord: and I will always seek after it. Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart. Lead me into the path of thy commandments.

Something to declare

There is a wonderful passage in a memoir by the Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown. (For the Islands I Sing, 1997.) He finds himself in a drunk tank in Edinburgh, with two other gentlemen: one a sailor, “who had damaged his hand in a fight in a respectable coffee-house”; the other an English tourist, pleading for a cup of tea. Brown himself had been arrested for “drunk and incapable” in Hanover Street. The three, though seriously hungover, and in some misery, spent much of the long day in laughter together.

Night came, and the policemen added a fourth customer: a gentleman blathering obsessively about his hatred of Catholics. When this became insupportable, the sailor declared himself a Catholic, in a decisive yet understated way. The Englishman then announced that he would be a Catholic, too. Our poet became the third to realize that he was a Catholic, even though he had not entertained the possibility, before. The scene ends with the fourth shrieking to the guards, to let him out of this cell full of Catholics.

I think it is the happiest triple conversion story I have read. I must thank my gentle reader, Lord Jowls, for sending the book to me.

*

My intention had been to write, today, about the bizarre document that came yesterday out of the Vatican. It is the relatio post disceptationem, for the first week of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. ​I’m scratching my head trying to guess what it was meant to accomplish, and whom it was meant to please — besides people who loathe the Church, both within and outwith her. Scratching my head till it is bleeding.

Questions come to  mind. Do the bishops not know what this is doing in the parishes? What doubts and divisions are being sown, by their posturing vanities? The discouragement they are spreading among Christ’s faithful and obedient? The encouragement they are giving to the wolves? About the rancid smell in the peanut gallery?

Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they just want to pleasure one another.

It is statistically unlikely that all two hundred bishops are at fault. We know with certainty that many in there must be as appalled as many out here. But it is becoming apparent that a considerable number, perhaps even the majority, are devoid of shame.

We should pray for them, I suppose, as we pray for practising homosexuals, and the squalidly remarried, and others who find themselves trapped in a situation that is objectively and inherently disordered, just as they begin to realize that it is disordered, and there will be no easy way out. Bishops playing fast and loose with Church doctrine are especially in need of our prayers. Christ give them strength to confront their own degradation.

The press conference after the release of this relatio was, if possible, worse than the document itself: the sight of bishops tacking and weaving in the spin mode, which we rightly associate with sleazy politicians. Christ inspire them to begin answering direct questions, honestly.

Meanwhile: “Whatever they do in the Vatican, I’m staying Catholic.” Even if the pope should be objectively disordered — and we have had some right scoundrels in the past — we must stay the course. It is up to us now, to show an example to our bishops, and hope they come to their senses, soon.

My particular prayer is that, in the face of this Vatican abomination, people may react by Grace, as the gentlemen did in that Edinburgh drunk tank. I pray that Christ may come to us directly: in His unexpected ways.

To those sincerely Christian, but not Catholic, I would plead: come. Come into the Church now, and help us fight the contagion within.

Whom to thank?

Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October. It is earlier than American Thanksgiving, because we are farther north. Our growing seasons are shorter, and our farmers need more wit. Comparing available arable land between the two countries (which are approximately equal in total land area), a geographer could explain why the USA has ten times the population. It is because our farmers have approximately the same amount of wit.

Farmers: God love them. There was once a time when four in five of our Canadian workforce were farmers or fishermen; now they are perhaps one in fifty. Those still in the trade grow older; the median age of farmers in Canada is now fifty-six, and so retirements are accelerating. There are far fewer farms than a century ago; but much, much larger. The industrialization of agriculture, and the persistent growth of government regulation, has changed the nature of farming; and methods of distribution have been centralized to the point where I know country people who drive into the big city, specifically to buy fresher food. The transfer of population from rural to urban locations likewise changes consumer attitudes, including those towards politics. City folk tend to have no clew what is involved in food production; contemporary “environmentalism” depends upon this profound ignorance. We think there are “solutions,” that can be legislated.

According to the city dweller, the world has become over-crowded. It certainly uses a lot more electricity, as we may see from satellite photos, overhead. But over most of the world’s habitable surface, the density of population is actually less than it was a century ago.

When the cost of labour goes dramatically down, and the cost of materials proportionally up, the “natural environment” will be restored. All trends in the last couple of centuries have been the other way; yet it is easy to imagine combinations of circumstances which might restore that natural order, and meanwhile solve all the infrastructural problems in the cities: by depopulating them. (Do not allow yourself to wish for that.)

Assuming some memory of technology is retained, the situation would not last long. We don’t need old machines when we can build new ones. For that matter, the evidence of the past speaks for quick recoveries. In looking into, for instance, the Black Plague, I am often impressed by this speed. Within a generation, “normal” seems to have resumed, even in places that lost more than three-quarters of their people. True, many villages are no longer there, and open spaces remain available for market gardening within city walls; but life goes on as if nothing much happened. Glibness rules.

This is why, I think, we would have to choose to live differently: to make genuinely hard choices, collective as well as individual, towards a simpler and more independent way of life. We would have to agree to be, on balance, poorer in conventional material terms, to become richer in the moral, aesthetic, and spiritual. We would have to do something frankly faith-based. This is also why I think we are unlikely to choose, until, like illness or death, the choice is made for us. Human sloth — the habit of following the path of least resistance — is not an especially modern phenomenon.

The farmer had time to read, and make his own music; to enjoy his family, and make real friends; to attend to the requirements of God, and of his neighbour. He could afford to be “idle” in this way. Paradoxically, our sloth now dictates that we participate in a rat race, mostly on terms resembling those of old-fashioned indentured labour. It is not that we work as hard as old farmers; but our exhaustion, at the end of the day, is a spiritual exhaustion, that leaves room only for passive entertainment. It blights the lives of employees and employers, alike.

Notwithstanding, the sense of gratitude, for life and the means of sustaining it, seems innate. Even in the heart of the city, we want to thank someone. We live, necessarily, in a state of confusion. And yet the clock still hasn’t run out on us. If only we knew Whom to thank.