Of the real and the unreal

About four years ago, a then twenty-six year old Irish writer – now world famous, if reviews of your books in The New York Times and a host of other national and international media is enough to give you that reputation – made this remark in an interview: “So yeah, I don’t know. I like Christianity. I’m a fan of Jesus and his whole philosophy, but not the social teaching aspects of it, of course.” She has said more on the topic since, most of it in the same nonchalant vein, betraying the inherent but increasingly shallow links Irish people of her generation have with the Faith of their Fathers. It also betrays an abysmal ignorance of the essence of what that religion and its practice really are. 

Who this young writer is, or why she is famous, is irrelevant in the context of what follows. She is one of several million, indeed hundreds of millions, who have lost the plot of what it is to be Catholic and Christian. Modernity is a mixed blessing – which is a way of saying that it is a blessing and a curse. It’s malefaction is its destruction of the human race’s grasp of the essence of the real world, and our place in it, by its corruption of the religious sense.

The only way back from this confused state which has suffocated the faith of so many and particularly that of the generations since the 1960s, is an effective articulation of the truth about the catholic church, what it is in its essence, and what its mission is. Only then will intelligent young people be able to break away from the prejudices about Christ’s church with which everything from shallow practice down to heinous scandals has left them. Only then will a young person who can now talk about “the crushing power of the catholic church” – another young Irish writer – come out and separate the wheat from the weeds, defend and protect the institution founded by Christ for the salvation of mankind.

We cannot talk of this being a crisis. Crises are relatively short-lived. Just as epidemics become endemic, crises can turn into something more permanent that we have to live with, cope with and build our defences against. The phenomenon which produced the response we began with is older than the ’60s. In a book published one hundred years ago, Romano Guardini wrote of the sad consequences of the failures in understanding we are looking at here. Their origins do not lie in the early twentieth century, nor even in the liberalism of the nineteenth century. They go back to early modernity and the emergence of a new  consciousness of individuality. The failure to balance this consciousness with social and communal consciousness created a rift which we can follow as it developed down through the centuries to our own time.

He wrote of this in terms of the tension which he saw then, and we see now, between the church and the individual. He connected this with a broader tension between the community and the individual which also had its manifestation in relations between the church and the individual, thereby imperilling our understanding of the very essence of the church.

In the Middle Ages the objective reality of the church, like that of society in general, was directly experienced. The individual had been integrated into the social organism in which he or she freely developed a distinctive personality. At the Renaissance individuals attained a critical self-consciousness and asserted their own independence at the expense of the objective community. By doing so, however, they gradually lost sight of their profound dependence upon the entire social organism. 

Consequently, he argued, the modern person’s consciousness of his or her own personality, no longer closely bound up with the conscious life of the community, overshot a critical mark and detached itself from its living social context. In terms of their relationship with the church, individuals began to think of the church, with its claim to authority, as a power hostile to themselves. At the time in which Guardini was writing this, James Joyce was the literary world figure deeply affected by the malaise he was describing. 

The mission Guardini envisaged for the Christian then was to foment an understanding of the true relationship between the church and the individual. It must still be so, one hundred years later. It will always be so. 

To achieve this, he maintained, our conceptions of society and individual personality must once more be adequate. To get there to any degree, self-consciousness and the sense of life within community must again be brought into harmony, and in terms of religious faith the inherent interdependence of the church and the individual must again be accepted as a self-evident truth. 

For him, modern man needed to see how the church and the individual personality are mutually bound together, “how they live, the one by the other.” It was in this context and in this mutual relationship that we could only properly explain the justification of ecclesiastical authority. This could only be done if people freed themselves from “the partial philosophies of the age, such as individualism, state socialism, or communism.” In our age there is no shortage of partial philosophies competing to warp our understanding of reality. He put it this way:

Once more we must be wholeheartedly Catholic. Our thought and feeling must be determined by the essential nature of the Catholic position, must proceed from that direct insight into the center of reality which is the privilege of the genuine Catholic.  

We agonise today, we talk and write about the atomistic disintegration of our society, and the sad consequences of family break-up, loneliness and worse which it brings in its wake. One hundred years ago he talked and wrote about the individual personality “starving in frigid isolation” if it is cut off from the living community. Being cut off from the church was even worse. The richness of the life which union with the church gives to the individual is the only true fulfilment of life, a “precondition of their most individual and personal life”. The church must necessarily be intolerable to those who fail to see this in her, to those who view her only as a power which confronts them and which, far from having any share in their most intimate, vital purpose, actually threatens or represses it. This, sadly, is the view of many today, who have not heard or understood that she is something infinitely different from that.

A person’s living will cannot accept a church so conceived… But the individual whose eyes have been opened to the meaning of the church experiences a great and liberating joy, for such individuals see that it is the living presupposition of their personal existence, the essential path to their perfection. They are aware of profound solidarity between their personal being and the church, how the one lives by the other, and how the life of the one is the strength of the other.  

He concluded optimistically that the possibility of loving and living in the church in this way is not something remote: we can love the church by virtue of a supreme grace which may be ours today, and it is the grace which we need most. But for Christians to help make this happen in our time, what he wrote back in 1922 applies even more to 2022. It must be taken into account that men and women of the present generation cannot love the church merely because they were born of Catholic parents. 

With equal force he warned that it would be folly to think that the love we are looking for could be produced by the intoxication of oratory and mass meetings. Neither would vague sentiments give us that love. He said that the young generation of his time was too honest for that. Honesty may well be a virtue more found in the young than in those of a certain age, something as true today as it was a hundred years ago.

To neutralise the atomistic process in which we still seem locked, Guardini wrote: One thing only can avail: a clear insight into the nature and significance of the church. We must realize that, as Christians, our personality is achieved in proportion as we are more closely incorporated into the church and as the church lives in us. When we address her, we say with deep understanding not “thou” but “I”. 

If I have really grasped these truths, I shall no longer regard the church as a spiritual police force, but blood of my own blood, the life of whose abundance I live. I shall see it as the all-embracing kingdom of my God, and his kingdom in my soul as its living counterpart. Then will the church be my mother and my queen, the bride of Christ. Then can I love her! And only then can I find peace! We shall not be at peace with the church till we have reached the point at which we can…love it. Not till then…” 

Interpreting ‘A Quiet Place’ – closer than you might think

We might wonder sometimes if that most woke of the woke, Hollywood, knows what it is doing. Could it really have backed a film which is an allegory for the mayhem and destruction which the intolerant enemies of human discourse have unleashed on our civilization? This is probably a pointless question, because in Tinseltown, the love of money trumps everything.

In March 2017, Paramount hired John Krasinski to rewrite the script and direct A Quiet Place, his first directorial venture for a major studio. A Quiet Place and its sequel are two parts of a science-fiction horror franchise – A Quiet Place III, to be directed by Jeff Nichols, will be with us in 2023. But this is a horror tale with a difference. Like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it tells us much more about ourselves and our condition than we might like to admit.  A Quiet Place can be read as a tale about something very unpleasant, a tale about very disturbing aliens which are currently are invading our world.

When we read, or saw the film version, of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 it probably worried us to some extent. But did we ever think we would be facing its like this side of the Iron Curtain, then still a painful reality? If not, we should have. In today’s London Daily Telegraph  (September 13) we read this headline: “Now woke activists are burning books – and it’s become a frightening gamble to write one”. 

A Quiet Place is a truly frightening film about silence, not about the golden gift we know and which we associate with peace and serenity, but about the repressive and maddening silence forced on those who speak their mind, by those who hate them, because they say things that are found disagreeable by some. Threatened with violent extinction, they are forced to live in a condition of terrified silence. 

This is a simple science-fiction story of a family trying to survive in a world which has been invaded by monsters which destroy any human being whom they hear. Hearing them speak, or make any noise, they are targeted and killed. As Nikki Baughan, described in her Sight and Sound review of A Quiet Place, the cinematic success of Krasinski’s film lies in its operating at a deep emotional level This apocalyptic tale is told entirely through the prism of a single family, one struggling to cope not only with actual monsters, but also with insidious personal demons of grief, blame and guilt. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” insists the father to his son, echoing the stock reassurances of parents everywhere. “Yes there is!” comes the terrified youngster’s incredulous, entirely accurate response.

Allegories are stories which include a representation or the expression of truth using symbolic, fictional characters. They tell a story which looks like one thing on the surface but also ask us – if we are able to see – to look at something which is much more than a story lying under that surface. They invite us to interpret the story and find in it truth about ourselves and our condition.

As the renowned Irish literary critic, the late Denis Donoghue wrote in The Practice of Reading, interpretation begins when someone decides to pay attention to a text. When a text – in this case a film – seems to be saying something it invites us to look under the surface. Interpretation begins when we have acknowledged that invitation and set about fulfilling it. We are, as it were, enriching our experience of that work. Donoghue explains the process:

“We try to understand the text as if its character were hidden and must be brought to light. We move along the interpretive process when we try to make our preliminary understanding of the text explicit to ourselves, thereby turning the occasion into an experience. If we offer to make the experience—or something like it—available to other readers, we have in mind to put the text into the public domain.” 

He adds that “It is fairly generally accepted that the interpreter of a text can’t appeal for authority to the author’s intention—at least beyond a certain point—not only because we rarely know what that intention was but also because the author may not have realized his intention in the text; the text may in the event have exceeded the intention or diverged from it.” 

We bring each text – which is a gift to us from its creator – into our own world and bring our own world to it. Our relationship with it is now part of its meaning and we offer our interpretation of it to others, in the hope that it may help them connect with the deeper meaning that we have found in it, rightly or wrongly. That dialogue is part of the joy of artistic experience, our relationship with works of art. 

This, of course, is the joy which the monsters in A Quiet Place want to extinguish, representing all those in our culture who want to silence those with whom they disagree. The grotesque murderous creations which populate this allegory, provided by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic company, are not just some silly inventions designed to make you jump out of your seat. They do that, but they are much more. They are representations of something truly alien and destructive in our midst..

Will they succeed in extinguishing all dialogue, free expression and dissent? We await the third part of A Quiet Place and hope that the allegory will continue its narrative arc and show a path to victory over all those who would condemn mankind to silence and fear of speaking about what we think, see and feel. The first part of Krasinski’s film ends on a note which Baughan interprets as “a realisation that survival may not, in fact, come from avoiding the assault, but in finding the courage to rail loudly against it.” The sad evidence in our daily news is that this courage is in short supply in our creative community today. 

Aftershocks of a pandemic

“The parents weren’t just upset about all the screen time their kids were logging. They were upset about what they saw on those screens. For the first time, millions of moms and dads could watch, in real time, their children’s teachers teaching.”

That’s just one more aftershock from the great pandemic of the twenty-twenties.

We have all become aware of the workplace upheaval in which the world’s biggest corporations and the state bureaucracies of the planet – not to mention the real estate industry – are all grappling with the existential phenomenon of working-from-home. Pre-pandemic social communication had already made something of sea-change in our lives but the infliction of lockdown, while not perhaps being the mother of Zoom and its fellow inventions, was certainly the booster rocket which sent them into orbit, giving us meetings at our finger-tips and a new meaning to dropping in on family, friends and neighbours for a chat.

The architecture of the entire teaching-learning edifice which our world has known for the duration of what we call modern times now looks like it is in the process of a radical redevelopment, if not a wholesale demolition and rebuild. Not least among its structural features facing radical change is that which has taken care of which is perhaps its most lovable and most precious responsibility, elementary education.

Post-pandemic, millions of new families are moving to undertake the elementary education of their own children.

And why not? Are we so blind that we cannot see the logic, the justice and the beautiful privilege that the best educated generation in human history have the ability, and should have the right, to educate their own children. “Education bureaucrats, leave those kids alone!”

Barri Weiss’ Common Sense on the Substack platform spells out some of the details of this apparent landslide freedom movement in a guest post from another Weiss, Suzy by name, (sister, cousin?). In an age when the family has been put in greater danger than it has been in over one hundred years this is really good news. Not since the Marxist revolutions of the early part of the last century tried to obliterate the family, has it been so threatened. This movement is a real sign of hope. And this is not just for children but for the whole of western society. This is a revolutionary counter-revolution, a whiff of grapeshot moment of the kind in which Napoleon tore into the murderous zealots who had taken control of the French Revolution.

Throughout the western world – and increasingly encroaching on the societies and cultures of the rest of the planet – progressive elites with their bizarre readings of human nature, and what they think they can do with it, have penetrated education systems like a dry-rot penetrating the fabric of a building. That ordinary families with common sense and their feet on the real ground might take over the education of their children in their formative years is an anathema to these elites. The progressivists, academia and the teacher unions which they dominate, will resist but they must not be let undermine this most natural of movements.

These are some of the insights into this revolution which Suzy Weiss gives us in her post. The entire post is here.

In March 2020, as the coronavirus engulfed America, Kristen Wrobel got the news: “We heard on Friday that there would be no school for two weeks. Which just turned into no school.”

That was the last time her children — one in third grade, one in first —  were in a classroom.

In the beginning, they did the remote-school thing. Wrobel, a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, called it a “nightmare.” The Zoom sessions, the Italian lessons on Duolingo, the stuff she had to print out, the isolation, the tears, the nagging, the shuttling the kids between her house, near Burlington, Vermont, and their dad’s, a half-hour away.

“Everyone was freaking out all the time,” she said. 

By May, at the risk of violating state truancy laws, Wrobel had stopped fighting and let her kids log on (or not) whenever they felt like it. It was, she said, “the darkest hour before dawn.”

That September, she started homeschooling. She didn’t like all the restrictions her kids’ private school had implemented: Students seated six feet apart. Masked. In wedding tents. Outside. 

She figured she’d send her kids back to the school in 2021, after everything had gone back to normal. 

That was then. Now? “There’d have to be a revolution in schooling.” 

She’s hardly alone. Wrobel is one of hundreds of thousands of moms and dads across the nation who have decided to become the principals of their very own, very small elementary schools. 

The number of kids going to school at home nationwide has doubled over the past two years. In 2019, there were about 2.5 million students learning at home. Today there are nearly 5 million. That means more than 11 percent of American households are educating their children outside of traditional schools.

In Wrobel’s state of Vermont, homeschool applications are up 75 percent. And that’s in the northeast, where regulations are strictest. The phenomenon is exploding across the country. In North Carolina, the site for registering homeschools crashed last summer. In California, applications for homeschooling tripled from 2020 to 2021. In Alaska, more than a quarter of students in the state are now homeschooled. 

In Texas and Florida, parents are not required to notify the state, so it’s hard to know exactly how many kids are learning at home. But just one South Florida school, Jupiter Farms Elementary, saw 10 percent of its student population withdraw for this school year. Almost all of them are being taught at home.

The American Schoolhouse was in serious disrepair before 2020 — about that no one would disagree. But the events of last year tore the whole thing down to the studs. First, the pandemic. Then, the lockdowns. Then the summer of unrest: George Floyd, the protests, the riots, the mea culpas. Many local school boards seemed more concerned about teaching critical race theory and renaming schools than reopening them. Parents didn’t know what to do — what was safe, what was right, whom to trust. It was like being inside a tornado.

These were changes that rocked every American family.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that the homeschooling trend cuts across geographic, political, and racial lines: Black, Latino and Asian families are even likelier than white ones to educate their children at home. 

All of this is undermining the old, Democratic-educational complex — the powerful teacher unions and the office-holders beholden to those unions —  that has long maintained an iron-clad grip on tens of thousands of schools and the fate of tens of millions of American students. And it is forcing a long overdue reimagining of the way we educate children: the subjects they study, the values instilled in them, and the economy for which they are being prepared. 


Maria Magallanes homeschools Zola West, 7, a child who lives next door, at the Magallanes home in Alexandria, Virginia, in April 2020.(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For decades now voices have been crying in the wilderness about the corruption of academia and lower reaches of the teaching profession. Instead of getting better they just got worse and worse, crazier and crazier – and utterly arrogant.

Consider what Peter Boghossian had to bring himself to say in this post, also courtesy of Bari Weiss: “…brick by brick, the university has made… intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.”

Shortly after Boghossian ‘came out’ and took on the ideologues ” swastikas in the bathroom with my name under them began appearing in two bathrooms near the philosophy department. They also occasionally showed up on my office door, in one instance accompanied by bags of feces. Our university remained silent. When it acted, it was against me, not the perpetrators.”

There is no doubt, the Red Guards are back and they are not just in the United States. This kind of experience, in one form or another is replicating itself all over the academic world, formerly the free world.

In recent times it was depressingly hard to see from where the light at the end of the tunnel would come that would effectively bring about the change that is needed to bring an end to this cultural crisis. What our society and our civilisation is facing is truly worrying. Perhaps this is what is needed: a new generation, educated in common sense and with a grip on what true human values really are.

‘For All Mankind’ and our destiny – not just the Moon or Mars

It is probably not the most original plot-line you have ever encountered in science-fiction – our heroes in their orbiting spacecraft fly off out of gravity’s pull and face death hurtling into the universe.  Space Oddity was always going to be a hard act to follow. But taken in juxtaposition with the reflections of Romano Guardini in The Faith and Modern Man – written back in 1944 – it is intriguing as a metaphor for the human condition and the choices which our kind confront as we hurtle through the years of our existence in – or around – this planet.

For All Mankind is a space opera currently streaming on Apple TV+. It is good in parts – if you can bear with its embedded nod to wokeness and have a sufficiently tuned detector to deal with the moral ambiguity which wokeness now almost invariably carries with it as baggage. But deep down this is a work about the human sacrifices we make to fulfil our ambitions, and the answers it gives only take us so far. God does not get much of a nod – he’s not in the woke canon.

The episode which resonated in the context of what Guardini has to say about the destiny of mankind tells the story of two astronauts, on a rescue mission to a space station on the moon. They sustain damage to their craft and suddenly find themselves slipping out of orbit. They are in big trouble because they don’t have enough fuel to propel themselves out of danger. Compounding their trouble, they have also lost contact with mission control. Facing them is certain death. They then discuss   whether to face death by starvation as they hurtle into outer space, or hasten their deaths by jettisoning themselves from their craft.

With just a sliver of hope they make a last desperate call for help. Against all the odds they make contact and help comes under the guiding hand of mission control in Houston. That sliver of hope grows exponentially. Enough not said here to avoid a spoiler, I hope.

Try to read the story as a parable – and there is no suggestion that this is the intention of the show’s creators; this is a very personal interpretation prompted by a serendipitous encounter with Romano Guardini’s more transcendental reflections on mankind’s nature and needs.

Our heroes are not unlike the members of the human race with which Guardini preoccupies himself in The Faith and Modern Man. Like our two astronauts, he sees us as creatures making our way through a beautiful but dangerous universe. For reasons beyond our control, “stuff happens” to us and we have to respond to it, or be helped to respond to it, in one way or another. In any one situation there may appear to be no ‘win-win’ options open to us, but there may be ‘lose-win’ options as against only ‘lose-lose’ options. 

If we read the human condition with a truly Christian vision of life it is all ‘win-win’. The condition of the Christian in the world is that of a ‘hundredfold’ in this life and eternal happiness in eternity. The ‘lose-win’ scenario is also one of hope. It is that of the person who does not know the truth of existence but who by the grace of God and the help of some human agency eventually sees the meaning of life and departs this world in the full knowledge and acceptance of the creator’s will. The ‘lose-lose’ scenario is the tragic one, brought about by the wilful rejection of the truth of that purpose for which we have our being, and the subsequent drifting into outer darkness which that rejection inevitably entails.

Guardini puts the Christian in the world in the context of all mankind. Christian men and women are situated in life exactly as are all other human beings. Their bodies are made up of natural elements and are subject to natural laws. They live in the community of family and nation. They participate in the events of history, and share in the economic, scientific and artistic life of their days. Their dreams, thoughts, ethical motives, standards of right living, hopes of fulfilment, are like those of everybody else. 

But then he makes a vital distinction. In their consciousness they have thoughts of another kind too — they know and believe in a God who created all things and guides people by his providential wisdom. They also know of redemption and of a new, radically different life which springs from it, which begins here on earth and finds its fulfilment in eternity. 

These thoughts in their totality do not derive from human knowledge and experience, he explains. The Christian knows that the truth that underlies this consciousness, the kind of mind it speaks of, the way of life to which it calls for, is anchored on one reality, one definite person. This is Jesus Christ who claims to be the living revelation of the hidden God, the redeemer of the lost, the bringer of new life. A Christian is one who takes him at his word and accepts all the terms and conditions of the rescue proposed to him by Christ when, in one way or another, he cries out for help when he finds himself, as it were, lost in space.

Guardini put the story of the Christian’s life in this way. 

The Christian believer of whom we are speaking has, in some way, come upon Jesus Christ, either by steeping himself or herself in the sources which relate his history, or by having learned from others of his person and doctrine. They are convinced that Jesus Christ alone brings truth and salvation, that he alone sheds light upon the riddle of existence, that by his spirit alone can moral problems be solved, that he alone affords a final refuge to the human heart. The lives of such men and women consist of a whole in which two worlds intermingle — the natural life with its realities, and everything which Christ makes known of truth and wisdom, and the strength which he imparts. This unity let us call simply the Faith.

Like our astronauts, the Christian in this world is very vulnerable. Faith for the Christian is life itself, Guardini explains, and since it is life in the fullest sense, it must undergo repeated crises, crises which concern not merely a single part of a person’s life, but their whole nature – their mind and all their potentialities.  

The crisis faced by our astronauts was the result of a mechanical failure. But its consequences made them face not just the prospect of their imminent death but the choice of how they should die. Had they taken the quick sharp shock option and not held on to the sliver of hope they had, they would have short-circuited the providence of mission control and the agents sent to save them. 

In the matter of crises of faith Guardini writes of the role of the church in the life of the struggling Christian. This is the church whose nature and characteristics he elaborates on in another work, The Lord, written in 1937. The church is, he says, the fullness of grace functioning in history. Mystery of that union into which God, through Christ, draws all creation. Family of the children of God assembled about Christ, the firstborn. Beginning of the new holy people. Foundation of the Holy City once to be revealed. And simultaneous with all her graces are her dangers: danger of dominating, danger of “the law.” When we speak of the church, we cannot ignore the fact of Christ’s rejection, which never should have been. 

This church, he tells us, asks people in crisis – moral or otherwise – not to set aside their faith, even for the time being. This is based on the conviction that faith proceeds primarily not from human beings, but from God, whose power helps them to see as far into the question as is necessary and still to remain closely bound to God. He identifies two sides of the relation of a person’s heart to God. On the one side is longing for God, longing for his sacred truth. But on the other side is aversion, distrust, irritation, revolt.  It is this twofold aspect which makes religious doubt dangerous. The moving force in the doubt is hostility toward God. 

Therefore, in any struggle with doubt, one must resort to prayer. The most effective kind of prayer is that in which we place ourselves, in our hearts, before God, relinquishing all resistance, letting go of all secret irritation, opening ourselves to the truth, to God’s holy mystery, saying over and over again, “I desire truth, I am ready to receive it, even this truth which causes me such concern, if it be the truth. Give me light to know it, and to see how it bears on me.”  

This prayer is the equivalent of the astronaut’s call for help, in hope against hope. The simplicity of that call – or prayer – completely belies its power to overcome the most devastating forces facing mankind, in or outside this world, natural or preternatural. It has the power to make all the difference between life and death, between light and outer darkness.

Echoes of the present in the past

Does history repeat itself? Yes, but it’s complicated. Sometimes its repetitions are relatively simple as when the folly of Hitler in invading Russia replicated the folly of Napoleon nearly 150 years earlier – or the human folly of financial speculators is replicated in the boom and busts which pepper the centuries. But the cataclysms engendered by these repetitions were in some ways less penetrating and consequential than the more subtle repetitions which a close look at our human story reveals.

Alison Weir is a historical biographer, specialising in the late middle ages. She largely writes about the English monarchs of the era. Her biography of Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of the first Tudor king of England, Henry VII, was published five years ago. It is a book with a powerful subtext. It is one which anyone with any sense of history’s capacity to repeat itself will not read without hearing echoes from our own time ringing in their ears.

Weir tells the story of Elizabeth, daughter of the last Yorkist victor of the Wars of the Roses, and the turbulent times in which she grew to womanhood. She takes us through the concluding years of that conflict and the pivotal part Elizabeth played in securing the uneasy peace which succeeded the defeat by the Lancastrian Duke of Richmond – who became Henry VII – of her scheming and murderous uncle, Richard III. 

Richmond defeated Richard at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 and not too long afterwards, as Henry VII, helped cement an uneasy but real peace for the kingdoms of England and Ireland by marrying Elizabeth. She was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and ostensibly the heir to his throne. With that marriage the Tudor dynasty – which was to last just over a century – began. Henry was a Welsh Tudor in the Lancastrian line.

But all of that is the surface narrative of the story of Elizabeth. Doubtless that narrative has many lessons of its own to offer us and subsequent histories will be found to mirror the follies of its protagonists. But the more subtle echoes which resonate from our own time are contained in the details which Weir gives us of both Elizabeth as a person and of all of those with whom she lived out her days. What is astounding is that even in a time when people played fast and loose with the rule of law, when values subscribed to were often blatantly not adhered to – such as the value of human life – these values were still held. The mores of the time and the allegiance to Christian faith and practice was so deep as to be astounding to a modern reader. Men might do wrong, but they knew they were doing wrong.

The real echo from our time, however, is generated by our being reminded of what is not told directly by Weir in this story – but is alluded to by frequent reference to what unfolds in the  subsequent history of the Tudor dynasty. This story ends with two deaths. The Queen’s death occurred in 1503. The year before, the tragic death occurred of Henry VII’s heir, Prince Arthur, the fifteen-year-old husband of Catherine of Aragon. Then, after much diplomatic maneuvering,  Arthur’s 11 year-old brother, Prince Henry, now heir to the throne, is betrothed to his young widow. 

We know the tragic story which unfolds in the sixteenth century – when the Protestant Revolt takes hold in Germany and France, and then seeps into England. We know what happens when that eleven–year-old prince becomes king and lets his libidinous urges be manipulated by a clique of Protestant reformers and opportunists to break with the universal Church. We know what happens when greedy parvenues see a golden opportunity in all this to plunder the wealth of the Church and in the process destroy so much of the infrastructure which sustained the faith and the devotional life of a very Catholic society.

We may have read the work of historian Eamon Duffy who chronicled the work of destruction of that clique, protected as it was by the greedy men who had been made wealthy by the despoiling it wrought. He cleared the air of the untruths circulated by earlier historians that English society was already ripe for the Protestant Reformation by showing us how deep and devout was the Catholic faith of the English people.

Alison Weir’s chronicle of the life and times of Elizabeth of York, of the Catholic  faith and practice by which she and her contemporaries lived, and her allusions to the destruction of that in the Reformation and the Cromwellian era, tell us the same story.

And what is that echo we hear resonating in our brains? Is it the echo of the story of our own time, of the story of a people, peoples in the Western world, who remember an age when their Christian faith was the most important thing in their lives. They now look around them and see whole societies permeated by an alien culture, a culture of individualism, a culture of selfishness induced by that individualism, dominated by a vision which attaches importance to the material things of this world, alien in all ways to the life of the spirit.

What is the repeated element in this story? It is that civilisations can die and do die. They die by the corruption of human agents. The Tudor age saw the gradual and forced disintegration of the pious and devout world inhabited by Elizabeth of York, faithful wife to a faithful husband. Henry VII was succeeded by a king who perpetrated the destruction of his mother’s world and is remembered above all else as an adulterous unfaithful husband to an uncertain number of his six wives.

In our western societies, in Ireland, in England, in America and further afield we are confronting a similar disintegration of our Christian societies. In Ireland, it is happening at a bewildering pace, perhaps not even the space of two generations. All are doing so for similar reasons as did our ancestors in the Tudor age – the disregarding of the values of faith, of prayer, devotion and – for Catholics – the sacraments.

But history’s repetitions need not all be negative in their consequences. Indeed the progress of mankind seems to suggest that they are on the whole positive. The descent from the high values of the Christian culture of the fifteenth century to the confusion and losses of the sixteenth, no more than the descent of our own time, can be matched by the patterns of genuine christian revivals which we see threading through our history. If they do it will be by one agency and one agency only. It will be by returning to the self-same values and understanding of the meaning of our existence possessed by Elizabeth of York, so elaborately, exhaustively and admiringly recounted for us by Alison Weir in her moving biography of a good and noble Catholic woman.

Thank God for Bari Weiss

HIDDEN AGENDA?

There are many bewildering things about the madness which we call ‘wokism’ – an ugly neologism to begin with. Two questions about it tower above all others, one of which is giving me nightmares. The first is, where did it all come from? The second, the nightmarish one, is where will it all end?

Bari Weiss, as you probably know, is one of its victims, having jumped from the New York Times when the incursion of the trolls into the echelons of the paper made her efforts to bring a degree of balance to its opinion pages all but fruitless.

That did not mean she was going to run and hide. She went out in a blaze of defiance with a devastating inditement of the paper which she had tried to redeem. Her open resignation letter to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger made world news. Has it made any difference? It is too early to say. That we can’t answer the question yet is part of my nightmare. So-called progressivism, in which wokism is deeply embedded, marches onward and downward into imbecility.

After her NYT exit Bari Weiss is up on he feet again and and fighting on many fronts. She is being listened to in online interviews, she is writing columns and piloting a lifeboat away from a doomed ship of fools. She and a few more such give us hope. To keep in touch with what she is doing – talking good old common sense – you can subscribe to her newsletter, Common Sense with Bari Weiss, on Substack. Since March 1, 2021, she has also worked as a regular columnist for Die Welt.

In her latest Common Sense newsletter she tackles the folly in progress at Amazon.

Amazon Studios’ new inclusion policy is vaunted by stenographers – a.k.a. mindless woke clones – in the mainstream media. Its goal is that by 2024, 50% of creative roles in its movies and shows will be filled by women or people of colour.

Okay, that’s their business and they should be free to organise it in whatever way they see fit – within the law, of coruse. But when they move into different territory we really do have a right to ask ourselves, what is this product I am getting in my living room? Is Amazon in the business of giving us genuine artistic creations or is its a social engineering organisation masquerading under an artistic banner?

Digging into its documentation Weiss finds the studio declaring that it will in future try to cast actors whose identity — “gender, gender identity, nationality, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability” — matches that of the characters they play. She wonders how Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” or the sea monster from “The Shape of Water” would be slotted.

By now, this is a familiar story, she writes: Amazon is turning the making of TV and film into the same woke numbers game played at every other elite institution. (Exhibit A: Sixty-eight percent of the students admitted to Princeton’s class of 2025  self-identify as “people of color.”)

Even if we were to give the forces behind this relentless drive the benefit of our doubts about their good intentions, the nighmarish thing about it all is that we are being sucked into a massive brainwashing machine by continuing to subscribe to Amazon Prime Video, bingeing on products that are not programmes but programmers programming all of us. We are assured by them that, “the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion requires all of us to disrupt (the) biases, and the longstanding customs and practices in the industry, in order to achieve real, lasting change. This work is not easy to do, but don’t worry, we’re in this together.” 

Latasha Gillespie (below) is Executive Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Amazon Studios and she tells us her plan.


“Amazon Studios has long prioritized telling innovative and inclusive stories from a diverse range of creative talent, delighting our global audiences. We wanted to move beyond good intentions to creating mechanisms that hold us accountable to a high bar. This Inclusion Policy and Inclusion Playbook adds important, additional depth and guidance for our internal teams and external partners to ensure we continue to advance our shared mission of amplifying the best creatives and content around the world,”

In the middle of all this is an organisation called The Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity (TTIE – pronounced “tie”), describing itself as a consortium of working TV writers spanning staff writer to showrunner. We know first-hand the challenges faced by underrepresented TV writers (Women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, Disabled People) because TTIE is comprised of underrepresented writers from all of these communities. 

As the only intersectional social change organization that advocates within the entertainment industry for a diverse cross-section of underrepresented communities, TTIE is uniquely situated to empower underrepresented writers and transform the industry into one in which all writers and all stories can thrive.

All this sounds benign and well intentioned. However, our alternative media feeds tell us the stories of the victims of these good intentions, the silencing, the cancelling and the sacking of voices which even ask mild questions about what is going on. To adapt an adage, our hell may be being paved with these good intentions.

Weiss read through Amazon Studios’ Inclusion Playbook, designed “to help disrupt the biases that occur across the lifecycle of a series or movie, from the first inkling of a concept to viewers streaming the content on Prime Video.” The playbook directed her to a factsheet that she thought might help improve her familiarity with all things diverse and inclusive.

There is where you will get some glimpse of its brainwashing programme, all about how do deal with things like: acquired limb difference (otherwise known as “amputation”). There’s an entry on mean girls, which, she learned, was a “stereotype of girls and young women characterizing them as socially aggressive and unkind” —characterizations that, apparently, not only “enforce the bad behavior” but “fail to address the larger social issues girls and women face like insecurity, lack of confidence, and pressure to fit the ‘feminine beauty ideal.’”

Outside the Amazon box – or any other corporate bubble infected by these holier-than-thou missionaries – there are, thankfully, people telling us that the king has no clothes on.

Weiss cites Newsweek editor Batya Ungar-Sargon who offers the following insight: wokeness is, almost always, a smokescreen. By focusing the attention and energy of the rich and powerful on say, whether using the word Latinx is preferable to Hispanic, we let them off the hook for actually doing something about the fact that Latinos remain more than twice as likely to live below the poverty line as whites and Asians. 

Batya put it to this way: “‘Doing the work’ means hiring diversity specialists to call their children white supremacists in a prep school class they can put it on their transcript to help their chances of getting into Harvard. It has absolutely nothing to do with asking those who could actually make a difference with regard to true inequality to sacrifice anything of themselves.”

And how did the strange marriage between wokeness and corporate America take place? The answer to that, the less frightening of my two questions, will not be found, she says, in the mainstream press, but it’s an important subject and she tells us that there are two books coming out over the next few months that take it up.

The first, out in August, is called “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam” by Vivek Ramaswamy. This past weekend, he was the subject of a Wall Street Journal profile. Ramaswamy told the Journal that the alliance was forged in the years following the 2008 financial collapse:

The birth of wokeism was a godsend to corporations, Mr. Ramaswamy says. It helped defang the left. “Wokeism lent a lifeline to the people who were in charge of the big banks. They thought, ‘This stuff is easy!’ ” They applauded diversity and inclusion, appointed token female and minority directors, and “mused about the racially disparate impact of climate change.” So, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s narrative, “a bunch of big banks got together with a bunch of millennials, birthed woke capitalism, and then put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption.” Now, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s tart verdict, “big business makes money by critiquing itself.”

So, ironically, Marxist inspired progressivism and wokeness have been weaponised by the very demons the Frankfurt School had hoped to undermine when they set us on this path 70 years ago.

The other book, which is being published in October, is by the Newsweek editor I quote above, Batya Ungar-Sargon. It’s called “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.” For obvious reasons, I can’t wait to read it.

More about madness – denying reality

A denial of reality, and of the truth outside self

In the war being waged across the territories occupied by the remnants of what we call Western civilisation there are relatively few legacy media organs fighting on behalf of the forces of common sense. One of them is that venerable old – but still fresh – war-horse, The Spectator. If you are on the side of Common Sense you should subscribe – not to fill its coffers but just in the interest of preserving your own sanity in the face of the bewildering lunatic theories about everything by which we have been trying to live for most of our lives.

On the battlements of this citadel you will find, to name but a few, the likes of Fraser Nelson, its editor, the redoubtable Rod Liddle and Douglas Murray – not to mention Isabel Hardman and Mary Wakefield. It is in fact Mary Wakefield’s column in this week’s edition which has prompted me to make this appeal to your common sense. I take the liberty of giving you the full text of her piece where she sharply but respectfully suggests that elements in the Catholic Church should be more engaged than they are in the defence of reason and common sense.

She writes:

I’m used to waiting for the Catholic church to make sense. I’m a convert to Catholicism, and Catholic ideas sometimes take a while to become clear. I start from a position of suspicious distaste, but if I sit tight, I’ve found, the strangest things come right. It’s in this spirit of patient confusion that, since the beginning of the year, I’ve been waiting for the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to speak out in defence of the word ‘mother’, and to state the simple, unremarkable fact that only biological women give birth. Out of America, out of universities, from the HR department of every big business has come this push against ‘gendered language’. The reflex response is that you’re a fascist, or definitely ‘far right’, if you push back.

I think it’s for the clergy to hold firm on this. I don’t see how it can’t. Mary is our mother, we’re told. ‘Behold your mother,’ said Christ to the disciple John. The word ‘mother’ is the central pole on which the Catholic church hangs. Without it the whole circus tent collapses.

Perhaps the church stays silent because it hopes that the fuss will just evaporate on its own. But as of this year, the push for ‘gender neutrality’ comes right from the top. The US President’s ‘house rules’ now include using ‘gender inclusive language’, which means changing ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to ‘parent’ etc for fear of upsetting gender nonconformists. Joe Biden, a Catholic, has changed the law so that the prohibition on discrimination against women now covers discrimination against anyone who identifies as a woman as well. This week, some American bishops have taken issue with Biden’s position on abortion (against, but for choice). In my book, his casual collapsing of the gap between biological sex and self-chosen gender is worse. It’s a denial of reality, and of the truth outside self. It means that other people, the focus of Christian life, become indistinct. It means we’re living in a world of female penises now, God help us.

Well, there have been many millions of words written about this. There have been cancellings and counter-cancellings, and simultaneously, a weird meta-war about whether the culture war exists at all. But where, in the UK in particular, is the church?

In February, the Brighton and Sussex Hospital Trust decided to use gender-inclusive language for its maternity services. Breast-feeding became ‘chest-feeding’; mother became ‘birthing parent’.

The papers, which feed on identity politics, chewed over the issue for weeks. But not a peep from Bishop Moth of Arundel and Brighton — and Moth isn’t usually slow to speak his mind. He’s chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department for Social Justice and he’s been loudly outraged about the Do Not Attempt CPR orders issued for people with learning disabilities during Covid. He’s campaigned for mothers to be kept out of prison for the sake of their kids, so why no defence of mothers in general?

The first draft of the government’s maternity leave bill took its lead from Biden and referred to a ‘pregnant person’ rather than a mother. I’ve scoured the internet, but not a word from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, on the subject. Instead it was left to the Lords to defend women and children. Baroness Noakes said: ‘It is a biological fact that only women can be pregnant and give birth. That is why the laws that relate to maternity issues have in the past routinely been drafted using the words “women”, “she” and “her”.’ Are the bishops too scared of being thought right-wing to speak up for their church?The word ‘mother’ is the central pole on which the Catholic church hangs. Without it the circus tent collapses

As far as I can see, it’s only Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, who sounds the alarm. ‘The church is being called to defend this very truth of the human person,’ Bishop Davies wrote. Davies is right. This is not about sex, or who fancies who; this isn’t about gay rights or even trans rights, it’s about reality. You can’t fix real injustice if you can’t face reality. And the irony of it all is that in eroding truth, and true biological difference, you erode diversity too. In a book last year to mark 100 years since St John Paul II’s birth, Pope Francis pointed out that gender theory has a ‘dangerous’ cultural aim of erasing all distinctions between men and women, which would ‘destroy at its roots’ diversity. ‘It would make everything homogenous, neutral. It is an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women.’

Every day, the 22 Catholic bishops repeat these words: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…’ For all it’s a symbol of the patriarchy, the church is by definition gender-­critical. Biological sex is in its bones.

And doesn’t it also have a duty to see things from the perspective of the most vulnerable humans, the unborn? In the spring of last year, the appeals court ruled that a trans man who had given birth could not appear on his child’s birth certificate as ‘father’. Though sympathetic to trans rights, Lord Burnett decided that the right of a child to know the biological reality of its birth trumps a parent’s right to be recognised on the birth certificate in their legal gender. The court also pointed out that under the Children Act, a mother has automatic parental responsibility from the moment of birth. The word ‘mother’ protects the child. It puts the child into her care, though she can, if she wants, act as father in all other ways. Are there really many trans men who’ve given birth, who think this an outrage? I just don’t believe there are.

Being a mother involves self-sacrifice. At the heart of the Christian story, a mother makes an unthinkable sacrifice. From the moment you give birth, it’s about someone other than you.

WRITTEN BYMary Wakefield

Mary Wakefield is commissioning editor of The Spectator.

The hollow shell of ‘progress’

The stark communist ideology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries promised the world that its faithful implementation would lead the withering away of the state and the arrival of a utopia like man had only ever dreamed of. The modern Marxist now tells us that because those early enthusiasts got some things wrong in their analysis, poor dears, the great project somehow went off the rails and its wrong turning point resulted in some unfortunate consequences – like millions dying across the multiple nations which were brave enough to undertake the Marxist experiment.

Now they tell us they have got it right and all we need to do is follow the ideology of progressivism – which is essentially Marxism by another name, smelling just as foul. Marxism then as now worshiped at the altar of what it called History; then as now it also saw human beings in terms of raw matter, more or less maelable – more so now; all we needed to do was go along with this reading of our nature as soon we would all be enjoying to the full our time-limited sojourn in a Brave New World.

This is the steamroller of History-a-la-Marx now bearing down on us, constantly warning us not to get on the wrong side of the road. We’ve lost count of the number of progressive issues which carry this warning. Join us in our great triumph or get out of our way. Otherwise you will be crushed.

Crushed, like Keith Olbermann who this time last year was exhorting his readers to crush a certain political figure and his supporters – and the public servants who had the temerity to work for him. 

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 chasethe maggots off the stage and then try to clean up what they left”

This is the price to be paid now for being on ‘the wrong side of history’.

This reading of history is of course a travesty, just as their reading of literature is a travesty of literature. We are watching a version of progress which is slowly but surely eliminating both history and literature – and indeed everything cultural – from our lives. Critical theory, the current weapon of choice of progressive Marxism, does not read history. It simply molds its weapons of destruction from the fragments of history which it hand picks to suit its purpose. Harvard historian, Jill Lepore, tells us “History is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story accountable to evidence.” The Marxist progressive turns this on its head and makes history tell us a story about the present, designed to suit its deterministic vision, playing fast and loose with the evidence.

With these people in the driving seat we are in a very dangerous place – and increasingly they are in the driving seat of all our major institutions – political, media and academic. One alone stands effectively against them.

As with the old more primitive form of Marxism, the abiding enemy of this ideology is of course religion. Religion is its enemy for two reasons. The first is that it has called out the ideology for the lies at its heart; the second is that any religion which teaches something of the transcendental truth about our race cannot coexist with an ideology which teaches that we are no more that a collection of cells.

Progressivism in its most vibrant form now dominates the United States and Canada – and their satelite anglophone nations – among whom I number my native Ireland. This progressivism is obliged denigrate and if possible eliminate the Christian religion. The Christian faith has no problem with rational modernity. As its path through history shows it has always sought to live peacebly with Caesar and has ultimately always succeeded in winning Caesar over to the marriage feast of faith and reason – from the Classical world down through the Renaissance and on into the Enlightment. That is why it is progressive Marxism’s Enemy Number One. Cartago delenda est has to be progressivism’s battle-cry.

We are now engaged in a new punic war. The engagement will be troublesome but the outcome will be the triumph of the good. Patrick Deneen in his study of the failure of Liberalism predicted that things would get worse and be more confused before they get better, before viable moral structures are restored on both the left and right. We can only hope that this will not take too long. The only show in town offering a true moral compass to the world is genuine Christianity.

What is the current state of play between the forces in the field just now?

Catholic President Biden was persuaded to leave the word “God” out of his first address to Congress last month. A win for progressives.

Across the Atlantic in Britain, Abby Day, professor of race, faith and culture at Goldsmiths, University of London, reports that less than half of Britons are expected to tick “Christian” in the UK census. In the 2011 census, 59.3% ticked Christianity, a fall from 71.6% a decade earlier. Day says post-war generations regard the church as irrelevant and immoral. Another win for progressivism.

Across the Irish Sea from Britain the Irish government is pummeling the Catholic Church and now the Deputy Prime Minister has declared that all publicly funded schools should adhere to Government policy by including LGBTI+ relationships in all sex education programmes. This is a response to a new sex education programme for Catholic primary schools which stated that the Church’s teaching on marriage between a man and a woman “cannot be omitted”. It’s description that sex was a “gift from God” is a problem for Irish progressives because it implies that as a gift it should be treated with due respect. This might still be a stalemate.

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, Republican Senator Tim Scott in his dignified reply to Biden’s Godless address spoke of his hope for a better future. “I am confident that our finest hour is yet to come. Original sin is never the end of the story. Not in our souls and not for our nation. The real story is always redemption.” Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal commented, “Broadcasters missed the meaning, thinking it was just some sweet Christian talk.” It was more. It was a win.

Ross Douthat, in a New York Times column a few days ago reflected on the implications of what he saw as the gradual erosion of Catholic faith in the face of progressivism.

“If you’re a liberal Catholic, especially one whose peers are members of the secular clerisy in Europe and the United States”, he observed, “your position has become much more difficult as progressivism has become more comprehensive in its demands. A small but telling example was offered in a recent essay for The Hedgehog Review, in which a Catholic campus minister wrote about her experience as an impeccably liberal and feminist Catholic working on a contemporary liberal-arts campus. 

“She was startled to find that the new progressivism regarded even liberal Catholics as tainted by their association with something as white or patriarchal or Western as the official Catholic Church. She in turn cited the experience another: ‘It’s taboo to explore Western spirituality, especially in liberal circles. I’m careful who I tell about it.’ She was not alone. Other students asked me not to take photos of Mass and post them on social media. They didn’t want to be ‘outed’ as Catholic.” 

But we must remember that although Rome did destroy Carthage, nevertheless, it arose from the ashes and eventually was the home of St. Augustine who became bishop of neighbouring Hippo and one the greatest champions of the Christian faith the world has ever seen. His work still endures with powerful effect to this day.

Is it not all a question of the vine and the branches? You either reunite with the vine or you wither away. At the root of this whole debacle are misconceptions about human nature – and in our time, family and sexuality in particular. That in its turn however, is rooted in something else. It is rooted in a shriveling up of the life of the spirit and the spirit’s conversation with the God whom Biden chose to ignore. True knowledge of God only comes through that conversation. Tim Scott, in that same address, said:  “Becoming a Christian transformed my life,” He concluded telling us that he was “standing here because my mom has prayed me through some really tough times. I believe our nation has succeeded the same way, because generations of Americans in their own ways have asked for grace, and God has supplied it.”  

The great French novelist Georges Bernanos once wrote an essay on the train wrecks in the history of the Church. He reminded us all that the church is always saved by its saints. It is they who keep the train on the tracks.

‘Every day was a nightmare’ – two horror stories wrapped in one

Members of the Irish parliament have been listening to a very disturbing story. Facebook is a big player in the Irish tech economy but the underbelly of this giant is now being exposed. Within its entrails it is harbouring a monster.

Isabella Plunkett has worked as a Facebook content moderator for just over two years.

She has now told the parliaments’ Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, about her nightmare job as a moderator viewing graphic content up to eight hours a day. The job is so stressful that Facebook has to provide 24/7 counselling support for staff – but clearly what they do is totally inadequate.

There are two horror stories wrapped in one here. The first is the story of Isabella and all her co-workers in this role. This morning the BBC has told this in its searing detail and the nightmare is clearly still raging. Nothing that Facebook is currently doing or promising to do is solving the problem and the burden that it is asking these workers to endure.

Isabella’s job is to review posts on the platform – which can contain graphic violence, exploitation, extremism, abuse and suicide.

But what, we must ask, does it say about us as a society, as a civilisation, that we have allowed a platform to exist in our midst – and willingly, even gratefully cooperate with it – which is facilitating traffic like this across the world – or that can bring itself to ask a young person to expose themselves to such evil. There is a moral principle which tells us that what it is not good to desire it is not good to look at. This is for a reason – and the reason is that by exposing oneself to certain kinds of evil one risks being contaminated by that evil, even against one’s better judgment.

“It’s not like a normal job where you can go to work and go home and forget about it – the stuff you’re seeing is really ingrained in your mind.” Isabella processes around 100 a day – these can be videos, images or text posts on the platform. She said they often contain graphic violence, suicide, exploitation and abuse. “Every day was a nightmare,” she said, adding that the support given was “insufficient.” 

“It’s not enough. I’m now seeing the content I view in work in my dreams. I remember it, I experience it again and it is horrible.

“You never know what is going to come next and you have to watch it the full way through because they might have violators.”

“It would follow me home. I could just be watching TV at home and think back to one of the horrible, really graphic tickets” – the terms for the units she had to watch.

Depressing for all of us is the realisation that corrupted human nature has been capable of generating the volume of evil which this exposure is now revealing. The pain and misery of Isabella Plunkett is heart-rending but the sea of pain and misery which this monstrous alien living and thriving in the body of Facebook is generating must dismay us beyond horror. That it is so persistent decades after its mothership arrived among us is surely evidence that it is nowhere near vanquished.

The 26-year-old Plunkett says she could not speak to her friends or family about the things she saw at work due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which she had signed at the beginning of her contract. “It was always clear we couldn’t speak about our job, we couldn’t speak about our job to friends, family… and it’s definitely a workplace with a sense of secrecy.” Well it might be, but there are harmless secrets and there are lethal secrets which should not be secret – like the one the Chinese authorities kept under wraps for too long in Wuhan.

Many of us use Facebook every day. I may also buy my newspaper in a store which peddles unspeakable merchandise on its top shelves. I may consider that this does not compromise me morally. But at what point do I draw the line? These revelations – about the suffering of a young woman and the potential corruption of our society at large – may be forcing us to make a choice we might rather not have to face.

‘The most disturbing day of my life’ – by Jennifer Kehoe

In pandemic times we think and talk a great deal about death. We also mount a massive defence, with the help of our continuously advancing scientific knowledge, to protect ourselves from its earlier than expected arrival in our individual lifetimes.

But Pestilence is only one of the Four Horsemen who constantly threaten and sometimes make incursions from the wings of our narrow stage.

In parallel with that pandemic-battling effort, however, our scientific knowledge is also being put to use in the relentless termination of countless human lives. What is wrong with us? Why can we not see the evil of the destruction of life which our warring, our hatred and our selfishness are perpetrating? We fear death but it seems that we do not fear the the evil in our hearts which makes us the perpetrators or the accomplices of the agents of the deaths of millions of our fellow human beings.

Dying is not a problem, it is not even an evil. Do we not remember the immortal words of the philosophical Irish doorman at Abbey Road studios, recorded for posterity in Pink Floyd’s take on death, ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ track on The Dark Side of the Moon?

And I am not frightened of dying
Any time will do, I don’t mind
Why should I be frightened of dying?
There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime
.

On 3 May an Irish mother cried out on Facebook with the following post. Suspicious that a hidden algorithm might eliminate it, I take the liberty of recirculating it under the sheltering shadow of Garvan Hill.

Jennifer Kehoe writes:

I was manning the One Day More* stand at a Midwives conference in Dublin some time ago when a midwife who had returned from U.K. got chatting to me.  She told me that over the years she had routinely advised and signed many forms for pregnant women to undergo tests to detect Down Syndrome. She had worked there for several decades when it dawned on her that she had NEVER even ONCE delivered a child with Down Syndrome.  She realised then that she had somehow been blindly part of an eradication system and decided then and there to return to Ireland where sometimes mothers deliver babies who have Down Syndrome.  

She was a haunted lady and told me as much.

The same day I spoke to the two very pretty, very made-up girls manning the stand promoting the ‘Harmony’ test which detects Down Syndrome with a simple blood test at an early stage of pregnancy (9 weeks).  I asked the very pretty girl with a Killarney accent how she felt about the reality that the test she was promoting leads to an almost blanket eradication of people with Down Syndrome and not actually the condition.  She replied that it’s science. I asked her if she thought that abortion was ok for DS and she very sincerely replied that definitely not, it wasn’t.  She said that humanly it’s completely wrong but that scientifically it’s ok.

The same day a very very well dressed American lady came to talk to me.  She told me about a book she has written about pregnancy loss and she was in Ireland speaking to universities to promote it.  She told me about her favourite chapter which was about Fetal Reduction Abortion.  That is, in cases of twin, triplet or more babies the mother chooses to reduce the number to whichever is her preference (very prevalent in U.K.). She was brimming with pride about this chapter.

I asked her how the babies are chosen to abort and was it just based on position in the womb and she replied that yes that’s right.  I then remarked that it must be awful for the surviving children to realise that their sibling was killed because she was hiding behind her brother or sister.  She agreed that that’s true but went on to say how sad and loving it is for a mother to see one, two, three babies hearts being stopped on ultrasound and how she’d be able to have the just number of babies she wanted.  One mother she mentioned had said goodbye personally to each child (7 conceived, 5 aborted) as they chose and killed it. Unbelievable.

The only thing I could think of saying is ‘I think that’s absolutely terrible’.  

The look on her face made me realise that she had likely never heard that said before, she was completely taken aback.

It was the most disturbing day of my life.  I truly believe I had glimpsed the cold yet beautifully presented face of evil. Why would evil sell itself with red eyes and cloven feet? We’d run a mile.  When evil presents with Lancôme and designer clothes and whitened smiles it lulls and attracts us.  Real evil tells us that something unthinkable is good.  

I’ll tell you, I hugged my children that evening just to seep in their goodness.  The only antidote to evil is goodness.

The reason I wrote this testimony is to show that abortion damages EVERYBODY who crosses it’s path.  It dehumanises, brutalises, hardens and breaks EVERYBODY.  It has clearly damaged those people I met, it damages the doctors and everybody even remotely involved in the trade, it damages millions of women across this so beautiful world every year, it damages the people who don’t abort but were mistreated because of not aborting, it has damaged the people canvassing for repeal, made them vulgar and rude and coarse, it has damaged the person who smeared chewed gum on my car before Ireland’s referendum  and wrote ‘vote yes’ all over it in the dust because they spotted some LoveBoth* leaflets on the seat.  Most of all it damages the little ones who lose their lives like leaves falling from a tree. Abortion is a rotten business, it has NO redeeming characteristics.  The sooner mankind is rid of this plague the sooner we can start to rebuild the shambles we’ve made of the world.

* Pro Life organisations.