A new Nostradamus?

Michel Houellebecq (New York Review of Books)

Michel Houellebecq’s novels are not for the morally conscientious, replete as they are with what is euphemistically called “explicit content”. Neither are they safe reading for the snowflakes or the politically correct of this world.

But there is certainly something uncanny about the man’s apparent gift for reading the times we live in, and even giving us advance warning of the times we will be living in. Also, while he’s thoroughly French, he doesn’t give his countrymen an easy time.

The publication of his last novel, Submission, imagined a time – not far from now – wehen a Muslim France elects a Muslim president. On the day of its publication Islamic terrorists went into the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and slaughtered everyone they could find. People found the coincidence – because that is what it was – a bit unsettling.

M. Houellebecq’s latest work, Sérotonine, is now being seen in France as another piece of semi-prophesy. He began writing it more than two years ago but seems to tell us about the current street protests against President Emmanuel Macron by gilets jaunes (yellow jackets).

Houellebecq and Macron are in fact friends. Whether this puts a strain on their friendship remains to be seen.

An article in The Spectator last week noted Houellebecq’s “willingness to speak his mind in an age of stifling literary conformity. This has earned him the predictable epithet of the ‘enfant terrible’ of French literature.”

“In a recent interview with Harper’s Magazine he didn’t shy away from this reputation. Not only did he dare to suggest that Donald Trump was doing a good job, but he then described the EU as ‘a dumb idea that has gradually turned into a bad dream’. Houellebecq is no Anglophile but he admitted that in voting for Brexit, ‘the British had once again shown themselves to be more courageous than us in the face of empire’.”

We might wonder how Napoleon Barnier might like that?

Disenfranchising the Dissident Irish

Political Scientist, Dr. David Thunder has been talking to us again on the real problem in Irish political life: disenfranchisement.

The last disenfranchisement of the Catholic Irish took place with the Act of Settlement in 1701 and subsequent penal acts depriving both them and Protestant Dissenters of all sorts of civil rights. That wrong took well over a hundred years to put right. Indeed, in Northern Ireland the British Government only got around to restoring justice at the end of the last century – about 300 years later. This new marginalization , at whose root again is the issue of conscience and faith, is more subtle and therefore harder to combat. Will they be living in this condition for another 100 years?

This loss of rights and privilege of citizenship for faith is nothing new.

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” (Letter to the Hebrews).

That will be the same path which many doctors, nurses and health workers in Ireland will now also take in the face of abortion legislation which was signed by Ireland’s President last week.

“We have effectively disenfranchised…33% of the population from Irish politics.” On Friday Dr. Thunder discussed how this happened and what we can do about it with Wendy Grace on Spirit FM.

Here is the full 14 mins podcast (you can fastforward to 36:40):


Looking back in anger, looking forward in hope

There is a special poignancy in our Irish Christmas this year. In some way it links aptly with this no less poignant famous picture of Joseph helping Mary and her unborn child along the road to Bethlehem, just over two thousand years ago.

It is Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem, from the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

In it, The Guardian newspaper (believe it or not), tells us that we see Mary and Joseph who are on their way to Bethlehem through a rocky landscape. She has climbed down from the donkey, perhaps afraid of riding down such a perilous, ankle-breaking slope. Joseph, grizzled and weary, is helping her along with all his loving kindness, his actions (rather than her physical appearance) suggesting just how pregnant she is. He is doing everything he can, as husband and prospective new father, to protect his little family from hardship and danger.

In Ireland the unborn have now lost the protection of the State. The fatal decision was made by a majority of the Irish people last May. That they did so, many still find very hard to come to terms with. Legislatures, at one remove from the will of the people, pass laws like this – but that a people should directly ask it legislature to do so is in some way harder to comprehend. But comprehend it we must.

The antiphon to the second Psalm, a substantial portion of which constitutes part of the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah, proclaims:

“His kingdom is a kingdom of all ages, and all kings shall serve and obey him. “

These lines challenge us, challenge our faith in the word of God. When I look around me at our crazy world and my apostate nation, I have the temerity to question these words as so much self-delusion. I’m inclined to say, “Really? Serve and obey? Will they really? You must be joking.”

Credibly enough, the psalmist asks rhetorically, “Quare fremuérunt gentes, et pópuli meditáti sunt inánia?” Why this tumult among nations, among peoples this useless murmuring? Indeed the more direct translation, “thinking up inanities” might be better.

Tumult certainly; useless also; even self-negating – all that self-grandising posturing which we call identity politics, signifying nothing; hang-ups over ‘diversity’ to the point where the world is becoming a new Tower of Babel.

And the political classes, left, right and center? They also fit into this picture, personified by the royalty of a former age:

“They arise, the kings of the earth, princes plot against the Lord and his Anointed. They shout, ‘Come, let us break their fetters, come let us cast off their yoke.’”

There is certainly a great deal of that around. How else are we to interpret the abuse piled on those who dare to defend the rights of medical professionals whose consciences are being trampled on by their own elected representatives? For our “rulers” conscience is now a fetter, a yoke to be cast off.

“Carol Nolan TD (a member of the Irish Parliament) has received a lot vitriol abuse from fellow TD’S for opposing the abortion bill,” we were reminded courtesy of Facebook a few weeks ago.

But then comes an even harder bit for the beleaguered remnants of Israel to take on board.

“He who sits in the heavens”, we are told, “ laughs; the Lord is laughing them to scorn. Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage. It is I who have set up my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”

But where is he, we ask, as the division bell rings in the Irish parliament and “the kings of the earth”, the “princes”, troop to the lobby to pass death sentence on thousands of unborn children? The estimate is that close to 10000 Irish babies will perish next year under the legislation now passing through the two Houses of Parliament – with only a few brave voices offering resistance.

We look around and see a crumbling civilization. I walk through the campus of a famous university; I pick up a student newspaper – free because it is printed with money from taxpayers, in the name of education. What do I find in it? Very little that is not advocating licentious hedonism. Irony of ironies, this university was dedicated to the Most Blessed Trinity over four hundred years ago. If I were an advocate of “safe spaces” for young people I would certainly not be recommending this university campus, my alma mater, as one of them.

But then, in the midst of all these temptations to doubt the sacred texts, we remember the crumbling of Christ’s cohort of followers. Just four are left at the foot of the Cross, while faithful Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus face up to the powers-that-be and prepare to take him down from the gibbet to lay him in the tomb prepared by one of them. That makes six out of all those who, less than a week before, the were hailing him as the Son of David.

Then we hear the psalmist say with utmost confidence:

“I will announce the decree of the Lord: the Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day. Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession.’”

And the reckoning?

“‘With a rod of iron you shall break them, shatter them like a potter’s jar.’ Now, O kings, understand; take warning, rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with awe and trembling, pay him with your homage.

Lest he be angry and you perish; for suddenly his anger will blaze.”

Can all that really be balderdash? No. These words have been sung and believed in for more, much more probably, than three thousand years. They have also been scoffed at by kings, princes and peoples who delude themselves with “useless murmuring”. These words have been at the heart of the Christian transformation of the world foretold in the Old Testament and announced in the New. Strip away all that has come to us from these words and we will be left with a nasty and brutal world dominated by superstition and fatalistic myth, ruled by fools who think they can mold human nature into whatever shape they dream up or desire.

The final line of the psalm proclaims, “Blessed are they who put their trust in the Lord.” So, with those words, all doubt melts away – if trust in the Lord is the condition for Blessedness what more is there to say. If we were to value anything in the world over this then we make ourselves nothing more than useless murmurers and lackeys of the “kings of the earth”.

That trust, that Blessedness, will still be as real three thousand years from now, as real as it is today, as real as it was in the souls of Mary and Joseph as they struggled towards Bethlehem with the unborn child who is the saviour of mankind; and as real as it was three thousand years ago – in spite of the world’s Herods, dictators, pseudo-democrats and all the other varieties of rulers it offers us.

Human flourishing, families and where they live

Location, location, location – a slogan meaning what?

This phrase has been around for a long time. It tells us that what’s around a home remains as important as what’s in the home…

Not true!

Let us make another slogan to help us realise something even more fundamental.

If we want to change the world, to change our society and our culture, to evangelise and re-Christianize it we might think that our politics is where we should begin, or even our Church.

No, it is not – and this is where our new slogan comes in

Family, family, family.

We must think family, we must do family, we must – and this is what falls to all of us and is possible for all of us – help families wherever we can.

Something flagged for me in In First Things this week fleshes out this priority even more.

John Cuddeback argues that a flourishing society starts with flourishing households:

“One can be part of a family without being part of its household. This distinction is important if we are to understand and renew family life…Not long ago, the household was a context of daily life. The arts that provided for the material needs of human life were largely home arts, practiced, developed, and passed on within the four walls, or at least in the immediate ambit of the home. Food, clothing, shelter, as well as nonessential items that gave some embellishment to life, were commonly the fruit of the work of household members, often produced with an eye for beauty as well as utility. This carried into the industrial era. For decades, Singer sold sewing machines to housewives, who bought patterns and made their own clothes. Men built backyard toolsheds. Grandparents put up raspberry jams in Mason jars.

“The household involves more than just work. Porch times, lawn times, and by-the-fire times punctuated the more serious endeavors, and were often occasions of leisurely work, too, such as carving, fine needlework, and other hobbies. Meals called for setting aside work, as of course did prayer. These habits were times of mutual presence. To a great extent, family life meant being with at least some other members of the household for most of the day.

“Recounting these things, once taken for granted, highlights how remote a household is from the home life of today. Even those who intentionally seek to have a “traditional” family life, in fact, often lack the ability to comprehend the reality of a household that is not simply ‘traditional,’ but ancient and profoundly human. They set out to start a family in a virtual vacuum. The husband and father ­usually sallies forth to a remote job, and the wife and mother attempts to manage the day-to-day work of child-rearing—a project the real nature of which is elusive—while wondering what place she too might have ‘out there.’ Intangible pressures on parents and children seem inexorably to draw their attention and their time to activities outside of the home. Junior gets taken to soccer practice. Mom goes to a spin class.

“A renewal of family life will require a renewal of the household, especially as a place of shared work and a center of shared experience and belonging. We are missing out on truly human living because we fail to live together.”

Read the rest.

Terrence Malick and the Passion of Franz Jägerstätter

August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter and Valerie Pachner as Franziska Jägerstätter

Ireland, indeed all countries in the world plagued with errant secularism, is in the throes of a battle over the issue of freedom of conscience for its citizens. Now, the great film director and auteur, Terrence Malick, is about to raise the stakes for the protagonists in this war.

If Robert Bolt and Fred Zinnemann did it for the rights of conscience in the Public Square with A Man For All Seasons in the middle of the last century, Malick is going to do it for our time. While Bolt and Zinneman nuanced their treatment of St. Thomas More’s faith and convictions with an emphasis on human character, Malick’s subject takes the issue to full frontal level on behalf of the law of God.

The Irish secularist parliament is currently passing legislation permitting the termination of pregnancy – which really means the termination of innocent human lives. This legislation was wilfully sanctioned by two thirds of the Irish electorate in a clear Yes and No referendum last May. A suggestion that practising Catholics who ticked Yes on the ballot paper might have something on their consciences afterwards was much mocked in the weeks that followed. If they dare to reflect on the hero of Malick’s new film they may be inclined to mock less. Their decision last May and the legislation now being built on it, will not only terminate lives but will require countless medical professionals – doctors, nurses, hospital staff and more – to cooperate in each of those killings in violation of their consciences.

Malick’s new film, Radegund, chronicles the life of a martyr of the twentieth century who was executed by guillotine in 1943 for refusing to take the life of another and refusing to accept as just, a government which had made unjust and inhumane laws.

The film takes its name from the small Austrian village of Sankt Radegund. It was the birthplace of Franz Jägerstätter, who was executed at Brandenburg Prison in 1943. The choice by Malick of this subject for his tenth film in 45 years is, one might suspect, to round off his exhaustive exploration through all his work of the struggles of men and women on this earth in their pursuit of happiness.

Franz Jägerstätter

Of all his heroes – or anti-heroes – Franz Jägerstätter is the one who by the authority of the Roman Catholic Church can be said definitively to have achieved just that. He was beatified on ‎26 October 2007, Linz, Austria by ‎Pope Benedict.

He was born on 20 May 1907, to his unmarried mother, Rosalia Huber, and to Franz Bachmeier, who was killed during World War I. After the death of his natural father, Rosalia married Heinrich Jägerstätter, who adopted Franz and gave the boy his surname of Jägerstätter in 1917.

Franz received a basic education in his village’s one-room schoolhouse – Radegund still has a population of a little over 500 souls. Rosalia’s father helped with his education and the boy became an avid reader – but not in any way a “saintly” child or teenager. He was the first in his village to own a motorcycle and he flaunted it to great effect – winning the hearts of the local girls, with not very moral consequences.

However, things changed when in 1936 he married a young girl in the village. She was part of the gift of graces which God gave him and which would eventually flower in his martyrdom. They went to Rome for their honeymoon and there a kind of conversion took place under the influence of what he saw in both the city and in his young wife’s simple piety and devotion.

He returned to his small farm – left to them by step-father – and worked as hard as any small farmer must. They had three little daughters and he took on the job as sacristan in the local church to help add to their small income. He now went to Mass and Holy Communion every day that he could. The character and depth of his piety could be sensed from his resolve to refuse the customary offering for his services at funerals. He preferred the merits from the spiritual and corporal works of mercy over any remuneration.

Then came the Nazis, the annexation of Austria by Germany, the Anschluss, and war. In the gathering storm of the mid to late 1930s, while much of Austria was beginning to follow the tide of Nazism, Franz became ever more rooted in his Catholic faith and placed his complete trust in God. He began thinking deeply about obedience to legitimate authority and obedience to God, about mortal life and eternal life and about Jesus’ suffering and Passion.

Franz was in no way political nor part of any resistance movement, but in 1938 he was the only local citizen to vote against the Anschluss, because his conscience prevailed over the path of least resistance.

When war broke out and the Nazi grip on Austria became vice-like, Franz was called up for military service and sworn in on 17 June 1940. His resistance to active service on the field of battle for conscientious reasons was known and for a period and with the help of some officials he managed to serve while still working his farm.

He had, however, by now become convinced that any participation in the war was a serious sin and decided that any future call-up had to be met with his refusal to fight. “It is very sad”, he wrote, “to hear again and again from Catholics that this war waged by Germany is perhaps not so unjust because it will wipe out Bolshevism…. But now a question: what are they fighting in this Country – Bolshevism or the Russian People?

“When our Catholic missionaries went to a pagan country to make them Christians, did they advance with machine guns and bombs in order to convert and improve them?… If adversaries wage war on another nation, they have usually invaded the country not to improve people or even perhaps to give them something, but usually to get something for themselves…. If we were merely fighting Bolshevism, these other things – minerals, oil wells or good farmland – would not be a factor”.

Jägerstätter was at peace with himself despite his witnessing the masses’ capitulation to Hitler. Mesmerized by the National Socialist propaganda machine, many people knelt when Hitler made his entrance into Vienna. Catholic Churches were forced to fly the swastika flag and subjected to other abusive laws.

The Battle of Stalingrad lasted from 23 August 1942 until 2 February 1943. It was the largest confrontation of World War II and decimated the Wehrmacht. The debacle increased demand for soldiers in the field and in February 1943 Franz was called up again for military service. He presented himself at the induction centre on 1 March 1943 and announced his refusal to fight.

He was held in custody at Linz in March and April, transferred to Berlin-Tegel in May and subject to trial on 6 July 1943 when he was condemned to death for sedition. The prison chaplain was struck by the man’s tranquil character. On being offered the New Testament, he replied: “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God”.

After his sentence one last attempt was made to get him to relent – for his protest was an embarrassment even in that murderous regime. His wife and parish priest were brought to the prison to dissuade him. The techniques of persecutors never change. Thomas More faced the same challenge to his faith.

On 9 August, before being executed, Franz wrote: “If I must write… with my hands in chains, I find that much better than if my will were in chains. Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of the Faith and his free will. God gives so much strength that it is possible to bear any suffering…. People worry about the obligations of conscience as they concern my wife and children.

“But I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God”.

Franz Jägerstätter, would not bow his head to evil. No mercy was shown. He was laid on the platform of the guillotine, facing the blade and without a blindfold.

This is the man whom Terence Malick has now chosen to portray for us, a reminder that no matter what the season, as Franz Jägerstätter explained to his interrogators who tried to probe and probe why he was taking the path he had chosen, the grace of God is sufficient for every man and the ultimate cause of his salvation.

Malick, an auteur who probes consciousness and consciences like no other filmmaker of our time, is a worthy successor to his great influences, both of whom left us with masterpieces on the life of an earlier martyr for conscience , Carl Theodor Dreyer with The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and more recently Robert Bresson with The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962).

The film is scheduled for release in Germany before the end of the year. Worldwide release will follow soon after.

Ireland leading the world in conformism and groupthink

In today’s Irish Times we have a reading of what is really behind the latest referendum programmed for its people by the Government there – a destruction of culture and freedom under a specious campaign to give voice to any and every blasphemy.

David Thunder writes:

“Progressive” victories in Ireland have been secured by converting our public square into a training camp in conformism and groupthink that would be the envy of a fascist state.

Read his article here.

Stranger Things and the stench of totalitarianism

Michel de Certeau

In past ages the powers controlling our great institutions of Church and State were much less tolerant of free speech and free interpretations of influential texts in our culture. Censorship was a routine instrument of government. Our freedoms now are more respected. Or are they?

As one cultural critic (Michel de Certeau) has observed, “Today, it is the socio-political mechanisms of the schools, the press or television that isolate the text controlled by the teacher or the producer from its readers.” He died in 1986 so did not live to see or feel the impact of social media as a controlling mechanism for the herding of human beings. Nor did he see the frightening denial of free speech now spreading like cancerous cells under the banner of liberal democracy.

Just think of the controls exercised by the bullying trolls on Twitter – at one end of the scale. Then consider the selective management by the mainstream media of the public narrative on the political and social issues of our time.

A potent example of the former was recounted recently by The New York Times. It was a sad story of the fate of a woman in Missouri who had the temerity to dream of trying to make her beloved Democratic Party a safe place for a pro-life advocate like herself to play a part in her State’s and her Nation’s politics.

Joan Berry, a Democrat from the day she heard John F. Kennedy campaigning in her state back in 1959, this summer successfully secured a clause in her Party’s platform which told pro-life citizens that there was a place for them in their midst. It wasn’t easy but when it went to a vote at a meeting of the State’s Democratic Committee, it passed by 32 votes to 25.

Joan went home from that meeting feeling she had struck a blow for an open society, for democratic politics and for the Party to which she had dedicated her political life. She and her husband went off for a quiet weekend in the country. Then her daughter rang her. “Mom”‘ she said, “You better stay there for awhile. There is uproar on Facebook and Twitter about what you did.” Pro-choice Missouri was outraged and what they were prepared to say and threaten to do to poor Joan – and those 32 members of the Party who went along with her proposal was, well, unprintable.

To cut a long and sad story of one public-spirited elder stateswoman short, the Party Committee was reconvened and promptly rejected Joan’s proposal. Joan Berry hadn’t even asked the Party to reconsider its position on the life issue. She just wanted her Party to be a forum where free speech was tolerated.

Cereau, however, saw an escape hatch for those beleaguered by what is nothing less than the tyrannical forces of dominant and domineering public opinion. He pointed out that “behind the theatrical décor of this new orthodoxy is hidden…the silent, transgressive, ironic or poetic activity of readers (or television viewers) who maintain their reserve in private and without the knowledge of the masters.”

Art to the rescue.

When I first saw Matt and Ross Duffer‘s runaway Netflix success, Stranger Things, last year I wondered if I might not be drawing some consolation of this type from the experience. I wondered if this phenomenally successful piece of entertainment – some will say hokum – might not also be offering all of us an allegory for our time. We live in an era when alien forces baffle us and seem surround us on all sides.

I cannot read the minds of the Duffer brothers. But the truth is that what we read, hear and see in the artifacts of our civilization depends not only on the genius of the creators of those works. It is also often determined by our own experiences and by the power, character and developed state of our own creative imaginations.

What Alice in Wonderland, Animal Farm or Lord of the Rings says to us is not only what their authors’ intended to say but it may also be elaborated and enriched for us by what our own thoughts, sensibilities and experience of life bring to the creative table. We interpret great works of literature not only in the context of the time of their creators. We often, and with great benefit, read and interpret these works in the context of our own times our own problems and our own versions of the human condition.

Part of my fascination with Stranger Things was precisely because it seemed to say more about us, our time and our condition than a great deal of the general fare that is offered to us as entertainment.

In an interview in which the Duffers are asked about what seemed to be the universal truth they were trying to convey in the series, Matt Duffer commented that today “On television there’s been this huge avalanche of shows with antiheroes. A lot of our characters are good-hearted people. And they have a lot of compassion.” His brother Ross added that in Stranger Things, “Even when there’s darkness, people leave the show feeling a bit of hope there.… It’s about these friends that are there for each other no matter what, that there’s this mom (Winona Ryder) that’s there for her son no matter what. And to us there’s something both universal, and hopeful, about that.… That’s where we wanted to go.”

Yes, but I think their story resonates even deeper than that. The darkness he talks about is really dark. Indeed it is as dark as the hell of Paradise Lost or in Tolkien’s land of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. This is the “upside-down world” of the plot, intimately and terrifyingly known to the little girl, “Eleven”, and into which characters stray and in which some lose their lives, others lose their minds and which, throughout the series, encroaches on the real world. Its hidden forces are seeking to infiltrate and possess our world for their own grotesque and malign purposes.

On the surface these are natural forces manipulated by humans. Netflix, in its promotional material, speaks of supernatural powers at work. But in fact what we are shown is the work of vile power-hungry people and their mal-functioning experiments. The preternatural evil may emanate from the Father of Lies but, if it does, it happens like most of the evil in the world – through the medium of mankind.

Back in the 1950s we had the Red Scare. This in its turn spawned the monster of McCarthyism. We look back on that now and see it all as so much paranoia. McCarthyism revolted us and was essentially an instrument as capable of perpetrating injustice as what it railed against.

More effective antidotes of the age were the fables and fictions which countered the threat – ranging from those of Orwell, Huxley and others, to the productions of Hollywood’s own fable-factory – like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. It captures better than any other film the fears of that era. It did not say who the body snatchers were. It did not need to. It played into the real fears of the age.

So, if the Duffer Brothers are warning us about a threat to our civilization wrapped up in a piece of ‘eighties nostalgia with echoes of E.T. and The Goonies, what might it be? I can’t say what it is for them, but I know what it is for me.

The dystopia of Stranger Things may be read as a metaphor for many things: a world wrecked by man-made climate change; a world destroyed by the genetic manipulation of our food supply; a world mirroring that in which Planned Parenthood trades the body parts of human babies it aborts “for the good of humanity”. It may also be a warning that the nonsense of gender ideology and the attempted manipulation of our biological selves are destroying the very essence of our humanity. Take your pick.

In the series we have a compelling juxtaposition of the murdering evil men and women working in a grotesque human engineering facility with the semi-innocent adults and handful of “dungeons and dragons” besotted twelve-year-old kids of a sleepy Midwest town.

Can they be compared with the gullible victims of transgender activism whom we read about – individuals who are seeking reversals of surgical mutilation by professionals in the grip of a gender-bending political ideology? Echoes of all this in Stranger Things are loud and clear.

Let us return to Michel de Certeau.

Joan Berry gets bullied and bludgeoned by the Democratic Party in Missouri because she wants freedom for people to talk about their conviction that unborn children are human beings. Students on campuses around the western world put “no-platform” bans on serious thinkers who question the orthodoxies of our time and even seek the removal of academic staff who do the same. Gender-bending ideologues scream about inequality and repression of individuality when anyone tries to object to their manipulation of human nature to suit their whims.

Speaking truth about our times in plain language can be dangerous. When this becomes the norm in our culture we, thankfully, can turn to works of imagination to search for the truth and to reach a kind of wisdom. Through them we can perhaps talk more meaningfully to each other and come to wisdom more effectively than by any other means. And we can do so with no little joy – until the world once again becomes a safe place in which to speak freely.

I don’t know what creative channel of communication might now be open to pro-life Democrats in Missouri to enable their voices to be heard in the Party again. If they cannot find one then undeniably what is coming from this “upside down world” is an undeniable stench of totalitarianism.

We’re in a dark age where hearts rule minds | Comment | The Times

Max Hastings is worried. So should we all be…

He writes:

Education properly teaches us how to reach conclusions through a measured examination of data. Since the 18th century, intellectual rigour has been acknowledged as a core virtue within western civilisation.Yet a conference was held in London this week under the title The Evidence Initiative, sponsor…

— Read on www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/we-re-in-a-dark-age-where-hearts-rule-minds-5p7gl6g5q

Telling it as it is, how we got here and where we are going – unless we radically change direction

It was a meeting at which anger management was a major challenge. It was a tale of deceit, manipulation and ultimately of collusion and conspiracy.

In front of a packed house in Dublin last night, Maria Steen of The Iona Institute discussed the recent abortion referendum, how it was covered by the Irish media, the legislation that will replace the Eighth Amendment, and the way forward for the pro-life movement in Ireland. An edited version of Maria’s talk follows. The full version can be watched on YouTube here.

She presented her case in three parts.

I am, she began, going to reflect on the referendum, how it was won and its significance. Next, I want to preview some of the legal and political battles ahead, particularly those in relation to conscience rights and finally I will ask the question where to from now on?

Part 1: Reflect on the recent referendum and its significance

How was the referendum won? It was won through an appeal to emotion over reason, to prejudice over weighing the evidence. It was won by “othering” those who are pro-life; by blackening their name and portraying them as heartless, unbending moralists, who were content to see women die.

Let’s look for a moment at the appeal to emotion over reason.

Dealing with the issue of abortion predominantly by reference to individual stories, inevitably feeds into a narrative of “choice”. It does this because it excludes from consideration – or even discussion – that there might be an objective moral standard that killing unborn children is wrong; a standard which exists whether or not people choose to follow it.

So many of these stories involved people saying in effect “abortion was the right choice for me”. Against this narrative, what RTE presented as the counter point – that is to say, a story from someone who chose not to have an abortion – merely supports the implicit idea that everyone should be free to choose what is right for them. That, of course, is the essence of the pro-choice argument. Hence the coverage – even if superficially fair – could not help but favour that side.

Framing the debate in this way was doubly unfair, as not only did it exclude the moral issue – and its legal implications – from consideration, but also it did not truly hear from the other side. There is a personal story that was not heard, and could never be heard – that of the baby.

Part 2: Preview legal and political battles – conscience rights

Let’s preview some of the legal and political battles ahead.


Many of you will already be aware of what it is that the Government is proposing: that a doctor, nurse or midwife will be able to opt out of directly participating in or carrying out an abortion but not other hospital workers who may have an objection to facilitating an abortion – porters, secretaries etc.

Furthermore, as regards doctors who attempt to exercise their freedom to choose to have no part in abortion, they will be forced, in effect, to facilitate it by referring a woman to a doctor who will carry the abortion out. This is an affront to the notion of freedom of conscience and is utterly oppressive.

As I have said before, real oppression subsists not merely in doing unjust things, but in requiring others to participate in doing unjust things. This oppression culminates in forcing people to do things they find morally repugnant against their will. The legislation gives the illusion of respecting conscience, while doing nothing of the sort. It forces everyone to play a part in the system of abortion, thus making it more difficult to apportion blame – when everyone is involved no one is blameless, and therefore no one will complain or try to put a brake on it.

It is also obvious to anyone with eyes that the point of all this is not ease of access – which could be catered for by abortion clinics or an internet list of doctors willing to carry out these “services” – but rather the point is to dissuade anyone who might have a conscientious objection from raising it. The point is to target pro-life doctors, exposing them to opprobrium and financial disaster.

Eventually nobody will object and…the only people left in medicine will be those willing to take an innocent life.

Obliteration of the rights – and status – of unborn children

We pointed out during the referendum campaign that once constitutional protection was removed for children before they are born, their rights – if any – would be subject to the whims of the Oireachtas. We predicted that the status of unborn children would change; they would come to be seen as sub-human or non-persons, whose rights are contingent on the wishes of their mothers – or indeed the opinion of a doctor. We see that already coming true. Since May, Simon Harris has published an updated draft of the Heads of Bill he published in advance of the referendum.

In its definition of viability has been changed to:

the point in a pregnancy at which, in the reasonable opinion of a medical practitioner, the foetus is capable of survival outside the uterus without extraordinary life- sustaining measures”.

What is viability when left to the reasonable opinion of a medical practitioner? What are extraordinary life-sustaining measures? To me, extraordinary life saving measures are what doctors engage in every day in hospitals all over this country.

We can predict where this will go – if left to the opinion of a doctor who is a pro- choice ideologue, it will mean whatever it pleases him to mean – probably up to 30 weeks, maybe more in the case of some children. My own baby was born at 35 weeks and was mechanically ventilated for over a week – undoubtedly an extraordinary life-sustaining measure.

With regard to Heads 5 and 6 of the Bill, there is – again as we pointed out – no gestational limit. This was hotly contested by certain activists on the other side of the debate – and indeed by certain broadcasters, who implied we were lying, and yet there it is in black and white on the Department’s website. Even the Irish Times has acknowledged this in an article in July of this year.

Head 6 deals with what was dishonestly called fatal foetal abnormality during the campaign. Why do I say dishonestly? Because it is not what the government are proposing. There is no requirement that the child actually be terminally ill or have a fatal condition – even if it were possible for a doctor to predict that at all.

All that is required is that there is a likelihood that the child would die. This was never properly debated in the campaign and it seems that Harris is dead set on avoiding any debate on it again. Nevertheless, he has changed the wording from

“condition affecting the foetus that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before birth or shortly after birth”

“a condition affecting the foetus that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before, or within 28 days of, birth”.

And again, as we predicted, that is just for starters, and before the actual wording of the legislation has been tabled.

The tragedy is that there have been certain organisations who purport to represent people with disabilities who are calling for the same – the right to abort disabled babies. You couldn’t make it up. Meanwhile, let me say that there are many parents of children with disabilities and people with disabilities who are disgusted at these organisations for taking the stance they have and playing into the hands of those who are seeking to brand them as unfit to be born, because of the burden they place on their parents.

In fact, a senior consultant obstetrician in the course of the referendum campaign said that scanning was not necessary to date a pregnancy; that she and her colleagues were trained to be able to date pregnancy on clinical examination. This is simply impossible in the first trimester and after the first trimester there is a margin of error of a couple of weeks. Now Peter Boylan says that ultra-sound facilities are essential and that the “consequences of getting it wrong are very serious”.

Now we have seen Dr Peter Boylan’s call for a waiting period of 72 hours – which was relied on heavily by the Government to sell their legislation to the people – should be scrapped as it was “paternalistic”.

Not only is there already a blatant attempt to make access to abortion easier and more widespread, but Minister Harris yesterday promised that it will be free – before it has even reached the Oireachtas for debate. Free abortion in a country in which, if you have a sick child or are suffering from cancer, you have to pay through the nose for essential treatment. They won’t pay to save your child, but they’ll pay to kill your child – strike that – they’ll get us to pay for the killing.

Part 3: Where to next?

How did this awful thing happen? We voted it in. We voted these politicians into power. And that is what we need to reflect on in the future. If Harris’s proposals bother you – and they should – then Fine Gael must be punished in the next election. You may say, “Well, there’s no difference any more between the various political parties”. That is true, but we must start somewhere, and Fine Gael needs to feel it. If you don’t want to see a regime more permissive than that in the UK in operation here, then you must make them feel your displeasure.

It is high time the media were made to feel it too. If you feel not only politically disenfranchised but also culturally disillusioned, then stop buying pro-choice papers, stop subscribing to hostile outlets that hate you. Turn off the radio shows and TV shows that are pro-choice. If enough of us do this, they will have to take note eventually, if only out of self- interest.

And then…. start trying to save lives.

Not just the lives of babies who might otherwise be lost to abortion, but the lives of their parents, siblings, families, and the communities that might just benefit from the talents they have to share. Start earnestly teaching your own children about the value and dignity of every human life so that when their turn comes they will know how to vote, how to act and how to support and love others.

Support others who also believe in the intrinsic worth of every human being – even human beings we don’t like, even those who hate us and would attack us and our way of life. If you’re a Christian, you will know that we all have a common heritage, we are all children of God… even Government ministers. If you’re not, you will nonetheless recognise the importance of treating everyone as deserving the protection of the law against attack, the value of every human life. Without that recognition, we know what will happen. Life becomes cheapened. “Unwanted babies” become disposable before they are born. “Wanted babies” enjoy the protection of the law only in so far as they are the property of their parents. Born babies and human beings at the other end of life will be next. There are many already advocating for euthanasia, both for the very old and the very young – children who missed the abortionist’s implements by chance because their conditions were not diagnosed before birth. How long before they too will have no escape after birth, if they also are seen merely as an unwanted burden?

This is what awaits us. It is depressing. It is tempting to feel terrible – and justified – anger, but as someone reminded me recently the “anger of man worketh not the justice of God” (James 1:20).

Do what you can in your own life, in your own area. Start small. Small efforts are not to be dismissed or scorned, even if you feel overwhelmed by the culture around you.

During the campaign I gave a talk at a gathering. At the end, some people came up to talk to me. One lady came over and thanked me and then paused and said: “Unfortunately, unfortunately… I had an abortion years ago. I thought it was the right thing. But it wasn’t.” She prayed and prayed to be able to cry. Eventually her prayers were answered and she couldn’t stop crying. Through this process and with the help of a priest who had nearly been aborted himself, she found healing. After telling me her story, she said, “You know it only struck me recently, I didn’t just take the life of my baby, I took the lives of generations to come.”

So save one life if you can, and if you save one life, then you will have saved the whole world.

(September 20, 2018)

The Devil you don’t know is the problem

Mainstream media doesn’t talk too much about the Devil. That is probably because they don’t believe much in anything that they can’t see, touch, taste or hear. He is happy enough with that. He is happy so long as they give plenty of publicity to the things he does – or the things which he can get us poor mortals to cooperate with him in doing while he remains in the shadows. The media do plenty of that. In fact, doing it is a fair share of their bread and butter.

But the Pope does talk a good deal about the Devil – and did so again last week. Again, the mainstream media did not pay too much attention. It is a pity – for he was getting close enough to accusing them of cooperating with this great Deceiver.

Vatican News reported that in a homily during his Mass at Casa Santa Marta on 11 September, the Pope told bishops that they seem to be under attack from the devil. He said: “In these times, it seems like the Great Accuser has been unchained and is attacking bishops.”

The pope was not defending the crimes or misdemeanors of anyone. He was indeed saying that what had been done by ministers of Christ’s Church – which Christians believe is Christ’s own Mystical Body – was something far greater than crimes and misdemeanors. They were sins. “Sins”? That’s another word that doesn’t appear very often in mainstream media.

The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s searing account of the 24 hours over which Christ’s arrest, trial and execution took place is, for many, very hard to watch. That is a pity. It teaches a very valuable lesson – showing, as it does, the true consequences of sin. Crimes and misdemeanors are the constructs of human lawmakers and are measured by the offence they give to man. Sin is measured on a scale which transcends the laws of man. It is on a scale which for its atonement required all the sacrifice portrayed in The Passion – and even that did not reach the infinite depth of the terrible thing that sin is.

Crimes against humanity are terrible, but ultimately they are terrible because they are sins – offences to, denials of, the loving, merciful and infinite God. Their origin is always to be found in one source – the one who first denied that God, the “father of lies”, whose burning passion is to make us all follow in his footsteps.

The Pope seemed to be reminding us that the Devil wields a double edged sword – first he gets us to offend God by our despicable and unspeakable acts. Then he gets us to offend him again with the scandal we give to others, causing them to lose their Faith in Him.

Knowing very well the words of Sacred Scripture, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us”, (1. John 1. 8), Pope Francis said in that homily, “True, we are all sinners, we bishops.” But the Devil “tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The Great Accuser, as he is described in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’”.

This is calling it as it is. Remember these words: “it must needs be that scandal comes – but woe to him through whom it comes.” Yes, woe! The great dilemma for any journalist as he confronts wrong-doing in this world, the evil that men do, is how to justly report this and at the same time not do more evil by reporting it. There is no question but that justice often requires the reporting of injustice. But doing so with integrity makes onerous demands on those who choose to carry this responsibility.

If, for you, the Devil is a figment of our the imagination then what the Pope is saying will be a great deal of nonsense. But if Lucifer is part of the real world then these are words which should have been spoken long ago about the nature of the times we live in. The prophets of old spoke words like these to the elites of their time. One third of the meaning and function of the office of the Vicar of Christ on earth is to do the same. As such, he is Priest, Prophet and King. That was the symbolic meaning of the triple crown popes used to wear. The crown may be a thing of the past. The meaning of the office remains what it always was.

Many of the prophets of old were killed for exercising their teaching role – which is what prophesy is all about. Who was behind their killing? Who is behind every martyrdom? Christians have an answer to that question and they know it to be true by virtue of the Faith which they profess.

Evil has never been absent from the world. It never will be absent until the “end days” when it will finally be vanquished. The world recognises evil but does not recognise it for what it is, Evil. Men cooperate in and with Evil but we fool ourselves in thinking that we are the sole agent in the evil actions we perpetrate. We are not.

We might hope that these words of Pope Francis, the Supreme Prophet of our time, will awaken from slumber those who profess to know that the Great Accuser exists but go about their business as though he didn’t. If they read the signs of his existence a little more carefully they might be in a better position to convince those who do not profess a faith in anything – other than their own judgment – that something else is needed to unravel the evils we have to confront.

The best way for bishops to fight the evils around them, he added, is by being men of prayer who remain close to the people, and who have the humility to remember they were chosen by God. He went on to say that prayer is “a bishop’s consolation in difficult times,” because “Jesus is praying for me and for all bishops.”

“Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

Now, even as he spoke these words calling for a spiritual response to the evils the Church has been beset by, the Pope is diving in with hands-on measures to deal with the institutional malaise apparently affecting many of those who administer – and those who have mismanaged – the affairs of the Church. Catholic leaders from around the world will assemble at the Vatican this next February for a summit to finally contend with the global crisis of sexual behavior of clerics. Leaders from each bishops’ conference around the world will convene at the Vatican for an emergency meeting to discuss the Church’s handling of widespread clerical sex abuse of children over the past several decades.

Don’t hold your breath if you are waiting for a similar response from all those other organiszations and institutions – state agencies, media organiszations, sporting organiszations – which have been found to harbour abusers of one kind or another . Their mea culpas are few and far between.

This unprecedented meeting in Rome in February is seen by many as showing that the Vatican is finally treating the sex abuse crisis as a global, not a localised, crisis. Of course it is global; the Great Accuser does not recognisze borders.