Essays in Idleness



I had better stop following the news from Rome, before I have an aneurysm. May I recommend the same to gentle reader: that we ignore the Synod, including the “backstories” now emerging about the Thirteen Cardinals, &c, Blase Cupich, &c, the “Shadow Synod,” &c, &c, and rather invest the time more worthily in telling our beads. To which end I have just deleted my draught of today’s Idlepost; because, frankly, it couldn’t do nobody no good. Those accustomed to a daily dose of David Warren Thought will find that two other essays of my composition are posted at other websites, today. (Here, and also, here.) Surely that will do.

Verily, I have just decided that, in future, I will take Sundays off. There will be no Idleposts on that day. I need to clear more space for prayer; and book-reading.

Too, my most obsequious apologies to the many correspondents awaiting replies from me. I have fallen several weeks behind the front edge of incoming mail, and cannot seem to catch up. God willing, I will find a way, soon.

Now, while this anti-blogue is not really designed as a medium for prayer and donation requests, I should like to make an exception for these friends in Chicago (see here), whose church has burned. Of course, churches are burning across the Dar al-Islam, and we can do little about it. But let us at least start rebuilding in Chicagoland.

Meanwhile, if thou canst still spare an Ave, say it for my elder son’s fiancée, struck down with a serious pulmonary embolism after they were mountain climbing in the Andes; currently recovering in a Greater Parkdale ICU. Nice Catholic girl; and indomitably cheerful.

Finally, a belated request to Saint Teresa of Avila, whose feast I failed to acknowledge yesterday. My favourite, even among the beloved Teresas. May she pray for us where her spirit must still reside, in the rugged outback of Castile; from that mystical interior bastion of hers; in Las Moradas:

I saw an angel beside me toward the left side, in bodily form. He was not very large, but small, very beautiful, his face so blazing with light that he seemed to be one of the very highest angels, who appear all on fire. They must be those they call Cherubim. I saw in his hands a long dart of gold, and at the end of the iron there seemed to me to be a little fire. This I thought he thrust through my heart several times, and that it reached my very entrails. As he withdrew it, I thought it brought them with it, and left me all burning with a great love of God. So great was the pain, that it made me give those moans; and so utter the sweetness that this sharpest of pains gave me, that there was no wanting it to stop, nor is there any contenting of the soul with less than God.

How beautifully Spanish, and immortal.

Making a lío

The more I read about the Synod in Rome, the less I know, and the less I am tempted to make any prediction. Attempts to subvert Church doctrine I can see, along with attempts to subvert the law of non-contradiction. In neither case are they likely to succeed. The Synod is a talking-shop only, a purely advisory affair, of no doctrinal significance whatever. Nothing it decides can encumber the pope in what he decides after it is over. Our worries could therefore easily be misplaced.

Disputes over the writing up of any final relatio, as over the substance of the Synod’s instrumentum laboris, are indicators only of chaos. The draughting committee is stacked with known “reformers” and incompetents. Baldisseri and Forte made fools of themselves, tampering with the preparatory Synod last year; it is hard to imagine why their appointments were renewed. If the purpose of the Synod were to hear out bishops, it is hard to explain why the pope would substitute unrepresentative reformers for the men chosen by several of the bishops’ conferences. It looks so obviously a fix.

Because the discussions are conducted in unprecedented secrecy, and reported only through interested parties (including the Vatican Press Office, which seems to have doctrinal positions of its own), we work with rumour and surmise. The rules governing the discussions seem to change day by day, and have changed at least once by comprehensive papal intervention; the final voting process remains unclear, two-thirds of the way through. And so on. Surely, no plot could be so transparent.

For the Catholic faithful, as I know from my inbox, as well as by touring the blogs, this is very discouraging. Matters fixed for centuries seem up for negotiation every day. All need remember that Christ does not change, in doctrine or praxis. Therefore anything we view to the contrary can be only the confusion, malice, and ineptitude, to which humans are notoriously prone. Alas, the entire hierarchy consists of humans. If the Holy Spirit has any role in their deliberations — and we as Catholics will say that He does — there is a plotline we cannot possibly follow. Yet how often, in this universe, order has suddenly emerged from chaos.

The most positive, accidental effect I have seen is the bringing to the world’s attention of a score of cardinals who are solid and reliable in the faith, and courageous by disposition. Several now strike me as papabili. Only under these circumstances could they have been discovered. One could never expect such men to be a majority in any hall; to find so many in this one is remarkable. Should they remain fixed in their orthodox positions, the majority, who are anchorless, will begin to swirl around them.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that we are witnessing not something right going wrong, but something terribly wrong being painfully corrected. My speculation is that by “making a lío” (Argentine slang for a “mess”) the pope has done, whether or not intending, just what God wanted: to expose the rot in the Vatican and hierarchy to universal public view; to make it so apparent that something will have to be done to claw it out. But of course we cannot judge the movement of wheels within wheels within wheels, and I am only speculating. We know that God does not work according to our schedule; that everything might be transformed in a day, or in a thousand years. Too, that He gives us, invariably, much better than we deserve.

The best way to make a lío, if one is in charge of almost any human enterprise, is to try to give everyone what he wants. While I have entertained the notion, I do not think the current pope is plotting to undermine the Catholic faith it is his duty to uphold. Nor do I think he entertains, secretly, any consciously heretical position. Given the right audience, he will, as he said in an aeroplane recently, recite the Creed correctly. But he will then tell another audience what he thinks they want to hear, fatally raising their expectations. In this sense, if he is unkind or unmerciful, it is to the “progressive” factions. He cannot deliver what they have been taught to expect, except by an error that will turn loose irresistible forces against him. And I mean this charitably: the “reformers” cannot understand this. For if they understood, they would desist.

I do not hate this pope, incidentally, and for the record, I do not even hate Cardinal Kasper, though he makes me angry. I think Kasper is invincibly wrongheaded, and capable of personal animus, of vanity and hypocrisy, like other men; but also that he sincerely thinks he is serving the Church by putting forward his “proposals.” Also, that as Cardinal Danneels and many of the other reformers, he is too old to change his views, formed not only decades in the past, but confirmed for him daily in the lay and ecclesial environments through which he has moved, wherein he is almost a conservative. From listening intently to him speak, I sense some real loyalty, some real faith, along with logical disorder, and perhaps even desolation. He seems a man who is caught in an elaborate trap of his own making.

The former Cardinal Bergoglio, who is now Pope Francis, I simply cannot read. Perhaps as a creature of “North,” he is too “South” for me. Each of the little theories I’ve constructed to explain him to myself, has been blown away by subsequent events. To say that I do not trust him would be not exactly right; rather, I have come to trust that he will contradict tomorrow what he says today. The only observation of which I feel certain is that he cannot know what he is doing; that he is not mentally well organized; that he is out of his depth, in an office to which he is unsuited. He may have an “agenda,” but it is not thought through, and no amount of cunning or charisma can compensate for the mental clarity, and genuine humility, that his two most recent predecessors brought to that high office.

All of which might — just might — make him the very pope we required, to slay “the spirit of Vatican II,” while trying to revive it.

Year of clemency

Perhaps the word they are looking for in Rome is clemency. Or, clementia, should we wish to be late mediaeval about it. Merciful, if you will, with respect to Catholic doctrine, since it is mercy in itself. Imagine now, gentle reader, a full year in which the “we” of the Church (and any well-wishers) will be gentle, mild, and humane. I was thinking, especially towards faithful Catholics, who have suffered enough through the last couple of years, or rather, the last half century. Rome could let up on them for a while.

The pope himself might wish to spend the whole of the year, not saying anything. Let things pass. When asked, for instance, leading questions by the media, while aloft in aeroplanes — above 30,000 feet, where the air pressure might contribute to a certain dangerously giddy whimsicality — he could smile benignly. Let them mistranslate that. Bless them, perhaps: for they are so much in need of blessings, these poor journalistic souls. Smile, then put on headphones, and listen to Gregorian chant.

Or much better it would be, to stay out of aeroplanes; to stay home; for instance to relax at Castel Gandolfo. There are swans there, I understand: one might watch them glide on the Lago Albano. Or if no swans, surely other elegant birds. There are walks to take in the Alban Hills. There is even a golf course, I am told. And too, the remains of the Villa of Domitian to explore. Let us reflect, after all the cruelty of his first-century persecutions: that Domitian is dead. And that we have his Villa.

Too, we have the fine baroque collegiate Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova, designed by the sublime Bernini. It was this Saint Thomas who compared Our Lady’s Heart to Moses’ burning bush: alight, yet not consumed. Days could be spent contemplating that: a light that perpetually illuminates our darkness. The idea of Light, as opposed to noise.

No conferences, no “synods,” no talk to speak of. Rather than make new statements, we could focus on worthily re-publishing the old.

And the Curia going quietly about its business, looking for things lost under cushions, and at the backs of drawers. Let no one be fired for the entire Year of Clemency. Let the baddies be quietly identified, and simply eased out of any significant employments. Let them occupy their time doing Latin crosswords. Let all pause frequently for the Angelus: five times daily and a sixth on Fridays, in the gladdening tradition of Reconquista Spain.

Father Zed said recently that Pope Pius XIII will be so quiet, and make himself so invisible, the media will be circulating rumours that he has died. But why wait until his election? We have the technology to do this now.

Such rumours could be fed by transferring the Wednesday audiences away from San Pietro, to quiet corners in the Vatican gardens. Perhaps ask the Emeritus, beloved Benedict XVI, to resume his wonderful Wednesday “catechisms,” in his gentle, Peter Lorrie voice, expounding Scripture and the Lives of the Saints to little clumps of people who happen to be interested. And the Cardinal Vicar of Rome could be delegated to bless the small crowds of tourists and the faithful in Saint Peter’s Square, Wednesdays and Sundays. By such means, the Holy Father could be kept hidden away.

Of course the bishops of St Gallen would mutter and gripe, demand this, demand that, and possibly the other. But let us suppose no one is returning their phone calls.

Imagine for a moment our Holy Church less like a busy field hospital, full of carnage, and more like a chapel for pilgrims. Let those who wish to come, come; let those who wish to go, go.  As an act of clemency, or mere trial if you will, let us spend a whole year communicating, not by public gestures on the public stage, but through the bells, the bells.


Thanks to hydrogen fusion and chemo-synthesis, it will be possible by 1984, or soon after, to make food from rocks. Thanks to other technological advances, it will cost less to fly to the Moon, than to Australia. Human body styles will change with fashion, as genetic couturiers go in and out of style. Soviet socialism will bury American capitalism. Medical science will allow people to live for about two hundred years. …

Robots will take over simple manual tasks, and render the lower grades of humanity obsolete. Unnatural sex practices will become ethical, legal, and even socially accepted. The arbitrary barriers between men and women will dissolve, along with the arbitrary bonds of marriage. Universally available contraceptives and antibiotics will remove the fear of pregnancy and venereal disease. And meanwhile, we will be able to watch “the same old small-screen slop” on giant, high-resolution television screens. …

These predictions came from a panel of twelve celebrated science fiction writers, in Playboy magazine, in their July number of 1963. And thanks to the Internet (which none of them predicted), I was able to find the article in Flickr somewhere, by entering a few search terms.

I remembered it well, from childhood. My father bought a copy of this number from the Rexall Drug Store on Main Street, Georgetown, Ontario. He was spotted doing so, and as a consequence I was ragged by a nasty little mob of schoolboys, telling me that my dad was a “prevert” — a term they had apparently just acquired from their own parents. I furiously denied that my father would ever buy a pornographic magazine — and told him about the heinous accusation when I got home. Papa calmly said the allegation was true, and asked if I would like to see the magazine — after my mother, who was currently reading it. He mentioned the scientifictional panel, which he thought might appeal to me.

Robert Heinlein: “What will our children accomplish? Take the wildest speculation, square it, cube the result, and the answer still won’t be big enough to match the truth.”

Yes, the predictions were as fatuous as that, except, as gentle reader will observe, some of them came true. On revisiting that Playboy number, however, I was struck by a quote from William Tenn, the pseudonym of the expatriate British author, Philip Klass (1920–2010), a notorious Roman Catholic:

“I can think of no potentially great advance in technology or human relations which man won’t find a way to subvert into a historic step backward.”

This elitist writer is among the few “futurists” I can endure. (Walter M. Miller, Jr., and C.S. Lewis, probably complete the list.) His lovingly acid, high satirical humour turns the cheap genre into something resembling literature; his familiarity with human nature distinguishes him from the mere technophiles. Though as gentle reader may speculate, I have not read widely in the science fiction genre.


From the news this morning, I see that Playboy magazine still exists, that Hugh Hefner is still alive, and that he founded it in 1953, the year of my birth, not in the early ’sixties as I had supposed. Since pictures of naked women (in poses much crasser than Playboy ever dared) — are now available instantly for free, across the Internet, the magazine has changed its photographic policy. Henceforth, its models will be more generously clothed. With a paid circulation only a small fraction of what it had at peak in the ’seventies, it will try to retrieve its old reputation for faux sophistication.

A pop culture theoretician of my acquaintance is of the view that Playboy always offered “soft” pornography. From its first centrefold of Marilyn Monroe, apparently lifted from a contemporary gas-station calendar, its models were more “nude” than “naked”; it left the pervert’s obsession with lingerie until late in the day. Hefner’s babes all looked milk-fed and freshly bathed, as opposed to, say, weird, dirty, French, and too easily available. She was the girl next door in the American male’s fantastical imagination. This corresponded to the international idea of the American girl, and Playboy Clubs with the tuxedo rabbit logo — a mark of faux sophistication — sprang up all over the planet. Add in the interviews with famous people, background lavish interiors, and mildly naughty cartoons, and everyone could find an excuse for buying it.

The great secret of Playboy — and I tell this at considerable personal risk — is that women read it as often as men. For women are more interested than men in the female body (witness the contents of women’s magazines), and more curious about what makes the other sex tick (ditto). Men rule the world because we are much less competitive, more cooperative therefore (“teamwork”), and more interested in rule-based things like football and engineering. Too, our adolescent fascination with undressed women is more biological than cosmetic; more pneumatic than analytical. It does not consume scarce brainpower.

But that leads us towards another topic — the battle of the sexes in which the man’s superior size and strength have seldom proved a match for the woman’s psychological dexterity.


Instead, I wanted to address, this morning, the conventional view that Playboy was the flip side of second-wave feminism. The enterprising periodical, which would have been called Stag Party, had it not been for an early lawsuit from the publishers of a similarly-named men’s hunting magazine, gave its name in turn to a fashionable type of male “swinger.” Pierre Trudeau, for instance, was able to sweep to power in Canada in 1968, on the strength of his “playboy” charisma. His son, little Justin Trudeau, threatens to become prime minister next week, thanks to the same mastery of the women’s vote.

The popular belief that women are repelled by promiscuous male behaviour is false. Or rather, it is true only of a small minority of the unpleasant. Many women are scandalized by gratuitous male advances, but that is another thing. And the loss of that feminine self-possession is a feature only of the later, fin de siècle depravity. The women of my own youth — the “hippie chicks” I fondly remember — were still at least capable of situational chastity.

No: I deny that women (except a few of the shriekie sisters) hate to be loved or desired by men. What they do not want is for the men to diminish them by being jackasses about it, or otherwise to inconvenience them by their extravagant attentions. Most women I have met would not mind being quietly adored by innumerable men. This can even become a source of corruption.

A better argument for the morally degenerative effect of Playboy, on the female sex, would be that it presented the new “playboy” male, not as a “male chauvinist pig,” but instead as androgynous. The politics were always liberal, and where context required, consistently “sensitive.” These were men who cared a great deal about fashion and self-presentation; men who were successful in a rather feminine or feline way, striking poses and expecting to get things both ways. They could play at being smart polished “gentlemen” in one moment, and voyeurs in the next; and really they were both, and a few other incompatible things (always fake) in the same package.

James Bond was the ultimate exemplar. I think he got the tuxedo from the Playboy bunny, and not vice versa. He could be four years old, or forty, simultaneously; he could indulge childish wishes, and make them pay. And women would accommodate him, because he was so impossibly “attractive.” He knew all about women, in a way his male ancestors would have concealed. And he put what he knew shamelessly to work.

The notion that what is good for the goose, may also be good for the gander, takes hold from there. As we know from Chaucer, the female desire for “the soveraineté” is not new; it is a staple of literature in all times and places. The question has ever been, not whether they want it, but whether they can get it. The answer, not only in Western Civ, but in all the other higher civilizations, has been resistance, on grounds that when women do rule — not subtly behind the scenes, but overtly without restriction — the world goes promptly to Hell. As Doctor Johnson put it, “Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.”

So-called “second wave feminism” did not begin with the sick ravings of Betty Friedan, but with the existential hallucinations of Simone de Beauvoir. (Her 1940s book, The Second Sex, was translated into American in 1953, and published just as Playboy was first appearing.) Ms Friedan’s derivative bestseller, The Feminine Mystique, appeared a decade later, just as The Pill was arriving on the mass pharmaceutical market.

The idea that pregnancy, lactation, and menstruation should not deprive women of “equal rights” (invariably code for the soveraineté) was not the new thing at all. Instead it was the sudden collocation of ends and means. The Pill could “make women equal.” They could henceforth become androgynous themselves, and as it were, Playgirls, no longer constrained by the fear of maternity, nor the taint of prostitution.

Like the kind of man promoted by Playboy, they would never have to grow up. Everything in life would now become “an option,” and in the future, the options could only grow; science would guarantee that, and solve any of the technical problems along the way.

In this sense, the Sexual Revolution was not thesis and antithesis (feminism in reaction to masculine excess), but a synthesis from the start. What began “underground” in the 1950s, with such as Hefner and de Beauvoir, appeared overground in the Swinging Sixties. It was an explosive development, so that by 1968 — the year of Humanae Vitae — the whole idea of returning to the “traditional” order of civilization and human decency had become, for the young in body or in mental attributes, inconceivable. The outcry against that document, in America, was extraordinary. (There would have been none, ten years before.) Pope Paul was simply not James Bond, and that was sufficient ground to condemn him. “Civilization” and “repression” were now, as for Freud, interchangeable terms.

While the scientifictionists interviewed by Playboy may have been stunningly obtuse in considering the consequences of what they were predicting — as well as ludicrously optimistic on much of the “science” — I think they captured more exactly than the contemporary “social scientists” the tenor of that age. With the singular exception of Mr Glass, they were prophets of the new “liberation,” in which everyone could have everything all ways. And indeed, it was the very shallowness — its moral, intellectual, and spiritual vacuity — that made Playboy such a powerful instrument of the Sexual Revolution.

Pastoral accompaniment

[There will be electronic silence through the Canadian Thanksgiving
weekend; the noise resuming on Tuesday, October 13th.


There is, it turns out, a very easy way to reverse the plummeting birthrates in all the Western countries. It is to encourage Muslim immigration. Not only does this cause an immediate population rise, but as we have seen in countries such as France, England, Netherlands, Sweden, the fecundity of that population soon improves, swelling again to replacement levels, and overtopping the huge numbers lost to abortion. The poorer the Muslims the better, for alas, their own wealthy “middle classes,” not only in Europe but in the Middle East, will no more hesitate than our parents did to buy into the social and material ethic of the Swinging Sixties — the pill, mass baby-snuffing, “human rights,” total consumerism, satanic music, and quickie divorce — leading invariably to the disintegration of family and religious life.

Now, clever (as well as gentle) reader may spot a weakness in this plan. It seems to involve the Islamicization of what once was a Christian continent. And this is something which even post-Christians tend to look on as a Bad Thing. These latter may sometimes be more horrified than the surviving Christians, as we discover in French, Dutch, and other national political cultures, where the whole point of the populist opposition is to preserve the brothelization of public life against the threat of Shariah. They console themselves, however, with the thought that, thanks to their own contraceptive practices, they will not have horses in any future race. They will anyway not personally live to see and hear the blare from mosques in quite every direction; and with any luck, the pension schemes will hold up until euthanasia becomes, for them, the more comfortable option.

Christians tend to take a longer view. This is evident even in the discussions that leach out of the current Family Synod in Rome, where the conflict between the Catholic Christian, and post-Christian factions, reveals contrasting temporal orientations. Faithful Catholics all over the world look to the future of their own people, and beyond this to Futurity in the classical sense.

Whereas, the Danneels, Kaspers, Marxes, Baldisseris, Fortes and the like, in the party of decadence, hardly think about children, or Heaven for that matter. (If they did, they would mention these things sometimes.) Like other factotums of the Culture of Death, they need to be reminded that children even exist, or that the relation between sex and procreation is anything more than the hypothesis of a defunct ideology. The task as they present it is to return, even in their eighties, to that fondly remembered ’sixties era (“bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”); and more practically, to the spiritual equivalent of “palliative care.” They want their own sterile constituency to be made to feel as comfortable as possible in their last days, and therefore they demand a Church that will be more “welcoming” to adulterers, fornicators, sodomites, &c, as it finds them among the casualties of post-modern life.

Hence the attraction of “field hospital” as metaphor: the Church you need never go to, because it comes to you. Which applies soothing ointments to your various wounds, and whispers sweet words of encouragement in your ear as you proceed to the hereafter. All you have to do is lie there and bleed.

So far as I can see, from the evidence, there is no risk whatever that the Church will be suddenly taken over by an influx from the depraved secular culture, attracted because the Church will now permit them to do what they are already doing as a matter of course. On the contrary, the converts we find are looking for Christ, and take a view of sin that is oppositional. And in Europe, in the few places where parishes are growing, it is because these “brown people” are coming in: converts often from the Islamic folds, attracted uncannily to chant, and polyphony, and other outward signs of something that is beautiful, and good. They do not want less religion, but more; and have discovered a place where something unambiguously and transcendently religious (as opposed to worldly, political, and violent) is hidden.

They have found, in other words, the only part of contemporary Europe that is not foetid and worthless.

Likewise, the “old stock” European youth — the ones who turn out in their unexpected millions for World Youth Days and such events — are magnetically attracted to Sacraments, of all things; and seek precisely those “old fashioned values” that it is the cause of Church liberals to smear and destroy.

I am belabouring the obvious, as usual, in this Idlepost, because it is so frequently overlooked. We worry, perhaps, more than we should that the Catholic Church is falling into the hands of very devils. She is, at this moment, and our implacable resistance is required; yet we should always realize that, as in the cosmos at large, the Enemy is trapped in a holding action. For all the sound and fury, the hoof-clop of the Beast, he has no future, even in this world. And while I would myself prefer to see a few dozen “progressive” bishops defrocked and publicly excommunicated (the auto-da-fé having gone out of style), I am prepared to wait for this generation of vipers to die off, by natural processes. For they have made no arrangement to replace themselves, and what they now propose cannot save them.

The very provision of regular Synods of Bishops, and for the standing Vatican bureaucracy that supports them, was among the several catastrophic mistakes made by Blessed Pope Paul VI in the wake of Vatican II. Simple solutions are often the best, and I should think in a future papacy, the simple decision to eliminate these divisive and foolish Synods will be taken. This will save a lot of money, for the world media as well as for the Church, and more pointedly spare the Catholic faithful that unpleasant and unnecessary sense of betrayal that follows from listening to their bishops “debate” the Christian faith.

From what I see, there is actually quite a lot of money to be saved, if we follow the paper trails to many similarly unedifying “talking shop” operations, sponsored through the Holy See and the national episcopal bureaucracies; and I do not think that e.g. the good tithe-payers of Germany should have to bear such a disproportionate share in these destructive expenses.

Rather their interests and ours would be much better served if we put the cash into “outreach” instead. For there is a crying need, in America, too, but especially in Europe, to kindle mission among the Muslim migrants.

They are the future, after all; the sterile of Europe are the past, approaching extinction. We should shift our attention to growing once again, as we do in Africa wherever the true faith is proclaimed; and Mother Mary can lead us to the unprecedented opportunities emerging among peoples who have not yet turned their backs on children, family, and religious belief. They have come half way to us, already — to Europe, often at great risk — and ours is to “accompany them pastorally” the rest of the way into Holy Church, and to the feet of Mary’s Son, Our Lord.

Seen & unseen

That will be the Draconid meteor shower tonight, not poorly aimed Russian cruise missiles, streaking through the skies; so named because they seem to fall out of the constellation Draco. From the Latin for “dragon,” incidentally; as, too, the family name of Vlad the Impaler, but with the mediaeval diminutive; hence Dracula, “little dragon.” Trust me, these are important things to know.

Every year our planet passes, for a couple of days in early October, through this gravel debris of the comet Giacobini-Zinner and, weather permitting, we get a fine show. If we hit a dense patch, we might see dozens of bright meteors every minute, as we did twice in the last century. There was a nice spike in 1998, as I recall.

I could do with a little astronomical entertainment at the moment. The city glare mostly cancels the spectacle; on top of which we have rainclouds assembling over the Greater Parkdale Area. … Aheu. …

Really, we should turn the lights off sometimes. And should the sky cover and the winds howl, gather by the hearth with the books and the knitting.

An old lady — a neighbour of mine when I lived in London, years ago — recalled the Blitz from 1940. It was so beautiful, she said. Her most vivid memory was of standing on a balcony as hundreds, it seemed thousands, of German planes passed over. Bombers, most of them.

She had lost her fear because of the great beauty. First the city itself, in its stillness, with all the lights blacked out, etched in moonlight. The house was on a rise, she could see so much of it, like a vast abandoned stage set. But then, the drone of fate, with its metal hail approaching.

And now this stage set was illumined by incendiary bombs — their white glowings as they came down, their yellow flashes, and the rings of fire from the buildings they’d ignited. And the barrage balloons, shining bright and pink, in the clouds of pink smoke from artillery and flares. And the aircraft themselves, glowing pink, in their remorseless parade — giving the illusion they were close enough to touch. And through it all, here and there, an opening in this shroud, and a star twinkling; an old familiar star.

Seventy-five years ago; three generations. Here, you can mark them off with a ruler: 1965, 1990, 2015. And soon, not one living to remember. …

And the noise of the explosions, and the grinding of the aeroplane propellers, as if they were churning through the sea; the lady heard all this. Heard the sirens, the sirens, the sirens; heard the “all clear.” And everywhere the shouts of firemen, and of the working-class heroes in the cratered streets, dousing the flames with dirt and sand.

“It was so beautiful.”

From September to May, it was like this almost every night, and often in the daytime. It became a routine: “Oh bother, it’s the Luftwaffe again.” Fear was in the air, but compressed under boredom, and sometimes in the heat of it the fear went away. “How long can they keep this up?” Perhaps, forever.

One night, an odd thing happened. A row of old tenements came flopping down like cards, but one plumbing column remained standing. There was a man sitting on the toilet at the top, with his trousers at his knees. It was ludicrously comic. In the middle of all this pain and death, people saw him and chuckled. Somehow, eventually, he slithered down the pipes, leaping into arms as the column tilted over. Made a joke of it, the man did, when he saw his wife alive; said he was thinking about complaining to the landlord.

And people were emerging everywhere from the rubble — bloody and hurt, though patient and good-willed. Others digging, frenetically for the most part. Only names on their lips, but tears in their eyes; expecting to find corpses. “The bricklayer sounds,” the crunch of plaster, the creak of joists. But no screaming, with so much work to do. Ears being used as stethoscopes.

“We were all trying to be British,” the lady said. “One mustn’t get it started. One mustn’t be the first to wail.”

Bodies coming up from the ground; people suddenly standing. It was the end of the world, and she was watching the resurrections.


But of course, we are too close to events. The whole history of the last two generations, of the world corresponding to the time of my life, is too close to make much sense of. And things which are happening, “in the news” now, loom so large, that they are mostly invisible to us. That is why I instinctively ignore both religious and secular prognostications. If we do not know what is happening now, how can we know what will happen next?

This is more than a question of “information.” As I’ve learnt the hard way, again and again, in the practice of the rogue trade of journalism, we are working with unreliable information. Often, when everyone knows what has happened, everyone is wrong. The closer I’ve come to “breaking news” in my life, the more sceptical I’ve become that the circumstances have been, or could have been, correctly reported — especially by observers who could not write so much as an accurate précis of a Times leader to save their lives, because they were never taught.

More fundamentally, the “fog of war” lies thick upon all parties. Few men have the prophetic gift, to follow what is happening even in outline. It is a piece of luck when one of those happens to be a General. In peacetime, under conditions where politics are publicly disputed, and leaders command not from the tops of elephants like the sensible kings of Burma and Siam, but are carried on the shoulders of the seething mob, clear vision is unlikely.

Chastity is a virtue I have come to admire. I am left to enjoy it largely by myself. The mob thinks it applies to genital activity, if to anything. But it is universal, it applies to everything. No intelligent thinking is possible, and thus no intelligent decision can be made, without this virtue of chastity. One must extract one’s “self” from sin and situation, to make so much as a clean confession to a priest — to explain what one did without the usual syrup of excuses. Men who cannot accomplish that, will hardly outwit their own amour-propre, when they look beyond themselves.

Heroic chastity might take the form of declining to steer the willing wench into bed, but here I am considering the “high political.” And this includes the high political in humble stations of everyday life. The question, What is for the good? — aye, there’s a question. It is a masculine one, so that when a woman asks it she must play the man. (So much of mothering requires masculine decision.) But, par excellence, the father in the household must exercise a judgement in which his own interest is sublimated within the interests of his family. He must stand above himself to see what these are, and make painful personal sacrifice sometimes, without selfish whining or complaint. Or else, become a failure in the eyes of wife, children, and God.

And likewise, all leadership is in its essence chaste and masculine, whether the ruler be a woman or a man. The commander of the fleet — our Don John of Austria — has before him Victory in a holy cause, demanding all sacrifice together with the knowledge that he is in the service of Heaven. For all the private failures of his past, he must not fail now.


There is a distance from which some clarity is possible, perhaps; and then I fear a greater distance at which the subject shrinks and disappears. I am referring here to the Battle of Lepanto, whose 444th anniversary we celebrate today, in the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

The issue of that battle was not clear at the time. The fleet of the Holy League had destroyed the massed Ottoman fleet, but could hardly reconquer the eastern Mediterranean. The initial intention had been to recover Cyprus from the Infidel Turk, but this was impossible; and long after Lepanto the recovering Ottoman forces harried Catholic (chiefly Spanish) interests in the western Mediterranean. Tunis and Algiers resumed as centres of piracy, and long into the eighteenth century the European coast remained an open target for Muslim depredation. Indeed, as we were reminded on the 11th of September, 2001, the spirit of Islamic raid and conquest is far from quelled today.

It was only over time that the magnitude of the victory of Lepanto came plainly into historical view, as the most consequential naval engagement since the Battle of Actium — fought at nearly the same location, in 31 BC. In each, West prevailed against East, and had it not been so, the history of Europe would be much different.

True maritime skill, and the firepower of the new Venetian galleasses, played their part at Lepanto; but also the extraordinary morale, described by Cervantes (no dupe) who was present at the scene. For this was the last substantial naval engagement with rowed galleys — in which so much of the fighting was hand to hand on deck. In this, free Christians proved finally the masters of Turkish slaves, regardless of the numbers. The casualties were terrible on both sides, but far worse on the other; and our own were balanced by the many thousands of Christian slaves we freed.

I do not hesitate to refer to this battle in “us and them” terms. Consequential as it was, the war is not over. The same human facts remain in place; the low squabbling that undermined our unity; the broken alliances; the impulse under pressure to cut and run, as Don John’s southern flank almost did at the start of the engagement, until checked by Turkish galleys manoeuvring around them.

Yet that is part of the miracle, too: that the cowardice of a Genoese admiral (great-nephew of Andrea Doria) contributed directly to the sudden victory. He left the gap with the centre division through which Uluj Ali’s ships sailed — directly into the maw of the Holy League’s reserve, which chewed them up nicely.

It was a miracle that we prevailed, given the initial alignment of forces; and ingenious tactics are retrospectively admired. But the more I look at received accounts of the battle, the more I attribute to Our Lady; or an atheist might credit to “lady luck.” She levelled the watery field; the morale of the Christians tipped the balance.

The triple chaplet of the Queen of Heaven — the three rose crowns — are the mark of human homage it is our privilege to bestow. The term “Rosary” is derived from that. The banner of the fleet had been blessed by Pope Pius V (who supplied some of the ships); and before its setting out from the Kingdom of Naples, solemn reverence to Our Lady was offered. Across Catholic Europe, those in the know prayed their Rosaries for success, in what they knew to be no small adventure.

For long before the secular historians, the Church, through her faithful, did understand what was at stake: the preservation of Christendom. And long after the historians have decided that remembering the Victory is politically incorrect, the Church will recall it in her Mass. For she understood, and understands, that the issue hinged on an Act of Faith. And that our fate will always hinge on that.

Do not inhale

For some deep, perhaps unplumbable reason, the term “happy gas” has turned up thrice in items forwarded to me this morning. It so perfectly describes what Catholics have been experiencing, in frequent ventral, or dorsal bursts, that I suspect some happy-gas asteroid has passed through our atmosphere, undetected by the sages at NASA. Perhaps their orbiting feelers have been set to detect carbon dioxide, exclusively, so that a chemical compound like nitrous oxide whiffs right by.

It comes from Washington, too, and Moscow, and elsewhere; not exclusively from Rome. But insofar as it seems to irrupt from ecclesiastical sources, my speculation is that the Devil has run out of sulphur.

Or maybe he hasn’t, but instead has discovered, by a patient empirical process, that happy gas works better than fire and/or brimstone, to put the Swiss Guards off their watch, along with everyone else in there, supposed to be minding the shop for us poor sinners.

This gas is known to have, despite its colloquial name, certain unhappy effects. It makes people say and do silly things, but the hard truth is that not all clowns are nice clowns. Still, we might give the benefit of the doubt, until the effects wear off. Assuming they do wear off.

For a time does come when the happy gas abates, even in pockets of intense concentration, and little bubbles of sanity may rise, even in the anhelous enclosures of a happy-gas convention.

Let me point, for instance, to the homily of Peter Cardinal Erdo, the Hungarian primate, to those assembled for the Family Synod at Rome. (Summarized, here.) It was so sensible that, as will be seen, the Vatican Press Office felt the need immediately to issue a disclaimer to the effect that he was speaking to only one session of this conventicle, when it was perfectly clear from what he said that he was speaking to the whole thing.

Indeed, the Vatican Press Office is like a bottomless cylinder of happy gas, and I often worry that Father Lombardi is going to explode. Or that Father Rosica has already exploded.

Pray, gentle reader, for all the victims of happy gas. Pray that it will dissipate quickly, and that the present trustees of Holy Church, at least, may receive enough pure oxygen to recover their synodic and conjunctive wits.

After strange gods

“Hinduism recognizes for each age and each place a new form of revelation, and for each man, according to his stage of development, a different path of realization, a different mode of worship, a different morality, different rituals, different gods.”

The quote is from Alain Daniélou (1907–94), the great French Indologist, musicologist, and convert to Shaiva Hinduism. He was curiously enough the brother of Jean-Guenolé-Marie Daniélou (1905-74), the French Jesuit, Cardinal, historian of early Christian doctrine, and author of extraordinary books including Scandaleuse Vérité (translated as, The Scandal of Truth, 1962). For much different reasons, I admire both men; the latter as likely a saint, and certainly one of the finest minds of the twentieth century. But let us leave him for some other day.

Alain Daniélou is, paradoxically, also an advertisement for Catholic or Western civilization, though he removed himself from it. The book from which I lifted the billboard quote was, Hindu Polytheism (1964), remarkable for both its range and penetration of Hindu mythology and iconography. It is not an apologia for Hinduism, quite, though the account is sympathetic; it uses all the methods of Western scholarship and inquiry to explain these products of the Indian mind. It is among the triumphs of that “Orientalism” which today is categorically condemned by the jackboot academic establishment, in the wake of the famous tract by Edward Said. (I allude to Said’s opus magnum of 1978, a “modern classic” of pig ignorance, and malicious lies.)

Perhaps too sympathetic, in light of Daniélou’s conversion. I think he lost his moorings (“went bush” as they used to say in the diplomatic corps) in a way that I can understand.

Though never even slightly tempted to become the adherent of an “Eastern Religion,” in my own footloose pre-Christian youth, my memory holds the experience of watching a loin-clothed Hindu adept, immersed to the waist in the mud waters of the Ganges, uttering his prayer towards the rising sun. It was beautiful, and I can reconstruct the moment in which I, too, felt at peace and in sympathy with myself and all India — an India not intelligible to, for instance, the Western hippies then on the road, reaching for superficial things. For this was not superficial.

I was witnessing a response to a religious calling, that was entirely sincere, entirely self-giving, entirely free of the smug puerilities that offended me, even then. I had nothing but respect for it; for this man standing in the heart of the sunrise. Yet all I could do was to take him in: to observe the integrity of another soul. Whom Jesus loves, as we can know for certain.

Even supposing we shared a language, to argue with him would have been impossible. To confront him from another intellectual, theological or philosophical position, would be to begin at the wrong place; for here was a “faith” that was undeniable, and obtuse to Western reasoning. To my mind then, and perhaps now, I was witnessing the religious impulse prior to the Judaic focus in monotheism; prior to that extraordinary “dialogue” that is represented in the Hebrew Scriptures, between God and His chosen people — different in kind from all the other religions of the ancient Near and Farther East. In other words, I could be watching a scene that had happened thousands of years ago, in Ganges, Indus, Euphrates, Nile; … Tiber, Thames.

Yet “Hinduism” (the very term is too confining) has its own reasoning genius, and as Daniélou explained in this book and several others, the ancient Indian philosophical teachings — which contain much moral wisdom, and theological insights that even a Catholic will recognize, and reasoning of an indisputably universal kind — are woven into the poetry of an incredibly complex, organic tradition. The “Vedanta” is not naive or primitive. It is often extremely sophisticated, and has repaid patient study.

Daniélou bought into it at a high level, both intellectual and aesthetic. It provided, for him, a different answer to the questions his brother also faced, the one in obedience to, and the other in rebellion from, the same upbringing. It was a very Western rebellion, complicated, in Alain’s case, by what seems like an innate homosexuality, from which he was also running. A brilliant man, and good and kindly from what I know, he was engaged, I believe, in a “great game,” of hiding from himself.

We should remember, however, by our own lights of Christian faith, that thinking cannot save us; that reasoning merely runs behind, even Krishna’s chariot. Christ alone can save; but when we say this we are not actually contradicting the truths in other faiths. For Christ is man and God. He is not a rational construct. His “being” lies infinitely deeper than that, and yet extends all the way to our surface. Presented not “rationally,” but instead as Son of God and Son of Man, He is the fulfilment not only of the Hebrew prophetic, but of all other religious traditions.

Looking back, it seems to me that there is a sense in which I glimpsed Christ standing in the Ganges — in something primaevally purified, and human. Something not looking back, but somehow leading forward to Christ standing in the River Jordan. In his own way, from some such experience, probably in the plural, I think this is what must have provided a “revelation” to Daniélou — looking, as it were, for Christ, in all the wrong times and places.

(Cardinal Jean, incidentally, said innumerable Masses for his brother Alain, and for all homosexuals; as well for pimps and prostitutes and all the “low life” of the modern city; for all those in flight from themselves, led astray by mysterious forces. His “liberal” enemies in the Church used this to tar him with scandal. His reputation was finally clouded when he happened to die, suddenly, while delivering money from his own pocket to a poor, forlorn, aging prostitute, who needed it urgently to bail her lover out of gaol. And brother Alain came volubly to his defence when the French tabloid press went to town with this, barracking the late Cardinal as a “found in.” Forty years later, the record still needs setting straight, in a world still full of pig ignorance, and malicious lies.)


So much for comparative religion, today. It is full of shoals, full of dangers. The man who does not know himself will be quickly lost in those waters. Even at that time, on the steps at Benares — I was then eighteen years old — I could not doubt that I was Western. Though not yet a Christian, I knew at least that I was formed, “culturally,” in a matrix unmistakably Christian; and there was much I could not surrender without also surrendering myself to incoherence, to madness.

That was then, this is now. I have come to realize that, even among people older than I, and arguably even some elderly Catholic bishops, this “mooring” has slipt off. It is more of a puzzle, looking back, that I still kept it. Much of my childhood was spent in Asia; my parents were post-Protestant lapsed. My “European” heritage was already “evolving” into something post-Christian, rapidly through the ’sixties and ’seventies; its finest achievements, disowned. The appeal of Eastern Religions to my hippie contemporaries spoke of this. Many were going to ashrams in India, unaware they were leaving “ashrams” behind, from our own Christian monastic past. They sought to replace something of which they’d been deprived by their own parents and schools and society: their own religious roots. Truly they were blowing in the wind, seeking the profound in the merely exotic.

Sometimes, they were even told by their gurus: “Go home. Learn your own religion, before you try to hash-smoke your way into mine.”

In trying to understand the immense catastrophe now overtaking the West, and within the Catholic Church that formed it, I return to the same scenes. We have lost not only the liturgical order that explicated Eternity to us, but also the reason that ran up behind it. We see everything we had, or rather, everything we were, outwardly dissolving around an irreducible core.


Return we then to that billboard quote. It was meant, by Alain Daniélou, as a brief, summary, rational explanation of the Hindu conception of the world; of how to live and what to do for those who are living. One might quibble with it, but in the broadest terms it might serve, too, as an explanation of other very ancient, polytheist, religious traditions. It is, to my mind, a description of a natural, plausible response to “the cosmos”; a way to be in harmony with it.

Indeed, this book by Daniélou provides a point of entry. One could read it and imagine how a “traditional,” unwesternized Hindu might account for our common world; how with as much native intelligence as we have — as any human has — he can “make sense” of it, from many successive angles.

Yet I also quoted it by way of trying to understand the demands now made in that “dictatorship of relativism” that Pope Benedict spoke to us about. It reads almost as a shopping list for the post-modern man, who does genuinely want religion, but wants it on his own terms. For I cannot believe that the “liberals” who insist on tampering with the teaching of Christ and His Church are insincere, in their longings for the “comforts” of religion; any more than they are insincere in their desire to avoid the discomforts of obedience. They only ask to have things both ways.

Positions of the Catholic Church, shared in the main by the Protestant congregations through the last five centuries (particularly on such vexed current issues as divorce and homosexuality), are not their current positions, alas; they want the teachings “mercifully” adjusted to their own passing requirements. The alternative would be to adjust themselves — unthinkable from the post-modern, consumerist point of view.

Yet for all I know, some of these are kindly and good men, by the reasonable standards of this world; and many appeal not for themselves, but for what they imagine to be the good of others. What can we do to please them?

The answer to this is, plainly, nothing — beyond quiet prayer, and works of charity invisible to the sarcastic crowds. The Catholic Church is what she is, and what she has been through the last twenty centuries. She is hardly going to be changed now; and her settled faith is not in the power of any synod, council, or pope, to alter. The “reformers” appeal to the wrong authorities; as men, only to their fellow men.

Perhaps these can be twisted; perhaps the “pastoral practice” corrupted, as it has been many times before. But only for a time, and never to ruination. The real dispute is of men, with God and nature. Even from the view within recorded history, they beat their heads against the Rock.

And yet they have an alternative: to leave the Church. We may not have free markets for goods and services, in the West any more; but we surely have a free market for religion.

There are other religions that may cater to their needs; that will let them have all that they desire, and without the “sticker shock” of Catholicism — new revelations for each time and place; new accommodations for each person, changing as they “grow”; new paths to “self-realization”; new moral schemes, and new rituals, as wanted; and whenever and wherever there is market demand, strange new gods and idols. Why complain about the prices in this shop, when the dollar store of spirituality is in such easy walking distance?

By all means, show them out with this promise: that everything they want is just down the street. And all over the world, too, for when they go on holiday. And everywhere: cheap, cheap, cheap!

And there is one more thing that in Love we can promise: that after they have had their adventures, they may always come home.

For this wasn’t a candy shop, after all; it was the domicile of Christ. And there will still be His Catholic Church, miraculously preserved without them.

Fact & mystery

The world is full of questions to which the answer must be, “I don’t know.” Perhaps this is especially so for the world of Christians, not in spite of faith but because of it. Through Scripture and Tradition, God has revealed as much of Himself as we are capable of assimilating, and provided the keys, the first opening, to many bottomless Mysteries. These are different in kind from the mysteries of the ancient pagan cults — Eleusinian, Dionysian, and Orphic mysteries; the cults of the Pythagoreans and neo-Pythagoreans; of the Cabeiri; of Isis and Osiris; of the Thracian sky-god Sabazius, of the Phrygian mother-goddess Cybele, of the Persian Mithras, and of the farther “mysterious East”; of various other gnostic and phallic worshippers, alongside the official Emperor cult. For these people had mysteries that only the priests knew, and guarded jealously, creating elaborate and “mysterious” rites of initiation.

Consider for instance the Boeotian cult of Trophonius, about which we read in Pausanias — the Baedeker of Greece in the second century. He who would consult the oracle took a cell in a building sacred to the spirits of Good Luck. He would purify himself with ritual cold baths in the river Hercyna, and make frequent (possibly cash) offerings to Cronus, Apollo, Zeus, Hera, Demeter and so forth; living off the leftovers of sacrificed meat. Eventually he would sacrifice a black ram of his own, into the pit of Agamedes. The priests would examine the animal’s entrails for indications of whether the supplicant should proceed, or go back for an additional shakedown. Finally, after drinking successively of the spring of Lethe, and the spring of Mnemosyne, he was sent into the cave, with instructions how to crawl through its various narrow and complicated passages. Something loud would then happen to scare him out of his wits; and if he managed to make his way back to the surface, he’d be sat or, if necessary, tied on a chair, so the priests could carefully transcribe his ravings. They would then call his relatives, to take him away.

Those first attracted to our Church, must often have assumed our mysteries were like this. As the latter part of the Mass excluded the unbaptized, they could freely imagine what went on there. Rumours are always rife, and malignant rumours always get a hearing. It was some work, explaining to the ancient pagans, what Christianity is all about; and in particular, the nature of our Mysteries, different in kind from those of the religious competition.

For we have Mysteries that anyone can be told, and rites that are explained in every missal. Once apprised, the gentle reader may spend the rest of his life contemplating these Mysteries of the Faith, theological in the sense that they are revelations of our Triune God, and of His Incarnation. They are things we know that we could not have learnt by rational empirical inquiry — such as that we are Loved, and must Love in our turn, truly and with utmost chastity.

Those who live entirely by the light of their own reason, refusing instruction in the Mysteries of the Faith because they can figure out everything themselves, were dealt with at e.g. the First Vatican Council:

“If any one say that in Divine Revelation there are contained no mysteries properly so called, but that through reason rightly developed all the dogmas of faith can be understood and demonstrated from natural principles: let him be anathema.”

This is an aspect of the Catholic teaching of which even Rome needs reminding from time to time: that we do in fact have dogmas, and that we have through the centuries in fact anathematized those who put themselves above them. And so we do for their own good, in the hope they may correct themselves before God corrects them.

Yet many of the straightforward moral teachings — similar to the teachings of all other civilized religions — can be reasoned through, with intelligence and patience. And they have been reasoned through, and the results of the reasoning have been confirmed again and again, in the face of innumerable challenges. For the kind of mind that puts itself above the mysteries of Divine Revelation, also tends to set itself against received instructions on the differences between good and evil.


The Family Synod is now meeting, and will be for the next three weeks. It strikes me that the agenda for this, and the rules imposed in the last few weeks, will provide the faithful with mysteries of a quite irreligious sort. For in the past, such meetings — whose purpose was not to discuss Catholic doctrine, but how to apply it in present circumstances — were quite open. We could learn, if we were curious, exactly what our bishops had said and were thinking. Our faith was not, or rather, is not, a mystery in that pre-Christian sense, subject to revision by oracles. The Holy Spirit is not a pagan god, who tells us new and startling things each time we go down into the cave.

Indeed, my beloved, deeply learned Benedict XVI — who since he retired has been praying for us — went repeatedly to trouble, to explain the foolishness of the idea that the Holy Spirit intervenes in all synods, councils, and conclaves, to steer the participants to the right result. An elementary acquaintance with the history of the Church will show us that bishops are quite capable of coming to decisions that no loving God could have countenanced.

Men, a species that includes bishops, are left with a certain radical freedom, which constant intervention by the Deity would cancel. We have been already provided with what we need to know in the Deposit of Faith. There is nothing that Christ absent-mindedly forgot to tell us. Our task is not to supply what he overlooked or failed to anticipate, or to “update” the teaching for a human condition which does not, itself, change. Nor is it to murkily redefine terms long since clarified. Neither popes nor bishops are above that Revelation.

It has become extremely obvious that, once again in the long history of the Church, fools and self-servers and very evil men are operating in the Vatican at the highest curial level. And since we are not going to be told, plainly, what is going on, or what will happen next — only tweets and sound bites of an oracular nature, addressed as if to children — our task is reduced to a simple one. We must fast and pray.

I mentioned Benedict because he was — again, I think very obviously — a good and reliable pope; a man of sound mind and habit, who could be trusted. He happens, in the course of “mysterious” events, to be still with us in this vale of tears, and to my mind we should pray consciously with him. And too, struggle to withhold our judgement, as he would, on things we cannot know, and cannot change. And thus, accept the pain that goes with not knowing what our shepherds are discussing and planning — like the pagan priests of old — behind our backs, as they did behind Benedict’s back.

We have a terrible, shameful, mess in Rome. But the chaos of this world is passing, and we can know that in the end, Christ will prevail.

The unpragmatic agenda

I doubt whether it is possible for there to be a fully genuine “traditionalist” (Catholic or any other kind), at least within a radius of several thousand miles of the High Doganate. This is because, in a myriad of ways, modern conditions have uprooted all genuine traditions. Or at least, believes itself to have done.

Glimpses I have had of what a tradition might look like — mostly decades ago, in or near childhood, and mostly in distant countries such as England or Siam. But they were glimpses of an almost religious nature, as the pilgrim might have glimpses of Heaven, though it remains not of this world. We can however demonstrate that a traditional life has existed here and there on Earth; arguably, once, almost everywhere.

To get at what I mean by “traditional,” in today’s special sense, I could explain the “traditional” exceptions. Throughout history there have been wars, sometimes terrible wars, and conquests, and sometimes huge natural disasters. Whole districts, tribes, peoples were made into refugees, and kept on the move. Indeed, primitive tribes in movement, such as the barbarians who swept across Europe during and after the fall of pagan Rome, are themselves by nature progressive not traditional. True, they carry customs with them, which may be quite striking, but are fragile and tenuous. Even in conquest, they are radically altered the moment they come in touch with a settled, civilized culture. Whether Mongols in China, or Vandals, or Huns, they give up their own customs with an alacrity that might be described as scandalous; though it may take them generations to adopt or develop anything like the rooted traditions of the people they conquered.

For tradition is necessarily organic and holistic. One might visualize it, abstractly, as a relationship between a landscape and a race. The people alter the landscape; the landscape alters the people; and the two grow into each other until, after centuries perhaps, if there are few disruptions, there is a “country” — using that word in a non-political sense, from a past when not everything was political. Languages, and dialects of languages, reflect the emergent settled order.

It is wonderful to consider, as for instance I once tried to do, the continuities in many patches of rural England — how many things had not changed, going back as far as prehistoric times — until sometime after what we now call the Industrial Revolution, and in some places right up to the First World War, when almost everything changed. Though none was entirely isolated, the parishes were worlds to themselves, and like the stars overhead, seemingly fixed in their courses for the duration of human time. Improved methods in agriculture and building gradually filtered through. Yet all were free of the modern restlessness, and scope for the modern ego.

Everything changes, as sage Heraclitus says — including, eventually, the stars in their courses. But there is a qualitative difference between things that change over centuries or millennia, and things that change every minute or hour. Similarly, there is no such thing as a society with no upward or downward mobility. But it makes a difference when the movements are as sudden as winning the lottery; or when a family breaks up.

In America, as I know through my own family past in Ontario and Nova Scotia, as well as from books, we had the beginnings of a settled culture, and traditions assembling by place, that did not last long. They were disturbed almost immediately, and the human longing for belonging was frustrated by “advances” on almost every plane of social existence. I do not mean only the technological, for the philosophical ideas that guide modern life — the unrooted ideologies, if gentle reader will bear with me here — invaded every clearing and hamlet.

And with or without adaptations through technology, a new kind of city arose in the landscape, on the analogy of an explosive fungal growth.

The modern city, or rather conurbation, has a physical region, to be sure, but occupies or rules it as an alien force. It is a remarkable organism in itself, but not adapted to, nor dependent upon, any “traditional” order. It imposes its own order, of “creative destruction,” to which people must adapt to survive, narrowly as economic units. To watch the new cities of China spring up is to see, condensed into a decade, what took more like a century everywhere else: ten million people where, only yesterday, there was something hardly larger than a town, set among small farms.

Likewise, in the overview of the planet from satellite photographs, where the dark side of the Earth is now corruscated by the blaze of artificial urban light. We see cities and the streaks between them like the synaptic diagram for some extraterrestrial brain. Compare pictures of the same territory, only a generation apart, and the extent of this urban growth can be charted.

Yet it is misleading. For notwithstanding the spread of electrification, the population growth is intensely concentrated. Over perhaps 98 percent of the Earth’s land surface, the population has not increased, and in much of it is actually lower than it was a century ago. Some rural landscapes may be altered by the cities’ hunger for e.g. mineral resources, yet even these scars grow back over quickly enough. On the ground, the change we see is along the highways, jammed with traffic mile after mile. Having walked long distances across Europe, and parts of Asia, I have seen so much untouched beyond those highways, and encountered the reality of “depopulation.” Even from an aeroplane, the “flyover” distances between cities can be appreciated.

People who come to the city are changed by the city. This is obvious enough if one studies voting. Something called a Conservative Party is in power in Canada, and might survive the current election campaign, or might not; either way it enjoys the support of a considerable portion of the electorate. Yet I can walk for miles in Toronto, through forests of lawn signs for the two competing neo-socialist parties, and find not one Conservative sign.

The party platforms are shallow and deceitful — all party platforms — yet, there is a contrast of tendencies, towards “economic enterprise” and personal responsibility on one side, and on the other, “welfare dependency” and overt moral depravity.

Now, the paradox is that while the vast majority of adult city folk of both sexes (and all gradients between) are mere wage-earning serfs, they are cogs in the machine that actually generates the economic growth that the Conservatives celebrate. GDP per capita is substantially higher in the cities than outside them (generally double or quadruple or more); and even in the small towns, wealth requires big city connexions.

Or rather, this is not a paradox. The young who migrate to the city, seeking credentials, then well-paid jobs, are consciously or unconsciously leaving their very identities behind them. They feed themselves into a melting pot, in which the range of human values will be mixed and degraded, then strained for economic use alone.

William Blake referred to “these dark Satanic Mills,” but of course, technology advances, and the smokestack era has passed or is passing. The machinery of today and tomorrow is more hygienic, often carefully sterilized. The factories of the future are scrubbed, with constantly improving emissions standards. Even China is cleaning up its environmental act; even India. Soon, you will have to go to Africa to find private and public investment in environmental obscenities.

Humans as most other animals prefer clean to dirty in their own nests; this demand for clean-up is beside the point. The point is rather the machine, and were Blake living today he would see that the dark Satanic Mills have been technically transformed. But he would observe that Satan has only washed to make himself more presentable for dinner. His diet has not changed, however, and he is still eating human souls.

And we who claim or aspire to be “traditionalists” now find ourselves operating within societies where, as it were, “traditional” traditionalism is no longer possible. The tables have turned, and we are the subversives now. Everything humane is now subversive.


I think this is the meaning of the negotiations at the upcoming Family Synod in Rome, and everywhere else in the background of the current papacy. The immortal Catholic doctrine, now under frontal attack, was premissed on a human social order that has itself been fundamentally changed.

The Cardinal Kaspers are quite right when they claim that people today, in “advanced” Western societies, cannot relate to the old teachings. These do not speak to the way we live now, in cities or the high-tech rural islands. The very idea of, for instance, “indissoluble marriage,” is irrelevant to our modern man. He is not really opposed to it; rather it seems too silly to oppose. He can accept it on its own terms as an intellectual idea or “ideal.” But on the one condition that it belongs to the past — some other age, some other culture. Maybe in Africa, as Kasper hints, in his invincibly Teutonic way.

Placed, instead, in the contemporary “urbane” context, it becomes a pure idea; one of those many “ideologies” the pope keeps prattling about. It is this idea versus that idea, and progressive people, like the Mongols and Vandals and Huns of old, have no use for this one. But relocated to, say, the thirteenth century, they have no objection. So long as we keep them there, we can keep “indissoluble” marriages for ever.

Of course, the present writer is a reactionary. There are still some, even in the Greater Parkdale Area. (I’ve drunk beer with several.) And we condemn, strange to say, not the “traditional” Catholic teaching, stuck as it is in the rut of the Cross, but instead the whole modern world.

The task might appear a considerable one, from any pragmatic angle, but to my mind the Church should not buckle. Nor will she, with Christ’s own help. For what needs changing is the whole modern world.

On politicians

While Rome burned, it is said, the Emperor Nero golfed, partied, and selfied. This, anyway, is my updated account. In an earlier version, he played his fiddle. The fire, which broke out in the evening of 18th July, 64 anno Domini (or 817, ab urbe condita), continued for a week, levelling ten of pagan Rome’s fourteen districts, and leaving at least half a million homeless. I gather it started in the merchant quarter, where fires usually started, back then. There were lots of merchants; there were lots of warehouse fires. And this despite numerous municipal regulations.

Read your Tacitus, however, and you will see that this rumour has been corrected. In fact, Nero rushed back to Rome from his palace at Antium (just outside the Beltway), took charge of the fire-fighting operation from the first night, opened public buildings and his own gardens to shelter the dispossessed, and made immediate arrangements to import huge quantities of grain into the city, for distribution free or at nominal cost. Criticisms of his Department of Homeland Security were feverish and unfair.

There is another problem with this rumour. The violin was not invented for another fifteen hundred years. Those still circulating the story should say he was playing on his cythera, instead. Nero was an enthusiastic and accomplished amateur musician; perhaps some people resented it. He was a man of culture; an Ivy League guy. But he was also an accomplished politician, and nobody’s fool.

Rumours that he set this fire himself are about as likely as rumours that George Bush started Hurricane Katrina. It would not have been in the chief executive’s interest to do so, in either case. For Nero was already sinking in the polls — curiously not because he’d ascended to office by having his mother kill his uncle, then killing his mother in turn; or many similar instances of hardball. Politics was politics then as now; success is to the ruthless. No, Nero was unpopular thanks to his growing reputation for ineffectuality. His failure to stop the fire hurt him in the same way as Bush’s failure to stop the hurricane.

After consulting with a few focus groups, Nero decided upon a scapegoat. He chose the Christians. He accused them of complicity in setting the fire, and his subsequent persecution of them — which included the martyrdoms of Saint Peter and Saint Paul — probably improved his popularity rating, at least slightly. From what I can make out, the early Christians were not well liked. People thought they were spooky and weird.

This recovery was temporary, however, and soon his own infantry were threatening mutiny; there were uprisings in the Heartland, in Red States like Hispania and Gaul; eventually the Roman Senate stopped playing lapdog. Once emboldened, the Senators moved to impeach him. Still, it was four years after the Great Fire of Rome when, now surrounded on all sides by his enemies list, like Nixon, he did the Roman thing, and cut his own throat.

Let it be said, the details are complicated, and possibly unreliable. There may be some anachronisms in my own account.

Suetonius and Cassius Dio pile on, with damaging revelations. But the historians have also found more subtle indications that, nasty as Nero may have been in the backrooms of power, he was quite popular with the public through most of his reign — ever offering hope and change. He presented himself as a “compassionate conservative.” It had been fairly smooth riding, through the decade before that Fire.

Among the reasons for this was that he brought the boys home from the Middle East. The peace agreement he negotiated with the Parthian Empire (modern Iran, plus Iraq, Kurdistan, eastern Syria, and the Gulf States) promised “peace in our time.” He left the Iranians as the dominant regional power, and gave up on trying to inspect their nuclear weapons programme. …

Come to think of it, they may not have had a nuclear weapons programme. One must remember that a lot of technology — even the design of musical instruments — has developed over the last two thousand years. So much has changed; and was changing then, with the fashions, spring to fall, and generation to generation. The world is like that.

And yet some things do not change. There will always be politics, there will always be scapegoats, there will always be the world ending tomorrow. Often such predictions come more or less true. There will always be public opinion, too, and it will always be idiotic. Men will rise and fall who try to ride the tiger. It is quite the circus down here, quite the rodeo — history in its course.

I have the same sense, looking through the news this morning. Terrible things are going to happen, but then, terrible things are always going to happen, in this fallen world. It is important to put one’s faith in God and not in men. The Psalmist sings this, Isaiah too — in fact it is written on every page of the Bible, whether on or between the lines.

Get used to it, as they say. For as Saints Peter and Paul have confirmed, in the end you can put your faith only in Jesus.

The new world order

The “neocons” are exaggerating when they say that Barack Obama has handed over all United States interests in the Middle East to Vladimir Putin. Only half of the region has been surrendered, so far. The rest he has merely abandoned.

As this is not a news blogue, I assume gentle reader has access to the usual media. I give only a summary of my own understanding of the strategic situation, as a longtime observer.

What has suddenly emerged, or rather been confirmed, is a Russian/Iranian “axis” that extends from the domain of the Ayatollahs, across Iraq and Syria, to the Hezbollah domain in what was once Christian Lebanon. The murderous Assad regime now enjoys not passive but active and aggressive Russian support, and the Western powers are now outmanoeuvred in advance of any attempt to retrieve their interests in Iraq.

Those who believe Putin’s armed intervention will stop the Camp-of-Saints flow of “migrants” to Europe are extremely naive. This can only increase. From the outset, the targets for the Russian air strikes in Syria are the very territories that were free of the ministrations of both Assad, and the Daesh. By reconquering this essentially neutral territory for the Assad regime (Iranian troops are pouring in for this purpose), huge numbers with reason to fear retribution must certainly flee for their lives. Their route is through Turkey, which will happily assist their passage via dinghies to Greece, thus into the European Welfare Union.

Putin and company have no immediate interest in stifling the Daesh. Neither has Erdogan of Turkey, who uses the same ludicrously false claim to be bombing the Daesh, while directing Turkish strikes against Kurdish forces. The Daesh itself is useful to both. They serve as poison snakes within the Sunni Arab tent — masters in the spread of Islamist terrorism not only within the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria, but of its export from Afghanistan right across North Africa. As the Sunni terrorist force of Hamas — supplied today mostly from Iran — they will prove an invaluable resource for destabilizing Iran’s Arab enemies. The case is complicated only by Putin’s interest in maintaining Iranian dependency on Russia.

Russians and Turks have yet to love each other, in the history of this world, but begin to share a common interest, in for instance besieging the pro-American Kurds. For both, as for Iran, the West constitutes a common enemy; Israel is the West’s front line. We have not yet awakened to these plain facts of life — that for instance Turkey has become an extremely duplicitous NATO ally.

Within the Middle Eastern theatre, the battle is between Shia and Sunni. The Turks have old imperial interests in Arabia, and beyond. The Persians have imperial ambitions towards the extensive Shia populations of the Gulf States, and northern Saudi Arabia; they are contesting for control of Yemen on the peninsula’s other side. The Saud dynasty, whose internal problems are rapidly growing, is no longer secure; and of course the final prize, beyond oil, is Mecca.

Israel will soon also be embattled, on all fronts, with a new Intifada being organized against her on the West Bank, and with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the north both stocking up more powerful and accurate missiles than they ever owned before. Her old enemies Jordan and Egypt are now effectively allies, against the new Russian-sponsored threat. All were once American allies. But part of the Russian appeal is that they, and only they, are reliable allies. Obama has stabbed every American ally in the back, and those who once depended upon the U.S. for stability in the region — including Israel — are now looking elsewhere for friends. The Russians will be the new brokers. Fly to Moscow if you want to buy peace.

At what an amazing speed the region has been transformed! Bush left the U.S. still in control of events, and now the position is squandered, at such extraordinary cost in wasted lives, and fresh, unnecessary suffering to come. Thanks to its predominance in our lying media, the Left has managed to tar the “neocons” with every casualty since U.S. and allies removed Saddam Hussein.

Yet the truth is exactly the opposite. At terrible sacrifice, at terrible loss to their grieving families, American and other soldiers stopped a regime that had buried hundreds of thousands in mass graves. By his abandonment of solemn responsibilities, in Iraq and now Afghanistan, it is Obama who has, and will have, the blood of hundreds of thousands more, spraying his impervious conscience. Ah, the banality of evil, as it struts and blathers! This vain, smug little man who hails himself twice in every minute while he’s talking, then plays his golf and takes his grinning selfies.

Elected by a decisive majority of American voters, twice.

The incompetence of the U.S. administration beggars belief. In Obama, Mrs Clinton, and John Kerry, American and Western interests have been directed by callow, narcissistic clowns. All of the West’s enemies know this, including those in the Far East; all are currently exploiting their opportunities, vividly aware that the U.S. will continue to lie prone for the duration of the Obama presidency. All have an interest in Mrs Clinton succeeding him, or should she fail, some other deluded buffoon.

The self-immolation of the American superpower has changed living conditions all over the world. Within a few quick years we have accommodated a genuinely monstrous new world order, to which we now make our fearful supplications.