Essays in Idleness


The mercy game

The Church, I said yesterday, or strongly implied, is being bought off by moral exhibitionists, of the sort who lead the world not to Heaven’s Gate in Jerusalem Wall, but instead to the Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore. That is to say, we have clerics and apologists like politicians, eager to embrace progressive causes, and posturing on behalf of various political “clients” — the statistically poor, environmentalist neurotics, the sexually disordered, &c. It is a mercy game, in which a rudely unCatholic definition of “mercy” is set into conflict with the most elementary requirements of justice — which, in human affairs, can be determined only case by case, according to laws well established, because long universally subscribed.

“Class mercy” we might also call this: the idea that people should be forgiven for sins not of commission or omission, but with respect to their class, collectively, and whenever possible, in advance; that they should then be cast as “victims,” lionized, subsidized, encouraged and rewarded. For class mercy is progressive mercy. It is “an evolution of society.” What was conceded yesterday is inadequate today; today’s gifts will be inadequate tomorrow.

The correct word for this is “licence,” however; and the result of it, in 100 percent of cases, is the relaxation and confusion of all moral standards. For the recipients of largesse, acquired as if by right and entitlement, will never be satisfied with the amount, and will riot and loot for more, “progressively” — in whatever currency, from cash to new laws.

Our Nanny State was founded on this liberal interpretation of “mercy,” and will invariably reveal its heart, in the prosecution of a “justice” that is false mercy’s flip side. We have a system of politically-organized looting, in which charity has no place at all, and class beneficiaries are appointed to receive the goods of what they view as their class enemies, through invasive and eventually sadistic taxation. Every scheme to relieve “the poor,” or “the planet,” now emanating even from Rome, assumes the proliferation of immense and labyrinthine Kafkaesque bureaucracies to deliver “class mercy,” or enforce “class justice.”

And this a full generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The moral exhibitionists in the Church vie to board the bandwagons, and egg the liberal politicians along, in the direction they are already travelling. They speak in empty ideological abstractions (even while using “ideology” as a term of abuse to any who resist them).

But more than anything else they pose, in words and gestures, to show us how humble and selfless they are, how kind and generous, how open-minded and approachable, what “a breath of fresh air.” While inwardly they are ravening wolves, and behind their pretty façades, ruthless.

Fortunately, as I suggested, the Church is not the State. She is not for sale in the same way the State will always be for sale. A generation of vipers will pass, and Christ restores His own again, as He has done on all previous occasions, these last two thousand years — returning the Church to her proper business, in the salvation of souls.

This has always included the care of the poor, the sick, the disabled, the old, the tired, the hopeless, the doubting, the strayed. But all these tasks are one by one, and one on one. For God has created each living man ensouled, not as member of a class, as for example ants and termites, but as a class or universe in himself — each man, in body and soul united, an instance of “special creation.” That is, to my reasonably confident understanding, the teaching of Holy Church through all generations, and it is the reason why all genuinely Catholic eleemosynary institutions required voluntary, not legislated acts.

We, Catholics, all Christians, and verily all people are called to help each other when and where we can, and many of us to devote our lives to some focused service — as, for example, the Catholic sisters who invented and long dominated the profession of nursing. Not cash transfers, but service in kind — addressed to each specific need, and delivered with an absolute minimum of arbitrary and wasteful bureaucracy, and often none at all.

By increments, through the twentieth century, the Church in the West surrendered her most important worldly tasks to the State, or more often had them taken from her. And now, in the twenty-first, our own shepherds forget this magnificent heritage, and rather than try to resume it, they strike empty poses. “The State must do more, the State must spend more, the State must become more committed!”

But all the State provides is abortions, both literally and by analogy in every other field of its enterprise. For take away the motive of charity, which is not a scheme but an animation, and that is what remains: Procrustean “solutions” to everything that passes the State’s way.

Human sin, misfortune and misadventure, has never been a “class problem,” except insofar as all human beings belong to the same class — for all are sinners, and in earthly terms, all come to a bad end in death. The virtues associated with Mercy and Justice are facets of a Christian response — to itemized human sins, and uniquely experienced sorrows.

The cure of souls, as the cure of bodies, can only be done one soul at a time, and without Love it will canker.

Marketplace of ideas

The first thing to know about the Church, is that she’s not for sale. So, too, the principles upon which Western Civilization was erected. We aren’t in a “marketplace of ideas.” If they are true, they are not fungible; if they are false, they are worthless.

I don’t just mean, sold for money. Many currencies are used to obtain things in this world, and money is among the cleanest: it can be seen, quantified, and accepted or rejected. Most financial corruption is straightforward. There is no difficulty in discovering the motive. The people who do it may lead otherwise commendable lives. That is, if you think bourgeois is commendable.

And the poor often make good, honest thieves. I was reminded of this by a wallet thief in Parkdale, recently — or “cutpurse,” as we would have called him, a couple of centuries ago, when the craft standards in this trade were higher. All he wanted was the cash. The cards he couldn’t use: they were cancelled too quickly, and those with pictures on them a waste of his precious time. So he left the wallet where it was likely to be returned to its owner. I’m sure he thinks himself a fine, decent, conscientious fellow for having done this. The hippies always taught, “Take only what you need.” Though had he been more of an antiquarian, he might have realized the wallet itself was worth more than the cash it contained.

Violence is also a currency, as Messrs Daish, Qaeda, Boko Haram, &c, remind us every day. It can be more efficient than money in getting what you want, and is quicker than queueing, though like money it requires good management to get the best results. Which is just where psychopaths most frequently go wrong: they do not think ahead.

Even violence may seem clean compared to other twists. I have come to think moral posturing is the dirtiest of all currencies or persuaders. It has the largest fallout. By mimicking the good, and providing cover for bad behaviour, it spreads. Hypocrisy comes into this: most, if not all who present themselves as moral exemplars are hypocrites, indeed: but hypocrisies can be exposed and derided. Rather, I think, the moral exhibitionism is the primary evil. It invites applause, and with applause, imitation.

In the world of media and politics I have passed through, the biggest rewards were available almost exclusively to stuntmen (and stuntwomen) of this kind. Few of the most successful, it seemed to me, were in it for money alone; though few failed to see the main chances. Often, vanity got the better of them: they did not see the shoals in the course of self-promotion. For many, it was a short journey, to where something more mephitic came into play; something like a desire to be worshipped. Causes they might think they served, but they weren’t much moved by the consequences.

This is what was on display in Baltimore last week, and has been in many American inner cities. The looting and rioting is done by small people who “don’t know any better” when an opportunity comes to hand. The cost is much less in immediate property damage, than in the loss of order over time, which will be theirs to pay. They are not manipulators, but manipulees.

Like most inner cities, Baltimore has been governed by moral exhibitionists for generations, now. One may watch the city’s current progressive lords performing for the television cameras, delivering their scapegoats for prosecution and trial. It isn’t really necessary to name names, when one is referring to a whole political class, of progressive Democrats (and the occasional progressive Republican for variety) who create and keep the underclass in their places, cultivating their envies and resentments, and then directing them for use as voting fodder.

If these people — the looters and rioters — had genuine friends, they would be told to get a life, by adage and example. The lessons would correspond roughly with the Ten Commandments. They should be told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; that God is not merciful with liars and thieves and other malefactors. That God is the worst enemy you can have; or should you choose, the most reliable friend.

They should be told a good start would be: cut yourself off welfare. I am not being empirical here: welfare is not extrinsic but intrinsic to the spread of crime. This is not only because it makes you fat and lazy, though it usually does that. It is instead because welfare is evil in itself: it is organized looting by political means. It is what keeps evil men in power.

Note that these prescriptions are moral, not economic. That they happen to be more consonant with economic nature, than the prescriptions they contradict, is hardly a coincidence — as will be seen from the moment that nature’s God is solemnly acknowledged, and begins to be obeyed. For in the end, they are His prescriptions, and in the end, they make sense.


As postscript, I feel the same disappointment in Michael Coren’s widely publicized defection from the Catholic Church, as I do in progressive politicians. He told us Why Catholics Are Right in a recent book, was a popular parish speaker, an effective TV host, and far my superior in the art of nurturing a sympathetic audience. But now he has “moved on.”

He will now tell a new audience what they want to hear: that acts like sodomy are “loving” and okay; that religious opposition to sins of the flesh, ranging from contraception to same-sex marriage, is mean and antiquated; that those who, often at great personal cost, still try to uphold received doctrines that have animated Christendom through twenty centuries, may be despised as “haters.” He rightly judges that the Catholic Church is set in her ways: that she will never change her principles. Therefore he goes to those who will keep their principles up to date.

To some, this stasis — this insistence on a moral and spiritual order that cannot be altered by men, nor by a God who is self-consistent — makes the Catholic Church a dead end. To others, it is actually liberating, to stand for the right, regardless of the numbers; regardless, finally, even of the cost.

Pray please for Michael, whom I have known for thirty years. Reliable Catholic he may not be, but he is sincerely God-haunted, for better and for worse. Pray also for those who put their trust in him.

And let us, too, with Saint Thomas More, pray that we may yet, “hereafter in Heaven, merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.”

It’s a girl

“Historic princess will be first to benefit from new succession rules,” it sez here, above the streaming headline in some tabloid somewhere, glimpsed via Internet. Did not read story; knew it already. Newspaper headlines today tell us things we already know, or more likely, things we already know to be false. But in this case: true enough. Except that the word “benefit” is a lie.

Welcome to Earth, HRH Princess X of Cambridge!

They should ask the kid’s great-grandmother what the benefits are of being Queen of England, or any other place. She’s a brick (in the good sense). She would never answer.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” according to my friend Will Shakespeare. There are various other passages in which he reflects a mediaeval view of monarchy and power. It is true, there are men who would be king, who have the ambition for it. These are monsters whom we must keep away from power. Some of them might even be women. How perverse is that?

But even such monsters once knew better than to think kingship a slice of cake, a life of luxury. And few would be so foolish to seek it for that end. You might have every worldly pleasure it is possible to command, but you will not have a moment to enjoy it.

“It must be nice.” … This sordid, lower-class English expression is designed to convey the speaker’s envy for, and resentment of, his betters. My sympathies are immediately engaged with his betters. Some gamekeeper should be asked how the peasant was able to look over the wall.

Power is ugly, the powerful are ugly, but the people who want and envy power are uglier.

Mere wealth, to the contrary, can be relatively pretty. But as Our Lord averred, there is a problem even with that. This goes beyond its transactional value, for it is true that wealth can buy power, as I have been made many times aware. (And power can, of course, appropriate wealth.) “Offer it up,” is my self-advice, on occasions when I feel myself aggrieved; or as we say today, “suck it up.” The world has always been thus. People expecting justice in this place have landed on the wrong planet. (Anecdotes to follow.)

More fundamentally, however, wealth is a distraction, great wealth is a great distraction, and power is a positive vexation. Quite apart from any evil embedded within the desire, the person who lives for either is a fool. He cannot know what he is getting into.

The wet sea-boy, a-perch the mast, sleeps soundlier above rude wind and wave. “Then happy low, lie down!”

Hardly a month out from Easter — Queen Moon last night, nearly full in her sky, riding in her majesty past the gliding entourage of stars. And this is where we are. The most arrant nonsense printed in the tabloids, as if no one had learnt a thing these last two thousand years. … Pshaw!

Surely it is time for us to sing unto the Lord a new song; to Him who hath revealed His justice in the sight of the Gentiles, &c. (See Introit for Old Mass, Fourth Sunday in Easter, &c.)

Oyster sauce chronicles

There are three essential ingredients in a Chinese oyster sauce, so far as I can make out from the labels: oyster juice, sugar, and monosodium glutamate. Corn starch is needed to adjust the texture, but I should think rice or potato starch might serve equally well.

In the Chinatown grocery I most frequent, bottles of this delicious substance are available for around two dollars each. But I found one brand in a special section — marked in Chinese, I had thought, for a “sale” — that was six dollars. The label included a delightful wood-engraved depiction of an oyster, from which I guessed what the bottle must contain. It was set within classical Chinese typography (no simplified characters). Judge the book by its cover!

Now, don’t get me wrong. The venerable Hong Kong company, Lee Kum Kee, which has, over the last six generations, built a fortune on oyster sauce, and at least fifty-seven other popular sauces and condiments, so that it might be considered China’s answer to Heinz, makes a very acceptable oyster sauce for around two dollars. And for a fact I know it is bottled under hygienic factory conditions, or was when (as a hack business journalist) I once visited one of their plants. I will offer no criticism of this worthy commercial establishment.

And while I do not know this for a fact, I did once purchase a cheaper variety of oyster sauce, which could not have been made from oysters. Perhaps some more plentiful marine mollusc was inducted, to provide a “fishy” taste, but I doubt even that. From the aftertaste, I’d have guessed industrial by-products from some other Mainland source. It did prove an excellent toilet cleaner, but I wouldn’t use it on counters.

Never cut corners like this yourself, gentle reader! If the market rate for a substance is around two dollars, acclimatize yourself to the expenditure. Less will not be more — not in the world of food processing and packaging!

Conversely, I found the idea of paying six dollars for a bottle of oyster sauce too attractive to pass up.  My reasoning was, that if I could derive such pleasure as I had from the basic commercial product, what ecstasies might await at treble the price?

Too, this more expensive variety had been slipt to the shelves in an admirable way. The bottle entirely ignored Canadian labelling requirements, including the usual incomprehensible health and nutritional warnings, and made no use of either official language. It had to be good.

And it was, … and I am writing this only to express my lament that the bottle is now empty, and my regret that its fellows are now removed from display in Chinatown, perhaps by our NFG (national food gestapo), so that I have no idea where to find another.

There was indeed no list of ingredients on that bottle that I could discover — though my Chinese is imperfect — so I am left to speculate what the secret was. Here, if gentle reader will permit, is my theory of the matter.

It is that, the bottle contained oyster, and nothing but oyster, patiently reduced and carmelized, conferring an enchantingly natural sweetness, with nothing superadded except, of course, salts from the seawater employed in the boiling.

That, it had been made from intentionally selected, superior specimens of the beautifully elongated and large Crassostrea angulata — the oriental oyster par excellence — probably sun-dried in preparation.

That, there was no hurrying in the course of this preparation.

That, for the very love of a fine oyster sauce, a great deal of attentive labour had gone into the production, by men of skill and experience and indifference to competition.

Well, as they say, that’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

Down lunchpails

If I deviate from my admired R.S. ever or at all, it is because from my own “life experience” I cannot derive any pleasure from leftist twinkling. This is a slippage I have observed in many otherwise reliable dinosaurs. I attribute it to the drought of fashion. That is, we (dinosaurs) are always out of fashion. The twinkle comes when we see an opportunity to strike a transgressive, progressive pose, and therefore put ourselves in fashion with the smuglies, if only for a nanosecond. We seize upon it, as a dinosaur would, on something very small. But there is never much protein in the thing, and soon we must resume the hunt for something bigger and chewier.

I give initials, not a name, because examples are legion, and why should I pick on one guy who happens to be the most recent to annoy me? We see it in church pulpit as well as in politics: the soi-disant “conservative” who makes a spectacle of his one liberal view. If he lives in, say, Washington, and makes enough of it, he may still get invited to some parties. The Enemy will remember his little peep of statism or feminism or environmentalism or anti-Semitism or whatever it may be, and ignore everything else he says. He will be called, perhaps even to appear on television sometimes, but only to show that “even R.S. thinks we ought to” … euthanize our grannies, or what have you.

May Morning is when they all come out.

Had I not been criticized myself, for doing something of the kind this morning in my column over at Catholic Thing (here), I would perhaps not mention this. I stand accused (not publicly, just in email) of sympathizing with liturgical reform. I allowed that Pope Pius XII might have had good intentions, when he tried to appropriate the socialist May Day for Holy Church with his new feast of “Saint Joseph the Workman,” which replaced “Pip’n’Jim” in the missals for this day, back in 1955. That is, the venerable Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles, was displaced (to May 11th), to accommodate this papal wink to the labouring masses.

His Late Holiness ran that up the pole (“1st class – white”), but hardly anyone saluted. In the Novus Ordo it is now downplayed, but we’re stuck with it in the 1962 missal for the Extraordinary Form. … Aheu! … Father Hunwicke explains how to get around it, however, with a quick feint to Ordinariate usage (see here). … Bravo, bravo!

In general, it is a mistake to play to anyone else’s agenda. Let them play to ours. Our agenda is transcendence and salvation. It is not global warming or “workers of the world.”

For as I tried to hint in my Thing squibble, there is no call for celebration of “workers,” per, as it were, se. They labour for cash, and for cash alone. Who would work on a production line, in factory or office, if he (or she, alas) didn’t need the wages? We may empathize with slaves, including wage slaves, but must stop short of celebrating the institution of slavery. The whole scheme of Capitalism and Socialism, of Management and Labour, needs to be reviewed.

And I say, godspeed to that, and by all means let Saint Joseph the Carpenter help us show the way. Work, in a necessary craft, out of one’s own house, making use no doubt of available child labour, is the ancient and honourable way to proceed. We could start by striking down all the labour laws and city by-laws that make this impracticable, trash the income tax and so forth. For note, that the surrogate father of Our Lord was not homogenized. A carpenter, perhaps even a joiner, and thus a guildsman, a craftsman; not a “worker” waiting for a strike. There was no lunchpail in that scene.

But we could think about all this some other day. In the meantime, give us back May Morning.