Take no part in the words of darkness, but instead expose them…

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A dark alleyway leading nowhere
For the past half-century, the received wisdom among our cultural elites has been that the West is fundamentally bigoted and illegitimate and must be transformed. Melanie Phillips is at it again, taking on these elites and exposing their shallow folly. This woman is indefatigable.

In a superb article in the Jerusalem Post she tells the world that it is eating itself up with contradictions. It does so every time it rubbishes faith and religion because it is cutting the ground from underneath its own feet. By doing so it is putting reason in the same skip.

Among unbelievers, she writes, it is an article of faith that reason, science and modernity are in one box and religion, superstition and obscurantism in another.

Ah yes; the rational, factual, grounded secular world. The one that is currently disinviting speakers and violently attacking universities on the grounds of upholding freedom and equality. The one that is spewing unhinged lies and paranoid distortions at Israel and the Jewish people. The one that appears to be spinning off its axis into utter madness.

Phillips reminds us that this week the Jewish cycle of readings from the five books of Moses begins again in their synagogues. Christians can get into the same boat and identify with everything she reflects on at this turn of the Jewish liturgical year. Christians will begin their cycle with the beginning of Advent in a little more than a month’s time.

The secular world, she reflects, looks on with indifference, bemusement or contempt. The reason for this is something the secular world cannot bring itself to grasp.

The same secular world consigns Christians, the younger brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to the same quaint – but not harmless – category of deluded human beings.

Because the peoples adhering to these traditions are determined to abide by their faith – and in the case of Christians are determined to evangelize, to spread their faith – they are not just harmless delusionals. They are an obstacle to real human progress and must be at least marginalized – if not destroyed.

But the tragic irony of this situation is that the “rationalists” mocking the faithful are leading western civilization on a path of self-destruction.  “For”, as Phillips points out, “in setting out to destroy the biblical basis of western civilization, the secular world is in the process of destroying reason itself.”

Phillips’ reading of how this self-destructive process has been operating is this:

For the past half-century, the received wisdom among our cultural elites has been that the West is fundamentally bigoted and illegitimate and must be transformed. Accordingly, biblical codes embodying objective truth and goodness have been replaced by ideologies such as moral and cultural relativism, materialism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, utilitarianism, feminism, multiculturalism, universalism and environmentalism.

Indeed what she says echoes words of warning of Pope John Paul II at the end of the last century:

(With) the fall of ideologies which bound politics to a totalitarian conception of the world — Marxism being the foremost of these — there is no less grave a danger that the fundamental rights of the human person will be denied and that the religious yearnings which arise in the heart of every human being will be absorbed once again into politics.

This is the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgement of truth impossible. Indeed, “if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism”. (Veritatis Splendor,101)

These movements are all utopian, Phillips asserts. Each in its own way wants to create a new kind of human being and a perfect world. The greens believe they will save the planet. The multiculturalists believe they will excise bigotry from the human heart. The universalists believe they will create the brotherhood of man.

The problem with all these ideologies, she says, is that they are anti-reason.

She is right. The fatal flaw of all these ideologies is that they aim at a utopian perfection and reject the evidence which our reason patently places before our eyes: our fallen nature is of itself incapable of the perfection they dream about. For both the Jew and the Christian that of course is not to say that perfection cannot be attained. “Be you perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” For both these faiths God is real, He is perfect and has promised us redemption.

Phillips traces the hostility of these ideologies to their inherent irrationality:

Moral relativists attack the Mosaic code. Environmentalists attack the (misunderstood) assertion in Genesis that mankind has dominion over the Earth. Materialists attack the belief that there can be anything beyond the universe at all. And so on.

It is no coincidence that these ideologies are both anti-reason and anti-Jew, for Judaism and reason are not in separate boxes at all. The one in fact created the other.

She deconstructs the popular misconception that science and faith are in these “separate boxes”. For the development of science, she argues, monotheism was essential. As the Oxford mathematics professor, John Lennox, puts it: “At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly.”

Science grew from the idea that the universe is rational; and that belief was given to us by Genesis, which set out the revolutionary proposition that the universe had a rational creator. Without such a purposeful intelligence behind it, the universe could not have been rational; there would have been no place for reason in the world, because there would have been no truths or natural laws for reason to uncover.

She then catalogues the great scientists and philosophers, right up to our own time, for whom the idea of science without God was nonsense. They were Jews and Christians.

As we know, not all of them grasped all the implications of the truth which they stumbled on. Many indeed misinterpreted it. But they had one essential clear; God existed and was the author of the universe. Francis Bacon said God had provided us with two books – the book of nature and the Bible – and that to be properly educated one must study both.

Isaac Newton, Descartes, Kepler and Galileo – who said “the laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics,” are all on her list.

As CS Lewis wrote: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

But for her the significant point is that it was not religion in general but the Bible in particular that gave rise to science. She tells us how the Hungarian Benedictine priest Stanley Jaki has shown that in seven great cultures – the Chinese, Hindu, Mayan, Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Arabic – the development of science was truncated. All made discoveries that carried human understanding forward, yet none was able to keep its scientific discoveries going.

Jaki attributes this to two critical features that these cultures had in common: a belief in pantheism and in the cyclical concept of time. Science could proceed only on the basis that the universe is rational and coherent and thus nature behaves in accordance with unchanging laws. It was therefore impossible under pantheism, which ascribed natural events to the whims and caprices of the spirit world.

The other vital factor in the creation of science and modernity was the Bible’s linear concept of time. This means that history is progressive; every event is significant; experience is built upon. Progress was thus made possible by learning more about the laws of the universe and how it works.

Given all this, it comes therefore as no surprise to her that the Jewish people find themselves in the very eye of the civilizational storm. The same can be said for the Christians. For her this new hatred is deeper than the perennial scourge of anti-Semitism, something for which confused Christians in their falleness bear a terrible responsibility over many centuries. This new scourge is, she says, all part of the unfolding story of the modern world turning savagely against the very creed on which it itself is based.

I dare to suggest that in her own way she is admonishing us to beware of the darkness of which that great Jewish Christian, St. Paul, warned the people of Ephesus and Thessalonica, surrounded as they were by the secular pagan culture of his time:

“Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful words of darkness, but instead expose them… Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:8-11, 15-16; cf. 1 Th 5:4-8).

Thank you, Melanie Phillips, for your wisdom and your courage in swimming against this relentless current which threatens to sweep us away in its madness.

In Ireland, David and Goliath meet again

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The forces of so-called progress, namely “progressiveism”, and the forces of reason are mustering on the Island of Ireland. The war has not yet been formally declared. It will be when the Irish Government finally sets a date for a referendum on its Constitution, now due to take place in May or June next year.

Ireland’s progressivists are an embarrassed lot – feeling out of step with their compatriots in the United States, the Island of Britain and the continent of Europe. Among this enlightened elite, poor backward Ireland is still living in the dark ages, continuing “against the tide of History” to regard the child in its mother’s womb as a human being. The international media is keeping up the pressure – hoping that they will see Ireland go from the back of the class right up to the front again, as it did 3 years earlier when it became the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by a popular vote.

It is all shaping up to be the greatest and most unequal contest since David faced Goliath. On one side you have the international forces of the United Nations, assorted NGOs led by a shadowy manipulator masquerading as a philanthropist, George Sorros,  by that betrayed organisation, Amnesty International, whose Irish branch is now totally dedicated to the cause of abortion – and about ninety percent of the national media. On the other side you have a very committed but numerically limited and terribly underfunded platoon of pro-life action groups defending the unborn.

Pope Francis is expected to visit Ireland in August next year. The clever progressives in the Irish Government have been very careful to ensure that he was not going to get a platform to speak his mind on the issue in any way that would have a serious impact on the result. For that reason the referendum will take place in the first half of 2018. They have no such reservations about letting the un-elected United Nations quangos have their say on the matter.

But the pro-life workers know the story of David and Goliath. They also know that in their sling they have a small still voice more powerful than anything this Goliath can throw at them and the unborn. They have the truth, the truth about our nature and about our humanity. They feel that if they can tell the story of life then the deception of abortion will be exposed – along with the untruth that choice and freedom are synonymous. All this, they hope, will be seen by the people of Ireland to be the lie that it is.

“Only the freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his true good. The good of the person is to be in the Truth and to do the Truth”.

The denial of the truth inherent in the pro-choice ideology, a denial made in the face of human nature and science, enslaves its adherents – even as they demand their false autonomy.

That quote above is from Saint John Paul’s Veritatis Splendor.  It speaks not just to the Christian but to all mankind.

He also spells out, in the same magna carta on behalf of Truth, the reasons for the cul-de-sac into which progressivism has led us, and it’s dire consequences.

“This essential bond between Truth, the Good and Freedom has been largely lost sight of by present-day culture… Pilate’s question: “What is truth” reflects the distressing perplexity of a man who often no longer knows who he is, whence he comes and where he is going. Hence we not infrequently witness the fearful plunging of the human person into situations of gradual self- destruction. According to some, it appears that one no longer need acknowledge the enduring absoluteness of any moral value. All around us we encounter contempt for human life after conception and before birth; the ongoing violation of basic rights of the person; the unjust destruction of goods minimally necessary for a human life. Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation. The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil.”

So let the battle be engaged. Nine months – the likely span of time between now and this crucial moment of truth for the Irish people, and indeed the watching world, is a symbolic duration. The great art historian, Kenneth Clark, from the precipice of Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry, long before Star Wars arrived there, once spoke of Western civilization hanging by its fingernails from those rocks. Perhaps history will repeat itself.

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Sleepwalking over a precipice?

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Dreaming dreams is one thing. Living in them is another. Visions of our future do not have a great history. A much better pathway to the future is along the trajectory on which our history has already put us. The Irishman’s advice to the straying traveler who is looking for directions, “If  I was you Sir, I wouldn’t start from here at all,” is about as practical as most visionary Geo-political pursuits are. Martin Luther King had a dream. It was a noble vision, and while it brought African Americans some way along the freedom road, it has left in its wake more disappointment than achievement. The quality of life he dreamed of for his people is still just that, a dream.

The European Union is built on a dream. It is a dream which was also generated by an admirable ideal – peace among men and an end to war. But with each decade that passes, as the project stumbles from crisis to crisis, the warning signs are more and more evident that the visionary foundations of its structure are illusory and woefully inadequate for the gigantic and cumbersome edifice it dreams of becoming.

The cultural differences between the peoples of Britain and continental Europe are at the heart of Brexit. Rooted as they are in “the Anglo-Saxon way” and pragmatic as they have always been, the British majority have called time on the European dream. They are pursuing their democraticly and constitutionally exercised decision with characteristic doggedness – despite the scorn of their neighbours across the Irish Sea and the English Channel.

And yet, in spite the sinister rumblings of regional nationalism in Spain, the signals of discontent coming from Poland and Hungary, the sizable minorities in France, Netherlands and Austria, all unhappy with a perceived overreach by the patronizing bureaucracy of this visionary Union, its leadership persists in proclaiming its ideology of the Communion of all Europe’s people. Just now it is Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, and Emmanuel Marcon, France’s new President, are the latest victims of European myopia.

Back in 2013 it was José Manuel Barroso, then the President of the Commission, when he gave a speech calling for a “new narrative” for Europe. But it wasn’t really a new narrative, it was really a call for the great and the good of the Union to step up to the plate and proclaim the ideal again for the generation of the new millennium. He just wanted to use the old wineskin of the Union into which he would put some newly fermented wine. We have been warned about what that can lead to.

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José Manuel Barroso
Anne Applebaum, in a survey of a recent batch of books on the predicament of Europe in the New York Review of Books, recalls this speech.

Barroso, she writes—like many, many others—saw which way the wind was blowing even then. Europe’s leaders seemed technocratic and remote—and they knew it. Europe’s political institutions were unpopular. The euro crisis had left numerous people angry and resentful. Worse, younger Europeans seemed not to get the point of the union at all. Barroso made a proposal:

I think we need, in the beginning of the XXI century, namely for the new generation that is not so much identified with this narrative of Europe, to continue to tell the story of Europe. Like a book: it cannot only stay in the first pages, even if the first pages were extremely beautiful. We have to continue our narrative, continue to write the book of the present and of the future. This is why we need a new narrative for Europe.

Barosso’s initiative recruited artists, writers, and scientists from across the continent who signed a declaration: “In light of the current global trends, the values of human dignity and democracy must be reaffirmed.” A book was published, The Mind and Body of Europe: A New Narrative. Debates and dialogues were held throughout the continent and the objective was to create a strong sense of European federal identity.

But this is precisely how dreamers – we call them idealists when we think we like them – work and get political life wrong. Real practical politics grows out of real life, not out of dreamed up grandiose schemes.

Applebaum writes that while it’s easy for Anglo-Saxons to laugh, many modern European states were created by precisely this kind of top-down campaign—”think of the unification of Italy or Germany in the nineteenth century, or the resurrection of Poland after World War I.”

They were, and they were not. In all those cases there was a bottom up force at work as well as a top down design. This has never really been true for Europe. Even the United States of America, which might be the closest model on which the European Union could base itself, would be a very false template to use. The United States was forged out of living political realities – an over-reaching and uncomprehending imperial authority – and a subsequent immigrant colonisation with which the new Republic had great trouble controlling. It was unable to hold itself together without creating rivers of blood among the indigenous people and the sacrifice of 750,000 lives in a civil war which is still reverberating under the surface.

And as Barosso found out, dreamt-up intellectual projects without roots in the native soil did not work for his “new narrative”. While Barroso’s project had some of the elements, Applebaum observes, of a popular national movement: intellectual and artistic support, a consistent idea, an inspiring concept, it was not popular and it died the death of most dreams.

In her reading of the books she reviews Applebaum detects no more agreement between them than was evident among the great and good that Barosso vainly tried to enlist to the cause of Europe.

With a little glimmer of the light which Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, aka, Joseph Ratzinger, shed on this subject she notes that the problem isn’t one of national differences. The issues that separate the authors she reviews “are temperamental, ideological, and even, one might say, eschatological.” And there’s the rub. The heart has gone out of Europe. The only coherent identity which Europe ever had as an entity has been abandoned.

In Values in a Time of Upheaval: Meeting the Challenges of the Future, Ratzinger noted how

At the beginning of the 1960s it was still possible for Arnold Toynbee to express his optimism about the victory of European culture. He wrote that of the twenty-eight cultures that had been identified (around the planet), eighteen were already dead; and of the ten that still existed, nine had already visibly collapsed, so that only one—ours, the European—remained. Who would dare to say that today? And what is “our” culture, which allegedly still remains? Is the civilization of technology and commerce that has spread victoriously throughout the world our “European culture”?

Now, he says, in the very hour of its most extreme “success”, Europe seems to have become empty from within. Its life seems threatened by a crisis of circulation, and it almost seems to need a transfusion of blood—but that would destroy its own identity. In keeping with this dying of the elemental forces that expressed the soul, the reduced number of births makes one suspect that Europe is also dying out in ethnic terms.

Even in the 1960s Toynbee conceded that the “Western world” was in a crisis. He identified roots of that crisis in the falling away from religion to embrace a cult of technology, of the nation, and of militarism. Ultimately, Ratzinger reminds us, Toynbee identified the crisis as secularism. “But if we can name the cause of the crisis, we can also indicate the path to healing: the religious element must be reintroduced. Toynbee holds that this element includes the religious patrimony of all cultures, but especially what remains of Western Christianity.”

Ratzinger talks of the collapse of Communism and implies that this brought with it a kind of false dawn of a new age. For him the real catastrophe that the Communist regimes left behind was not economic, it was the devastation of souls, the destruction of moral consciousness. He holds that the fundamental contemporary problem for Europe and for the world is the almost total silence about the moral and religious problems that were the real heart of the Communist aberration.

Christian ideals are real ideals, not dreams. They are the very stuff of life and death, of human conception, birth, living with our feet on the ground but with our heads, through the medium of body and soul, in Heaven. This was part of the original inspiration of the practical political men who set the European Union on its path. This has been wilfully abandoned.

As Ratzinger puts it: The initial enthusiasm for a return to the great constant elements of the Christian heritage soon evaporated, and European unification proceeded almost exclusively from the economic perspective. Scant attention was paid to the question of the intellectual foundations of such a community.

Applebaum concludes her assessment of our prospects recalling an observation by a
European diplomat of her acquaintance who likes to compare Europe and the US to the Western and Eastern halves of the old Roman Empire. The West imploded, with drama, violence and crazy Caesars; the Byzantine East lingered on, bureaucratic, stodgy, and predictable, for many centuries. It’s not exactly an optimistic precedent for Europeans, but it’s a comforting one.

It might be comforting until we remember the ultimate fate of that stodgy old empire. It was overrun by Islam. The book which Applebaum does not include in her review is Douglas Murray’s best-selling The Strange Death of Europe, published in May. She might have done and had she it might have shattered any comfort her diplomat friend was seeking to convey to us.

Our European masters may not be just dreaming. They may be sleepwalking and leading us over a precipice.

Mission impossible?

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Here…”early one spring morning…”

Some encouraging words for Christians who might be feeling beleagured just now by the forces which they might feel are ranged up against them in the world at large – either in hi-jacked democratic institutions or in a full-scale onslaught on life and limb.

“Mission impossible: No other expression can summarize the command given to a small group of people on the Mount of Olives, early one spring morning at the dawn of the Christian era: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth’ (Acts: 8). Christ’s last words had all the appearance of insanity. Neither rich nor learned nor influential, how were those simple people
from this lost corner of the Roman empire supposed to carry to the whole world the message of a recently executed man?

“Within the span of three hundred years, a large part of the Roman world had converted to the Christian way of life. The doctrine of the Crucified had conquered the persecutions of the powerful, the contempt of the learned, and the hedonist’s resistance to moral demands. Christianity is today the world’s greatest spiritual force. Only God’s grace can explain it. But his grace has worked through men and women who lived up to the mission they received.”

Blessed Alvaro del Portillo

The delusions of twenty-first century man

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This…

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…or this?
There is no harm in being afraid of the Devil – except in one sense. The sense in which people are afraid to be heard talking about him, lest they be thought of as some kind of medieval freak.

Cardinal Robert Sarah engaged in debate recently with Fr. James Martin S.J. on the issue of the latter’s alleged soft-peddling of Catholic teaching on sexual morality. In an article in America about the differences between the two men, it is noted, not approvingly, that Cardinal Sarah is on record saying that homosexuality and radical Islam are two major threats to the family and are “demonic”. The cardinal’s position on the first issue – as is that of any Catholic in tune with their Church’s teaching – is as he puts it in his Wall Street Journal op-ed article with which Martin takes issue.

In that article the cardinal said that while experiencing attraction to people of the same sex is not in itself sinful, same-sex relations are “gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them”.

“People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the church about this complex and difficult topic,” Cardinal Sarah added.

He went on to praise the example Catholics who experience same-sex attraction but live according to Church teaching, citing Daniel Mattson and his book “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace.”

“These men and women testify to the power of grace, the nobility and resilience of the human heart, and the truth of the church’s teaching on homosexuality,” the cardinal said.

Reactions to any judgement by Sarah that  “the father of lies” is responsible for the state we are in and the threat we face will broadly fit into two types. Someone who believes that the Devil is an existing creature, going about like a raging lion seeking whom he may devour – as St. Peter described him – will sit down and think seriously about the implications of the statement. Is it some fictive narrative or is it a fact – as Sarah maintains it is? If a fact, what are its implications? If not, how should they argue their case against it?

Someone for whom “demonic” is just one more term of abuse, with its origins in superstition, the response will be different. For that person this is an outrageous label, the only effect of which is to make other people distrust, fear and probably hate what it has been pinned on. If those in this position have no interest in trying to understand what someone like Sarah believes to be the actual conditions of the real world, then they can only respond to him by abusing him in turn – or just ignoring him as a deluded freak.

We have here a radical cultural and religious divide of the most fundamental and dangerous kind.

Denis Donoghue, Ireland’s greatest gift to the world of literary criticism, touches what may be the root of this chasm in one of his books. It is in a passing observation in the context of a wider theme but it speaks to our current discontents.

Interpretations of Milton’s Paradise Lost still divide literary critics. But one of them in particular seems to put us on a track which has a great deal to do with our fear – or lack of it – of the Devil. This is the one which reads Satan as the hero of the poem. For Donoghue this is a false reading but one, nonetheless, which has seeped into our literary culture with perverse consequences. Beguiled by this false reading, a reading in which Satan is just another metaphor for our conflicted tragic selves, they deny the existence of the real spirit which others know to be the ultimate source of all human misery.

The corrupting consequence of this false reading is that, paraphrasing Donoghue, we read the world under the sign of Satan-as-tragic-hero in Paradise Lost. In doing so we miss, in a sense, the woods for the trees – the woods being Devil himself, the trees just being his beguiling works and pomps. Donoghue comments on the misreading as follows:

Some critics find the thrill of Satan’s eloquence exemplified again in Byron’s Cain. The particular moment of satanism that is found irresistible comes in Book V of Paradise Lost when Satan, who has evidently been reading Stevens, rounds upon Abdiel, who has been insisting that Christ was God’s agent in the Creation. As always, Satan is a spoiled brat:

That we were formed then say’st thou? and the work
Of secondary hands, by task transferred
From Father to his Son? Strange point and new!
Doctrine which we would know whence learnt: who saw
When this creation was? Remember’st thou
Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being?
We know no time when we were not as now;
Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised
By our own quick’ning power, when fatal course
Had circled his full orb, the birth mature
Of this our native heav’n, ethereal sons
Our puissance is our own.

Satan’s claim to have begotten himself is nonsense. Adam deals with it adequately and silently when he tells of his own birth and addresses the sun:

Tell, if ye saw, how came I thus, how here?

Not of myself; by some great Maker then,

In goodness and in power preeminent.”

 

But Blake, Hazlitt, and a formidable rout of critics have sent themselves into an altitudo of eloquence under the sway of Satan’s vanity. Harold Bloom is the most susceptible of these critics, and in Ruin the Sacred Truths and The Western Canon he quotes Satan’s boast as if it should be taken seriously. Bloom and his associates in this line of interpretation are the bad angels of criticism, exhibiting their own forms of angelism, the desire to transcend the human scale of experience in a rage for essence. They want to be rid of the world of fact, the opaque burdens of history and society, and to fly upon wings of their own devising. As critics, they thrive on weightlessness.

 

“Our puissance is our own.” Now what does all that remind you of? Man as the measure of all things. Man, who can be the architect of his own nature and essence. Man, made in the image of himself and capable of moulding that image in whatever way he wants. Man the Satanic Angel.

The error of these critics – apart from their misinterpretation of Milton’s own Faith – is also the great error of our age. The denial of the reality that is the Devil leaves us all at sea with the problem of evil. It also drains the concept of sin of all its meaning, giving it a meaning which makes nonsense of our sense of injustice and of the need for salvation – for we know neither that which we need to be saved from nor that which we are saved for. Without this knowledge we have not a hope in Hell of understanding what the problem is with Islamic fundamentalism, with the abuse of our sexual nature – nor any basis on which to build the foundations for a moral life. Without this we flounder in a sea  of relativism and our feeble efforts to be just more often than not end up perpetuating injustice. The delusions of Satan in Paradise Lost – in the passage quoted – are the delusions of “liberated” 21st century man.

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Back to the future… or the end of the road?

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Can it really be this bad?
A British Conservative government minister, Justine Greening, says that gender is virtually meaningless by proposing to let adults come in off the street and change it at will. “Pronoun Committees” on campus warn, “If you fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.” Does anyone hear an echo, “Committee of Public Safety”? From there it was but a short step to the guillotine. Mozzilla’s CEO was removed from the company he founded because he privately supported traditional marriage – and that was also disrespectful, hurtful and oppressive. It certainly was for him – but that didn’t matter. A Google engineer is the latest casualty of the thought police because he expressed an opinion of doubtful orthodoxy.

This is just a very small sample from a long catalogue of seemingly mad events which are taking place around us. But they are not mad. They are the result of a cold, calculated dogma that has pervaded our culture. We are, in truth, not a million miles, not even a few hundred miles from the nightmare of Stalinist Russia, where to write an opera (Prokofiev), compose a symphony (Shostakovich) or pen a novel (Pasternak) which was out of synch with the ideology of the State would reduce your career to ashes and even endanger your very life.

Is there anyone out there prepared to defend mankind from this self-destructive ideology? Yes there is, perhaps too timidly yet, but the principles are sound and if this onslaught of injustice persists then surely the perennial voice of reason will be heard loud and clear.

For seventy-plus years Marxism was a political force in the Soviet Union, backed up by a lethal totalitarian state. In that time the one enemy which it constantly singled out for annihilation was the Christian religion. Wherever Christians were found the grotesque regime’s apparatus  first sought to corrupt them. Failing that it sought to crush them. After soviet Russia led the way a handful of Eastern European followed under its tutelage – or its tanks. China and some Asian countries then joined the monstrous regiment and in the fifties and sixties of the last century the ideology made a largely unsuccessful attempt to subvert Latin America.

Eventually, bearing within itself the seeds of its own destruction, the states which embraced it began to crumble and fall. But to the very end Christianity remained its perpetual enemy and number one target for persecution and extermination. Even in the last decade of its hegemony it sought to assassinate – and almost succeeded – the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

Why was this so? Why should the followers of a peace-loving prophet from 2000 years ago be such a threat to what at first sight might be described as just one more attempt to solve the problems mankind faces in organising this world to meet the daily needs of its inhabitants?

It was so because the vision of humanity held by the followers of Jesus Christ, based on the belief and understanding that this God-man in fact created the world and all that is in it, is radically at odds with that of Karl Marx, his antecedents and his disciples. The essential contradictions inherent in the Marxist vision of man, its utterly flawed anthropology, eventually killed it – but not before it left tens of millions dead in its wake. These contradictions, these flaws, were called out and opposed by authentic Christianity from the moment they first made their appearance. For that reason Christians became the constant and number one enemy and Marxists had to corrupt them or wipe them off the face of the earth. Despite pretences to the contrary, peaceful co-existence for a thorough and clear-sighted Marxist was never going to be an option with this enemy in full bloom.

We may feel relieved that this form of Marxism, while not extinct, is now largely moribund. That would be naive. Marxism itself is still with us in an even more insidious form, currently seeking to corrupt but increasingly looking like reverting to its crushing mode once again. Because it is no longer a unified ideology it is even more dangerous and pervasive. Its new suit of clothes was acquired from what we call the Frankfurt School. Here, already divining the self-destructive excesses of Soviet Communism in the 1930s, adherents of the basic core of Marx’s materialistic determinism articulated a “new improved model” which we now call neo-Marxism. This new manifestation of Marxism, often not even calling itself Marxism, again sees itself confronted with the same enemy – the Christians.

The core materialism which was at the heart of Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto is also at the heart of this new Marxism. This is the central error of the ideology which Christians must of necessity oppose. It must set its face against it because it is an error which denies the central truths of man’s nature and essence. From this central error springs a series of maladies which are now afflicting Western society and which in time will also spread to every other cultural environment on the planet: from it springs gross consumerism; rampant individualism of the “me, me, me” variety – proclaiming absolute freedom which is no freedom at all. From it also flows the scourge of gender ideology and all that it spawns; finally, the ideology which proclaims the right to destroy human life before birth and force its termination before its natural end.

But making a stand against the materialistic ideology of our time is to rule you out as a candidate for public service. We remember the rejection by the European parliament of Rocco Buttiglione. They haven’t gone away, you know. Governor Sam Brownback has been nominated by the President of America to join his administration as an ambassador for religious freedom. The so-called Human Rights Campaign, beloved of Barak Obama and the Clintons, which says Christian ministers should be forced to not only publicly approve of homosexuality but endorse it officially with God’s blessing, is outraged.  They are outraged because Gov. Brownback has defended the rights of Christian and other religious student groups to have membership standards consistent with the group’s religious affiliation. For them, to require members of Christian groups to believe Christ’s teaching amounts to promoting “hateful discrimination”. Most hateful of all of course is the fact that, as governor, Brownback supported Reality Birth Certificates that note biological sex. They consider biological reality and genetic science to be a “deadly” prejudice and an attack on one’s true “identity,” which for them is oh-so-solidly and rationally based on feelings and one’s current whim. Cue Justine Greening.

The warning signs are there that a new hegemony of this ideology is already with us. We can now see a new era of materialistic ideology slowly – or maybe not so slowly – gaining ground in the political square, in the halls of learning and in the schools where it is being inculcated in our children.

Last week, Campus Reform reported a lecturer at the University of Michigan advocating the “retraining of preschool children to make them less heteronormative.” Defining “heteronormativity” as a culture in which “heterosexuality is always assumed, expected, ordinary, and privileged,” she argues that the issue is especially important because preschools contribute to the “reproduction of inequalities pertaining to gender and sexuality,” such as gender roles and “gendered feelings”.

Furthermore, this new materialism is now being voluntarily adopted lock stock and barrel by political establishments in state after state around the world. They euphemistically call it “evolution in their thinking”; they call it getting in step with history; what they fail to do is call it what it really is: indoctrination in an ideology which is errant nonsense.

An example of the consequences: working within the laws which our indoctrinated legislators have put in place for our common good, we were told last week that a man has given birth to a baby. We negate the judgement of our sense and the principles of biological science when we call a woman a man. This is the “progress” of progressivism. In a similar case in Sweden, a woman manages to grow a beard and calls herself a man. She then gets pregnant by a man who thinks he is a woman and between them they have two children. These children in their turn are deliberately not being told what they are, boy or girl. They will decide for themselves. The truth is they won’t. They will be what they are and that is it.

The probability is that by writing this I am breaking a law. What law it is or in what country I might be prosecuted I do not know for sure. But I suspect that that some law brands me as a “hate-criminal” and  I am sure that the time is not far distant when the law will catch up with people who point out the folly and injustice of these ideas. Since breaking laws incurs punishments they will be punished.

Do I exaggerate? No. The esteemed University of West Virginia has warned its staff and students that referring to someone by the “wrong” gender pronoun is a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. In a totally different jurisdiction, Dr. Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor in the University of Toronto, refused to adhere to the university’s policies on pronouns, requiring him to refer to students  as “ve”,”ver” or “vis”. He was threatened with legal action.

From the time of Adam man has known sin. Human history gives an account  of how we cope with the consequences of our malice and our weaknesses. It is often a sad story, it is can be salutary, it is sometimes heroic. But this is a different sin. Until modern times mankind’s understanding of our wrong turnings have been, in a sense, within the parameters of our own nature. The Judaeo-Christian response to those wrong turnings was corrective and didactic. We often resisted correction and were slow learners – but seldom if ever did we reject them on the basis of their being unnatural, alien, or foreign to what was deemed to be the very nature of the species. That, with Marxism, has all changed. The Judaeo-Christian vision of man and the Marxist vision of man are now radically and fatally at variance. Mankind is now engaged in a fight to the death. If Marxism is victorious in that conflict then mankind is doomed to self-destruct. We are very near the Gates of Hell – but Christians do have a promise about that.

A call to Ireland to take a stand against genocide

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The Irish Government will be called on this evening to formally recognise as genocide the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities at the hands of ISIS. John Pontifex, Head of Press and Information at Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) UK, a leading campaigner on behalf of the rights of persecuted Christians, will make the call at a talk he is giving on the topic tonight in Dublin.

He has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Syria, visiting Christians and others in Homs, Damascus and rural districts plagued by violence, persecution and extreme poverty. In his work with ACN, he has visited Iraq as well as other parts of the Middle East, Pakistan, China, Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.

“On trips to Syria and Iraq” he said today, “I have seen with my own eyes the churches that have been repeatedly desecrated by Islamic State, I have met the people driven from their homes and I have also spoken to those who have been kidnapped, their lives threatened. The evidence makes plain the intent of the persecutors to flush out individual sections of society; that is why the Irish government should join with others in recognising the actions in question as genocide according to the definition given under the UN Convention on Genocide. Nor is this genocide only against Christians; it recognises Yazidis and Shiite Muslims as victims too.”

The US House of Representatives recently voted by 373 votes to nil to recognise as genocide what is happening to religious minorities at the hands of ISIS. The European Parliament voted in favour of a similar resolution late last year.

The talk in Dublin takes place tonight at 8pm and is entitled ‘Genocide: how Christians are being killed and driven out of the Middle East for their faith’. It is being jointly hosted by Aid to the Church in Need Ireland and The Iona Institute. It is will chaired by historian and political activist, Dr Martin Mansergh. It takes places in the Alexander hotel, Dublin 2. Admission is free.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed

A few hours ago Professor Robert George of Princeton posted this on his Facebook page.

The Descent into Gomorrah. First, please, somebody tell me that the interview in New York Magazine entitled “What It’s Like to Date a Horse” is a fake or some sort of spoof. Second, I will not post it here, because it is too disturbing. I urge friends not to read it unless you have a very, very, very strong stomach. I mention it, reluctantly, only to show that anyone who thought we had already reached the bottom of the slippery slope is mistaken. The descent into Gomorrah continues. I believe it can be reversed, but not simply stopped. “This far and no farther,” is not an option. “He who says A, says B.” Once a set of premises is adopted or endorsed, logic carries one to certain conclusions. One may have a subjective wish (rooted in an aversion, or preference, or lack of interest, or whatever) to where the logic of a position takes one, but a wish (or an aversion, or a preference) is not a principle.

Without a doubt, “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”. This comes into view on the day after we hear on Irish television news that “vandals” climbed to the top of Ireland’s highest mountain with a petrol powered con saw and cut down the five metre steel cross which has be there for nearly 50 years. The worst are full of passionate intensity.

Sergeant Dermot O’Connell of Killarney Garda station is appealing for witnesses, in particular “the last person who saw the cross standing” to come forward.

“We are treating this as criminal damage,” Sgt O’Connell said.

We know that this is much deeper than that. This is one more assault by the secular jihad, those to whose hedonism the Cross is the last remaining challenge. This is the secularist beast, slouching towards Bethlehem, already born.

Believe it or not, there is one good thing about Sin City

Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City 2 has been a commercial and a critical flop. That, probably, is no bad thing. It brings Frank Miller’s noir-ish, ultra-violent graphic novels to the big screen for a second time. The first Sin City was a huge box-office hit; now, nine years on, we must  roll up our sleeves, snap on our suspender belts, and return to that titillating place of permanent midnight, where men are men and women are mostly prostitutes, said Kevin Maher in The (London) Times. For another critic, what kills it is its repetitive and unengaging plot. For a film that tries very hard to shock with its “cartoonish sex and violence”, Sin City 2 is remarkably “dull”, and endurance test, he said.

But at least it has one good thing going for it, even if it is only its lurid billboard advertising we see. It is a reminder to us of what we like to forget. Sin is behovely, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well – but only so long as we don’t forget that sin exists.

The world is divided by sin – not between sinners and non-sinners. We are all, each in our own way, sinners. The great divide now is between those who know that sin exists and those who deny its existence. Sin is behovely because the sense of sin is an essential part of our living the good life. It is nothing less than our sense of reality, part of our sense of the existence of God.

It is the modern age’s defining characteristic that it has lost the sense of sin – and it has lost this because it has lost its sense of reality, its sense of God. In little more than one generation – my generation – the rot began in earnest. It was there before, indeed the history of thought shows that it was always there, but in embryonic form. It has had a long gestation but with its birth we have been presented with a true monster.

I know parents of my generation, good people who firmly believe in God and who practice their religion devoutly and publicly. Their children, now adults, are also good people and a credit to their parents, their country. They have all the refinements – kindness, generosity, a sense of responsibility –  engendered in them by the civilization we have the privilege of being part of. But there is a difference between them and their parents. They do not believe.

Does it matter? Will they be any less good, kind, generous and responsible than their parents for all that? Possibly not. Indeed, by all accounts they may be more so. Their parents were good parents and gave them the milk on which they were nurtured, milk filled with the vitamins of their own faith and vision of man’s origin and destiny. But the one thing which many in this generation did not take from that nourishing milk was faith and a belief in God, their creator. The milk with which they nourished their own children in some way failed to be transmitted – on a scale not seen between any two generations in recorded history. If this is an exaggeration please cite chapter and verse to disprove it. Nor is it an exaggeration to predict some dire consequences of this failure.

No society that we know of in history has had the kind of flourishing which the societies marked by Christian civilization have had. It is in these societies and in this civilization that our ideas of the qualities of justice, equality, kindness, mercy and a sense of the unique value of a human life have evolved. They have evolved out of a living source, even when the reality of that source itself has been doubted. That source is the Judaeo-Christian religion.

The big question however, is how long can this flourshing last beyond the outright rejection of the source from which it springs. The result of the cultural chasm which has now opened up in the West is the unravelling of the entire fabric of societities founded on those values. What we call the “triumph of the West” is under threat. It is under threat  because its source and the ultimate vision which sustained it seems to have died in the minds hearts of those who have inherited it.

Has any civilization in history outlasted the force which gave it life? In the majority of cases those forces were undoubtedly physical and brutal. Walter Benjamin observed that there is “no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” He is right in most cases but to lay this charge against Christian civilization is to ignore what is at the heart of this culture. Where brutality and barbarism accompanied the spread of Christian civilization it did so in contravention of its very essence. Invariably the barbarisms which afflicted Christian societies were eventually tamed by the beauty and power the Christian message, leaving us with the jewels we have in expressions of faith –  in art, music and literature –  and flowing out from those, the treasures of human expression in all those forms as well.

Will all this now survive the loss of faith, the loss of vision which was at their heart? The signs are not propitious. Art has become banal at best – think of those sickening banners we see hanging in churches – and at worst, nihilistic. Music, for the most part, has become incomprehensible and is a weak caricature of what it was. Literature, for the most part, speaks of little more than destruction, pessimism and death without redemption – when it is not wallowing in lust which it tries to pass off as love.

If these artefacts are the manifestations of contemporary civilization, what does it augur for the future human agents who will live, breathe and look for nourishment in that civilization?  What happens when those who look out from within a culture see nothing beyond the vision presented in these artefacts? Do we really think that the human spirit can flourish in this desert? Will each generation which follows the last not slide further and further into the abyss, as the residue of goodness which they have inherited becomes fainter and fainter?

If the vision of reality contained in these words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, written nearly 2000 years ago, shortly after the dawn of Christianity, is now not just ignored but vehemently denied and its adherents persecuted for believing it, the consequences cannot but be other than apocalyptic.

 It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor anyone else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these beings, in order to the accomplishing of what he had himself determined with himself beforehand should be done, as if he did not possess his own hands!

 For with him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit by whom and in whom, freely, he made all things, to whom also he speaks, saying, Let us make man after our image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), he taking from himself the substance of the creatures, and the pattern of things made, and the type of all the adornments in the world.

Deny this vision, reject this truth, live life according to that denial and surely things will fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Without this vision all we are left with is the misery of Sin City – and without even knowing that we should call it what it is.

James Foley, may he rest in peace – as he surely does

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The Islamic State jihadists have executed freelance journalist James Foley and posted a video of his beheading. In doing so they have brought us back 1800 years to remind us of what it sometimes costs to be a Christian and of what any Christian might at any time be called on to do – to sacrifice his life for his faith.

Is Foley a martyr in the truest sense? Surely he is, and is now with God in Heaven. It may take time to verify but you and I can be absolutely sure that the jihadists of the Islamic State gave James Foley the option of saving his life by accepting their utterly false and evil vision of both man and God – just as the Romans tempted the Christian martyrs of their day.

He died brutally at their hands, not because he was an American but because the was a Christian first, who would not abandon his faith

Foley, just 40, became their prisoner two years ago while covering the conflict in Syria. Prior to that he had covered the conflict in Libya and also found himself captive there. In that captivity he revealed to us the depths of his faith in an account which he wrote for a magazine published by his old university, Marquette, in Wisconsin.

James Foley, may he rest in peace, is an example to all Christians and an example to all who would be Christian. He shows us that bearing the Cross of Christ is part of the deal – and that this, even in the age which we consider modern and enlightened, 1800 years after the early Christians were marched into the arenas, may call for the ultimate sacrifice.

Foley wrote this account of a moment in his earlier captivity in Libya, revealing to us the virtues of a true Christian, as well as the meaning and the of faith and prayer.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone. …

One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. … Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”

“Jimmy, where are you?”

“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.” …

“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.

“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away.

“We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.