A call to arms to resist the counterrevolution

Brendan O’Neill writes in SPIKED:

The internet revolution held so much promise for humankind. This technology made even the birth of the printing press – that revolution in thinking and dissent – seem small in comparison. For with the spread of the world wide web people had, for the first time in history, the liberty to express themselves unfettered. No priest or prince or state could stop us. We didn’t even need the approval of editors or publishers. We just needed a computer, or a phone, and something to say. With our thumbs we can do something that generations before us would never have thought possible – speak to the world (or at least to however many followers we have). Now this is under threat. The web is being bound in woke tape. Silicon Valley billionaires, backed by states and cheered by political elites, are cleansing the web of ‘undesirable’ voices and switching off sites and social-media outlets they disapprove of. A fightback is needed, and urgently. The struggle for internet freedom will be one of the most important battles of 2021.

Where do we begin?

Faith in fiction and in fact

Oscar Wilde came to the sacraments of the Catholic Faith late in his tragic life. But he had, before his conversion, sensed their mystery and reflected on it in his portrayal of the goings-on in the troubled heart of his tragic hero, Dorian Gray. While on his deathbed he may have received only two from a Catholic priest – confessing his sins and receiving the last rites – his sense of their ineffable significance can be seen ten years earlier in that timeless moral masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The novel’s narrator, in taking us through the furtive meandering of Gray’s journey to destruction tells us that “It was rumoured of him once that he was about to join the Roman Catholic communion; and certainly the Roman ritual had always a great attraction for him. The daily sacrifice, more awful really than all the sacrifices of the antique world, stirred him as much by its superb rejection of the evidence of the senses as by the primitive simplicity of its elements and the eternal pathos of the human tragedy that it sought to symbolise.”

The narrator goes on to tell us that “he loved to kneel down on the cold marble pavement, and watch the priest, in his stiff flowered vestment, slowly and with white hands moving aside the veil of the tabernacle, or raising aloft the jewelled lantern-shaped monstrance with that pallid wafer that at times, one would fain think, is indeed the panis cælestis, the bread of angels, or, robed in the garments of the Passion of Christ, breaking the Host into the chalice, and smiting his breast for his sins.

Dorian, his narrator tells us, finishing his account of this encounter with the Holy, would, as he passed out of whatever church he was in the habit of visiting,  “look with wonder at the black confessionals, and long to sit in the dim shadow of one of them and listen to men and women whispering through the worn grating the true story of their lives.”

 A childhood memory which might perhaps be shared by any number of those of us of a certain generation who grew up in Catholic families might be this: the quiet joy and happiness of our parents on hearing that a lapsed friend, neighbour, or even some well known figure – celebrities are a modern phenomenon – had “returned to the sacraments”.

As believing children the hidden depth of that joy was not something we would have fully appreciated, but it was something palpable and indeed infectious. It left us with some sense that in these mysterious seven literal and tangible elements there was something special on which joy and happiness depended.

Those childhood intimations of the awful reality which the sacraments represent, literary representations of that same power reflected on by Oscar Wilde and other writers, all bring home to us the dangers in the version of modernity which now seem to confront us. This version denies this reality, or has such a superficial awareness of it that it is virtually blind to it.

This crisis for our human race is calmly and wonderfully laid before us in all its terrible beauty by Oliver Treanor in a book which he wrote a handful of years ago called Maelstrom Of Love. Treanor is an Irish theologian. In introducing his theme – the Eucharist and its pivotal role as the centre around which all the sacraments of Christ revolve and by which the Church lives – he tells us that the gravest danger for the human person and for civilisation is to lose touch with reality. Any version of reality which denies the existence of God is for him, something not only incomprehensible but a terrifying prospect.

He reminds us that in the twentieth century we all saw what happens when pure fantasy replaces “the realism of the good”: two world wars, totalitarianism, political breakdown, social chaos, moral disintegration, exploitation of the helpless, disregard for human life at its beginning and its end. In sum, he says, it was the century of mass genocide, physical and spiritual, the beginning of civilization’s descent into suicide. 

It was everything which Dorian Gray personified in Wilde’s prophetic novel.

Our grasp of reality is what is at stake if we lose sight of God because God is man’s foundational and ultimate reality is what Treanor is telling us. “The twentieth century lost sight of God. The Eucharist and the sacraments put us in touch again with him who touches us through them, re-forming our minds and hearts, bringing them back to reality. Given this, the Church is no optional extra for the pious and reverent, not a footnote to social history, some inconsequential aside non-essential to the text. Rather it can be said that without the Church and sacraments, primarily the Eucharist, the world would cease to exist. For they embody the mercy of God which alone sustains the creation in Christ ‘through whom and for whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together’.”

Treanor masterfully explains the entire Christian economy based on the the foundation which the Catholic Church calls the sacramental system. For him it is, in a manner of speaking, “the cipher that breaks the enigma of the cosmos and decodes the meaning of life. In short, it gives God away.” It is, he says, so simple that even a child can see it, yet so profound the mature intelligence cannot fathom it.

But he then comes to the false turning taken by the  forces now dominant in modern culture. While he sees in that turning, a search for the very answers which a God-centered worldview offers, he lays bare the fatal flaw in the alternative path they offer to man in his search for truth, meaning and happiness:

“The worldview that underpins post-modernism’s resistance to religious conviction (or grants it grudging tolerance as a social convention) is actually in its own right a response — however inadequate — to those questions at the heart of human existence that find their answer in the Eucharist. Atheistic autonomy, scientific rationalism, false pluralism, so-called liberationism, all have this in common with orthodox faith: they begin with some concept of what meaningfulness is, even if they settle for finding it in no meaning at all other than mere activity. But because God is not their centre and the human person not their end, they lack what the sacraments offer, namely real human progress.” ( p 23)

They are sterile and hopeless because “the object of their search is incomplete even though the search itself emanates from the Completeness that beckons to us all. Hence they look for knowledge but not truth, for expedience but not justice, for productivity but not fellowship, for engagement but not commitment, for absence of ties but not freedom, and for control but not service.”  

Treanor takes his reader through the sacraments one by one and does so in a way which makes clearer than anything I have ever read, the unity of the whole, with the Eucharist at its centre. Writing about Matrimony, for example, he describes how (p133) this sacrament springs from the Eucharist and finds its meaning and strength in returning to the Eucharist as “the sacrament of the purification of Christ’s bride, generated from his crucified side and espoused by his rising to claim her as his own. Gradually, married life takes on the self-sacrificing character of him who is its inspiration and example and the means to attaining love’s highest possibilities. The grace matrimony provides is that of centring on the person of Christ, his passion and resurrection as the foundation of life’s realism and love’s maturity.”

But the true crisis of our time is the loss of the sense we used to have of the value and unfathomable depth of the treasure which faith is, and which the sacraments keep alive in us. This loss is reflected in the scenario recounted by Treanor when he enumerates features of the laxity prevailing today (p166). These include Catholics who rarely attend Mass but who will routinely receive the Eucharist at weddings and funerals for instance; others, divorced and re-married or co-habiting without matrimony who are Mass-goers, and who will automatically receive on each occasion; others still whose ethical life contravenes the Church’s teaching on abortion, the regulation of birth, fertility treatment, homosexuality, or euthanasia — to name the principal areas of concern — will expect to be given communion as a matter of course as by right.

All this is done oblivious of the fact that the mystery that here stands revealed is an eternal truth that lays bare the mind of God, the real nature of mankind, the meaning of history and the destiny of creation. They are oblivious of all that Christ’s mandate, ‘Take, eat, thls is my body…Do this…’ really intended. They are unaware that ‘Love one another as I have loved you…’ is only truly Christian when it means washing feet en Christo, forgiving enemies en Christo, laying down one’s life for friends en Christo, following ‘my example’, keeping ‘my word’. Treanor explains that “it means entering the maelstrom of love to be caught up in the centrifugal force of Christ’s charity towards the world in union with God and in service of men; and then to be constantly drawn back again by that same charity in the centripetal force by which God in Christ is taking the world, as he always intended, into his heart. (p172)

He explains that “what the Eucharist is substantially, the Church is mystically so that it has even been said that the Church is the Eucharist extended, while the Eucharist is the Church condensed.” Both can be called the universal sacrament of salvation and are so by dint of their interrelatedness, the Eucharist generating the Church, the Church making the Eucharist. (p 195)

Is not a denial of the teaching of the Church and a refusal to accept its admonitions and moral guidance about the way we live our lives not also a denial of the Eucharist?

Among all the things which Treanor’s rich and revealing exposition of the Church, the Eucharist and the sacraments make very clear, two things stand out. The first is the blind and terrible folly of those who denigrate this sacred and ineffable truth because they confuse the errors and misjudgment of its servants with the holy thing that it is in itself. The second is the need to reaffirm, teach and learn how to love again those things which our forebears appreciated and which are the only secure basis of a moral life and a truly just society. Had Dorian Gray not passed out of that church and had he accepted the grace of conversion which Wilde depicts him walking away from in his weakness, his picture would have been a very different one.

A wolf in health establishment clothing

Not since penal era have priests been criminalised for celebrating public Mass

Maria Steen calls out the flawed reasoning of our health establishment in today’s Irish Times. This is the same statist agency which has, since the 1970s, been so successfully pushing sexual permissive mores in in Irish culture under the banner of ‘health education’. Why would the not see they pandemic as a golden opportunity to further undermine the only force which has been offering them any resistance – the Christian faith of a people?

Cardinal Pietro Parolin celebrates a New Year Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/EPA
Cardinal Pietro Parolin celebrates a New Year Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/EPA

The Catholic Church has a 2,000-year history of people risking everything for their belief in Christ: the first day after Christmas recalls the first Christian martyr, Stephen. All the apostles except John were martyred. The word “martyr” means “witness”, and this kind of witness – willingness to face torture and death – is heroism of a kind we rarely see in this country nowadays.

It was not always thus. In his remarkable book Our Martyrs, Fr Dennis Murphy catalogues the almost unbelievable cruelty endured by heroic Irish men and women, many priests and bishops, including St Oliver Plunkett, under the Penal Laws from 1535 to 1691. These witnesses suffered hanging, quartering, burning, dismemberment, beheading and stoning. Their remains were often desecrated. These were the consequences of speaking truth to power in a bloody and brutal time.

Denied access to the sacraments, Catholics can, however, avail of ‘essential’ services, such as buying vodka, doing the dry cleaning or popping out to the bike shop 

The world often turns its back on people like this, and regards their belief as a form of madness. Yet the martyrs exhibited a crystal-clear kind of sanity when faced with threats to freedom of conscience. These witnesses concentrated their minds and focused on what is important in life, even to the point of death.

To Catholics, the most important thing is the Mass. It is the “sum and summit” of the Christian life. A Catholic’s duty to worship God in the manner commanded by Christ is the most important of all Christian duties.

Secular culture

For years, an aggressively secular culture has proposed that religious practice and expression be confined to the private sphere – hence the push to remove religion from schools and to suppress religious voices in the public square. The pandemic has provided an opportunity too good to miss. Those who do not themselves profess any religious belief now tell those who do that God is “everywhere”. So He is. However, it is theological non sequitur – not to mention deeply condescending – to say that there is no need to go to church or worship publicly.

On December 30th, the Government once again made it a penal offence to leave one’s house to attend Mass or confession or avail of other sacraments. Last November, as reported in this paper, a priest was threatened by gardaí with prosecution, a fine and imprisonment for saying Mass in his church with others in attendance. Not since the penal era has the law of the land criminalised priests for celebrating a public Mass.

Denied access to the sacraments, Catholics can, however, avail of “essential” services, such as buying vodka, doing the dry cleaning or popping out to the bike shop. Under the regulations, universities, schools and creches can remain open. Earlier this year, the deputy chief medical officer said simply that, in the context of a pandemic, public worship was considered “less important”.

The Constitution suggests otherwise. The right to the free and public profession of religion is expressly guaranteed. No Catholic would argue that any right is unlimited. However, infringements on religious freedoms must be anxiously scrutinised and carefully justified. No restriction should go further than is absolutely necessary. At present, the practice of religion is effectively criminalised, but so far no justification has been offered.

The Government’s stated aim is to protect life. Yet its methods have been costly and the trade-offs cannot be ignored 

The Government might argue that churches are places where the virus is widely transmitted. But on its own figures, there is little or no evidence to suggest this. Religious services of all denominations and other ceremonies (whatever that means) account for a tiny proportion of cases.

The Government might argue – as we were told earlier this year – that lockdowns are necessary to ensure adequate hospital capacity for treating people with Covid-19. But at no time this year have the hospitals been overwhelmed. At the time of the coming into force of the new Level 5 restrictions, there were 623 beds available in the public hospital system.null

Hospital beds

We are now told that confirmed cases are rising sharply. However, it is striking that, having had many months to prepare for the winter season and with much experience treating Covid-19 patients, and a known historical undercapacity, by September (according to the Department of Health’s Open Beds report), only 78 inpatient beds had been added to the December 2019 national total of 10,919. It was not until December 18th that the Minister for Health announced that more critical-care beds would be made available in a multi-year plan. A government more concerned about capacity in the system might have been expected to do more on the supply side of the equation, and to have done it more quickly.

The Government’s stated aim is to protect life. Yet its methods have been costly and the trade-offs cannot be ignored. Many have lost their jobs, businesses and livelihoods. All have been prevented from social interaction; a year out of the life of a young person or someone hoping to meet a future spouse and start a family is a long time, particularly for young women.

Some have witnessed the rapid deterioration of the mobility, fitness and mental acuity of elderly relatives brought about by a cycle of lockdowns and isolation. Others have been prevented from attending their own parent’s funeral. Although Central Statistics Office figures show that overall deaths are down on last year, many people now live in real terror of the virus. Some who were in any event approaching their final days due to other conditions or old age have spent those days in fear of the virus, alone and regarding friends and family with suspicion. Those who are Catholic may have done so without even the solace of the sacraments.

Churches have made extraordinary efforts to protect those attending for public worship. Many church buildings are immense, with the capacity to observe strict social-distancing protocols. A typical Mass is of 20 to 40 minutes’ duration – comparable to many visits to “essential” retailers, whose aisles are less able to facilitate effective separation. The Government has offered no evidence that Masses have contributed significantly to the spread of the virus. It has simply decided that public worship is not sufficiently important to qualify as “essential”.

Miles Davis and the God Question – what’s the connection?

6 Miles Davis Albums That Changed Music : NPR

Miles Davis’ So What? is one of the most famous and intriguing pieces of jazz music ever composed. It has about it something of the same intrigue and ambiguity I found in the title of a short book just published in Ireland, God Exists. So What? Do these two truncated sentences mean, God exists – so what’s the big deal? Or do they mean, God exists, so what do I have to do about it?

It is said that Dennis Hopper, that easy rider par excellence, claimed credit for inspiring Davis to call his piece, So What? He said that in a conversation the two once had in which Davis was the dominant interlocutor, Hopper kept interrupting with just that question, “so what? We don’t know if Hopper’s skepticism was ever resolved and I’m not going to spoil your pleasure in reading this book by telling you that the skepticism which its title might be betraying will be resolved at the end. This volume is a cross between an epistolary novel an a platonic dialogue, recounting another conversation at the beginning of a pandemic, one about God and religion between a skeptical young man and an older believer, temporarily disabled.

The author is Mark Hamilton, who has worked in education all his life since graduating in science from University College Dublin in the 1970s. It is very clear that the dialogue between these two fictional characters is replete with content from probably thousands of conversations Hamilton has had with skeptical, searching and honest young people whom he has worked with in various educational roles over five decades.

God Exists. So What? Is a rich and relevant treasure chest of all that experience now distilled over 160 pages in this little volume. In it, with a light and attractive touch, the marriage of Faith and Reason is explored between these two souls, the one a millennial economics students immersed – but insecurely immersed – in the shallow fun-loving technological culture of the the 21st century; the other an older but wiser wayfarer  confronted by the chaos of which that culture seems to be the harbinger, hoping in his own quiet way to puncture the dangerous bubble that it seems to be.

A short example of the tone of the relationship between these two people and the subjects which they tackle is the following, in which they agree on the enormity of the God question.

Peter, the young man’s name, writes to John on 10 April, 2020. Remember we are just about to enter the second month of the Covid 19 pandemic and Ireland, the setting for this conversation, is in lockdown.

Dear John,

I can definitely confirm I am in the latter category you mention in your letter. I did make a throwaway remark last month about not trusting the Church, but it is the sort of thing that I just say because others say it, rather than having any deeper conviction on it, one way or another. I don’t think I am naive. I know people have suffered throughout history at the hands of the Church. In many cases, especially in recent times, it is certainly a question of bad apples being left too long in the barrel. I also know that the Church has acknowledged the wrongdoing of members, even senior ones. People cannot really be surprised. Being a Catholic or being a member of the clergy does not make a person immune from evil. The Church, by and large, helps people because there is so much badness in the world. So please take it that I am open to listening to what you have to say.

Unlike some philosophers, my starting point is that I accept the obvious reality of my own existence and that of others. We are real persons in a real world. I do occasionally wonder what life is all about.  

I also do admit to having some inner feeling about God’s existence. But I really don’t think you can lay out a robust rational case for It. Science tells us a different story.  

That said the more I think about it, the more I am in agreement with you: the question of God is the big question. 

What actually will I be doing for eternity?  

This is probably the sort of question people should ask themselves at key moments in their lives, because it is not inconsequential. And if, as you are suggesting, big ideas have big consequences, then there is a lot riding on the answer.  

Thanks for all,

Peter  

John sends a holding reply three days later, in which he gives the key idea of the answer he will give when they meet again. John considers himself something of a neanderthal in the IT department and all his letters are handwritten. His writing hand is, he admits, now getting weary and he eventually resolves to keep his missives a bit shorter. His reply:

Dear Peter,  

I was surprised you got back to me so quickly. You must have put your response in the post fairly promptly.

By the time you call by later in the week, I will have made the scientific case for God. God gave us our reason so that we could know of his existence. He didn’t create you so that you could reason him out of existence!  

See you soon,  

John.

And what is the connection of all this with Miles Davis?

At the end of the book we have a “checklist for the modern mind” in which Hamilton proposes to us a list of observations which he offers as confirming God’s existence and suggests that they undermine the arguments of disbelievers. For example:

Observation.

The rich complexity of the universe can be easily understood or captured with a few equations.

How does that confirm God’s existence?

Scientists wonder at the marvelous simplicity of the mathematics that explain the whole of reality. God is simple.

To that the doubters may answer:

The mathematics came first, and the explosion followed.

Is there anything in mathematics which will explain how we got the gift of Miles Davis or the treasure which he has left us as an inheritance? No, no, no.

Such, in the exchange above, is the flavour of this wonderful little book. It is currently only available in hard copy through this website – but I don’t doubt but that it will be hitting the shelves of bookshops and Amazon’s fulfillment centres sooner rather than later.

What we are in truth

In his great study of religion and its place in our world, Joseph Ratzinger, a decade or so before he became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote of our failure to understand the differences both between and within the universal human phenomenon of religions. That book, a City of God for the modern world, is Truth and Tolerance. In it he noted that we often fail to see that religions, much as we think they do or should, often lead mankind in contrary directions. Often religions which claim to march under a unified banner do not even exist in one single form. Today, for example, he observed, we see before us quite clearly various ways in which Islam can be understood and lived out in destructive forms in one reading while in another form we can perceive a certain proximity to the mystery of Christ.

It seems to me that our increasingly alarming incapacity to deal with the problem of the destructive form of Islam is rooted in this failure.

President Macron of France recently warned French Catholics of the threats they in particular are facing from what he called ‘Islamist terrorist folly’. He has had to face a barrage of criticism from Muslims like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and from Western liberals for insisting on linking those three words together.

As Charles Moore points out in a recent Spectator column, he understands why some Muslims might think their religion is misrepresented when critics pull out a few bloodthirsty Quranic texts without understanding wider scriptural and traditional contexts. “You can play this game with any ancient religion, including Christianity and Judaism, and it is unfair.” However, he adds, Muslim organisations look ridiculous — and worse — if they devote their energies after atrocities to stigmatising legitimate criticism as ‘Islamophobia’, thus trying to chill free speech. They evade the fact that the Islamist perpetrators are serious believers, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they kill (and often die) for their Allah.

He took issue with the Archbishop of Canterbury tweeting about the ‘godlessness’ of the recent Nice attack. “These people are not godless: they are fanatics who misunderstand what  God teaches.” Moderate Muslims who just say ‘Nothing to do with us’ are surely compounding their problems and their continued failure to find a path through modernity.

Refusing to recognise the sad truth that the acts of the perpatrators of these crimes are religiously motivated acts is a denial of reality which helps no one – other than the criminals themselves. Western liberals are steeped in a blinding denial, primarily to themselves. The modern refusal to face the true meaning of what is confronting our civilization is of course a consequence of other denials now inherent in our culture, ones which have been endemic for more than two centuries. Ratzinger explores them masterfully in his book.

The problem at the root of our engagement with this crisis is in fact our godlessness – not the godlessness of terrorists. It is our godlessness which is rendering us helpless in the face of this monster slouching towards Bethlehem.

If we are to have any hope of finding a solution to one of the persistent conflicts of our time, the West must admit that what it is facing in militant Islamism is a religion, a destructive strand of a religion in which, as Ratzinger suggests, we can even “perceive a certain proximity to the mystery of Christ”. The ‘Islamist terrorist folly’ must be recognised as having behind it all the force and power that genuinely held religious convictions can have. That is precisely the power that the West now is bereft of in its blundering response to this existential threat to our civilization. We have polluted the foundations of our civilization with toxic slush and are now trying to defend our sacred ground in what amounts to a quagmire of moral contradictions.

Down the centuries history shows us many examples of battles lost because the defenders chose the wrong terrain on which to face their enemies. Henry V drew the army of Charles VI into a sodden meadow at Agincourt in 1415 and wiped out the flower of French chivalry. Militant Islam will do the same to any opposing belief built on the quicksand of godless relativism.

Just recently the retired Anglican bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali, alluded to our folly in thinking of the Islamist attacks in Europe as attacks on a secular way of life. “The beheading of the teacher in Paris, the murders in Notre-Dame in Nice and the shootings in Vienna are presented as a struggle between radical Islamism and a particular kind of enlightened secularism born of the French Revolution. That’s the way Emmanuel Macron sees it; that’s the way most educated atheists across Europe see it. But what they forget is that Enlightenment ethics — the ideas of tolerance and fairness — have their foundation in Christianity.”

The best response to violent Islamism, he says, isn’t humanism, but the idea of a loving, merciful Christian God. Secularism simply doesn’t have the spiritual and moral resources to tackle a comprehensive social, political, economic and religious ideology like Islamism. Freedom, liberty and the brotherhood of all men, he affirms, flow from Christianity and that Faith’s insistence on a personal relationship with God, the internalising of his moral demands, the primacy of the person and of conscience in western thought.  

Militant Islamism has nothing to fear from the dead end that is secular humanism. It knows its real enemy is Christian modernity. But without a commitment to – or at least an understanding of – their Christian roots, these enlightened concepts, liberté, egalité and fraternité, become completely muddled as they now are in our woke culture. Equality, as a value, arises from enlightened Judaeo-Christian teaching that all human beings have a common origin and equal dignity because they have been made in the divine image. Along with true freedom and fraternity, these are evangelical in their origin. It does not come from the Enlightnment. The horrors of the wars about religion in the 16th and 17th centuries provoked a refinement of our understanding and practice, albeit a significantly flawed one which carried within it the seeds of more destruction. As Nazir Ali reminds us, the Christian idea of natural human dignity provided the slogan ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ for the largely Evangelical-led campaign against the slave trade and then against slavery itself. “The radical Enlightenment, on the other hand, ended in the massacres of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror.”

Militant Islam knows what it has to kill in its war on the West. It has to kill what remains of the religion which is the foundation of the civilization which used to call itself Christian. It knows that the power of the vision which imbues that civilization is its greatest enemy. It sees it like a sleeping giant but it knows it is not dead. It really has nothing to fear from the foolishness of an ideology which sees man as the centre of all things, one built on the illusion that mankind has within itself all the answers to every question which can be raised about our existence and destiny. This was the delusion of Marxism in its Communist form – an illusion which crumbled when a Christian-inspired resistence in its occupied territories eventually undermined it.

Now we have another variant of Marxist materialism at work, denying even more truths about our nature and identity than Communism ever did. This weak and fallacious ideology is now confronted by a resurgent and violent religious force. Without the strength of the religious resources by which it formerly lived and moved and had its being, the hollowed out civilization which was once annimated by Judaeo-Christian faith will be easy prey to this malignant threat.  

Nazir Ali describes our current discontents as a standoff: “the West believes its values to be the product of ‘reason’ alone rather than the result of cumulative tradition and custom. Islamists, on the other hand, hold that their beliefs and values come from divine revelation, which is immutable.”  Where do we go from here? he asks, and concludes that the West needs to recover its nerve and to acknowledge that its values are not freestanding but arise from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

What form might this recovery take? Perhaps…, no, not just perhaps. Almost surely it must mean, as Joseph Ratzinger concluded in Truth and Tolerance, living our existence as a response – as a response to what we are in truth. “This one truth of man,” he wrote, “in which the good of all and freedom are indissolubly linked to each other, is expressed most centrally in the biblical tradition in the Ten Commandments, which in many respects correspond to the great ethical traditions of other religions, besides.

“In the Ten Commandments God presents himself, depicts himself, and at the same time interprets human existence, so that its truth is made manifest, as it becomes visible in the mirror of God’s nature, because man can only rightly be understood from the viewpoint of God. Living out the Ten Commandments means living out our own resemblance to God, responding to the truth of our nature, and thus doing good. To say it again, another way: Living out the Ten Commandments means living out the divinity of man, and exactly that is freedom: the fusing of our being with the Divine Being and the resulting harmony of all with all.” (p. 254)

It is only by being armed with these truths that we can hope to speak meaningfully and fruitfully to those who oppose us with untruth – either from within our own fold or from without. It has been the way in which our civilization has been nurtured and has nurtured us for the two millennia of the Christian era, the story which Tom Holland tells us so eloquently in his book of 2019, Dominion.  This has been the way in which the Divine and the human have walked hand in hand for eons before that, leading us to the moment of Redemption. It will always be the way and despite the turbulent times, the martyrs and the martyrdom, which we may experience, we shall prevail if we remain steadfast in the truth, fortes in fide.

Uninvited guest, but I entertained it – as briefly as I could

The Irish Times arrived uninvited on my doorstep this morning. This paper presents itself to Ireland as the country’s paper of record – a meaningless designation in this age of information overload, even when a fair attempt is being made to match up to the description. Which is not the case with The Irish Times.

I hope that the paper’s circulation woes are not so dire that its desperate promotion team is going to inflict it presence on me again in the near future. Trying to be fair and open-minded, I read it from cover to cover. That simply confirmed my standing judgement that this is an organ dedicated, not to truth, not to balanced opinions, but to the slow erosion of the Christian ethos which was once a dominant feature of Irish culture.

The was hardly a page which did not carry something which served this purpose. Certainly the was no contribution touching on any aspect of what remains of Ireland’s residual Christian belief and practice which did not either subtly or not so subtly seek to damage it. Even the reasoned appeal of Catholic leaders to permit practising faithful to have access to the channels of grace was challenged.

All right. The periodic test for infection in this organ has been completed again. Result? Positive. It is as toxic as ever.

Desperate but dangerous posturing?

Keith Olbermann: “Terrorist Trump” And His Enablers And Supporters Must Be “Removed From Our Society”

If this frightening rant is not the voice of totalitarian fascism what is? It is a hatred generator which goes far beyond anything I have heard President Trump accused of.

“Trump can be, and must be, expunged. The hate he has triggered, Pandora’s boxes he has opened, they will not be so easily destroyed.

“So, let us brace ourselves. The task is two-fold: the terrorist Trump must be defeated, must be destroyed, must be devoured at the ballot box, and then he, and his enablers, and his supporters, and his collaborators, and the Mike Lees and the William Barrs, and Sean Hannitys, and the Mike Pences, and the Rudy Gullianis and the Kyle Rittenhouses and the Amy Coney Barretts must be prosecuted and convicted and removed from our society while we try to rebuild it and to rebuild the world Trump has destroyed by turning it over to a virus.

“Remember it, even as we dream for a return to reality and safety and the country for which our forefathers died, that the fight is not just to win the election, but to win it by enough to chase — at least for a moment — Trump and the maggots off the stage and then try to clean up what they left”

Pity the poor American electorate. What choice have they when one of the alternatives is this poisonous bile?

But is Olbermann‘s dangerous rant just a desperate attempt to stave off the scenario which Robert Hutchinson gives us here?

Something worth looking at

Martin Ivan’s online introduction to last week’s Times Literary Supplement:

OCTOBER 2, 2020

In this issue

This week my two sons go back to college and an uncertain future. As the first Ivens “in a thousand generations to be able to get to university” (copyright N. Kinnock) I remember my parents’ pride and curiosity when I left home with a full maintenance grant and an open scholarship burning in my pocket. That my father, a polymathic poet, had been forced to leave a fine school at fourteen to support his family made the experience more poignant.

Autres temps. My children have already lost almost two academic terms to Covid. They pay a small fortune in tuition fees and accommodation costs for Zoom learning. The eldest, a student at Manchester University, keenly follows events at neighbouring Manchester Metropolitan University where 1,700 students have been told to self-isolate for fourteen days, even if they have no symptoms.

In our lead feature Joe Moran laments the limitations of a digital education. Good may come from evil – “the sacred form of the hour-long, real-time lecture probably needed shaking up”, he writes – but for poor scholars without access to a computer or a quiet space it is a hard life. In any case, “students may be surgically attached to their phones, but that does not mean they should live whole lives online”. In order to flourish students need “time and space to develop their gifts”, through “organic and serendipitous encounters.”

The value of that university experience derives from reason, debate and tolerance. In his review of Cynical Theories by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Simon Jenkins fears that American habits of intolerance have crossed the Atlantic: “Today more than 50 per cent of British universities have been forced formally ‘to restrict speech, especially certain views of religion and trans identity’”. Even engineering must be “reconceptualised” to make it “sensitive to difference, power and privilege”. He observes, “I am not sure I would want to cross a woke bridge”. At a deeper level Jenkins believes that the politics of group identity “privileges some groups to the neglect of others, such as the poor, the alienated, the disempowered”.

Tolerance is a two-way street. Stephanie Burt celebrates the Transgender Tipping Point reached in America by 2014: “More people, some of them famous, came out as trans, which led to more social acceptance, which led to more people coming out”. She looks to “a future in which gender roles and identities are something you get to try on, or try out”. The TLS is a broad church.

Martin Ivens

Media Meltdown?

Given our strange and uncertain current political and cultural landscape, it is probably

Given our strange and uncertain current political and cultural landscape, it is probably inevitable, but it is still a strange inversion. News itself continues to make news and be the news. And it’s not good news.

Whatever about the rest of the world it is true that in the anglophone world too much of mainstream media is in the doghouse. That is the only term you can use to describe where a sizeable number of formerly proud institutions with an important part to play in our democracies now find themselves.

The anti-social mobs on social media are certainly part of this story. But they are not the only problem, taking at will whatever scalps they see crossing their woke horizons. Real mobs are now on the march. Not content with the news organizations they have already intimidated and infiltrated they are now opening new fronts. Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists have this weekend disrupted the production and distribution of several national newspapers in Britain, after blocking access to three printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch. Printing presses across England and Scotland were successfully targeted. Eighty people were arrested. On Thursday, more than 300 people were arrested during protests in central London.

XR has accused the newspapers and their owners of “failure to report on the climate and ecological emergency” and “polluting national debate” on dozens of social issues. Ten more days of action are planned to put pressure on the government “to do more to act on climate change”. The irony of all this is that they already have much of the media on their side.

But, we might say, mobs will be mobs. Let us just grin and bear it until the storm passes – as these storms invariably do. The more worrying phenomenon now is that the news organizations themselves are being unduly influenced by the new pseudo-morality which is driving all this. Powerful cliques within some major news outlets, in thrall to the same mobs, are stabbing with their steely knives any of their own who seem to stray from the paths set for them by the pre-determined historical forces which, as good neo-Marxists, they see carrying them relentlessly to our future.

In Britain earlier this year Alastair Stewart, the urbane anchor of one of the main evening news programmes, rolled off the block on the pretext of an ambiguous remark on Twitter, duly deemed to be racist. Several months later his wounds are again the subject of examination in a full-page profile in a weekend broadsheet.

In the US we are having instances almost on a weekly basis. James Bennet, editorial page editor at The New York Times fell on his sword in June for allowing the publication of an unacceptable opinion. Then, not long after, Bari Weiss, an acolyte of Bennet’s, also an editor and writer for the paper’s opinion section, resigned, citing what she said was unchecked bullying from colleagues. In an open letter to the paper she depicted the news organization as a place where the free exchange of ideas was no longer welcome. The Wall Street Journal was also in the news-about-the-news because of rumblings from the shop floor complaining about what was  essentially the paper’s disregard for the principles of the “new morality.” The NYT reported on a letter from a group of Journal staff calling for “more muscular reporting about race and social inequities,” as well as scepticism toward business and government leaders.

In another context one would not fault a group of staff expressing opinions and even disapproval of aspects of the standards of a news organisation. That is a right. This all becomes a worry when it is put in the context of the current readiness of the new moralists to suspend the freedom of those who do not just differ from them but who are deemed in any way not to be singing from the approved hymn-sheet of the New Church of Critical Theory.

What happened to Alastair Stewart?

In January he was obliged to admit to “errors of judgment” in the wake of a Twitter exchange with a black man in which he quoted a Shakespeare passage including the phrase “angry ape”. Reaction of colleagues across the industry who defended him was not enough to save his career with the broadcaster. “I would never use the word ‘racist’ and his name in the same sentence,” said Ranvir Singh, political editor of ITV’s Good Morning Britain. ITV news anchor Julie Etchingham added: “Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.” Despite that and much more ITN cut ties with Stewart, 68, claiming he had breached editorial guidelines by quoting the line from Measure to Measure. Why? Because if they did not, the mob would be after them and after the mob sounding the hue and cry the big corporations, now also in the grip of the ‘new morality’ would be pulling their already fragile advertising revenue.

Stewart has been quiet over the months since that traumatic event. Last week he was in a calm reflective mood about it all when he spoke to the Daily Telegraph in a long interview. He talked, not about himself, but about the state of media today.

In 1976, prior to his first job with ITV, he spoke to Frank Copplestone, then managing director. Copplestone asked: ‘So you’re broad left?’ “I said, ‘Yes’. And he said: ‘Right, if we give you a job, all of that stays at the door. You come in here and you leave all of it behind you’. It was almost a throwaway line and was the most profound and influential observation in my entire professional life. I’ve clung to it, not only because it’s right but it helps.” 

But he sees how social media has now distorted the whole picture. Partly to blame is a belief “that you can say what you want online. Broadcasters think they can be someone else online, that they can be chameleon-like but they can’t.” He remembers the late ITV News At Ten host and former editor of The Economist, Alastair Burnet: “He always used to say: ‘Never ever forget, it’s the news that’s the star. It’s not you – you’re just lucky enough to impart it’.”

Then there is the salutary little horror story of Andrew Sullivan’s recent run-in with the New York Times. They decided to run a profile of him – again because he was news-about-the news. The hook was that he was forced to leave New York magazine last month because, according to the NYT, he had not publicly recanted editing an issue of the New Republic published… in 1994. The issue was a symposium on The Bell Curve, a book by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein that explored the connection between IQ, class, social mobility and race.

“My crime”, he explained in a Spectator article last week, “was to arrange a symposium around an extract, with 13 often stinging critiques published alongside it. The fact that I had not recanted that decision did not, mind you, prevent Time, the Atlantic, Newsweek, the NYT, and New York magazine from publishing me in the following years. But suddenly, a decision I made a quarter of a century ago required my being cancelled. The NYT reporter generously gave me a chance to apologise and recant, and when I replied that I thought the role of genetics in intelligence among different human populations was still an open question, he had his headline: ‘I won’t stop reading Andrew Sullivan, but I can’t defend him.’

“In other words, the media reporter in America’s paper of record said he could not defend a writer because I refused to say something I don’t believe. He said this while arguing that I was ‘one of the most influential journalists of the last three decades’. To be fair to him, he would have had no future at the NYT if he had not called me an indefensible racist. His silence on that would have been as unacceptable to his woke bosses as my refusal to recant. But this is where we now are. A reporter is in fear of being cancelled if he doesn’t cancel someone else. This is America returning to its roots. As in Salem.”

These instances of wokeness as it continues to poison our public life – politics and media – are but the tip of an iceberg. We are in big trouble. One hopes that the “Second Law” – no, not that of thermodynamics – often quoted by James Ehrendorf, a character in The Singapore Grip, J.G. Farrell’s novel about the last days of that British outpost as the Japanese descended on it in 1941, doesn’t spell out the future for our public square. It runs: “In human affairs, things tend inevitably to go wrong. Things are slightly worse at any given moment than at any preceding moment.”

, but it is still a strange inversion. News itself continues to make news and be the news. And it’s not good news.

Whatever about the rest of the world it is true that in the anglophone world too much of mainstream media is in the doghouse. That is the only term you can use to describe where a sizeable number of formerly proud institutions with an important part to play in our democracies now find themselves.

The anti-social mobs on social media are certainly part of this story. But they are not the only problem, taking at will whatever scalps they see crossing their woke horizons. Real mobs are now on the march. Not content with the news organizations they have already intimidated and infiltrated they are now opening new fronts. Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists have this weekend disrupted the production and distribution of several national newspapers in Britain, after blocking access to three printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch. Printing presses across England and Scotland were successfully targeted. Eighty people were arrested. On Thursday, more than 300 people were arrested during protests in central London.

XR has accused the newspapers and their owners of “failure to report on the climate and ecological emergency” and “polluting national debate” on dozens of social issues. Ten more days of action are planned to put pressure on the government “to do more to act on climate change”. The irony of all this is that they already have much of the media on their side.

But, we might say, mobs will be mobs. Let us just grin and bear it until the storm passes – as these storms invariably do. The more worrying phenomenon now is that the news organizations themselves are being unduly influenced by the new pseudo-morality which is driving all this. Powerful cliques within some major news outlets, in thrall to the same mobs, are stabbing with their steely knives any of their own who seem to stray from the paths set for them by the pre-determined historical forces which, as good neo-Marxists, they see carrying them relentlessly to our future.

In Britain earlier this year Alastair Stewart, the urbane anchor of one of the main evening news programmes, rolled off the block on the pretext of an ambiguous remark on Twitter, duly deemed to be racist. Several months later his wounds are again the subject of examination in a full-page profile in a weekend broadsheet.

In the US we are having instances almost on a weekly basis. James Bennet, editorial page editor at The New York Times fell on his sword in June for allowing the publication of an unacceptable opinion. Then, not long after, Bari Weiss, an acolyte of Bennet’s, also an editor and writer for the paper’s opinion section, resigned, citing what she said was unchecked bullying from colleagues. In an open letter to the paper she depicted the news organization as a place where the free exchange of ideas was no longer welcome. The Wall Street Journal was also in the news-about-the-news because of rumblings from the shop floor complaining about what was  essentially the paper’s disregard for the principles pf the “new morality.” The NYT reported on a letter from a group of Journal staff calling for “more muscular reporting about race and social inequities,” as well as skepticism toward business and government leaders.

In another context one would not fault a group of staff expressing opinions and even disapproval of aspects of the standards of a news organisation. That is a right. This all becomes a worry when it is put in the context of the current readiness of the new moralists to suspend the freedom of those who do not just differ from them but who are deemed in any way not to be singing from the approved hymn-sheet of the New Church of Critical Theory.

What happened to Alastair Stewart?

In January he was obliged to admit to “errors of judgment” in the wake of a Twitter exchange with a black man in which he quoted a Shakespeare passage including the phrase “angry ape”. Reaction of colleagues across the industry who defended him was not enough to save his career with the broadcaster. “I would never use the word ‘racist’ and his name in the same sentence,” said Ranvir Singh, political editor of ITV’s Good Morning Britain. ITV news anchor Julie Etchingham added: “Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.” Despite that an much more ITN cut ties with Stewart, 68, claiming he had breached editorial guidelines by quoting the line from Measure to Measure. Why? Because if they did not the mob would be after them and after the mob sounding the hue and cry the big corporations, now also in the grip of the ‘new morality’ would be pulling their already fragile advertising revenue.

Stewart has been quiet over the months since that traumatic event. Last week he was in a clam reflective mood about it all when he spoke to the Daily Telegraph in a long interview. He talked, not about himself, but about the state of media today.

In 1976, prior to his first job with ITV, he spoke to Frank Copplestone, then managing director. Copplestone asked: ‘So you’re broad left?’ “I said, ‘Yes’. And he said: ‘Right, if we give you a job, all of that stays at the door. You come in here and you leave all of it behind you’. It was almost a throwaway line and was the most profound and influential observation in my entire professional life. I’ve clung to it, not only because it’s right but it helps.” 

But he sees how social media has now distorted the whole picture. Partly to blame is a belief “that you can say what you want online. Broadcasters think they can be someone else online, that they can be chameleon-like but they can’t.” He remembers the late ITV News At Ten host and former editor of The Economist, Alastair Burnet: “He always used to say: ‘Never ever forget, it’s the news that’s the star. It’s not you – you’re just lucky enough to impart it’.”

Then there is the salutory little horror story of Andrew Sullivan’s recent run-in with the New York Times. They decided to run a profile of him – again because he was news-about-the news. The hook was that he was forced to leave New York magazine last month because, according to the NYT, he had not publicly recanted editing an issue of the New Republic published… in 1994. The issue was a symposium on The Bell Curve, a book by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein that explored the connection between IQ, class, social mobility and race.

“My crime”, he explained in a Spectator article last week, “was to arrange a symposium around an extract, with 13 often stinging critiques published alongside it. The fact I had not recanted that decision did not, mind you, prevent Time, the Atlantic, Newsweek, the NYT, and New York magazine from publishing me in the following years. But suddenly, a decision I made a quarter of a century ago required my being cancelled. The NYT reporter generously gave me a chance to apologise and recant, and when I replied that I thought the role of genetics in intelligence among different human populations was still an open question, he had his headline: ‘I won’t stop reading Andrew Sullivan, but I can’t defend him.’

“In other words, the media reporter in America’s paper of record said he could not defend a writer because I refused to say something I don’t believe. He said this while arguing that I was ‘one of the most influential journalists of the last three decades’. To be fair to him, he would have had no future at the NYT if he had not called me an indefensible racist. His silence on that would have been as unacceptable to his woke bosses as my refusal to recant. But this is where we now are. A reporter is in fear of being cancelled if he doesn’t cancel someone else. This is America returning to its roots. As in Salem.”

These instances of wokeness as it continues to poison our public life – politics and media – are but the tip of an iceberg. We are in big trouble. One hopes that the “Second Law” – no, not that of thermodynamics – often quoted by James Ehrendorf, a character in The Singapore Grip, J.G. Farrell’s novel about the last days of that British outpost as the Japanese descended on it in 1941, doesn’t spell out the future for our public square. It runs: “In human affairs, things tend inevitably to go wrong. Things are slightly worse at any given moment than at any preceding moment.”

Tale of an Old Rabbit

This will be a long read – but well worth a visit after nearly 23 years. It is Tom Junod’s account in Esquire of his meetings with Fred Rogers – famed as ‘Mister Rogers’ of The Neighbourhood. This recently became the subject of the film, A Beautiful Day In the Neighbourhood.

it’s not a bad post to put beside my previous one, Twilight of the gods? Now also posted on MercatorNet as Can societies abandon religion and continue to prosper?

Junod begins his story like this.

Once upon a time, a little boy loved a stuffed animal whose name was Old Rabbit. It was so old, in fact, that it was really an unstuffed animal; so old that even back then, with the little boy’s brain still nice and fresh, he had no memory of it as “Young Rabbit,” or even “Rabbit”; so old that Old Rabbit was barely a rabbit at all but rather a greasy hunk of skin without eyes and ears, with a single red stitch where its tongue used to be. The little boy didn’t know why he loved Old Rabbit; he just did, and the night he threw it out the car window was the night he learned how to pray. He would grow up to become a great prayer, this little boy, but only intermittently, only fitfully, praying only when fear and desperation drove him to it, and the night he threw Old Rabbit into the darkness was the night that set the pattern, the night that taught him how. He prayed for Old Rabbit’s safe return, and when, hours later, his mother and father came home with the filthy, precious strip of rabbity roadkill, he learned not only that prayers are sometimes answered but also the kind of severe effort they entail, the kind of endless frantic summoning. And so when he threw Old Rabbit out the car window the next time, it was gone for good.

Read on here.