Faulty signposts at this intersection

Margaret Hickey writes in MercatorNet:

Margaret Hickey writes in MercatorNet:

Under the Biden Administration, we are going to be hearing a lot about “intersectionality” as an ineluctable dimension of social justice and the American Dream.

Intersectionality is a refinement of identity politics. It is not as complex as it might sound. For instance, being black or female or gay in America is regarded as a distinct identity that implies disadvantage or at least challenges on the path to equality. If someone ticks two or more of those boxes they have an intersectional identity. This means that their challenges and disadvantages are greatly compounded.  

So, intersectionality identifies the overlapping prejudices that people face because of their ethnicity, race, sex, sexuality, disability, etc. In the victim stakes the person with the thickest overlap wins. The more prejudice, the more moral prestige, the greater the claim to affirmative support.

This is going to be important over the next four years, so let’s see how it’s working out.

American Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, who read her poem, The Hill we Climb, at the inauguration of President Biden is a good example of the moral prestige of intersectionality. Amanda spoke of herself as “the skinny black girl, descended from slaves, raised by a single mother” who is now free to dream of becoming President. In those few well-chosen words, she bedded herself securely within the pie chart of intersectional disadvantage.

Read Margaret Hickey’s full article here.

Words, words, words and the good life

Many years ago a responsible figure in the world of Irish education had occasion to issue a strong but measured and carefully worded address on a controversial topic of the day. It was duly reported in a tabloid evening paper. But there was nothing measured or careful about the headline on the story. It went something like this: PROFESSOR SLAMS MINISTER AT CONGRESS.

The professor was amused but not entirely displeased with the attention his mild-mannered words received as a result. He reflected to me afterwards that he was happy to have been able to give The Herald an opportunity to use SLAM again, seemingly its favourite word.

That was then and that was a tabloid paper. Language like that was rarely found – in fact sub-editors would have been merciless with language like that – in what was once called “the quality press”. This is now and evidence of that kind of chronic intemperate language can be found in any number of news media in which we could formerly have hoped to be served with an account of what is happening in the world around us, couched in reasoned language without a topping of exaggerated emotions.

In little more than the space of a few days recently, we were served up the following by respectable news organisations:

– Government plans to reopen schools for pupils with special needs are in chaos amidst a backlash from teachers

– A row broke out over whether the UK had approved the vaccine first because of the freedoms created by Brexit

– Patel slams ‘do-gooding’ celebs for Windrush comparison

– European politicians have mocked Britain’s celebration of its status as the first nation to roll out a vaccine against coronavirus

– Ministers break pledge by slashing £1bn from rail budget

– a backlash from the right is brewing

And so it goes. What an unpleasant world they seem to want us to think we live – in which the only way we can relate to each other is through aggressive behaviour? 

OK, they are only words. Is it that important? Yes it is. Words and the way we use them are important. They both define and help refine our cultural life, our civilisation. They do so because they reflect in some way the virtues by which we conduct our lives – temperance, yes, but also our love of truth, justice and charity. Undermine those things in our culture and we are on a short road to a very bad place.

In the context of our current woes, it is also important. Many are beset with temptations to discouragement, despondency  and even despair. The negativity and pessimism generated by what has been too readily accepted as a media principle of operation, that good news is no news, is simply destructive of the inner peace now in such short supply.

Underlining this, a  cri de coeur  went out recently from Janet Daley writing in The Daily Telegraph complaining that the excessive use of distressing films from the frontline is terrifying already frightened people.

“I had to turn off the television news half a dozen times last week”, she wrote, adding, “which, for a journalist who is obliged to stay on top of events, is quite something. I took this uncharacteristic step because I could not bear to watch, over and over again, the same film reports of appalling distress from hospital intensive care wards, some of them featuring interviews with patients who died after being filmed.

“Presumably, the managers of broadcast news believe that this intrusive, emotionally manipulative programming is serving the national interest. By displaying the reality of the Covid epidemic and its consequences for the NHS, they are convincing those who doubt the seriousness of the situation – or who treat lockdown restrictions with contempt – that they are being criminally irresponsible.

“I am sorry to have to tell all of you who are doing this in good conscience – the producers and the film crews, touring hospitals to make sensational film packages from the front line, perhaps with the encouragement of Government ministers – that the delinquents who organise illegal raves and the indifferent who host big parties ARE NOT WATCHING. They detached themselves long ago from this phenomenon which, for various reasons, they feel has nothing to do with them.”

Every journalist’s perennial ethical challenge is not to succumb to the temptation to gild the lilies in their stories to grab more attention or to steal a march on rival media; not to use the fig leaf of the public’s right to know as a pretext for sensationalising what the public has a right to be informed of; not to shock on the doubtful pretext that shock is needed to get attention. That way lies a kind of addiction to sensation and all addictions are paths to a place beyond reality. If our media take us there they are perpetrating a betrayal of trust beyond falsehood.

Can we not think a little more about virtue? The four virtues to which one would like to see all truth-tellers committed and which should be the hinges on which the work which goes into all media might turn are surely as cardinal for good journalism as they are for the Good Life itself – Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.

A call to arms to resist the counterrevolution

Brendan O’Neill writes in SPIKED:

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

Where do we begin?

Faith in fiction and in fact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wolf in health establishment clothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secular culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospital beds

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

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

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

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

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

6 Miles Davis Albums That Changed Music : NPR

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear John,

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

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

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

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

What actually will I be doing for eternity?  

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

Thanks for all,


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

Dear Peter,  

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

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

See you soon,  


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

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


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

How does that confirm God’s existence?

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

To that the doubters may answer:

The mathematics came first, and the explosion followed.

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

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

What we are in truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desperate but dangerous posturing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something worth looking at

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

OCTOBER 2, 2020

In this issue

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Ivens