Back to work

Perhaps the most shocking, & encouraging thing about Pope Francis, is his habit of calling out the Devil — by name. He does this daily, from what I can read in L’Osservatore Romano & other Vatican sheets; & as ever, Sandro Magister has taken note in astute commentary at his Chiesa website. Other media have largely ignored it, reacting for instance to the exorcism the pope apparently performed, spontaneously in St Peter’s Square after Pentecost Mass, with an indulgent, “How quaint!”

“Quaint” indicates a special exemption from fashion, granted by media on a day to day basis. It applies to acts judged reactionary, but harmless, & picturesque. It is assumed that an exorcism could have no effect.

In a similar way, the pope’s persistent naming of Satan in public homilies has been vaguely noticed, but dismissed. It is taken for a quaint way of speaking; the pope himself for just a sweet, harmless old man, out of touch with this Age of Science. Satan, on the other hand, is taken for non-existent, & talk of angels & devils for talk of spooks & fairies & elves & goblins. It appears so irrelevant to the concerns of modern life, as to need no refutation, beyond the occasional sneer of condescension. By all means, this attitude in the press should be encouraged. It will give us some extra time.

“Everyone believes in God,” as Charles Baudelaire observed, rather a while ago, “although they do not love Him. Nobody believes in the Devil, & yet his smell is everywhere.”

Trouble might arise should other people start speaking of the Devil the way Pope Francis does, as a real & present factor in human life — not only around churches. The habit would more likely rise from the ground up, than travel down from the bishops, I should think. Already my gut tells me, with respect to the intransigent still in her pews, that the Church has retreated as far as she will go. There are no social advantages to being Christian any more; & pretending to be Catholic would be quite ludicrously counter-productive to any person on the make, trying to steal ahead in business or politics. We are down to our core constituency: the people whom pragmatic arguments cannot reach. Priests survive, from a time when it was still an easy job, that came with house, meals, a maid, & job security. But it isn’t any more — there are safer jobs in government — & the young ones can’t possibly have been attracted by the perqs.

Even so, the notion of radical evil, or the radical notion of an evil that is personified in the Father of Lies — who needs therefore to be personally opposed — is far from being extinguished among the general population. Perhaps I notice it more than my old media colleagues because I move in circles quite different from theirs, among people they have effectively disenfranchised. I also notice that our new pope is speaking to these awkward footsoldiers of Christ, directly — in just the way their bishops hadn’t been talking, lo these many years, from under their crate-paper mitres.

I haven’t noticed, on the other hand, that he is saying anything different from the retired pope. Benedict XVI called attention to the transcendent nature of Catholic faith — in God’s working beyond & through the crimp of space & time — in everything he said. So has Pope Francis. The language is different, that of Francis rather plainer. But as Francis has been the first to say, the content doesn’t vary. And the existence of whom we call, by his title, the Prince of This World, is an ineffaceable part of that content. It is not a rhetorical flourish, not a decorative gargoyle projecting from some high corner of the edifice. The edifice itself is taken to be under siege, by that very gargoyle, & has always been so taken. (The more Church history one reads, the better one realizes there was never a moment when she was entirely comfortable or secure, not riddled by enemies outside her gates & also inside her chambers.)

The media perhaps could not understand what Benedict was saying, because he used long words with which they were unfamiliar. Francis uses shorter words, but they are equally unfamiliar.

Use even of the word “evil,” in circumstances to which it obviously applies, raises sceptical eyebrows among our chattering classes, our progressive elites. That bad things happen, including in some exceptional cases those embarrassing “me bad” things, is generally acknowledged. There are crimes & abominations which have yet to be redefined as prejudices surviving from the dark unscientific past. Murder in cold blood continues to earn disapproval, at least when it is combined with sadistic acts; & other sins may sometimes be acknowledged, by any word but “sin.” Still the worldly, including the more worldly priests, are on their guard not to be judgemental. The Church herself, as Sandro Magister reminds, has been exceedingly deferential to the feelings of the worldly, through the recent past. Her message has tended to omit direct references to Satan or to Hell, emphasizing instead the extra-Biblical qualities of tolerance & an icky sticky niceness. Whereas, Christ was not so nice.

Christianity has been under siege, in all of its traditional manifestations, & anti-Semitism is also rampant, but other religions are still granted dispensations. The doctrine of multiculturalism, embedded now in secular law, relieves all moral & religious “belief systems,” other than Judeo-Christian, from any obligation to justify themselves. Suicide bombings may, for instance, continue to be illegal, and are actually met with social disapproval (at least here in the West). But the condemnation of religious beliefs that condone, even promote that sort of behaviour is, strictly speaking, a “hate crime.” On college campuses & in other closed camps of the progressive elect, fanatic Islam has the edginess of a fashion statement. It is encouraged & subsidized — partly as a replacement for dour Marxism, but mostly because it is an ally of convenience for secular humanism, in its war on Christians & Jews.

It was to this last curious fact Pope Francis was alluding in his homily at Santa Marta in Rome, Wednesday of this week. Expounding a text from Mark’s gospel (9:38-40), he noted that all were called to do good, & to abjure evil, including non-Catholics. To kill in God’s name is a blasphemy, as he explained, in the fullest ancient sense of that word. It is a blasphemy that does not require Catholic belief to perform. Writers, including this one & the late T.S. Eliot, may have argued that without plausible belief, blasphemy is nearly impossible to pull off; that it reduces itself to mere cussing or bad form. The pope is telling us to stop dreaming. Even atheists, in his account, must be capable of real blasphemy; “invincible ignorance” can take them only so far. Conversely, the command to do good — not to “command the good” but actually to do it ourselves, voluntarily — is incumbent on all humans. And this because we are human, & because it is within our capacity.

The distinction is no casual one. “Command the good” is at the root of Shariah, & incidentally also at the root of the secular humanism that provides the theocratic, or rather “atheocratic,” substance of the Nanny State. We think, for instance, that good consists in taxing the rich to sustain the poor; in empowering the State to perform other acts of goodness in our name; in lacing the jackboots for the frogmarch of progress. Currently received “political correctness” is all about enforcing good behaviour (as defined by human ideologues), or being forced.

This is precisely the opposite of what Christ was preaching, in for instance the gospel text at hand. Our Lord goes so far as to suggest that the good does not require correct instruction, or proper accreditation; that it need not even follow the correct forms. The commands do not come from Kafka’s Castle, but rather from God & through nature; particularly that nature which is our own “human nature.” It is the still small voice of conscience that everyone who is listening can hear. Men in uniforms may not countermand this voice. Should they give evil commands, we need not obey them.

His disciples were in fact complaining that some unqualified person was casting out devils. Jesus told them not to stop him; that the man was doing a good thing. Permission was not required, & will never be required, to do a good thing.

There is more, much more, to the passage than this, & a man suffering under the crippling burden of a modern education will need a lot of time to think it all through. By the example of Christ, Pope Francis may say things too plain to be understood by our more subtle minds — things beyond the normal reach of intellectuals. But plain people can usually understand.

Satan, & demons, fall into this class; as do angels. I have met simple Buddhist rice farmers who know exactly to whom we are referring when we mention such beings. Indeed they are plentifully depicted in Buddhist temple art. I could give a longer list from my travels, to assure my reader that there is no culture unacquainted with demons, & much else any Christian would recognize from his own “cultural conditioning.”

And I have put that term in quotes because it is a lie. Knowledge of what I will call, for shorthand, “the otherworld,” precedes all cultural conditioning. A religion provides explanations for otherworldly phenomena; it must make some sense of things already discerned. The most primitive tribal cult works to the appeasement of spirits that are all the more apparent to the “primitive” tribesman’s mind, undistracted by the buzzing confusion of the machinery for settled life. (And again the quotes, because the most primitive men we have encountered have the same class of minds we have, with the same capacities, the same intelligence range.)

These simple & backward — tribals, subsistence farmers, hardscrabble types — function in the world of real particulars, facing realities from which the urbane are eager to detach themselves. They are the people to whom the mediaeval Church was speaking, in sermons, pageants, statuary, & stained glass — rendering the ineffable in comprehensible form. To dismiss them as so many superstitious peasants awaiting liberation by literacy & technology is to misunderstand: that we, ourselves, are superstitious peasants — voting in our masses for “hope & change,” & prone to belief in every other sort of magic. Every day I see around me in the city behaviour that exhibits a credulity no peasant farmer could afford to entertain in his hard, earthy sphere & orbit.

Christianity would not be a religion if it did not offer explanations, for what lies beyond the reach of material manipulation, the scope of eyes & hands. It offers warnings against the danger of invoking the spirits, against trying to establish communication with them, against becoming their agents, or trying to make them our agents. It offers means of escape from the influence of demons. It does not offer, it never offered, scientific dismissal of them — that hubris in which the voodoo of the primitive cult is replaced by the voodoo of technology.

I have met sophisticated intellectuals who get this. But only because they did not give up on the simple when they adventured into the complex; nor trade particulars for abstractions. An appreciation of the personhood in evil is innate to the human condition, including theirs. It is to be honed in wisdom, not foolishly discarded under layers of cheap linguistic persiflage. It is not inevitable, for intellectuals to be fools — for them to lose the ability to grasp the obvious, including the morally obvious, in their pursuit of knowledge-as-power.

It takes, for instance, an extraordinary blindness, to read the Gospels & not see what they say, or read into them what is not there. We stock libraries for these blinded. Yet we have a pope (inevitably an intellectual) who, rather like his predecessors, can actually read the Gospels. His attention is apparently riveted upon the very details that modern man overlooks, or overdubs, to his peril.

Example: Christ very often calls out the Devil, by name. It is not poetic licence. He uses terms plainly, so that they translate plainly into any other tongue. He takes his Opponent for an actual being, with a personal will. Jesus could not be kidding about demonic possessions, or he would not have been performing exorcisms, day after sunrisen daisy-blooming day. One does not perform exorcisms on intellectual abstractions.

Those who reject belief in the Devil must necessarily reject Christ. Verily, here is a circle that cannot be squared. To accept Jesus Christ as Eternal God & Saviour, then argue he needs updating for our times, is fatuous. That form of Christianity was unsustainable, & is therefore passing away. Pope Francis is teaching instead the kind that is here to stay.

We are fighting for our lives against a very real Opponent, & denying his existence guarantees we lose. The pope knows this, & expects every Catholic priest to know it. He also knows many of them don’t know, or are too shy to say. Therefore he resumes the normal activities of a priest — because he is a priest, & by way of encouraging the others. Look & see that he is not, in point of fact, some sweet harmless old man, except on the sweet harmless old occasions.

Look what happens, in that video, when the pope is told by a legionary that the man from Mexico, in the wheelchair, is afflicted by devils. See the smile disappear instantly from Pope Francis’s face, & note what immediately follows. Note the convulsion in the man, when the pope lays his hands upon his head, & note the sag of his face & how his jaw drops open, as the hands are removed. One is looking at something that does not fit into our glibly urbane little view of reality. So look hard.

Consult, if you prefer, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (5th edition just published, & reviewed in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal). It is 947 pages, & a very sick joke from end to end. Comparison to any previous edition will quickly reveal the speed at which psychiatric disorders are invented & disinvented, in the complete absence of lab tests that can materially demonstrate the presence of even one of the mental disorders that have been catalogued. Then explore the fantasia of bio-medical “cures.” The pretension to science has created in this case an extremely profitable business — vastly more profitable than for the charlatans of old — in which millions of the spiritually afflicted are treated by fully accredited mad-doktors even crazier than they are. (The WSJ headline, “How Psychiatry Went Crazy,” is misleading because it was crazy from the start.)

Gentle reader might try to keep up with all the other mirages in the pop “science of mind” — available from the glossies alongside the mild porn & hobby magazines at his local smoke shop (or for the professional, in yawning learned journals). The grave seriousness with which the shamans of that cult, who think they have banished mind from the rest of the universe, go about banishing it from the human brain, is really quite risible. One must dig out old works on phrenology to match their confidence of tone.

It is good to cast out devils. It is bad to leave them in, quite bad; & even worse to medicate their victims into zombies. Not knowing how to help is the only excuse I can think of, but that ignorance needs to be freely confessed. With or without any formal permission, we must get back to working on the problems with which jackass “science” simply cannot cope.