Kosher phones

Every once in a while, I stumble on something uplifting in the world of science and applied technology. Usually it is pure science: some obscure discovery which persuades me that God is winking at us yet again. But a correspondent in Israel tells me about a wonderful human invention. It is a “smartphone” altered, or actually designed, to be not-so-smart. I wanted to buy one right away, but it seems I would need a letter from my rabbi to say that I am a responsible person, and have a work-related need to own one, and am not just some yeshiva student with a desire to chatter. Unfortunately, none of my priests will pass for a rabbi.

Notwithstanding this restriction, there is apparently intense competition for the production of kosher phones. Manufacturers come out with new models which they claim are even dumber than their rivals’ dumbest. They boast of having permanently disabled more and more illicit smartphone functions. The latest have developed ways to omit those functions entirely, thus making their kosher phones cheaper, and into the bargain tougher, more reliable.

The Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”) objection to cellphones was from the beginning, but developed in detail as they “improved.” No one should own a device capable of “surfing” the vile world of secular websites for, in addition to pornography from “soft” to “hard,” much other morally degrading material is not only available but ostentatiously promoted in a 24/7, “streaming” sort of way. And, one’s computer is constantly invaded by the “cookies” of these monsters, along with any “viruses” that succeed in hitching a ride.

Every intelligent Catholic, or other Christian or decent human being, should have noticed the same, and worse, noticed the temptation in himself to be drawn into that vileness, incrementally. Parents sometimes try to block this filth from their children, but it can be of no benefit to adults, either.

It is easy to block the Internet entirely. But there is a plentiful supply of brilliant Haredis in the line of electronic engineering, and they have created a little universe of apps to eliminate everything except what the Haredi needs to get on with his life in business, to access religious reading, deal with medical emergencies, and so forth. They have set an example for us, and surely my fellow “ultra-orthodox” Catholics should be taking it up.


The idea that “science” should be put at the service of the lowest human volitions should itself be contested. The secular mind believes it has ownership of all physical and natural scientific research, and thus an exclusive right to appropriate its products for their own purposes. It has defined “freedom” in a way to vindicate moral degradation in any form.

A juicy example came from the recent secular demonstrations in France: the demand that a “right to blasphemy” be established in law, with plaques to be set before all churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other religious houses, affirming that this “right to blasphemy” takes priority over any previously-granted right to practise one’s religion in peace. This is an outgrowth of previous efforts to establish an “International Blasphemy Day,” and similar expressions of the overt satanism that now guides the Left.

While it is true that only a small minority currently subscribe to any such “right,” the Left has discovered that the people will come round — as they have done on divorce, contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia and every other hot-button topic for the Culture of Death — after they have pushed their agenda through sympathetic courts. It is a procedure which shows what an empty thing “democracy” is. We vote and vote until we get what they want, then stop voting. Everything is settled, the “debate” is closed, and anyone who raises the topic again is an omniphobe.


I seem to be tied at the brain with Father Hunwicke. Again and again I check in on his Mutual Enrichment blog, to find we have been travelling down precisely parallel tracks. I was spooked when he mentioned the late E.L. Mascall yesterday (here) — for I had just been consulting one of Mascall’s books, albeit on another topic. Perhaps I should explain that decades ago, when Anglican, I had proudly thought of Dr Mascall as the greatest living Anglican, in genius and holiness; just as I then thought a certain Joseph Ratzinger the greatest living Christian, by the same integration of categories.

The book in question is Christian Theology and Natural Science (1956). It fell into my hands in the course of shifting some books about, to an unrelated purpose. Mascall (1905–93) was very learned in a broad range of subjects, including the history of science. His interests ran more to biology than physics, but this bias itself led him to some original insights in general cosmology. To wildly oversimplify: he held that science throws light on theological questions that are obscured by (modern) biblical literalism; and that there is often a fascinating congruence between what is “theologically possible” and “scientifically possible.” His thoroughness, in each question he takes up, is itself something to admire, and adds to the reference value of all his works.

I usually find religious writers on science better informed than their secular colleagues. To me, there is no surprise that in Mendel and Lemaître the key conceptual advances in modern science were achieved by Catholic monks. Indeed, I taught a course, a few years ago, in which I stressed the dominance of Catholics, and clerics especially, in every major scientific discipline over the last millennium to the present day, and also the reasons for it.

Einstein somewhere said the state should assign physicists to tend remote lighthouses, so they might contemplate advanced problems in physics without worldly distractions. It was a typically asinine, secular idea. We need lighthouse keepers whose attention is focused on keeping ships off the rocks.

What we have in monasteries is useful to science in a three-fold way. First, of course, there is that opportunity to contemplate. Second, the reinforcement of it, in a daily regime of prayer, simple manual labour, and retreat; but also paradoxically in the sounding-board offered by other men of quite various backgrounds, united in the friendship of the Cross. Third, and I should think most important, is the Catholic Christian theological outlook, which leads men to assume that the universe will make sense, and that it will reflect characteristics of its Maker. This assumption has proved by far the most fruitful ever applied to scientific inquiry.

The same observation might be applied to technology. Let us take cellphones for example. The groundwork for wireless mobile communications was laid by the Slovak priest, Jozef Murgaš (1864–1929), whose patents, filed after he followed Slovak immigrants to Pennsylvania, date back before the Great War. His first love, after God, was painting, however. He did science when he was unable to paint. Look into his life and achievements and one begins to appreciate that we could have had cellphones nearly a century before we did.

Among the innumerable false claims of this anti-religion I call “secularism,” is that technological progress is driven by invention or discovery. It is instead driven by the marketing guys, when they finally see the chance to make a killing, selling a new “must have” gizmo to a market already shaped by their previous ministrations.

Propaganda for R&D (“research and development”) encourages us to think that “progress,” even survival, depends on the clever people who work in there. In the publicity, they are loosely associated with “scientists,” and the big corporate lobbies angle to get tax breaks from them. They are in fact galley wage-slaves who do just what they are told — not to create “new technology,” but rather to make products snazzier using technical methods already known, often for centuries. The idea of “the free market” is, like “democracy,” all blather. In my direct experience, entrepreneurs with genuinely useful inventions that might in any way challenge vested commercial interests soon find themselves enwrapped in calumny and as much red tape as the big corporate legal departments are able to unpeal.

I should like to see some Catholic, distributist effort applied to sabotaging this process. It strikes me that remote monasteries would be in the best position to develop goods of innocent utility, for people (whether Catholic or not) who want to keep their lives simple, and to own things that need not be replaced with every butterfly sneeze of secular fashion.