Christianity and the political order

The world before Christ – and indeed for centuries after his advent – was a very savage place indeed. The ancient world, embodied in cultures which we identify as civilisations, and in doing so tend to soften the reality which they present to us, was a very cruel and unforgiving one. In this world, despite the benign and wise voices of people like Akenaten, Zoroaster, Socrates, Cicero and others, places like Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, placed very little value on individual human lives or on many of the values by which we live and govern ourselves today. 

Tom Holland’s Dominion and Professor Mary Beard’s S.P.Q.R. – to name but two relatively recent representations of that world – illustrate very well the great divide between the values of pre-Christian civilisation and that set in train by the advent of Christianity. 

But if Rome was not built in a day, neither was Christendom. Professor Peter Heather’s Fall of the Roman Empire, or the story of St. Columbanus and his missionaries in the turbulent Europe of the 6th and  7th centuries, show us how long it took to root the values we take for granted today in the soil of that still residually pagan world. Even into the 12th and 13th centuries, the flowering which we see in the lives of St. Francis, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, took place side by side with a brutality underwritten by an utterly confused and confusing political morality, exemplified by The Hundred Years War, blundering Crusaders and the disedifying struggles between the Empire and the Papacy. 

The path to the civilisation we consider ourselves privileged to live in today, great as its deficiencies may still be, was a long and arduous one. It was not only long but it was also faltering, faltering so badly at times that it seemed, as it did so at least twice in the last century, to be even threatened with extinction. What was the common denominator of most if not all the regressions experienced by what we used to call Christian civilisation but now coyly call Western civilisation? It was the abandonment of the principles of life and living which the followers of Christ have derived from the teaching of a Man who claimed to be, and proved to their satisfaction that he is, the Son of God.

Mark Hamilton’s new book looks at our world today and at the dominant political mechanism by which we seek to organise and govern it. He finds it in grave danger of catastrophic collapse. Of his book he writes:

The book stems from an awareness that the secular state cannot adequately  protect its citizens and that as time progresses such failure may prove  catastrophic for democracy itself. Democracy without Christianity is fundamentally incomplete — it is like a tree which has lost the roots which anchor and feed it. 

Hamilton argues that the decline in democracy can only be reversed if the secular state rediscovers its Christian roots. For this to happen, he says, Christians need to understand the challenges, immerse themselves in political life, and take the opportunities presented to restore the democratic process to a condition where it ceases to be hypocritical.

The book is a calm piece of didacticism rather than a polemic raging against the failures of secularism, the flawed pedigree of relativism or the apathy of supposedly committed Christians. It logically explores the political landscape and encouragingly points to a way forward to restore the damaged fabric of democracy on the basis of the Christian values on which, he argues, it is based.

His arguments will make great sense to some. They will not be easily accepted by others, but one suspects that their counter-arguments will seldom rise above the level of superficial knee-jerk reactions – like the lazy confusing of misguided christian zeal with what is of the essence of Christianity. If superficiality could be avoided one might see the book provoking a valuable and intelligent exploration of a very real problem – the growing sense of deficit which is building up around our democratic institutions.

Dr. George Huxley, classicist, mathematician and archaeologist – to mention but three of the disciplines in which he is distinguished – is emeritus Professor of Classics at Queen’s University Belfast. In a lecture given in University College Dublin some years ago he defended Aristotle’s right still to be considered a wise man. Huxley said:

We speak much of democracy because we have elections and a wide franchise for women and men. But an ancient Greek democrat would with reason question our assumption that we are democrats. We emphasize elections, but we take too little thought for the quality of our elected rulers. Unlike the Athenians of the fifth and fourth centuries BC, we do not subject office holders to adequate scrutiny. 

While, he admits, some effective scrutiny is to be seen in the activities of Congressional Enquiries in the United States he describes House of Commons committees as toothless instruments by comparison and finds little evidence of scrutiny of European Commissioners. In judicial enquiries were necessary because elected representatives failed to police themselves, and for the most part were tardy, cumbersome, expensive, and inconclusive. 

Huxley suggests that we are deceiving ourselves. Perhaps it is this self-deception that is getting to us and disillusioning us about our ‘democracy’? Modern governments, he thinks, are not democratic but oligarchic. The oligarchic establishment of the self—describing ‘great and good’ knows how to use the law to defend itself. An Athenian, therefore, would question our democratic credentials and Aristotle, who yet had grave doubts about radical democracy, would have agreed with him: the millions. of dollars required to secure election to the Presidency of the United States, or the close connexion between British politicians of all parties and business interests, or the ability of powerful persons here in the Ansbacher polity to circumvent the law, are all oligarchic features. 

For an ancient Greek, he said, there were two important questions:  are the laws good and are they obeyed? If they are not good, they can be changed, but they must not be circumvented. How then would an ancient Greek, having read Aristotle’s Politics, classify most Western polities? He or she would not call them democracies. They are, rather, oligarchies interrupted by elections with low turnouts.

So, is it the case that in our readiness to live a lie about our political institutions we do not even reach the standard of the pre-Christian Greeks? Honesty, integrity and a sense of justice are human virtues attainable by all humans. But the element of Grace which is the gift devoutly to be wished for by all Christians is the most powerful of all the agents which reinforce these and the other virtues which keep us civilised. It is in recognising this that Hamilton is correct in seeing Christianity as the true guardian of the common good in the world. What makes a christian Christian is Grace and not self-description. A Christian’s  understanding of his or her identity is that to be truly human they are so because of their Grace-enabled identification with the perfect Man, Jesus Christ – who is also God. 

Democracy is a ground-upward system of defining and governing society. The character and identity of what that ground is composed of is the crucial issue. This brings us to the one haunting question posed implicitly by Hamilton’s book but not really addressed – perhaps because he feels it is not the context in which to address it. That is, where are the Christians who will transform this self-deceiving world? Democracy is not an ideology. It is a process through which a community gives expression to a vision. If that community is as dazed and confused as ours now is then democracy will do no more than create the chaos begotten by that confusion. By all means Christians should engage in the democratic process but perhaps their first responsibility and their first desire should be to speak their faith loudly and clearly, live by and help many others to live by the truths and values which their faith embodies. Then, perhaps slowly, as they did at the dawn of Christianity, but certainly surely, they will transform the society in which they live and move and have their being.

On the ironies of history

The ironies of history are manifold. They can intrigue us as much as do the parallels which we can see in events many centuries apart. As I read of and watched the progress of Pope Francis in Iraq last week and his wonderful rapport with the Muslim leaders of that country, I could not but help see a parallel between the peace-making efforts of this Pope and the peace brokered between the crusading Emperor Frederick II and the sultan of Egypt, Al Kamil, recounted in Ernst Kantorovicz’s recently republished biography of Frederick Hohenstaufen. The irony? That Frederick can now be seen in parallel with a reigning pope, knowing that at the time the Emperor made this peace, and won back Jerusalem for Christians for a ten-year period – and was duly crowned its king – he was himself under a ban of excommunication by a Pope who initially rejected the peace he had made. 

The story of Frederick II and his battles with the popes is one of the great personal tragedies of the Middle Ages, and one of the darkest epochs in the history of the Church. These were strange times, in many ways incomprehensible to us in terms of their brutality, but also awesome in terms of how crucial they were in determining so much of what our world is today.

Frederick was known in his time as The Wonder of the World, Stupor Mundi. He was only an infant when he succeeded his brutal German father, the Hohenstaufen Emperor Henry VI, as king of Sicily in 1198. Henry had just savagely subdued the kingdom which became his when he married Frederick’s mother, the Norman Queen of Sicily, Constance. He was then orphaned when his mother died and he became the ward of Innocent III, the most powerful pope of the Middle Ages, whose fiefdom the kingdom was. 

That he survived his childhood in the strife-torn kingdom was in itself something of a miracle. Then, while still a teenager, the young king of Sicily, in an extraordinary series of circumstances which many, not least Frederick himself, also read in semi-miraculous terms, reached the point where he succeeded his father and grandfather, Frederick Barbarossa, and was elected German Emperor. In 1220 he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome by Pope Honorious III.

That was when the trouble began – or one might say the seemingly endless conflict of the Middle Ages, the struggle between the Empire and the Papacy, resumed its tortured journey. This episode was to be a kind of Endgame which, while it might have looked like a victory for the Papacy, brought neither credit nor victory to anyone. It plunged Italy into savage internecine factional warfare; it destroyed, for centuries, any prospect of Italy or Germany being unified nations as all their neighbours were becoming – some more, some less – at that time. It also sowed the seeds of the Reformation in the damage it inflicted on the Church. The horrendous wounds inflicted on the Church festered for centuries until eventually recovery came with the Council of Trent and the Catholic Reformation. On the positive side, it is also credited with sowing the seeds of the Italian Renaissance.

The excesses of that age were not only manifested in murder, mayhem and devastation but also in the wild swings of language in which the protagonists in this struggle addressed each other. In the brief periods of peace they addressed each other in terms which made them appear truly cor unum et anima una, of one mind and one heart, dedicated to the salvation of souls. When at enmity however, insults and accusations were hurled across the divide in terms which were strong enough to curdle the blood.

Kantorovicz portrays the tragedy of Frederick in all its manic detail – a flawed genius of brilliance, showing great promise in his early years but ultimately corrupted by his own anger, pride and cruelty. The papal response to the threat Frederick posed to the Church’s freedom and teaching mission was flawed and far too human. The papal vision of how things needed to be was hopelessly encumbered by the burden of having to maintain the integrity of the territories where it was a temporal power – the Papal States, lying between the Kingdom of Sicily and Northern Italy. At all costs – a terrible cost – the papal calculation was that the Emperor could not be allowed to fulfil his dream of uniting his Sicilian kingdom with the rest of the Empire, creating an imperium stretching from the Baltic to the southern Mediterranean. To allow this, it was thought, would put in peril the Church’s freedom to govern itself and to teach the doctrine of Christ as only she had been given the authority to do.

The magnetism of Frederick, and the aura around him, was frightening to his opponents. Kantorowicz, writing before the rise of Hitler in Germany, compares the flaws of this genius with those of another megalomaniac genius, Napoleon Bonaparte. Kaiser Frederick, modelling himself on the original ‘divine’ Caesars, like them, fostered visions of himself as God’s chosen instrument for the rescue of the world from the chaos which he saw around him. In an age when illusions of Arthurian reincarnations were not uncommon, it was not too difficult to make these take hold of the popular imagination. Such things happened even in the early twentieth century when people became mesmerised by megalomaniacs. A recently revealed example might be  the admission in the  diaries of early twentieth century British MP, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, which have just been published. He remarks that  in the  presence of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, “one felt as if one was in the presence of some semi-divine creature”. 

Kantorowicz, like many before him, was in awe of Frederick II. This heightens the sense of  tragedy surrounding his life and death.  Kantorowicz’s account, however, is marred by his failure to discuss in detail the reality and provenance of the threat to the freedom of the Church perceived by the three popes who had to deal with this Emperor. His narrative, one suspects, has to some extent suffered the same clouding of human judgment as afflicted, in their bitter enmity, all the protagonists in this terrible struggle. Frederick died just short of his 56th birthday, still officially excommunicated. Garbed in a Cistercian habit, he received the last rites from one of the not insignificant number of churchmen who did not accept the ban or his deposition. Not even Louis IX, St. Louis, proclaimed the excommunication in his kingdom.

We began by reflecting on the irony of a Pope apparently following in the footsteps of an excommunicated Emperor – in one of his better moments. We might end with the consideration of another link across the centuries to our own time. It symbolises the persistent chain of seemingly endless tension which accompanies our efforts to observe that simple command of Christ, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s.” The struggle to keep this balance between the things that are Caesar’s and the Church’s defence of the things that are God’s was what tore apart the Empire and the Papacy in the Middle Ages – and the tension continues into our own day. 

It is unlikely that any ecclesiastical authority will seek to depose America’s new President, Joe Biden, as Innocent IV did to Frederick II.  However, it is notable that the head of the US Episcopal Conference, Archbishop José H. Gomez, had to implicitly call attention to the need to protect the integrity of the respective offices of Church and State in his address for the president’s inauguration in January, courting controversy in doing so.  

A President who proclaims himself to be a Catholic – precisely because he proclaims himself to be such – but whose ideology, in the context of many issues central to Christian and Catholic teaching, is profoundly un-Christian, might well be seen as more of a threat to the teaching and saving mission of the Church than even Frederick II.

Archbishop Gomez, felt obliged to say this to the President: “I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.” For saying those words some have felt free to publicly proclaim him to be no longer fit to be in charge of the largest Catholic diocese in the world. President Biden did not say this, but in the age of culture cancellation, does he need to?

So, centuries pass, but the struggles of the Church and the world continue as she seeks to persevere in her mission to teach mankind all that it needs to know about “the way, the truth and the life” – and to render to God the things that are God’s. But Christians will not be dismayed by this. They are well aware that it is part of the script given to them two thousand years ago and which Pope Francis constantly draws to our attention.

Guadalupe Ortiz, a scientist, a teacher, and more…

The Cross first came to Guadalupe at the age of 20 in the form of a tragic event – the execution of her father by a firing squad

 

Guadalupe Ortiz, the first woman member of Opus Dei to be beatified

Guadalupe Ortiz de Landázuri

The lives of saints, even the lives of great but ordinary people, who may also be saints without our knowing it, are often marked by great suffering. There is no such thing as holiness without Christ’s Cross.

This was certainly a distinguishing characteristic of a woman who will be beatified next week. On May 18, Guadalupe Ortiz, a scientist, a teacher, and much more, will be honoured in a stadium more commonly associated with rock concerts than with religious devotion.

The Cross first came to Guadalupe at the age of 20 in the form of a tragic event – the execution of her father by a firing squad.

Guadalupe bore this ordeal with exemplary serenity. Who is to say that the marks of this cross were not part of the foundation on which she later built that life of dedication to God and service to her fellow human beings, across two continents.

Read this article in full in The Tablet online.

Sins and sophistries in history of the Crusades

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Herbert Butterfield, the great English historian, once wrote that “the study of the past with one eye on the present is the source of all the sins and sophistries in history”.

And yet we also tell each other that without knowledge of our past, in our present we will be doomed to repeat, again and again, the follies and crimes of our ancestors.

How do we resolve this paradox? Both these observations are true. But, as by definition a paradox is an apparent contradiction, not a real contradiction, we can happily subscribe to both. We must not forget our past but we must also make sure that while we become wiser by remembering it, we do not mistake it for the present.

The sad confusion evident in a small and apparently insignificant item of news from a small American university campus recently exemplified both the sophistry which Butterfield warned of and the foolish judgements made by those who do not really know their history.

The students of Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts, run a newspaper which – up until now – bore the masthead, The Crusader. From now on they are going to call it The Spire. I wonder do they know that Dublin’s iconic millennium spire in the centre of O’Connell Street, a sort of a steel needle soaring 121 metres over the rooftops, is famous for signifying precisely nothing?  In his leader article announcing the change, the editor has declared that after studying the history of the crusades, he and his colleagues have decided to disassociate themselves from that historical epoch.

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OK, who cares? This is just one more entry in the growing catalogue of snowflake gestures of ‘virtue signalling’ which continue to pollute modern academia. But we should care. This is a disease of the mind, the wages of the sophistry and sins which  Herbert Butterfield warned us of and which Christopher Tyerman alluded to his superb and scholarly history of the crusades, God’s War. In that book Tyerman wrote:

A familiar but baneful response to history is to configure the past is comfortingly different from the present day. Previous societies are caricatured as less sophisticated, more primitive, cruder, alien. Such attitudes reveal nothing so much as a collective desire to reassure the modern observer by demeaning the experience of the past. Within the cultural traditions of Europe and western Asia, since the sixteenth century the crusades have regularly attracted precisely such condescension from hostile religious, cultural or ideological partisans. The crusades have been dismissed as a symptom of a credulous, superstitious and backward civilization in order openly or covertly to elevate a supposedly more advanced and enlightened modern society. Yet this hardly helps understanding of past events.

The editor of The Crusader – sorry, The Spire – writes, referring not just to the title of his paper but also to his college’s mascot,

No matter how long ago the Crusades took place, this paper does not wish to be associated with the massacres (i.e. burning synagogues with innocent men, women, and children inside) and conquest that took place therein. Surely, the word ‘crusade’ has come to mean ‘an energetic campaign’ in common parlance, but can a school whose mascot wields a sword and shield really lay claim to this interpretation?

The college authorities, clearly feeling under some pressure from the virtue signallers, have, however, stood their ground on the mascot. Nevertheless, they have also failed the Butterfield test.

While they acknowledge, they say, that the Crusades were “among the darkest periods in Church history”, they choose to associate themselves with the modern definition of the word crusader, one which is “representative of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and our mission and values as an institution and community.”

“We are crusaders for human rights, social justice, and care for the environment; for respect for different perspectives, cultures, traditions, and identities; and for service in the world, especially to the underserved and vulnerable,” they explained in an email to the college community.

Holy Cross’ president, Rev. Philip Boroughs, and board chair John J. Mahoney said that the board had decided that the literal definition of the name Crusaders — “one who is marked by the cross of Christ” — was consistent with the college’s mission.

This really does not get the college out of this pickle of its own creation – because this is exactly how the crusaders of the 11th, 12th and13th centuries also saw themselves. To be a crusader was to be designated crucignatus in the later 12th century.

These people, modern iconoclasts, should study the past seriously and do so in the spirit and with the intellectual discipline of a Butterfield or a Tyerman. We study history to understand our past, not to judge it by our standards. We study to learn, not to praise or condemn – because we have no right to bring our ancestors to a court of justice of whose statutes they have no understanding – no more than a citizen of one country has a right to judge a citizen in another by foreign laws. The past is another country.

We cannot understand the crusades unless we understand the world, the entire worldview, of the men, women and children who made them happen – and women and children were as much a part of the crusades as were men. Tyerman reveals this world to us. His work reveals to us that the glories of the Middle Ages, the faith, the gothic cathedrals, the great 12th century renaissance, the flowering of monasticism, the mendicant orders, the seeds of the 15th century renaissance and the enlightenment, all grew out of the same fertile soil as the crusades. They were ages in which violence was as endemic as other pestilences they had to live with – but live with them they did. With the passing of centuries and an ever-deepening understanding of humanity and what it is to be human, they helped us to deal more effectively with our propensities for violence – and eliminate a good number of the pestilences which afflicted us.

Tyerman points out that while “the moral certainties fostered by crusading left physical or cultural monuments and scars from the Arctic Circle to the Nile, from the synagogues of the Rhineland to the mosques of Andalusia, from the vocabulary of value to the awkward hinterland of historic Christian pride, guilt and responsibility”, nevertheless, one path to the thought-world of Christopher Columbus stretched back to Pope Urban II’s first call to arms for the Christian reconquest of Jerusalem in 1095.

Tyerman, who is Professor of the Crusades in Oxford University, reminds us that violence, approved by society and supported by religion, was a commonplace of civilized communities.

What are now known as the crusades represent one manifestation of this phenomenon, distinctive to western European culture over 500 years from the late eleventh century of the Christian Era. The crusades were wars justified by faith conducted against real or imagined enemies defined by religious and political elite as perceived threats to the Christian faithful.

The religious beliefs crucial to such warfare placed enormous significance on imagined awesome but reassuring supernatural forces of overwhelming power and proximity that were nevertheless expressed in hard concrete physical acts: prayer, penance, giving alms, attending church, pilgrimage, violence. Crusading reflected a social mentality grounded in war as a central force of protection, arbitration, social discipline, political expression and material gain.

We might say to the students of Worcester, Mass., “Get over it!” To look back at a time in the past, to see the good in it, the nobility, the faith and the idealism does not imply that you condone those things that we today know to be evil. Capital punishment in our time is now deemed morally unacceptable. That does not necessarily mean that our ancestors were morally culpable when they either executed or condoned the execution of justly tried and condemned contemporaries.

The students of Holy Cross, Worcester, could greatly benefit from Tyerman’s reflections on his task. His perspective is western European – and as he explains it, there is nothing wrong with that. It accords best with his own research experience. He is a professional. More importantly, he says, it matches the origins, development, continuance and nature of the phenomenon. Although having an impact far beyond western Europe, the crusade as an ideal and human activity began and remained rooted in western European culture.

The stance adopted by Tyerman in no way implies approval of everything associated with crusading. His perspective does not ignore the sources generated by the opponents and victims of crusading. Nor does it privilege the value or importance of the experience of western Europeans over others involved. His constant effort is directed at seeing the subject clearly and dispassionately through the fog of ignorance, obscurity, the passage of time and the complexity of surviving sources. His study is, he says, intended as a history, not a polemic, an account not a judgement, an exploration of an important episode of world history of enormous imaginative as well as intellectual fascination, not a confessional apologia or witness statement in some cosmic law suit.

As for the students of Holy Cross disassociating themselves from this epoch in history, they should think again. They, none of us, can anymore do that than we can disassociate ourselves from the genetic inheritance bequeathed to us by our ancestors. We may regret some of the things they did, and even while admiring their motives, we may regret their manner of pursuing them. But we can never, ever, say that they are not part of what we are. It is in reading history in this spirit that we resolve the paradox with which we began.

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.