Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Low Sunday

Quasi modo geniti infantes, begins the Introit this morning (“as newborn babes”), to which is added, alleluia (unnecessary to translate). “As newborn babes, alleluia, desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. …”

You can’t have enough Glorias in Eastertide for me; and neither could the Saints, through whom the Old Mass came into being (from God, and not from some liturgical committee), get enough of them (alleluia).

Through the season we have Glorias echoing from the Sunday Mass through the ferial days of the week, alleluia.

And time it is, too, for the “rational milk” — for our faith to develop and grow; for it to get itself educated. For the Crucifixion is our end, but the Resurrection is our beginning.

Carissimi: Omne, quod natum est ex Deo, vincit mundum, as begins the Epistle from I John. “Whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world.” Et haec est victoria, “and this is the victory,” quae vincit mundum, “which overcomes the world.” … And what is that victory? … Fides nostra, “our faith.”

To which I would add, alleluia.

There is some strange old man who stands at the northwest corner of Dundas and Yonge, all the day long, getting complaints from the shoppers. For he is not selling anything, he’s just in their way. I think this man is blind, or very dimly sighted. He also looks a bit tubercular. Winter or summer, he dresses much the same. At intervals he shouts one word:

“Believe!”

… at quite startling volume.

Those who know Toronto will realize he is standing in the heart of our Gomorrah. (Sodom is a few streets to the north and east.) Lately, “Dundas Square” has been tricked out with huge, high-tech flashing billboards, and floodlighting from all sides, to make it a cheap imitation of Times Square. But the gunplay continues.

We have heard of the man of one book, but here is the man of one word. And for the environment, I think it is well chosen.

“Believe!” … For this is the victory that overcomes the world: our faith.

I doubt this gentleman is a Catholic, incidentally. But he could be, for all I know. The one time I tried to speak to him, he seemed to be deaf. The way he pronounces, “Believe!” suggests a deeply ethnic origin, perhaps Baltic; but deafness would also account for it. And it is as if he had been struck by a fist between the two syllables.

But there is no problem making out the word: “Be-LIEVE!”

To which, on this first decent spring-like day in the Greater Parkdale Area — this Low, or Quasimodo, or if you want, “Hunchback Sunday” — I should like to add, in my rather snooty Catholic way:

Alleluia!

Of books & men

Out of my charity, lest I confuse one sort with another, I try to arrange my enemies in three distinct groups: 1. psychotics (with that “cold look”), 2. neurotics (with that “haunted look”), and 3. common fools. This last group can pull a wide variety of faces. So can the first two, for that matter, but the eyes are the windowpanes of the soul. This is why I grant blind people a pass; but am deeply suspicious of those wearing sunglasses.

In email, it is often hard to tell one from another. This gives psychotics and neurotics a head start. In a combox, however, the answer is likely to suggest itself right away, and we learn that the proportion of the deranged in our society is even higher than we guessed on our last city stroll.

Among philosophers, Henri Bergson was no hero of mine, but he had his moments, and one of them was when he explained to a young visitor why he attended philosophical congresses.

“Sometimes,” Bergson said, “I have spent weeks, months, trying to master the sophisticated jargon and complicated system of one of my contemporaries. But one glance at his face and I know that I’ve been wasting my time.”

His visitor, the young T.E. Hulme, recommended his own method. It was to skip forward through a book to the last couple of pages. This is where the point of the exercise will be revealed, and if it is “the usual” — more sludge out of the long pipe — one may then omit reading all the previous pages.

My beloved Doctor Johnson, who resembled Hulme in size and tone, had similar methods for “tearing the heart out of a book,” while browsing in his friends’ libraries. It was he who when once asked for an opinion, said, “I’d rather praise the book than read it.”

Cast once as a generator of “Brief Notices,” I remembered him, and was able to write about twenty reasonably polite one-paragraph reviews of the latest academic blockbusters in the course of a lazy afternoon. Out of my ethical sense, I avoided repeating anything in the dust-cover blurbs. One must have principles. And like Mencken, I refused to review any book without an index. (This means avoiding novels.)

Note that an operation requiring ten minutes or less with a printed book, could take half-an-hour or more with a Kindle.

The purpose of short reviews is not to pass final judgement. It is instead to identify the sort of reader to which each work is addressed. Some books are written for psychopaths, some for neurotics, most for common fools. A tiny proportion might possibly repay a closer examination, and these may be removed to another pile, where they will be forgotten.

Perhaps I should amend that. In some cases the purpose of the squib is indeed to pass judgement. I think of Dorothy Parker’s useful 1928 review of The House at Pooh Corner, in the New Yorker magazine: “Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”

Or of Hulme’s more leisurely overview of A Free Man’s Worship, by Bertrand Russell:

“So extremely commonplace, and expressed in such a painful piece of false and sickly rhetoric, that I have not patience to deal with it here.”

But whether one is dealing with books or men, concealment is a nuisance. One really needs to look at a face when communicating, with friend or foe. And words alone, without even the inflection of a voice, are a lot of trouble.

Even Better Friday

Friday is a fast day, except when it is not; and today, gloriously, it is not. And that is because it is Easter Friday, within the very Octave, and therefore a Feast. (Action stations at the old Pantheon in Rome, converted to Saint Mary’s of the Martyrs by Pope Boniface IV, fourteen centuries ago almost precisely.)

Though it should be said that today is Good Friday among our Eastern brethren (or, Great Friday, as they call it at Constantinople), stuck as they are with the old Julian calendar, and holding, we Westerners suspect, on a point of pride. Annoying, too: because it prevents us from consulting their magnificent liturgies for background on, and resonance with, our own — in live time.

Be the motive what it may have been, my Orthodox and Ethiopic friends weren’t responsible for the decision, just as my Protestant friends cannot be held to account for the behaviour of some of their ancestors (and mine), over the last five centuries. Each was born where he was born. Just as we, saintly Catholics (and I use the adjective wryly), should be visited with neither the sins of the fathers of our fathers, nor the sons of their other sons — having enough sins of our own, thank you.

Our ancestors on all sides made a mess of history. And we, for our part, are still making it worse. And what makes it worse than that is, we don’t care.

Moreover, I can understand why some folks aren’t Catholic. I nearly joined the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic myself, when I was first converted from godlessness, and by a miracle, in England back in the ‘seventies. And would have, perhaps, had it not been for a couple of rather godless, liberal Catholic clergy, from those “Dutch Catechism” days. They persuaded me (perhaps without intending) that the Roman Church was actually no longer Catholic, but instead gone over to the Other Side. For this was England in the ‘seventies, when the Mass had been totally trashed on the authority of Pope Paul himself, leaving only the Anglicans with anything resembling the traditional, Western Christian celebration.

Later, being coached for entry into the Anglican communion, I recall some questions from other members of my group.

One of them was, “Father, why-on-urth should we call Good Friday ‘good’, if Jesus got crucified that day? Why not call it Bad Friday, and call the next one, after the Resurrection, Good?”

(That the lady who asked this later sought the female ordination, seems somehow relevant here.)

The priest replied with some learned remark on English etymology. Good, he explained, is here used in its much older English sense of “pious,” and Good Friday was then, as ideally now, a day observed with grave piety.

This did not satisfy the lady, who said it should be renamed “Pious Friday,” in that case.

(I am not naming names, for they can still be traced, and the purpose of this anti-blog is not to settle old scores. The lady in question is now not only a retired Anglican priestess, but also a divorced one. Hardly a surprise: I pitied her husband even then. Still, I owe her, for she was among my many inspirations for finally leaving that communion.)

Searching in his heart for a way to explain the inestimable value of tradition, in words that might be acceptable to a madwoman, the poor Anglican priest broke down. He resorted to the sort of remark the quick-tempered Anglican Dean of Saint Patrick’s used to utter on such occasions.

“Well why don’t we compromise, ma’am. We’ll keep calling it Good Friday, for the time being, and call the one after, Even Better Friday.”

FAQ

He said we must love them. We don’t have to like them. Christ never asks for the impossible.

And, tough love is the best.

This, in response to several correspondents who think I’ve been riding a little hard on the liberals, lately. Nonsense.

To paraphrase Doctor (“the first Whig was the Devil”) Johnson, much can be done with a liberal, if he be caught young.

I am falling, ever falling behind my correspondents, some of whom ask quite straightforward questions, so I will devote today’s post to standard, boilerplate replies.

*

A frequent question is, “How do I subscribe, so that I can get your ‘essays’ the moment they are posted?”

The answer is, I don’t know. I am not a techie, and my son, who has the webmastery, also has a steady job, so that I don’t like to bother him too much. My only idea is: make me your homepage.

And yairs, to another question: I am now posting daily. I resolved to do this upon the Feast of Saint Andrew, one hundred and thirty Idleposts ago, and for as long as I could keep it up. For being then at a loss what to do, given a worldview that makes me completely unemployable, I consulted my Guardian Angel. It was her idea.

And yairs, I try to post every day by noon, but this is not always possible. Sometimes, for instance, I have to teach in the morning, though that is no big thing.

And yairs, among other motives I was rather hoping that Gentle Readers would take the hint, recognize me for a Brother in some long forgotten and defunct, mediaeval Mendicant Order, and start dropping cash into my begging bowl. Some of you have, indeed, started: and I am very grateful, including the thought of you with grace before each meal.

*

“What does ‘yairs’ mean?”

It means “yes,” I gathered, from my perusal of an obscure Australian novel, some decades ago, in which it was assigned to the mouth of an elderly lady from the steaming outback beyond Brisbane in the tropical far north. Since, neither I, nor any Australian acquaintance, has been able to trace the reference. But the word appealed to me, so like some pretty shell from a distant shore, I decided to keep it.

*

“What is the ‘High Doganate’?”

That is where I live, in an ivory tower, suspended one hundred feet above the Village of Parkdale, a formerly incorporated municipality extremely proximate to the City of Toronto, by which it was annexed perhaps a century ago.

I love Parkdale, once full of mansions and the provocatively rich, but now, thanks to municipal planning, full of the poor, the unfashionably ethnic, and the mad. To say nothing of the communists and perverts.

Yet often, in my walks around the Greater Parkdale Area (also known as the Greater Toronto Area), I have thought that Parkdale is the only part of the conurbation that will come well out of the Rapture.

I think of the High Doganate as a kind of Institution, to which I have committed all my various personae, including the pseudonyms, for the time being. At the last census, the population was 1; but that did not include the purple finches on my balconata, nor the “speros,” nor the pigeons, nor the more recent buzzard. Nor the spiders, nor the flies.

The name “High Doganate,” of course, is derived from the stem, “Dogan.”

*

“What is a ‘Dogan’?”

Ah, now, there is a controversial question.

According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, and probably all the others, it is a slang term for a Cath-o-lick, from the Maritimes, not originally meant to flatter. For an etymology they guess it must have been the surname of some Irishman.

They lie. According to my late mother, who was certainly from the great Island of Cape Breton, and incapable of error on any point of fact, the word was a gift from Presbyterian missionaries. Proceeding from Glace Bay, they penetrated the wilderness of West Africa, until they had reached the Dogan tribe (variously spelt). The Dogans were, they noticed, a highly imaginative tribe, already quite religious if not exactly Christian, and much given to the adoration of statuettes, which weren’t exactly Christian, either. People of marvellous aesthetic vision, and artistic skill.

Now, prominent among the Dogan goddesses, or so-to-say “idols,” was a figure so carved with child, as distantly to resemble our Blessed Virgin Mary. The Presbyterian missionaries, amused by this discovery, wrote home that they had found mariolators in “DA” (Darkest Africa).

Recipients of these letters were also much amused, and took to calling their Catholic neighbours “Dogans.” If the shoe fits, wear it, is an old saying, and upon discovering what the word suggested, their Catholic neighbours soon took the title for themselves.

From Glace Bay, it spread up the western coast of Newfoundland (where Cape Bretoners then went for logging jobs), and of course, quickly down to very Catholic Antigonish, then west at least to Pictou.

It is a proud title, indeed, and since becoming a Dogan myself (initially to my mother’s shock and horror), I have clung to it along with my cricket bat and my bibles.

Genesis applied

“The urban/suburban dweller walks in the illusion of sufficiency. The agriculturist looks to the sky with suspicion, the thermometer with unquiet, and the cloud of flying things with dread.”

This remark, from an American reader, will serve to extend my rant of yesterday, and “segue,” as we say in film, to another of my little qualifications. For today’s issue will be GMOs, which is to say, “genetically modified organisms.” The same reader may be stunned to discover that I am, more or less, a fan of GMOs.

But first, a pre-qualification of the impending qualification of my seemingly Luddite reservations about the March of Technology.

For the truth is, I’m more backward than a Luddite. He was a response to the Industrial Revolution, determined to fall into its maw; whereas, I am a man of the thirteenth century, determined not to. I have no objection to technology, per se. I have no interest in the creation of “employment” as an end in itself.

For labour is inevitable, and is a curse: we must work to eat. And the only way to defeat the curse, is through joy in our labour.

For the smashers of stocking frames and power-looms were not joyful. They were approaching their problem in the wrong way. To my mind, they should have responded instead like men of the thirteenth century, thinking: “We are artisans. What can we do with this?”

There are limits, I will allow. They come down as Commandments.

For instance, I do not think the genetic modification of human beings is a good idea. The most dangerous thing about GMO is that it puts this idea in the liberal’s head. He would, as we see from innumerable articles of “popular science,” rather tamper with people than with crops, for his moral outlook is topsy-turvy. When he speaks of “frankenfoods,” he shows that he cannot grasp the moral distinction between a human being and a cob of corn. That the cob has already been genetically modified, over millennia, he may not understand: but that is sheer ignorance, more easily forgiven.

There is a question here to pause over. Is “genetic modification” the same as “eugenic”? Or could it be worse? We have been domesticating plants and beasts “eugenically” since time out of mind. Mendel described the mechanism we were exploiting all along. (Darwin before him had failed to see that this “evolution” necessarily required design, to an end fully anticipated.) The methods of GMO — direct tampering with the genes, including transfer across species — does more than speed the breeding process. It is at a definably new level. I don’t think we should deny this, when defending GMO. The argument that this is just “the same old thing” is false.

I candidly confess that I can find nothing intrinsically wrong with this new trick, however, only with some ways in which it might be applied. Prudence would dictate caution in proceeding, on two fronts that ought to run parallel. The second is to watch for unintended material consequences. The first is to keep examining our motives, to see that they are pure.

It is a good thing that people should have enough to eat. It is better that the poor should eat, than that they should starve. Without question, GMO provides the means to radically increase both the yield of the land, and the area that can (if necessary) be put under cultivation — while radically reducing the need for various pesticides and herbicides with known deleterious effects. But again, watch: for we may be breeding super-bugs and super-weeds into the bargain. There is a law of nature that reads, “No free lunch on this planet,” and anything that promises free lunch should call out the Inquisition.

On the other hand, the need for better nutrition is urgent. As GMO advocates can say, the known death-rate from malnutrition, around the same planet, is three million children a year. The known death-rate from genetically modified crops is zero. This might not distress the smug customers at Whole Foods, able to pay double for the jar that says, misleadingly, “organic.” But it ought to.

And here — again, on the same planet — is not only infant (and adult) mortality. Many more millions live lives unnecessarily enclosed by the permanent effects of childhood malnutrition. They are blind, halt, and lame from that fallout. The smugly-efflings who campaign against Monsanto will answer for that at the feet of Our Lord — for on top of ignorance they have added the crime of incuriosity.

It happens I don’t much like Monsanto myself, but for reasons unrelated to their products. I share the farmer’s fear of that company’s lawyers. Modern capitalism is obscene in this respect. One may conquer and control a market not by competition, as the faux–naïf libertarians suggest, but instead by lawyering and lobbying. Money talks, and where big money is the stake — at the interface of vested interests and government regulation — we will find hard men.

It happens, too, that I cut my teeth, when a lad in journalism, as a “business journalist” in Asia, whose chief interest was development economics. The question how to feed, and generally improve the lives and extend the freedom of the very poor, was the issue that moved me. I disliked the obstacles that I could then see: mostly hard men. I became acquainted with the ruthless means their large corporations use to inhibit small and rather promising competitors. It was then I first noticed that no elected government, needing money to buy votes, would fail to advance their interests.

Too, I noticed that Adam Smith was right: that genuinely free markets, along with free inquiry, can deliver material goods in a way that appears miraculous. And, that the biggest opponents of open competition were joint-stock corporations. Smith was facing down corporatism, but in his age had not faced socialism yet — which takes monopoly one giant step farther. He could nevertheless anticipate why it would fail; and how, on the contrary, the “hidden hand” of unadministered nature repays honest, independent labour. To reduce this to a formula: I hate large corporations, and I hate government departments more. And I hate the way they enable one another.

This is a Shakespearean position, incidentally. He hated kings, and hated rebels more. And most, he hated the tyranny of perpetual, institutionalized rebellion against the laws of nature and her God. He was Catholic like that, and without knowing it, four decades ago, so was I. The order of nature was not made with human hands. It is invincibly hierarchical, and at the top is God. Men must realize — as did Shakespeare’s secret hero, Thomas More — that Christ is King. It is to Him, and not to some chubby, statist Tudor, “dressed in a little authority,” that we owe our lives.

But men are men and sin is rampant. It is enough to discover how sin can be avoided; men will decide for themselves how to behave, and will believe what they want to believe, en route to the scene of each new crime. No government can stop this, for no government is above God. It is not their rôle to “create justice”; rather to stop specific unjust acts, one case at a time.

Now, I think I mentioned money. It will not do to condemn the amounts Monsanto can raise to advance their own, sometimes cruel, interests, without also mentioning the often greater amounts their opponents can raise, or appropriate through politics. The moral posturing of Monsanto’s opponents — the sanctimony of their slogans — should warn us of what they are. For the slogans offer less than candour. They speak for a cause in which God has no part, and God’s own poor are neglected.

Both sides claim redemption through “science” — which is scientism. We gain some insight into the nature of contemporary “settled science” when, for instance, we observe that all the “studies” commissioned directly or indirectly by the GMO industry find nothing but good in their endeavours, and all those commissioned directly or indirectly by their opponents find nothing but bad. Money talks, at every level, and that is the way of this world.

It is the reason I remain sceptical even of the more self-evident assertions on the side I prefer. The advocates make statements that appear too good to be true. This is probably because they are. The opponents make statements which they present as too bad to risk. Neither side feels it can afford to be candid, for both put self-interest above truth; and both engage in fear-mongering. Still, from what I can see, the sides are extremely unequal.

Let the smuglies buy their organic jars, and let the poor eat GMO. And the poor will continue to enjoy their food more.

As a man of the thirteenth century I have, as I said, no objection to technology, per se. To demonize it is to create an idol, of the voodoo kind. My questions are not for the gun, but for the shooter. I also insist on distinguishing between what follows in fact, and what follows in the neurotic imagination. There is no intrinsic reason why GMO should be suppressed. Problems may arise in the field, but that is where knowledge is gained from experience.

Of course the environment will be transformed. The wheat of Jesus’ day was very far from the wheat we found “in nature,” having been hybridized through hundreds of generations. The wheat we have today is very far from what it was then, all trace of that wheat having now passed away. Yet, stop intervening in material nature, and our own wheat will, strangely enough, revert to its original type — in which it fed only a few stragglers. (And the parasites that depend on our modern strains will also pass away.)

Behind what I call the “environmentalcase” worldview, is a profound misunderstanding of how things are. The transient is confused with the stable. Everything man does alters the world. And soon after he is gone, it is as if he never existed. Get over it: for in this world is change, but the only true “progress” is the pilgrim’s, beyond it.

We have, already, industrial farming on a vast scale, scouring once beautifully varied landscapes. Paradoxically, the development of focused, soil-specific and high-yield crops, requiring fewer external inputs, should give competitive advantage to the smaller farmer. Indeed, it is already doing so: this is the gist of the statistics I’ve seen. They are no surprise, for by reducing the need for heavy machinery, and other large fixed investments, GMO actually undermines economies of scale.

And that is the prudential consideration I find most attractive, after saving lives: not the technology in itself, but how it can be applied to restore the possibilities for small-scale, family farming.

Our redneck heritage

Letters from readers can be very useful in showing me where I’ve gone wrong. On balance, I encourage them. It is better, usually, to be right than wrong. But ignorance is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is the only thing that might preserve us from damnation.

In several recent posts I now realize that, on balance, I could have been clearer, or even perhaps more accurate. We’ll see if I can restrict myself to providing only one (now unseasonal) example today.

This will have to do with the “divine irony” I discerned in my account of Roman Palestinian events, during the recent Passiontide. Christ looks upon crowds who will one moment laud and praise him, yet in the next mewl and pule for his blood. This is not an especially amusing irony, but it is there, and I insist it is there. In a longer Idlepost, however, I’d have been obliged to introduce an important qualification.

As several critics have suggested, I could have made that ancient distinction between the city mouse and the country mouse. For as they note, it is a distinction I’ve often raised myself, in other connexions. It may appear more debatable in the world of two thousand years ago, when the cities were considerably smaller in relation to the countryside. Today, our cities are so huge that I’m inclined to call them “conurbations” instead; and such is their consumptive power that the country around them is absorbed, over a radius sometimes more than a hundred miles. Not only is this vast area besucked of its agricultural potential, by the spread of new and ever more sterile sleeper suburbs. The arable land remaining must focus upon feeding the city. For all practical purposes it now belongs to the city.

The point has been brought home to me by rural acquaintances, who come into the Greater Parkdale Area to shop. The penny dropped a few years ago, when one of them explained that he was shopping for fresh food. It is no longer easily available “out there,” amid the vast industrial farms. All the distribution lines lead into the big city, and so one must come into the big city to find where they come out. “Out there” they have what has washed back, in commercially processed and packaged form, in the narrower range available to the SLIMs. (This is an acronym a big-businessman once used in my hearing. It stood for, “shitty little insignificant markets.”)

Now, Jerusalem in the generation of Jesus was mostly within the walls. The area was perhaps slightly larger than that within the walls today, but not much, and today we find perhaps 25,000 souls (plus tourists) within the later (Ottoman) walls. Through most of the Old City’s four quarters, they are rather crowded; but pack them in tighter and we might fit double that. Tacitus somewhere estimates Jerusalem’s population much larger, and Josephus gives some very large sums, but I don’t believe them. “Lots and lots” is really what they are trying to say. Jerusalem today, spreading far beyond her old walls, has perhaps thirty times that ancient population, even if culturally and spiritually she is now only a minuscule fraction of her former self.

From having spent some time there as a walker, lodged usually within the walls (in the old Franciscan hostel, Casa Nova), and moving among frequently mischievous Palestinian lads, I know how claustrophobic the neighbourhood can be, and how small it is within the modern conurbation. And yet by twenty-first century standards, Greater Jerusalem is a small city.

When we contrast “city folk” with “country folk” today, we work from different assumptions. One could live as if Jerusalem did not exist, back then, only a few miles out of town. Only along e.g. the (single-lane) “highway” to Damascus would one be aware of the milestones. From the top of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem and her Temple would be extremely apparent; but down the other side along the road to Jericho it would disappear. Though a place, it was more familiar as an idea.

Even so, Jerusalem was a city. And as we grasp from within the Passion narratives, it had city ways. There is some analogy to the urban/rural contrast of today. In fact this would have been more vivid, in the absence of that sprawl from one into the other, and the global-village technology that now links every place to every other in live time, and thus homogenizes and emulsifies what was formerly distinctive, and human.

Balancing this, was a greater non-virtual interpenetration of space and time. Time was simply more continuous: travellers in the nineteenth century found a landscape still essentially unchanged from biblical times. But with respect to space: I must have explored every accessible corner and crack of modern Jerusalem-within-the-walls, and walked over many of her roofs, too, and can report that it is an incredible labyrinth. Yet from gate to gate is less than half a mile, as the nightjar flies, and from any point, with a knowledge of the streets, I could walk across town in ten minutes, or get right out of it in five. (Slower, however, if one is carrying a cross.)

Where are we getting? Back to the crowd hailing Jesus to Saint Stephen’s Gate on Palm Sunday (and thus fatefully directly into the Via Dolorosa). They would have been mostly country folk: bumpkins if you will. But the well-rehearsed crowd accusing Him before Pontius Pilate, with their punk-musical refrain of “Crucify Him!” — would have been recruited mostly in the city. From the evidence of the Gospels it was “rent-a-crowd”; something easy to do among the urban masses. And whether or not people were literally cash-bribed to get the show started (as they invariably are, in one sordid currency or another) few were likely to have been country bumpkins.

Still, “none” would be too low an estimate.

There is a more general point I should have drawn in passing, from human experience, reflected in the Gospels. Riots, anywhere, don’t “just happen.” As every accomplished leftwing activist knows, riots need planning. And Caiaphas was a first-rate “community organizer,” who’d gone right to the top — always ready to pay his bills (to Judas, for example).

Then, as now, the demographic profile of the “Christ-killers” would be, urbane. Or to translate into contemporary American terms, Democrat Party. Whereas, those “naïvely” impressed by Jesus were in the main, Red State; they were from “flyover country.” In demographic profile, the more faithfully Christian, or Christian at all, tend to be rednecks: they who cling to their guns and their bibles (still their Hebrew bibles, back in the day: the Torah with its many delightfully redneck passages).

Yet, to follow the analogy, both groups were “patriotic Americans” in our twenty-first century sense. So were the Roman provincials in the sense of the first century. (Oh say did you see how that crowd pledged its allegiance to Caesar!) One type could be converted into the other type, by migration and resettlement, then as now — the children of the migrants becoming city-slick, the children of urban-evacuee hippies becoming rednecks again.

I hope I have made this clear: that the hicks are not gooder, just less tempted.

In other words, both principles apply. Rural people are not entirely saints, nor urban people entirely devils (in most cases), and the original sin of human nature applies to them both. Yet then as now, city life had a pervasive corrupting effect; it was a formidable influence for evil. And this I think because, then as now, the country folk are surrounded by the works of God, from the vault of the stars, to the murmurations of the animal kingdom, the miracle of the harvest, and death in new life. Whereas, the city folk are encased within the works of man, however beautiful or (as today) ugly.

*

There is a book just out, a bestseller in Israel, that casts light on this from another angle: a distinction between the gathered and dispersed which long predates the foundation of Jerusalem. It is by Yuval Noah Harari, of Hebrew University at Jerusalem, and the English translation is entitled, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

It touches upon the “prehistoric” agricultural revolution which, in the tradition of Plato and other ancient conservatives, Harari depicts as a mixed blessing. Or worse, for he calls it “history’s biggest fraud.”

The propaganda for this agricultural revolution has been intense, in our modern academies. What a wonderful thing, we have been taught: that it brought people together, begetting literacy and progress; that it socialized them in comfortable “civilizations” with ever-improving technology. Which is to say, that it made big cities possible, big government and so forth.

Professor Harari — this gay-married, moshav-dwelling, macro-historian by whom I am so impressed — looks back over the aggregation of evidence and asks: What was there to like? The cultivation and selective breeding of new stocks, from grain to farm animals, came at a terrible price, in habitual over-specialization of diet, and debilitating disease, to say nothing of the loss of personal independence.

Carnivorous man, who had once run free, now became by comparison an “ethical vegetarian,” with devastating material and spiritual consequences. In purely material terms, life expectancy for the individual was considerably shortened (as the data of palaeontology have revealed) from what it remained among humans who stayed out in the wild — visiting the settlements only to get sick on what they pillaged.

Yet, thanks perhaps to dairy, fecundity increased among these pocked, unpleasant, short-lived people, and with this the proliferation of a new human stock, smaller and nastier. Or to put it in my own terms, to which Plato and Socrates would immediately subscribe: the world began to fill with liberals.

But of course, God makes and will make the best of this. One must not be trapped within one’s own ideology, as our beloved Pope keeps saying, from within the trap of his. It is sufficient that we learn to see through the illusion of “progress” — and understand that only God can save us, from the mess that only we have made.

Easter Monday

We are now in a week of Sundays: every day in this Easter Octave is a Feast, like Sunday. And even Friday will be a Feast. In the olden days (rather older than the time just before Vatican II), those baptized at Easter were present at each daily Mass, in white robes, symbol of their new estate. At Rome, they appeared each day at the stational church, today at Saint Peter’s — below the altar of which they knew was Peter’s tomb. (And since the 1950s, the archaeologists have known this, too.) For Peter was the first Apostle to whom Our Lord appeared in His new estate: Risen!

Tomorrow it will be at Saint Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls, on Easter Wednesday at Saint Laurence’s, and so forth. The people move, the message is repeated. In the Old Mass, the Gradual is memorably the same, every day of this week. It is from Psalm 117:

Haec dies, quam fecit Dominus. … “This is the day which the Lord hath made. … Rejoice and be glad in it! …

“Let those again speak who have been redeemed by Our Lord: whom He hath redeemed out of the hand of the Enemy, and gathered out of the nations.”

That Enemy is as one mortally wounded, who does not yet know how serious is his case. “It was just a scratch,” he will be snarling. And he will not know better, because he can’t know better, having put himself intentionally beyond the reach of Christ. Satan thought he had killed Christ, in that consequential duel. But no, God Is Not Dead. And in the interval from the Cross, He has descended into the pit of Hell — into Satan’s own lair.

Let us make no apology for standing by the “traditional” (i.e. non-heretical) Catholic teaching. It has not been peace-love-groovy down here: this is not a Church for the smug and quisling. This is not, and has never been, nor can she ever become, a “church of nice.”

She is the Church of redemption, and salvation. She is Christ’s own, and therefore not “inclusive” in any liberal sense.

With God, all things are possible, but: you are with us or against us.

Christ made this perfectly plain, again and again: go, and actually read the Gospels. It was not “peace on earth” that he brought, but “the peace beyond all understanding.” He states this explicitly. Those who deny it are lying: even and especially those “nice” priests, who lie from the pulpit to make us feel good about ourselves. (“They have their reward.”) For they are preaching the opposite of what Christ preached.

Compare, as I was recently reminded, the Venerable Fulton Sheen who, like a Catholic Churchill, nailed these liberal lies and impostures in the 1930s, under titles Internet-searchable today, such as, “The Curse of Broadmindedness,” and, “A Plea for Intolerance.”

Christ came to liberate, through forgiveness, those who confess their sins; not those who persist in self-satisfaction. He came with a Love that must be requited. And He came as to a theatre of battle; to a world at war.

There is War in Heaven, and there is War on Earth, and Jesus did not come to negotiate. For the purpose of War is not negotiation; its purpose is Victory. Christ did not come to negotiate: He came instead to liberate, and save. For life on this planet is like a field hospital, we are told; but even more, it is like a camp for prisoners of war.

Indeed, we are approaching that rather worldly three-score-and-ten: the seventieth anniversary of the event which has served for an analogy, since. At the end of this month, we will recall the initials, “VE.” We will recall, for instance, Hitler’s final exemplary act of “euthanasia,” like that of Judas. It was the final lie he told himself, the final denial of the Life Everlasting: that he could, simply by killing himself, escape the consequences of what he had done; that he could kill the pain.

(Czesław Miłosz: “A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death: the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged.”)

But for now, through twenty centuries, the news has been spreading. It has been spreading through the camp, as did the news of the Normandy landings. And we may be prisoners yet, but the Allies are on their way. The Saints are on their way. And by word of mouth the Word is spreading, through the camp, and from camp to camp. And, “the lights are coming on again, all over the world.” And we don’t feel like prisoners any more. Because even if we should die, ourselves, at the hands of our brutal guards, we are no longer prisoners. The guards have tried to kill our souls, but our souls are Alive, forevermore.

Raise this, now; raise the stakes to the highest cosmic level: “That you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.”

Venite

The Greater Parkdale Area this morning is under a covering of snow, like a pretty Christmas card. Regardless of the weather, and the walking conditions, we have a little ritual up here in the High Doganate. It is to play on Easter morning, upon our wee yet booming CD machine, BWV 249 — Kommt, eilet und laufet! — which is to say, Bach’s Easter Oratorio. It is set from text in the Gospel of John. On checking the files, we find that I have mentioned this before.

*

It is so beautiful: the shock of the magnificent opening symphonia; the brief adagio; and then the symphonia returns in all its power, now with full chorus: Kommt, eilet und laufet!

“Come quickly, come running!”

It was the women who first discovered what had happened, at Christ’s tomb — His so loyal, and uncomplaining, so selfless, and reliable, unflinching female apostolate, the complement of the male.

The stone, moved. The tomb, empty. Mary Magdalen’s horror. She goes running, to Simon Peter, and to John (“the other disciple, whom Jesus loved”) to tell them what has happened.

Peter and John are found. And they are told: “Come quickly.”

What is this about?

“Come quickly! Come running!”

What is going on?

“Run! Run!”

And then Peter, and John, running. Running quickly, indeed, running wild. Peter slipping, John catching him up. John slipping, Peter catching him up. The wild look on their faces, reflecting the wild look that had been on Mary’s. Peter breathless, falling behind. John gets there first.

Verily, the stone is out of place. The tomb has been left open. John can see the linen shroud lying flat inside. (Now, perhaps, in the Cathedral at Turin.) It is not covering a body any more. He does not know what to think. Ever the most reticent of Apostles in the presence of the unaccountable and holy, and most deferential to true authority, he does not step inside.

Peter arrives: that man who would be our first Pope, already Elected to office as it were, with all his little foibles. He behaves in the way we might expect, without hesitation. He goes right in: sees the shroud. The napkin that had been wrapped about the head is lying separately. Then John, cautiously, enters. The body is gone. They step out, and walk away in confusion, in total confusion, unable to understand what they have seen.

Mary remains, weeping, staring into the darkness of the empty tomb.

And then dimly she begins to descry: … What is this? There would appear to be two angels. One is at the head, one at the feet, of the place where the body of Jesus had been laid.

“Woman, why do you weep?”

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.”

There is a man standing behind her. Slowly she turns towards him. Perhaps he is the gardener.

“Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek?”

“Sir, if you have taken Him, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take his body away.”

And He replied, “Mary!”

And she looks up into His face, and she says, “Rabboni.”

Which, being interpreted, meaneth: “My Lord!”

*

Even today, I daresay, the mall shoppers — post-Protestants, “recovering Catholics,” secular humanoids, and so forth — have some general idea what Easter is about. The eggs are a nice symbolic touch. The chocolate bunnies have long been on sale. And fresh hot cross buns may still be available in some of the more upmarket groceterias.

These last were an English custom, associated with Good Friday. They were what you got to eat that day: one hot cross bun. By an old convention, they were to be baked one at a time; as I understand, there were anciently rules and regulations. The baker who sold them on other than the prescribed days was liable to have his whole stock confiscated, and distributed among the poor.

(Bravo!)

This was some time ago, however. The law may well be still on the books, in England, but I doubt that it has been enforced, these last few centuries. Hot cross buns were anyway baked mostly at home, as a matter not of state, but of family tradition. The custom spread, with the British Empire, and so was thoroughly Canadianized. I have a memory from my littlehood of laying the shortcrust pastry (made, sinfully, with lard) for a Cross. It could not have been in my own home, however.

*

I fasten upon the bun, in the knowledge that it is something very small. Ditto for that Shroud of Turin, a little keepsake which, it appears, Christ left for the entertainment and diversion of modern science. Readers who are interested may catch up on the discoveries associated with it, which are numerous, and layered, and remarkable, and continuing.

My favourite discovery is no longer that of the NASA scientists, who established a few years ago that the Shroud contains “distance information,” of a sort that allows us with the latest computer technology to construct a precise, three-dimensional image of the body. That is old hat now.

It is instead the more recent tests on the substance which covers the cloth, from which the image was somehow imprinted. It covers the entire surface, except the end bits from later repairs; and it rests discretely upon the cloth’s top layer of microfibres. It is not burned in. Nor is it painted. Every known earthly substance that could have been laid there, enwrapping only the top microfibres, would have seeped at least slightly into the cloth (as the blood did in many places corresponding exactly to Christ’s wounds, as described in all four Gospels). This was an accomplishment no mediaeval forger could likely have performed. For it is still beyond our technological capabilities.

But then what is the surprise here? We are surrounded by things that could not be made with human hands, including ourselves. One hundred percent of what we find in this world was not made by human hands, and all we can do is manipulate the materials — within very tight and inescapable parameters. Nothing like this: nothing that comes embedded with the very dust and pollen of old Roman Palestine — now reliably dated to a window in time that actually centres on 33 AD.

And this extraordinary image was laid after all the markings of the body: it is on top of them. Let me spell this out for gentle reader. We have, if the Shroud itself is to be believed, evidence not only of Christ’s death by crucifixion in the anatomically meticulous manner described in Scripture, but over top of that, evidence of the Resurrection. Good Friday is there to be sure, bred into the bone-weave of a first-century linen cloth, seeped through the whole fabric, and accountable down to the blood type (AB), and the colour of those bloodstains, caused by organic shock. But overlaid, we have Easter morning.

Until recently, of course, plausible deniability was still quite possible. My own empirical scepticism remains in play, as it always has and perhaps always will so long as I am breathing. I do not put my faith in material things. Still, it is interesting, at least to me, that we now require an extremely elaborate “conspiracy theory” to deny what the (highly credentialled, and not all Christian) investigators of the Shroud have told us.

A lawyerly atheist I know has a good trick. It is as plausible, and illogical, as it is demonic. He demands physical evidence or irrefutable witnesses for any Christian claim of a miracle. This we often have in abundance. But then he discounts to zero, as self-interested, any evidence that came from a Christian. Now, as we have seen quite recently at Turin, and on innumerable occasions before, the people who find irrefutable evidence for the truth of Christian claims, tend to become Christians themselves. (Me, for instance.) This means that their evidence can no longer be accepted.

We — which is to say moi, plus all Christians — could easily have lived in this case with the discovery that the Shroud of Turin really was a mediaeval fake. Instead, we have received overwhelming evidence that the article is genuine.

*

Cucurrit. …

The Life of Christ, the Death and Resurrection, are a narrative, to be sure, but the authors of these Gospels are not biographers. Their chronologies are vague, accidental, and their omissions frustrating from the angle of “human interest.” (It is because I have been an editor, that I tell you with certainty that these accounts have not been systematically “recensed.”) Writing as and when they did, the “storyline” is almost taken for granted. They write to witness, not to story-tell. And the minor inconsistencies between one account and another sound the very ring of truth.

Matthew has the habits of a bureaucrat, Mark is more street smart, Luke is courtly. Our appreciation of the respective “points of view” has been not enhanced, but diminished by generations of scholars, determined to believe in phantoms, to “get behind the texts” by postulating some evolutionary development of them, on the basis of no hard evidence whatever. Their “theories” are pure speculation, for which the evidence itself must be hypothesized. Parallel passages in the Synoptics give them such encouragement as they can find — they count it a flaw when the memories match exactly, and also when they do not exactly match.

Their task is the lawyerly one of seeding doubt, of refuting the veracity of the texts they are attacking — to seed as much doubt as they can in the jury of both faithful and faithless. Again and again this crumbles, for the most brilliant prosecution may fall apart when new evidence comes to hand. (To my knowledge, not one of the self-confident claims made by the older schools of “textual criticism” is still standing.) It is especially in the field corresponding to the “deposit of faith” in Saint John, as we are more and more finding, that this patient and exhausting effort has been defeated. Evidence for the defence comes miraculously to the surface, and the disconsulate prosecutors are frustrated in their hope of crucifying Christ once again. They will just have to try a new tack.

At root, the question is plainer than textual fussment can belie. Jesus, the historical character, even the better-educated atheists have been compelled to accept. But Jesus the Christ is another thing. There is Christ, or there is no Christ. Significant details are presented in the Gospels, of the small that enunciates the large. More is provided from the very Tradition which attests the canonicity of those Gospels. What we find on further modern inquiry — and what I found, as a hack journalist, walking the old roads of Palestine to the archaeological sites, and reading what I could of the current literature back in the 1990s — is that the account of Tradition holds up extremely well, and in points of fact, better and better with the progress of our researches.

I don’t think the issue is whether we should “accept it or reject it” any more. To the candid mind it is either deal with it, or ignore it. The way of our world is: ignore it and move on.

The way of our world is to move on, mindlessly, towards extinction. We live, as I am reminded every day and every hour, in the brave new world of ADD. The initials of course stand for “analogue-digital-digital.” Or alternatively, “attention deficit disorder.” Something big, something very big, something that begins to explain the very universe and our little lives within it, might happen; but unless it is communicated to us in terms comprehensible to our hand-held devices, we won’t take any notice. Hence the “New Evangelism,” and even Popes who “tweet,” exclusively on channels to which no one is listening. Because, as that notorious Catholic, Marshall McLuhan, once explained, the medium is the message itself — and the only retrievable message, through the hand-held media of twitteration, is: ADD.

Have you heard the news?

There are two, and I should think, only two ways to respond to what has happened, and to the Man who speaks to us from that ancient cemetery garden, by that empty tomb. One is to go on cultivating ADD, and by the path of least resistance, find our way down into the chambers of Oblivion. And the other is to reply, Rabboni.

____________

NOTE. Thanks to Sylvie D. Rousseau, I now find my response to a member of the old Commentariat, from the days before all Comments on this site were wiped away (the good, the bad, and the ugly). It was a remark under one of the old Idleposts now re-woven into the piece above. “You don’t admit of any possibility of error in your theological framework,” the gentleman declared.

To which I replied:

“My dear CTC, it is time you realized that it is not my theological framework. After fifty years of shopping, I bought into the Catlick one; or more precisely, found that I already more-or-less had. And in the end you’re not arguing with me. You’re arguing with my buddy Thomas Aquinas, and all his buddies. And having tried to argue with them myself, let me tell ya. …

“It is a working out, over twentyish centuries of often quite heated argument and debate, of what the best minds could discern in the Christian Revelation, on the principle of non-contradiction. The result has been concisely and carefully set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which you might want to obtain as a kind of phone directory to what “people like me” (i.e. Catlicks) believe.

“Is it infallible? No, nothing from the hand of man is infallible (and check that CCC for what we mean when we say the Pope is pronouncing on doctrine ‘infallibly’). It isn’t ‘infallible’, in the sense you might use, but it is extremely good, because if anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, can find a contradiction in the thing, we sweat it through until we’ve fixed it.

“But by now that body of doctrine has been remarkably stable for a very long time. This is because our best minds have sweat it through all these centuries. And in fact most of it was clear enough to the candid and honest and intelligent from early on: working from what they sincerely believed, and for good reason, that Christ had told them about what’s what, checked and re-checked interminably against the known facts of ‘reality’.

“You don’t have to believe a word of it. There are many soi-disant Catholics who never bother to consult it (even before speaking publicly ‘as a Catholic’), and who believe what they want to believe. Some of them even serve in your Congress. ‘Cafeteria Catlicks’, if you will. People who don’t listen when being corrected on fact. What can I say?

“But there it is, Catholic Doctrine. And since the whole of Western Civ was erected upon it, I suggest you check it out. So that you can know, at least, what it is you are rejecting as you walk off into the scientistic aether, pitching Western Civ to the dogs.”

Holy Saturday

“Security questions” were the reason so many Christian students were massacred in Kenya this week. This analysis dominates the headlines, as I write, of the BBC, CNN, and so forth.  Owing to “security questions,” Christian students were separated from Muslim students at the Garissa university campus (many of the former identified because they were praying). By some strange and unaccountable coincidence, only the former were slaughtered. But wait, but wait, there were Muslim victims, too! At least four of them: wearing suicide vests, who blew themselves up at the end.

All the dead died because of these “security questions,” which are raised by liberal journalists to deflect attention from the Muslim killers to the Kenyan government. In extenuation, it must be remembered that the typical liberal journalist is also, thanks partly to environmental influences beyond his immediate control, a malicious idiot. He has no clear idea what he is doing. In this case he probably thinks he is promoting multicultural harmony. He is not: Western Christians know perfectly well who is killing whom around the “bloody borders” of the Dar al-Islam, but do not habitually retaliate against harmless and defenceless Muslims in the West.

The truth is that the “liberal” mind (I am using the term in its current sense; or if gentle reader prefers, “progressive” means the same thing) spontaneously identifies more with the perpetrator than the victim, and thus devotes most of its cruelly limited wattage, like the criminal himself, to finding someone innocent or uninvolved to blame.

Of course the Kenyan security agencies are “incompetent.” So are all security agencies, by the standard of Omniscience. They had not yet increased the number of armed guards on that particular university campus, even though they had received intelligence (mostly in the form of threats) that there would be more attacks on Christians in Kenya. As intelligence of this nature is received constantly, today, and the attacks also continue, one may pretend that the security agencies are always to blame. Constant repetition of this vicious lie has conditioned much of the public to react in that way: to blame, without thinking, anyone but the perpetrator.

The secondary level, in the media analysis — that this hit was “payback” for Kenyan government attacks on Muslim terrorists in Somalia — notably cancels the first. For the Kenyan “security questions” are indeed doing what they can. They are tracing their problem of Muslim terrorism to its root cause, which is Muslim terrorists — in this case coming mostly from Somalia.

Godspeed to them in their task, which requires courage from the least of them, along with skill in the use of firearms.

Then we get to the third and most abstract level of this analysis, which takes us out of the direct news reporting, to the cloud cuckooland of liberal pundits and White House flacks. “Poverty and unemployment” accounts for this terrorism. This is fatuous to an extreme that beggars comprehension. It is opposite to the truth at so many points that I’m tempted to write an Idlepost simply listing them. Suffice to say, terrorists seldom come from impoverished families, and even if they did this would not explain why the impoverished, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, so seldom become terrorists. Or, why the ones who do are almost always Muslim.

I find this “media selectivity” — which is to say, constant semi-conscious lying and misrepresentation — almost annoying. Honest reporting in this case would shine light on al-Shabaab, and the explicitly Muslim ideology which accounts entirely for their choice of targets. But I’ve been a journalist myself, and have many years of aggregate experience in newsrooms, and I have observed the root cause of this problem. It is the liberal ideology, or in a word, liberals. They long for destruction of what remains of Western civilization in the same way al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda long for it, but being pant-wetted cowards they restrict their activity to what is within current law. Notwithstanding, at a deeper level, they share with the murderous an allegiance to the “culture of death,” and peristent opposition to the “culture of life.”

The liberal mind naturally identifies with the criminal. This is why, for liberals, freedom of speech and press means licence for pornographers, and human rights reduce invariably to permission for “the transgressive” against civilized norms. They instinctively identify with Muslim fanatics because they share a common enemy: Christians. But when the terrorists do things so utterly repulsive that even they are appalled, they do not attack the motivating Muslim ideology, or a Shariah which is simply a rotation of their own political correctness, but instead “religious fundamentalism” — intending to tar all faithful Christians with the same stinking brush.

We are not dealing here with “another point of view.” We are dealing instead with the satanic. It takes many forms, but when “Allah” is deemed to have commanded massacres of the harmless and defenceless, it may be seen that devil-worship is directly in play. For the poisonously befogged liberal mind, demonic service is less conscious. The liberal is not so much the Devil’s worshipper, as the Devil’s plaything. But this may be rationally demonstrated, by the consistency of his support for the more evil of any two rival causes — for whichever side promises the greater reduction of human life, up to the stage where it becomes so visibly icky that natural mechanisms are triggered, and he throws up.

Jesus was not a conservative, incidentally. He was, and He remains, very purposefully, off the political chart. The true opposite of liberalism is not conservatism, but instead the apolitical — the taking personal responsibility instead of assigning it to others. The trap of liberalism is that only through politics can the political agenda be fought.

And as for Jesus: He is dead at this liturgical moment, the Nietzschean position in the Christian calendar, when one might even say that, “God is dead.” This gives us a chance to consider what is implicit in that proposition. We are in mourning for a Christ who has been judicially murdered. But, too, for a Christ who caught even His own Apostles by surprise, as we will recollect tonight.

If liberals did not love death, they would not so consistently encourage it.

If God did not hate death, He would not have defeated it.

Remember that, and remember that the latest Christian martyrs in Kenya are not dead, despite the terrorists’ best efforts. Like the good thief, they will rise with Our Lord.

Good Friday

Looking through old files, for anything I ever wrote on the subject of Good Friday that might still have some value, however slight, I discovered nothing. Or rather, I discovered there is nothing I can say, worthy of Good Friday.

Here is something to add.

A neighbour, in his late eighties, coming to pieces in an almost literal sense from dysfunctional body parts, has been for the last decade or more cared for by his young wife. She, a spring chicken of seventy-five, has been through all this time in the pink of health. Jutta, let us call her, even Jutta Krueger: a discreetly ebullient woman, with humour to carry her nearly through any disaster, and patience for when the humour runs out, seeing her beloved husband through countless medical emergencies. How many times she had expected to lose him! But by some miracle of will, or grace, often unassisted by modern medicine, he kept coming home again, the odds beaten, and only a little the worse for wear. And his wife still — well, not smiling, for she a Berliner and her humour too dry for that. It is instead in the eyes.

I have seen pictures of those Berliners from the War. They were a bit like Londoners. Their houses would be bombed out — whether by the Luftwaffe, or by the RAF, the result was the same — and next morning they’d be tidying it up. Making a little “brick garden” out of the rubble. Tiles stacked here, beams stacked there, charred miscellaneous fragments organized. “The walls do not fall,” but they do shrink lower when the roofs cave in; at least make it neat. Jutta had a mother who could tell you the stories: but wouldn’t because she didn’t want to talk about it. Jutta herself remembered how things were, from when she was five. Das Leben geht weiter, I think they say. “Life goes on.”

And there is work to do. Jutta, taking care of her husband, keeping things neat, in a world that can become untidy — entropy, I think they call it — tending that brick garden of old age. The walls do not fall: but they provide nice borders.

And now, Jutta has dropped dead from a brain aneurysm. … No warning, just like that.

What can one say besides, “These things happen.” Or, “Lord have mercy.” Or as her husband must be thinking: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

Maundy Thursday

As I may have mentioned, all this week I am avoiding work, even more than usual — taking a break from “reality,” as it were, in the hope that when I return, it will have gone away. Casting about for some old piece or post to fill my daily space, I found this from a former Maundy Thursday. It is typical of me that having selected this topical destination, I then set off in the opposite direction. Perhaps I should have entitled it instead, “The cyclopean vision.”

*

My relationship with watercolour goes back to early childhood. My papa wanted to be a painter, but had to give it up for war, family, and other common distractions. Once he had a boy of his own, however, out came the paints. I was a Winsor & Newton baby, and until the age of nine or ten — given the sort of people my parents naturally hung out with — was under the impression everyone was an artist. I considered myself a great authority on the drawing and colouring of trees. My little sister focused on portraiture: men in suits, from the waist up, almost entirely in the medium of ballpoint.

The end came — “reality” if you will — when I was parachuted briefly into a Canadian public school, from my earlier life in Asia (and before returning to Asia again). Canadian school came as a shock; quite unlike what I was used to. I had difficulty at first adapting to the sudden disappearance of anything resembling academic standards. Later, parachuted again, I was better prepared for life in the perpetual kindergarten. I found myself in something called a “high school,” with a curriculum that seemed especially designed for children with learning disabilities. Oddly, it considered itself to be an elite high school, which perhaps it was by Canadian standards. I bid my time until age sixteen, when I could legally drop out. For in my humble but unalterable opinion, these public “schools” are great crushers of the human spirit. No responsible parent will allow a child to be exposed to them. Ditto, no aspiring teacher should work in one, even if the alternative is starvation. The administrators should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

In my case, perhaps the greatest traumatic event of childhood came from a teacher having a bad day. Let us call her Miss Gangruel, for that was not her name. I met her again by chance in later life, when she was no longer implicated in public schooling, and found her to be a very charming woman. I was further surprised to discover that she now had two eyes. For when I first met her, she’d had only one, plus an eye-patch like a female pirate, owing to some medical issue. I didn’t, at first, hold this against her.

One dark afternoon she had her “art class” covering paper with layer over layer of thick crayon in different colours, perhaps with the intention that we do something with the product, eventually. I considered this to be an unconscionable waste of my time and, seeing a wonderful elm outside the classroom’s industrial window (not yet felled by Dutch elm disease), used my crayons to draw that, instead.

Miss Gangruel had had perhaps one too many discipline problems that day. When she found me (characteristically) ignoring her instructions, she freaked. Being unable in that moment to communicate her displeasure in rational terms, she began shrieking, “That’s ugly! That’s an ugly tree! That’s the ugliest tree I’ve ever seen!”

I stood in what dignity I could summon. Then shouted back: “Miss Gangruel, you have only One Eye!”

Soon after, in the principal’s office, I found myself having to explain this remark. But how does one explain what is self-evident? It was perhaps my earliest encounter with political correctness. The old British legal principle, that the truth is an absolute defence against a charge of libel, was already in retreat. Indeed, liberalism must have been spreading fast in Canada, about 1963, for this principal had not even the guts to whip me. (Brother Berg at Saint Anthony’s School in Lahore would have whipped me first, and asked questions after.) All he could do is tell me I’d done a Bad Thing. “What a wimp,” I was left thinking, as I returned to the hated classroom.

Later, at home, mentioning nothing of what had happened in school that day, I retired to my bedroom for morbid contemplation. (Canadian children are assigned separate bedrooms: another grievous moral oversight.) Before sleeping that night, I ripped up every drawing or painting I had ever made. I resolved, solemnly, “Never again.” And for the rest of my childhood, I never touched any art material voluntarily.

Yet here I am, half a century later, wasting more paper, and paint. But quietly, privately. I do it only because it makes me absurdly happy, and because I recover my native ability to see. Incompetently, I render botanicals and landscapes. Ironically, I sometimes play with plain colours. To this day, from the event described and from other incidents in Canadian schooling, I carry an irrational fear that someone will discover me drawing, or see what I have drawn. From another incident — this one with the town librarian, who caught me trying to borrow a book that was deemed “above my age level” — I also fear discovery of what I am reading, and must fight a powerful desire to conceal any elevated work behind, say, a comic book or pornographic magazine, so my fellow Canadians will not be affronted.

So far as I can see the purpose of the Canadian education system, or modern public education in general, is to suppress curiosity and enterprise in children; to cripple them morally, aesthetically, and intellectually; and make them identical on a bed of Procrustes. Hilda Neatby spelt this out in her remarkable survey, So Little for the Mind, published at Toronto in 1953. One must read it to realize that the demonic ideas of John Dewey, the American “philosopher of democratic education,” had already far advanced in Canadian schools by that year; and that as a result, standards once achieved and maintained through the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth century, had already collapsed. It is a myth they collapsed in the 1960s. Look at the schoolbooks for the Province of Ontario from that earlier period, and compare them with those introduced after the Second World War (we once did this for an article in the Idler magazine). The declination is obvious. The hippie generation was not the cause of this catastrophe. They were instead the effect.

*

For part two of today’s sermon, I will simply quote from some remarks by a fine art teacher, Bruce MacEvoy of California, whose Handprint website is, to my knowledge, the most reliable source of hard information on art materials and techniques (especially pigments for watercolour) on the entire Internet:

“The traditional method of teaching painters how to use paints emphasizes the map — the colour theory map. ‘Colour theory’ does not define the laws of nature that determine the behaviour of paints, it’s just a story about colour contrived in the 18th century — when it was stylish to stuff tobacco up your nose and lace hankies up your sleeve.

“The facts of colour are learned by hiking through the landscape — that is, by actually using materials and experiencing how they perform in different situations or applications. So the first guiding principle is to rely on your senses: to learn colour with your eyes and hands rather than with your mind.

“This sensory, hands on awareness helps you to appreciate that paints do what they do as unique material substances, not as interchangeable ‘colours’. Paint mixtures do not conform to an abstract ‘colour wheel’ geometry, not because paints are impure or tainted, but because they are real. Each paint has a unique personality. Colour theory abstractions either fail to describe the actual colour mixtures of these unique personalities (leaving the student even more confused than before), or they encourage the student to think in terms of colour stereotypes, and paint with dogmatic concepts in place of living eyes.”

Right on.

Mr MacEvoy is rejecting, whether or not he fully realizes, the heritage of the Enlightenment, in which precedence was given to the abstract, and withdrawn from the concrete. That vicious assault on the human soul, known as “liberal education,” is by now the dry wharks of that heritage. From kindergarten through post-graduate studies, students are taught to be abstract, to take everything as fungible, to eliminate anomalies, to interpret each fact in the light of “theory.” And these theories, although usually false, are not necessarily so, for e.g. the colour wheel does abstractly represent certain miraculous prismatic qualities of sunlight. But when imposed upon the extraordinary breadth and variety of pigmentation not only in paints, but in every creature and object in nature, this theory becomes fatuous. Like Darwinism, or Marxism, it explains everything by explaining nothing.

It is not only watercolour we are discussing here. For every other discipline, students are taught “the theory.” The systems of tutoring and apprenticeship by which concrete knowledge was once imparted were systematically replaced, over time, by the schools and colleges of the Nanny State, in the name of “democracy.” The result gentle reader may see all around him.

Christianity does not flourish in such an environment, for this religion speaks to actual men and women, not to “people” in the abstract. In order to become a Christian, a person must today begin to disengage himself from this “culture of theory,” and — given the refusal of the post-conciliar Church to teach the Faith — usually on his own. To some degree the scattered Christian communities offer mentoring or advice, but the novice must make his own stand against the current demands for Sovietization. He will need a supernatural courage; which is to say, abandonment to divine grace.

It is for instance “theory” that now requires Nanny State to lower the jackboot on the human face of marriage. For humans have been systematically reduced in “rights theory” to interchangeable “persons.” Such particular expressions as husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, have been struck out of all laws in the Province of Ontario, and many other jurisdictions. They were an embarrassment because they showed that human beings are particular, in ways defined by nature and her God, and not by theory. Similarly across the whole range of social issues, in every one of which “theory” now prevails.

It is the cyclopean vision, conducting us into the maw of Cyclops.

*

In my old Anglican days, when I was a parishioner in an extremely High church, the Tenebrae was sung on Maundy Thursday. It was, for an unedifying reason, a liturgical event I looked forward to. The lights were extinguished one by one; and then the strepitus sounded in a tremendous clash, as the last candle in the sanctuary was extinguished. On this one day in the year, polite Anglican people — who queue so nicely for Communion row by row — were instructed to leave the church “in disorder.” In the darkness, the parishioners would collide, shove, step on each other’s toes — all in the proper liturgical spirit. One might wait all year for one’s opportunities.

The symbolism is plain. Christ is no longer with us. Through the hours of Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, to the Easter Vigil when the lights come suddenly up again, and the full Gloria is sounded — we contemplate a world in which there is no Christ; and no salvation; and no absolution for our sins, and indeed, no sins: only departure from theory. A world in which we are abandoned to the ministrations of Nanny State, in which Christians are already mocked, and will soon be punished unless they bow before the public gods (sodomy; infanticide; self-murder).

And since God is dead, or has at least gone Gnostic, we can no longer be in His image. The whole race is reduced to animals — to roadkill in the passage of time. We are, according to the latest teaching of the “deep ecologists,” one of more than 8,400,000 species on Gaia; our own too numerous, taking more than our share of the planetary resources, and thus due for a radical culling. The apes and dolphins and whales cannot rule; they haven’t the equipment for it. And so they must wait patiently for what Christians call the Antichrist — whose reign of terror will free them from subservience to the humans, and grant them their (theoretically) equal rights.

Even within quite “mainstream” Christian folds, Christ is being reduced to an abstraction. The Gospel Jesus is too particular, the times call for a generic Christ, who will treat everyone the same. For a Christ who will not be objectionable to the authorities; who will mind his own business and not create a scene. A democratic Christ, who will bless everyone equally, and preach multicultural homogeneity if he must preach at all. A Christ who would not have to be crucified, whose case would never come before the courts, because he would never offend anyone. A nice Christ, who embodies our own frequently proclaimed niceness, and looks faithfully the other way whenever something he doesn’t like is happening. Not man in the image of God, but God in the image of a deracinated “humanity.”A Christ who has received a liberal education, so that he does not speak of demons but only of scientific theory. For we are nice people, and we do not want to hear about demons. Our science is settled: we have no theory for that.

And please, would this Christ not rise from the dead. For that is disruptive.

*

Against which, what can we say?

What John said, to the seven churches that are in Asia:

“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last. I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore; and have the keys of Hell and of Death.”

The false note

The re-run below has been pulled up from “Spy Wednesday” only last year. Liturgically, we are in the calm before the storm, on this day when Judas quietly dropped by the house of Caiaphas. Most likely it was Wednesday, 1st April, 33 AD. The high priest had invited, along with other members of his Jerusalem establishment, several of the Pharisee elders, too, in a gesture of ecumenism: the Pharisees sharing their desire to see Jesus dead. Their problem was to seize Him in a moment when he was separated from His numerous admirers, and this is where Judas came in. His services were also fairly priced: for 30 denarii was merely the bargain-house rate for an unskilled slave.

I should like to take this opportunity to mention that Judas is in Hell. This is very clear from Scripture, Tradition, and general Catholic instruction through twenty centuries down to “the spirit of Vatican II,” when this hard teaching was itself betrayed. I should also like to mention that he isn’t in Hell for betraying Christ. It is instead for refusing divine forgiveness. Here we are staring directly into the Mystery of Iniquity, for having as all men been offered an escape, Judas chose Hell. And there he is: dangling from the tree, by his own hand. It was his final betrayal. We have no right to judge for ourselves whether any human soul is damned. But in this case we aren’t doing that. We are told as much. Christ will forgive us anything, even murdering Him, if we beg forgiveness humbly and sincerely, promising, without guile, to amend. Therefore if you haven’t been, gentle reader, get thee to the Confessional today.

The piece below has nothing to do with this. Its point might be dimly discerned with reference to my piece on “Saint Luke’s Passion,” posted today at Catholic Thing (here). Somewhere in the interstices I have something said on the nature of Christian music — both inside and outside the Liturgy. In the course of revising I have discarded some tedious ranting against Beethoven. It was getting too personal.

*

Perhaps I should be telling a priest instead of a general audience, but I broke down this morning and did something bad.

You see, I had been weeding my inventory of recorded music, through Lent — decimating it at first, in the strict sense, with about every tenth disc going on the trash pile of history (or more precisely, to a used CD store). More: novemating, octimating, septimating, sextimating, quintimating, finally quadrimating or even tertimating my collection of CDs, too many of which were acquired irresponsibly, back in the day when I was filthy stinking rich, and more dissolute even than I am now. Symphonies, operas, histrionic performances — the whole “Romantic Era” had to be cleared out. … (Why?) … Because I can’t stand it any more.

It’s not just Wagner, whom I have always loathed; but every composition in which old Ludwig Van is shaking his fist, or Brahms is going programmatic. It was all a mistake, cloning those violins, building those immense orchestras, those Mormonesque tabernacle choirs; fronted by those gesticulating übermenschen, playing with the volume, and breaking up an unholy dulcet smoothness with these infernal crashing sounds. I have come to despise grandiosity in music, whether it is outwardly sacred or profane. For two centuries now, in an alarming way, the profane has been invading the sacred. Conversely, a false, gnostic, “humanist” spirituality has been invading the profane. Verily, to my mind, most of the nineteenth century has to go, and everything in the twentieth that followed from it. Because it is loud, ruthless, rebellious, and noisome.

Necessarily, I play snippets as I go along, rather as one glances through a rifle scope, to check one has the right target. Or to increase the pleasure of waving adieu. Ah, the sinless delight of purgation!

But then, as I was going through composers, about to the end of the letter R, I came to “Ryba”: Jakub Jan Ryba, the Czech (1765–1815). I found one disc only of this gentleman’s works, recorded by a small orchestra and choir of blameless madrigalists in Prague. It contained two settings for the Mass, in a style I would describe as àpres-baroque. The first alone is famous. It is known as Hej, mistře! — which, to those shamefully unacquainted with Czech, does not translate “Hey mister!” but rather: “Hail, Master!” It is plainly a Christmas, not a Lenten Mass. Indeed, they play it at Christmas in Czecho the way we do Handel’s Messiah here, or as we intone Dickens’s mawkish reflections on Scrooge.

Ryba’s Kyrie sounds like a Gloria. The Gloria sounds like a Gloria. The Gradual sounds like a Gloria. The Credo, Offertorium, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnes Dei, — all sound like Glorias. And there is a recessional attached, a final choral exposition, which sounds very much like a Gloria.

I listened to the whole thing; aware, throughout, that it is not Christmas. I couldn’t stop myself. I was totally uplifted. (“Faith is not feeling.”) And at what is, seasonally and liturgically, nearly the worst moment possible. It was appalling behaviour on my part. Bless me, general audience, for I have sinned.

True, a priest had given me a dispensation to drink a glass of whisky, even in Lent, at such moment as might seem advisable for medicinal purposes, in view of my affairs. Whisky is better than lithium, he conceded. But I doubt we are allowed to substitute dispensations by analogy.

It has been “a good Lent,” otherwise, if you know what I mean. No stone left unturned in this spiritual mansion. Now back to the narrow path, which should consist of silence, the darkness, and from out of the darkness, Chant.

On wrath

Here is another piece I’ve brought forward from a couple of years ago, thinking perhaps it might still be worth reading. Or perhaps not. Other items around it now strike me as too trite, or too timely; merrily I blitz them as I go along. Alas this deprives gentle reader of that pleasure. As Doctor Johnson said, “A man who writes a book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.” … Quite frankly, I love the way they placed commas in those days.

*

It is true that parents have an influence on their children; we cannot know how much. It is also true that children are “born that way.” Among the sane, nature and nurture are both acknowledged, each working upon the other, and Grace upon both. The list of “rules” to be followed in raising a child is both short and vague. This is because each child is a person, and not one of them a machine, and even the amount of attention he needs varies from one to another. Love being the Great Teacher, what is taught through love may have some good effect. But love is more than forbearance.

Look at these creatures. Humans are much different from cats (and other animals, such as painted turtles), and yet I found, from my own childhood, that a cat could demonstrate the nature of nature. I so-to-say “owned” more than one from a kitten, and noticed that each came endowed with a personality, an intelligence level, a unique constellation of feline dispositions. And while a cat cannot be a dog, nor a tomcat drop kittens, every cat will display some range. In these respects, cats are much like people.

I regret to say that through complex oversights, I was provided with only two children to experiment upon; both boys. For scientific purposes, I needed dozens more. But even in this limited field I immediately detected the kitten phenomenon. The same with other people’s children, known since very young: “They come that way,” and unless one is tutoring not lecturing one will miss their particular requirements.

Unfortunately, our modern idea of education is all lecturing. We put them in a class; one size fits all. As anyone can see from the products of this system, they do not learn from it. In particular, the notion that education centres on the development of character, from that which is uniquely endowed, is lost on our pedagogic authorities; and from what I can see around the Greater Parkdale Area, on parents as well. For given what human beings are, there are moral implications in every form of learning, and this does not cease when “why” is replaced across the board with “how to.”

Wrath is my subject of the moment. It is always topical, though in the moment more topical to me than in most. To call it a Deadly Sin is a beginning, but it helps to understand of what the sin might consist. It cannot be a judgement on mere temperament, or cats would be capable of sin.

My father and I were born with unholy tempers, my elder son and my paternal grandfather apparently without. Wrath is a sin to which some seem untempted, any more than gluttony can tempt the anorexic. They can be vexed; I should think anyone can be vexed. But the emotional response is not always apparent. I knew a man of seemingly saintly disposition, who did not rise to any goad; who reacted to escalating taunts by turning away and becoming reflective; who endured an unendurable woman without complaint for many years; who did not flinch from acute physical pain, nor yell when anyone would yell, but spoke of fate philosophically, and counselled others simply to endure. We were all surprised the day he killed himself.

The animals I have known (apart from the humans) have more or less of temper; they express it quite spontaneously. I have fed the most serene sparrows, and watched others rave for their morsel of crumb. With humans one can seldom be sure what one is dealing with. In certain traditional Asian cultures, anger is suppressed, and insult is greeted with smiles, and then with giggling. I have watched ignorant Westerners miss these cues, even when warned. We think they fail to take us seriously, and become angrier, pushing our luck. The giggling expresses nervous anxiety; the preceding smiles were meant to assuage. But the capacity for anger is certainly there, and when finally it is unleashed, you are a dead man.

William Blake wrote, “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” Granted, he presented this as a Proverb of Hell, but with arcane Swedenborgian approval. The man of power I most fear is the one who seems to possess no temper. He may prove a monster of self-will, and brooding malice. The anger will never be shouted in words, yet may be subtly broadcast in a gesture. It will be absorbed, and stored, in his silent battery. But in the moment he “gets even,” you will learn the truth. And he will never forgive you thereafter, now that you have come to know him. Never work for psychopaths; and stop electing them to high office.

My father, who was honest, could explode like a volcano; but had forgiven and forgotten within a few hours. Unfortunately the recipient of his blast might take longer. It is hard to be wise with anger.

It makes you blind, hence the expression, “blind anger.” My schooling in this was from people actually blind, long a topic of fascination. When a person who is blind becomes angry, he loses the capacity to sense his environment, and starts colliding with things he would normally have avoided. I recommend the autobiography of the French Resistance hero, Jacques Lusseyran (1924–71), blinded in a childhood accident: And Then There Was Light (the translation last re-issued in 1998). It gives a superb account of the material and spiritual universe of blindness; to which add his collection of essays, Against the Pollution of the I. For the blind have so much to teach the sighted.

Among those physically sighted, as I have found to my cost, anger likewise blinds one to fact. The enemy is demonized, his virtues are disregarded. Reckless assertions will be made, about his acts and motives. To bear false witness is among the most grievous crimes, yet in the state of wrath, one bears it lightly. Even when the assertions are true, they will be unbalanced. Great generals in the field have known since the time of Sun Tzu, or long before, that they may make their opponents blunder, from rage. And clever politicians have mastered the art of infuriating their rivals. Anger can make us do the enemy’s bidding; hence the bottomless wisdom in Christ’s “resist ye not evil.” Run clear of it, by foot or in mind.

The Catholics have a saying which at first seems Pollyanna: “Offer it up.” There is actually profound sense in this: to offer the laundry up, to be washed by the angels. A wise priest of my acquaintance recommends carrying the handwritten text of some appropriate prayer, to repeat in emergencies. You may need this script; anger could make you forget the words. And the sooner you turn to it, the less sanity you stand to lose.

In Proverbs (the proper Old Testament collection) we read: “A soft word turneth away anger.” It is remarkable how many impending explosions may be obviated by this simple device, available free in any quantity from our Maker. (It is what the Asiatic intended by his smile.) An apology could serve this purpose well — if you wait until the barbs have been extracted.

Yet if there were no anger there would be no justice, so anger must have a place. The desire for vengeance impinges upon a divine prerogative; but the withholding of punishment may actually be a sin against charity. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” is a prescription for mildness and proportion, lost on us today. Our cult of cowardly “niceness” has largely undermined or supplanted the older societal view of crime and blackguardly behaviour: that it had to be dealt with, that it couldn’t be habitually ignored, without terrible consequences. It is like pacifism: one half of a moral instruction, and that the feebler. Weighing requires a scale, and thus the chastity of the balance, held away from the bodily passions. The trial begins with oneself: “To what degree is my anger just? To what degree my own projection?”

For anger illuminates a dark landscape. In a flash it can show us what is lurking there. Or perhaps what is not lurking.

“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” I once inscribed this additional Blake proverb into the ceiling beam of an English cottage — neatly, with serifs, after pencilling it for word and letter-spacing. For it seems to me there is wisdom in the storm, if the yachtsman will set his sails for its genius. It may require reefing, or even bare poles. But up to the gale it will carry him forward; and were there no wind, there’d be no getting home.